ECCA National Cross-country Championships, Wollaton Park, Notts, 25 Feb 2017

Five Lions and a Lamb

The National start is one of the great sights in athletics, captured here by Sophie Harris. Phil Wicks is centre stage with Paskar and Andrius a little to the right.

Belgrave is a marvellous machine filled with a mesh of levers and gears and springs, like a fine watch, wound tight. Always ticking.

Ok, so I’ve nicked that off Mad Man Burt Cooper’s description of New York, but it applies well to us and the rich journey we’ve had this last 130 years.  And right at the heart of the high-end R&C action has been the National.  Here’s a list of the top 8 clubs in its history:

Birchfield 29 wins  (only two since 1937).
Tipton 12
Salford  7  (only one since 1898)
Leeds  6
Gateshead  6
Bingley  6
Belgrave 5
Hallamshire 5

It’s a fine list and we can all feel proud with our position on it.  Whither that lot in 2017?  Well Birchfield had to accept 70th, Tipton 33rd, Salford 12th, Leeds 25th, Gateshead and Bingley failed to close, Hallamshire 14th, and us 27th.  Hardly a vintage return for the biggest gunslingers in town, and despite a fair few problems of our own, we only bowed to three of them.  But stats such as these illustrate how hard the National is to crack and one must keep showing up, year after year, to take the medicine.

Ours was always going to be a testing day when the official handed me a wodge of 20 envelopes of numbers before the race, and I gave 14 back, as we paid yet another heavy price for the draconian and absurd “7 week early” entry policy. But instead of bemoaning child care issues, injury and illness which robbed us of so many, let’s celebrate who were there:  Road & Country’s man of the season; man of the decade; and man of the Century.  Now’s that’s a triple to warm any heart!  They were backed up by two bold young talents who are very new to XC, and someone so long in the tooth he’s growing tusks.

But despite my grisly return it’s two new club marks notched for most consecutive Nationals (19) and most scores (16).  My comrade Dave Norman, who ran to 20 in a row yesterday, writes what the race means to both of us:  “The National is in my opinion the best race on the running calendar, one all club runners should do. Marathon runners, 1500m runners and Cross Country specialists take each other on over testing terrain in often unpredictable conditions. The ordinary club runner lines up alongside some of the best in the country. And of course there’s the team element which creates an extra sense of competition and can see runners really raise their performance levels.”

Phil’s Nationals for Belgrave read: 41, 2, 4, 7, 38, 29. And always first man home for the club

After an up and down season, Wicksy came to race, and danced around the horror of 2015 champion Richard Goodman, who was spiked so badly a deep hole was ripped from his foot which required 12 stitches.  The course was needlessly complicated from 2014’s beauty, to four ever increasing laps.  Maybe the organizers wanted to toughen it up, as we went through loads more ditches and swamps.

Phil writes:  “I’m ok with today’s run. Was really aiming for top 20 but realistically I can accept that I’m not as young as I once was and my training just isn’t at the same level as per the boy wonder’s arrival. Today wasn’t really my ideal course – those mud troughs were tough going and broke my rhythm a little more than I would have liked.”

Bookended by a couple from a stunning Bedford team which came so very close to the win, a relaxed Andrius swims with the sharks

Such a warrior, and he jumped to 2nd in the Cross-country plate competition and

Paskar had a bit of a ‘mare, and relives it here in his dreams

became only the 2nd man in club history to win six Parker Bowls for first man home at the National.

Next up was Andrius who has given us one of the finest Belgrave XC seasons for 50 years.  He’s done all nine major races, not a flub in sight, and this the best of the lot.  Less than a minute off Phil, and just outside the top 50 in a stacked field.  And his 153 points in the XC Plate is incredible.  AJ kept on running through the finish line, straight back to the station 3

Another couple to find the race induces drowsiness were Rosie and James, as they dream of dragons slain

miles away to make the 1634 train.

James diligently carbo-loaded on beer and Chinese the night before, and placed about 10 raucous Brysons in his corner.  Bill made the journey to Sunderland a decade ago for Catherine’s fine 37th and here he was again, but this time with a gaggle of ankle-biters in his wake.  James nailed his run dead centre; and capped it off with a ruthless violation of a whamboozled PO in the final K.  His Sunday 19-miler will feel easy after this!

Arne Dumez keeps on getting better and is already chattering about making his XC presence felt next term.  Well, this was a beauty of a debut season, 3rd in the Plate, just two points down on Phil.  He fought hard all day despite that feeling of doom at 3k that afflicts so many at this one: “I could DNF here.”

All alone in a race of 1,775; the classic form of Arne Dumez. Photo by Sally Underhill

The team race was spectacular with the top 6 all within 100 points of each other and Tonbridge packing 5 in to the top 40 but then having an interminable wait for their last man.  Meanwhile, Morpeth, Bedford, Sale, Notts and Shaftesbury all long closed in. But in the nick of time Tonbridge settled their account with 3 points to spare.

Aside from James’ cheerleaders we also had Chas, the five Belles, Michael Dunglass, Alex Mills, Matt Welsh and Sophie Harris making the huge gesture to come and cheer on both teams.  How delightful it was to have them there.

1 B Connor (Derby) 39:35; 29 P Wicks 41:16; 52 A Jaksevicius 42:05; 272 J Williams 46:07; 306 P Owor 46:34; 381 A Dumez 47:33; 663 W Cockerell 51:04.  1775 finished.

1 Tonbridge 289; 2 Morpeth 293; 3 Bedford 304; 4 Sale 324; 5 Notts 353; 6 Shaftesbury 382… 27 Belgrave H 1704.  131 teams closed in.



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