THE ENGLAND Athletics marathon programme kicked off last week with its first weekend of workshops and running.
More than 50 athletes, coaches and educational types showed up for the Forest of Dean session, including Bud Baldaro, Andi Drake, Tracy Barlow and Nick Anderson.
The programme aims to support athletes and coaches, and raise the standard of marathon running in England by 2022.
Topics covered on the opening weekend included the physiology of the marathon, pacing strategies, recovery advice and Q&A insight sessions.
There have been an equal number of positive and disparaging comments about the programme already. One would think the time, energy and resource being spent on it will yield some results, at least.
Three Scots and three Welshmen occupy the top-7 fastest marathon times by British men this year. Jonny Mellor’s 2:12.57 in Berlin sees him sandwiched solo in third.
For all the PR about the programme inspiring and educating future English marathon runners, the irony that Jonny was overlooked for the Commonwealth Games marathon next April will not be lost on anybody.
The debate over where time, energy and resource could and should be spent instead, though, can only be properly assessed once the results are in. For now, it’s better to watch on with intrigue.
At the very least, the emphasis has been shifted on to marathon running, perennially lamented for ‘not being what it used to be’. It’s a recognition by England Athletics that something needs to be done, especially in light of the recent upturn in Celtic fortunes.
The published standards that the programme aims to attain means there’s something tangible to measure it against. There is some accountability, at least, to the programme’s success or otherwise.
Just whether this renewed focus from the national governing body will achieve success, and whether this is ultimately the best way to go about raising standards, only time will tell.
27 November-3 December 2017
MOST EYES will be watching Great Britain’s progress on the BBC Red Button this weekend for the European Cross Country Championships.
The 40-strong side will be looking to match last year’s second-place effort. The likelihood of topping a Turkish team comprising a number of former Kenyans, though, looks particularly slim.
For those of us watching on our TV or laptop, keeping tabs on the domestic dust-up on the roads in Telford will provide a welcome distraction from the coverage in Slovakia.
The likes of Ellis Cross, Daniel Studley, Richard Goodman, Ieuan Thomas, Charlie Hulson, Laura Weightman, Sonia Samuels and Rebecca Robinson are among the elite names entered for the Telford 10k.
The line-up promises fast times to finish the year. Only the Ribble Valley 10k on the final day of 2017 has a reputation to rival that of Telford.
Why is the race so popular? Its timing undoubtedly helps.
Those that put their eggs in the Euro Cross basket but didn’t make the cut still have a chance to put that fitness to good use.
The fact the running community – including those that didn’t run in Liverpool – seems to have the same collective idea ensures it’s a true-run race.
It’s also an old-school affair. The event started back in 1984. It’s a classic out-and-back course uncomplicated in nature.
The course records are held by Chris Davies (28:52) and last year’s winner, Elinor Kirk (32:35).
Numbers have dipped as low as 90 and risen to last year’s high of 1021 finishers. The club-run organisation and efforts of race organiser Dave Mansbridge to build an elite field mark the event out as one to do.
With 18 sub-30-minute finishers in last year’s race, Telford 10k is one of the highest rated 10k races in the country. It’s a platform for fast times with building the grassroots base in mind.
How this race unfolds will likely make for just as exciting viewing for grassroots fans than what goes down in Samorin.
20-26 November 2017
ANOTHER TEAM announcement, yet more questionable decision making.
It’s only a couple of weeks since the furore that surrounded some of those selected by British Athletics for National Lottery funding. We’ve had the debate around the selection process for the world championships, the World Cross controversy…the list goes on.
Now, British Athletics have served up another selection that has some questionable decisions to digest.
Congratulations, of course, to all those selected for next month’s European Cross Country Championships.
The trial races at Liverpool were some of the most exciting in recent memory and the event proved why it’s the jewel in the domestic cross crown.
The first four across the line in both the senior races have been duly picked for the champs in Slovakia in two weeks.
Alas, it’s the identities of those picked for the last two spots that have caused consternation yet again.
It’s not the fault of those picked, of course. When you have a selection policy that leaves two spots open to the discretion of a selection panel with self-interests to uphold, then we’re always going to have this debate.
It feels like were going round in circles and nobody has the wherewithal to change anything.
There has to be a good reason why the two that followed the first four home didn’t make the cut. These reasons haven’t been forthcoming.
There aren’t any minutes from the meeting available. The transparency around it all is non-existent.
On what basis were those in the relay team picked? Melissa Courtney was the only one to run in Liverpool. Cameron Boyek is the only other that has raced since September.
It’s even worse for those that haven’t made the team when those they beat in the trial race have been selected instead.
There’s been talk of making athletics “more engaging” by adopting the US first-three-across-the-line selection system. The result is non-negotiable. Athletes, fans, everybody knows where they stand.
We’re not sure British Athletics could ever bring themselves to bring in this sort of ruthless policy. The risk that some of their chosen few would be left at home would be too great.
There’s an element of control around selection that the national governing body doesn’t seem willing to let up.
Then again, if it did, the slots would just fill themselves and so many of them would be out of the job.
Maybe that’s why we’re still going round in circles.
13-19 November 2017
THE OPPORTUNITY to see Britain’s two fastest-ever half marathon runners compete over the distance next spring is already a tantalising prospect.
The news that Callum Hawkins and Mo Farah will lock horns at the first-ever Big Half in March has already made this race more than just another mass participation money-spinner.
The headline acts announced duly deliver on that promise.
Farah’s global status goes without saying. Hawkins is a grassroots hero and world champs marathon star making his name.
Organisers talk of local in terms of its commitment to working with community groups from the four host boroughs – but it’s the promise of a proper domestic dust-up that whets the appetite for everybody else. Truly global and uniquely local, indeed.
It should also be an opportunity for more top Brits to go at it hammer and tong and to put grassroots distance running in the shop window.
It’s a platform to show the public, an interested media, watching sponsors, British Athletics and more that – global superstar though he is – there’s more to British distance running than Mo.
6-12 November 2017
IT CAME as no surprise to see a number of our domestic stars out flexing their muscles on the mud over the weekend.
The hotly-anticipated Liverpool Cross Challenge lies a little over a week away.
With rare international rewards over cross country on the line, the event is one of the highlights of the season.
Local league fixtures at home, plus international races abroad proved perfect for many to test their racing mettle ahead of the Sefton Park showdown Saturday week.
From those running closer to home – Laura Muir up in Kirkaldy, Jess Judd in Milton Keynes, Richard Goodman returning at Welwyn Garden City and Dewi Griffiths over in Brecon – to the cohort competing abroad, including Steph Twell, Lily Partridge and Alex Teuten at the Cross de Atapuerca in Spain and Tom Lancashire in Denmark, it was a busy weekend for next week’s probable protagonists.
Who will be heading up the teams in Slovakia next month? There are too many in contention to confidently call. There’s another week or so yet of solid training to pack in before selection day.
If we can predict anything though it’s that next week will have to go some way to topping last year’s epic racing. With so many coming right into form, don’t be surprised if it does.
IS A governing body without controversy a governing body at all?
British Athletics doesn’t seem to be able to make an announcement these days without a little bit of controversy.
Forget the funding decisions that seemed to cast a shadow over the weekend. How about a date clash to get the juices going?
The 2018 British Athletics events calendar was released on Tuesday.
It started with murmurs. Then the rumour mill cranked up to full-speed. Were the British Indoor Championships really going to clash with the BUCS Indoor Championships?! Who knew the only weekend to run an indoor championships was that of the 16-18 February?
BUCS is the pinnacle of many students’ university athletics career – but the national championships is undoubtedly more important for those eligible.
Alas, the rumours proved to be true, with BUCS releasing a statement on Friday detailing that they were aware of the clash – but that they had confirmed their date with British Athletics over a year in advance. Oh dear.
Another head-in-hands moment for our much-maligned governing body.
IT MIGHT have been easy to miss Charlotte Purdue’s latest marathon over the weekend if it weren’t such another fine effort.
Charlotte’s fourth-place finish at the Saitama Marathon, Japan in 2:30.34 was her third outing over 26.2 miles this year. She has more than doubled her number of completed marathons over the course of 2017.
After finishing behind Aly Dixon in London last April, Charlotte turned the tables with a fine 13th at the world championships three months ago. Three of the top-6 fastest times by a British woman this year belong to her.
Sunday may have been her slowest over the distance this year – but it’s a sign of her consistency and adaptation to the distance that just 71 seconds has separated all three of her marathon finishes in 2017.
With perhaps half an eye on next summer’s European Championships, the 25-year-old won’t be heading to the Commonwealth Games in April. Currently ranked 12th in Europe, Charlotte remains Britain’s brightest young hope for the marathon.
With a fast spring-time marathon under her belt and the championship racing mettle she showed in London last summer, Charlotte could go into July’s champs with an outside chance of a medal.
30 October-5 November 2017
IT’S ALWAYS exciting to see a homegrown hero clinch the spoils, especially in one of the biggest races in the world.
And while this short may not be from the world of grassroots distance running in the UK, Sunday’s TCS New York Marathon certainly had grassroots ideals at its heart.
While the atmosphere of the crowds wasn’t a patch on London, the gentle grey drizzle was definitely familiar as the race wound its way through the five boroughs of the Big Apple.
Unlike London, a pacemaked race shooting for records, New York doesn’t allow the athletes to just switch off and follow. Perhaps predictably, therefore, the women’s race set out at a pedestrian pace – a pace many of us could, indeed, have skipped along with.
While this year’s race was significant for Meb Keflezighi’s swan song, it was Shalane Flanagan who held the hopes of a nation. And boy did she deliver.
Going through halfway in a touch over 76 minutes, Shalane wound up the pace from 16 miles, finally dropping three-time New York marathon winner, Mary Keitany after mile 23. She stormed into the finish – screaming that now well-known ‘Fuck yeah!’ – in 2:26.53 to become the first American woman to win the New York Marathon since 1977.
Shalane is an athlete who proves that hard work and tactical racing does pay off. London Marathon take note.
23-29 October 2017
THE HIGHGATE Harriers Night of the 10,000m PBs has fast established itself as the premier 25-lap track racing opportunity in the UK.
Now it’s set to go European with the news that next year’s event will incorporate the European Cup into the racing schedule.
What recognition for the work Ben Pochee and his team have achieved over the last few years. From a three-race Thursday night affair to a seven-event fiesta bringing together the best of grassroots and elite. Quite the feather in the cap.
Svein Arne Hanson – the head of European Athletics – will be hoping some of the magic can rub off on the fortunes of the Continent’s 25-lap stars.
The depth and standard of racing at Parliament Hill has improved year on year, and the event certainly lives up to its PB moniker.
The renewed recent vigour in men’s endurance playing out via the marathon exploits of Night of the PBs alumni, Jonny Mellor and Dewi Griffiths, would likely have been made more difficult without this stepping stone on their doorstep.
Bringing the best of Europe over the Channel certainly makes sense. The Night of the PBs already is the stellar 25-lap event in Europe and this news only rubber stamps that.
The mutual benefits are obvious – though whether European Athletics ultimately benefits more from the association than the grassroots running in the UK is open to debate.
From BUCS being added to the menu last year to former world champion Linet Masai gracing the Parliament Hill track the year before and top European athletes wanting a slice of the action before that, this development has been coming.
Make it a success and the small matter of distance running may just play a part in easing post-Brexit relations.
Marrying an ambitious and ever-growing elite aspect with the grassroots in the UK it was set up to serve will be a challenge – but one Ben Pochee and his team will no doubt overcome.
WHAT MORE can be said about Dewi Griffiths’ outstanding run in Frankfurt at the weekend? How many more superlatives can we offer up?
Sub-2:10 on his marathon debut. The second-fastest European of 2017. The fastest time by a Brit since 2014. Dewi has laid down his marker for next summer’s European Championships in Berlin. From unsung grassroots hero to major champs medal hope in one fell swoop.
The Welshman has continued the revival that Callum Hawkins started over 26.2 miles. Dewi’s progression to this point is no accident. It has been planned out and in the works under Kevin Evans for the past decade.
Dewi’s potential has been plain. PBs across the board this year have been evidence enough. The fact he went sub-2.10 and 15th on the UK all-time list should therefore come as little surprise. It’s 18 months since he told us he saw the marathon being his best bet for top-level success. He wasn’t wrong.
‘At the moment my best distance is 10k,’ said Dewi in our first fanzine back in February 2016.
‘Ultimately, my best distance will be the marathon – but I’m still a couple of years away from being on the start line for that.’
With Dewi and Callum leading the way, which Englishmen are now most likely to follow in their footsteps? The likes of Jonny Hay, Mellor, Andy Vernon, Adam Hickey, Jonny Taylor and the like ought to be inspired and unafraid to set the benchmark and their ambitions higher.
Times otherwise thought a thing of yesteryear, beyond today’s Brits, suddenly seem achievable again. It’s just taken a pair of humble, hardworking grafters with deep roots in the grassroots scene to make it seem possible again.
16-22 October 2017
THE SOUTH of England Athletic Association dragged its heels somewhat – but the venue for the South of England Cross Country Championships in January has finally been confirmed.
Stanmer Park is the unsurprising choice of venue. It generally alternates with Parliament Hill when the main champs return to London every third year.
These two locations are apparently the only two suitable venues in the region for the south’s showpiece event.
And while the choice of setting comes as no surprise, the caveat that came as part of the announcement is sure to cause some commotion:
‘We wish to inform you that there is no parking within Stanmer Park nor in the University of Sussex Grounds. We advise all athletes, where possible to use Public Transport.
‘SEAA apologises for the delay in announcing the venue, this was due to the problems we encountered when trying to find a suitable venue for the event.’
This seems to be a workaround in anticipation of an FA Cup tie scheduled for the same weekend. Brighton’s Amex Stadium – and associated parking facilities – are a five-minute walk from the park.
To rely solely on public transport, though, for the thousands of runners likely – or not – to descend on Stanmer Park is naïve. Southern Rail is hardly renowned for its reliable service and the added expense and logistical challenge for teams travelling from all across the region appears to have been ignored.
If the SEAA think they’ve gotten away with this poor planning, they can think again. There are rumours circulating that some of the region’s biggest clubs are set to boycott the event.
Next January’s offering, though, can be considered more the straw that broke the camel’s back. It is the latest in a long list of faux pas that do little for the credibility of the organisation.
If it’s not the choice of relay venue in 2016, then it’s the screw up of team entries at this year’s event. There was the timing fiasco last month at Crystal Palace which left everyone wondering just exactly which results they could trust.
There was a repeat performance following last weekend’s cross country relays. But the biscuit was perhaps ultimately taken in the committee’s decision last month to vote down amendments that would introduce gender parity to competitions in the region.
The failure to approve such amends and comply with good governance procedure is an indictment of the organisation and its offer to its members.
