Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Yelling for joy


Yelling for joy

Celebrating her twelfth appearance at the European cross-country Championships last weekend, British distance-running stalwart Hayley Yelling proved she is neither the shy or retiring type (quite literally), as she stormed to an unprecedented and eye-poppingly dominant victory, writes Nicola Bamford.

With renewed vigour and love for the sport following her competitive retirement exactly a year ago, the 35-year-old certainly did not need the luck of the Irish at the Dublin event, as she ran the race of her life to capture the continental title she last took in 2004.

A far cry from her despondent former self after languishing in nineteenth place at the 2008 event, Yelling took the senior women’s 8km race by the scruff of the neck from the outset and maintained a comfortable lead throughout.

Surging through the mud of Santry Park in the Irish capital, the maths teacher from Marlow; who made a shock return to competition when winning the European Trials last month, secured a seven-second victory over a classy international field, leading the British women to team silver.

Yelling revealed: “I can’t believe it! I feel great – I’m in shock! I just wanted to go out hard because I know that’s how I race better – to just go out and hang on for as long as possible. I expected them to all come, but luckily they didn’t. I was running scared!”

Understandably overjoyed to be back competing well in a British vest after her sabbatical, Yelling explained: “Dublin was amazing – the support was too. The course was perfect for me, even though I’m not the best in mud. Even though I was knackered, I was smiling to myself during the race in disbelief.”

The sister-in-law of British Olympic marathon, Liz Yelling, Hayley continued: “I had no expectations at all - I just wanted to enjoy it. I was thinking about the team really. I’ve been back in training sessions for about a month.”

Yelling only attended the Trials in Liverpool to accompany a friend and certainly had no strong aspirations. Her shock win there, however, was only a glimpse of the greatness which was yet to come.

Evidently, it is Yelling’s laid-back attitude and refreshed outlook towards her training that is surprisingly reaping the benefits: “I think it’s just from all the years of training. What was all that 100 miles a week about!? I’m enjoying it so much; I want to get out of the door and run.”

A handful of extreme adventure races over the summer, followed by a windsurfing holiday ensured Yelling kept her fitness base high. She then returned to her long-time coach in Windsor – Conrad Milton but still insists on not having a training schedule to rule her days and only running during the week so she can “have fun at the weekends.”

“It’s nice to not have the pressure anymore – I want to run when the alarm goes off in the morning,” she explains.

The infectiously-bubbly runner is back in school to work this week but plans to use a couple of Christmas parties as “an excuse to celebrate” her recent achievements.

Her latest outstanding performance comes after years of agony, following missing the 10,000m qualification standard for the past three Olympic Games by between a mere 0.14 and 4.29-seconds.

Although understandably thrilled by her superb, instant return to top-class form, Yelling insists she is not planning a permanent switch back into the international spotlight: “I might do a few more races and see how I’m doing but I’m not looking as far as the World Cross or anything. I’m just enjoying my athletics and not putting any pressure on myself and it seems to be working."

Long-term, Yelling is adamant that she’ll be too old for the 2012 Olympics, but for 2010, the BUPA Great Edinburgh International cross-country in January may crop up next on her spontaneous calendar. Fans may also occasionally spot her on the track this summer and a possible tilt at the Commonwealth Games 10,000m in New Delhi in October is not off the radar – but only if (in the words of the new European Champion) “I’m still enjoying my training.”

Judging by this incredible athletes’ new lease of life, running’s never been so fun.

Brussels international XC preview


IAAF Brussels International cross-country preview

England will send full teams to the IAAF Brussels International cross-country this Sunday, as the Belgium capital welcomes many athletes who just missed selection for last weekend’s European Championships, writes Nicola Bamford.

Leading the way for the senior men will be Blackheath and Bromley’s Mike Skinner. The 30-year-old finished a fine thirteenth in last weekend’s European cross-country Championships in Dublin and will be duly supported by 21-year-old New Marske Harrier; Ricky Stevenson, who was eighth under23 in the Irish capital. Lewis Timmins; the 22-year-old from Gosforth and eleventh under23 last weekend, will also compete; with Altrincham’s 31-year-old Dave Norman completing the English Lion’s squad; managed by Eamonn Martin.

The England ladies’ team – managed by Sue Lamb - will be spearheaded by 22-year-old Woodford Green with Essex Ladies athlete; Felicity Milton and Charnwood’s 35-year-old Tara Krzywicki. Kendal’s 27-year-old Rebecca Robinson and Hillingdon’s 28-year-old Julia Bleasdale complete the outfit.

The junior men’s squad is made up of Winchester’s 19-year-old, Phillip Berntsen, 19-year-old Bristol athlete, Richard Peters, 17-year-old Stroud runner, Tom Curr and Warrington’s 18-year-old, Harry Ellis. Keith Holt will manage the team.

The junior ladies contesting for England and managed by Barbara Cutting, are City of Norwich’s 19-year-old Dani Nimmock, Bedford’s 16-year-old Emily Wallbank, Aldershot’s 16-year old, Ruth Haynes and Team Southampton’s 18-year-old, Louise Webb.

Full report to follow...

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Mo Farah feature


Fly-Mo: the smiling assassin

Carrying the long-distance hopes of a nation during a turbulent 2009, Britain’s amiable athlete, Mo Farah spoke to Nicola Bamford about how he has embraced the Kenyan lifestyle in order to match strides with the Africans and add more gold to his collection.

