It was well worth the three-hour drive from Miramar for Mackenzie Morgan to win the MWA under-18 Cross Country Championship at the Bason Botanic Gardens, Westmere, on Saturday
Morgan impressed with a solid effort over the demanding two-lap 2km circuit with a strong second lap to break away from Feilding Moa's Adelaide Roper to win by 35 seconds. Angela Jukes (Palmerston North) was third 7 seconds behind Roper.
Morgan and Roper will race again on the Whanganui Collegiate School Golf course circuit at the Whanganui Secondary Schools Championships on Monday, August 17, representing their respective Collegiate and Nga Tawa Schools in what is shaping to be an excellent team race with Whanganui High School and Whanganui Girls College also in the mix.
Morgan followed the strong lead from Kara McDermid (Palmerston North) in the joint start for the women's races. McDermid, who had run so well to take a senior New Zealand medal in the 1500m back in March, impressed completing the 10km in 32 minutes 55 seconds to win by a massive 7 ½ minutes.
There was further success for the McDermid family with brother Noah taking the under-20 men's title over 8km from Whanganui's Ben Conder.
McDermid's winning time over the 8km course was 29 minutes 48 seconds.
Conder, who will be a vital member of the Whanganui Collegiate team both at Whanganui Schools in August and New Zealand Schools a month later, should be pleased to be only 17 seconds in arrears of the well-performed McDermid.
The McDermid family success did not end there, with Paul (father) winning the 45-49 grade from Whanganui's Gareth Jones.
New Zealand Schools international George Lambert (Whanganui) won the Manawatu Whanganui Centre title but finished second in the race behind fellow Schools international Will Anthony from Wellington (Olympic), who ran as a visitor.
Anthony had finished second to Whanganui's Liam Back at last year's New Zealand Schools and went on to track success in the summer. Lambert was 13th at last year's New Zealand Schools Cross Country and on the demanding Bason circuit he narrowed the gap from last year and now has as a clearer picture of what he needs to do break into the top 10 this year.
Anthony was able to get some help with pace from visiting former Collegiate athlete and States-bound William Sinclair, who used the championships as tempo training run.
The Feilding Moa Club impressed at the championships with large entries in all grades. They won all the team events except the women's masters that went to the host Wanganui Harrier Club.
Moa were, however, strongly challenged in the under-18 men by host Wanganui Harrier Club, where George Lambert was well supported by New Zealand under-20 Racewalk Champion Elliot Jones, who also shows prowess as a cross country runner, and John Bryant.
The Moa Club also took the under-9 boy's title (Joshua Addenbrooke), the under-11 boys (Lachlan Dassler), the boys under-13 (Will Sablerolle-Stone), the boys under-15 (Alex Bull), the girls under-11 (Mia Thomson), girls under-15 (Poppy Rae-McGreggor and the women under-20 title (Stephanie Walker).
Nick Johnston was the senior winner and this was backed up by masters success with Moa grade winners Paul McDermid, Mark Evans, Paul Wasley. Robb Dabb, Kevin Mills and Colin Clark. Local athlete Neil Mayo broke this run of Moa success with his win in the 55-59 grade.
In the women's grades, Moa had wins from Karis Rae and Jo Speary. As mentioned earlier, Wanganui Harriers won the masters women's team event helped by winning grade efforts from Rachel Richmond, Lesley Jones and Mignon Stephenson backed by a second place from Paula Conder.
The Bason Botanical Gardens provided a challenging circuit with a tough uphill zig-zag early on each of the 2km circuits. Athletes in grades that included 3km or 5km races included a 1km lap avoiding much of the hill.
The conditions overhead were cool but good for racing and only one section was affected by the recent rain.
Although not a spectator-friendly course, the Bason Gardens provided a genuine cross country challenge including the hill similar to the one New Zealand Schools-bound athletes will encounter in Hawera in mid-September. The event was splendidly organised by the host Wanganui Harrier Club.