The general annoyance and dissent has been frequent and justified, with thousands of pounds in entry fees paid by its clubs and members to SEAA each time.
The general fatigue at yet another SEAA mishap may just be piling over into something more pronounced.
9-15 October 2017
LOCAL CROSS country leagues across the country continue to prove that the discipline is far from dead, at grassroots level anyway.
If the weekend suggests anything, funky formats are all well and good but the discipline remains strong in this country as it provides much the same offering as ever.
The sight of Jess Judd in the African violet of Loughborough, arms aloft, taking yet another cross challenge win in Cardiff signalled a change in seasons, if not so much result.
The cross country doomsayers ought to recognise that the allure of pure competition, team tactics and little metal discs at the finish make cross country as appealing as ever.
The Start Fitness Surrey League in Reigate Park is just one case in point.
627 women and 349 men took part. Numbers were so huge that the women’s race was split into two divisions for the first time, with over 200 finishers in each. This girl certainly can.
These figures don’t even include the 539 men in divisions two and three who raced in Wimbledon on the same day. Not bad for an event that’s supposedly lost its relevance.
The picture looks similar across the UK.
Record numbers ran in the Metropolitan Cross Country League in Woodford. 506 men and 211 women. The corresponding fixture last year saw 472 and 180 respectively.
There were 27 more women and 69 more men at Stanhill Farm, Kent.
At Heaton Park, Manchester, the men’s race broke the 400-mark while there was an 8% increase in the number of women competing compared to this time last year.
The strength of the local leagues withstood a weekend of mass participation races, including the Manchester Half Marathon and Great Birmingham Run.
If only this interest could be harnessed to greater effect.
After all, the turnout at the weekend can’t all just have been down to the unseasonably warm weather.
2-8 October 2017
ALDERSHOT, FARNHAM and District won the women’s 4 stage road relay title for the tenth time in the last 11 years on Saturday. Was this predictable? Yes. Boring? Perhaps. Disappointing that no other team in the country can really come close to giving them a run? Certainly.
But that doesn’t make the achievement any less remarkable.
It isn’t to do down the efforts of Leeds City or Swansea either, both of whom gave AFD a run for their money.
We talked about camaraderie being key to Lincoln Wellington’s team success in the men’s event. Star quality is another factor. Consistency and maintaining the winning habit is undoubtedly behind AFD’s success here.
Nobody bar Swansea, who inflicted the one blip on AFD’s copybook in 2015, has been able to get just four women of a similar standard out together. AFD have done it on so many occasions and often with a different winning combination each time.
Stars have turned out more than once over the years – Louise Small, the anchor leg on Saturday, has been part of the winning team six times during this golden period. Emelia Gorecka a cool five.
Staple mainstays year after year are few and far between. Indeed, 14 women* have played their part in victorious AFD quartets in the last decade. That’s some record.
Nobody has really come close to matching AFD’s depth and quality over the last decade – and this cycle of quality plus quantity sets them apart. That’s without even going into their record at the 6 stage in the spring and at the National Cross Country Championships year in, year out.
They give the girls and women coming through the club the impetus to train hard and race well, knowing they’ll get their chance if they perform.
AFD’s dominance is nothing new. With the likes of Andy Vernon, Chris Thompson and Jonny Hay at the forefront on the men’s side, we all know just how strong they can be.
But it’s their relentless dominance of the women’s domestic scene that is startling – and means they have most teams beaten before they even take to the line.
*The 14 women are: Emma Pallant, Vicky Gill, Steph Twell, Charlotte Purdue, Louise Small, Emily Wicks (née Adams), Lily Partridge, Emelia Gorecka, Jess Andrews, Montana Jones, Philippa Bowden, Emily Hosker-Thornhill, Laura Gent and Katherine Bingle
25 September-1 October 2017
While we’re hardly surprised by Dewi Griffiths’ ascent to BBC Sport headline status, the recognition of his recent efforts is deserved and overdue.
Dewi is hardly an overnight success.
The coverage of late may suggest otherwise but Dewi has been the unsung star of the domestic scene for a while now.
Less meteoric than the rise of Callum Hawkins or Andrew Butchart in recent times, the Welshman’s progression is one of softly, softly patience.
He’s been chipping away and quietly going about his business since first breaking onto the GB scene at the age of 16.
There doesn’t appear to be anything fancy or radical to his rise. It’s success built on honest graft and canny coaching.
It’s 18 months since he revealed an insight into his training for our first issue – and just over a year now since we wrote our gushing love letter dedicated to the grassroots star.
‘You might not have set the world alight yet with sparkling times,’ we said, ‘but your upward curve is still arcing.’
‘You’re the unfancied one, the under-the-radar one. Always the bridesmaid and never quite the bride.’
Dewi’s huge PB on Sunday was his fourth race in as many weeks. In another four weeks, he’ll make his marathon debut in Frankfurt.
The UK all-time number 12 over half marathon deserves his time in the spotlight.
From Wales to Scotland and an Englishman upsetting the odds in Glasgow: Chris Thompson proved there’s life in the old dog yet at the Great Scottish Run.
All the build-up beforehand was about the returning heroes, Callum Hawkins and Andrew Butchart. And rightly so, too.
The duo, along with Dewi, are the future of British men’s distance running.
The reinvigorated media interest is evidence enough of the pair’s standing and recognition of their respective achievements over the last two years.
Which is perhaps why an upset was always on the cards. We say upset, but we all know Chris Thompson is no mug.
In his third half marathon in four weeks, the elder statesman of the piece laid down the gauntlet early and was never surpassed.
The Scottish ‘face-off’ between Hawkins and Butchart never materialised.
For Butchart, the race was always just ‘a bit of fun’, though his sedate 70:03 may still have come as a bit of a surprise.
For Hawkins, his second-place finish goes against his thus far solidly straightforward upwards trajectory – which just goes to show the strides he’s made.
Panic, though, is the enemy of good sense.
For Thompson, his recent stint of races, from the Great North Run to British Half Marathon Championships in Nottingham to yesterday, point tentatively towards even better things to come.
Here’s hoping it isn’t a false dawn.
18-24 September 2017
Compare and contrast the South of England Road Relays of Bedford last year to Crystal Palace this and you wouldn’t think it was essentially the same people doing the same thing they do year after year, just in different places.
Experience and atmosphere counts for a lot. Criticism last year was stinging. From zero atmosphere to windswept location and lack of toilets in between. For all the money in the bank, it really couldn’t get much worse.
Compare that to this year, though, and the experiences were poles apart. There was a buzz at Crystal Palace hitherto unheard of in all our relay years – North, South, Midlands and national all included.
Simplicity is key. A simple course – two laps for the senior men and one or one-and-a-half for everyone else – was quick, ample, interesting enough and easy to navigate.
Small things make a big difference. The warm weather undoubtedly helped. The dilapidated Crystal Palace stadium setting, with its organised chaos overrunning the infield, created a hub of activity. It didn’t matter if you don’t particularly remember or care for its significance to yesteryear. Clamour for a return to Aldershot ought not be heeded.
There was much to be applauded – and more to improve on, of course.
Why are there never enough toilets? Surely, by now, it’s an easy lesson learned. A first dip of the toe in the chip timing waters was always likely to encounter problems too – but of the scale that Tonbridge AC faced?
With over 100 runners entered and £1,200 paid into SEAA coffers, it seems strange that Tonbridge in particular were the ones to suffer.
This is one of the more vocal clubs in the region that came forward with a number of positive proposals at the recent SEAA AGM.
Constructive proposals dismissed as ‘mischief’ beforehand, though, and subsequently stifled – not least the proposal for gender parity across opportunities and distances at SEAA events.
Quite why the senior women only had to cover just over 3k (the course being not the 4.5k billed) and not the 5.1k – or thereabouts – equivalent of the men, is beyond us. And don’t start us on why the younger girls don’t run 4 stages either.
As an advert for what grassroots relay running could be, this ticked a number of boxes. There are still many things to improve on – aspects more to do with the way things are run outside the event than anything else.
But it’s a start.
If variety is the spice of life, then the Midland Counties autumn relay results certainly offered up more korma than jalfrezi.
Bristol and West, skidding in at the last, pipped Cheltenham and County to top-spot in a repeat performance of last year’s men’s race.
By repeat, we mean near-identical – save some different names wearing the same vests and cumulative times being more than a minute quicker than last year. It was only on the last leg that positions were set in stone.
On the flipside, Birchfield Harriers proved the dominant force again in the women’s event. No close shaves in the offing there as the quartet went gun-to-tape for a third successive title.
The big question is whether Bristol and Birchfield can go full vindaloo in a few weeks or will continue to play second poppadom on the national stage?
Have we stretched this curry analogy far enough?
11-17 September 2017
HATS OFF to the Lincoln Wellington six who triumphed at the North of England Road Relays in Manchester at the weekend.
For anyone that’s been following the great blog Aaron Scott has been putting together for the last six months, their win comes as little surprise.
Serious contenders for national glory in a couple of weeks? You bet – though they may lack the game-changer that often makes the difference at Sutton Park.
Someone like Swansea’s Dewi Griffiths, for instance.
It’s a good job Lincoln got their admin house in order before their win at Sport City too, after the raft of disqualifications announced yesterday.
‘On Saturday a number of clubs ran athletes who were ineligible in that they had failed to pay their England Athletics affiliation for 2017/18 on or prior to the race date,’ said the Northern Athletics statement.
The revised results saw second-placed Salford Harriers and fifth-placed Leeds City AC among others scrubbed from the record books.
The women’s race – won by a Leigh Harriers quartet anchored home by Lauren Howarth – wasn’t impervious to DQs either.
Is it unfair that these clubs have seen their national chances scuppered because of an admin oversight?
Isn’t it ultimately just a money grab and proxy tax on athletes by a governing body contributing very little to an event – or indeed to clubs overall?
Whatever your viewpoint, rules is rules. It’s a fact all clubs would have been aware of before they went into battle.
While you might not agree with them, they are what they are and you must abide by them if you want to take part.
There’s little point blaming the system and bleating about it after the point. Shouldn’t more be done to change it to prevent the opportunity and embarrassment happening in the first place?
If only there was some sort of unified cross-region drive to make that change.
The current antipathy and sense of resignation will just lead to the same old arguments replaying themselves again and again.
AUTUMN IS definitely here. How do we know? The raft of half marathons and road races that dominated the racing calendar in the UK over the weekend.
Time to consign the track spikes to the bottom of the wardrobe for another six months. It’s time for the road weary racers to return to the fore.
Taking a cursory glance at some of the bigger races of the weekend, it’s safe to say a backseat summer mainly clocking up the miles has paid dividends for a number of older runners.
Emma Stepto – who has been in the running game little more than a decade – took the win at the Great Bristol Half Marathon on Sunday.
Emma’s time of 77:42 is the fastest by a V45 this year and eighth-fastest ever in the UK. She continues to prove that age needn’t be a barrier to the top of British distance running.
Bideford athlete Aaron Richmond would no doubt agree. Aaron led home the field in Bristol with a PB and top-10 V35 ranking time (68.07).
Whether the age of 35 is deserving of veteran status is still debateable – but that’s by the by.
At Harrow-on-the-Hill, Worcester and the Reigate Half, the podium places were also mainly populated by runners over the age of 35.
So, while youth may be moving up the food chain at the sharpest end, seasoned club runners are still getting their kicks on the domestic distance running scene.
4-10 September 2017
FOUR WINS in a row from Mo Farah at yesterday’s Great North Run is undoubtedly some feat. But the sit-and-kick finish and faux sense of jeopardy preceding it has become all too predictable. The annual Mo Show is becoming a bit of a turn-off all told.
This might be more acceptable if coverage of the club runners coming through the line didn’t also follow the same tried and trusted and unpopular script. Much to the chagrin of the grassroots community watching at home, the frustrating delivery lived up to its familiar billing.
Why would anyone with an actual interest in running bother to tune in when the efforts of those they’re interested in are ignored? It’s a market that continues to be underserved, and for what? Inane input and rabbiting on that’s all filler, no killer yet again. The race, from the outside, has become nothing more than the Mo Show plus a supporting cast of plodders.
Might it also be time for a rethink of the format of elite women’s competition?
To finish off our sense of frustration with the way the sport continues to be presented, how demoralising it must be to be cut adrift in a 28-person race, running solo for large chunks and achieving little more than a solid tempo effort on the rolling dual carriageways of South Shields.
The platform for the elite women to shine is, of course, a must – but the lonely road does not inspire the fastest performances or indeed the best races. The presentation and integrity of women’s competition at the moment, in certain events at least, is certainly getting a bum deal.
For those on the sidelines watching and armchair fans at home, the whole Great North Run spectacle leaves a lot to be inspired.
WE DON’T want to sound repetitive. But we really can’t help it. Not when the outstanding performance of last week came from Jess Judd, yet again.
To finish off her season that started back at the beginning of April with a 3,000m PB at Watford – 22 weeks ago – and took in the BUCS 800m and 5000m titles in May, the English U23 1500m title in June, world champs qualification and silver over 1500m at the British Champs in July, a huge PB and inspirational front-running to make the World Championship semi-finals in August followed swiftly by bronze in the 5,000m at the world university games in Taipei…
And if that wasn’t enough, to come full circle, at Watford last Wednesday, after a modest 2.02.84 800m, Jess clocked a nine second PB (bringing her total up to 9 PBs for the season) of 8.43.24 taking her to 13th on the UK all-time list.
So, it’s no surprise that she beat some of the world’s best middle-distance athletes to take bronze at the prestigious New Balance Fifth Avenue Mile on Sunday.
And, not to labour another of our hot topics but, Laura Weightman proved once more the follies of the numbskulls at British Athletics who left her off funding this year. The upcoming list of who’s hot and who’s not in the eyes of the national governing body will be make for interesting – and undoubtedly contentious – reading.
28 August-3 September 2017
FOR ALL the debate around the legacy of London 2012 and whether it was actually £9 billion well spent, at least one thing it did do is thrust 10,000m track racing back front and centre of British distance running.
When we say London 2012 did it, we mean the volunteer organisers that have taken the initiative in the absence of any other to put on quality track racing opportunities that were otherwise missing.
No longer is the dearth so gaping that any GB runner worth their salt has to trek across the planet to be sure of a race.
The best example out there? We know the answer to that one. But where the Night of the PBs, coming one year after London 2012, may well be Olympic legacy in action, one of that event’s founding ambitions is bearing fruit.
We now have a veritable plethora of 25-lap race opportunities to chose from. British distance runners have never had such luxury of choice.
Promising to cater for all runners and abilities, the first-ever event delivered its aims – and then some.
‘The event stemmed from the success of our club champs in recent years,’ says volunteer race organiser, Adrian Lowther.
‘With the demise of the club’s road race – the Sidcup 10 – and inspired by the resurgence in 10,000m running, brought about by events like Highgate and Orion Fast Friday, it made sense to make it the focus for a new club race.’
