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).

Great Stirling Cross Country 2019 Race Review

Although cold, conditions in central Scotland last Saturday were dry. 

Coupled with the fast, flat (for the most part) golf course, the Simplyhealth Great Stirling Cross Country races suited track runners best. 

The 3-team competition may not have resulted in a massive field of runners.

But the rivalries were evident and promised intense racing over distances of 6km, for the women, 8km, for the men, and 4x 1,500m for the mixed relay.

Cross-Training Improves Racing

 

The most impressive performance of the meet was Elena Burkard’s 5-second victory in the women’s race.

The German’s patience during the first three laps meant she could attack the leader, GB’s Charlotte Arter, soon into the final lap. 

Burkard replicated her triumph over Arter in the recent European Cross Country Championships.

Her posture and wide arm drive never faltered as she navigated the grassy fields.

More intriguing is the interview Burkard gave post-race. 

She trains at cross country skiing camps. 

She has learnt that to protect herself from injury she must train smartly. 

Cross-training helps her maintain fitness and develop leg strength without the stressful pounding of excessive running. 

Even though she admits she is poor at this winter sport, it obviously works as a supplementary activity.

Knowing the Route Beforehand Matters

 

During two of the three races, some athletes ran in the wrong direction. 

Hillary Bor, in the men’s race, was still able to win the race, although by less than a second. 

In the mixed relay, the US athlete on the second leg effectively lost her 50m lead due to her decision to veer off course.

Extra marshals positioned at specific points on the course would most likely have eradicated confusion. 

However, the mistakes highlight an important issue. 

All athletes should understand the race course well enough to navigate it alone. 

If there is any uncertainty before the race, then clarity should be sought from the organisers. 

The consequences can mean the difference between winning and losing.

Familiarity with Hills Builds Strength

 

The only testing hills on the course were an incline after the first 100m, and one at the end of each lap. 

Although steep, both are short. 

These stretches give the stronger, more technically superior athletes the edge. 

On the final laps, during every race, the eventual winners would take their chance to power uphill. 

They would gain both greater momentum and lead over their rivals.

This is a predictably effective strategy, as hill running is notoriously tiring. 

If the athlete is primed for this challenge they have the ability to break their opponents. 

Burkard in the women’s race, and Muir in the mixed relay, demonstrated the greatest willingness and correct technique. 

They appeared to make light work of the otherwise hellish sections of the course.

The format of the competition, with athletes vying for individual and team glory (with either Team USA, Great Britain or Europe) is an exciting addition for spectators. 

However, unsurprisingly, with more countries to select from, Europe are never likely to be threatened for the team trophy.