London International Cross Country, Parliament Hill, London 20/01/24 – incorporating the Home Countries International and English areas match
Cross country running in Britain is all about facing the triple challenge of the conditions, the course and the athletes. The multiple lapped race around the iconic, picturesque Parliament Hill course was going to offer a real challenge for the strong fields assembled.
Coupled with it being the 4 home countries against one another and incorporating the 4 areas of England, North, Midlands, South and East making it an 8 way team event also.
Cold conditions and slate grey skies greeted the athletes as they lined up in front of the Lido at the start of the race. All races started up the long drag to the lefthand turn that took the athletes past the finish area for the first time.
Plenty of hills and many turns including a hairpin every lap as well as running through a fan tent and being watched for most of the close compact course by fans and if there was some parts of the course out of reach to some spectators it could all be seen on the large screen throughout.
Senior mens race
The mens race saw European cross country championship 4th placer Hugo Milner line up again Mahamed Mahamed fresh from his debut marathon of 2:08:32 in Valencia 7 weeks prior and Tom Evans ultra distance runner who had not raced much recently along with numerous other athletes who had competed for GB at the European Cross Country championships in Brussels in Decamber.
A strong start from all led to some cat and mouse tactics early on with Mahamed, Milner, Evans and Jamie Crowe of Scotland looking strong at the front. As the 5 laps unravelled it looked continually as Milner looked the most in control although wondering how much Mahamed had recovered from his recent marathon was always a question seeing as he has triumphed here at Parliament Hill 2 years ago in the National Cross Country. Tom Evans probably under raced in recent times was more of the unknown this type of course. Jamie Crowe also looking like he was in confident mood to challenge. This pack of 4 had run together for much of the race although Milner looked in c control it wasn’t until the latter part of the last lap that Milner made his decisive move and this saw him drop Mahamed and Crowe had dropped a little earlier but Evans tried to hang on and chased Milner all the way to the line for 2nd place. Milner’s impressive season continued as he took the win over Evans by 2 seconds 29:58 to Evans 30:00 with Mahamed 30:05 and Crowe 30:11 for 4th. England won the team trace with Jeremy Dempsey 5th in 30:26 the England team was completed by James Kingston 6th in 30:28 and Alfie Manthorpe 10th in 30:54
Senior women’s race
The England ladies were excited upon arrival at the Iconic course at Parliament Hill and after walking the 2K lap expressed they liked the multiple laps and with the undulations it made for a tough course.
It was a cold breezy wait on the start line looking up the hill from the start used for the ECCA National Cross Country.
Amelia Quirk started fast leading the field up the hill closely followed by Ellie Wallace and Niamh Bridson-Hubbard who were sitting just behind Abbie Donnelly. The field was stacked at the front and all 4 Team England were mixing in and working hard.
Going into the second lap Lauren McNeil led the group out with Amelia pushing closely behind. The third lap saw Abbie Donnelly pull away taking Amelia and Lauren and creating a gap to the next group including Niamh, Ellie and Phoebe Barker. Unfortunately on the downhill towards the loop Niamh hurt her ankle and had no option but to pull out.
With Amelia, Ellie and Phoebe still performing well Team England were still in the lead for the win. At the far loop Amelia fell ill and also had no option but to pull out leaving the team with only 2 to score.
Ellie and Phoebe raced on and worked through the field and finished fast earning themselves an impressive 4th and 5th place. Unfortunately England did not finish a team on this occasion after looking well placed for a team victory well into the race
Junior Mens race
The England athletes were packing well at the front lead by 4th paced Elgoibar athlete, Quinn Miel-Ingram and the returning to form, James Dargan. For company the England athletes had the strong Scottish pairing of Logan Beagley and Connor Bell. Also looking strong in the leading group was Mark Ruby, running for the South of England. Ten minutes into the race and this leading group was joined by England debutants, William Rabjohns and Jake Stevens. At this stage you could still throw a blanket over the leading group but as they started the descent from the top of the course the first of the lead group had to yield to the pressure and Scot Connor Bell dropped off the pace and started to go backwards very quickly. As the athletes ran past the VIP tent at the bottom of the course the group had been reduced to six with all four England athletes still in contention.
As the athletes negotiated the U turn feature, James Dargan, looking very relaxed, took the lead and raised the tempo. At this stage William Rabjohn and Mark Ruby were doing well to still be involved at the front as both athletes had fallen earlier in the race. 5km completed and the relentless pressure now being exerted by Dargan finally broke the debutants Rabjohn and Stevens as a meter gap opened to 10 meters. The athletes charged down the hill and with the group of four still locked together the outcome was still unclear. As the leaders entered the final stages of the race and with just 1 km remaining, James Dargan’s continued pressure further broke the field as he earned himself a 5m gap on second placed Logan Beagley who himself held a 2 m gap over Miel-Ingram with South of England’s Ruby now over 20m off the third podium place. James looked very strong and in control as he crested the hill at the top of the course for the final time. With the last of the climbs now behind him and only downhill and the flat of the finishing straight to negotiate a first-place finish was looking secure. At this point the long time second placed Beagley was passed by the charging Miel-Ingram with his long strides quickly creating a sizable gap between him and the scot. At this point all the top places were set behind the resurgent James Dargan.
It was clear that England had taken the team race with Quinn Miel-Ingram taking a well-earned 2nd place followed in by Jake Stevens on debut in an excellent 5th place. Ahead of Stevens in 3rd place was Scotland’s Logan Beagley and in 4th place with an excellent run, South of England’s Mark Ruby. The fourth England runner who had been affected by a heavy fall hung on well to take an excellent 6th place.
Junior Women’s race
There were fine Team England performances by Innes Fitzgerald, Eliza Nicholson, Jess Bailey, and Isobelle Jones in the inaugural London International country event. Apart from Innes, all women were making their cross country debuts for England.
Innes showed her class going out hard from the start and over the four lap course built up a commanding lead to go on to claim victory by a margin of 69 seconds. This is the first time Innes has raced at Parliament Hill and she commented that it was a challenging course.
Eliza also committed herself from the start and after the first lap had opened up a gap on the chasing group, which included Jess and Isobelle. As the race progressed, Jess pulled away from the group to chase down Eliza. On the final lap, the two women were together and a battle for 2nd and 3rd places began to unfold. As they commenced the downhill through the marquee for the final time, Eliza kicked away and went on to cross the line in second place with Jess taking the third podium spot.
Isobelle who was making her debut for England Cross Country showed great form and finished 9th.
Team England were the outright team winners and all four athletes were rewarded with the team prize.
1st Innes Fitzgerald (21:08)
2nd Eliza Nicholson (22:17)
3rd Jess Bailey (22:28)9th Isobelle Jones (23:04)