Not only did Paul Martelleti (and Nick Torry) ensure the “A” race ended with a magical sub-30 minute clocking – still the measure of any decent club runner – but Katrina Wootton went eleventh all-time in the UK women’s rankings with a 31:45 clocking.
The quickest time of the night was 29:48.41. The slowest finisher clocked 52:17.23. It’s an event that caters for all.
There were 100 personal bests across the six events – a 79% PB success rate from first-timers to old hands. There’s not much more you can say.
‘Ladywell is a special place for distance running,’ says Adrian. ‘It always produces fast times. Coupled with the time of year, which we now hope to make our own, we’re delighted to be offering a late-season chance for fast times.’
The opportunity is there for the leafy Ladywell event to establish itself as a staple of the early-autumn calendar.
‘We are also committed to making the event accessible for all standards,’ adds Adrian.
‘We will continue to ensure there are opportunities for runners trying to break 50 minutes to run in the same set-up as those breaking 30 minutes.’
If the outpouring of love and gratitude on social media is anything to go by, then this ambition may well be tricky to maintain. Either that, or we’ll end up with 24 hours of 25-lap action at Ladywell in a few years’ time.
21-27 August 2017
FOUR MONTHS on from the outdoor university champs in Bedford, a maximum 20-person team came home from the World University Games in Taipei with three medals.
The stars of the show from a GB perspective? Well, the two people responsible for the three medals: Jess Judd and Jonny Davies.
Jess will be undoubtedly be ready for a break from racing after a season that started back on 5 April and has taken in 24 races since, including that stunning front-running 1500m PB at the World Championships. Her bronze – just 0.23 seconds off silver – represents something shiny to mark a fantastic season.
After 13k of running in the space of five days, Jonny’s bronze over 1500m and silver in the 5,000m is testament to him, his coach and a well-planned summer.
It seems like Jonny’s been around longer than his 23 years would suggest. Silverware certainly hasn’t been scarce during his short career so far.
A European junior medalist on the track four years ago and gold medallist over cross country at U23 level, the Birmingham Uni graduate looks to have turned to speed to propel him forward this summer.
Jonny’s ran seven 1500m races this summer – his highest total since 2013. He improved his personal best by more than four seconds (3:39.00) and dropped a near-six second PB over 800m (1:48.94) in his sole outing over the distance.
Instead of chasing a spot on the world championships team, Jonny and his team have picked his racing well – a sensible long-term approach that will undoubtedly enhance his development and pay dividends next season and beyond.
THE EXPERIENCE at the World University Games will no doubt serve those that started well.
But the method behind selection is one area that ought to be picked at, particularly in light of the recent news that UK Athletics made a loss of £1.1 million last year.
There was no official trial event and athletes were picked based on qualifying times, that arbitrary ‘top-8 potential’ stipulation and an ability to part-fund the trip themselves – surprising and limiting given the student budget doesn’t tend to stretch that far.
It’s particularly maddening too given the news revealed by The Times that the man that oversaw a £1.1 million loss for UKA in the last financial year, Niels de Vos, was the second-highest earner on the governing body’s books on more than £200k per year.
While the maximum numbers picked for London 2017 and various age group championships this summer should be applauded – it isn’t something that happens every year, after all – the imbalance between those at the top running the sport and the athletes seemingly at the bottom is as stark as ever.
It will be interesting to see where accountability lies and which heads, if any, will roll.
When those at the top aren’t taking the sport in a healthy and sustainable direction despite increased membership fees, high ticket prices and self-lauded sponsorship deals then questions need to be asked.
IS IT a little late in the day for yet more national championship events?
Two weeks after the ‘Lord Mayors Show’ at the former Olympic Stadium and on the last weekend of August, three of the home nations staged championships of some sort.
There were the national senior champs (combined with U17 champs) up in Scotland, the England Athletics U17 and U15 Champs in Bedford as well as the Welsh age group Inter-Regional Championships. Phew.
For the grassroots aspirants taking part, winning national honours, junior titles and striving for PBs, their seasons are by no means defined by major international championships.
But, a long way from the start of the track season, thoughts start to turn to road relays, cross country and going back to school. Even for talented club runners, these competitions might well be a little late in the day.
When you’ve young athletes peaking for Scottish, Welsh and English Schools events at the beginning of July, isn’t the mental and physical effort required of another championship seven weeks later too much to ask?
Perhaps these age-group champs should be scrapped altogether. There are plenty of opportunities and medals up for grabs at national schools, county and regional events.
Could governing bodies save the pressure of a national championships for those still young? Perhaps the most talented U17s could compete in the junior age-group?
The chance of burnout is only excabated by too much competition.
That isn’t to do-down the performances of those who competed at the weekend – nor certainly the army of volunteers without whom nothing could go ahead.
Perhaps it is they at any rate that may benefit most from a break in the racing calendar.
14-20 August 2017
THE STANDARD was as high as ever over the course of the British Milers’ Club’s showcase series in 2017.
As the curtain closed on this year’s Grand Prix series in Trafford on Saturday, 648 athletes (42%) out of 1,541 finishers across the five events went home with a personal best time. Not bad.
Standout races of the season? Halifax teenager Max Burgin’s UK age-15 best of 1:50.05 at Sportcity in May takes some beating.
On the same day, however, Markhim Lonsdale stole the show by breaking Athens Olympian, Ricky Soos’, 15-year-old BMC junior record. The Crook AC athlete – who went on to bag silver at the European U20 Championships in July – was not only fast but consistent, taking three wins from the three 800m ‘A’ races he contested this year.
Jess Judd’s solo 5,000m effort in Manchester pointed the way towards the season she would go on to enjoy while Lynsey Sharp’s women’s BMC record (1:59.33) in the men’s ‘I’ race at Watford was impressive if not slightly controversial.
Two-time Olympian, Anthony Whiteman, ran in every BMC Grand Prix race this year – and often doubled up on pacemaker duty to boot. The Shaftesbury Barnet Harrier, who went sub 1:50 over 800m for the first time in 1994, crowned his season with the World Masters M45 800m record on Saturday in 1:49.86.
Away from the glory and personal bests, the likes of Revee Walcott-Nolan triumphed over 800m at Watford in June and took two second-place finishes in Loughborough and Trafford. Preston athlete, Jacqueline Fairchild, placed in the top-5 in all four fixtures she contested – twice over 800m and twice over 1500m. There are others.
There clearly isn’t a lack of quality racing opportunities at home. Dedication from distance runners to consistently support the domestic scene should be applauded and commended as much as the PBs themselves.
ARE QUALITY 5k road races back en vogue? Did they ever even go away?
Following the ever-popular Lord Mayor’s 5k in Norwich last month, the bi-annual Mid-Cheshire 5k, always outstanding Armagh International and Sale Sizzler summer series, the breadth and quality of competition sure ain’t leaving runners short of PB racing opportunities.
Last Friday saw the turn of the Ipswich Twilight 5k. The Suffolk event has been building momentum since its first-ever run three years ago.
The flat, town-centre course is geared up for fast times and entry is restricted only to those that have run inside 22 minutes.
Generous prize money – £500 for the first man and woman plus cash prizes for the leading team – and organisers intent on attracting the best has undoubtedly helped push the numbers up from 84 in 2015, to 106 last year and 134 this time around.
Luke Caldwell edged training partner Jake Shelley 14:22 to 14:23 in the men’s event while Emelia Gorecka continued her return to fitness and form.
After having to learn how to run again, the 23-year-old put her best foot forward to win in 15:40 – an equal-road PB, her fastest time over the distance this year, a course record and the quickest time on UK soil by anybody in 2017.
While some of the events mentioned are newer than others, the 5k distance seems to be back in fashion. Could it be that the ease and popularity of parkrun has helped shove the classic distance back under the noses of organisers and runners alike?
Maybe there’s legs in lost road race distances like 5 and 10 miles yet.
7-13 August 2017
JUST WHEN you thought the athletics was all over for the summer, think again.
Quite a number of the star names from last week’s world championships have stayed in the UK another seven days for the Diamond League in Birmingham on Sunday.
Mo (or is it Mohamed?) Farah’s track swan song will obviously snaffle up most of the headlines – and scroll through the middle-distance start lists and the fields will feel strangely familiar.
With no medals on the line, a nice payday in the offing and pacemakers in place, nevertheless, it may well resemble something like London 2017: The Sequel.
ANYONE ELSE feel a little paranoid when running on the pavements this week?
After footage of a woman literally being thrown under a bus by a jogger in south London (three month ago!) was released by the police in an effort to find the perpetrator, the evil eye from pedestrians has seemed more trained than usual as the debate over pavement etiquette rages on.
Though this hateful pedestrian pusher has no association with the running community and his actions appear to have been totally out of proportion, the debate took a sour turn during a normally light-hearted Today Programme segment on BBC Radio 4.
Journalist, Julie Bindel, was bizarrely invited to share her views on the topic alongside fellow hack – and Highgate Harrier – Martin Bright.
The conclusion? After a roundabout discussion on the divine rights of dog-walkers, John Humphrys running with his eyes closed around an astro-turf pitch and the plusses of GoodGym and parkrun, runners shouldn’t be allowed to run on the pavements – because that’s what running tracks are for.
While fast-moving runners must be considerate and take extra care when passing pedestrians, surely everyone is entitled to equal space on the pavements, paths and parks no matter what pace we’re moving at?
A NEW Facebook group set up by Tonbridge supremo, Mark Hookway, and Liverpool Harriers coach, Adrian Webb, is aiming to cut the negative chat and promote high-quality distance races to the best runners in the UK.
Membership of the group is restricted to UKA-qualified coaches plus athletes that have hit a particular standard. It’s been welcomed with open arms by race organisers, coaches and athletes alike so far.
With a plethora of races in the UK leading to a sometimes fragmented scene, it’ll be interesting to monitor the impact of this overdue initiative.
31 July-6 August 2017
WHAT IS wrong with England Athletics? If you were to cast a casual eye over the national governing body’s social media feeds over the the last month, you would be forgiven for being totally unaware that there are any English athletes competing at the world athletics championships in London this week.
Seeing as the British Athletics team taking on the world is predominantly made up of English athletes, the radio silence is rather surprising.
Take world championship 100m finalist, Reece Prescod. The 21-year-old Enfield and Haringey athlete surprised some to win the British trials. He did so proudly wearing an England vest. He’s a former England junior champion too.
Or how about Laura Weightman? Sixth-place in the 1500m last night and a proud Morpeth Harrier, Laura is never shy to pull on her club vest and support the domestic scene. These are just two stories the national governing body could quite proudly trumpet.
But instead of creating a bridge between the grassroots of the sport and elite level, England Athletics is proving to show disregard for both.
Mark Munro, CEO of Scottish Athletics, manages to congratulate and commiserate with both those Scots competing in London and the club runners at home. The Scottish governing body promotes their own championships AND cheers on Callum Hawkins and co.
Welsh Athletics has been supporting Josh Griffiths and Andrew Davies among other Welsh athletes competing in London, while also reporting on their young athletes’ competition at home.
Athletics Northern Ireland has given a shout out to their officials who are part of the voluntary team ensuring the champs can go ahead. Are there any English officials, we wonder?
Why does England Athletics feel as though it must play a different role to its neighbouring NGBs?
From spending money on taking teams to Nitro Athletics in Australia and Barbados instead of nurturing development opportunities at home, to bleating on about volunteers instead of attempting to provide better coaching provision for their members, and now this silence.
Communication is a key component of getting people on side and England Athletics is coming up short. The governing body seems to be missing the point – and sliding into irrelevance.
THE ANNOUNCEMENT by British Athletics yesterday of the extension of its kit deal with Nike to 2030 should be a cause for concern.
Already the most powerful and influential brand in the sporting world, Nike looks to be penetrating deeper into the British Athletics set-up.
Not only will Nike be providing kit for athletes, coaching staff and the brass hats at the top, they will also be putting money into the Futures Programme and wielding their influence on the next generation of athletes.
The renewal smacks more of desperation rather than ‘a brilliant platform of support for the sport to move forward with,’ as UKA chief, Niels de Vos, insists.
The arse would undoubtedly fall out of the sport without the investment and might of Nike. But just how positive should we be about near-dominance of the market?
With no other major sports brands willing or able to challenge Nike’s dominance in the sport and many British athletes already on their books, by pumping more money into British Athletics, Nike is further increasing its unwieldy power.
IT’S ALWAYS sad when an athlete falls out of love with the sport – and Jess Martin is no exception.
The Aldershot athlete’s announcement of her retirement at the age of 24 came as a surprise to many.
‘Never say never’ seems to be the gist and we may one day see her back on the track.
But for now, we wish Jess all the best for whatever she decides to do in the future – and thank her for giving us one of our all-time favourite grassroots athletics moments at the Highgate Harriers Night of the 10,000m PBs in 2016.
24-30 July 2017
WITH MOST eyes turned towards the world champs circus later this week, you’d be forgiven for missing the UK CAU and England Athletics Championships at the weekend.
Held in Bedford – England Athletics’ default home for national championship events, it seems – its timing can feel a little lost amid recent age group championships at home and abroad, and other popular open events.
Add in the fact that it’s more Europa League fallback than top-four Champions League qualification after the British Championships at the start of the month, and it’s little surprise fanfare around the event fell short.
But that’s not to say it isn’t worthwhile. The event is the party for those that shot for the main prize and fell short. It’s the taste of national track competition, personal bests and prizes for those in need of a new season focus.
2011 World 1500m silver medallist, Hannah England, won the 800/1500 double. Reading’s Jonny Davies was just 0.59 seconds off breaking four minutes for the mile. Only one man dropped out of the 5,000m final.
The domestic calendar rolls on despite the world champs distraction. Giving this event more breathing space and shifting it to its former Whitsun Bank Holiday home at the end of May might just give it – and the athletes – the airtime it deserves.
DID ANYBODY else feel the final team announcement for London 2017 last week was a little haphazard?
The way athletes were out one minute and in the next without much rhyme or reason seemed to belittle the whole selection process. While we’re all for sending full teams, consistency of selection went out the window once IAAF invitations were accepted.
Selection should be a self-serving process. The way it’s been handled has hardly been so.
From those with the standard that missed the trials but since selected to others now that don’t have the QT but will line up at the Olympic Stadium, the selection process has been unnecessarily confusing.
Don’t throw criteria and standards out the window when the championship approaches. It gives the impression that you don’t know what you’re doing.
‘ATHLETICS WAS his life, not in the sense that he wanted to be head of this or that, but in doing things right. He was a top bloke, pretty stubborn at times, but a proper athletics bloke.
‘Many clubs have somebody like Bob that works out of a pure love of the sport. We were lucky to have Bob on our side.’
We were greatly saddened to hear of the passing of Newham and Essex Beagles great, Bob Smith, last week.
