The Three Musketeers; youngest ever Surrey League ‘Senior’ winner?


Racing over the extensive common land that comprises Mitcham Common, the Club’s athletes secured three individual wins in the three Surrey League races, leading teams to third, SW, and two seconds, U15 and U13.

All three athletes, Alex Brown, Charlotte Alexander and Maisie Collis, are amongst the best in their respective age groups in the country.  In 2016, Alex was second in the English Schools 1500m, Charlotte is ranked first in the U15 3000m, and Maisie is ranked third in the U13 1500m.

I have eulogised on many occasions about Alex, who runs with such ease and elegance and floats over the ground.  No wasted arm swinging and backlift, Alex combines superb technique with her outstanding ability, and race tactics which defy her years.

Maximising achievement whilst keeping the lid on training volume, mixing running with other sports which strengthen core and different muscle groups, help minimise injury risk, and is something I would advocate for all young athletes.  This does mean athletes such as Alex come up against peers who will be training much more, which can lead to short term success for them, but where will they go in two or three years’ time?

Alex’s record exhibits longevity rather than quick fixes, even at the age of 15, which demonstrates the benefits of incremental changes to training quality and volume.

Alex was 11th in her first National Cross Country Championships in 2013 at a snowy Sunderland, and has since been 2nd, 2nd and 2nd in subsequent nationals.  This is an incredible record for an athlete who goes from top to bottom of age group every other year.  Alongside this, Alex has won Inter Counties’ titles, English Schools’ track medals and international honours.

And so the 400 strong senior race got underway at 12.15, 15 minutes late due to Southern Rail providing their normal ‘service’.  Fast going underfoot and more warmth in the air than of late, I had predicted there would be two U17s in the top 6.  Alex, and one of her rivals over the years, Claudia Lance Jones, held back from the lead group, that included a sixth placer from last year’s inter counties, Steph McCall, a welcome new member of our Tuesday training group, an Olympic triathlete and the third place athlete in the World 50km road championships, Amy Clements, who is also a 16.30 5000m and 2hr40 marathon runner.

The field was suitably stacked at the sharp end, and as the first of two laps unfolded Alex led the charge, tracked by Claudia, to close down the lead group.  Although missing a number of top HHH SW, there was good back up to Alex by another top U17 athlete, Ella Newton, who was top 25 in the early stages, followed by four other red and black vests in the top 60.  With five to score, the team event was looking promising.

As the runners hit the undulating section at the far end of the course, four were locked together at the front of the field.  This was going to be an exciting final km.  When they entered the final field, Alex was bossing it at the front end, dictating the pace and making sure there was no slacking off – taking the sting out of the other athletes should it come down to a final sprint.  James McDonald referred to Alex’s 300m kick, and that was fully in evidence in the final throes of this epic battle.  These tactics were famously used by Steve Cram and other world class athletes, and are designed to inflict maximum damage on the opposing runners who may prefer a 50 to 100m full out effort.

On the downhill slope to the finish Alex held off others to take the victory.  Some Surrey League debut!  The second U17, also a first year in the age group, finished fourth, thus rendering my prediction of two in the top six somewhat cautious.  Asked to comment on the race, Alex, in her typically modest way, opined “it was nice to run in a race where I didn’t know my competitors (apart from Claudia) and so we could just run without pressure or expectation where we should be.  Also the senior ladies are really polite and friendly. There is no pushing and shoving on the start line. Everyone just smiles and moves up to let other people in.”

Alex was well backed up by Ella Newton who finished 16th overall (Division 1 and 2), not too far behind another training group member, Fiona De Mauny, Walton AC, in 14th.  Next group member was Helena Corbin, Woking AC, in 18th, just ahead of Natasha Lodge who produced her best cross country run to date in 21st.  Sue Swaine, another elegant runner who is benefitting from some training continuity, got stronger as the race progressed to move up to 43rd, whilst Annes Stevens closed the scoring team in 47th, which ensured a clear third team placing overall.  Julia Wedmore provided excellent back up in 52nd, and ten other HHH runners completed the race.

Charlotte Alexander, an U15 athlete who won the first Surrey League match, repeated her victory here in the combined U15/U17 age group.  This is Charlotte’s first year of club athletics, following a sensational debut season in school events last winter that included a 5th place at the English Schools Cross Country.  When qualifying for this race in the Surrey Schools last winter, she was second to Dominique Corradi, and it was Dominique who was always going to present the main challenge at Mitcham Common.  Charlotte modified her tactics and ‘sat in’ for the early stages of the race, before unleashing some mid race surges which took her away from Dominique on the second lap.  Despite a wrong turn, Charlotte eased away to ultimately win by 12 seconds.  Charlotte was well backed up by Lily Newton who had an excellent run in 10th place and, with Clarissa Nicholls in 16th, the U15 team finished 2nd.  Katie Balme was 12th and first HHH U17W.

Maisie Collis laid down the gauntlet in the U13 race, in her inimitable style, by hitting the early pace hard.  Like Charlotte, Maisie faced a tough test as she had Olivia Thompson in her race, who is 5th ranked in the UK (behind Maisie’s third) for 1500m in 2016.  This was a real head to head battle with Maisie always pushing the pace, a superb piece of front running which ultimately saw her win by two seconds.  Maisie was well supported by new comers Maggie Fairn and Anna Duffy-Markovich, to take the second team placing.

Our thanks go to Clapham Chasers for their organisation for what turned out to be a great day’s racing.  In years to come, this will be remembered as the day a super talented 15 year old beat all rivals, to produce a stunning victory against top opposition.  I am proud to have witnessed such an impressive performance.

Keith Newton, 4 December 2016