Middlesex Championships – Wormwood Scrubs – 18th January 2003

The re-arranged County event was not troubled by the inclement weather that had caused the River Crane to burst its bank at the start of the month and flood the Cranford course, Gavin Collett reports. The sun even made an appearance at the changed venue of Wormwood Scrubs, but unfortunately many of the better Middlesex-qualified senior athletes decided to stay away with the closer proximity of this date to both the South of England and CAU Inter Counties Championships. However, this did lead to closer contested races than has been the case in recent years.

The opening third of the senior women’s event saw a pack of nine still in contention, with veterans Sandra Andreou and Anna Critchlow prominent along with Julia Bleasdale, Emily Ferenczi and Astrid Wingler, as no-one seemed to want to commit themselves at the front with many racing over the championship distance of eight kilometres for the first time this season.

Past the domineering prison wall at the start of the second and final lap, Bleasdale and Wingler matched strides as a gap appeared for the first time at the head of the field. It quickly became apparent the chasing pack were now racing for the bronze medal and to put themselves in contention for what should be a strong Middlesex team at Nottingham, with Hayley Yelling, Jo Lodge and Kathy Butler among those likely to appear there.

Bleasdale always appeared to hold the upper hand as she repeatedly tested Wingler, winner of the previous weeks Metropolitan League fixture, a race the Hillingdon athlete spectated at after missing the start following a late arrival in London from Cambridge University. Wingler kept reacting to the surges, but Bleasdale finally made the decisive move within the final mile.

Although never totally out of the picture, the Highgate Harrier couldn’t get on level terms again, though she made sure Bleasdale couldn’t enjoy her first senior county title until she had actually crossed the finishing line.

Anna Critchlow secured third ahead of the Shaftesbury Barnet pair of Emily Ferenczi and Caroline Walsh, as evergreen Paula Fudge scythed her way through the field to eventually finish sixth.

Similarly, a large group shared the lead in the men’s race after the first of the three laps, with new Harrow recruit Dave Branfoot, the London Irish pair of John Creane and Dennis Ojera, Ian Cunningham, James Trapmore and the host club’s Chris Smith taking advantage of the wide-open paths on the Scrubs to run side-by-side.

By the clump of trees at the halfway mark, five of these six remained as Ojera had dropped away, with 39-year-old Nick Martyn now occupying sixth spot, 30m in arrears after a more cautious start than the other main protagonists.

With a lap to go, Martyn was up to third, though Trapmore and Smith had extricated themselves at the front, with Ealing’s Cunningham, Creane and Branfoot tracking Martyn.

In an identical spot to where Bleasdale had made the decisive move in the women’s race, so Trapmore finally broke the Scot’s resistance, using his long, loping stride to good effect on the flat course, whereas Smith admitted afterwards to favouring hillier terrain.

With a final surge that would have brought a smile to the face of Frank Horwill, Cunningham secured third position, meaning the BMC guru’s Battersea-based group occupied the three medal positions.

With the County veterans title settled in their own Championships at the beginning of February, intriguingly the three leading veterans here were separated by just six seconds, ultra international Chris Finill heading the London Heathside duo of Paul Lemmon and Norman Mitchell.