Highgate Harriers are on the podium again at South of England Cross-Country Championships

Jon Laybourn stormed to his best ever cross-country finish as Highgate Harriers’ men came third at the South of England Championships in Brighton on Saturday.

Laybourn crossed over the hills of Stanmer Park in a time of 54 minutes 40 seconds, finishing 54th out of the 857 runners who completed the race.

Violent stomach cramp midway through the course failed to prevent Highgate’s leading runner and medal hopeful Shaun Dixon from manfully completing the race as he crossed the line in 66th place (55:11) in a tremendous show of character.

The overall score accumulated by the Harriers’ spirited men’s team of six was 328 points, leaving them in third position behind Bedford & County and Belgrave Harriers, who totalled 150 and 229 respectively.

It means that for the 12th successive race Highgate’s senior men’s team has been among the medals in the top three - much to the delight of manager Ben Pochee.

“Our men’s team truly is the gift that just keeps on giving,” said Pochee, who travelled from Cornwall especially to attend the event. “What I witnessed today made my heart swell with pride as our medal collection ran yet deeper to new stars of the future.

“These are exciting times and roll on the National Cross-Country Championships on home soil on February 21.”

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Pochee and his team will first turn their attentions to receiving further honours and being crowned Metropolitan League Champions at Wormwood Scrubs on February 7.

On Saturday, Brighton Phoenix’s Ben Tickner won the race for a second time, ahead of Highgate’s fastest finisher Murray Strain, who travelled down from the north to finish seventh in a time of 51:01.

Ben Noad continued his impressive return, finishing 26th (53:08) ahead of Laybourn (54th in 54:40) and Dixon (66th in 55:11).

Captain Rob Wilson was one place behind Dixon, clocking 55:14, and Brahma Pochee was the sixth scorer, coming 108th in 56:51.

In a huge men’s field, several other Highgate runners completed the race, including Guillaume Cribier (57:51), Tom Christopher (58:56), Peter Downie (58:59) and Peter Hawkins (59:16) – who all made the top 200 by finishing under the hour-mark.

Over-40 runner Esther Evans also had a good day, bounding home in 28th place out of 253 in the women’s race, with fellow Harrier Emma Burgess (34:03), Natasha Cendrowicz (40:04) and Sophie Sheldrake (41:09) all recording fine times too.

A strong finish from young Hattie Brock (24:48) left her 10th out of 51 finishers in the girls’ Under-20 race while, in the Under-20 boys’ event, Sam Willis (30:58) took 63rd place ahead of Andrew Collins (95th in 34:51) and Pierce Boyle (105th in 38:38).

In the Under-17 boys’ race, Terry Fawden excelled as a first-year Under-17 runner, finishing 16th out of 156 runners in 21:31 - less than a minute behind the winner.

Highgate’s Under-17 boys’ team of four finished seventh out of 13 clubs, with 67th-placed Alexander Machin-Paley (23:03), Alistair Sleeman (33:49) and Louis Griffin (25:53) all finishing in the top 100.

There was just one Highgate entry in the Under-17 women’s race as the accomplished ice dancer Georgia Fear finished in 19:10, securing 23rd place in a field of 146.

Meanwhile, Dempster Fawden was 24th out of 233 runners in the boys’ Under-15 race, clocking 15:57 and helping the team to finish 27th out of 34.

In the girls’ Under-15 event, 13-year-old Phoebe Littler recovered from a poor start to take the fastest time of any fellow Harrier. The Highgate School pupil finished 66th in 16:11, ahead of 14-year-old Anna Willis (16:27) from Muswell Hill.

In the Under-13 girls’ category, a strong showing from a quintet of Harriers helped Highgate to finish 22nd in a field of 31 teams.

Sasha Fear finished 53rd (12:11) while Dorothy Brock (12:58) and Milly Dunne (13:26) were 128th and 172nd respectively. Isabella Millet (13:46) and Tamar Pelmont (14:03) also finished the race.

In the Under-13 boys’ race, there were six Highgate runners in a field of 227, with Finlay Doyle (11:18) the highest-placed finisher in 55th.

Roland Somogyi (11.46) and Conleth Gallagher (12:36) came 109th and 183rd respectively, while Lorcan Barnett (13:23) and Felix Bright (14:02) also finished the race.