Mansfield Harriers Mark Johnson and Paul Butcher swapped their usual Blue and Green colours for the Red and White vests of England in the British and Irish Masters International Cross Country Championships at Nottingham’s Wollaton Park where they both landed individual bronze medals and team gold.
Local veteran Andy Wetherill also ended the day with a team gold, but missed out on an individual medal.
Both Johnson and Butcher had impressed the England selectors with with some excellent individual and team performances which culminated in the pair being part of the Harriers squad that were recently crowned British Cross Country Relay Champions.
The event which brings together teams from England, Scotland, Republic of Ireland, Wales and Northern Ireland is usually dominated by the English, and this year was no different, having home soil advantage the England squad looking very strong in all age categories.
On his England debut, Butcher ran in the M50 race over a four-lap 8k undulating course that was waterlogged in parts following an overnight downpour.
However, undeterred, he was soon at the sharp end of the action as a group of six, which included three English vests, two Republic of Ireland and a Scot, broke away from the chasing pack.
But by the final lap the strength of the men at the front proved too much for the chasing nations as the three Englishmen fought out their own battle for the individual medals. Butcher had to settle for a well deserved bronze and a team gold, finishing in a time of 26 minutes and 45 seconds as England cruised to a 24-point victory over the Republic of Ireland, with Scotland taking third slot.
A little further down the field in the M55 category Andy Wetherill, who trains with the Mansfield squad under coach Pat Carlan, was battling with Lloyd of Wales for the individual bronze with the Welshman just getting the better of Wetherill, who had to be content with a team gold as England continued their domination of this Home Nations match.
Into the final men’s race it was the turn of Mark Johnson to step up to the plate and try to replicate what team mate Butcher had done earlier in the day, and to his credit that is exactly what he did.
In a field that was loaded with talent, the England squad quickly set about dictating the pace with eventual winner Altringham’s Matt Barnes and Kent’s Chris Greenwood heading the race from gun to tape.
In the M40 category Johnson settled into the chasing pack with a top 10 position in mind.
But going into the final lap Johnson found himself out of the individual medals and the Mansfield man had to really dig deep in the final stages of the race to snatch the bronze from the clutches of Northern Ireland’s Stephen Duncan in a dramatic last gasp finish, with Johnson finishing five seconds clear of the Irishman in a time of 25 minutes and 37 seconds.
This not only resulted in him gaining bronze but also team gold as England yet again beat the Republic of Ireland into second place, this time by an impressive 28-point margin ahead of Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland.