Mansfield Harriers ace ready for big year after career-best performance

Archie Rayner, who chalked up a career-best performance at his first major international meeting on Sunday.
Archie Rayner, who chalked up a career-best performance at his first major international meeting on Sunday.

A career-best performance at his first major international meeting could be the springboard for a prolific year for Mansfield Harriers’ teenager Archie Rayner.

The 17-year-old Rayner is emerging as one the country’s leading prospects in middle-distance running. And he underlined his talent with a superb second place, representing England, at a big U20s’ cross-country race at Caceres in Spain on Sunday.

“I’d say it was my best run yet because it was my first proper international experience,” said Rayner, who hails from Kirklington and goes to Southwell Minster School. “I have run for England before but only in a home countries’ meeting. This was the first time I had flown out for a weekend away with the team.

“I’d always prefer to win, but I just couldn’t close the gap that one of my teammates, Hugo Milner, had made at about halfway. It was still nice to reverse placings with Tom Mortimer, who beat me into second at the Midland Cross-Country Championships earlier in the year.”

Mortimer finished third, with Jake Berry in fourth, making it a clean sweep for England runners in a field that included athletes from Portugal and Kenya, as well as host nation, Spain.

Now Rayner can’t wait for the Inter-Counties Cross-Country Championships at Loughborough in early March. For if he runs well there, he could qualify for the World Championships two weeks later in Uganda. A place on the world stage would tee up Rayner perfectly for the track season when he will be hoping to climb the rankings over 1500m, having stepped up from the U18 age group to U20s.

“My coach, Richard Massey, and I both think cross-country is important because it is a strength-builder, but the track is my big focus,” said Rayner, who lives with dad Philip and mum Beverley.

“Last year, after my first big race, I reached third in the U18 European rankings, but then I got injured, straining my calf. It was nothing serious, but it was enough to mess up the flow of my season.”

The injury followed a bout of glandular fever earlier in 2016, which also disrupted his cross-country campaign. But this year, it’s a case of so far, so good, with him also becoming the youngest athlete ever to win the senior county cross-country title.

The pressure will increase in the summer when he has to mix athletics with his A-levels, but he is confident he can cope. “If I ever stopped my athletics training to concentrate on my schoolwork, it would be drive me crazy!” he said.

To cap a pivotal year for the youngster, he is set to take up the offer of a place at Birmingham University, not only to study for a maths degree but also to take advantage of their renowned middle-distance running set-up.

“In the next 12 months, I definitely want to run for Great Britain and go to a major international championships,” Rayner added. “There are some big opportunities coming up and, hopefully, I will be ready for them.”