After a year away because of the pandemic, the country’s most prestigious cross-country relay returned to the calendar.

Here Martin Duff gives a view of what went on at a blustery Berry Hill Park, Mansfield.

After the mud and rain that plagued the 2019 event, the weather conditions were generally good, if rather windy on the exposed sections of the course.

Aldershot retained their senior women’s title as Niamh Brown and Lauren Hall were again in their team and were joined by Lily Coward, who, in only her second run for the club picked up her second team gold. Brown was first away for Aldershot as safety issues decreed that the opening stage began at the bottom of the hill and was therefore shorter than subsequent legs. It was Lincoln Wellington’s Abbie Donnelly who took the early honours with a 9:38 3km split, clear of Newbury’s sole runner Izzy Fry and Hannah Irwin for Cambridge & Coleridge.
Donnelly said; “out of the woods I had to push up that hill. I like doing the first leg as I am not good at pacing”.
Brown was only 12 seconds off of the lead before handing over to Hall, who powered Aldershot to the front, as Rochelle Harrison slipped to second for Lincoln. Hall said: “I pushed on out of the woods where the wind was in your face”.
Then it was left to new team mate Coward to complete the job and victory by 28 seconds over Charnwood. Coward said: “I only joined two months ago from Invicta East Kent, as I am now teaching in Surrey. I was expecting to be chasing and I was lucky to bring them home, just as at Sutton Park (in the road relay)”.
Charnwood were off the pace early on in the race but Hannah Nuttall moved right up on the final stage to push Lincoln back to third with a fast 9:50.
Kate Holt, the 2019 Midland champion and double Lotto Cross Cup winner in Belgium, posted 9:40 to move from 31st to fourth mid race, as Olympian Jess Judd went up 43 places for Blackburn, less than a second slower.
The men’s race saw Shaftesbury Barnet come from behind to snatch victory on the fourth and final 5km double lap stage, thanks to Liam Dee, after Highgate and Aldershot looked set to fight it out for the win with just a stage to go.
Hugo Milner had set the early standard for Derby on the shorter opener and, after one lap, was already going clear of Aldershot, Sheffield and Leeds before extending his lead on the second circuit to post a 15:07 split.
The Cardiff UK cross winner said: “I haven’t tapered because of Liverpool. No one came with me after the first lap so, in the woods on the second, I opened my legs.” That took him well clear of the rest but he got little support as his club then dropped out of contention.
Highgate’s Jacob Allen and Aldershot’s Ricky Harvie shot rapidly to the front of the field towards the end of their first lap on leg two before they claimed that they were ushered down the finishing funnel, along with the back markers from the opening stage, instead of by-passing it.
There was no easy way out of the impasse so they had to scramble over the barriers to rejoin the correct lane, despite falling but rejoining the fray, remarkably still ahead of the rest.
They said that the marshals ignored their pleas that they should be bypassing the finish lane and they knew they were going wrong but, fired up by adrenalin, were probably wise not to argue. That adrenalin enabled their subsequent gymnastics to occur without injury and they then sent their third leg runners off still ahead.
Between them they said: “the rope was across and we shouted that we should go right, so we had to hop over the barrier”.
Highgate and Aldershot were still clear through Alex Lepetre and Luke Prior on stage three, before handing over to their club mates with gold to fight for between them. Lepetre said: “I just put my head down as Jacob gave us a nice lead and I thought: I’ve got to hold on and go for it”.
Liam Dee had other ideas and ran a blinder for Shaftesbury to deliver the gold medals with the fastest non opening stage split of the race, at 15:18, which was probably intrinsically better than Milner’s 15:07, as the first lap advantage was probably 20 seconds.
Dee said: “I had a bit of ground to make up: I got Aldershot on the first lap, then Highgate at the same spot on the second”. He said that he has upped his milage at 90-100 miles a week, something that explains his recent improvement in form.
Shaftesbury’s senior win followed their U20 team mates who had led throughout their three-lapper over a 3km la single lap. Henry McLuckie gave them a good start with an 8:23 clocking that, even given the shorter first lap distance, was almost certainly the best of their race. Luca Stubbs and Kristian Imroth increased their advantage throughout the rest of the race.
Stubbs said: “they told me to relax as I got pumped up to the A team so I had to prove myself”. Former U15 national champion Imroth, who admitted he was still recovering from Long Covid, added: “I think I would rather have had someone to chase but I liked it in the woods.”
Seven more different clubs took gold medals. However, one trio who crossed the line first were denied their spoils.
Loughbrough Students’ women won their U20 age group by nearly a minute clear from Basildon, as Invicta East Kent’s Alex Millard took them well clear with an 8:32 2.5km split, the fastest of the race. They were unable to claim the gold medals as the rules make clear that university and college club outfits who have a mixture of first claimers from UKA affiliated clubs are not eligible for medals, a rule that had been instituted by a vote among competing clubs a few years ago.
Basildon’s Megan Harris led home the field on stage one with an 8:32 split for their 2.5km lap and she said she thought her club could hold on to win: “I was injured for most of the year but did manage a 3000m pb and have now won the first two Essex Leagues”.
Harriet Bloor then took the lead for Loughbrough Students before Alex Millard extended it, but being first across the line was not enough as Abigail Ives led home Basildon, who took home the gold medals.
Liverpool Harriers B team headed their first-string team mates as the club took the top two places in the U13 girls’ event as Milton Keynes, in third, also had their B teams ahead of their A string trio, but it had been Kettering’s Jemima Davey’s 7:17 on the opener that was the fastest.
Vale Royal have dominated the U17 women’s races this Autumn and they won again, but they were down in 8th spot behind Rotherham’s Evie Thomson after the first leg. Holly Weedall then restored order before Grace Roberts saw them home, ahead of Windsor’s Freya Ruffles. Blackheath, with English Schools 3000m silver medalist Fleur Todd-Warmoth, closed with an 8:54 split for third.
Wolverhampton & Bilston held off Windsor’s Jake Meyburgh to win the U13 boys. race. Evan Grime had ‘won’ the first stage there, for Salford, before Fred Jones took over for the winners, as Sam Ball saw Wolves to gold after running himself out. After recovering he said: “I had a glance and just thought I could see him (Meyburgh) coming,”
The U17 men’s event produced another podium place for Shaftesbury, but they could not hold Cambridge & Coleridge. George Keen brought them home and said: “we knew we had a strong team and a chance for medals so I had to try and hang on.” Local rivals St Edmund’s Pacers’ Ben Peck closed to third at the line with 9:02 and moved them up to third with the best leg of the race. He said: “It was an amazing course but I felt it bad”.
Shakira King loves running opening legs in relays and did it again here for Wreake & Soar Valley’s U15 girls before Zoe Gilbody broke the tape for another team victory. She ran 7:02, a time that was probably a better intrinsic split than her team mate’s 6:52. King said: “I like doing first leg as it is more like a race”.
Gilbody added: “I just tried to keep going”. Between the two of them was new signing triathlete Patience Lamb in her first outing for the club.
The Pinder identical twins helped Gilbody’s former club Chiltern Harriers take the U15 boys’ event. Archie and Euan ran the first and last legs, but Robert Price, of Vale Royal was the quickest around their lap, with a 6:25 final leg split that gained 15 spots to sixth. Sale’s Oscar Schofield had taken the opening U15 lap and said: “As it was my first race of the season and just 2km, I just went for it from the start”. Euan Pinder saw Chiltern home and said: “I thought I’ve got nothing to lose and it was my first medal of the season”