Bob was the popular team manager for the Beagles during the club’s golden period at the turn of the century.
Tony Shiret, former Chair of England Athletics London Council, shares pays tribute to a friend and colleague of more than 30 years.
17-23 July 2017
ANOTHER WEEKEND, another blue track – another large medal haul for GB’s development athletes.
The 22nd European Junior Championship in Grosetto, Italy, brought the GB juniors more medals than any other nation. With a total tally of 19 – six more than any other nation – Britain ended up tying with Germany on gold medals and falling short of top-spot overall by just one silver. Not bad.
Some of the more consistent performances in Italy came from the middle-distance athletes. Four medals out of six were swept up by the U20 women, including two golds across the 800m and 1500m from Khahisa Malanga and Jemma Reekie. Jake Heyward took gold in the 1500m and Markhim Lonsdale the silver over the two-lap distance.
The value of taking such a large squad – 55 athletes this year – to a developmental international competition is always something to scrutinise. The proof, though, is in the pudding when you scan the results from previous years.
Looking back over the past 10 years of the competition, there are many athletes who’ve gone on to be successful seniors.
From the 2015 contingent, both Kyle Langford, who took gold in the 800m, and Josh Kerr, who won the 1500m, have had stellar beginnings to their senior careers.
Jake Wightman is another who can claim to have used the experience of becoming European junior 1500m champion to good ends. Not to mention the likes of Ross Murray, Alison Leonard and Charlotte Purdue who all made finals in years gone by.
A steady improvement in championship performance is also evident, especially in the men’s competition.
Ten years ago in Hengelo, when Steph Twell gained silver in the 1500m, none of the male British juniors made it to the final. This year, Jake Heyward took gold – the third successive victory for GB in this event – and there were three GB women on the start line of their equivalent final.
Go back another 10 years to 1997 in Ljubljana and the improvement is even more obvious.
There were no British men in the 1997 800m final – there were two in this year’s final. In the 1500m in 1997, British athletes placed 6th and 12th. This year, it was gold and 5th.
Only one British athlete made it to the women’s 800m final in 1997 – this year there was a British 1-2. In the women’s 1500m, the class of 1997 produced one finalist who finished 13th – this year gold and bronze.
Whether the standard of European competition is getting worse or British athletes are getting better is open to debate. Either way these results should be taken for what they are: undeniably positive.
DO YOU really need to go abroad to be guaranteed a good time? With the Soar Mile event last Friday at Battersea Park offering up more opportunities for lane three beer and cheer, the answer is becoming a resounding no.
The clamour to take trips to the Continent and beyond seems an increasingly redundant need. Relaxing the rules and inviting people into lane three to get up close to the action isn’t rocket science – but it’s a move pioneered in the UK by the Night of the 10,000m PBs and since used to great effect by the likes of Orion Harriers and now Soar.
Banging on about needing to do things differently is becoming tiresome. There are events out there with the will and imagination making it happen.
Bringing back the mile doesn’t seem such a silly fad when you do it properly. The Soar Mile saw 10 races rattled off in the space of two hours. Runners and friends three-deep in the home straight undoubtedly inspired faster times.
There were veteran records and personal bests galore. Dale King-Clutterbuck nipped Lewis Moses to the money in the final event. Revee Walcott-Nolan breezed to victory in the ‘Bannister Bash’ to bag the cash in the race before.
Nothing beats the intimacy of live sport. Just think of the distance between athletes and spectators, and the dearth of atmosphere at the British Champs. Sonia O’Sullivan said as much about the recent London Anniversary Games too. Like going to watch your favourite band, the experience is 10 times better when you catch their warm-up set at the local boozer ahead of the festival headline slot three days later.
Bigger isn’t always better – and more importantly, it doesn’t always guarantee quality.
10-16 July 2017
THE EARLY part of last week was marked by a surprisingly uncontroversial London 2017 team announcement by British Athletics – at first glance.
Selection for past events hasn’t always ran so smoothly – there’s usually at least one decision that leaves most people puzzled and venting their spleen on social media.
It’s fair to say that most who expected to be selected this time around were and contention was limited. Break the internet the announcement did not.
Question marks hung over who would get the nod for the men’s 800m. Would it be the experience of Andrew Osagie or Kyle Langford for the final spot? You can’t really argue with Langford’s 2017 4-0 head-to-head record.
The value of running the trials appeared to hold some muster as Sarah McDonald, third in Birmingham, got in ahead of the since quicker Katie Snowden and Melissa Courtney.
Conversely, Rosie Clarke hit the steeplechase standard back in May but didn’t run the trials. She made the team. Rio Olympian, Lennie Waite, fourth at the trials, may yet have her day after clocking the QT on the day the team was announced.
The door remains open for others too, with the final team announced 24 July. Andy Vernon, for one, is aiming for the 5,000m time in Heusden, Netherlands this Saturday.
If anything, some that filled spaces can perhaps count themselves as fortunate.
In addition to Clarke, take Jess Martin in the 10,000m. Jess has the QT from August last year, granted, but ranks 13th in the UK over the distance this year and didn’t finish top-2 at the trials to properly justify selection. The fact a muddled criteria has panned out in an athlete’s favour this time is just as much a surprise.
Whereas British Athletics has been reluctant to give people a chance and pick full deserving teams in the past, a home world championships seems to have jolted selectors into a fit of generosity. Where consistency or transparency comes in is anyone’s guess.
THREE BRITISH women inside the top ten in the 10,000m set the tone on Friday night at last weekend’s European U23 Championships in Bydgoszcz.
Phoebe Law led the way and continued her excellent form by finishing fourth, just seven seconds off bronze. Jenny Nesbitt two places behind and Philippa Bowden in eighth completed an impressive showing from GB’s full set of 25-lap representatives. The future looks in capable hands.
US-based, Hannah Segrave, bagged GB’s first middle-distance medal of the championship with bronze in the 800m. The Middlesbrough athlete, who has been out in the States for the last four years, had just enough left in the tank in the last half-lap burn-up. Dan Rowden followed by example with silver in the men’s equivalent.
It begs the question, though, seeing as it is a largely developmental competition, why only one athlete was picked for each 800m event. Perhaps the performances of Segrave and Rowden will encourage British Athletics to go deeper and provide vital championship experience to many more talented, and deserving, youngsters.
Jamaine Coleman’s bronze in the steeplechase completed the trio of middle-distance medals, which went some way towards the team’s overall tally of 10 and second-equal finish in the team standings.
3-9 July 2017
DID ANYBODY else find Brendan Foster’s repeated questioning of Laura Muir’s approach to yesterday’s mile just ever so mildly annoying? While his unsurprising ejaculations over Mo Farah 15 minutes later were as inevitable as Farah’s win itself, Brendan was disappointed in the way Muir ran the race, especially with the worlds just around the corner.
True, Laura didn’t win and any psychological advantage you hand the opposition at this point could prove telling. But hadn’t Brendan read the memo? The memo that’s been doing the rounds for months to sell the tickets? Namely, that Muir would be shooting for Zola Budd’s British record?
Granted, she fell short and may ultimately have acted as a pacemaker for Helen Obiri. But if she wanted the British record, which the grimace and effort suggested she very much did, then she had to lead from the front. Nobody was going to give it to her on a plate. Just don’t expect the same gung-ho tactics in four weeks.
Last week, we said Elliot Giles was the best racer we had over two laps of the track – and he proved it once again at the weekend. In a race stacked with Brits and rightly billed as one for the selectors, Elliot underlined his credentials by beating the best of British for the second-week running.
With all Brits going inside the QT and world champs secured for both Elliot and Guy Learmonth – the final Brit home yesterday but second last week when it mattered – it’s Langford or Osagie for the final spot. The toss of the coin rests in the selectors’ hands.
The same of Elliot’s assuredness can be said of both Chris O’Hare and Shelayna Oslan-Clarke. Both proved once again that it doesn’t matter where you are at the end of the first lap or the top of the bend, it’s where you are when it matters most: at the finish.
Our favourite thing about the men’s 3,000m? No, not Mo Farah’s win. Or Andrew Butchart with his barely visible tache stretching the field out in the final kilometre and being rewarded with a PB and Scottish record.
No, it was Nick Goolab in the gold and burgundy Belgrave vest mixing it among the whitewash of pink and blue Nike. Unsponsored Nick scored an 11-second PB to boot, too. Long live the club colours.
THE PAULA Radcliffe Stadium on Saturday. Sedate and low key. The home of the UK’s most famous institute for middle distance runners met the premier middle distance athletics club in the country on Saturday.
Fireworks it ultimately did not serve up.
The fourth grand prix of the season is often a more middling affair. It’s difficult to follow what was the main act for many just seven days before at the Alexander Stadium.
But near-perfect conditions, the soft track, David Tenant on commentary, a smattering of standout winning performances – most notably, Markhim Lonsdale, Stewart Mcsweyn, Naomi Taschimowitz and Sam Stabler – and almost 100 PBs from a possible 255 across 24 races marks a pretty decent return.
SAYING ‘I will never fail a test’ is just not good enough.
COULD OPEN data be the key to the survival of county athletics?
Leighton Buzzard AC and Bedfordshire AAA have proposed changing the complex rules on eligibility for county competition.
Publicised by Open Track, open data advocates and race results revolutionaries, their idea is to add the option for athletes to be able to compete for the county their first claim club is affiliated to, as well as the usual birth or residence criteria.
The idea is that this will get rid of impractical and time consuming admin, iron out discrepancies between counties and regions, and smooth over inconsistencies on Power of 10.
But more importantly, the argument goes, the more people that are made eligible, the more will turn out of for their clubs in county competition. What do you think? You can let them know.
DESPITE RIP-OFF ticket prices – parents shouldn’t be exploited at £12.50 a pop on top of £5 parking just to watch their kids perform – the atmosphere was impressive and performances flowed at the English Schools Track and Field Championships on Saturday.
Just one week on from the much-criticised British Champs, this week’s Alexander Stadium offering certainly felt like an occasion – and provided quality races to boot. Doing away with blocks of advertising and filling up the imposing stand on the back straight with people also helped.
One couldn’t help thinking, though, of a recent Swedish initiative in youth football. It emphasises how youth sport is about the child’s memories and their experiences, not that of the parent. Something some parents at the weekend would be minded to take heed of.
26 June-2 July 2017
FRIDAY NIGHT may no longer host the British 10,000m Championships – but 130 miles further south last week, #FASTFriday hosted three 10,000m races (and a trio over half the distance).
As the sun set over the athletics track in the shadow of Walthamstow’s newest sport centre, 116 runners, plus at least twice that number supporting, spent an evening absorbed in distance racing.
It was a club-based community event that catered for all.
Times ranged from 16:37 to 20:08 over 5,000m and 36:12 to 41:33 over 25 laps for women. On the men’s side, times were spread from 14:45 to 19:07 (5,000m) and 30:17 to 40:02 (10,000m). There was certainly plenty to cheer about.
With over half of athletes competing attaining a PB (68 percent to be precise), one club record tumbling and clear skies above, race organiser Barny Foot, created a spectacle and atmosphere worthy of his North West London inspiration – the Highgate Harriers Night of the 10,000m PBs.
Complete with beer, hot food and complimentary sports massage – add to that, pacemakers, moderate prizes and a party vibe – a grassroots community, who love running and love watching running, congregated in lane three at the Orion Harriers’ event.
On Friday night, in that little corner of East London, the future of grassroots distance running looked bright.
WE’D LIKE to offer an apology to Calli Thackery and Sam Stabler – our ones-to-watch at the British Athletics Team Trials last weekend. It seems as though the curse of Left Spike struck as both failed to finish. Best wishes to them for the rest of the season. Still very much ones-to-watch.
19-25 June 2017
BRITISH ATHLETICS selected a ‘largely developmental team’ for last weekend’s European Team Championships in Lille. It was a team picked with one eye on the future and with many athletes billed as ‘in the mix for Tokyo 2020 and beyond.’
Who can be said to have benefited most in the middle distance ranks from this developmental opportunity? And did the ploy work?
The stats hold up well. While the team finished fourth with 269 points overall, middle distance athletes bagged 72 points (27%) between them across 10 events.
And since the 10 middle distance events made up 23% of the 44 events in total, the middle distance runners certainly pulled their weight.
The 72 points accounted for almost two-thirds (65%) of the points available to middle distance athletes – not too shabby.
Of those 72 points, 47 (65%) were scored by the men. Nick Goolab, Marc Scott and Jake Wightman were the pick of the bunch and all took home 10 points after finishing second in their respective races.
Indeed, it was a good weekend for the men as not one of them – with James Bowness finishing strongly in the 800m and Rob Mullett matching the Continent’s best in the ‘chase – finished outside the top-4.
For the women, Lennie Waite’s 10 points represented the highest return as a string of ninth-place finishes from Katie Snowdon, Rhianwedd Price and Harriet Knowles-Jones – plus sixth from Calli Thackery in the 5,000m – saw 25 points (35%) scored overall.
The experience will have been undeniably positive for those that made their senior international outdoor debuts, like Harriet Knowles-Jones and Nick Goolab. For others including Wightman and Mullett, it is a stepping stone to the trials this weekend.
How far they go and just who will be the stars of tomorrow remains to be seen.
And while it’s hardly the first competition many of the weekend’s athletes will hold dear, sending a full team and providing many with the opportunity to compete is a step in the right direction for British Athletics.
THE QUALITY on show at the latest British Milers’ Grand Prix a2t Watford on Saturday was a good barometer for the upcoming world trials.
One of those proving her form ahead of the weekend was Rio Olympic finalist, Lynsey Sharp.
The 26 year-old chose Saturday night as her first run out in the UK this year. Her clocking of 1:59.33 saw her grab a season’s best and leapfrog Shelayna Oskan-Clarke to the top of the UK rankings.
Yet, somewhat controversially, she did not cross the line at the head of the field. In fact, she finished last in an otherwise all-male field.
Why did she compete in the men’s 800m “I” race rather than the women’s 800m “A” race?
Lynsey is undeniably a class athlete, perhaps a cut above the other girls in Watford on that night, and her result undoubtedly proved a savvy move if speed was the aim of the game.
The women’s “A” 800m was won in a markedly slower time (2:03.20) and so perhaps the reasoning that the other girls aren’t quick enough for Lynsey’s sharpener ahead of the trials holds true.
But if the quality of the athletes in the women’s “A” race is the sticking point, why did she or the BMC not encourage some of the quicker girls to compete or bring competition in from abroad?
While she hung onto the coattails of the men’s “I” field, doesn’t it make a minor mockery of the female competition?
A male pacemaker could have been employed to take the whole of the women’s “A” field round to 700m. This would have shown off Lynsey’s class, still given her the best chance to run sub-2 minutes, and, crucially, likely have brought round the other girls to a quicker time – redundant as it would have been for qualification purposes.