The 26-year-old West-Londoner, from Somalian descent, has adapted his daily life over the past couple of years to a more simplistic, professional approach which is paying dividends with his athletic performances at home and abroad.

Nights out and drinking sessions in the capital were replaced with a solitary existence in his Teddington home with African world-class runners; a move introduced by his agent, Ricky Simms; the man charged with keeping the great sprint sensation Usain Bolt in order.

Regular trips to ‘runner’s paradise’ in Iten, Kenya have also been added to the Adidas sponsored-runner’s agenda; the last of which he has recently returned from:
“Training went well – I was there for five weeks as part of the GB training camp then I trained with some top Africans. It was very hot, which I love and there were so many great training routes; all I did was sleep, eat and run,” Farah explained.

The Alan Storey-coached runner is no stranger to adapting to new surroundings. Aged 10 and without a word of English in his vocabulary, he uprooted to England, where his talent was spotted by his PE teacher. Reluctantly pushing his first love of football aside, Farah achieved great success as a junior athlete; winning a silver medal at the European Junior Cross Country Championships.

As a senior, the Newham and Essex Beagles athlete broke through in 2006, when he sped to a World-class 13:09.40 for 5,000m, ahead of taking the runners-up position at the European Championships.

The outgoing ‘Fly-Mo’, as he is affectionately known to his athletics fans, then captured his first major title at the 2006 European Cross Country Championships, followed up by an impressive 11th at the World Cross Country Championships. 2007 and 2008 witnessed sixth-place finishes in the World 5,000m and World indoor 3,000m for Farah, yet he failed to progress through his heat in the Beijing Olympic Games. After a six-week training stint in Ethiopia, however, he took second place at the European Cross Country Championships.

Farah’s 2009 campaign, he admits, has been a rollercoaster. With a British indoor 3,000m record, European indoor gold and a British 10km road record under his belt, Farah’s prospects looked strong to capture a long-overdue World medal; but in the global Championships in Berlin this summer, he finished a disappointing seventh.

Farah explained: “I had a great start to the year but I was disappointed to miss David Moorcroft’s British 5,000m record and to come only 7th in the Worlds.”

Never one to lose focus of the tasks in hand, though, Farah has an immediate target for a realistic medal this weekend; the European cross-country Championships in Dublin. Eager to replicate his 2006 win and gain revenge over his great nemesis; the eight-time winner Serhiy Lebid of Ukraine, Farah said: “It’d be so nice to win but it’ll be tough, particularly against Lebid and there are lots of fast guys entered, so it’s not going to be easy. Lebid’s my main rival; he prepares for this race for months and he’s very dominant – this is his Olympics – but he can be beaten; I showed that in 2006.”

On his chances in a competition where a mud-bath is predicted for Sunday’s event, the British rankings leader from 1500m-10km said: “I prefer solid ground but I know I’ve done the work so I’m looking forward to it.”

Based on his BUPA Great South Run victory over 10-miles in October and successful stint in the hills of Kenya, the ‘smiling assassin’ should be up there in the medals in Irish capital and has aspirations of a bright 2010:

“I like running indoors so after Dublin, I’ll return for a training block in Kenya then target the World indoors (in Doha in March) and then maybe the World cross (in Bydgoszcz shortly afterwards), before doing the 5km at the Europeans in the summer. I’m not really thinking about the Commonwealths (in New Delhi in October).”

In the long-term, Farah has hinted at turning his attentions to the marathon (“but only when I’ve stopped running fast over the shorter distances”), and most likely after he has conquered his aims at the 2012 London Olympic Games. But for now, Farah’s concentration is set firmly on relishing the ‘luck of the Irish’ by gliding to gold in the continental cross championships – and avoiding the Guinness – unless he wins.

Olympics blog


"London 2012: A long sunrise with a short sunset? – Nicola Bamford examines whether Britain’s Olympic spectacular will be a ‘Games for all’."

In 963 days Britain will become host to the 2012 Olympic Games, with its Paralympic equivalent arriving thirty-three days later. The greatest sporting show on Earth will undoubtedly provide the finest multi-sport entertainment and sporting infrastructure this country has ever witnessed, but questions loom as to whether – in the long term – this magnificent event will provide a ‘Games for all.’

When Britain and the London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games (LOCOG) were awarded the World’s most sought-after competition in July 2005, promises such as legacy and the 'trickle down' effect were pledged as emerging bi-products of being hosts. Contrary to LOCOG's prediction, however, these benefits may be of little assistance to improving the sporting and physical activity behaviours of the British public.

Many would presume being fortunate enough to have the Olympic Games on our home turf would automatically transform the sporting ethos of Great Britain. Justifiably, the majority of our nation sees this opportunity as the greatest sporting spectacle to visit the British Isles in our lifetimes; yet this remarkable prize; finally won after two unsuccessful attempts in 1992 and 1996, brought with it an anticipation which has ignited a plethora of expectations, concerns and pressures. Can the London Games pass its greatest test? - changing the health of our country.


Questions have begun to arise, such as 'will hosting the Games inspire a generation of new sporting enthusiasts and revive and inspire a physically active nation?' or alternatively, 'will the Games merely provide a huge financial strain and discourage society from sport with its' elitist, pressurising philosophy '?

Despite sport evidently emerging into the consciousness of the nation since we won the right to be hosts, has such a life-changing decision for most managed to act as an alarm bell to the sedentary public? The desire to impress the world with our elite and our sports-mad, healthy nation is such that an abundance of sporting initiatives and strategies have emerged nationwide in an attempt to revolutionize the sporting and physical activity behaviours and resistance of the Great British society.

