The ninetieth Senior Men's English National Cross-Country Championships took place at Parliament Hill Fields in London and was sponsored by the Provisional Insurance Company Ltd. The championships attracted a record number of entrants for the three lap slog around Hampstead Heath. The weather was fine and the going firm.
A really strong field had been gathered with no fewer than five former winners toeing the start line, namely Bernie Ford (Aldershot, Farnham & District AC), Tony Simmons (Luton United Harriers), Dave Bedford (Shaftesbury Harriers), David Black (Small Heath Harriers) and Mel Batty (Thurrock Harriers). All the leading runners reported in fit and a classic race was anticipated. Brendan Foster had originally decided not to compete as his wife was expecting a baby around the time of the race, but he was finally persuaded to run by his club mates. Dave Black was the winner of the Inter-Counties Championship and runner-up was Steve Ovett (Brighton & Hove AC). Alwyn Dewhirst (Airedale & Spen Valley AC) was the Northern champion, Neil Coupland (Southampton & Eastleigh AC) held the Southern title, Midland champion Nigel Gates (Bristol AC) was not eligible as he had changed clubs.
Gateshead Harriers started favourites for the team trophy and half a dozen clubs had strong chances of place medals, including Cambridge and Coleridge AC who were second a year ago.
The start was farcical as some runners jumped the maroon that signals the start and a great many runners were left looking up at half the field in front of them already on their way.
At the end of the first lap the leading group consisted of five runners Brendan Foster, Mike McLeod (Elswick Harriers), Tony Simmons, Bernie Ford and Dave Black. Somewhat further back were Julian Goater (Shaftesbury Harriers), Chris Garforth (Gateshead Harriers), Jon Wigley (Invicta AC), Barry Smith (Thurrock Harriers), Steve Ovett and John Wild (Cambridge & Coleridge AC).
By the end of the second lap the lead group was down to three with Ford, Simmons and Foster battling it out. This continued throughout the last lap and on the finishing straight Foster was too strong for Ford but as Foster was waving to the crowd before he had finished Ford nearly overhauled him and the final gap was just three yards, the closest finish Ron Hill and Mike Turner in 1966. Simmons was third just three second behind Ford with Black fourth.
Foster said "I knew I had Bernie all the way on the last lap, but he's a brilliant runner; he kept on and on, right to the finish." Gateshead Harriers club coach Stan Long reckons that Foster could have won more easily. Stan remarked after the race "Brendan was waving to the crowd as he came in. He looked to have plenty of energy left - and I must say that I fancied him to win even before the start. I know it might sound like being wise after the event, but there is no way that a runner of Bren's class goes into a race like that without having even a slight Idea how he might do."