Strong performances throughout, but Merrien meets his match in Hampshire – by Jamie Ingrouille (image by Phil Nicolle)
A large Guernsey contingent took to the muddy grounds of Fairthorne Manor for the Hampshire County Championships and returned with four individual and two team medals.
Guernsey Olympian Lee Merrien had to settle for silver in the senior men’s race after an intense duel with triathlete-turned-runner Matt Sharp, whose recent performances include a 2:16 clocking at the Berlin Marathon in September.
The Sarnian had the upper hand for the first third of the 12-km race, but Sharp eventually drew ahead to grab first in 39:40 to Merrien’s 39:59.
Merrien was nevertheless satisfied with what may be his final Hampshire XC Championships appearance, with his primary target being the Commonwealth Games marathon in April – instead, he embraced the experience of competing ‘alongside’ his nine-year-old son Thomas for the first time.
“I’m relatively satisfied, I’ve not been too well since Boxing Day so it was touch-and-go whether I was going to run until about three days ago but I’m glad I did it in the end,” Merrien said.
“I always enjoy this event, it was nice to run in the same event as my son Thomas for the first time – though obviously not in the same race.”
Regarding his buildup for the Commonwealths, he added: “I haven’t confirmed what the races are going to be yet but I will race at least once, if not twice – possibly three times if Guernsey go over to the Home Countries, so I will factor that in.”
Richard Friedrich, Richard Bartram, Peter Amy and James De Garis all finished between 16th and 20th, constituting a superb pool of strength-in-depth which pushed the men to team bronze.
Louise Perrio was the first Guernsey representative in the senior women’s race, taking eighth overall and first veteran-35 with a decent performance of 34:01 in a race dominated by Aldershot’s Louise Small, who clocked 31:34.
“I’m satisfied I suppose, after the [Frankfurt] marathon I had a niggle that took a longer time than I thought to go away and it went away last week so I guess I haven’t had the best run-up,” she said.
“The underfoot conditions were quite tough – I am a little bit frustrated because I think I’m in better shape than that but I just struggled with the surface.”
Laura McCarthy ran strongly for 12th, but the women were unable to repeat last year’s team silver, with Sarah Mercier and Jenny James sidelined by injury.
The earlier junior races included a solid show of form by a wealth of Guernsey’s younger athletes.
Summer Woodhead was unable to repeat last year’s victory in the under-13 girls’ race but still impressed by taking silver after leading the race until halfway.
Sam Culverwell surprised himself by taking third in the under-17 men’s race for the second year running, despite mountain biking remaining his main focus.
This was just one place behind City of Portsmouth’s Jacob O’Hara, who impressed local spectators with his runaway victory in last year’s Intertrust Guernsey Easter Festival.
“I was pretty surprised to get third, as I thought I was looking for a top eight, or a top five if I ran well, with the amount of running I’ve done this winter,” Culverwell said afterwards.
Ed Mason took sixth in the concurrent under-20 men’s race to lead the Sarnians to team silver, followed by Alex Rowe and Sammy Galpin who placed seventh and eighth respectively.
Despite the lack of individual golds, it was still a solid day for the Guernsey athletes, several of whom have attained places in the Inter-Counties XC Championships in March.
Full results are available here.