It’s well-known that English Schools success on the track or cross country doesn’t necessarily translate to future senior success.
It’s twelve years since the pinnacle of a young runner’s cross country season was last held at Norfolk Showground, the venue for this year’s event, and some of the winners from 2005 – Emily Pidgeon, Lee Carey, Matthew Withey to name three – read more like a ‘where are they now’.
Nobody can take away that English Schools medal once it’s been won. But we’re advised to look a little further down the order to discover the stars of tomorrow. Those in the first dozen or so are the often undercooked talent ripe to flourish at a later date.
You’d have had to browse quite far down the pecking order in that race twelve years ago to find current GB international, Charlotte Arter.
Charlotte, running in the light blue of Cumbria, finished 168th in the junior girls race, ninety seconds behind the likes of race winner, Charlotte Purdue, Kate Avery, Lily Partridge and future Olympian, Laura Weightman. A stellar year to say the least.
‘I can remember the bus journey to Norwich very clearly,’ remembers Charlotte. ‘It’s an extremely long way from Cumbria and, with horrendous traffic, we arrived about 10.00pm! It’s funny what memories stay with you.’
While the race itself has since merged into all the others, the English Schools experience helped shape the now 25-year-old’s early years in the sport.
‘It was always a great privilege to pull on a Cumbria vest and be part of a team racing the best girls in the country. The trips away were all part of the fun.
‘You can make great friends through running and English Schools was no different. It’s made all the better as you go from junior to senior with the same teammates, which made every trip memorable.’
With dedicated parents taxiing around sports mad teens to running, hockey, horse riding and tennis, it was only when Charlotte reached university that combining all sports no longer became feasible.
The decision to go down the running path has proved smart. That delayed route to running has ensured the drive to succeed and fulfil untapped potential remains. This factor can be seen as key to longevity in a sport when so much young talent is lost to burn out.
‘I’ve always felt I’ve been under-developed as an athlete throughout the years. I didn’t represent England or Great Britain as a junior, I was far from it, but I kept enjoying running and building things year on year.
‘As I never did a huge amount as a youngster, I’ve always known there’s been much more there. A lot of hard work and dedication over a long period of time has got me where I am today.’
There’s always that first coach or inspirational person that fuels the fire to succeed. Charlotte’s story is familiar and no different. She’s been blessed with a dedicated support crew en route to achieving her first international honours just over a year ago.
From being persuaded me to join her local club, Border Harriers, at the age of 11 by PE teachers and David Farrell, the dad of fellow Cumbrian and international runner, Tom Farrell, to Jenny Harris and Eden Runners through her mid-teenage years, Charlotte has had many helping hands along the way.
For her international breakthrough, she credits the amazing set up at University of Wales Institute, Cardiff (UWIC) and the guidance of coach and ex-international James Thie.
‘James took me from 4.40 to 4.18 in the 1500m and I gained my first England vest in my last year of university in 2012.
‘This transition over the three years was a huge step forward in my athletics career and was also great fun as we had a great group and set up at UWIC. I also fully immersed myself into university life, balancing running, university and a social life.’
Time out in the States on a full sports scholarship at the University of New Mexico under the guidance of head coach, Joe Franklin, opened Charlotte’s eyes to the life of a full-time athlete.
All American honours over cross country came first time around in 2013 with an 18th place finish. And a bronze for the team plus second All American honours followed at the NCAA Championships in 2014.
Charlotte returned home to Cardiff in 2015 under the tutelage of James Thie. Working full-time at Cardiff University as their Performance Sport Officer, Charlotte has successfully balanced life of a full-time athlete with full-time work.
‘Back under James Thie’s wing, I got my first GB vest and, and recently with additional coaching support from Chris Jones, made my first major championship at the European Cross Country Championships and podium at the British Championships.
‘Lots of people and coaches have influenced my journey through the age groups and have helped me get where I am today – not forgetting my parents, especially my dad who is my number one supporter and has taken me all over the UK to race.’
Though far from the finished article, Charlotte is starting to make her mark on the UK distance running scene. Like all distance running success stories, Charlotte’s is one of patience, proving that good things come to those that work hard and wait.
Recent international honours, silverware on the Continent and national medals are stepping stones on a continuing journey. Not bad for someone that finished 168th at the English Schools Cross Country Championships twelve years ago.
Words by Chris Rainsford
Image from Charlotte Arter
This article originally appeared in the eighth edition of Left Spike from March 2017