Jaden Kennedy storms to individual National Cross Country win in Nottingham

In the final young athletes’ race of the day at the National Cross Country Championship in Nottingham, the top U13B distance runner in the UK, Jaden Kennedy, produced an outstanding piece of distance running, to win the National Cross Championships from the Northern Champion. A winter’s training on Streatham Common, dark winter nights, heavy mud and hills, overseen by coach James McDonald, was ideal preparation for Jaden’s onslaught on an unusually testing Wollaton Park course. Although large sections benefitted from the drainage afforded by the sandy undersoil, the course marksman ensured he exploited the most gruesome bits of the park, which resulted in water splashes and boggy sections in all races.

Whatever the going underfoot, Jaden skims the surface and should any other athlete go with him, he has the benefit of blistering finishing speed. In the summer he combines sprints and the long jump with more traditional 800 and 1500 running, where he is ranked 5th and 4th on the UK all time U13B list. At a time when we often hear that track runners cannot or should not race cross country, it was heartening to see an outstanding track athlete dominate a testing National Cross Country Championship, a feat that was repeated in other races including the SW where Jess Judd, an 800m specialist, won.

Many consider the National Cross Country Championships to be the greatest cross country event in the world, and a win in any age group is a prize to be treasured for life. As I cheered Jaden on, young athletes beside me described his running as ‘awesome’, and it was a huge pleasure to witness such an outstanding performance. Jaden spearheads one of our strongest age groups in terms of quality and depth. One of the youngest athletes Christo Chilton led the charge of the remaining red and black athletes, finishing 29th, followed by Jacob Harrison, 36th, and Benjamin Harrison, 46th, packing that secured a silver team medal.

Charlotte Alexander continued her spectacular first season of club running with a second place in the U15G race. The front end was dominated by the three principal athletes in this age group, Charlotte, Olivia Mason and Ella McNiven. In line with her coach, Wayne Vinton’s advice, Charlotte bided her time behind the two other girls, before forcing the pace on the second of the two laps. Ella fell away but Olivia, the English Schools 1500m Champion who has PBs of 2.10 and 4.26, which she has combined with top end cross country running, hung in with the fierce pace. During the final quarter she pulled away from Charlotte, whose tenacity ensured that there could be no let up for the leader. Rosie Hammond finished 62nd and the remaining two scorers, Isobel Penniceard and Clarissa Nicholls, helped the team close in 7th of the 39 finishing teams.

The third individual Herne Hill medal winner was Alex Brown, who extended her sequence of consecutive podium finishes of three silvers, with a bronze. To finish in the top three in four consecutive nationals is an extraordinary achievement, alternating as athletes do between bottom and top of age. This year Alex was the first bottom of age athlete, and ran a courageous race against three outstanding athletes. Amelia Quirk, the eventual winner, was 9th overall and second British athlete at the European Cross Country Championships in the U20 category. Phoebe Barker was her closest contestant on the day, and has shown superb form throughout the winter. Alex was in a race long battle with a third top quality athlete, Khahisa Mhlanga. They were locked together until the final 800m of the race, when Khahisa’s base speed, 2.06 and 4.26, meant she posed an ominous threat. However, Alex is also a very fast finisher which, combined with her strength, ensured she opened up a 4 second advantage by the finish. Alongside the U13B, our U17W squad is our strongest age group, and the team event could not have turned out closer. Olivia Stillman, also bottom of age, produced a stunning run in her first National, finishing 25th, despite falling twice in the boggy section of the course. She was very well backed up by Ella Newton who finished an excellent 33rd. The team’s fourth scorer, Tatiana Cooke, saved her best run of the winter for this big occasion, finishing 67th. The team’s points total of 128 was the same as that scored by Blackheath and Bromley Harriers, who ultimately won the gold team medals due to their fourth scorer being ahead of ours. Second in the Nationals, having won the Southerns and medalled in all the other National and Southern competitions this winter is an amazing achievement.

The UI3G team produced an excellent team performance, finishing 4th. Poppy McFeely produced another superb run and led the team home in 20th position. Layla Wilkinson also produced her best run of the winter in 47th, vs her 41st position in the Southerns. Sophie Williams, who did her first race for the Club in December 2016, finished an amazing 76th, improving on her 95th in the Southerns, and Eva Holland closed the team, who were just 10 points off a bronze team medal.

In the remaining young athlete races, Oscar Millard was the highest placed Club athlete with his 56th in the U15B race.

Once again, the Red and Black warriors from South London had executed an audacious medal raid in Robin Hood Country. A fantastic day, perhaps the best ever at these Championships, for our amazing young athletes.

Keith Newton, 26 February 2017