Mark Armstrong: Why Norfolk pair deserve success at Inter Counties Cross Country Championships
- Credit: Archant
'No one club is better than the other and it's about coming together for the greater good.'
That sums up the ethos Dom Blake and Chris Merrylees have brought to the Norfolk Cross Country scene as the co-managers get ready to take the Norfolk men's and ladies' senior teams to the Inter Counties Cross Country Championships at Loughborough on Saturday.
Athletes from CoNAC, Bure Valley Harriers, Norwich Road Runners, North Norfolk Beach Runners, Wymondham AC, Ryston Runners, Reepham Runners and Bungay Black Dogs will come together on the muddy fields of Prestwold Hall and lay it all on the line in the Norfolk vest.
It hasn't always been that way.
Following years of stagnation on the Norfolk cross country scene, there was perhaps an inevitable upsurge when two likeable characters like Dom and Chris took charge.
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However, they have been able to sustain momentum and this will be the third year in a row that Norfolk has had a full scoring contingent in the men's and ladies' senior races.
"With the ladies team in particular, I'm really optimistic," said Dom. "In the last couple of years we've been 10th and 11th but when you throw someone of Iona Lake's standard then it's quite exciting. We've got Amy Beck coming back from injury and ladies like Jo Andrews, Juliette Watkinson whilst Autumn Hales has been storming it recently.
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"Then you've got Mabel (Beckett) from CoNAC - all the way down the list, I'd say it's the first time thinking that there's isn't a weak runner in there."
Norfolk Cross Country champion Michael Eccles, fresh from his win at the Ringland Half Marathon last weekend, will spearhead the men's challenge whilst Logan Smith has been included as he makes a competitive return after suffering injury towards the end of a successful 2019.
Dom and Chris use the top eight from the Norfolk Cross Country Championships held in Thetford in January but keep one discretionary place back in case a notable athlete can't make the event.
"I was really pleased that Logan got in touch with myself and Chris prior to the County Champs letting us know he wouldn't be competing but he was targeting the Inter Counties," added Dom, who will also run as part of the men's team as James Senior had to drop out through injury. "You want to have your best runners to choose from and Logan has certainly demonstrated over the past year that he has the pedigree. He's a humble athlete but he's also class.
"But we've got some great experience as well - Michael (Eccles) has been in superb form and then we've got athletes like Neil Adams as a V40 runner and Gary Crush deserves a mention as well - we've got real quality."
The sense of excitement when speaking to Dom is palpable and he hopes that pulling on the Norfolk vest will bring the best out of all the athletes involved.
"With the county vest it can go one of two ways - you can see it as either a burden or an inspiration," he said. "Certainly with the ethos that we're trying to create around the county vest with that pride, we are finding that athletes are really kicking on.
"Sam Todd - he just seems to really perform well in muddy conditions and that's what it's going to be like at Loughborough.
"I get a real kick out of seeing our athletes perform well. There's real potential in both these teams to perform and as a manager, watching them all come together and work for each other it's a real pleasure.
"The calibre is amazing as well. Some of them will be mixing it with some huge names, athletes that will be going to the Olympics later this year.
"To be running with some of those names I think will be inspiring for our guys."
In addition to that I know all the athletes involved will also want to do Dom and Chris proud. The pair give up a great deal of spare time making this happen and our runners will undoubtedly want to repay that with strong performances.
Good luck to all our Norfolk athletes - go and do our county proud.
Men's senior team
Michael Eccles (BVH)
Gary Crush (CoNAC)
Neil Adams (NNBR)
James Johnson (Norwich Road Runners)
Sam Todd (CoNAC)
Callum Stanforth (Ryston Runners)
Robert Simmonds (Ryston Runners)
Logan Smith (CoNAC)
Dom Blake (Reepham Runners)
Ladies senior team
Iona Lake (CoNAC)
Jo Andrews (Bungay Black Dog)
Mabel Beckett (CoNAC)
Amy Beck (Norwich Road Runners)
Juliette Watkinson (Wymondham AC)
Autumn Hales (BVH)
Lynn Emmett (Beccles and Bungay)
Cat Cummings (CoNAC).