Running Shorts: Weekly take on grassroots running news

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London Marathon: Brits ready to do battle for World Champs selection
April 20, 2017
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Tracy Barlow: Thames Valley Harrier blogging on the road to London
April 28, 2017

Running Shorts: Weekly take on grassroots running news

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17-23 April 2017

VICTORY FOR THE LITTLE MAN INSPIRES GRASSROOTS COMMUNITY

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.

The Guardian have written a piece on it. The Lad Bible have tweeted about it. It’s not everyday someone from the mass-start usurps the elite to come home number one.

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

PM DONS HIGH-VIS FOR VOLUNTEERING STINT

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?


BREAKING2 EDGES CLOSER

NIKE ANNOUNCED its Breaking2 race window this week. Does anybody actually care?


MASS PARTICIPATION REMAINS REAL WINNER

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

RUN-OF-THE-MILL ROAD RELAYS FAIL TO INSPIRE

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.


NN RUNNING TEAM HERALDS NEW ERA IN DISTANCE RUNNING – OR NOT

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

TOO LONG? TOO SHORT? WILL BRIGHTON EVER BE JUST RIGHT?

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.


WORLD CHAMPS UPGRADE TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE

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.


ROAD SEASON IN FULL SWING AHEAD OF NATIONAL RELAYS

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

RUNNERS AND RIDERS COMPETE AT REGIONAL ROAD RELAYS

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.


RUNNING A RESULTS BUSINESS

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

HAWKINS LEAVES US BREATHLESS – AGAIN

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.


FOUR-STAR DIJKSTRA STARS AT ENGLISH SCHOOLS

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

VERNON AND JUDD MASTERCLASS IN OTHERWISE DAMP FINALE

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].


ENGLISH SCHOOLS – CONVEYOR BELT OF CROSS COUNTRY CONTINUES

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

ALL EYES ON JUNIORS IN WINTER FINALE 

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.


LAURA MUIR

ONE WORD: phenomenal.


SPIRITS DAMPENED – BUT GLORY DAYS NOT FAR OFF

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

POPULAR WINNERS AT ENGLISH NATIONAL CROSS COUNTRY

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.


SUNDAY TIMES REVELATIONS SHOCK – IF HARDLY SURPRISE

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.


NEWLY-MEASURED COURSE PROMISES FAST RACE

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

MULLER GRAND PRIX FAILS TO DELIGHT

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.


LEADING LADIES ON THE ROADS

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.


ARMAGH LIVES UP TO ITS BURGEONING HYPE

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

GILES LEAVES 1500M SPECIALISTS IN HIS WAKE

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.


LOCAL LEAGUES OFFER FOOD FOR THOUGHT AHEAD OF NATIONAL XC

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.


GOVERNING BODY LOSES OUT – BUT ATHLETES AND CLUBS STAND TO WIN

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

RETURN TO FORM OF OLD FAVOURITES 

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.


INDOOR CHAMPS A MUST-WATCH

NEXT WEEKEND’S British Indoor Championships in Sheffield will be well worth tuning in for.

Some of 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?


NITRO ATHLETICS A DISTRACTION FROM PROBLEMS

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.


HAWKINS BANISHES GLASGOW WOES

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

NUMBERS UP IN AREA CHAMPS BUT YOUTH LACKING

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.


NIGHT OF THE PBS STEALS THE SHOW

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?


POTTER TO PURSUE TRIATHLON AMBITION

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.


RACES CONTINUE TO COME UP SHORT

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.