Cake, Mud and Team Spirit – The joy of Cross Country

Given the lack of running action due to Covid-19 we thought it would be worthwhile looking back at the domestic cross country season that has recently come to a close – a discipline we feel that never gets enough exposure.

We have the lowdown on the Gwent and North Wales Cross Country Leagues during the 2019/20 season as well as interviews with some of Wales’ best domestic cross country league runners about their seasons and their relationship with cross country in general. 

Cross country has historically been a less favoured discipline at schools across the country. Ok, maybe a few hardy kids did enjoy it but no one would have predicted the recent upsurge in cross country participation across the board, especially amongst the older age categories. It is now considered to be an enjoyable way to spend a few hours on a Saturday or Sunday, racing, socialising, cheering on team mates and eating cake! So let’s hear what it’s all about.

The two main leagues catering for Welsh clubs comprise the John H Collins Gwent League (Supported by Start Fitness) in the south and the North Wales league (sponsored by Grand Prix Express) in the north.

The Gwent League is a long established league where South Wales’ clubs go head to head with the top clubs in the South West of England.  Due to the stormy weather at the end of February the Gwent League was this year forced to finish with 4 fixtures rather than the usual 5 with the Singleton Park fixture unfortunately falling to the weather.

This year saw huge participation in the senior age groups, with the last league fixture at Chepstow Racecourse having 98 full men’s and 81 women’s team competing respectively. 512 senior men took part in the Llandaff Fields fixture demonstrating that cross country is hugely popular.

Start of the Llandaff Fields, Cardiff Leg of the Gwent League – Credit Paul Stillman

Welsh teams were to the fore in the overall senior men’s championship standings with Adam Bull of Pontypridd Roadents winning his first Gwent League title. Bull’s season included victories at both Bristol and Chepstow and 4th place at Pembrey with him winning the league with a comfortable 14 point lead. Adam has been running well on the country and the road recently with wins at the Newport Half Marathon and 2nd at the Conwy Half Marathon. In 2nd place was San Domenico’s Luke Williams with Bull’s team mate Dan Bodman in 3rd.

Adam Bull on the way to winning the Chepstow leg of the Gwent League – Credit Paul Stillman

Age group championship victories include G Breen of Bristol and West M35, Huw Evans of Les Croupiers RC M45, Rob Hunt of Bridgend Athletics Club M55 and John Davies of Penarth and Dinas in the M65.  Bristol and West took the Senior team title with Aberdare AAC and Micky Morris Race Team in 2nd and 3rd respectively.

On the women’s side it was three time Welsh Inter-Regional Champion Alaw Beynon-Thomas of Swansea Harriers that took the season title ahead of Bristol and West’s Elaina Gard and Cati O’Donoghoe. Beynon-Thomas’ season included victories in Pembrey and Chepstow and 2nd place in the Bristol fixture. Alaw represented Wales at the Home Countries International in Stirling in February 2020.

Alaw Beynon-Thomas winning the Welsh Inter Regional Championships 2019 – Photo Credit Paul Stillman

Welsh women also had success in the masters age categories with Kath Mathews of Chepstow Harriers winning the W35 (also finishing a superb 2nd in the overall senior standings) and Sandra Chipper of Lliswerry winning the W45. Other age group wins went to Diane Hier – Avon Valley (W55) and Shirley Hume – Westbury (W65).

Welsh athletes also excelled in the junior races with category wins for the following:

  • Novice Boys – Will Coles, Carmarthen Harriers
  • U13 Boys – Iwan Thomas, Carmarthen Harriers
  • U15 Boys – Rhys Llewellyn, Pembrokshire Harriers
  • U15 Women – Jessica Evans, Cardiff AAC
  • U17 Boys – Lloyd Sheppard, Cardiff AAC
  • U20 Boys – Nathan Jones, Swansea Harriers
  • U20 Women – Hannah Jenkins, Porthcawl Runners
  • U23 Men – Adam Bowen, Merthyr
  • U23 Women – Abigayle Goodrick-Latham, Swansea Harriers

We look forward to following the performances of these youngsters as they move up the ranks. 

