The forty-ninth Senior Women's National Cross-Country Championships took place in Wivenhoe Park, Colchester, part of the University of Essex campus. 505 entries had been received for the race. The course was 6000m and consisted of two laps.
The previous year's winner Ruth Smeeth (Aldershot, Farnham & District AC) was planning a title defence, but opposition was likely to come from Northern champion Julie Laughton (Derby Ladies AC), Southern title holder Paula Fudge (Borough of Hounslow AC) and Kath Binns (Sale Harriers) the inter-counties winner.
By the end of the first lap 21-year-old Wendy Smith (Borough of Hounslow AC) had built up a 60-metre lead. Wendy had done the same in 1980 but blew up on the second lap to finish seventh. Ruth Smeeth had transport problems as the club coach bringing them to the race ran out of fuel and Ruth only arrived ten minutes before the start. As the second lap got underway Smith extended her lead over Paula Fudge, with Kath Binns and Sandra Arthurton (Leeds City AC) battling for third 20 metres back, by this time Smeeth had dropped out. Other runners still in the mix for medals were Chris Benning (Stretford AC), Jane Furniss and Jill Clarke (both Sheffield United Harriers), Joyce Smith (Barnet & District AC), Julie Laughton, Cherry Hanson (Notts AC), Christina Boxer (Aldershot, Farnham & District AC) and Sue Hutton (Bracknell AC).
Wendy Smith continued increasing her lead throughout the second lap and went on to win in 22:09.
Halfway around the second lap, Kath Binns caught Paula Fudge with Sandra Arthurton in fourth. With 250 metres to go Fudge had second place wrapped up and a pack of five runners were chasing her in the battle for bronze, only six seconds covered them at the end with Sandra Arthurton taking third, Jane Furniss fourth, Chris Benning fifth and 43-year-old Joyce Smith sixth.
There was controversy surrounding the team event. On the course Borough of Hounslow AC were given the title, but because they ran an undeclared runner (Annette Roberts who finished as a counter in 49th) Sale Harriers were awarded first place. Hounslow protested but the Women's Cross-Country Association subsequently confirmed the result as first Sale Harriers, second Bracknell AC and third Hounslow.