Tonbridge AC men took an exciting first ever Saucony English National Cross Country Relay team gold and there was an emotional victory for Aldershot, Farnham and District's women who retained their team trophy at Mansfield on Saturday (4 November).
The undulating and partly wooded Berry Hill Park has hosted this event annually since 1989 and the top quality organisation, centrally located venue and close racing resulted in a record entry of 1,281 teams across ten races, with 235 teams representing 119 clubs in the senior men's relay. This proved to be an absolutely classic encounter as victory went to a youthful Tonbridge quartet by less than three seconds from defending champions Aldershot, Farnham and District. Shaftesbury Barnet were a further 47 seconds adrift for the bronze medals.
The Tonbridge team has climbed from bronze in 2015 to silver in 2016 and gold this year. George Duggan, Charlie Joslin-Allen and Ryan Driscoll improved the Kent club's fortunes throughout the race to leave Chris Olley the considerable task of holding off Aldershot's hard charging GB cross country international, Jonny Hay, on the final stage.
A delighted Tonbridge team manager, Mark Hookway, said: “George, Charlie and Ryan have won medals here as under 15s so it shows how well they’ve come through. Currently, we hold the national cross country title, cross country relay title and six-stage road title, although we’ve not won the national 12-stage road relay yet.”
The women's champions wore ribbons in memory of Aldershot team mates Stacey Burrows and Lucy Pygott, who raced in this event last year but were tragically killed three days later when a car knocked them over while they were out training. To add poignancy, Lucy Pygott had crossed the line first for the winning team 12 months ago.
Katie Bingle, Emelia Gorecka and Emily Hosker Thornhill had to control their emotions to retain their title by 54 seconds from Leeds City, with Charnwood finishing third some 31 seconds later. Anchor leg runner, Hosker Thornhill, said: “We were so desperate for the win today because we just wanted to do it for the girls. 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".
Aldershot also celebrated victory in the under-17 men's relay and Tonbridge were awarded gold in the under-20 men's race for the fifth consecutive year after an ineligible Loughborough Students composite team had crossed the line first. Elsewhere, medals were scattered like confetti as the remaining winners were: U20 women, Warrington; U17 women, Liverpool Harriers; U15 girls, Blackheath and Bromley Harriers; U15 boys, Woodford Green with Essex Ladies; U13 girls, Hallamshire Harriers; U13 boys, Kendal AAC.
Image courtesy Mak Hookway, Tonbridge AC