Either way, undoubtedly classy as Lynsey’s new British Milers’ Club record is – and her subsequent pacemaking stint for the women’s “A” race – it just feels more like an exhibition than a Grand Prix.
12-18 June 2017
WHAT A difference flexibility, some publicity and the support of the athletics community can make.
From just five runners in the mix three days before the entry deadline to turning people away, the women’s 5,000m at this weekend’s British Milers Club Grand Prix in Watford will be a race worth watching.
After organisers gave the thumbs up to Philippa Bowden’s request for a women’s 5,000m at Watford, the response of the athletics community has been immense.
Saturday promises to be one of the most hotly-contested domestic meets of the season.
Jo Pavey, Jess Martin and Steph Twell headline a stacked field – with all three in search of the world champs QT (15:22) ahead of the trials next weekend.
The desire for more opportunities for women over twelve-and-a-half lap races is clearly there.
Philippa grabbed the bull by the horns to make change happen – and the flexible approach from the British Milers’ Club is to be commended.
Organisers tread a fine line in accommodating athlete requests. The willingness to listen, though, has been validated on this occasion by the response of the athletics community.
The fact the runners have delivered on their word means efforts like these are more likely to lead to success in future.
It’s undoubtedly another small step towards the BMC’s aim to improve the world standing of UK middle distance running.
IT’S BEEN a busy old week of middle distance action. The pursuit of qualifying times and championship places has seen personal bests and international hopefuls edge closer to the cusp of season goals.
Tricky to pick three favourite performances in such a busy week – but here goes.
The first isn’t so tricky. It’s Jake Wightman first off, obviously. It’s not every day that a Brit wins the Oslo Dream Mile or 1500m.
It was the manner in which Jake won the race and beat seasoned Diamond League pros that left everyone gobsmacked.
Jake was third from the back with two laps to go. He had a queue of a dozen athletes ahead to negotiate. Victory could hardly have been contemplated, let alone foreseen.
But while the pacemakers clipped along at 56-second lapping through the first 800, Jake ticked along a couple of seconds behind and moved impressively through the field when the race started with a lap to run.
2:39 or thereabouts at the bell – consistent, considered, smart splits that left him with the clear sense the race was there for the taking. And take it he did.
His closing speed can come as no surprise. Jake went sub 1:46 for 800 just two weeks ago and is UK number two over the shorter distance. That he took another second-and-a-half off his 1500m best, shot to the top of the UK rankings with 3:34.17 and beat a field that included world and Olympic medallists perhaps came as more of a surprise.
Twenty-second PBs over 10,000m aren’t ten-a-penny either, especially when you only set your previous sub-29-minute best four weeks ago.
But Derby AC’s Ben Connor made a mockery of that in Leiden on Saturday night.
Now under the wing of Steve Vernon and the New Balance Manchester tribe, his first altitude stint last month looks to have worked a treat – and his ballsy effort rewarded with a 28:23.58 clocking.
When you’re taking huge chunks off already fast times, that’s a sure-fire sign of way more still to come. The 25-year-old is making huge strides every time he races. Sub-28 minutes is suddenly in sight.
Jemma Reekie is a youngster whose name has started to blip into the middle-distance radar of late.
At the England U20 Championships at Bedford over the weekend, the Kilbarchan athlete properly announced herself in style with a spectacular sun-kissed double in the 1500m and 3,000m.
On Saturday, in blistering conditions, the 19-year-old streaked away from close rivals over the cross, Harriet Knowles-Jones and Amelia Quirk, to win over 1500m.
In even hotter conditions and on tired legs the next day, Jemma, who is a member of Laura Muir’s training group, made light work of the 3,000m.
Breaking clear after a pedestrian first 300m, the Scot bounded away in Muir-like fashion to win easily. A rising talent to keep an eye on, for sure.
There were more middle distance highlights from a blistering Bedford over the weekend, not least Neil Gourley and James West pipping 3:36-man, Robbie Fitzgibbon, to automatic qualification for the European U23 Championships this summer, Jess Judd following up her world champs QT at Watford last Wednesday with another race and another dominant victory over 1500m, and first-year Isabelle Boffey bettering a rather strong junior field over 800m.
But this is Running Shorts and we’re already overrunning.
5-11 June 2017
BRITISH ATHLETES were the stars of the show at the 2017 NCAA Division One Athletics Championships held in Eugene, Oregon last weekend.
Essentially the US equivalent of BUCS – but a helluva lot more riding on the outcome – the championships bring together the best collegiate athletes from across the country and are split into three divisions to accommodate the vast area and range of ability.
Marc Scott, running for Tulsa, and Charlotte Taylor, in the colours of San Francisco, continued the UK’s 25-lap renaissance across the Pond. Both took top honours in the 10,000m event.
UK number-two, Marc, dug in for victory in a closely-fought contest that went down to the wire – just four seconds separated the top-4 athletes.
Nene Valley’s Charlotte Taylor, topped the women’s field in 32.38.57, closely followed by GB European XC teammate, Alice Wright.
Last year’s England U23 5,000m champion remains an outside bet for selection for this summer’s world champs having run comfortably inside the qualifying time in March.
In an event where the US can boast the current Olympic champion – Matt Centrowitz – 19-year-old Scot, Josh Kerr, had the best kick of the bunch to edge the field in 3:43.03.
Encouraging as these results are for British distance fans, doesn’t it raise questions about the level of distance running in American collegiate sport?
Since post-college club-level competition is almost non-existent, aside from professional athletics, the NCAA Championships represent the pinnacle of domestic athletic achievement in the US.
By rights, the standard should be higher than university sport in the UK. Given the considerably larger pool of talent, exceptional sums of money and athlete support thrown its way, the 2017 results don’t necessarily rank any higher than their British counterparts.
That these Brits abroad did so well is no mean feat. When you take into account results from others closer to home, it shows a UK domestic scene in a healthy – if not quite so abundant – state.
MID-SEASON EUROPEAN meets continue to draw the best out of Britain’s middle-distance runners.
Laura Weightman, Sarah McDonald and Melissa Courtney all left nothing to chance in Hengelo on Sunday by bagging the 1500m qualifying time for this summer’s world champs.
Sarah and Melissa both scored huge big new bests – and their capability over multiple events could prove particularly handy when it comes to the crunch.
While both now have the 1500m time and sit third and fourth in the UK rankings, the pair are also within touching distance of standards for other events. Sarah is just over a second away from the 800m standard while Melissa is 6 seconds shy of the 5,000m time after her PB in the US last month.
The two Lauras aside – Weightman and Muir – there looks to be two summer spots up for grabs over the three-and-three-quarter lap event. The pair look well-placed when spots are decided next month.
On the subject of Weightman, the 25-year-old continues to prove what a silly decision it was by British Athletics to drop her from funding at the start of the year.
Dropped from British Athletics funding despite making the last two Olympic finals – and just consider how dirty those finals have since proven to be – the Steve Cram-coached athlete is certainly not letting the decision last November hinder her efforts.
29 May-4 June 2017
ATHLETIC MEETINGS on the Continent and across the Pond in recent weeks have seen a number of athletes set their stall out ahead of the British Championships and World Trials on the first weekend of July.
With London 2017 starting in a little over eight weeks, the recent glut of good performances puts the likely contenders for a place on the GB team in the spotlight.
Six male athletes have hit seven qualifying times so far – though with Mo Farah pre-selected for the 5,000m and unlikely to contest the 1500m this summer, five is perhaps a more representative number.
It’s fractionally higher on the women’s front, with eight times achieved by six athletes – Laura Muir’s prowess notwithstanding.
While these athletes will have had their anxiety eased by pocketing the qualifying times early, the potential bubbling beneath augers well for a competitive trials in Birmingham in a few weeks.
More men have gone inside 1:47.50 already this season then the total for the whole of 2016. The same goes for those inside 3:39.20 for 1500m. Both these times are considered the UK top-10 target on Power of 10.
The women’s middle-distance standards don’t stack up quite so favourably so far – though the number of women that have dipped below the 15:40.00 target for 5,000m bucks the trend and already matches the total for 2016.
The ranking lists feature a few old cards as well as a number of younger talents that will be aiming to make their senior international bow this summer.
Take the men’s 800m. Only the fresh-faced old hand, Andrew Osagie, has so far hit the 1:45.90 QT. The 2012 Olympic finalist is in his best form for three years and threw down the challenge in Spain on Friday.
His closest rival at the moment in ranking terms is Jake Wightman. Having broken his previous two-lap best at the Solihull BMC in mid-May, the 22-year-old bettered it by another two-tenths in Belgium on Friday to edge closer to the 800m time.
With the QT already under his belt for the 1500m, Jake’s summer undoubtedly lies over the longer distance. What a fillip it would it be for him to go into the trials as the only man with both middle-distance standards in the bag.
Looking a little further down the list, you’d expect the likes of Michael Rimmer, Kyle Langford and Elliot Giles – all with bests inside the 800m standard – to get there over the next few weeks.
Tom Lancashire is one man that has personal bests better than both the middle-distance standards. Whether the 31-year-old, now coached by Steve Cram, can get close to his 2010 bests remains questionable.
Shelayna Oskan-Clarke is another more experienced head who sits top of the UK rankings for the women’s two-lap event. Fifth in the world championships in Beijing two years ago, the 27-year-old bagged the QT in her opening 800m effort of the season in Belgium.
Lynsey Sharp unquestionably remains her closest rival despite Adelle Tracey – who is yet to make a major championship final – currently sitting less than two-tenths behind Shelayna in the rankings.
One person you can bet your bottom dollar on bagging another qualifying time is Laura Weightman. The two-time Olympic finalist over 1500m, who was dropped from funding at the beginning of the season, has successfully gone high up to 5,000m in the quest for strength over three-and-three-quarter laps.
Expect the 25-year-old, another coached by Steve Cram, to sharpen her spikes further after a 4:10.50 opener in Eugene and shoot for the 4:07.50 target – a time she has achieved 21 times already in her career.
AFTER NOTING the benefits of triathlon training in the performances of some of the country’s top distance running talent last week, this weekend threw up mixed fortunes for two of those mentioned.
Olympian-turned-triathlete, Beth Potter, followed up her remarkable win at the Night of the 10,000m PBs with third-place at the well-regarded Bloodwise Blenheim Palace Triathlon.
Beth, unsponsored and in her first year season at the multi-event discipline, closed the 5.4k run in 19:36 and claimed bronze behind leading tri exponents Sophie Coldwell and Sophia Saller.
A summer of cross-training could well be the best prep for her 25-lap assault in the former Olympic Stadium this summer – just as long as she avoids the same fate that befell Alex Yee on Sunday.
The 19-year-old uber-talent was involved in a high-speed bike crash that saw him suffer broken ribs, vertebrae and a collapsed lung – serious injuries that will undoubtedly curtail his season.
Whether it be in triathlon or on the track, Alex is a future champion in the making. It’s just 10 days since the European Duathlon champion ran the fourth-fastest time by an U20 in British history.
The road back to health and full fitness is likely to take a while – but here’s wishing Alex a swift and full recovery.
22-28 May 2017
MANY RUNNERS have been known to sneer at triathlon. From questioning its “purity” to calling out dubiously-measured run distances, the multi-discipline event has been ripe for a ripping.
And yet, there must be something to be said for the range of the training required. Perhaps pedal power is the perfect preparation.
Two weeks ago, recent triathlon convert, Beth Potter, left mere runners in her wake to become British 10,000m champion. She was third on her previous two attempts. Could it have been the hours in the pool that gave her that title-winning edge?
Meanwhile, in Oordegem, Belgium, on Saturday night, recent European Junior Duathlon champion, Alex Yee, knocked a huge 15 seconds off his 5,000m PB.
The Ken Pike-coached athlete clocked a tidy 13:37.60, placing him fourth on the U20 UK all-time list, ahead of Mo Farah, Julian Goater and Ian Stewart at that age.
The 19-year-old was listed as one of The Times’ one-to-watch for Tokyo 2020 and won a similar accolade from talent-spotting charity, SportsAid.
Alex is certainly going places, whether in the tri world or on the track.
Closer to home, junior athletes Tom Mortimer and Ben Dijkstra – two more stars of the triathlon scene – finished second and third (and just outside the European junior qualifying time) at the BMC Sportcity Grand Prix on Saturday.
It’s hardly any coincidence that the crossover benefits of triathlon training are bearing fruit for Britain’s young talents.
With the triathlon boom still in its relative infancy, the ‘aerobic house’ that triathlon training builds could well point the way to future distance running success.
WHAT A difference complimentary club-runner places, British Championship status and generous prize money can make.
More than 12,000 people ran at the Vitality London 10,000 earlier today – and the open race is one of the few on the calendar that bothers to take club runners seriously.
It’s become one of the must-do races for some, and attracted the deepest field in its nine-year history.
Jo Pavey put the disappointment of her last two London visits to bed with a sub-33-minute win while Andrew Butchart did what was necessary after his 13.11 effort in Oregon just two days ago.
The Scot cantered to a comfortable win 50 seconds slower than last year – but complemented by doing an “Andy Vernon” and high-fiving the crowd on his way to the line.
The depth behind him was the best since 2011. 54 men finished inside 32 minutes – the qualifying mark to get on the championship start line – and 20 women went under 36 minutes. Not bad for a sticky morning’s work in the capital.
Beyond the racing, the organisation of the event was second-to-none. From clued-up marshals, smooth baggage collection and Hugh Brasher’s well-delivered words beforehand about the Manchester attack, the event seemed to go like clockwork.
Race organisers across the country would do well to pick the brains and learn from the London Marathon Events team in the future.
15-21 May 2017
IT WAS a festival site and lived up to the pre-race hype – but how do the times from Saturday’s Highgate Harriers Night of the 10,000m PBs compare to previous years?
Andy Vernon’s classy win was the quickest in the event’s four-year-history. His 28:21.15 beats his own top-ranking time from three years ago. The dogged and determined Dewi Griffiths went three seconds quicker on Saturday than his previous best effort (28:31.88) – and joins Andy as the only other man with two times inside the event’s all-time top-10.
Just 0.74 seconds split Beth Potter’s best performances at the Parliament Hill event. Such small margins make all the difference. Her slightly quicker 32:04.63 this time around was enough to see her graduate from third last year to top spot this time round. Jess Martin remains the only woman to have broken 32 minutes so far.
How does your time compare in the event’s all-time ranking list?
WHAT A way to lay down a marker for the outdoor season from Chris O’Hare.
The Scot bagged a PB and the World Champs qualifying time in his second effort over the 1500m this year at the USATF Distance Classic in the LA last Thursday.
Up against Olympic champ Matt Centrowitz and Mo Farah, O’Hare followed the Nike Oregon Project pair through three laps – and then had the gumption to take it to them with 300m to run.
While he ultimately fell away to third, albeit comforted by the QT achieved no doubt, socking it to the superstars shows a belief that other Brits with similar ability could well replicate.
