John Newsom (Inverness Harriers) clinched the senior men’s title with a perfectly executed performance at the fifth and final Scottish North District cross-country league meeting of the season at Grant Park, Forres on Saturday.
The Nairn-based athlete went into the three-lap 9km race tied on points with Kenny Wilson (Moray Road Runners), both men having won two of the previous four league races over the winter.
Wilson made his intentions clear from the start by setting off at a brisk pace which only Newsom attempted to stay with while the rest of the field settled down to battle for the minor placings.
The top duo were locked together at the halfway stage but from that point on Newsom began to pull clear and soon opened up a decisive gap.
Wilson was unable to respond and the Inverness club member powered his way to victory, completing the testing course in 32min 29sec with a tired Wilson finishing 38sec behind in second position.
Newsom was delighted to regain the title he won in 2015 and 2016 and is now looking forward to further challenges in the weeks ahead.
He said: “The race got off to a quick start and I probably couldn’t have gone any faster in the opening couple of kilometres. I tracked Kenny for a while as he made the pace, but by the end of the first lap he got a gap of maybe six or seven seconds.
“However, by the time we got halfway round the second lap I had clawed all of that back and took the lead on a short up-and-down loop. That’s where all the damage was done. I was feeling strong so I pushed on, built up quite a lead, and by the finish I was well clear. I’m glad I was able to relax towards the end because I have the national cross-country championships in a couple of weeks.
“It was a nervous week leading up to the race so it’s good that it all worked out. I would have been devastated not to have won.
“After the national championships I have the Inverness half marathon in March then the Manchester marathon in April.”
Wilson was disappointed he was unable to hold on to the title he won for the first time last season, but feels he did all that was possible.
He said: “I tried to take it out hard from the start as I thought my best chance of winning was to get a decent lead early on.
“I was aiming to build up a good advantage but I think the most I ever got was five or six seconds. John was stronger on the hills in the second half and on every incline his lead got bigger and bigger.
“But I’ve had a good winter cross-country season. I think I’m stronger than I was last year so I’ll give it another go next year and we’ll see what happens.”
Wilson is now turning his attention to the road-running circuit, beginning with a trip to Ireland this week for the Armagh international 5km on Thursday.
He said: “I got my fastest 5km time of 14:51 there last year so I’d like to aim for something near 14:40, although I haven’t done too much speedwork.
“My main focus is on the Big Half Marathon in London in March. My training has been more focused on that and I’ll be looking to improve on my best time of 1:07:37 that I set at Glasgow last October.
“It’s going to have a great field with the likes of Mo Farah and Callum Hawkins doing it, but there’s also a lot of guys who are just a bit faster than me who I’ll try to hang on to for a while.”
While the battle between Newsom and Wilson was taking centre stage there was an equally intriguing tussle going in the team competition.
Inverness Harriers and Moray Road Runners were separated by a single point at the beginning of the day but it was the club from the Highland capital which prevailed, lifting the title for the fifth season in a row.
Newsom contributed to the win, which was made secure when Gordon Lennox finished third in 34:51 with Graham Bee fourth in 35:31. Lennox, first at the Alness parkrun 5km earlier in the day, also took third for the season in the league.
Hamish Hickey (Ross County) won the under-17 boys’ race but the league title went to Sunny McGrath (Deveron Harriers).
Lucas Cairns (Inverness Harriers) won the under-15’s league and led his club to the team award.
Sam Coull (Ross County) was confirmed as under-13 champion with Inverness again taking the team prize while Thomas Reynolds (Moray Road Runners) won the under-11s and his club topped the team charts.