Best National Championship day yet for Herne Hill with double gold, silver and two further top ten finishes at the Mansfield National Cross Country Relays

Saturday saw an unusually dry course in Berry Hill Park, Mansfield and a truly fabulous day of achievement on the national stage for Herne Hill Harriers all through the age groups at the National Cross Country Relay Championship, the biggest event of the season so far. Herne Hill teams claimed two sets of gold medals, one silver team, one fourth place and one ninth in huge fields at a fixture which as always attracted most of the best clubs in the country.

As the Under 15 Girls tore round their 2km course midway through the programme with Harriers’ red and black colours in the lead group the announcer proclaimed that ‘Herne Hill Harriers are having a good day’. The report from the national governing body, England Athletics remarked that ‘two golds and now a silver clearly indicates the incredible national standard depth the south London club is currently enjoying’.

The day was off to its best possible start, as even the most optimistic of followers could not have dreamed of a double team victory in the first two races of the day. The junior Under 20 women’s race had 40 starting teams, with two from Herne Hill. Loughborough Students AC were to the fore throughout, and ended up crossing the line in first place. But with the hybrid university teams ineligible for medals, the club team race was between top clubs Aldershot, Bracknell, Blackheath, Reading and Herne Hill.

Ella Newton worked her way through to 9th position on the opening leg, running 8.57 for the 2.5km leg. Zoe Tompkins continued her excellent winter form with 9.05, taking the team up to 6th place on leg two. The stage was set for double English Schools 1500m champion Alex Brown. Pacing her leg beautifully, Brown moved the team up to 4th and then in the final minute of the race powered away from the other two to secure first club place and the first Herne Hill gold medals in this age group. Harriers U20s were the most consistent in terms of leg splits and the B team finished 16th, with a standout run from Mollie O’Sullivan, an excellent 9.07 on leg two, moving the team up 19 positions.

The Under 17 Women’s event saw three Wayne Vinton coached athletes comprise the winning A team with a stunning performance, leading from gun to tape and winning by more than 45 seconds. Yasmin Marghini produced a superbly judged opening leg with the fastest U17W run of the day. Phoebe Anderson extended the HHH lead with another very well judged solo performance, a 9min leg, handing over to Charlotte Alexander with an unassailable lead. Alexander, one of the finest distance runners in this age group in the country duly extended the winning margin with an 8.46 final leg. Cumulatively this was the second fastest ever U17W team time at this event, a very emphatic and exciting win.

The Under 13 Boys team has gone from strength to strength over the last couple of months, and here was their best performance yet. Running with a tried and tested order, Zachary Crowther produced his customary strong opening leg finishing in 5th position, 6.48. Fabien Whitelock moved up to 3rd position with a 7.09 performance, setting it up nicely for Christo Chilton, the third of the James McDonald coached athletes. Chilon took the team to second position with a strong 6.52 performance, but could do nothing about the fast finishing Cambridge and Coleridge final leg runner who took his team from fourth to first. On most other days second in a national championship would have been a big headline performance.

The Under 15 Girls team featured two more Vinton coached athletes, Poppy Craig-McFeely and Maisie Collis on legs one and two. The former ran a strong opening leg for 10th position, 7.15. Collis set about moving through the field, and timed her run perfectly to finish in 3rd position with a strong last 400m, highlighting her excellent track speed. Eva Holland, coached by James McDonald and another English Schools 1500m finalist, ran a strong final leg, 7.17, holding off the English Schools 800m champion, but just missing a medal coming home in 4th position. The team were a mere 16 seconds behind the winners.

The day was rounded off with the senior races and the Herne Hill women were also fabulous as Katie Snowden, Fiona de Mauny and Swann Phelippeau combined to produce the club’s highest ever senior finishing position at this event with 9th place out of 139 teams.

Senior track international Snowden, another who like the winning under 20 team has raced in red and black since her under 13 days with the club, got the team off to a cracking start on the always strong first stage as she handed over in 5th place after having held 2nd for much of the leg. De Mauny then ran very well while being chased down by a string of teams seeking to move into the top 10 positions, but held firm to finish her stage in 10th place. Phelippeau had been unwell and had spent much of the week with a lost voice, but was determined to make her team contribution, which her excellent anchor leg most definitely did as she came home in a fabulous 9th.

Female distance running at Herne Hill Harriers is currently at an all-time high and the upcoming Surrey League race in Nonsuch Park this weekend could be an immediate opportunity to keep this ball rolling.

The  following morning at the Leeds Abbey Dash 10k Chris Busaileh 31.34, Bryn Reynolds 34.35, Steph McCall 36.14 and Suzanne Swaine 39.57 all posted very decent times, while in Parkrun action Mike Cummings won at South Norwood 16.46 and Nick Bester at Tooting 16.59, with Julia Wedmore the first woman in Dulwich with a very encouraging 19.10.

Off the track at the Herne Hill Harriers AGM, Great Britain World Junior Championship double bronze medallist Kristal Awuah was awarded Honours Membership of the club she has represented with proud loyalty and distinction since the age of 11 in recognition of her achievements and her rapid and seemingly inexorable move towards senior world class.

Keith Newton & Geoff Jerwood