Statistics show that only 46% of the British public take part in sport more than twelve times a year, yet the London 2012 website claims that "there are few nations where sport is such an important part of the national culture as it is in the UK." Still, this quote is not a lie – as a nation, we do love our sport but only as spectators from the stands or in front of the television. Yes, there are thousands of gym-addicts, who fun-run, play in football leagues and compete at high levels; but there are many, many more that let their remote control do the work.

Spectator nation

Without wanting to sound too pessimistic, a quantum shift in social attitudes, so that physical activity starts to resonate as a clinical need, not just a lifestyle choice is desperately needed in our country. If anything, it would dramatically ease the financial burden on our public services (the NHS spends £3,000 every minute on combating illness which could be prevented by physical activity).

LOCOG claims that "grassroots participation would be boosted. An already sports mad nation would get fitter and healthy," so how can our ‘spectator nation’ improve its’ physical activity rates? Or will the event merely provide a form of entertainment and have no motivational effect whatsoever?

Assumptions about stimulating participation through sporting role models, trickle down effects, legacy and media coverage are at best single variable theories of behavioural changes. The Games may have some role to play, but only as part of a systematic and strategic developmental approach. It is time to wipe the rose-tinted spectacles.

London themes

The four themes of the London vision are: delivering the experience of a lifetime, leaving a legacy for sport, benefits the community through regeneration and aim to support the Olympics movement.

If LOCOG fail to install a lasting sporting legacy, then the Games will have a long sunrise and a short sunset; emphasising the need for a national strategy to embed the Olympics and sport in general into the heart of the nation.

Promises, promises
The most significant promises from LOCOG centre on regeneration and legacy. The Olympic Games lasts for just over two-weeks but it takes seven years of meticulous planning and preparation, thousands of paid and voluntary staff, countless organisations and billions of pounds to deliver. It is therefore crucial that the Games be organised as to provide a lasting legacy to the host city, the country and the rest of the world.

The community regeneration inspired by London 2012 should, in theory, provide a springboard for reducing health inequalities and for encouraging people across the country to take up sport and develop active, healthy lifestyles; yet how will the Games inspire the entire population when many live hundreds of miles away from our capital? Can the immense media coverage the Games are expected to attract motivate individuals who cannot access and thus benefit from the regenerated areas? To combat this however, the Government has committed to installing nation-wide sports schemes and initiatives in sports centres, schools, clubs and even workplaces.


The Games will use a combination of new sporting venues in the Olympic Park, existing world-class facilities and other inspirational and historical locations, such as Wimbledon and Wembley Stadium. London 2012 is committed to 'excellence without extravagance' and it is for this reason that new venues are being built only where clear legacy needs have been identified and sporting and business plans developed for post-Games use.

The hard benefits from hosting the Games such as the Olympic stadium and the Aquatic Centre are far outweighed by the soft benefits of providing 12,000 job opportunities to disadvantaged people, engaging local people and enabling them attain new skills, education and training as well as, most importantly, initiating the entire nation's step change into a physical activity culture. However, the critique here is the word local - does this indicate that people outside of London will be overlooked and therefore discouraged from taking up, and getting involved in, sport?

The Olympic Park will lie within some of the UK's most disadvantaged boroughs and will be home to world-class sporting facilities for elite and community use. If the promise of 'facilities for all' is kept, then it will have a positive effect on the British sports industry, as it will open many doors of sporting opportunities to the majority of the British population; recreational sports enthusiasts and beginners to physical activity.

The 'feel good factor'

Hosting the Games should install a 'feel good factor' in the nation, due to feelings of national pride and being inspired by the physical endeavours of the world's greatest athletes. This has been witnessed in the UK before with, for instance, the 'Wimbledon effect', which ignited a short-lived increase in tennis participation rates. London must ensure this sudden public enthusiasm remains long after 2012 in order for the Games to act as a true driver for physical activity change.

Britain cannot assume that the 'shop window' theory of placing our best athletes on show, will transform the nation's perception of sport and physical activity, nor will the vast amount of media coverage.

It is however, hoped that Britain will experience a 'trickle-down effect', in terms of the 'excellence' tier of the ‘sports participation pyramid’ affecting the lower tiers of performance, participation and foundation. Those at the top of the pyramid (Olympians) will inspire and motivate those underneath, with the breadth of the base determining the pinnacle of the top.

Whereas using stars such as double Olympic middle-distance gold-medallist Kelly Holmes - with the "On camp with Kelly" initiative - may be productive with sports enthusiasts, perhaps the use of potential stars or even individuals who have recently found enjoyment in a new sport, would be more appropriate role models to the currently sedentary.

Post-Games participation

There is little doubt the athletes competing in London 2012 will enthuse youngsters to follow in their footsteps, however, enthusiasm is only one of many ingredients required to produce future sporting stars – or at least, regular exercisers.

Due to a lack if survey evidence of the effects of an Olympic Games on national sporting participation rates, it is essential London learns from this mistake. Australia (post-Sydney 2000) experienced a small increase in seven Olympic sports, yet nine sports suffered a decline; with only 4% of Australians becoming more physically active.

Culture change

In order to capitalise on London 2012, sports clubs and leisure centres should show strategic thinking by installing marketing campaigns and promoting their sport or facilities in the run up to the Games and not rely on the anticipated 'trickle-down effect'. By additionally hosting the Paralympics, Britain must also raise the awareness of, and opportunities for, disability sport.

