BY TOM POLLAK
Hercules Wimbledon Athletic Club’s senior men’s cross country runners are aiming to gain their fourth consecutive Surrey team title at Lloyd Park, Croydon, on Saturday.
Ben Toomer, who now works in the USA, is flying in from New York to boost the club’s hopes of success.
He will be staying on after this weekend to turn out in the third of this season’s Start Fitness Surrey Men’s League Division One matches on Mitchum Common on January 12 to help keep the club on course to lift their first Surrey League title since 1965.
Toomer led Hercules Wimbledon to a comfortable victory 12 months ago finishing fourth of the 220 runners at Denbies Vineyard, Dorking.
He also led the team to victory there in 2016 finishing ninth but missed the 2017 championship at Croydon where it was Fred Slemeck who led the team to gold in finishing 11th.
Three members of last year’s winning team will be missing. Matt Sharp, who was 20th, and Alex Robinson (21st) are both injured and Andrew Penney (11th) is unavailable.
Finn Johnson (15th) and Richard McDowell (17th) from last year’s winning team at Dorking are running again along with Slemeck (23rd) and Joe Clark (34th) while Jonny Earl and Tom Jarvis, who have shown good form this winter, will be making their Surrey championship debuts.
Earl is due back from Australia where he finished seventh in the Melbourne parkrun on Christmas Day. Despite the absences, team manager Fred Green is confident Hercules Wimbledon can make it four wins in a row.
The senior men’s championship over 12km is the last of the eight race programme due off at 1.45pm.
Hercules Wimbledon runners will be chasing medals and titles in all eight races as well as places in the Surrey teams to compete in the UK Inter-Counties championships at Loughborough in March.
McDowell warmed up for Lloyd Park with a challenging programme winning the Hercules Wimbledon/Lauriston Runners Club’s five miles multi-terrain event last Saturday and then starting the New Year with a parkrun double on the Hampshire/Surrey border.
McDowell ran the five kilometres from his Colliers Wood home intending to help out, only to be persuaded by his club-mates to race.
He first ran 10km from his parents’ home in Farnham to the Rushmoor event where he headed home a 702-strong field in a PB of 16:07, taking 49 seconds off his previous best. Then he ran the four kilometres to Frimley Lodge for a 10am start and 45 minutes after winning at Rushmoor he set off and beat 740 other runners to win in another PB of 16:51, a big improvement on his 18:09 achieved when finishing second on New Year’s Day in 2017.
He shared the early pace with club-mate David Grima and they reached the halfway point 11 seconds ahead of Hercules Wimbledon’s George Longworth.
McDowell stretched his legs during the second half of the race to throw off Grima’s challenge to win by a comfortable 21 seconds in 28:27 seconds before setting off on his warm-down run back to his home. Longworth was third in 29:02 with Fran Clarke first woman in 34:30.
Jonny Cornish made a flying start to 2019 with a comfortable win in the New Year’s Day 10km road race in Hyde Park. He led the near 500-strong field from the start to win by almost a minute in 30:55 which proved an ideal warm-up for the defence of his Oxfordshire title at Horspath, Oxford next Sunday.
Kieran White was third veteran over-40 in 33:29 finishing ninth overall.
Teenager Henry Silverstein headed home the Wimbledon Common 5km parkrun field for the second weekend in 17:42, six seconds faster than he managed the previous Saturday.
Sam Barker and Hector Revill were second and fifth of the 405 runners in 17:57 and 18:41 with over-45 veteran Peter Collins seventh in 19:01.
The only other Hercules Wimbledon parkrun winner on the final Saturday of 2018 was over-40 veteran Gina Galbraith, who was top woman finisher in Chichester in 19:58.
Rob Tuer ended the year on a high note – posting a PB in finishing second out of 1,405 runners in the Bushy Park 5km parkrun on Saturday in 16:49.
It improved on his PB of 17:01 set the previous weekend. He was the best of nine Hercules Wimbledon runners in action.