The long established North Wales League sees athletes from Mid and North Wales going head to head with some of the English border teams. This league has also a healthy participation level with clubs competing over 3 or 4 divisions. Welsh success came on the women’s side with Eryri Harriers’ Miranda Grant (W35) finishing on top with clubmate Gemma Moore 2nd. Bethan Jones from Oswestry Olympians was 3rd. It must be noted of U17 and GB athlete Eden O’Dea form Deeside AC was an impressive 3rd at the final fixture. 

In the men’s competition it was the English clubs that dominated with the top 3 going to Joseph Morrison (West Cheshire), Adam Allison (Shropshire Shufflers) and M35 Jim Hickinbottom (Shrewsbury) respectively. In the other age groups Welsh Victories included:

  • U17 Men Huw Jones (Deeside AC)
  • M40 Steve Skates (Prestatyn RC)
  • M45 Jez Buckley (Buckley RC)
  • M50 Geran Hughes (GOG Tri Club)
  • M75 Emyr Davies (Rhedwyr Hebog)
  • M80 Roger Harrison-Jones (Prestatyn RC)
  • U20 Women Bethan Davies (Colwyn Bay AC)
  • W35 Miranda Grant (Eryri Harriers)
  • W40 Jennifer Charlton (Eryri Harriers)
  • W45 Andrea Rowlands (Eryri Harriers)
  • W50 Helen Blair (Eryri Harriers)
  • W55 Emma Colins (Denbigh Harriers)
  • W60 Menai Baugh (Denbigh Harriers)
  • W70 Ann d’Albuqerque (GOG Tri Club)

Running Review Cymru spoke to Adam Bull, Alaw Beynon-Thomas and Miranda Grant about their wins and their experience of running across the country:

RRCFirstly Congratulations on winning the Gwent Cross Country League this year. What draws you to competing over XC during the winter season?

AB – Thanks. The attraction to XC for me has always been the team aspect in both the Gwent league & Welsh Champs, coupled by my ability to run reasonably well over XC without having to train specifically for it. More recently, I’ve used XC races as a substitute to a session to have a hard run-out without reducing mileage in the lead-up, to compliment my marathon prep. (Adam had just found out that his Marathon debut had been postponed)

ABT – Thank you, I am happy as I have never managed to complete every league fixture before due to illness or other races getting in the way so it’s nice to finally get the league victory, even though the wait to complete all 5 fixture will have to wait.  Since I starting running I have always competed XC, I enjoy the challenge that comes with it, be it the course or weather. You can’t hide in a XC race either; if you’re not fit it will definitely show.  With not that many local road races during the winter season I find XC is a great way to remain competitive. 

MG – I mainly run in the Fells, all year round if I can manage it but there are less fell races through the Autumn and Winter. I really enjoy competing, and the XC keeps me in the swing of things through to the start of the Fell running season. I also find it a good form of strength training, although nowadays, heading towards my 40s, longer courses such as in the National Cross Country Championships, where the men and women run equal distances, suit me better. I also just happen to like sports that make you really muddy.

RRC – Did you enjoy XC during PE lessons in school? If not, what has changed?

AB – I didn’t take up running until I’d left school at 18 & the PE dept. at the school I attended was very football, rugby & cricket orientated. So, unfortunately XC was never on the agenda back then.

ABT – I was probably one of the few pupils that enjoyed cross country in school. It might be because I was quite successful or the fact I got to miss lessons to go and compete at the school competitions. I had very supportive teachers in Ysgol Gyfun y Strade and we had a great school and county xc team which also helped, Welsh Commonwealth Games 400m hurdler Caryl Granville was also part of the team. I was convinced by Carmarthen Harriers’ Hedydd Davies to compete for Dyfed schools in the Welsh School Champs when I was in year 9 which culminated in me winning my first Welsh Schools vest, a proud moment. During my early XC days I meet a lot of new friends and racing was the only time I got to see some of them.  

