Neil Featherby: Norfolk Cross Country Champs could be best in years

Action from the Norfolk Cross Country Championships. Picture: Mark Hewlett

Action from the Norfolk Cross Country Championships in 2020. Picture: Mark Hewlett - Credit: Mark Hewlett

So here we are, a week in to 2022 and whilst the new running year kicked off in Norfolk with the Wymondham New Year's Day 10K, we do of course now have the Norfolk County Cross Country Championships in Norwich to look forward to this Sunday. 

Having seen some of the entries, it really does look to be one of the best contested cross-country championships here in the county for a number of years and right across the age groups. 

I don’t intend to start putting pressure on anyone by naming names as when you get such a strong field of several equally talented athletes, there are so many permutations to take into account which could dictate who wins on the day. 

I am sure each race will unfold somewhat differently, but will it be a case of one of the winners running away from the start and never looking back? Or will it be one of those athletes who just sits patiently and then comes through strongly during the later stages, passing those who perhaps have gone off too quickly? Needless to say, the course will suit some athletes better than others and the weather conditions will no doubt be a factor too.   

However, what all runners can be sure of is a really well organised day of racing with so much hard work having gone into these championships during the last few months. 

Whilst most of my dialogue has been with the very hard-working Peter Mahoney, Rob Machin and Clive Poyner, I do also know that there are several others behind the scenes who have gone to great lengths when it comes to making sure that it will all run smoothly on the day. 

Whereas we now have boys, girls, men’s, and women’s categories across the various age groups from U11 through to seniors and masters, from what I can see when looking back deep down in the annals of Norfolk running history, for many years just one race took place and that of course being for senior men.   

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How times have changed from nearly a century ago when looking at the results from the 1932 champs which were held in Gorleston and consisted of just 22 entrants (all senior men) with AW Barnes from Great Yarmouth AC taking the honours on that day. 

The EDP report from the time is excellently written whilst not only telling of how Gt Yarmouth AC took the title from Norwich and Norfolk AC, but described just about every detail of the race and the course which consisted of path, meadow and grass land along with ditches which some athletes negotiated better than others. 

It also says that the distance was about six and a half miles too. Not even a surveyor’s wheel was used back then, never mind GPS or other modern day measuring devices. As for race marshals, there were none what with the report saying it was a well-marked out trail.  All 22 athletes were either members of Gt Yarmouth or the old N&NAC which is a long way from the extensive list of clubs taking part this year. 

Anyway, good luck to everyone running on Sunday and of course to all those people who are part of the organisation whilst remembering that they will all be creating another little bit of Norfolk Athletics history to look back on in years to come. 

Finally, I must just mention Peter Duhig from Ryston Runners and Melanie Furness. 

Pete who now lives in Spain, really does have such a distinguished running CV. But after collapsing in a 10K race where his heart stopped for a few minutes back in 2017, it has been a case of just running for health for him since then. 

Nevertheless, Pete has always been a very competitive and determined man for which I also know he gets frustrated when not being able to give it his all and thereby decided to take part in his last ever race, the San Silvestre 5k, last weekend before finally calling it a day. 

He of course did it in style dressed as Old Father Time whilst also drawing a big round of applause from the watching spectators. 

As for Melanie, I think it is fair to say that just about all of the local running community know her. Not just for her amazing 300 plus marathons but for all her charity fund raising exploits too and hence why she has now been awarded the British Empire Medal for services to the local community in the New Year’s Honours list. 

Well done Pete and Mel, two remarkable people. 

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