SEAA XC Championship Race – Beckenham Place Park – Sat 28th January 2023.
Fifth at the weekend for the Senior Men at the South of England Cross-County Championships at Beckenham Place Park is an outstanding result. This was a giant leap for the club who have participated at every ‘Southern’ XC event since 2010 and have not once finished in the top ten. Even last season – also at Beckenham – when race winner Andy Coley-Maud gave them the perfect start, the team only claimed 13th spot.
The Beckenham course was in remarkably good condition compared to a fortnight ago when the Surrey Cross-Country League – Division One fixture was run in extremely wet & boggy conditions. The South of England or ‘Southern’ Cross-Country at 15k (9m) is the longest race in the winter calendar. In comparison the Surrey League courses at 8k (5m) are only half-distance.
The course had also been improved on last season’s version which at 4.5 laps and with a few long sections of gravel paths had come in for some criticism. This time one small lap and three large undulating outer laps, over mostly grassy terrain were much more favourable to its participants wearing spiked cross-country shoes.
The ‘Southern’ for many seasons has been staged at the iconic Parliament Hill, Hampstead Heath overlooking London. Every third year when the National XC arrives at the same venue, the ‘Southern’ usually switches to Stanmer Park in Brighton, about as far south as you can go.
At Beckenham in-form John Sanderson in 17th place was first home for the G’s. John had been in the top ten on the first lap, slipping back during the race to about twentieth, before rallying to regain a few places towards the end. This was John’s second best finish at the ‘Southern’; his best coming at Stanmer Park in 2018 when placing 6th.
Johnny Van Deventer and Tom Foster were next home in 64th and 67th respectively. Both have been scoring highly in the League matches this season and it emphasises the quality of the field in this race. Next in was expectant father Ed Dixon with a 75th placed finish who also has been well positioned in the League this season. Callum Job who ran 2hrs 35mins in London this year, was next for the G’s in 104th closely followed by Matt McDaniel who claims to dislike cross-country closing the team with a timely 112th placed finish.
The scoring six were ably backed up by six of the veterans or Masters members of the club Nick Tearle (167th) who ran 1s under 76mins at the recent Farnborough half-marathon. Mark Tennyson (241st), Terry Booth (291st), Ian Davies (380th), Brian O’Kane (590th) and John’s father Paul Sanderson (607th) from 665 finishers.
The bar has been elevated very high for the Senior Men with this fifth team finish. There is still some way to go to break into the top three or four at this Championship event. If ever it requires emphasising how important every place is in cross-country; the top two teams Highgate Harriers and Tonbridge AC were separated by just two points and the margin between Belgrave Harriers in sixth and Thames Hare & Hounds in seventh was one point.
We asked one of the younger athletes who ran his first ever ‘Southern’ for an appreciation of his experiences:
Ethan Kendall (271st) – AFD (1st claim) & GGAC (2nd claim).
‘’There is only one place to start and that is the distance of the Senior Men’s race! Initially I thought there must be a mistake, surely the organisers would not make us suffer through 15k. Unfortunately there was no mistake and a brief look at the history of the event showcased just how prestigious the Senior Men’s race is at these Championships.
During the journey to the event by train with others a veteran athlete told us ‘’you can only call yourself a man once you finish the Southern’s.’’
Initially lining up alongside so many athletes did feel daunting, but having so many fellow athletes around during the race really helped keep me focused on finishing the race. The atmosphere was incredible with a great number of people staying to watch and support. The support given by the marshals was also greatly appreciated especially on the parts of the course furthest from the start.
I finished in 58 minutes and placed just inside the top half. I was delighted to get round and tick off my first Southern XC. The sense of team work and camaraderie that you feel when you finish and chat with fellow runners and friends really is unrivalled. Even when your legs are burning and you have nothing left in the tank, there will always be someone there to congratulate you on finishing, wherever you place, which is why cross-country and especially the Southern’s is a must for all club runners.’’
Teams: Men (6-to-score)
1 – Highgate Harriers 101
2 – Tonbridge AC 103
3 – Hercules Wimbledon AC 125
4 – Southampton AC 179
5 – Guildford & Godalming AC 439
6 – Belgrave Harriers 492
7 – Thames Hare & Hounds 493
8 – Aldershot Tarnham & District 523
Next up for the Senior Men is the final Surrey League match at Lloyd Park, Croydon on 11th Feb, before they travel to the National XC at Bolesworth Castle near Chester at the end of the month.
Photo Credits @stephendgardner (Belgrave)