Lily Partrdige wins 2015, English Cross Country, thirty-five years after her mother, Ruth Partridge did! by Alex Mills


When Ruth Partridge (nee Smeeth) stormed to victory at the 1980 English cross country championships in Rugeley, Staffordshire aged just 19, it is scarcely believable that she could have imagined victory for herself, let alone that her daughter would one day emulate her success. Yet with Lily Partridge continuing to flourish on a year by year basis, running in almost every Great British XC squad since she was 16, the reality that it could happen, began to become more and more likely.

So as Partridge junior flew down the final slope of a gruelling Parliament hill course and began to stride for home through the horrendous deluge of mud way out in front, a family dream was in the process of being realised. After 35 years of waiting Lily was now officially also the best cross country runner in England.

 "It was a dream we've both shared and now both achieved and it was great to see, now I know how my mum felt!" a delighted Ruth said after the famous double victory was completed on Saturday afternoon. As for her emotions as she watched the race she added: "Relief and excitement! I get very nervous watching her, more so than when I was racing myself."

Some would say that it was written in the stars that Lily would eventually win the title given her parent's history in the sport; the pair, who met whilst competing at the world cross country championships in 1984 certainly offered up some great running genes to their daughters Lily and Mae. Father, Richard, a former Birchfield Harrier, was the winner of the Midlands and Southern cross country titles in 83 and 87 respectively, as well as running 63.24 for the half marathon, whilst Ruth also finished 5th at the 1990 Commonwealth Games in Aukland.

Although the her parent's excellent racing genes may have helped get her started and ensured that a preference towards was running was more likely, it can only be attributed to a small part of the reason for what has been a brilliant development from the runner particularly in the last 18 months.

Her victory this weekend National XC, adds to individual gold from last year's inter-counties and team honours at the European Cross Country championships, as well as a number of other brilliant runs across Europe and the UK.

True to her brilliant recent form Partridge looked calm and relaxed throughout the race and after waiting until around the end of the first lap, she showed her strength and confidence to pull away from her competitors and ease to victory, winning by a brilliant 48 seconds.

Pulling her arms in the air with a huge smile across her face Partridge was a picture of ecstasy and relief: "My overriding feelings were happiness and relief! I've wanted to win the senior national since I ran my first one in 2004! It holds a special place in my family" she said.

"I love parliament hill, it feels almost a home course for Aldershot Farnham and District (AFD) so it definitely motivated me more to want to win there of all places"

As for whether she was aware of the significance the achievement in terms of time frame, she added: "Yes. The national is very important in my family and my nan always used to speak about "when mum won the national" so it's always been very important for me!"

While their genetics laid the foundations of talent, the continued support of mum and dad, whom can be seen out on the course shouting for Lily and AFD whatever weather, has also played a big part in keeping her motivated for all these years of running. Now 11 years on from her first national cross country in Leeds, Partridge says that she owes a lot to her parents: "Everything! Without them I wouldn't even be running! Their influence right from the beginning has been huge and I owe them ALOT!!"

Standing alongside them on the courses is another vital component of the team, her most committed and regular partner in crime Rupert, a beautiful beige ridgeback dog who runs with both Lily and her boyfriend, Leeds City AC runner Danny Davis in almost every session. After seeing his owner perform so well, he too was rewarded for the hard work: "Rupert is the best training partner, although he tends to do his own thing or if I'm not running fast enough for him he just goes home. We gave him a medal to walk back to the car park with, he loved the attention! Being able to finish off the ribs from the Chinese afterwards probably also ranks pretty highly with him."

Away from the mud Partridge has a number of goals in place within the educational system, a dream which sees her currently combine a position of teaching assistant at a primary school with her studies for a degree in teaching. All of which leaves her rather short of time to relax, but it is something she says she wouldn't have any other way: "I think it helps me. I need routine, I'd be an awful full time athlete and I have goals outside of athletics and they are equally as important to me. I always struggle at 6am but days like yesterday make it worth it!"

Partridges excellent form this season is also a sign of her resilience after a difficult summer in which the AFD athlete just missed out on a chance to run at the Commonwealth Games. Having set the B standard in Lisbon, Patridge suffered the injury whilst racing at the Skopje European cup that left her unable to improve her time enough to overtake her opponents in the national standings. It is one of challenges she says that have spurred her onto greater things this winter: "A lot of things happened in the summer that have spurred me on this winter but it's just about progression and as long as I keep improving like this winter I will be happy!"

Going on from this poignant victory Partridge will now look to defend her inter-counties title in Birmingham, after which she is hoping for some big performances on the track: "I'm focusing on the summer this year as I feel I have a lot of improvements to make there and that's what motivates me! I am also running the inter counties, I love representing Surrey at this event!"

Although she is yet to target any particular races, the 23 year-old is looking for some notable improvements and a tilt at her mum's personal bests: "I haven't discussed specific races with Mick [Woods] yet but definitely want to run some 10,000m's as I feel this is a good distance for me on the track, however I just want to make big improvements across all the distances (and break my mums PBS!) as I feel I haven't achieved what I'm capable of on the track yet!"

So as her daughter looks to try and beat some of her times during this summer and in the years ahead, after being matched at cross country what does her mother Ruth think she will achieve? 

"I think Lily can achieve anything she wants to achieve but obviously the Olympics is the natural dream!"

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