READING Athletic Club’s Under 20 star Kirsty Walker and U13 prospect Ollie Craggs both ran magnificently to finish ninth in their races at the National Cross Country Championships at London’s Parliament Hill on Saturday.

For Craggs, this was his best race so far and gives great encouragement for the future.

Reading’s U13 boys team finished 38th and the U17s came 14th, but after being hit by illness and injury the U15s failed to complete a team.

On a brilliant clear sunny day in North London, the runners still had a cold east wind and the notorious Parliament Hill mud to contend with.

On the initial long hill of the 3km U13 race, Craggs soon showed his intent, moving into the top dozen or so by the summit.

Running strongly through the mud and further hilly stretches of the course, Craggs improved to ninth, a position he was able to hold on the final downhill section and along the finishing straight to cross the line in a time of 11m 47secs to complete a superb performance.

Behind him, the rest of the Reading team fought hard in the difficult conditions, with Aidan Marshall next home in 266th place in 13.53, and George Urwin-Mann finishing 335th in 14.13, running with great determination after losing his shoes in the mud after about 1km.

Not far behind was Dylan Madden to complete the scoring team in 358th place with a time of 14.20, and Elliott McCarthy kept going well for 558th place in 17.13.

Reading’s total of 968 gave them 38th place out of 56 complete teams.

In the U17 6km race, Eddie Steveni was again Reading’s top finisher, although he faded a little in the second half of the race to eventually finish 60th in a time of 21.32, only just ahead of Joseph Mott, who had a fine run for 61st place in 21.34.

Third home for Reading was Tom Nike, whose strong running gained him 129th in 22.33, and the team was completed by Ben Rollings with a solid effort for 168th place in 23.06, giving Reading a 418-point total for a very respectable 14th position in the team results.

With several withdrawals through illness and injury, Reading’s U15 team were always going to struggle in their 4.5km race, and they were dealt another blow when Leon Bradshaw fell and was trodden on, forcing his retirement.

However the team’s remaining three runners competed well, led by Laurie Baker with an excellent run for 183rd place in a time of 17.50, backed up by good efforts from Ben McCabe in 321st position in 18.59, and Aryan Gupta, who finished 337th with 19.07.

At Parliament Hill you have to compete against the course as well as the opposition, but in this final club competition of the winter Reading’s young athletes have shown they can challenge the best in the country.