Sat 9 Feb 2019, Leigh
As the cross country season approaches its climax, although there are some national events still to follow, the Mid Lancs League held its fifth fixture of the season at Leigh. With the best 4 results from 6 fixtures to count for team and individual awards, and everyone having some idea of where they stand and who their rivals are, there was an atmosphere of anticipation at the Preston club tent before the fixture. It was a dry day, and again the ground was fairly soft, without mud, which, despite all the rain, has been a feature of the venues and courses this season.
Leigh is a mostly level course, with much of it on grass, although much harder trails are used too, making the choice of footwear quite a difficult decision. Most wore cross country spikes, but they aren`t really much use on hard packed paths.
The senior women were 5pts clear at the top of Division 1 going into this fixture, and the plan was simple – to get a team closed-in of three runners in first or second place in the Division, but at least ahead of rivals Clayton-le-Moors, Blackpool, Southport Waterloo and Wigan Harriers. The women`s course was listed as 6k, but was probably a shade over 5k, which was confirmed by the GPS watches and the times. Liz Abbot, having a wonderful season for Lytham St Annes RC, took the win by a comfortable margin in 18.51. For Preston, the team secured first place in the Division 1 teams, with Jenny Wren 10th, Katey Foster 23rd and Emma Essex-Crosby 26th. Wigan were just behind, so they picked up 6pts, to Preston’s 7pts. That win increased the overall team total to 27pts, and 28 pts is the maximum anyone can get. But no-one can overtake the Preston women with one fixture left. It`s a deserved team championship for the effort over the season, with team wins at Liverpool, Hyndburn and now Leigh. Everybody helps in a team competition and Vicki Sherrington, Olga Wiggins, Sue Wickham and Judith Deakin all played their part here, as has everyone who has run and got the earlier season totals too.
The men` s race saw an excellent 4th place from Andy Benson as first counter. Dan Bebbington was selected to run for the North at Rotselar, in Belgium in the Belgium Cross Cup, and so the rest of the Harriers men really stepped up again. The remaining team counters were Wesley Wilkinson (26th), Nathan Hilditch (33rd), Simon Collins (34th), Lee Foley (45th) and Andy Whaley (61st). Once again, there was a good turn-out, with plenty of backing and, going into the final fixture, Preston have 25 pts, as do Lancaster University, at the top of Division 1. Both teams can improve to 27pts, it`s all to be decided at the last fixture at Cuerden Valley on the 2nd March and the team are seeking to retain the title from 2018.
Before the final league fixture, there is the highlight of the cross-country season, which is the English National Cross Country Championships at Harewood Hall, Leeds on the 23rd February. Clubs from all over the country will descend on Leeds, with a full set of junior races, right through to the seniors and with the last race, at 3pm, it`s a full day. The Championships take place over slightly longer courses than the league fixtures, and the venues alternate annually from the North, the Midlands and the South.