It is difficult to know what Capability Brown, who landscaped the gardens that adjoin the magnificent Tudor-Jacobean House that towered over the course at Temple Newsam in Leeds would have made of the trampling of the estate by hundreds of English Schools’ Cross Country Championship competitors. It should not have come as a shock as the very same event was staged here in 2018, but in contrast to the sleet and extreme cold of last year, runners were greeted with grey skies and persistent rain throughout most of the day, which ensured the hilly course was suitably testing.

The Herne Hill Harriers young athletes competed for a number of county schools’ teams reflecting their day to day academic allegiance, with the bulk wearing the jet black vests of London. And with pride it was worn as London teams are now serious contenders in a number of age groups.

Jacob Taylor was looking to improve significantly on his 132nd position last year, being fully aware of the reward of an England vest for those finishing in the top eight. A step up of such magnitude seemed unimaginable, but few who know him would doubt his determination and ability to run superbly on such testing courses. In contention throughout with the leaders in the Junior Boys’ race, he was fearless in his running to the end where he overtook the fifth placed athlete to secure 4th position, just three seconds behind third place. In so doing, he was rewarded with a place in the international in Dublin next Saturday. Huge congratulations to both Taylor and his coach James McDonald, who has coached two athletes to Junior Boys international vests in recent years.

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(Jacob Taylor)

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Taylor led a strong London performance, and was backed up by fellow Harriers athletes Harvey Kande 67th and Zac Crowther 99th, just dipping to make the coveted top 100 of the 343 finishers. The team finished an excellent 4th, and won the Lockhurst Lane Trophy for the highest 8th counter excluding the first three teams (!).

The Senior Girls’ race provided the finale on the day, with four Herne Hill runners in total. Liv Stillman, racing for Surrey, had the disadvantage of starting 6th in her pen, which meant that she was back in the 80s in the early stages of the race and had to quite literally battle her way past as many of them as she could. This was a brilliant run for Stillman, a real breakthrough on the national stage following a series of strong performances in recent weeks as incredibly she somehow worked her way up to 7th, which included a last gasp lunge to get her past one final athlete. Phoebe Anderson has been a sensation this winter, backing up her outstanding 2nd in the Southern Championship in Janbuary and 7th in the National last month. Anderson fought throughout in characteristic style to finish 13th. The Wayne Vinton coached athlete has one more year in the age group.

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Lily Newton backed up her strong National team winning run with another very good performance, finishing an excellent 78th, whilst Katie Balme closed the London team in 100th. For the first time in the history of the event, to our knowledge, the London team secured a podium finish, with their third place.

Herne Hill athletes featured prominently in the Junior Girls’ race. Phoebe Bowen has also proved herself to be an outstanding cross country runner and navigated the testing course very well to finish 46th, and second London scorer. Also in the scoring six which ultimately finished 12th team was the still relative newcomer, Tamra Chan, who following up on her excellent inter counties run the previous week with 63rd, and Johanna Nicholson, 132nd, while Hebe Hunter, representing Dorset came 168th.

In the Intermediate Girls’ race, Poppy Craig McFeely, who had won the joint Inter and Senior Girl trial race outright, ran strongly to finish 46th, and third London scorer. Craig-McFeely has had a very consistent season with strong runs in the Southern, National and Inter Counties, and topped off her cross country season with her run at Leeds. She helped the London team secure third position in this race and overall, London finished 2nd in the aggregate team score for girls, behind Liv Stillman’s Surrey squad.

On Sunday a number of Herne Hill senior athletes ran personal best times in road races. Pride of place goes to Steph McCall, who smashed her PB to place 6th woman in a strong field at the Reading Half Marathon. This was McCall’s best racing performance for three years, her hard training being rewarded with a swift 75.58 clocking. Ahead of McCall, Andrew Clarke ran 72.45 for some good over distance work prior to the upcoming road relays and the summer track season.

Ed Crowther also ran a PB of 79.10 at Reading, while at the Fleet Half Marathon Richard Henderson narrowly missed a podium position placing 5th in his first sub 70 half marathon with 69.58, with Laura Miles running a huge PB time by 17 minutes with her 1 hour 50.27.

At the Bath Half Marathon Carl Delaney showed a very good return towards form with his 72.39, while at the Battersea Park 10km road race Alex Hobley took time out from new father duties at home on Saturday morning to record a significant PB by 62 seconds with his 33 minutes exactly.