MG – I really loved XC at school. I grew up in the Northern Highlands, and ran a lot with my Dad as a child and in my teens. I was competing within the same smaller field of runners nearly the whole time, apart from when it came to the Scottish Schools XC champs, which were terrifying as I wasn’t used to running in big races. I still remember my first XC race when I was 10 and being really disappointed with how I’d run but also knowing I’d found the sport for me!

RRC – Why do you think XC has become so popular recently?

AB – I think it is due to the number of members increasing within clubs, XC can be used as a pathway to get people into the competitive element of running as everyone scores points in local XC leagues. Also, I’ve noticed over the last few seasons, the distance of races getting gradually shorter. Whether this is intentional or not, a slightly shorter distance maybe more appealing to newer runners which could be a contributing factor to increased participation.

ABT – I know a lot of runners that would dread running XC when they were younger and I think the credit in terms of the increase in participation must be given to the clubs in changing these attitudes. Over the years club membership has been increasing and team managers have managed to use the social aspect of xc to attract members to compete. Its great to see so much camaraderie between teams and the men supporting the women and vice versa. You will also find most club tents at the fixtures full of cakes and treats and who wouldn’t enjoy that!  

MG – It could be to do with the popularity of the Parkrun. There have been a lot of incentives for people who have not run much before to start out with a couch-to-5k programme, or by getting involved in the super-friendly and encouraging Parkrun scene. XC, which is a variation of running around a park, and usually a similar distance albeit a muddier affair, could be the side-step people are taking to try out other variations of running, or just end up giving it a go when they decide to join a running club. And like Parkrun, they are also free.

RRC – To finish, what is the best and worst thing about xc?

AB – The worst thing about XC I’d say for me firstly is the dread & anticipation prior to a race when the weather is horrific. Secondly, is when the course is flat & fast. I much prefer hilly & muddy courses. The best things for me about XC, firstly, how times & PBs are essentially thrown out the window, they don’t matter, the only thing relevant is the position you finish on that given day. The conditions, weather & distances will always change year-to-year so anything else becomes irrelevant. Secondly, how it can level the playing field, how you can beat people you otherwise wouldn’t get near in a road 10km or HM. Though, those who aren’t a fan of XC may disagree with the last point!

ABT – One of the best thing about XC for me is the challenge, some courses are muddy and hilly and some are flat and fast, and I enjoy challenging myself especially on courses that are perhaps not to my strengths. Times on the track and road don’t matter on the country and I see it as a battle of the toughest. I also enjoy the mud, when else is it acceptable for an adult to run through mud? The worst thing for me is the cold, I’m a very cold person and hanging around in a field during the winter season is not fun – not even two pairs of gloves is sufficient!! I’m also not a fan of washing my spikes – I still haven’t washed them yet. 

MG – The negatives: Hanging around in a partly-flooded field, shin deep in mud, in sideways sleet, wrestling to put up a shelter for the team, while trying to stay warm before a race. Forgetting your spikes or fell shoes, and realising you’ve put your road shoes in the bag by accident. Raynauds hands. Washing your soaking, mud-caked kit afterwards….or (don’t judge me) forgetting your kit in the back of your car, only to remember it’s there when you get in the car again to go to work on Monday…. Positives: It’s really fun! There is a strange, gritty enjoyment in standing in the conditions I mentioned above, with a bunch of friends. Running together as a team, and the ‘we’re all doing this for fun?’ banter. Trying really hard, and coming away feeling you have had a good run. There is usually cake afterwards. The mud…..otherwise, its not really XC!

For the full results of the leagues visit their websites: and

Congratulations to all on your success during the cross country season.  All of us at Running Review Cymru wish all of our readers the best wishes. Stay safe and we shall see you all again soon at a race in the future (hopefully near future).

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