Saturday the 22nd February saw the pinnacle of the cross country season, a historic race, one which is a rite of passage for most cross country runners – The English National Cross Country Championships. The familiar venue of Wollaton Park always holds potential for a brilliant cross country course and this year was no exception. As we arrived, the mud was evident and absolutely everywhere. We’d anticipated mud, but this took mud to a whole new level … it was going to be great fun! As we collected the numbers and set up camp there was a real buzz of excitement as thousands of club runners from under 11 to seniors came back from races caked in mud and frantically wrapped tape round their spikes before heading to the start.
Our two-women-team saw co-captains Eloïse Lee and Molly Browne donning the club vest at the biggest event of the season. Before we knew it we headed for the start, having already eyed up the large muddy puddle just meters from the line we were ready to take on the mud. The women’s course covered an extra-small lap, medium lap and an extra-large lap – plenty of time to get into the race. The gun sounded and we were off! The field charged off through the mud and in a matter of seconds were head to toe in mud, the race started quickly … very quickly. Molly kept her cool moving through the pack and ploughing straight through the mud, it was cross country after all. Eloïse, who was hampered by a cold, was off to a great start picking her way through. As the race went on our tiny team had more than mud to contend with, a number of hills, a massive puddle, a couple of ditches and several logs made for an exciting run – and a chance for Eloïse to practice some steeple chasing! The end of the medium lap saw the runners guided through what would most accurately described as a bog, shoes were coming off left, right and centre but our BRAT runners were safely out of the other side and onto the final lap. Molly had a storming final lap to take a good few places and emerging out of the bog to excited cheers from Richard Carney and fellow teammates she was just outside the top 30! One final push along the top field before wading down the finish straight Molly finished in 30th position, her highest ever national finish. Eloïse had a phenomenal run and didn’t let her cold get in the way of her finishing a brilliant 205th out of almost 1000 women and improving on her placing from 2019! Despite not having a team, both our runners ran their hearts out and finished the race with a big smile on their very muddy faces! There was just enough time to have a photo, stick on some kit, refuel and head back out on the course to support the men. The men had to navigate 4 varying length laps, by now the course was well and truly churned up … it was an absolute mud bath. Unfortunately the men also had an incomplete team, but the team spirit was in abundance and our four runners headed for the start. Johnny Cullen, back from a period of training in the mountains, was leading the BRAT men with cross-country regulars Simon Lanckham, Ben Baumont and captain Martin Ludford. The men were having a really tough time, we saw runners getting stuck and being hauled out by fellow runners, people being consumed by the bog… it was cross country carnage. Johnny was having a brilliant run, picking through the field and looking in control as he went onto the final lap. Simon was next through but seemed to be nursing an injury, with shouts for him to stop he gritted his teeth harder and kept driving through the mud. Ben was having a great run, passing runners who’d set off too hard and tackling the logs with ease. We saw Martin onto the final lap who was having a great run having also been ill recently, this was a tough race back and he was giving it his all. In no time we were waiting at the finish as the streams of runners slid their way down the home straight, a unanimous look of relief across their faces. Johnny finished a superb 340th place, Simon showed absolute perseverance to finish 728th when it would have been all too easy to call it a day. Ben was close behind in 760th with a fantastic run and Martin brought the team home in a great 1608th place.
On a course that measured long (classic cross-country miles) and given the conditions, to have all six runners completing the race was an achievement in itself.
For most that marked the end of the cross country for another season, it certainly went out with a bang! A massive well done to all of our runners, and to our training partners from Bournville and Stourbridge who ran brilliantly. A big thank you to Richard Carney who yet again managed to cheer like there was no tomorrow and keep count of people’s placing. Thank you to fellow team mates, family and friends who weren’t racing but provided epic support and got us all round. It takes a team to tackle the national cross country, and what a team we had!