Men (4x5km): 1 Shaftesbury 62:59 (J Dempsey 15:55, P Crout 15:53, D Evans 15:54, L Dee 15:19); 2 Highgate 63:14 (S Ghafari 15:27, J Allen 15:39, A Lepretre 15:45, R Bahelbi 16:24); 3 AFD 63:36 (B Bradley 15:20, R Harvie 15:57, L Prior 15:59, R McCawley 16:21)
Fastest lap 1: H Milner (Der) 15:07; A Manthorpe (Sheff &D) 15:16; B Bradley (AFD) 15:19
Fastest other laps: W Dee (SB) 15:19; C Johnson (Gate) 15:23; J Allen (High) 15:44
157 teams finished

U20 (3x3km): 1 Shaftesbury 26:33 (H McLuckie 8:24, L Stubbs 9:16, K Imroth 8:54); 2 Birmingham U 27:08 (O Smart 8:40, M Cunningham 9:24, L Rawlings 9:04); 3 Ashford 27:12 (W Zerom 9:06, J Small 9:07, L Small 9:00)
Fastest lap 1: H McLuckie (SB) 8:23; A Khalif (Hill) 8:40; G Smart (Birm U) 8:40
Fastest other laps: W Barnicoat (AFD) 8:49; A Melloy (C&C) 8:49; K Imroth (SB) 8:54
48 teams finished

U17 (3x3km): 1 C&C 27:35 (I Morris 9:04, I Rothwell 9:13, G Keen 9:19); 2 Shaftesbury 27:43 (H Dover 8:52, S Greenstein 9:42, A Hamud 9:10); 3 St Edmund P 27:54 (J Peck 9:15, M Berry 9:38, B Peck 9:02)
Fastest lap 1: H Dover (SB) 8:52; L Birdseye (WSEH) 8:57; E Promett (Herts P) 9:02
Fastest other laps: B Peck (St Ed) 9:02; J Knockton (Traff) 9:07; Hamud (SB) 9:09
64 teams finished

