Leaving early on Friday morning to beat the worst of Storm Desmond, a small but determined group of athletes, set sail for the mainland bound for The North District Cross Country Championships, hosted this year by Moray Road Runners in the woods beside Spyvie Hall near Elgin.
The course was a mixture of forest trails and heavy, muddy off road sections, that were very slippery after the relentless overnight rain. Conditions on Saturday morning were pretty good for running though, the trees sheltering the competitors from the biting wind.
First to take on the course for Team SRAC were the Under 13 Boys. Calum Mighton making his debut for the red and gold ran strongly in the pack finishing a very creditable 28th place. Aodhan Finnegan, despite suffering from an overnight cold, ran strongly and came home in 12th having given his all. Classy looking David Morrison ran a blinder. Coming up the finish, still in contention, powered home with a well deserved Bronze medal in third place. The youngsters had set the bar high, for the rest of the team to follow.
There was little time to be euphoric as soon afterwards, the Under 15 Boys took centre stage. Fielding four quality runners, expectations were high. After a demanding, intense, 4000 metre race, Scott Maciver appeared from depths of the forest just behind a couple quality Inverness athletes in 7th place, closely followed by John Alistair Bain in 8th having made up two places in the closing stages. Storming runs from the Stornoway duo were backed by Alistair Binns in 14th place managing to secure a team silver for team SRAC ! Daniel Stewart came home in a very tidy 16th place, unfortunately not getting a team medal with only the fastest three team members counting.
Next to go, Under 17 Women. With two gruelling laps of the steadily churning up course to complete, it was a daunting prospect. After one lap, Joanna Gillies was just tailing behind third place in a strong position to challenge in the closing stages for a medal. However, a bad fall lost her two places late into the second lap, she got up of the deck and came home in a very gritty 6th place. Great determination from the young athlete who played down what was a very heavy fall. Sophie Graham, coming home in 10th place improves with every run, showing what can be achieved with plenty of hard work.
Kyle Munro, stepping up this year to Under 17 level, was amongst a strong field. Starting strongly he stayed with the leading group for most of the first lap, passing the half way mark looking good in 6th. Just before the long muddy uphill section that lead to the finish area, Kyle seized his chance and edged into 5th, pulling away and increasing the gap with every stride.
The senior womens race had Eilidh Mackenzie going for SRAC. Remembering Eilidh is first and foremost a track runner, her cross country performances never cease to impress. Destroying the field, Eilidh showed her class by winning her fourth title in 5 years at these championships. Gold for SRAC !!!!
Starting at the same time as the senior event, the Under 20s mens race saw Conner Maclean go against Lamar University training partner Sean Chalmers of Inverness Harriers. Sean, coming into a rich vein of form, edged it, with Conner taking Silver.
In the senior mens race, a quality field of 83 runners battled the mud. Three laps totalling almost 10k was going to be energy sapping. But some sprint finishes throughout showed exactly what every place meant to the athletes in the team competition. This wasn’t going to be an issue for Stornoway lads with only three runners, they were running for themselves and the jersey. Ever young Ruari Maciver powered round in ever dropping temperatures. At the sharp end of the race, Willie Macrury stormed home in an incredible fifth place followed by club captain Murdo Alex Mackenzie in 10th.
A small squad, but what a squad ! 75% of athletes finishing in the top 10 of their respective races. Individual Gold, Silver and Bronze medals and a team Silver for the Under 15 Boys can only be described as a massively successful championships for SRAC! And with selection for the Inter District Championships held in Edinburgh in January, mainly based on these races, we should be seeing many of these athletes pulling on the North vest early 2016 !
Happy days for the red and gold!!!