A semi-finalist in Rio and consistently ranked top-3 in Britain since 2013, expect Chris to qualify for London 2017 this summer – and place as high as his evident ambition.
8-14 May 2017
IF YOU want a PB, you run at the BMC.
The Solihull meet at the Norman Green Athletics Centre on Saturday proved no exception.
Almost 50 per cent (151) of the 330 runners that competed across 26 races came away with personal bests. Not too shabby in what was for many the first quality meet of the season.
Not something that can be said for Jess Judd, though. Jess continues to race – and race well. The BUCS 800m and 5,000m champ scored victory, a season’s best and the European U23 qualifying time in the women’s “A” 1500m on Saturday. It was her ninth track race already this season. It was also her fastest time (4:11.15) over three-and-three-quarter laps since 2015.
Jess is doing exactly as she said she would by taking on all distances early-season and seeing which cap fits. Trying before you buy mightn’t be the worst plan when you can exhibit the range she has. The interesting part will be seeing which cap she finally plumps for in a few weeks’ time.
And if it’s not a personal best you come away with from the BMC, then at least you’ll be pretty much guaranteed the next best thing.
Jess’s season’s best was one of 141 on the day. This means that at least 89% of runners came away with a performance that offers hope and encouragement for the season ahead. It’s still early days in a track season yet to really kick into gear.
THE PURSUIT of PBs and fast times in Solihull overshadowed somewhat county championship events held over the same weekend.
Some of those events would certainly do well to adapt and do more to retain their relevance. The county event should attract the best youngsters if nothing else.
The championships could take a leaf out of the British Milers Club’s book.
The BMC proudly boasts that ‘through [our] racing programme, training courses and coaching articles, we aim to improve the world standing of UK middle-distance running.’ And in many ways, it is.
It’s certainly a platform that’s providing the right opportunities for the right level of competitor at the right times of the year. While more quality athletes could be persuaded to come out and chase faster times at BMC meets more often, the foundations are being built.
The BMC is expanding its offering in response to other domestic events – and to great effect. The steeplechase seminar brought experts, coaches and athletes together to share knowledge and ideas for an under-represented discipline. Lane three support was in evidence for the longer distance events.
These are small developments that go a long way, and demonstrate an open ear and willingness to move the sport forward.
WHICH MOVES us on nicely to the England Athletics consultation survey, which is currently open to ‘all members of the England Athletics family’.
Have your say on the future of the sport. With funding cuts and priorities changing, now’s the time to make your views heard.
Who knows? It might make a difference.
1-7 May 2017
IT’S THE chitter-chatter of the runners in town. What to think about the European Athletics Council review of World Records?
As Lord Coe calls for a ‘global debate’ on the issue, all the big names want to have their say.
Paula’s having none of it – drug cheats have taken away so much, so why let them take this too?
Daley’s on her side. Giving up your world record is a small price to pay for the good of the sport – unless you’re the one paying it.
Kelly Sotherton agrees though thinks changing the events not rewriting the records is the way forward. The 401m race? The 26.3 miles marathon? From the sublime to the ridiculous.
World records are world records are world records – says Colin Jackson.
In his northeastern purr, Steve Cram calls it disrespectful to the clean athletes and an easy route out. Rewriting the records is avoiding the real problem.
Whatever the golden oldies think and say, we shouldn’t be scared of making big changes. Ross Tucker hits the nail bang on the head. Though it remains to be seen if this is the change to cause the dopers to be running scared.
ONLY ONE person came home from the Payton Jordan Invitational last weekend with the qualifying times required for this summer’s IAAF World Championships. But it wasn’t for the want of trying.
Andy Vernon enjoys Palo Alto. He ran his top-10 ranking 5,000 time there in 2014. His 27:58.69 last week is the third time he’s gone inside 28 minutes – each time in Stanford. It’s the third-fastest time of his career and best run over the distance since 2015.
But he fell 14 seconds short of the pretty steep 27:45.00 needed to put himself in the driving seat for London 2017.
Top-two in the trials at Parliament Hill next week is well within his grasp – but he’ll need to find a new favourite track to go sub-28 and inside the mark before 9 July.
Rosie Clarke was the only one who came home with the London 2017 QT in the 3,000m steeplechase.
Eilish McColgan led the best of the British women over 12.5 laps of the track and seems the most likely to join Laura Muir – successfully negotiated trials permitting – in the former Olympic Stadium this summer.
McColgan finished just 0.12 seconds outside the 15:22.00 QT in her first stab at the distance this season – and led home a coterie of British talent seemingly vying for the ‘biggest PB’ honours.
If you want a fast 5,000m, then head to Palo Alto. Melissa Courtney (15:28.95) ran 45 seconds quicker than her 2015 best. Charlotte Taylor (15:29.07) chopped 36 seconds off hers. Lauren Howarth (15:29.26) a mere 15 seconds. Big gains by all. The US meet certainly lived up to its PB billing.
24-30 April 2017
HERE’S JONNY! He mightn’t have had an axe but Jonny Davies certainly put the hammer down in a tight BUCS 1500m to leave the rest quivering in his wake.
The blue riband event rounded off another drizzly bank holiday weekend at the Bedford International Stadium.
From gun to tape, Jonny sat at the front and pressed home his superiority. The Birmingham Uni man’s decisive kick with 200m to go was devastating – and marked a welcome return to form following an unremarkable end to the cross country season.
The 22-year-old is now a three-time BUCS track champion after success over 1500m and 5,000m over the last couple of years. Here’s to Jonny showing the same scruff-of-neck confidence this summer.
The women’s race was a much cagier affair with no one willing to strike out and face the home straight wind. Mari Smith took the plaudits in a scrappy race, adding to Birmingham’s medal haul for the day.
The undoubted star of the show though was Jess Judd. Just one hour on from sneaking gold by a race number’s width over 800m, Jess toed the line in the 5,000m B race.
While rivals like Rebecca Murray and Jenny Nesbitt were still sitting toasty in the call room for the A race 25 minutes later, Jess was forced to forge a lonely furrow in pursuit of victory as she didn’t have a 5,000m time to her name. But victory she so stridently secured.
Following an impressive winter that just got better the longer it went on, the transition to track has been seamless. She’s riding the wave and improving all the time.
Effectively solo time trialling 15.55 – and hitting the European U23 qualifying time to boot – is some effort.
The current number four in the UK over 3,000m (8.52), her capability over 12-and-a-half laps should never have been in doubt.
With such an impressive range developing, the big question is whether she stays long or goes short this season.
BUCS KICKED off the track season in earnest over the bank holiday weekend.
While it’s probably still too soon to be picking out this summer’s likely middle-distance pretenders – Jess Judd and Jonny Davies exempted – getting an idea of which Brits will be in the mix over 10,000m this summer is a different story.
We’ve had marathon season – bar the Nike sub-2 distraction this weekend – and now all eyes with British interest turn to those heading to the US West Coast this Friday for the Payton Jordan Invitational.
The times that Andy Vernon, Marc Scott, Ross Millington, Callum Hawkins, Dewi Griffiths, Alice Wright and Sonia Samuels come home with will leave them, and us, with the clearest indication of what to expect at the upcoming Night of the PBs.
Who will need the sub-27.45 min and sub-32.15 min qualifying times? Or who will just need that top-2 finish to guarantee their spot? 19 days and counting.
The top-notch 25-lap track meet in the US was previously unrivalled for providing the right conditions to run fast. The 5,000m races will be pretty hot too. It was – and still is – seen as the only perfect opportunity to run qualifying times, particularly over 10,000m, ahead of the summer championships.
The Night of the PBs is going some way to offering an alternative, particularly to those Brits that can’t make the trip to the States for one reason or another. The Payton Jordan Invitational will set the early marker ahead of the trials.
17-23 April 2017
THE SUPERB standout run from Swansea Harrier, Josh Griffiths, at the London Marathon has dominated today’s headlines and made national front pages.
It’s the sort of run that should inspire the grassroots distance running community.
Victory for the little man – and a little embarrassing for some of our elite-start runners too.
Isn’t this exactly the type of story the grassroots needs? Especially in a week that saw some figures from elite athletics fudging it at the Commons Select Committee.
The Swansea Harrier has catapulted an undervalued grassroots community into the national spotlight – and away from the ever-murkier elite world focused on medals and podium potential. Perhaps it’ll herald the beginning of a new wider media interest in the grassroots world.
It was a good PR day all round for the Welsh club. Images beamed worldwide of fellow Swansea Harrier, Matthew Rees, helping David Wyeth over the line fast became the abiding memory from this year’s race.
But it’s the 23 year-old’s outstanding run – and imminent rubber-stamping of GB selection for this summer’s World Championships – that offers hope and validation to the aspiring grassroots.
Josh’s run proves that without the bread and butter training in the bank, the bells and whistles of professional sport count for nothing. It’s a reassurance that the efforts of the aspiring grassroots matter.
Another runner that epitomises this DIY ethic is Thames Valley Harrier, Tracy Barlow.
Last year’s mass race winner took to the elite race like a duck to water. She finished third Brit in a new PB of 2:30:42. Not too shabby for someone who combined a full-time job in the NHS with the demands of 100-mile weeks until only recently.
Tracy has gone from running close to 4 hours in her first marathon six years ago to being on the cusp of selection for the World Championships this summer. Vive la grassroots!
10-16 April 2017
PERHAPS THE biggest grassroots distance running story of the Easter bank holiday weekend was Prime Minister Theresa May’s stint marshalling at the Maidenhead Easter 10 Mile Road Race.
The PM ditched her leopard-print heels for the more functional, if hardly fashionable, walking boots and luminous high-vis marshal bib.
The annual road race is now in its 64th year – one of the few remaining 10 milers in the country too, we’d assume. Jack Parslow (Dacorum and Tring AC) and Ellie Monks (Southampton AC) took the honours ahead of a 885-strong field.
Theresa is no stranger to the event. She has taken up her marshal spot in her Maidenhead constituency for a number of years.
No longer merely Home Secretary, her turn directing runners made the national press and saw runners stop mid-race for that sought-after social media selfie.
Which got us thinking: which famous figure would you pause for mid-race to pose with?
NIKE ANNOUNCED its Breaking2 race window this week. Does anybody actually care?
NEW FIGURES revealed this week show that runners aged 55-64 in the London Marathon were as fast as their 25-34-year-old counterparts.
Both groups took just over four hours and four minutes on average to complete the distance, according to data taken by Strava from 6,464 runners that finished last year’s event.
Former 10,000m world record holder and Great Run founder, Brendan Foster, regarded it as ‘surprising’ but also ‘heartwarming that people of that age are doing so exceptionally well.’ That’s one way of looking at it.
But while the numbers hardly tell the full story, it’s enough of a snippet to suggest the similarities between the two age groups should elicit some concern.
In the same week, however, that Great Run announced a major new partnership with the sports company and European race organiser, Golazo, it’s hardly a surprise the trend isn’t of concern to an organisation raking it in from the mass participation boom.
‘Our events are renowned for the great consumer experience they deliver year in year out and it will also create a new platform for brands to reach a massive audience with one commercial conversation,’ said Foster.
And now with access to 1.3 million participants in more than 60 running events across Europe, does it matter that times are converging and mass participation remains the real winner?
3-9 April 2017
SWANSEA HARRIERS’ dominant performance at the ERRA National 12 Stage Road Relays on Saturday was as impressive as it was concerning.
The fact the win came from Welsh quarters was never in doubt as first Cardiff – with a devastating start that saw them almost 90 seconds up by leg four – and then Swansea dictated proceedings.
The near-five-minute winning margin is rather embarrassing for the rest of the field. Highgate’s title defence was much like Leicester City’s in the Premier League this season: scrabbling around in the mid-late-teens for much of the race before bringing themselves back up to a respectable finish in the very final throes.
But that’s not to take anything away from the Swansea side, who were led to the title by the ever-present and ever-committed Dewi Griffiths. Dewi’s leading long leg time puts him inside the top-30 of all-time. The women’s event was equally one-sided thanks in large part to the classy long leg efforts of Susan Partridge and Claire Duck.
But while half the country’s middle-distance talent are posting their training snaps from Font Romeu, Flagstaff and other corners of the globe, an event that should be bringing them and the country’s marathon mavens together continues to fail to do so.
While it’s the responsibility of the runners to make the event what it is, the lack of interest and its low-priority status is squeezing its relevance and prestige further down the order.
Today’s runners aren’t the same creatures of habit as before. They didn’t grow up with the relays being the pinnacle of the club calendar, the place where tomorrow’s superstars gathered to churn out fast times over arbitrary distances.
The event is being propped up with decent numbers by traditional grassroots nostalgia – which is what makes its untapped potential so mind-boggling. It’s the history that still brings people to the event, rather than the event itself.
But like dwindling X Factor viewing figures, fundamental changes need making to the format. It needs a complete rethink – a different venue, shorter, multiple-lap courses, limited fields, prize money, a new place on the calendar.
It’s time to do something different and get the horse off life support. Either that or axe it from the schedule altogether.
EXCELLENT NEWS was announced last week as the launch of the NN Running Team heralded the next gilded step on the golden road to world records.
Olympic marathon champ, Eliud Kipchoge, distance running legend, Keninese Bekele, and former world half-marathon record holder, Florence Kiplagat, are just three of the stellar names in the current stable of 60 athletes.
IAAF President, Sebastian Coe, was gushing in his praise of this new venture and called the team a ‘journey in innovation’.
We’re sure the running community welcomes with open arms another world-class running team backed by Nike in this murky era where its involvement in global sport is hardly in question at all.
27 March-2 April 2017
IT SHOULDN’T be too much of a surprise to those who have followed the Brighton Half Marathon over the past few years that course measurements turned out to be not quite as advertised last week.
This is not the first time that the race has been in the news for the wrong reasons. Back in 2012, course organisers had to apologise to the 7,427 runners who took part after the course was found to be nearly a third of a mile too long. Luckily, runners’ times were amended to take into account the extra 0.31 miles ran.
No such luck this year as the short course will void all times with no room for re-calibration.
But whether it’s Brighton, Glasgow or Manchester, incorrect course measurement appears to be cropping up with worrying frequency of late. GPS technology may be bringing the issue to light – but since when did people become incapable of measuring courses properly in the first place?
Perhaps one lesson learnt in this case, though, is to give the Brighton Half Marathon a miss next time.
JO PAVEY’S late-career revival in 2014 saw her catapulted to ‘super mum’ status and the front pages of the national press. Bronze at the Commonwealth Games and gold at the European Champs saw Pavey secure her place in Britain’s distance running annals – and a return to the marathon this month could yet add one final dimension.
It is an unlikely exception that she doesn’t need to look back on that missed medal from Osaka in 2007 with too much regret. Despite having no world medal to her name, what difference will the bronze she was cheated out of make to her life or career now?
