Almost 3000 runners from across England braved thick mud, snow and a biting wind to compete at the National Cross Country Championships at Herrington Country Park on Saturday (23 February). Returning to the Sunderland venue for the first time since 2007, Keith Gerrard and Louise Damen took top place in the senior events, with Morpeth Harriers securing the team title.
In a tense finale to the men's competition, Gerrard (41:21) finished just over two seconds ahead of second placed Steve Vernon (41:24) to successfully defend his national XC title. Third and fourth was similarly tight, with Neilson Hall (41:47), runner up at last week's Southern XC, edging Shaun Dixon (41:50) on the 12k course.
Louise Damon (29:31) secured an impressive victory in the women's field, with the Winchester & District runner coming home exactly one minute ahead of Sonia Samuels (30:31). Damon, who was returning to the cross-country scene after focusing on longer distance events, retained the title she first won in 2011. Last year's champion, Gemma Steel, took third position with a time of 30:40.
Olympic silver-medallist Steve Cram attended the event and said he wasn't surprised at the turnout, even with the difficult conditions: "For many club athletes this is the biggest event of the year. It doesn't matter if it's rain snow or shine, they still turn up."
In the team event, Leeds City were unable to retain their title as they took second position, with Morpeth Harriers in first place, and Tipton Harriers rounding off the top. A superb video showing the tough conditions on the day can be viewed at the tyneandwearsky.com website.