Race Reports

The Bella conquer Callendar Park at soggy national cross country championships

The spikes may already be washed, the soiled socks tossed in the bin and the legs slowly recovering to normal, but the memories of the 2017 national cross country championships are still vivid.

It is only in reading reports of the event in the aftermath that many competitors will have learned that the racing, staged at Callendar Park in Falkirk on Saturday, was very nearly cancelled by the organisers. Biblical levels of rainfall during the night prior to the event left some sections of the course underwater and others treacherously slippy. 

By the time of the start of the last race of the day – the senior men's race – the course resembled a veritable mud bath. There was debate pre-race, among the hardy group of Bellahouston Harriers in attendance, over whether the conditions rivalled those revelled in at the 2014 and 2015 West district cross country championships at Linwood and Bellahouston Park respectively, whilst some even turned their thoughts to the infamous 1989 national championships staged in several inches of snow.

A healthy 31 runners from Bellahouston Harriers donned the blue vest, etched with the famous light-blue saltire, and were cheered on by a further band of vocal supporters. 

The first to brave the conditions were the nine senior women runners, who were tackling the 10km distance at the championships for the first time. There were debuts for some, including Claire Fitzsimmons and Ann Knox, and a successful comeback from injury for Kristina Greig. Robyn Millar survived a lengthy queue of rugby fans to make the start line in time, while Katy Smith and Karen 'Britney' Speirs put aside their respective ultra-marathon and marathon training plans for the day to take on the very different challenge of cross country. 

The mud did not seem to dampen the spirits of Emily Jackson, and there was even a hint of a smile from road-running specialist Suzanne Boyle as she reached the summit of the final climb where the Bella tent and supporters were based. Katherine Hylands led home the Bella contingent in a time of 51:54 in 149th position. 

Next off were the three entrants in the under-20s men's race. The lads – Calum Fergusson, Robbie Fergusson and Fraser Armstrong – have all been showing terrific form in training of late, with performances also translating into some quick times during the indoor track season. 

A very heavy 7.6km course challenged the trio, but all three showed guts to pull out solid runs. Robbie was first home in 36th position in a time of 30:16, with Fraser following less than a minute later.

The beauty of the national cross country championships is that it is essentially an open event. While the national championships in other sports are usually reserved for the elite contenders, grassroots athletics has an unrivalled inherent inclusiveness – if you're a member of a running club you can take your place on the start line alongside the country's best. 

And so it was that 19 Bellahouston Harriers joined Olympian Callum Hawkins and hundreds of others waiting for the gun to go at the start of the senior men's race. By then glorious sunshine beamed through where previously there was cloud, although it did little to dry the ground which had been badly churned up during the various races held earlier in the day.

Some of guys appear to thrive in such conditions, however: none more so than Frank Gilroy who powered through and declared in the immediate aftermath that he'd "loved it". There was also time for a broad smile, or was it a grimace, from John Beckett as he made the final ascent. 

There were fine performances throughout the team, with a debut for Paul Burningham, and a first outing at the championships in a Bella vest for Mark Wallace, a previous bronze medal winner as a junior.

Scotland veteran caps Colin Thomas and Crispin Walsh were first and fourth home respectively for the team, with Colin finishing a highly creditable run of 38:48 for 46th position. Jack Arnold and men's team captain Darren McQuade also beat a number of fine runners in claiming second and third spots, while Stuart Miller finished 51 places higher this year than in 2016 in fifth.

David Mackintosh rounded off the top six, helping the men's team to an overall ninth placed finish, the best performance in a generation, as the team edged out Motherwell AC and Metro Aberdeen Running Club in a tight result.

Following Frank closely home was Gordon Stevenson and Paul Clawson, and Donald Kennedy again showed his form in the cross country setting by leading home Kenny Taylor, Neil Nairn and Iain Morrison. There was a successful evening to follow for John Cunningham at the quiz night, with John finishing between Chris Paton and Robert Carson, who it can only be hoped will remember to bring some spoons next year to stir the stove-boiled coffees…

So while we clean the remaining bits of dirt from under the toe-nails, and reflect on perhaps the toughest races on the Scottish Athletics calendar, the Bellahouston Harriers can take pride in a job well done. We wore that vest. We represented.

Report by Stuart Miller

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