Doesn’t the handing over of the medal now seem perfunctory? The moment – and all that it brings with it – has passed. The ship has sailed, the result consigned to history. The bronze medal she’s owed is ten years too late and rendered pretty much meaningless. All eyes now are on London 2017.
That’s not to say Jo doesn’t warrant the recognition that her efforts deserved in 2007. But what does a medal mean now? Acknowledgment of Elvan Abeylegesse’s indiscretions and the removal of her name from the history books is enough.
IF SOMETHING seems too good to be true, then it usually is.
FROM DEWI Griffiths down in Cardiff to Joe Wilkinson in Lincoln, Patrick Martin and Georgie Bruinvels in Manchester and Ben Fish trumping his best by three minutes in Darwen, positive performances on (probably) legitimate courses show the road season to be in full swing ahead of the English National 12 and 6 Stage Road Relays this Saturday.
Twelve men. Six women. More than 50 miles and 4 hours of running. Middle distance specialists and marathon mavens brought together in the greatest test of club strength on the calendar. From the bearded biker and sharp downhill start to the daunting first drag and ice cream van at the Jamboree Stone, the history of the event stretches back decades.
Who’s your money on this weekend?
20-26 March 2017
GLORIOUS SUNSHINE across the country greeted athletes for the regional 6 and 12 stage road relays on Saturday. The events saw decent fields, some strong runs and the spotlight thrust on some of the likely runners and riders for the final in two weeks’ time.
Birchfield Harriers’ near-ten-minute winning margin in the Midlands event was astronomical – if somewhat embarrassing for the rest of the teams. Expect competition to be slightly tougher in the second Sutton Park run out. Bristol & West successfully defended their title in slightly less one-sided circumstances – although they did head the field for an impressive 10 out of the 12 stages.
Two takeaways from the dress rehearsal for the national event: the sunny outlook brought more than a few ice-cream eating pedestrians wandering across the Sutton Park course while better car park management might prevent more raised temperatures as some were stuck in queues to leave the park at the end of the day for more than an hour.
Could Sale Harriers be dark horses for national glory? Sale struck Northern gold in Blackpool in the tightest of the results across the three regions. The Manchester side – second in the 9-to-score standings at the English National XC – edged out Liverpool Harriers by just eight seconds. In the women’s event, Rotherham pulled ahead to a commanding lead after four stages and came home a convincing three minutes ahead of Leeds City.
The purple patch continues for Tonbridge AC. The Kent-based side have certainly hit their groove – but will probably be hoping they haven’t peaked too soon. The English XC champions proved too much for chasing Serpentine and defending national champions, Highgate at Gravesend Cyclopark.
An impressive display from Winchester & District saw them claw the lead back on the final leg from a strong Thames Valley team. If they can entice London Marathon-bound Louise Damen in for the final then they may just spring a surprise.
SHOULD A delay to the publication of race results be just a minor annoyance? Or should runners and team managers expect better from organisers given the entry fee paid?
After a very well-run event at the excellent Gravesend Cyclopark, the SEAA 12 and 6 Stage Road Relays have been beset by issues with results that haven’t been experienced elsewhere.
Both the Midland and Northern equivalents managed to get provisional results online before the sun set on the day of the race. They both also held an u15/17 5k as part of the event. Time ticked by, though, with no sign of results come Sunday evening for the South.
While a delay to results is hardly a crime – even in today’s instantaneous online world – for the results to eventually arrive littered with mistakes is frustrating given the time and effort spent.
This isn’t to criticise the volunteers at the heart of the sport. They can hardly be blamed. If they weren’t there doing it, there wouldn’t be an event to enjoy.
But with rising entry costs and membership fees part and parcel of today’s club events, timely and accurate results, however they’re captured, really shouldn’t be too much to ask for.
13-19 March 2017
WHO ELSE is struggling to keep up with the meteoric rise of Callum Hawkins?
The Brit’s incredible form over the last two years has been astonishing – his second-place finish at the New York Half Marathon on Sunday further establishing the 24 year-old on the world stage.
From Gloucester to Rio to Chia and Muragame, his front-running, fearless attitude takes us by surprise every time.
We’re not used to seeing a Brit disregarding proven pedigree and taking it to the opposition from the off. Even less, seeing them then stay with the pace right to the very end. Not even Farah is so bolshie.
Each time he runs, there’s a nagging expectation that his rise isn’t for real, that he can’t possibly be mixing it with such classy runners. But he’s proving us wrong time and again.
We don’t anticipate a Brit – Farah aside – to keep going out with such tactics and surviving. We almost expect him to tail off, that this purple patch will eventually run out of steam. But it’s showing no signs of letting up. His form is both enthralling and refreshing.
He’s leaving us flabbergasted fans in his wake – just like his rivals.
THE ENGLISH Schools Cross Country Championships at the weekend were a fast and furious affair.
Leicestershire’s Ben Dijkstra has something of an affinity with the competition. The 18 year-old triumphed in the senior boys race to make it four wins out of four over the English Schools mud.
The Beacon Hill Strider is no stranger to success.
Gold in Norwich comes hot on the heels of second-place at the English National Cross Country last month – not to mention his burgeoning triathlon potential. 2016 saw him win bronze at the World Junior Triathlon Championships – despite only being 17 in an under 20 category.
Combining success over the mud while training as part of the UK Sport Lottery Funded World-Class Triathlon Performance Squad in Loughborough, the Alan Maddocks-coached athlete’s future is certainly bright. Whether it’s over the multi-discipline event or solely through running remains to be seen.
The culmination of the schools cross country calendar saw other impressive results across the board.
Two Northern XC silver medalists scooped the junior titles. Cheshire county champion, Sian Hislop, took the win in the Junior Girls race while the Junior Boys title fell to West Yorkshire’s Tommy Dawson.
Recent Inter-Counties champions Zakariya Mahamed (Hampshire) and Olivia Mason (Cumbria) clinched the Intermediate titles. Khahisa Mhlanga (Essex) took the Senior Girls title ahead of training partner Jodie Judd.
One though that springs to mind, though, is the huge discrepancy in distances between the girls and boys.
The race distances were extremely short for the girls – 3.25k for the junior girls (U14), 3.75k for the intermediates (U16) and just 4k for the seniors – the same distance the the youngest boys age group ran.
This is all the more baffling when you consider the U20 women covered 6k and U17 women 5k at the recent Inter-Counties – both events run under UKA rules. It’s bizarre more than anything. No wonder it was so fast and furious.
6-12 March 2017
COMING TWO weeks after the natural culmination of the cross country season at national championships in Wollaton Park, Callendar Park and Singleton Park, the Inter-Counties XC seemed a little surplus to requirements.
The final race in the British Athletics Cross Challenge series felt like that extra song in a band’s encore. You’ve already listened to the back catalogue for the last two hours and can’t really be bothered to stick around. You’re ready to get your jacket but decide you’ve come this far, so stay and listen regardless.
With World Cross selection redundant in the senior ranks, and nothing much else to play for, it’d be interesting to know how many seniors would have preferred the weekend off. Juniors too, for that matter, with English Schools just around the corner. The timing of the race is probably ripe for review.
Regardless, Saturday saw the irrepressible Andy Vernon dominate a decent field from gun to tape. In the absence of the three national champions, Ben Connor, Callum Hawkins and Dewi Griffiths, the 31-year-old’s decisive break at the start of the first large lap was a masterclass in how to intimidate opponents – and ensured nobody was left in any doubt as to who the victor would be. Roll on the Reading Half Marathon this weekend where Andy will pit his wits against a pretty stacked domestic field.
Less clear cut but no less impressive, Jess Judd proved her National XC win was no fluke. What a difference confidence makes. It’s the fine mental line that separates a top-6 finish from an Inter-Counties XC title and British Athletics Cross Challenge series win. It’s the boon that adds further accolades to a winter of silverware and restored reputation. Jess – strident in the red Essex vest – left it to the last quarter to see off Claire Duck, the shoeless Gemma Steel and Louise Small. It’ll be interesting to see which direction she now takes on the track this summer.
The sprawling course didn’t lend itself to a riveting atmosphere or many good spectator points. Tight bottlenecks and long secluded sections meant most of the racing took place out of sight – including the turning point in the junior women’s race.
More unfortunate than Steel’s two lost shoes, Amelia Quirk will still be spitting feathers after being sent the wrong way by course marshals. In one of only two races with anything more than pride or points riding on it, the English champion was denied another title and left rightly distraught at the finish. It’d be highly surprising, however, if she were denied a place on the plane to Kampala through no real fault of her own [Ed. note: Amelia was selected to go to the World Cross].
THIS SATURDAY sees the 57th Boys and 49th Girls English Schools’ Cross Country Championship take place at Norfolk County Showground.
The most eagerly anticipated event of the season for many youngsters will be the last stop on the conveyor belt of cross country races this winter.
The breeding ground of future champions, some of the illustrious names to have taken the title include Mo Farah, Paula Radcliffe, Alistair Brownlee and, more recently, Jess Judd and Emelia Gorecka. Last year’s senior winners, Sabrina Sinha and Alex Yee, are both seasoned internationals tipped for bright futures.
But it isn’t just the ones at the front who have a chance of developing into future leading lights. It’s wise to keep an eye on those finishing further down the pecking order to get a more rounded view of tomorrow’s stars. Olympian, Tom Farrell, was 33rd in 2006 while Alison Leonard and Laura Weightman finished outside the top-20 in 2008. Recent BUCS champion and National XC silver medallist, Alex Teuten, placed 112th in the same year.
So, while some fancied few will come to the fore and stay there for years to come, undercooked others will wait their turn and rise to the top when they’re ready. Whatever the outcome this weekend, the English Schools remains a classic fixture well worth keeping an eye on.
27 Feb-5 March 2017
THE INTER-COUNTIES XC marks the last senior domestic championship of the cross country season.
The final piece of the British Athletics Cross Challenge jigsaw also usually has the added gravitas of being the trial for the now bi-annual World Cross Country Championships.
But not this year. Prestwold Hall will simply play host to the showdown between counties and those in with a shot at the decent £2,000 prize money.
World Cross selection won’t come guaranteed for the likes of Andy Vernon, Jess Judd, Ben Connor and Pippa Woolven. Senior places on the plane to Kampala will be based on previous form as well as performance in this race, podium potential and a series of other arbitrary factors. All the signs point to very few, if any, seniors being selected.
But it’s not all gloom. The annual winter finale will instead see junior runners thrust into the spotlight.
British Athletics has committed to sending full teams from the junior races – the top-6 in each race will take on the world in three weeks.
Whatever the reasons are for not sending full senior sides – funding, most probably – at least there’s some crumb in British Athletics supporting the development of young talent. Since youth is the future of our sport, it’s encouraging that they’re afforded the opportunity to gain experience on a world stage.
Let’s just hope, however, that when these same junior athletes become the future, there are opportunities for them to grasp with both hands.
ONE WORD: phenomenal.
AFTER THE too-good-to-be-true Trafford 10k unfortunately proved to be just that twelve months ago, this year’s race returned to normal and delivered a few decent performances – but nothing quite so extraordinary.
28 men went inside 30 minutes last year – until the event was remeasured and found to be 150m short.
There was still a small slither that hoped the short distance didn’t make that much of a difference, that the upturn in fortunes was coming, that the short course was but a blip and ample numbers would still have dipped inside the magic mark.
But it wasn’t the case and race times were slower despite the best efforts of Dave Norman and all involved. The freezing and wet conditions played their part; an errant pony too; the correct and proper distance, ultimately.
But with Butchart, Hawkins, Davies, Millington, Griffiths and Connor leading the new wave, and Thompson, Overall and Vernon maintaining the old, a return to the glory days isn’t far away. Blame today’s more accurate course measuring for raising hopes – and dampening spirits.
20-26 February 2017
SMELLY BOGS up to the eyeballs, impossibly thick mud and scenic undulations amid stretches of firmer footing – the English National Cross Country Championships had it all.
Forget Tough Mudder and all those other rip-off events. This was challenge enough. This was cross country at its purist.
5,191 runners finished across the ten age category races. That’s up 325 on last year and 505 (10%) on the last time the event was held at Wollaton Park in 2014. Not too shabby for a supposedly dying sport.
Add quality to the quantity and we had an event to remember. Northern champ and recent Armagh 5k winner, Ben Connor, edged clear of a strong field that included BUCS champ, Alex Teuten, last year’s winner, Jonny Hay, and 2015 champ, Charlie Hulson at the start of the second lap of four.
With bodies elsewhere flying face-first into the mud, the supreme cleanliness of Ben’s white Derby AC vest as he crossed the line fourteen seconds clear was almost as striking as his anticipated win. The 24-year-old certainly looks an outside bet to challenge for GB honours over 25 laps this summer.
But never mind the runners in the senior men’s race – kudos to the marshals and volunteers who successfully directed the one extra-small, one medium, one large and one extra-large lap. Why three large laps wouldn’t have sufficed is anyone’s guess.
The team result came as something of a surprise. With five runners inside 41, Tonbridge AC’s final counter in 145th, Charlie Joslin-Allen, proved the old adage spouted by team managers right that every position matters.
And isn’t that what the National Cross Country Championships is really about? Tonbridge claimed the win by just four points ahead of last year’s winners, Morpeth. While silverware in the younger age groups doesn’t always translate to senior success, this result is testament to a club with a long-term plan that’s continuing to get things right.
There couldn’t have been a more popular winner in the women’s race either. Jess Judd’s third national title – and first at senior level – was rather more surprising than that of Connors’.
Yes, Jess is back in the groove and has returned to form this winter – team gold at the Euro XC in December and BUCS bronze earlier this month are proof enough. And the 22-year-old has pedigree on the mud as a junior with those U15 and U17 national titles. And yes, she would have been in the mix for a medal on Saturday. But gold?
Negotiating the transition to senior competition has proven the downfall of a number of talented juniors. Jess’s relative renaissance is heartening to see.
THE REVELATIONS in yesterday’s Sunday Times about Alberto Salazar’s dubious methods at the Nike Oregon Project inevitably lead to more questions than answers.
Ignoring the shady light it throws on the likes of UK Athletics and the recently-knighted Mo Farah, why wasn’t L-carnitine banned when it was first found to have such performance-enhancing benefits?
And why is it apparently standard practice to give athletes a cocktail of drugs – all legal, mind you – that don’t even relate to any medical condition?
Grassroots runners might take vitamin C during the winter to stave off illness when the immune system has been battered by a big track session in the freezing cold, but this is not the same. It is not a level playing field.
Perhaps most importantly of all, why has it taken this long for the report – dated March 2016 – to come to light?
We absolutely should not have to rely on hackers to uphold the integrity of our sport.
THIS SUNDAY sees the return of the newly-measured Trafford 10k. Last year’s wave of runners flooding through the finish line represented something of a throwback to a bygone era.
