The annual Lancashire Cross Country Championships has been an event keenly anticipated every year by local athletes since the mid-1990s. This season’s meeting was no exception, and 34 competitors took part from four Isle of Man clubs with age groups ranging from under 11s to veterans.
The success of the day at the event’s traditional venue of Witton Park in Blackburn was reflected in eight medals being brought home to the island, including two golds. Teamwork plays a huge part in cross country championship events, and the fact that four of the medals were won by teams of different age groups proved the commitment, pride and willingness to fight for the team cause that has always been a hallmark of athletes from the island.
Pride of place must go to the Manx Harriers senior women’s team, who won the team title for the seventh year in a row and the eighth time in nine years. This really is a magnificent achievement, and this year’s victory was as hard-earned as any especially as the team were without some of the regulars of recent years.
The margin of victory of only two points from Blackburn Harriers, with a combined finishing score by the four scoring runners of 49 points to Blackburn Harriers’ 51, demonstrated clearly the value of each athlete taking responsibility for gaining every possible place.
Rachael Franklin produced another high-class run to take the individual silver medal in a 91-strong field. Although she was billed as the pre-race favourite, a late entry on the day came from Eleanor Bolton (Ribble Valley Harriers) who last month ran for Great Britain in the U23 women’s race at the European Cross Country Championships in Lisbon. Rachael pushed her very hard all the way, but after her record-breaking 10-kilometre run the previous Sunday it was understandable that she tired a little in the closing stages. She continues to compete on equal terms with international athletes.
Elissa Morris proved her ability again with a seventh place finish, crucially making up places on the third and final lap. Carly Craig’s sprint finish took another place for the team and she finished in an excellent 15th place, taking the silver medal in the 40 age category. Under-20 athlete Laura Dickinson ran perhaps her best-ever race to finish 25th overall as the fourth counter for the team, a really impressive run. Ciara Hardisty, in her first cross country appearance for many a year, battled hard for 37th place despite having to stop to retrieve one of her shoes on the first lap!
The first medal of the day had come in the u11 girls’ race, and it went to the Manx Harriers team who won the bronze medal in the team contest. It was a great achievement by four young athletes who were all competing at this level for the first time.
Abi Clayton ran superbly to finish fourth and was in a medal position for much of the race. Summer Craig was eighth, Kayleigh-Dee Corrin 16th and Abi Sinclair 25th. All four needed to finish in good positions for the team to have a chance of a medal and they did just that.
Five local runners featured in the u11 boys’ race, with Harry Stennett (Northern AC) finishing in an excellent eighth place. Freddie Crowe (Western AC) was 16th, Liam Blake (Manx Harriers) 22nd, Timothy Perry (Northern AC) 23rd and Corrie Brogan (Manx Harriers) 47th.
The u13 boys’ race produced the next highlight, with the Northern AC team repeating their 2019 team silver medal. This was the first age group to go onto the full lap which includes the famous curving hill known as the ‘saucer’ and the long descent with a very muddy patch at the bottom.
Cian Howard finished sixth with a terrific run to earn automatic selection for Lancashire at the Inter-Counties Championship in March. Lucas Stennett was tenth, Sam Perry 13th and Charlie Teare 18th, all running with absolute commitment for the team cause. It was a close contest with Preston Harriers for the silver medal, and all four of the Northern runners narrowly beat their Preston counterpart, another great example of teamwork.
In the u13 girls’ race Northern AC athletes Penny Webster and Lucy Ormsby both ran splendidly to finish eighth and 16th respectively, with Penny having a reasonable chance of a Lancashire selection for the Inter-Counties.
There were more fine performances from the Isle of Man contingent in the u15 races, with Ryan Corrin (Manx Harriers) finishing in an excellent 10th place in the boys race, improving from 29th in the same race last year.
In the girls race Ella Crowe (Northern AC) clinched another Lancashire selection with a very determined run to finish sixth in a high-quality field. Macy Hillier (Manx Harriers) finished 11th in her first year in the age group, and her teammate Mairi Harrison was 30th. Madison McMullan (Northern AC) was 34th in her first year in the U15s.
The final event of the day was the men’s race which attracted a field of 150. Manx Harriers had seven competitors with six counting for the team score, with three of them also forming a team in the junior (u20) category. It was good to see representation from Manx Fell Runners for the first time at the event, Neil Brogan and Nigel Maddocks making a late decision to travel.
David Mullarkey produced a fine run to finish in fifth place which earned him the silver medal in the u20 category. He is one of only six local athletes to achieve a top five finish in the senior men’s race over the years. One of those is Alan Corlett who was sixth this year and was closing in on David at the finish, a fine effort after illness a week ago.
Alex Bell produced one of his best performances to place 25th overall, having been 45th and 58th in the past two years. He placed seventh in the junior category. Gianni Epifani finished 50th in his 21st appearance at the event since 1995.
Cross country stalwart Andy Fox was delighted to win the gold medal in the 60 age category having targeted the race for several months. His overall 81st place was his highest finish since 2013 and this was his 23rd appearance in all.
Andrew Falconer battled away despite feeling under the weather and finished in 82nd for the final counting position, and George Dickinson completed the Manx Harriers contingent with 88th place and was 16th junior.
The senior team finished fifth, while the junior team of David, Alex and George clinched the team bronze medal.
The two Manx Fell Runners competitors enjoyed their outing and found themselves in close battles with some of the Manx Harriers runners during the race. Neil Brogan was 65th despite doing a hilly Parkrun just a few hours earlier, and Nigel Maddocks was 75th.
7 January 2020