The British Athletics Cross Challenge attracts quality athletes from the home countries. On Saturday 11 January 2020, Stirling’s Kings Park hosted a very wet and muddy series of cross country races. In this post, I’ll answer the question “What happened during the 2020 British Athletics Cross Challenge senior events?” and what lessons all runners can learn from this race.
What happened in the elite women’s race?
The senior women ran four laps of Kings Park. They navigated both flat and hilly sections throughout. A few athletes chose to break early, but no move was decisive. It took until eleven minutes before England’s Kate Avery ran at the front of the pack. There, several athletes hung onto her.
Avery kept her arms wider than normally to help her balance. Her gaze was also lowered in order to ensure her footing was stable enough to run. She also threw her headband away during the race, in order to keep focused.
It was in the second half of the race that Kate Avery’s efforts were rewarded. Only Bronwen Owen and Abbie Donnelly could stay with her. 24 minutes into the race, Avery and Donnelly had dropped Owen. They charged up the hills together, and Donnelly would not fall back.
It was only in the final three minutes that Avery opened up a lead of a few metres. Avery’s victory over her countrywoman was eleven seconds. But credit to the two under-23 athletes who pushed the England International to her limits. England won the team title.
What happened in the elite men’s race?
The senior men ran the same course as the women. Five men, two Welshmen, two Scotsmen and England’s Adam Hickey didn’t take long to open up a sizeable gap on the rest of the field. Kristian Jones lead for a long period, as Hickey clung on to the back of the pack.
At twelve minutes, Jones slipped in the mud whilst turning a corner. This gave Andrew Butchart an opportunity to surge forward. He did so, and the pre-race favourite tore away from the pack. But whilst navigating a corner at two minutes later, Buthchart fell. Although he got back up seemingly unharmed, his lead had dwindled.
Three minutes later Jones surprisingly retook the lead. Butchart had no response. Although Jones’ eventual victory was only ten seconds, he ran the second half of the race alone. Butchart could only manage fourth place. Nonetheless, it was fitting that Scotland claimed the team title.
Running lessons from the race
This major cross country race revealed two important lessons for all runners: 1. Falling over doesn’t have to ruin your race, and 2. Tough conditions require more patience when pacing.
Falling over doesn’t have to be devastating
Although it’s important to avoid falling in the mud during a race, as long as it’s not just before the end, you don’t have to panic. Find a moment to safely get back on your feet and focus on returning to your running rhythm. As Kristian Jones demonstrated, even when you lose your position in the race, you always have time to make up the ground you lost. Likewise, it wasn’t Andrew Butchart’s fall that ended his individual medal hopes; his strength, especially uphill, wasn’t as fans would have expected.
Don’t surge too soon
Cross country races are known for their competitive, close-bunched fields. Successful cross country athletes, such as Kate Avery, understand how important it is to stay composed throughout the race. She surged during the final minutes of the race – the perfect time to make it hard for your opponents to respond.
The 2020 senior British Athletics Cross Challenge races were both eight kilometres in length. Stirling’s park and golf course was a very wet and muddy location this year, and really tested the athletes. Extremely experienced athletes, such as Andrew Butchart, found pacing too difficult to perfect. Once again, the athletes that dealt with the conditions best, won. The mud and rain can be more easily overcome when the desire to win is so strong (and you’re in peak condition).