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Running column: Norfolk XC Championship showed there’s plenty of talent for our young athletes to look up, says Mark Armstrong

PUBLISHED: 06:00 11 January 2019 | UPDATED: 16:34 11 January 2019

Iona Lake cruises down the home straight on her way to winning the senior women's race at the Norfolk Cross Country Championships inThetford. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Iona Lake cruises down the home straight on her way to winning the senior women's race at the Norfolk Cross Country Championships inThetford. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

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There were some outstanding performances at the Norfolk Cross Country Championships last weekend.

Dani Nimmock took the runner's up spot in the senior women's race at the Norfolk Cross Country Championships. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYDani Nimmock took the runner's up spot in the senior women's race at the Norfolk Cross Country Championships. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

I’d been looking forward to the event for a while, particularly the men’s and women’s senior races and neither disappointed.

But it was the junior races that left me particularly humbled.

I didn’t really like running as a child – it was just something I had to do to kick a football.

As a teenager, if I had taken part in a cross country race then I would have set off like it was a 100m race and retired with a stitch.

Logan Smith, right, leading the senior men's race at the Norfolk Cross Country Championships in Thetford ahead of Ben Spratling. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYLogan Smith, right, leading the senior men's race at the Norfolk Cross Country Championships in Thetford ahead of Ben Spratling. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Fortunately, since taking up running a few years ago, I’ve learned a bit about pacing since, not a lot some would argue, but a bit.

Even now I wouldn’t have got near most of the hundreds of youngsters haring round the Charles Burrell Centre in Thetford.

There is a lazy stereotype that perhaps children aren’t as tough as they used to be. Well, I would have to challenge this after what I saw on the finish line in a lot of the junior races.

I lost count of the amount of youngsters that were physically sick as soon as they crossed the finish line. I expected a lot of them to be upset about the hurt that they had just put themselves through but all the frontrunners could talk about was the fact they had earned selection for the Inter Counties races.

Competitors in the U13 girls and boys race in the Norfolk Cross Country Championships at Thetford. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYCompetitors in the U13 girls and boys race in the Norfolk Cross Country Championships at Thetford. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

MORE: Great day for CoNAC as athletes shine at Norfolk XC Championships

These youngsters are a lot tougher and committed than we think.

It did make me laugh though when I heard one of the youngsters, who’d won his race, reveal to his friends how delighted he was to win as “his Dad had promised him that he could eat the 1kg bar of chocolate he got for Christmas in one sitting” if he got in the top two.

I’m glad I’m not the only parent that’s regularly caught out by his kids, particularly when it comes to eating chocolate…

Seriously though, the hope is some of these children can go on to emulate some of the athletes in the senior men’s and ladies races.

Competitors in the U13 girls and boys race in the Norfolk Cross Country Championships at Thetford. Picture: DENISE BRADLEYCompetitors in the U13 girls and boys race in the Norfolk Cross Country Championships at Thetford. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

Iona Lake’s dominant performance in the women’s race was a joy to watch. I’ve had the chance to interview Iona on several occasions and you couldn’t meet a more polite, talented young lady.

But you mustn’t mistake her personable demeanour as a sign of weakness. The way she attacked the women’s race from the start immediately put the rest of the ladies’ field on the back foot. She looked in great form and ready to build on a promising 2018 that saw her compete for England at the Commonwealth Games in the steeplechase.

She would have inspired a lot of young athletes with her performance on Sunday and to be honest, they couldn’t ask for a better role model.

If running styles can be taught then I’d certainly want my children to have the kind of effortless gait like hers.

MORE: Love running? Join the Run Anglia Facebook group here

It was fascinating to see the different running styles on display. Cross country, by its very nature, can be tough to navigate, but a lot of the runners at the front looked like they were gliding across the grass like they were on a perfectly maintained athletics track.

Logan Smith, the winner of the senior men’s event, certainly falls into this category. I was particularly looking forward to seeing how the battle between the City of Norwich AC elite group would unfold.

Logan led from the start and set a pace that Ben Spratling couldn’t hold on to. It ultimately cost him second place as fellow CoNAC runner Piers Arnold finished runner up with Ben third.

Logan’s quiet determination could take him a long way in the sport and it will be fascinating to see how he does in an international field at the Armagh 5K next month.

The group of runners he trains with will keep pushing each other on to bigger and better things.

Let’s hope they can fly the Norfolk flag outside the county.

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