HOLLY Smith narrowly missed out on winning a medal after an outstanding performance at the English National Cross Country Championships.

The Vale Royal Athletics star was fourth in the under 17s girls' race at Parliament Hill in London, where she was pipped by Almi Nerurkar (Brighton Phoenix) at the end of a race run in sunny but cold conditions.

Her twin sister Lucy, Emily Lowery and Ellie Grinnell, who had been confined to bed with illness in the run-up, completed a quartet that took fourth place in the team standings.

"Ellie decided at the last minute to travel down there," said coach Shaun McGrath.

"She wanted to support the others, and it's a brilliant effort to achieve what they did."

A total of 16 Vale Royal athletes classified inside the top 100 in 10 huge fields - eight of them producing a record number of finishers and a ninth equalling a previous best.

Holly Weedall crossed the line sixth in the under 13s girls' race, while Grace Roberts recovered from a fall to classify 21st.

Stuart Doyle, the club committee's chairman, was the first of the over 45s entrants to complete the senior men's race.

He adds that title to one he won at the regional championships, and can complete a treble if the does the same at the UK Inter-Counties Cross Country Championships for Cheshire later this month.

Matthew Sheen was a fine 42nd.

Harry Dexter led a Vale Royal team to sixth in the under 20s men's race after also ranking 21st.

Jacob Brown, Cameron Weaver and Arun Dight, representing the club again in competition following an enforced injury absence lasting several months, followed him to the finish.

Will Ashfield powered to 26th in an under 15s boys' race that had more than 500 starters, while Ben Lee and Alex Doyle were among the first 50 finishers in the under 17s boys' category.

Francesca Harris was 38th overall in the under 15s girls' race.

McGrath added: "There might not have been any medals, but those remain results to be proud of for a club of Vale Royal's size."

Results (selected Vale Royal AC members only)

English National Cross Country Championships

Saturday, February 24

Senior men (12km): 42. Matt Sheen 42.11; 181. Stuart Doyle 44.59.

Senior women (8km): 52. Sarah Murphy 31.57; 611. Emma Pyatt 42.14.

Junior men (10km): 21. Harry Dexter 34.47; 31. Jacob Brown 35.06; 37. Cameron Weaver 35.12; 168. Arun Dight 40.20; 197. Matt Rowlinson 42.15. Teams: 6. Vale Royal AC 257pts.

Junior women (6km): 58. Chloe Broad 28.50.

Under 17s boys (6km):U 37. Ben Lee 21.09; 44. Alex Doyle 21.15; 266. Aaron Doyle 24.57.

Under 17s girls (5km): 4. Holly Smith 18.52; 26. Lucy Smith 19.54; 36. Emily Lowery 20.14; 160. Ellie Grinnell 22.48. Teams: 4. Vale Royal AC 226pts.

Under 15s boys (4.5km): 26. Will Ashfield 16.16; 368. Wilf Dight 19.25.

Under 15s girls (4km): 38. Francesca Harris 15.43.

Under 13s boys (3km): 50. Patrick Griffith 12.28; 232. Dylan Carney 13.39.

Under 13s girls (3km): 6. Holly Weedall 12.42; 21. Grace Roberts 13.08; 433. Molly Roberts 17.22.