Alder­shot’s women take emo­tional women’s ti­tle while Ton­bridge cre­ate his­tory in the men’s event

ARECORD num­ber of more than 1000 teams took to the damp turf of Berry Hill Park in Mans­field last Satur­day for what has be­come the tra­di­tional pipe opener to the do­mes­tic cross­coun­try sea­son. Ath­letes from around the coun­try flocked to the Not­ting­hamshire venue in search of sil­ver­ware and a chance to stretch their legs in a fun, team-based en­vi­ron­ment.


THREE days af­ter the 2016 Saucony English Cross Coun­try Re­lays, Alder­shot young­sters Stacey Bur­rows and Lucy Py­gott died af­ter a drunken sol­dier hit them with his car while they were on a train­ing run. The tragedy hit the athletics com­mu­nity hard and last week­end in Mans­field their AFD club­mates were de­ter­mined to win in their mem­ory.

Emily Hosker Thornhill, Emelia Gorecka and Katie

Bin­gle com­bined to do this in the se­nior women’s race. They did this in front of big crowds, too, at an event that con­tin­ues to grow in pop­u­lar­ity and fea­tured record en­tries last week­end.

The course at Berry Hill Park had been soaked with some overnight rain. But while it might have damp­ened the spir­its of those build­ing bon­fires, the ath­letes did not mind the slightly softer than usual un­der­foot con­di­tions as they raced through the woods and then past what was surely the largest ever vil­lage of club tents at the event in the area near the start and fin­ish.

Alder­shot tra­di­tion­ally en­joys suc­cess in this event – in 2017 they won five of the ten races – but there was ex­tra mo­ti­va­tion to suc­ceed this year and they

faced tough op­po­si­tion from a Leeds City trio of Claire

Duck, Ste­vie Stock­ton and Lucy Crookes, plus the ul­tra-ex­pe­ri­enced Charn­wood team of Anne Holy­land with Juliet and Jane Pot­ter.

Bin­gle got Alder­shot off to a solid start in third on a first stage headed by Katie Holt of City of Stoke from Elle Ver­non of Stock­port, but then Gorecka showed she is putting her in­jury prob­lems be­hind her by build­ing an in­sur­mount­able lead on stage two.

Dur­ing this year Gorecka has been get­ting back into form un­der new coach Chris Thomp­son fol­low­ing stress frac­tures in her foot in 2015 and she en­joyed rip­ping around the Berry Hill Park course, de­spite one or two care­less male run­ners get­ting in her way at one point by jog­ging in front of her path.

Hand­ing over to Hosker on the third and fi­nal 3km leg, AFD had the race sewn up. The an­chor run­ner main­tained the pres­sure, though, to fin­ish 54 sec­onds ahead of Leeds, with Charn­wood third.

“We were so des­per­ate for the win to­day be­cause we just wanted to do it for the girls,” said Hosker, who added the ath­letes were wear­ing rib­bons on their vests in mem­ory of the ath­letes. “It was the only thought we had. When­ever we were tired in the race, we thought ‘they wouldn’t give up, so we can’t ei­ther’.

“It meant so much. I was chok­ing up as I crossed the line. We won’t ever for­get them. We think about them the whole time at train­ing. It was so spe­cial to win here to­day.”

Hosker, who is re­turn­ing from a mi­nor in­jury, con­tin­ued: “Katie put in a re­ally solid ef­fort and then Emelia got a re­ally big gap, so when I saw her, I just went and tried to hold it. I had an ab­so­lutely huge lead so just had to fin­ish it off re­ally. This event is so much fun as well.”

Gorecka added: “It’s a great team event, par­tic­u­larly for Alder­shot at this time of the year with Stacey and Lucy pass­ing away. Ev­ery Alder­shot ath­lete was go­ing to have them in their minds on the start line.

“I felt strong in my stage.

The 3km is a bit short for me so it was a bit of a blast but I felt good. I’ve also not been here for the last two or three years so it’s re­ally nice to come back.”

There was no ab­so­lute fastest split of the day in the races, as the first stage was a dif­fer­ent length to sub­se­quent stages but Gorecka’s speed was sur­passed, slightly, by

Jess Judd as the In­ter-Coun­ties cham­pion sped around for 19th-placed Chelms­ford.

Stock­port’s Elle Ver­non bat­tles with City of Stoke’s Kate Holt on stage one

Claire Duck: strong chal­lenge from run­ners-up, Leeds City

Katie Bin­gle: third on first leg for win­ners, AFD

Juliet Pot­ter: bronze for Charn­wood

Lucy Crookes: sil­ver medal

Win­ning team (l to r): Katie Bin­gle, Emelia Gorecka and Emily Hosker Thornhill

Shaftes­bury’s Naomi Taschi­mowitz (1254) bat­tles with Cam­bridge & Co­leridge’s Vic­to­ria Knight on the open­ing leg

He­len Clitheroe: still run­ning strong for Pre­ston

Emelia Gorecka: pow­er­ful sec­ond leg

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