The fifty-fourth Senior Women's National Cross-Country Championships were held at Western Park, Leicester. The race was sponsored by Provincial Insurance Limited. The biggest entry ever for the race, 1013, easily surpassed the previous year's record entry of 774.
Zola Budd (Aldershot, Farnham & District AC), the Southern champion, had pulled out after threats of demonstrations by Anti-Apartheid supporters. Budd said: "I understand from the organisers that there could be a demonstration at the championships in Leicester, and as it the selection race for the world championships, I don't want to risk spoiling the chances of other competitors, so I have reluctantly decided not to take part." 1985 winner Angela Tooby (Cardiff AAC) was unable to defend her title due to injury. Likely to be in contention for the race were Inter-Counties winner Carole Bradford (Clevedon AC), Northern champion Carol Haigh (Holmfirth Harriers AC), Ruth Partridge nee Smeeth (Aldershot, Farnham & District AC), Julie Laughton (Derby Ladies AC), Jane Shields (Sheffield AC) and Marina and Shireen Samy (Bracknell AC).
After half of the first lap had been completed the leading bunch were Carole Bradford, Debbie Peel (Crawley AC), Jane Shields, Wendy Wright (Derby Ladies AC), Bridget Smyth (Phoenix AC), Ruth Partridge, Jill Clarke (Sheffield AC), Chris Boxer (Aldershot, Farnham & District AC), Shireen Samy, Kath Carter (Sale Harriers) and Julie Laughton. Half a mile later the leading pack was down to five, namely Julie Laughton, Carole Bradford, Ruth Partridge, Jill Clarke and Jane Shields.
By the start of the second lap Jill Clarke had slipped back and Carole Bradford and Jane Shields had started to pull away from Julie Laughton and Ruth Partridge. As the lap progressed Carole Bradford began to open up a gap between her and Jane Shields. Bradford managed to extend her lead over Jane Shields winning in 15:06, six seconds clear of Shields. In the battle for third Julie Laughton just edged 1980 champion Ruth Partridge.
Carole Bradford, a 24-year-old legal secretary, was asked by Athletics Weekly after the race whether she was disappointed that Zola wasn't there said: "I am in some ways, but I want to run against her and I'll get a chance in Switzerland. I've heard that the course is going to be more like cross country, whereas last year it was more like a track race. I'm glad it's going to be a tougher course and I'm really looking forward to running against her."