MATTHEW KIERNAN reports on how local runners tried out the ‘new normal’ on Saturday. Photos: NIGEL BRAMLEY
By this time of year usually, the country’s hardened distance runners, fun runners and joggers would be two months into their winter of mud and masochism – the cross-country season.
But on Saturday, Croydon Harriers organised a covid-secure cross-country pilot event in Lloyd Park, the only one of its kind to take place in all of England.
Although weekly ParkRuns remain suspended because of coronavirus, athletics did return in the latter half of the summer with some socially distanced road races and track meetings (though not at council-owned Croydon Arena, which remains closed).
Cross-country racing still hasn’t kicked off in earnest yet, with question marks remaining over whether the traditional championship races will be able to go ahead early next year. Some events, with histories stretching back into the 18th Century, have already been cancelled entirely for this winter season.
Saturday’s event in Lloyd Park was sanctioned by governing body England Athletics, an was staged by the local athletics club with help from all competing teams, including Striders of Croydon.
It will be used by officials to guide them on what cross-country racing may look like in the coming months.
Covid-secure measures included the scrapping of the usual mass start and instead having groups of no more than 10 runners on a start line, standing two metres apart.
They were then set off in waves at three-minute intervals, so groups wouldn’t catch each other. The course was also set to one lap to minimise contact. Entries were restricted to 150 adults and 100 young athletes.
In the races themselves, Croydon’s Dom Nolan took the spoils in the men’s race, while Herne Hill’s Steph McCall won the women’s and led her squad to the team win, while Hercules Wimbledon’s solid packing ensured they won the men’s team event.
One of the race organisers said: “It was an extremely proud moment for Croydon Harriers, in our 100th year, to host the test event for England Athletics.
“It was a great team effort from everyone at the club to make it happen, and we had some tremendous help from all the other clubs in the league. It was a great example of the athletics community coming together to produce something very special.
“Hopefully this means there will be more cross-country events on a regular basis this season – the sport desperately needs them to happen. Massive thanks to Nichola Skedgel from England Athletics and Paula Hunt from Croydon Council for all their help and assistance.”
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