Successful day for Poppy Healy and Wellington Girls’ at Cross Country Championships

Story courtesy of College Sport Media


Wellington Girls’ College was the most successful school at last Wednesday’s College Sport Wellington annual Regional Cross Country Championships at Harcourt Park, Upper Hutt.

WGC runners filled the top four positions of the 4km Senior Girls race, with Ava Sutherland in 14.06 minutes ahead of Kate McHardy in 14.17, Lucy Jurke in 14.48 and Katelyn Sceats in 14.59.

Poppy Healy won the Intermediate Girls (U16) 3km race, in the most dominant win of all the races on the day. The year 11 runner won her race in 11.15 minutes and by 43 seconds to second placed Jessie McKenzie (Hutt Valley High School) and WGC teammate Gisselle Kenworthy a minute back in third.

Poppy said her goal going into her race was to win, but she was surprised with how it panned out.

“I didn’t expect to go out as hard as I did, but I found I was in the lead when we got to the first hurdle just after the start and I got halfway around the field and was wondering where everyone was and soon realised no one was going with me. I extended my lead from there and never looked back.”

“I’m not usually a front-runner, so to run and win a race like that was very different,” Poppy added.

WGC won both the Junior Girls and Senior Girls three and six person teams events.

It’s the start of a busy winter of cross country running for Poppy, backing up this win on Saturday with victory in the Women’s U16 race at the annual Vosseler Shield race through Mt Victoria in central Wellington.

Poppy runs for the Wellington Harriers club and her coach is Kieron McDonald, whilst most her school teammates run for Olympic Harriers under the coaching of John Cope.

Big events coming up include the NZSS Cross Country Nationals, Wellington Championships, Club Nationals and North Island Nationals.

The NZSS Nationals are in Nelson on 18 June. Much of the nationwide school sports calendar was interrupted again last year, but the Cross Country Nationals went ahead. Last year Poppy was sixth as a first time Intermediate grade runner.

“This was surprising, I didn’t expect to place that high. The goal this year is to finish in the top three, and if I am there on the day that would be great, if not then to just finish as high as I can.”

Her primary focus is on the track in the summer months.

“Track is my primary focus, I use cross country to build in the winter and then come into track with a strong base and carry it throughout the season.”

Asked what her specialty event is, she said she is a bit of an all-rounder. “The 400m and 800m are my main two events, and then I have a bit of a dabble in the 200m and the 1500m events.”

“I am definitely a speed-based athlete, rather than endurance.”

She came under the coaching of Kieron McDonald in September last year, and this past track season lowered her PB 800m time by 14 seconds, 4 seconds on her 400m PB. Highlights included winning the 800m double at the North Island and South Island Colgate Games and finishing fourth in the 400m and sixth in the 800m in the U18s races at the New Zealand Track and Field Nationals (still aged 14 at the time).

Last year’s NZSS Nationals were cancelled, but she was at the December 2020 event in Tauranga.

“I was year 9 and did the Junior Girls 400m, but the week before I found I had single-figure iron levels, but I still made the semi-finals. Our school also won the Junior Girls 4 x 400m relay, which was awesome.

Her teammates were Molly O’Sullivan, Lara Smith and Katelyn Sceats. Of the other three, Katelyn was fourth in the Senior Girls on Wednesday, Molly was out injured, and Lara now focuses on football.

Poppy has competed overseas once before, in the Trans-Tasman Challenge between New Zealand and New South Wales in 2019, winning the 400m and finishing second in the 800m.

She spent a short time living in Singapore when she was young, whilst her parents were working there, which is where she started running.

She came back to New Zealand and one thing led to another by joining the Wellington Harriers club and her running has developed from there.

Training-wise, Poppy trains three or four times a week depending on her weekend race schedule and has two easy runs a week with a couple of days off to rest and recover.

Favourite runs include going around the Wellington waterfront or in Otari Bush, or up on the skyline ridge in the hills between Mt Kaukau and Karori.

She is also playing as a midfielder for the WGC Second XI football team and this past season played cricket in the summer for the Collegians Cricket Club.

In total, 266 athletes took part in the races on Wednesday in fine, sunny conditions, and many will go on to race at the NZSS Cross Country Championships at Nelson on 18 June.

The re-scheduled CSW Regional Track and Field Championships are set down for Newtown Park in September.