British Athletics Cross Challenge 2020 Race Review

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.

Conclusion

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).

Stockholm Diamond League 2019 Overview

The Swedish capital of Stockholm hosted the third Diamond League meeting of 2019 last Thursday. The windy and chilly conditions made the racing more challenging. But the quality field still shone considering it is so early in the track season.

Asher-Smith Triumphs Again

After her 200m victory in Doha (the first Diamond League meeting of 2019) British superstar Dina Asher-Smith produced another superb performance against more accomplished opponents. Asher-Smith was almost half a second faster than double Olympic champion Elaine Thompson and over half a second faster than multiple world champion Dafne Schippers.

Although still early in the season, Asher-Smith’s confidence will be rising with that world-leading time. As she explained post-race she must be able to win come September at the World Championships, as “the rest of the world will be [in better shape]”. But, knowing she can beat her rivals, at any time of the season, could be the boost that she needs to continue her outstanding form.

Muir Returns with Style 

Despite her bronze medal at the Westminster Mile late in May, where she never dominated the race, Laura Muir reverted to her front-running in the 1500m race. She stayed patient behind the pacemaker for half the race. Then with one lap to go Muir accelerated and won comfortably by over four seconds.

Muir’s training at altitude in St. Moritz, Switzerland, has already pleased the Scot. But as she mentioned in a recent interview she will need to remain smart with how she selects her races leading up to the World Championships in Doha. After all, she aims to win her first world outdoor track medal of her already impressive career.

McColgan Races Hard Despite Personal Challenges

Eilish McColgan returned to racing at 5000m after “feeling healthy again” and “a runner”. She ran strong throughout the 12.5 laps of the Stockholm Olympic Stadium, maintaining a quick cadence until the line. She finished seventh and was the first Brit home, beating some notable names such as Yasemin Can, Alina Reh and Anna Emilie Møller.

Most impressive is that McColgan demonstrated professionalism and courage. This, all in the aftermath of the shocking burglary of her precious medals from her property in Manchester.

British Indoor Athletics Championships 2019 Review

The 2019 British Indoor Athletics Championships, held in Arena Birmingham last weekend, showcased the best of British athletics. The two-day event did not disappoint.

There were so many heats, semi-finals and finals that coverage was non-stop throughout Saturday and Sunday afternoon.

There were storming wins for Laura Muir (in the 3000m) and Tom Bosworth (in the 5000m walk) alongside tight races in the 60m men’s hurdles (David King crowned champion), 1500m men’s (Neil Gourley crowned champion) and the 800m women’s (Shelayna Oskan-Clarke crowned champion) races.

But what impressed me most was Asha Philip’s 60m races on day one.

What shocked me most was how some superstars of the sport failed to win the gold medal, revealing how competitively strong athletics has become throughout Britain.

Composure is Crucial

 

In less than 5 hours Asha Philip, the five-time British Indoor 60m champion, raced three times. She not only won her heat and semi-final but had to contend with a relatively lengthy delay before the start of her final. The equipment needed testing and the athletes all stood around, trying to keep their muscles from cooling. Except for Philip, who sat on the edge of the track, waiting.

Relaxation personified. Then she got up and steadied herself.

She won the final in under a second, beating Rachel Miller, who looked strong throughout. The race didn’t start perfectly either for the Olympic and World Championship medalist.  But she didn’t panic. Up until the final 5 metres of the race Miller looked set to win, but at the line Philip’s superior upper body strength and fast leg turnover ensured her fourth straight national title.

Nothing can be Taken for Granted

 

There were some big names that failed to obtain a medal at these national championships.

  • Andrew Robertson and Richard Kilty (60m)
  • Eilidh Doyle and Meghan Beesley (400m)
  • Lynsey Sharp (800m)

Other senior athletes such as Elliot Giles (1500m), Andrew Butchart (3000m) and Guy Learmonth (800m) had to settle for the minor medals, when their track pedigree had been predicted to shine through.

Although it must be said that experienced athletes may not have been prioritising their training to peak for this event, it reminds us that past performances never guarantee future success.

There will always be others who are prepared to pounce on any weakness. To win (and keep winning) a runner not only needs to give everything they have. They also need to have prepared themselves rigorously for the challenge for those minutes, and often final seconds, when it all counts. Regardless of your talent and work ethic, no runner can take a victory for granted.