U15 (3x2km): 1 Chiltern 20:14 (A Pinder 6:31, E McCall 7:07, E Pinder 6:36); 2 Herne Hill Harriers ‘A’ 20:19 (J Lee-Baum 6:40, F Whitelock 6:50, K Sriskandarajah 6:50); 3 Cambridge & Coleridge AC ‘A’ 20:24 (E Taylor 6:47, L Conway 6:40, G Christmas 6:58)
Fastest lap 1: O Schofield (Sale) 6:19; A Pinder (Chilt) 6:31; Z Dunne (Norw) 6:31
Fastest other laps: R Price (Vale R) 6:25; G Stubbs (SB) 6:32; E Pinder (Chilt) 6:36
65 teams finished

U13 (3x2km): 1 W&B 21:39 (O Davis 7:14, F Jones 7:03, S Ball 7:23); 2 WSEH 21:41 (G Hilliar 7:30, J Farley 7:32, J Meyburgh 6:41); 3 B&B 21:53 (A Whitelock 7:38, J Stanes 7:05, L Elmqvist 7:11)
Fastest lap 1: E Grime (Salf) 6:46; P Aron (Traff) 6:58; R Homer (RSC) 6:58
Fastest other laps: J Meyburgh (WSEH) 6:40; T Thake (Hallam) 6:55; F Jones (W&B) 7:03
65 teams finished

Women (3x3km): 1 AFD 30:21 (N Brown 9:50, L Hall 10:25, L Coward 10:07); 2 Charnwood 30:49 (H Seager 10:22, L Jones 10:37, H Nuttall 9:50); 3 Lincoln W 30:55 (A Donnelly 9:38, R Harrison 10:40, S Wallis 10:37)
Fastest lap 1: A Donnelly (Linc W) 9:38; I Fry (Newb) 9:46;H Irwin (C&C) 9:47
Fastest other laps: K Stoke) Holt 9:40; J Judd (B’burn) 9:41; H Nuttall (Charn) 9:50
106 teams finished

U20 (3×2.5km): 1 Loughborough Students 26:20 (J Spilsbury 8:57, H Bloor 8:52, A Millard 8:32); 2 Basildon 27:18 (M Harris 8:33, D Eves 9:51, A Ives 8:56); 3 Salford B 27:45 (E Russell 9:32, A Potter 8:49, A Bratt 9:25)
Fastest lap 1: M Harris (Bas) 8:32; C Alexander (Ton) 8:40; R Hamilton-Jones (Birm U) 8:47
Fastest other laps: A Millard (Lough) 8:32; A Potter (Salf B) 8:48; H Bloor (Lough) 8:52

U17 (3×2.5km): 1 Vale R 27:22 (H Smith 9:11, H Weedall 9:12, G Roberts 9:00); 2 WSEH 27:28 (R Clutterbuck 8:59, J Ridley 9:23, F Ruffels 9:07); 3 B&B 27:44 (H Clark 9:25, L Mannes 9:25, F Todd-Warmoth 8:54)
Fastest lap 1: E Thomson (Roth) 8:44; R Vinton (SB) 8:46; I Barwell (Linc W) 8:54
Fastest other laps: F Todd-Warmoth (B&B) 8:54; N McGovern (SB) 8:58; G Roberts (Vale R) 9:00
53 teams finished

U15 (3x2km): 1 Wreake & SV21:30 (S King 6:53, P Lamb 7:35, Z Gilbody 7:03); 2 Rotherham 21:57 (L Harris 7:07, C McCloy 7:36, I Waugh 7:15); 3 AFD 22:03 (L Quinn 7:18, K Pye 7:21, E Orbell 7:24)
Fastest lap 1: S King (Wreake) 6:52; F Murdoch (Stock) 7:00; L Harris (Roth) 7:06
Fastest other laps: Z Gilbody (Wreake) 7:02; I Waugh (Roth) 7:15; P Gill (St Alb) 7:16
77 teams finished

U13 (3x2km): 1 Liverpool B 22:29 (H Cross 7:21, V Teare 7:39, M Carvell 7:30); 2 Liverpool A 22:39 (B Hughes 7:19, I Doran 7:36, L Ellis 7:45); 3 Mil K B 23:07 (O Chilton 7:31, O Enright 8:02, E Jacobs 7:34)
Fastest lap 1: J Davey (Kett) 7:17; B Hughes (Liv) 7:19; H Cross (Liv) 7:20
Fastest other laps: M Carvell (Liv) 7:29; E Jacobs (Mil K B) 7:34; I Doran (Liv) 7:35
59 teams finished

Note: all times have been either rounded up or down and may not add up to the team total.