We had two athletes competing for England yesterday, Stephen Jackson making his debut in the M40 team and Paul Merrison in the M65.
Both athletes went on to have a race to remember.
The 34th British and Irish Masters Cross Country International Championship took place in Tollcross Park, Glasgow, Scotland. The Scottish Masters team hosted a hugely successful event maintaining a very high standard of organisation and creating an incredible athlete experience. Athletes and their teams were made to feel very special indeed.
For these championships, each home nation hosts the event every 5 years, the home nations having built up strong relationships with each other over the years.
Athletes qualified for their countries after running in their own home nations events. As ever, each year seems to see a vast increase with the quality of masters athletes as it is extremely competitive. Wearing the national singlet makes it that bit more special.
Paul Merrison kicked things off as he set off in the M65 race, racing 6km in good sunny conditions.
The experienced England International completed the 1st lap in 4th place and made brilliant inroads to haul himself into the medals as he stormed home (22.35) in an absolute fantastic third place and first England counter.
The race was won by Colin Feechan (Scotland) in 21.56, silver medal went to Laurence Johnston (N.Ireland) in 22.30
Not only did Paul win individual bronze, but he also won team silver along with team mates Jonathon Haynes and Kevin Newman. Scotland claimed team gold, whilst Northern Ireland clinched the bronze medals.
Paul Merrison said "My targets for the race were to be first counter for England, and to repay the faith the selectors, particularly England team manager, Kim Matthews who showed great faith in me after missing the trial due to illness.
I must also thank my club, Sunderland Harriers, for their support - especially the financial assistance enabling me to compete.
I also aimed to medal individually, so everything went to plan. I was fighting for silver on the last of 3 laps but missed out in the closing stages to Laurence Johnston of Northern Ireland who edged me out by 5 secs.
Overall, it was another great day of racing and none prouder than wearing an England vest."
In the penultimate race, a good quality field lined up in what was to be a hotly contested race on a course just under 5 miles. Stephen Jackson, who has had a great winter training block thus far under the tutelage of coach Glenn Forster, locked horns with some of the best masters athletes in the country.
Stephen finished 8th overall in the race, but more importantly finished 3rd in the M40 race behind two Scots; winner Darrell Hastie (25:09) and runner-up Iain Whittaker (25:13). The Sunderland Harrier was also first England counter and this helped England to claim team silver medals behind winners Scotland, the bronze medals went to Ireland.
The other England team medal winners were Ben Gamble, Robert Warner and Michael Eccles.
Stephen Jackson commented, "Having kicked off the cross-country season in muddy conditions at the trial race in Derby, and the national relays in Mansfield. The conditions were surprisingly good after an early morning frost.
I went out fairly hard in what would become the chase group. The outright winner lapped the rest of the field fairly early on and as the pace settled I was around 10 seconds or so behind the leaders who were, in the main, V35 athletes.
I feel the workout at Mansfield the week before combined with the winter ‘strength based’ sessions my coach Glenn has been setting recently meant that I was well equipped to finish strongly.
I was delighted to medal on what was a fantastic event for Masters athletes.
I would also like to thank the my club, Sunderland Harriers & AC, for their support and thanks to our committee for their financial assistance in enabling me to compete on what was a brilliant experience."
It was to be a successful day's work for the England men's team as they claimed the overall men's team title with a total score of 72 points.
Next year the Home Nations event will be held in Northern Ireland.