The first cross country race of the 2019/20 season saw standout performances from Phil Wicks and debutant Conall McNally on a new course at Effingham Common.
Three would-be scorers – including potential race winner Nick Goolab – succumbing to niggles before the weekend probably cost us only one league place overall, but an excellent first three has already put a good distance between us and the relegation places.
After a torrid season of injury last year, Phil Wicks ran brilliantly to finish first Bel and fifth overall, just holding off Herc’s Tom Jervis in a sprint finish he described as “the hardest kick I’ve ever had to do in one of these”.
Next home was an in-form Andrius Jaksevicius, just a fortnight after a 2:20 Berlin marathon, who finished 11th to record his best Division 1 placing since 2016, when standards were nothing like today’s competition.
Third Bel was Paskar Owor, whose 36th is probably a reflection of the amount of races the Lion is getting through this autumn, as well as – if only subconsciously – his entry to the Cabbage Patch Ten the following day. That was to take nothing away from the huge achievement of surpassing Gerry North, one of the finest XC runners that England ever produced, in the all-time Surrey League standings.
The biggest revelation of the day was new recruit Conall McNally, who went out hard – and stayed out hard. After graduating from Bristol in the spring, Conall has been training with Charlie’s group over the summer and finished well ahead of a number of runners who on paper at least should have been easily ahead of him. Conall’s time of 27:50 was under 45 seconds shy of Paskar’s: a hugely impressive debut.
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Steve Gardner and Andrew Cumine were the next Bels home, recovering from tonsillitis and knee ligament damage respectively, and should run better in subsequent fixtures when fully fit.
Then a bit of a gap before Oliver Young and Ben Ireland came home, but sturdy runs nonetheless, especially as that’s Ben’s first ever cross country fixture. Welcome aboard!
Will Cockerell and Rob Norville weren’t expecting to be called upon as scorers but those last minute niggles – and a nasty DNF for debutant Liam George, who turned an ankle an unpredictable terrain – made it so, so we’re extremely grateful for their heroics in 9th and 10th spot.
That leaves just the efforts of evergreens Alex Luce and Terry O’Neil. We’d obviously never reveal exactly how old the Old Guard, but there may just be a very subtle hint at their vintage in our race numbers this season…
So all in all, a solid team effort to get the season underway, a decent buffer already between us and the two relegation spots, and much more to come when the likes of Dumez, Courtney-Pinn, Stockley, Campbell, Buckle and Auden return to bolster the post-Owor scoring spots.