Sefton Park is the big event on the annual cross country calendar, combining both the Mid Lancs league with the McCain Cross Challenge series. Coach loads of runners from all over the country descend upon the park last Saturday, (24th November 2012), for a series of races offering European qualification to some of Britains’ elite runners. Wigan Harriers responded to the a chance to test themselves against the best in the UK with a bumper turn out to contest both Junior and Senior distances. The trusty Gazebo was bursting at the seams with a full 15 Senior men, along with the Ladies Team and our younger runners. Base camp looked splendid with our brand new Wigan Harriers “shark-fin” banner declaring our presence amidst the rest of the Mid Lancs clubs.
Welly booted wives and children also turned up in numbers to support the Harriers, whilst Darren Jackson and Andrew Meadows took care of photographic duties.
First out to test the course were our junior runners, many of whom were fresh from success at the Greater Manchester Schools Cross country last week. The Under 11 boys set off at 11am and Mathew Baptista had a great run for 40th overall and 32nd in his age group from 136 runners in total. The Under 13 Girls were next out on the 3km course and Kim Baptista flew the Harriers flag in 12:5, bagging 34th from 98. The U13 boys ran the same route with 127 contesting the race. Nathan Dunn was the first Wigan runner home posting 11:26 for a fantastic 17th place. Scott Thompson was 70th in 12:47 finishing well amongst a pack of closely matched runners. Kerian Dunn rounded off a grand showing from our U13 boys with 13:28 for 95th place.
In the U15 Boys rave Henry Lucas once again did the honours for Wigan with a strong 12:35 whilst in the equivalent girls race, Rachel Sidebotham can be proud of 13:42 for 78th spot. Representing the club in the U17 Girls category were Daniele Thompson and Natalie Thompson who distinguished themselves in 20:49 and 21:35 respectively.
The Senior Ladies were next out as they joined a bumper pack of quality runners for the 1:20 start. Standing on the first bend to support or lady runners, the mens’ team were mightily impressed with the sight of several hundred female athletes charging towards them like a mud spattered Lynx advert. First through for Harriers was Tracey Dutton testing her strength on her way back to full fitness. A determined looking Julie Platt came next, followed up by Jacqui Jones. For some reason, regular team member Jayne Taylor chose the attractions of the Benidorm Half Marathon and some International Glory, (podium place in the V50 category), over the delights of South Liverpool in November, so the ladies were short of their usual 4th member.
Sefton punishes fast starts as some of the men were to find later. After a very quick first mile or so at 6:40 pace, the ladies settled down to a steadier speed that saw them running with little more than minute covering the three of them. Unlike the rest of the series, Sefton Park sees the women race over 8k rather than the usual 5k. The extra distance was never going to trouble our Endurance Group runners with Julie Platt crossing the line first for Harriers in 35:32, and Tracey hot on her heels in 35:41. Jacqui Jones was just a minute behind in 36:43.
A weeks worth of rain had deposited itself on the North West leading up to this years Sefton Park fixture, but the weather had thankfully abated long enough to run the 10 races that make up the event. The temperature may have been in single figures but the still air and the odd splash of sunshine meant no excuses when it came to vest and shorts “man-suit” attire. Tim Pilkington seemed to have forgotten a few of the standing regulations during his time away from cross country, and turned up with a brand new Helly Hensen base layer with price tags still attached. A concerted effort of group humiliation persuaded him not to bring shame on the club and he duly packed his extra layers away for another day.
Apparently immune to the ridicule of the pack was Andy Kauffman who opted for a white t-shirt beneath his new Harriers vest. No amount of bullying disuade him from his fashion crime, although he did at least forgo the full length winter tights. “Its because he’s so scrawny”, claimed his loyal support crew, failing to note the collection of knock kneed and bony runners shivering around her in their vests!
480 Senior Men stampeded down the start straight at Sefton Park to the surreal sounds of Queen and “Don’t Stop Me Now” blasting over the tannoy. Although relatively flat in Mid Lancs terms, the course at Sefton seems particularly unforgiving of the enthusiastic fast start.. Stuart Holding and Graham Millington both went off like scalded cats for the first half mile and spent the rest of the race clawing back the oxygen debt! No such problems for Mike Harris who cruised away from the detonating duo to record in impressive 42:01 in his first cross country outing for the club. Proof of the pudding was the more measured start of Richard Noone who ran deliberately within himself during the first mad cavalry charge, before gradually ramping up the pace for the rest of the race. He overhauled Millington and Holding with breath to spare for a word of encouragement, before inexorably pulling away for a 1min 30 gap by the end of the race.
At the faster end of the field it was a blistering performance from Andy Kauffman who did the club proud with a fabulous 36:44 effort to earn 155th overall. We can only wonder how much better he could have done without that extra layer weighing him down. Tim Pilkington returned to cross country for the first time this season and had a battle on his hands with the in-form Chris Smullen. They chased each other around the park for most of the race, with Chris edging it to finish with a 15 second advantage in 37:53 against Tims’ 38:09. Mark Rodgers was breathing down his neck just 4 seconds behind in 38:13.
Stevie Nicholls marked his debut for Wigan Harriers by turning up earlier than his usual 5 minutes before race start and had a solid run to finish in 39.31. Completing the A-Team was 6th man Dave Waddington in 41:11.
Conditions underfoot varied throughout the looping course. In places it was surprisingly firm with good sections of run-able turf despite a week of rain. Elsewhere the soft ground had churned up into a fair impression of the Somme, with the gloop thick enough to grab at tired ankles and make forward progress a quad sapping affair. Organisers had arranged for a peat mix to be dumped on the path crossings which was generally agreed to be an improvement on the bark chippings of previous years.
Taking all of this in his stride was Kev Edwards who led the Harriers B-Team home. In his usual unorthodox manner, Kev had begun his warm up with 7 miles around Wigan that morning before heading up the M62 for another 10k! It seems to have done him little harm as he charged home in 41:30. Mike Harris proved his recent 2nd place in the Ullswater 10k was no fluke with a great cross country debut. He was followed by team coach Andy Eccles coming back from a nasty calf pull to record a 42:57 just ahead of Barry Abram in 43:11. Richie Noone cruised home as fifth finisher in the B team and was pleased to plant no more than his feet in the mire this time out.
The battle for the final scoring position was well fought between Graham and Stuart, with Graham pulling away in the middle of the race, before Stuart came back to take the position with a mile to go. He then made it stick with a strong run in to the finish to round off the scoring for the B-Team in 45:27. Graham followed up in an OCD pleasing 46:00 dead, and mumbled something about a cough, coughed dramatically, made sure everyone had heard his cough and wandered off to think up excuses for the write up…..
Rounding things off for Harriers was Michael Dutton who is racing himself to fitness with each cross country outing. Michael stormed up the finish straight in 54:10 for possibly his strongest run in the series to date. Sub 3 marathon man Mark Glynn stepped off the course with a hamstring pull which we all hope will prove to be a minor glitch in a fabulous year of running for Mark.
It isn’t yet clear how these overall results translate into terms of the Mid Lancs League as organisers pick their way through the listings to sort out championship placings. Given the performances of some of our runners last weekend though, we can expect to have built on the good work at Burnley in October. With such a large contingent making their way to Liverpool the atmosphere and team spirit were outstanding this weekend, and everyone who turned out to run or support can be proud to be part of the club. Next up is Crooklands in Kendal on the 8thof December where we hope to match, if not improve on our fabulous turn out last weekend.