ERRA 5k U15/U17 National Championships
Following the successes of the Northern U15/U17 5k Championships held in Birkenhead Park in March, #TeamWirralAC sent 11 athletes down to the national event. This was held over a measured 5k course almost identical to the taxing 5.1 kilometre ‘short leg’ in the 6 and 12 stage senior relay competition run on the same day in Sutton Park. It became apparent early on the day that the forecast cool overcast conditions were not going to prevail and instead a sunny very warm day developed which added to the challenging race conditions presented by the course itself.
Finan Johnston acquitted himself very well and ran a sharp 17:47 for 12th place in the U15 boys race which was dominated by the familiar vests of Aldershot Farnham & District (AFD). We didn’t close a team in this category but Finan can be proud of a solid effort and excellent time.
The U15 girls race saw our largest contingent, featuring the same 5 athletes who performed so well at the Northern 5k race where they won the team silver (Ellen-Mary Kearney, Lucy Hignett, Scarlett Liddy, Elyse Kedzior-MacDonough, Rachel Hurst), and the squad was further strengthened with the addition of Isabel Hodder which also allowed 2 complete teams to be closed on the day. As the race unfolded it became clear that the Wirral team were in the mix for top honours with AFD. A brilliant repeat of her 4th place in the Northerns in a higher quality field saw Ellen-Mary Kearney register the type of performance that became a common theme through the squad. An astonishing strong run from Elyse Kedzior-MacDonough saw her set a new lifetime best and close a 20 metre gap in the last 400m to get in front of the second AFD counter. Scarlett Liddy also produced a superb effort on the day for 11th to close out the ‘A’ team with Hodder, Hignett and Hurst not far behind to complete the second team. In the end Wirral took a fine team silver medal, being edged out of team gold by a single point. The only downside to proceedings being that the ‘B’ team were denied the award of bronze medals for their third place for reasons which seem difficult to comprehend in the circumstances. Irrespective of this, the key takeaway for coaches and athletes alike is that #TeamWirralAC junior endurance athletes are right up with the best the nation has to offer.
The U17 boys team comprised 4 strong athletes in Arran Kearney, Jacob Brophy, Tom Spence and Martin Hurst, who also raced well and all finished inside the top 10, securing a superb team gold in the process. The icing on the rather large cake was Tom Spence seeing off some excellent competition to get himself on the podium, adding a national bronze to his medal rack along with the team honours. A very fine performance from all.
Addendum: U15 Girls- a performance success:
Trying to untangle the various elements that contribute to the sum that comprises a particular performance is not necessarily easy to do with much rigour or in what might be deemed a ‘statistically defensible’ manner. However it’s clear by looking at athletes from other clubs who competed in both the Northern 5k & National 5k races, and comparing the gaps on both days between them and the 5 Wirral athletes who also did both races, that Wirral athletes made huge inroads between the two races- on average, this gain was over 40 seconds! This was really the key to our competitiveness on Nationals day, and is worth some exploration via athlete feedback as to the possible factors at play as it seems the other clubs’ athletes registered fairly consistent performances in both races.
More obvious factors like training effectively and an encouraging squad culture may not yield much insight as competitors could (should?) be assumed to have access to similar environments prior to both races. Perhaps an element of the success of the U15 girls team was the preparation undertaken by athletes, who were encouraged to familiarise themselves with the course profile ahead of time via the GPS Strava segment, along with taking onboard a few (3) key points to break down the course and hopefully set their expectations for what was to come. That the squad produced such a good performance is a reflection of the willingness and ability of our athletes to adjust their race strategy and tactics to suit specific course conditions. Sutton is a *very* tough course and the unsuspecting athlete can easily misjudge their effort and lose a lot of time.
The challenge is how to consistently replicate that performance level on different courses in different competitions in a way which is straightforward and efficient, engaging and above all, doesn’t degrade the fun aspects of racing. Perhaps next year we can mount a similar challenge for medals and produce a similar performance.
Words: Al Robertson firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo Credits: Bryan Dale (www.racephotos.org.uk), Simon Hignett, Al Robertson