The hard training is over, there is nothing that can be added in the two days before the New Zealand Secondary Schools Cross Country in Timaru on Saturday.

Forty-five Whanganui athletes make the long winter journey south with representatives from Whanganui Collegiate School, Whanganui High School, Nga Tawa and Whanganui Girls College, with the first three schools providing runners for the regional relays the day following the school individual team championships on Saturday.

The course in Timaru will be demanding and a real test for the 850 runners from close to 100 schools. Individual titles, or even medals are hard to achieve as cross country brings runners from different middle-distance events in the same race on the same day.
Whanganui has all the Whanganui Schools individual winners in Timaru and all the winning teams from Tawhero except the Year 9 Girls competing.

The senior boys race has representatives from 59 schools which means that 59 individual school cross country champions will be competing over and above others who have leading track performances to their name.

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Liam Back (Collegiate) was second last year and over summer won the New Zealand 800m and 1500m Championships but in the same field is last years' third-placed Murdoch McIntyre (Westlake) who is steeplechase record holder, Will Anthony (Scots College) who won the North Island 3000m, Ben Wall (Palmerston North) who has a better 1500m track time, not to mention is training partner of Andres Hernandez, who tops the 5000m rankings.

Back had a great confidence lift over the weekend, finishing a highly creditable third in the senior men's race at Dorne Cup at the weekend over the longer 8km, turning out each of the kilometres in the Trentham mud in 3 minutes 11 seconds.

Will Anthony took the under-18 section ahead of Hernandez with George Lambert and Zach Bellamy fourth and fifth respectively, which is encouraging for the Collegiate Senior Team in Timaru.

Sarah Lambert (Collegiate) finished second to pre-NZ Schools favourite Kristie Rae who performed so well in Denmark earlier this year at the World Cross Country Championships.

Among other strong rivals will be Isabella Richardson (St Cuthbert's) and Rebecca Baker (Whanganui High School). Both Baker and Lambert represented New Zealand Secondary Schools, with Baker finishing fourth and Lambert fifth at last year's championship.

Baker headed Lambert in their international race on the Sunshine Coast, but Lambert reversed the order at the recent Whanganui Schools.

It would be difficult to call tall blonde Ana Brabyn a dark horse but she is a third-year runner in the junior field (only younger Year 11s are eligible) and might be a good each way bet as she brings experience and had a great summer, which included the NZ Schools Junior 800m title, to Timaru.

Brabyn was 12th last year and leads a strong Collegiate Junior team and she knows the importance of a high position if the team is to do well.

Only three of the 225 starters in the senior boys can win a medal, a further seven will gain top-10 diplomas and a couple of others will possibly win international selection. Most of the runners are there as part of a team.

There are 25 schools competing in the three-to-score team event, with 16 of those schools also fielding a six-to-score team. Whanganui Collegiate have a strong senior boys team and are competitive in other grades. At senior boys they were second last year with all runners returning and have added Andres Hernandez to the team. Westlake Boys High School, which has the largest number of entries of any school in New Zealand, will be hard to beat and starts as favourite.

Whanganui High School won the Year-9 grade at Tawhero last month. George Davey, Levi Hoekstra, Charlie Meredith and Heike Reitsma will not only be running for their school but will form the main part of the Regional relay team the following day.

Nat Kirk (High School) who won the junior (under-16) race at Tawhero should make a strong showing in Timaru in the individual race on Saturday and has a vital team role in the relay on Sunday. Travis Bayler and Karl Loebe (High School) who have great track credentials over 800m will hope to be at the top end of the field but will not relish 6km of undulating races but will come into their own over-2km legs of Sunday's relay where they join a Whanganui team that could make the podium.

Adelaide Roper and Emma Fergusson (Nga Tawa) will not only be competitive in their individual races but add real value to the relay on Sunday.

Next week I will report on the Timaru action and hopefully reflect on some Whanganui successes, both individually and in school and regional teams.