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The men’s race gets underway as the afternoon sun fades in Mansfield’s Berry Hill Park

ATHLETICS agonises endlessly over how to reinvent itself. The sport’s governing bodies seem on a constant quest to find ways to innovate in order to attract the next generation of competitors and fans. Yet in the so-called struggling world of cross country running there is one meeting that has bucked the trend with a winning formula that draws runners of all abilities back year on year.

The English Cross Country Relays in Mansfield profits from a central location and a picturesque, rolling and spectator-friendly course. The team element catches the imagination of athletes and club managers alike. Short stages ranging from 2km for young age groups to 5km for senior men are challenging enough to be worth travelling to, but not intimidating enough to put anyone off.

Josh Grace: got Aldershot off to a good start in the senior men’s race

Given this, entry figures have steadily risen over the last 31 years so that today’s event sees more than 1000 clubs battling it out over 10 championship races. Even Mo Farah used the event as a springboard to greatness – in his last appearance in 2005 he clocked the second fastest stage of the day behind Nick McCormick.

Last Saturday, fellow Olympians like Steph Twell, Laura Weightman, Andy Vernon, Scott Overall and Ross Murray also used the meeting to stretch their legs ahead of the tougher training and cross country races that will come later in the winter.

Among the busy crowds at the side of the course, Steve Cram and Peter Elliott were among interested observers as they both had daughters in the races, while well-known endurance coaches such as Mick Woods, George Gandy and Gordon Surtees were keen to see how their athletes’ fitness was progressing in this early-season test.

Not many young athletes will have realised this, but the gentleman dishing out medals on the podium was the Olympic marathon silver medallist from 1964, Basil Heatley, a fearsome cross country competitor in his day and current president of the English Cross Country Association.

With the meeting held on November 5, bonfires around the nation were poised to be lit. But if you wanted to see any early fireworks before darkness fell then Berry Hill Park was the place to be with Aldershot, Farnham & District creating the biggest explosions of all with five victories in the ten races.

Chris Olley: secured silver for Tonbridge


JOSH GRACE and Harvey Dixon got Aldershot off to a solid start but Andy Vernon put the club into the lead with a blistering sub-15-minute third stage as he ripped through the field, leaving Jonny Hay to anchor the team to glory as they won by more than a minute.

Hallamshire, Morpeth and Notts AC were among the prominent clubs over the first two stages but they were overtaken not only by AFD but also Tonbridge, who were anchored to the silver medal position by Christopher Olley, plus Bristol & West, who took third.

Andy Vernon, Harvey Dixon, Josh Grace and Jonny Hay with the senior men’s trophy

“It’s a really good team event,” said Hay, who showed he is getting back into form after suffering from a bout of Lyme Disease during the summer. “It’s nice and short which means many people turn out for it and the size of the laps lead to a great atmosphere on the course.”

Darren Deed: part of a battling Bedford team

Unlike many of the runners in Mansfield, Hay is not looking forward to doing much of a cross country season this winter. Instead he’s building up for the Houston Marathon in January, where he’s hoping for a solid 26.2-mile race after his London Marathon disappointment, where he faded to 2:23 in April after going off too quickly in the battle for Olympic selection.

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About AW – Athletics Weekly Magazine

THE BIG FEATURE 16 ASBEL KIPROP Kenyan supermiler reflects on his indifferent 2016 season ACTION 34 ENGLISH CROSS RELAYS AFD win half the races in Berry Hill Park as Andy Vernon and Steph Twell star SPOTLIGHT 20 ATHLETES OF THE YEAR The time has come to place your votes in the 2016 Athletics Weekly survey PERFORMANCE 26 Sports science news 28 The principles of altitude training 30 Perfect push-ups for athletes 31 Nutrition – soup up your diet 32 Products – the best running tights NEWS 6 Lottery-funded athletes announced 10 Jack Braughton obituary 12 Stars on Futures funding 14 British athletics writers name 2016 award winners RESULTS & FIXTURES 42 Results, including World Masters and New York City Marathon 57 What’s On – events listings PREVIEWS 56 Previews of the Masters International and Milton Keynes Cross Challenge REGULARS 61 Quiz – test your knowledge 62 Dip Finish