The number that dipped below 30 minutes matched the total number for the entire year just a decade before. It proved refreshingly inspiring. It was just a shame it came up short in the post-race Garmin-inspired inquisition.
Dave Norman has assembled another stacked field this year, with Chris Thompson, Paul Pollock, Matty Hynes, Beth Potter and Rebecca Murray among the leading entries
Fingers crossed for an epic race with record-breaking times that won’t fall foul of a dodgy measuring wheel.
13-19 February 2017
THE MULLER Indoor Grand Prix in Birmingham at the weekend pulled in an impressive crowd. While the huge Barclaycard Arena appeared to be packed to the rafters – far busier than the previous week’s championship event in Sheffield – the echo chamber seemed to display a distinct lack of atmosphere. But maybe that was just on TV.
Viewers at home were treated to live BBC coverage. But as one of the key concerns at the moment is attracting new audiences and presenting athletics in a new way, the BBC coverage needs a rethink.
The women’s 3,000m saw European champion, Sifan Hassan, take on Hellen Obiri, who was licking her wounds from a recent defeat by Laura Muir in Karlsruhe.
Hassan and Obiri took the race on from the start, building up a substantial gap on the others left in their wake. While their efforts shouldn’t be ignored or downplayed, it was a huge shame we didn’t see the exciting race also developing behind.
Close-ups of the top-two for nearly ten minutes of running don’t make for particularly exciting television. The viewer can’t possibly get a sense of the pace the runners are shifting at and we completely miss out on the toing and froing for positions, the personal bests (Eilish McColgan ran a PB and Steph Twell a SB) and other stories behind.
This lack of overall view is frustrating – and something the BBC is well-practised in. Remember the Anniversary Games in July when Andrew Butchart stormed from the back of the pack chasing Farah to finish a close second? Probably not if you were watching at home as the camera was trained exclusively on Farah.
Incidentally, is it coincidence that Andrew Butchart, in the form of his life, pulled out at the last-minute from the 5000m, Mo Farah’s last indoor race?
Not even Laura Muir’s superb British record in the 1,000m could lift the lacklustre programme of events.
THE PAST few weeks have seen a plethora of superb road results for British female athletes on the continent.
In the Barcelona Half Marathon last weekend, Tracy Barlow clocked an impressive 72.48 as preparations begin in earnest for the elite race at this year’s London Marathon. Yesterday saw top-ranked half marathoner, Lily Partridge, make her debut over the full 26.2 mile distance at the Seville Marathon. What potential the Aldershot, Farnham and District runner showed as she crossed the line in 2:32.10.
On top of this, Charlotte Purdue launched her 2017 with a 33.41 over 10k in Hobart, Australia – a good two minutes quicker than last year’s effort over the same course. We all know what an impressive marathon debut she went on to run just two months later.
While Jo Pavey will no doubt be leading the way as she ups the distance again for London this year, British female distance running appears to be in safe hands as a new breed of road runners comes through.
THE ARMAGH International last week certainly lived up to its burgeoning hype and expectation. The annual dash around the town centre mall delivered exquisite races, rapid times and a swelling reputation as the fastest road race in the world.
79 men hammered it round the four and three-quarter laps to dip inside 15 minutes for the 5k distance. Ben Connor – the 24-year-old from Derby – was at the forefront throughout. Brandon Doughty looked to have the race sewn up heading into the final potholed straight to the finish but Ben left it late, almost too late, and dipped the American on the line.
Can anybody stop Connor winning the National XC in Nottingham? Andy Vernon and possibly Ross Millington aside, there’s no better English distance runner out there right now. After a 20th-place finish last year, the Northern champ is rattling off top performances week after week and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him triumph on a course he’ll know well this weekend.
The women’s international 3k saw Laura Weightman lead 29 women inside 10 minutes. Why the race is only 3k and not a more meaningful five is slightly puzzling – but then again, we mightn’t have been treated to such a great race featuring GB past, present and future if it had been longer than the two and three-quarter laps.
Seeing Laura Weightman’s brave break to get away from Rosie Clarke and Jess Judd on the final lap and run a superb 8.59 – and new course record – was well worth the flight over.
It still baffles how a double-Olympic 1500m finalist doesn’t satisfy the criteria for British Athletics funding – but this result shows what folly that decision will prove to be as Weightman strives to prove those doubters wrong.
6-12 February 2017
ELLIOT GILES may be an Olympian and European bronze medallist but his win at the British Indoor Championships was something of an upset – and should act as a wake-up call for some of the 1500m specialists in the field.
Elliot – who blogged for us about his recent altitude training experiences in South Africa – jogged along to qualify in his heat before sauntering to a straightforward win in the final.
It was never really in doubt – the cheeky glance around as the final lap approached was the mark of a man that knew he had the kick to win. Tom Lancashire and the fast-finishing James West didn’t stand a chance.
Elliot is fast-becoming one of Britain’s next great middle-distance hopes. The natural speed and power the 22-year-old is blessed with has been matched with superb strength this winter.
While Elliot might or might not run in Belgrade next month, a second UK title just two years since a horrific motorcycle crash will be just the tonic ahead of London 2017. That it came over 1500m bodes especially well ahead of the summer.
AWAY FROM the indoor action, the weekend also saw the final local cross country league fixtures this season – with many of the country’s top talent keeping their powder dry ahead of the National XC Championships in Nottingham Saturday week.
The Manchester Area Cross Country League – undoubtedly one of the strongest in the country in both quality and depth – saw Stockport Harrier, Jack Morris, complete a clean sweep of victories this winter.
The 23-year-old has faced down the likes of Jack Martin, Andrew Davies and Chris Farrell over the course of the season. Quite the achievement. Dave Norman, a man who knows a thing or two about running, especially in that neck of the woods, pointed out that it was the first time any runner had won every match in the Manchester League.
Richard Goodman edged out Pete Huck for the second race-running in the final Metropolitan Cross Country League fixture. The 23-year-old left it late to pip the re-emerging Huck on Saturday – but will be minded of his last outing in Nottingham three years ago. He left it late there too, bemoaning lapped athletes for his failure to beat the record-setting Steve Vernon.
With Aldershot’s cross country specialists taking a week off after the European Clubs Cross Country, Highgate Harriers’ women offered up some food for thought at the final Met League fixture. A 1-2-3, led home by Swiss international Molly Renfer, followed silver at the Southerns last month. While we’re used to seeing Highgate’s men tussling it out for top honours, the country’s best women ought to be mindful of a Highgate surprise in the Midlands.
Cheltenham’s Graham Rush bagged three wins out of three in the final Birmingham Cross Country League fixture while Epsom and Ewell’s, Isabel Brinsden, romped home to her first Surrey League success.
But with the likes of Charlie Hulson, Ben Connor and Jess Judd set to line up in Armagh on Thursday, the mad dash round the small town in Northern Ireland will throw up the the final indications of the likely runners and riders in Nottingham next weekend.
ENGLAND ATHLETICS is set to lose almost 20% of its funding after the latest funding announcement from Sport England.
With £7.3m allocated to athletics for the next four-year cycle – down from £8.8m for the 2013-17 period – the drop in funding should be met with optimism.
The national governing body’s remit currently includes catering for coaching, officials, domestic level competition, national teams (athlete development), clubs and schools and, perhaps crucially up to now, mass participation.
While running continues to be the most popular activity – with almost 7 million people running twice a month in the latest Active Lives results – the stats for athletics paint a less rosy picture. Just 250,000 have taken part in track and field twice in the last 28 days.
The recent launch of Run Together marks England Athletics’ last dance with mass participation and represents something of a final offering to the mass market.
But with less money comes less responsibility for growing the number of runners – and a move away from the mass market towards, hopefully, a greater focus on grassroots club structure, competition and athlete development can only be a good thing for the sport in England.
30 January – 5 February 2017
IT’S ALWAYS heartening to see popular athletes return to form and show signs that their best might still be to come.
Two of those that spring to mind from the weekend are Jess Judd and Jonny Mellor.
True, Jess has been showing glimmers of improvement – and a certain renewed enjoyment – throughout the winter so far.
Always adept on the mud as a junior, the 22-year-old finished 12th at the European XC Championships before Christmas and won the British Cross Challenge in Cardiff a couple of weeks ago.
Third place at BUCS XC on Saturday was further evidence of a sustained return to form.
While Judd’s transition to the senior ranks hasn’t ran smooth for one reason or another, she’s stuck it out, unlike other former child prodigies, and is now enjoying her just rewards. May it continue onto the track this summer.
Jonny Mellor is another who hasn’t been without his struggles in recent times. The road back to full fitness since suffering a rare blood disorder in 2014 has been long for the Liverpudlian – his foray into marathon running in the autumn of 2015 solid if unspectacular.
Strong outings on the roads in Europe at the end of last year coupled with sub-24 and second place to Jack Martin at the Alsager 5 on Sunday point to a positive future.
There’d be poetic justice in Jonny enjoying a real breakthrough run soon. The Liverpool Harrier has spent years plugging away at the top of the national game without getting the true recognition he deserves.
NEXT WEEKEND’S British Indoor Championships in Sheffield will be well worth tuning in for.
Scotland’s Britain’s finest athletes will take to the banked blue boards to try and secure their seat on the plane to Belgrade in March. With indoor records falling left right and centre to Laura Muir, and Andrew Butchart topping the world indoor mile rankings, there’s a renewed vigour around indoor racing this winter.
After British Athletics failed to send a full team to the World Indoors last year, it’s important to build on the enthusiasm generated by great performances.
Races might not be super quick next week with qualification in mind, but with GB places up for grabs and a competitive edge, we’re sure to be in for a treat.
Wouldn’t it be great if the TV ratings reflected this again?
DOES ANYBODY else have the same feeling that Nitro Athletics is just a distraction from the real problems in the sport?
‘We need innovation and more opportunities for our athletes to interact with fans and show their personalities,’ Seb Coe has said. ‘We need events that bring back the fun, the kids and the crowds.
‘We need brave, bold ideas that engage fans in events and across a range of platforms. The only thing stopping us is our imagination and the courage to try something new.’
The athletics extravaganza held in Australia over the weekend – built around the sport’s most marketable star – has been championed as just what the sport needs to grow beyond its core fan base and casual Olympic armchair observer.
That’s as may be. It may have razzmatazz, it may be exciting and it may have an elimination mile. But let’s not lose sight of the poor state the sport is in.
There’s nothing wrong with trying something new. But Nitro Athletics feels like a distraction. Now is not the time to go chasing money and audiences when the root of the elite sport remains in turmoil.
BOOM! Another race, another record for Scottish distance machine Callum Hawkins.
Who even remembers the race distance debacle at the Great Scottish Half Marathon in October? (Well, the 8,000-odd people whose efforts weren’t worth the entry fee).
The Kilbarchan athlete stormed to victory 58 seconds ahead of nearest competitor Ethiopian record holder, Atsedu Tsegay, at the Kagawa Marugame International in Japan.
A new Scottish Record of 60.00 – a whole 24 seconds quicker than his now redundant mark in Glasgow – now also sees him sit second on the UK all-time list.
It’s a shame he won’t be racing the London Marathon this year, but then again a medal in the same city in August is worth holding out for.
23-29 January 2017
FAR FROM being the poor cousin of other more popular athletics disciplines, the action at the back end – as well as at the front – stood up rather well to the recent past.
Parliament Hill in the South hosted the only 15k cross country that remains – until this year, that is, when the Midlands course at Prestwold Park (destined to be the setting of this year’s Inter-Counties too) in Loughborough turned out to be a few miles over the advertised distance.
The numbers were up in both senior events in Loughborough and London. The Midlands – traditionally the lowest attended of the three fixtures – saw 24 more men (377) and 13 more women (200) finish this year than last. Alex Brecker took the spoils on the men’s side and Juliet Potter sealed her third victory in the event.
A whopping 1,068 men finished the firm but always testing three-lap course at Parliament Hill – up 41 on 2016 and 82 on the previous time the event was held there in 2014 with Andy Maud returning to form to take the win.
The stats for the women’s 8k event are even more remarkable – Emily Hosker-Thornhill led home 574 women, which is 73 more than last year and up 108 (19% increase) on 2014.
43 fewer men may have finished the 12k course at Knowsley Safari Park in the North – but Derby AC’s Ben Connor remains the most exciting young distant prospect in the country after his win. Fact. Claire Duck retained her title in dominant fashion – and led home 2 more women than 2016.
The death knell of cross country has often been sounded. But these figures – plus record numbers at the National XC Relays and Liverpool Cross Challenge in the last year – suggest its terminal demise isn’t yet nigh. Reenergising a slightly declining junior contingent might well be the next challenge.
THIS YEAR’S Night of the 10,000m PBs in May is sure to be bigger and better than ever before. With the event potentially being the London 2017 World Championship trials, England Athletics 10,000m Championships and host to the European 10,000m Cup, it’s fast-becoming the Woodstock of track distance running events.
The recent news that the British University 10,000m Championships will be moving from its traditional May bank holiday home in Bedford to Parliament Hill will add yet another layer of excitement to the event.
But the Night of the 10,000m PBs was supposed to revive quality 10,000m racing opportunities in the UK – not house them all under one roof. The fact other organisations are now piggybacking the success of the event and more and more championships are being subsumed within it means the original aims have been lost somewhat.
September’s BMC and Trafford AC 10,000m Track Festival and a smattering of other local club events aside, the 10,000m seems to have firmly found its British home in leafy North London.
But while the atmosphere is bound to be ten times better at Parliament Hill than Bedford, shouldn’t governing bodies take a leaf out of the Harriers’ book and transform their own events into something with a little more razzamatazz?
THE NEWS that Scottish Olympian and accomplished 10,000m runner Beth Potter has quit her job as a physics teacher in London to pursue her triathlon ambitions should be applauded though met with frustration.
Beth is undoubtedly one of the best female distance runners in Britain. The fact she’s upping sticks to train with the Brownlees in Leeds is indicative of her ambition – and the obstacles she obviously faces in athletics.
Though she competed at an Olympics, a medal on the world stage in her event is not yet within grasp. The idea of switching to a multi-discipline event can only be a positive move – if things go her way, an international medal could well be on the cards.
‘I want to give it a crack for 6-12 months and see how I fare,’ says Beth. With funding and a state-of-the-art coaching set up, why not? But a loss to distance running all the same.
RACE DISTANCES coming up short made the news again this month – and it turns out it mightn’t be solely confined to races in Manchester either.
The Great Scottish Run Half Marathon in Glasgow last October, where Callum Hawkins smashed the Scottish record, is the latest course to come under scrutiny. Data from almost 500 runners, wearing the same type of watch, was examined – all showing the course to be short. The organisers are having the course re-measured in the hope it’s a false alarm.
After the Manchester Marathon and Trafford 10k were found to be too fast for their own good, it’s only a matter of time before trust in event organisers starts to wane.