It is ironic how the USA for instance, is the most successful Olympic nation with the largest talent pool, yet it has the highest obesity rates; whereas Finland has the greatest participation rate, but is low down on the Olympic rankings. Can Great Britain find a balance between the two?

The Games are only one element of a much broader long-term development programme to increase national sporting participation rates and improve the health of our nation. The responsibility of revolutionising the British culture into a sporting and healthy one should not be left to LOCOG alone; individuals and the wider sports community must help to exploit and deliver the opportunities London 2012 presents.

Your writer – Nicola Bamford is a long-distance runner and sports journalist, who specialises in covering athletics and the Olympics. She has plied her trade writing for athletics magazines and the websites of national and international athletics governing bodies.

Euro xc trials preview - 2009


European cross-country trials, Sefton Park, Liverpool – Saturday 28th November

The crème de la crème of Britain’s best mud-larks descended on Liverpool’s Sefton Park last Saturday, with aspirations of securing national selection for next month’s European cross-country Championships in Dublin, writes Nicola Bamford.

The most impressive and surprising performance of the day came in the senior women’s race; as former European cross-country bronze-medallist, Hayley Yelling came out of retirement to storm to a comfortable and majestic victory.

The 35-year-old Windsor, Slough, Eton and Hounslow UK cross legend stole the show after only three-weeks’ intensive training and was equally as shocked as the spectators; “Maybe relaxing is the way forward! I had no pressure so I just wanted to enjoy running really. I didn’t expect to do well so it’s a bit of a shock. I’m really happy so just want to keep enjoying it and put no pressure on myself.”

With triple European junior cross-country Champion and hot favourite for senior gold; Steph Twell (20, Aldershot, Farnham and District) missing the event on medical advice – although pre-selected for the continental Championships – it was Chester le Street’s Freya Murray who many had their eye on for an expectant win.

The 26-year-old put in a sterling effort to cope with Yelling’s determined endeavour from the gun and the BUPA Great Yorkshire and Capital international run winner this autumn did well to maintain the winning advantage.

Murray said; “I’m really pleased. Hayley went off like a rocket so I was just trying to hang on for as long as I could. I’m looking forward to Dublin and I’d like to run as hard as I can and get into the top10. It’d be great if the women’s team could do as well as we did last year, so it’ll be great to be a part of that.”

21-year-old Woodford Green with Essex Ladies athlete; Jessica Sparke performed superbly to finish third overall and first under23. Runner-up on times in the English cross-country relays, she said; “I felt pretty strong the whole way. I was a bit disappointed I let the front two women go but I’m definitely pleased. In Dublin, my aim’s to go and run hard and hopefully get into the top-10.”

Bedford County’s 24-year-old Katrina Wootton capitalised on her fine 9th place in the Great South Run with third place in the senior category.

In the absence of European Cross-Country silver-medallist; Mo Farah - who is currently preparing for Dublin with a six-week stint of altitude training in Kenya, recent Gateshead cross international winner Mike Skinner provided a thrilling victory in the senior men’s event.

The 30-year-old Blackheath and Bromley runner – quickest in the cross relays in Mansfield last month – dominated the leading pack for the entire race before unleashing a devastating finishing kick to break training partner; Ben Whitby.

Skinner revealed; “I tried to settle into a nice rhythm in the middle of the leading pack then found myself quite comfortable in the top-three. I was surprised how strong I felt on the home straight; it was quite muddy but I had the strength to keep kicking. I’m on about 100-miles per week at the moment and I’m really fortunate to have a great training group of guys – they bring out the best in you.”

Closely behind 32-year-old WSEH athlete; Whitby, was Newham and Essex Beagles’ 23-year-old Moumin Geele. The BUPA Great Yorkshire 10km runner-up however, does not hold a full UK passport despite being a UK resident; leaving the third automatic selection spot to Aldershot’s Andy Vernon; the 2008 European under23 cross-country silver-medallist.

In the under23 women’s race, Holly Rowland and Stevie Stockton took the second and third automatic spots; behind Sparke. Rowland – 21 representing Norwich – was 7th quickest senior in Mansfield and Stockton – 20 from Vale Royal AC – was 7th senior in the Gateshead international recently.

Rowland said; “I think I went off too fast so I was dying in the second half of the race, so I’m so pleased I managed to stay there. It’s such a bonus to go to Dublin.”

Akin to Sparke, under23 Ricky Stevenson made a big splash in the senior race. The 21-year-old New Marske Harrier followed up his impressive Gateshead 2km victory and long-course fourth-place by replicating the latter position in the senior event and said; “As a track runner, I don’t really like the mud but when I got into it, I felt really strong and enjoyed it all the way around until the end. Hopefully I’ll get a medal in Dublin.”

22-year-old Lewis Timmins (Gosforth) and 20-year-old Norwich runner; Ashley Harrell took the second and third spot, respectively.

Further proving that age is no barrier; two under17 athletes took the under20 events. With reigning European junior cross silver-medallist; Charlotte Purdue (18, AFD) missing the event – but like Twell, also having been pre-selected for Dublin – club-mate; Emelia Gorecka took advantage.

The 15-year-old; who was fastest in Mansfield, performed brilliantly to upstage her older contemporaries and shock even herself; “I tried to give it my all. I’ve been ill all week so I just wanted to see how I could run. I didn’t think I’d win it at all! I felt a bit down still with my cold but I just got stuck in, that’s all you can do. I’m going to the World School’s next week so I can’t wait for that.”

First under20 was Shildon’s 18-year-old Kate Avery; little surprise following her Birmingham cross-country win and Gateshead second-spot, whilst 19-year-old Stockport Harrier; Jess Coulson made a superb return from two injury-ravaged years to claim the runner-up place. With Gorecka too young for selection, Victoria Park’s 17-year-old; Beth Potter gained her chance for an automatic GB&NI vest.

Avery said; “The race went really well but I didn’t think the mud would be as bad as it was. I just want to see how I go in Dublin.”

Coulson added; “The race went off like a rocket so I just settled in on the first lap and started to come forward. The finish was so muddy and really much longer than you think it is. Coming into the race, I was feeling good but the finish was so hard. It’s great to be running after 2-years of running so I’m looking forward to Dublin and the banter.”

The happiest winner of the day was another unexpected victory; as 16-year-old Richard Goodman overcame the shock and desperation of realising his missing front number just before the starting gun, to steal the under20 show. Fastest junior in Mansfield, Goodman evidently used the fast-pumping adrenaline to good effect. He said; “These lads are so much older than me and I haven’t raced for 4-weeks. Training’s been solid and I’ve stepped my mileage up to sixty-miles per week. Training’s been amazing and this week, I’ve just been relaxed – took a day off school (don’t tell my teachers!) and I just believed I could win. I was crying on my way up that last hill. I look up to these lads so to beat them...”

Leeds City AC’s 19-year-old James Wilkinson - quickest in Mansfield and third in Gateshead – took the under20 title ahead of Aldershot’s 17-year-old Jonathan Hay (the Gateshead winner).

Six athletes from each age group (U20, U23 and senior) will represent GB&NI at the European Cross Country Championships in Dublin and full teams will be announced on Tuesday 1 December.

Charlotte Purdue - Eng XC Relays preview


Saucony English Cross-Country Relays; Sat 31st October, Berry Hill Park – Athlete Feature: Charlotte Purdue

One athlete with aspirations of providing a Halloween ‘treat’ for her coach, team-mates and supporters this Saturday, will be middle-distance starlet; Charlotte Purdue, as she looks to speed to individual and team glory at this weekend’s Saucony English Cross-Country Relay Championships; writes Nicola Bamford

The 18 year-old Aldershot, Farnham and District athlete has had a superb start to the 2009 winter season; with a plethora of personal bests and outstanding performances. Firstly, the Mick Woods-coached athlete registered a 5km road best of 16:17 at the BUPA Great Capital Run in London’s Regent’s Park last month; followed by a 10km road best of 33:07 in the BUPA Great Yorkshire Run in Sheffield (finishing a fine fourth in classy senior international field) and a eye-catching international 2-mile win at the Great North City Games in Newcastle.

Evidently on a phenomenal early-season roll, the bubbly and mature young runner then clocked the fastest legs of the day at the Southern and National senior English Road Relay Championships, respectively; before sensibly withdrawing from last weekend’s BUPA Great South Run with illness.

Now, with a clean bill of health and bundles more enthusiasm and determination beyond her tender years, the ‘On Camp with Kelly’ (Dame Kelly Holmes) star, is hoping to make yet another impact on the national scene; with a storming leg in the under20 women’s race around Mansfield’s Berry Hill park.

The European junior 5,000m and cross-country silver-medallist will be tackling the third and final stage of the 3x2.5km relay race; in which the Aldershot girls start as red-hot favourites amongst the 55-starting teams.

In the 2008 edition, Purdue clocked the second-fastest split of the day (8:05) behind team-mate Steph Twell (the Olympic and World 1500m representative and three-times European junior cross-country Champion) and now with Twell in the senior ranks, the World cross-country Championships 14th-placer will be set for individual glory.

Using this weekend’s race as a stepping stone to hopefully going one better this year, by capturing gold at the continental Championships this December in Dublin, Purdue explained; “Every race I do is important to my season, other-wise I would not do it. But I think the Mansfield relays are important, as it shows the rest of the country the standard of our club and it’s an enjoyable race to compete in. It’s a good race to use a speed-work for the Euro’s, as that’ll be a fast race!”

Purdue continues; “I think that they’re a good race for younger athletes to compete in as they are fun and there is not much pressure. I think for older athletes it is a good opportunity to enjoy racing as well as maintaining the competitive atmosphere.”

On her favourite memory of the event, she divulges; “Every year I have raced at the relays except for one and each time the race is different - I love the course and the fact that it is shorter than most cross-country races, as it feels like a track race, except with up hills and it’s always really muddy!”

With the aim for one of Britain’s arguably most promising distance-runners “to make sure I race well and to win for my team!” there will certainly be no ‘tricks’ up her sleeve to succeed; just good, honest hard work and willpower.

English XC Relays preview - 2009


Saucony English Cross-Country Relays, Berry Hill Park, Mansfield, Sat 31st October, 2009.

The official date of Halloween 2009 additionally marks a special occasion for the glorious Berry Hill Park in Mansfield as this year, the Nottinghamshire venue will be celebrating not so much ‘trick’ but more ‘treat’, as they reach their 21-year milestone of hosting the annual Saucony English Cross-Country Relays; writes Nicola Bamford.

The landmark achievement also pleasantly coincides with record entries for all bar one of the ten age-group events; with a magnificent 1197 teams registered to compete on the day. The senior men’s event will see 214 teams battle for supremacy over the notoriously flat, soft and dry course; with an equally-impressive 138 squads entered in the women’s equivalent.

The under17 men’s event has gathered 130 team entries; supported by 126 registered in both the girls and boys under15 categories. The under13 girls and boys events have attracted 123 and 110 teams, respectively and the junior (under20) men’s race will have 91. The under17 and junior women events have the lowest amount of teams entered for the day’s timetable this year; however, both categories have seen a marked increase in participation since last years’ event; with 84 and 55 teams entered, respectively.

The popularity of arguably England’s finest cross-country team competition is evidently flourishing year on year; aided by the participation of the nation’s best mud-larks. The senior men’s and women’s course records, for instance, are held by none other than current and former internationals, Chris Thompson (AFD, 14:18) and Hayley Yelling (Bedford, 9:35).

The very first English cross-country relay Championship was held in 1985 in Crystal Palace Park, and then again in 1987; leading to a Mansfield take-over in 1989 for the past 21-years.
Over the years, the event has grown in stature thanks to the dedication of all the officials, sponsors and those who have provided the facilities and services for the event. The inaugural addition, back in 1985, featured just three team championships, in which just 41 teams; comprising only 149 runners finished. In contrast, two decades on, the 10 race categories in 2008 witnessed 721 squads complete the event; with 2,316 athletes finishing – showing just how much the event has grown and matured - Happy 21st Mansfield!

Mr ‘Athlete Development’

Buzzing away in the South of England at a pace not to dissimilar to that of his athletes in training; a man’s phone rings incessantly: this is a man very much in demand and with such coaching credentials, experience and popularity, this is the man with the Midas touch on middle and long-distance running – this is Mr ‘Athlete Development’.

A UK Athletics Performance Coach and Coach at the prestigious St Mary’s University in London, Mick Woods does not look as if he’s about to retire from the job he also calls his hobby; despite turning sixty earlier this spring. He has a reputation to uphold as the coach who can develop almost any athlete into a national or international-standard athlete, and a job to see through with three of his original female recruits in particular, who are quickly turning into stars on the world running scene.

Steered by his deputy head-teacher to the Aldershot, Farnham and District club in the English county of Hampshire as a fifteen year-old in 1964, Woods had average success as an under17 and under20 athlete and jokes with regards to his protégé - who we shall discuss later; “Steph’s (Twell) 1500m PB is faster than mine!”

With his strength evidently lying with his endurance base, Woods experienced success over the marathon distance; “I was 21st in the very first London marathon in 2:20:12 in 1983 and also achieved 2:20-2:21 seven times.” He admits, however, that sub-2:20 was his aim and this he believes, was not achieved due to being self-coached; “I don’t advocate being self-coached. I’ve always said if I was coached by someone like me now, I would have gone a lot faster.”

Nevertheless, not one for resting on his laurels, Woods soon found himself in a coaching capacity at the AFD club and was soon to realise that desire for attaining great athletic success; albeit with others doing the running for him. Initially setting the training sessions for his group of training companions, it was in 1986 – at the age of thirty-seven – that Woods began coaching around 10 boys and men – still as an active athlete but by his own admission; “my training dropped away a little from then.”

In 1993, he started working with females – the very first female recruit in fact, is still training with him today – and Woods embarked on a school recruitment drive in the local area to bolster the groups’ numbers. Combining his job with British Telecom in the years between 1982 and 2004, Woods gradually progressed his youngsters and occasionally raced himself; running 31:42 for 10km on the track and road at aged forty.

On the men’s side, he achieved success working with current GB representatives; Chris Thompson (current best - 3:41.04/28:45) and Colin McCourt (1:46.73/3:38.51) in their developing years, and today coaches 19 year-old 3:42.29 runner; Simon Horsfield.

In particular though, it has remained that with young women, Woods has achieved the most success; producing a seemingly-never-ending production-line of utterly dominant female athletes. He places his reason for success as being down to providing his athletes enough attention and the factor of success breeding success; “the girls have always had role models at the club so each group of youngsters have always aimed to better the previous years’ girls group and pushed themselves,” he explains. “Females are good at responding and are very focused – they develop faster. Steph (Twell), for example, made the decision at aged14 that she could be really good so she became more switched on and got British records at aged 16/17. Emma (Pallant) and Charlie (Purdue) too have developed with measured progression. These three athletes are very good role models; it’s good I can coach them as mature seniors. The endurance aspect of my training is essential each winter so in the summer we can work towards the higher-intensity stuff for the track.”

Twell; the 19 year-old World junior 1500m Champion, three-time European cross-country Champion and Olympic 1500m semi-finalist; together with Pallant; the 20 year-old World junior 1500m bronze-medallist and Purdue; the 18 year-old European junior cross-country runner-up have been coached by Woods since the ages of ten, nine and eleven, respectively. Twell – who currently sits in eighth in the senior World 1500m rankings, with a superb time of 4:03.62 and studies Strength and Conditioning Science at St Mary’s, “showed her determination at a very young age,” Woods recalls, “she was placed on our ‘B’ team for the national cross-country relays and went onto record the fastest stage of the day.”

From falling into a coaching role to totally monopolising the British endurance scene and developing athletes into world-class runners, Woods explains how he learnt his trade; “My coaching was progressive over the years; an evolvement in my training. At first, I wasn’t sure how far to push the women so we did light sessions. I gained experience from every athlete I produced, and I pushed the boys harder as I was more experienced from my own experiences as an athlete and so I adapted this training, although it was a disadvantage as I’m a male.”

Admitting it was “difficult to get ball rolling” as it “took longer to get athletes into GB teams,” Woods steered his under15 boys to their first national title in 1994 then progress with his female athletes kicked off in the year 2000; “the start of the AFD express,” he recalls.

Woods now coaches twenty athletes at AFD, but can have as many as fifty turn up to train at any of the three club sessions he steers each week; in addition to the work he does at the UK Athletics Performance Centre with world-class development and podium-level athletes at the university.

Naming Peter Coe (double Olympic Champion, Seb Coe’s father) and 1980 800m Olympic Champion; Steve Ovett’s coach; Harry Wilson as coaches he admires Woods explains how a famous quote of Coe’s sticks in his mind; ‘Yes, I’m killing him all the way to the top’ – “A lot of people think the same of me; that I’m trying to kill my athletes with my training but I admired him; I liked the toughness of his training, his attention to detail and how he used science to aid their progression. I’d love to achieve what he did, I believe I can; it’s my ambition to coach and Olympic Champion.”

Woods may yet achieve his ultimate coaching dream, for he has single-mindedly masterminded a potential 2012 domination, courtesy of Twell, Pallant and Purdue, and they certainly seem on-course to achieve on the world’s biggest sporting stage in three years’ time.

Stating Twell and Pallant’s gold and bronze medal-winning display in the 2007 World junior 1500m Championship as a major coaching highlight, Woods describes it as “an amazing performance from both of them and it was great how we all prepared so professionally.” Other performances he is particularly proud of include Twell’s Olympic appearance, her three European junior cross-country victories, with Pallant and Purdue also inside the top five, and getting five of his athletes to the 2008 World cross was also “hugely important for me. I’m always proud of all my athletes who achieve their goals,” explained the England Athletics 2008 Coach of the Year award winner.

Already experiencing significant success in the middle of the summer season, Woods; who has considerable experience at coaching GB junior and under23 teams at international championships; pin-points the performance goals of his three middle-distance protégés; “For Steph, the aim is to get to the World 1500m final in Berlin this August and hopefully to improve on 4:03. Emma will aim to medal in the European under23 1500m final and is close to the Berlin ‘B’ 1500m time and Charlie is aiming for a European under20 5,000m medal.”

Married for thirty-seven years with two adult children, Woods evidently has many more men and women who look to him as a father-figure. “I just enjoy coaching at performance level and I want to see my job through to 2012 and beyond because I believe my girls can make an impact. I want to remain professionally involved in the sport, as the last five years I’ve spent working for UK Athletics at St Mary’s University has helped me develop as a coach massively; through the knowledge I’ve built over the years with other sport professionals, I’ve gained so much and this has benefitted my athletes – no doubt, my job has made me a better coach; St Mary’s is such a great environment to work in; I would never have dreamed I’d be doing my hobby as my job.”

And what a great job Woods is doing.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Chichester Priory 10km incorporating UK and AAA Championships – October 7th, Chichester, West Sussex – an insider’s review (written for Running Fitness 10/07).

The sixteenth edition of this popular and well-supported 10km road race delivered the goods once again with an exhilarating days’ action, in which Kate Reed and Williard Chinhanhu came out on top from over 1000 participants, writes Nicola Bamford.

Covering the primarily flat 6.25mile-course, Reed (Bristol and West AC) put in a dominant display with a seemingly effortless performance, to romp home to victory over defending champion, Hayley Yelling, in a scintillating 32:07 – a personal best by 15 seconds, and eclipsing Yelling’s 2006 course record by 14-seconds to boot.

The 25 year-old European and World cross-country representative did however, have an adventurous journey to her first national 10km road title, after surviving three scares en route; “When the gun went, a massive barrier went up in the air and hit Louise Damen, who was beside me. Luckily it missed me but poor Louise never got started. After 1km, a man went down in front of me and I had to hurdle him. And at about 4km, I smacked my hip on the wing mirror of a car,” recalled the gutsy runner after collecting her £250 course-record winnings and heading off to the post-event buffet, “I think it was fright that drove me to the PB: I just wanted to get to the finish! I’m glad I’m in one piece.”

The outstanding time in this mixed race with spot-prizes, reinforces Reed’s position in fourth in the Power of 10 national rankings behind Mara Yamauchi (Harrow AC), Jo Pavey (Exeter Harriers) and Paula Radcliffe (Bedford and County AC).

Additional testament to Reed’s performance was the emphatic winning margin she held over 2002 Commonwealth Games 10,000m sixth-placer, Yelling; an astonishing 1minute 12 seconds. With 33:19, Yelling (Winsor, Slough, Eton and Hounslow) claimed the UK silver medal only one week after finishing fifth in the BUPA Great North half-marathon , in an exciting battle in the final, downhill mile with Vicky Gill of Chorley (33:21).

The South of England honours went to Yelling, Gill and fourth-placer, Birhan Dagne (Belgrave Harriers), with UK team gold going to Winchester and District AC – lead by a breakthrough 33:59 run from Rachael Townend.

Surrey took Inter-County glory, ahead of Hampshire and Lancashire, with the Southern team, consisting of Yelling, Natalie Harvey and Jo Wilkinson, collecting inter-area gold; in a race in which your writer was 16th in 35:47 and all competitors were notified of their 5km split times in the chip-timed race.

The men’s title went to Williard Chinhanhu of Poole Runners in a fine 29:18; three seconds adrift of the Power of 10 National standard. Jermaine Mays (Kent AC) clinched the runner-up spot, with a solid 29:26 run, ahead of Crawley AC’s Gavin Thompson in 29:29 in third. All three took the South of England honours.

Newham and Essex Beagles captured UK team gold, thanks to a fourth-place finish from Moumin Geele and strong runs by Steve Hepples and Dave Mitchinson; whereas Kent took the Inter-County match and the South of England squad claimed inter-area success. Belgrave Harriers snatched the South of England win.

English Cross-Country Association Saucony Relay Championships, Mansfield, Nottinghamshire – November 3rd – an insider’s review. (written for Running Fitness 11/07).

The annual National cross-country relay Championships returned to Mansfield’s Berry Hill Park for an eighteenth year last month and proved a resounding success, as the temperature and senior contests rose to a sizzling level, writes Nicola Bamford.

Athletes sharpening-up for the forthcoming European Trials – and with a view to the European Championships themselves – relished on the lawn-like terrain around the Nottinghamshire course, where the routes were slightly longer than previous years after taking in a downhill finish to accommodate the chip-timing area.

The women’s event, in its eighteenth edition, went to 2006 7th-placers, Havering Mayersbrook AC. The youthful outlet, with an average age of just 22, were the most consistent of the 83 complete teams in terms of stage times over the 3x3km contest, and two of the successful squad registered in the top six marks of the day to boot.

Champions for the past three years, Charnwood AC, had to relinquish their crown by a resounding 40-second margin, but still fought bravely to secure the silver medals ahead of Aldershot Farnham and District AC.

20 year-old Harriet Scott ignited the Havering challenge strongly by completing the first stage in third place (9:51), closely behind Wakefield AC’s Charlene Thomas (9:46) and Claire Entwistle (9:50) of Wigan Phoenix. 2006 World cross-country representative and Durham University student, Felicity Milton (9:52) made her championship return after an injury-plagued summer in fourth on the same stage in which your writer finished 14th, to finish as 27th-fastest (10:18) of the day.

World indoor 1500m representative, Katrina Wootton (9:47) moved 2006 bronze-medallists, Bedford and County AC up five positions on the second stage whilst registering the fastest mark of leg two by twelve seconds. Charnwood moved into the medal frame courtesy of a nine-place improvement from Jane Potter (9:59) and Alexa Joel (10:01) took Havering into second.

Faye Fullerton clocked the fastest lap on the final stage (9:44) by seven seconds to bring the Havering tri home as champions and Aldershot’s new signing, Vicky Gill fought hard by passing four runners to narrow the gap to Charnwood’s Jane Potter in a thrilling finish for the minor medals.

Senior women –
1st (29:38.30) Havering Mayersbrook AC – (Harriet Scott 9:51 (3rd), Alexa Joel (2nd) 10:01, Faye Fullerton (1st) 9:44.

2nd (30:18.60) – Charnwood AC – (Hannah Whitmore (12th) 10:15, Juliet Potter (3rd) 9:59, Jane Potter (2nd) 10:04.

3rd (30:24) Aldershot Farnham and District AC) – (Emily Adams (10th) 10:10, Susie Bush (7th) 10:22, Vicky Gill (3rd) 9:51.

Fastest stages – 1 Fullerton 9:44.55, 2 Charlene Thomas (Wakefield AC) 9:46.80, 3 Katrina Wootton (Bedford County AC) 9:47.55, 4 Claire Entwistle (Wigan Phoenix) 9:50.00, 5 Gill 9:51.60, 6 Scott 9:51.80, 7 Felicity Milton (Durham University AC) 9:52.05, 8 Gemma Miles (Kendal AC) 9:57.20, 9 Jane Potter 9:59.55, 10 Victoria Wilkinson (Bingley Harriers AC) 9:59.90.

The 22nd edition of the men’s 4x5km relay Championship resulted in National six-stage road relay Champions, Belgrave Harriers registering the fifth-fastest mark of all-time to add to their 2003 gold and 2004 silver medals.

National six-stage silver-medallists, Leeds City AC battled to the second-spot once again, with Bedford and County AC fending off a spirited challenge from Midland six-stage road Champions, Notts AC by a mere two seconds for the bronze. 2006 Champions, Newham and Essex Beagles were a disappointing sixth.

World 1500m finalist, Andy Baddeley of Harrow AC (14:49) held on for stage one victory ahead of Gateshead’s Chris Parr (14:51) and Stockport’s European under23 cross-country representative, Steve Vernon (14:52).

Stage two belonged to Blackheath and Bromley’s Mike Skinner (14:33.85), who made up an astounding forty-seven places and clocked the fastest loop of the leg by nine seconds. Leigh Harriers AC’S Pete Riley (14:42) made nineteen places; whilst Harrow AC’s Adam Bowden supported Baddeley’s run with a 14:51 run. Wells City Harriers’ Ben Tickner (14:57) passed thirteen runners, Bedford entered the hunt through Matt Janes (14:58.25); bringing them into second-spot and Ryan McLeod (14:52) moved Loughborough University up nineteen places.
Shaftesbury Barnett Harriers’ M35 man, Dominic Bannister made sixteen places on the penultimate stage with a 14:54 clocking, as Billy Farquaharson (14:59) took Notts AC into the lead for the first time.

Reigning National and Inter-County cross-country Champion, Frank Tickner (Wells City Harriers) sped to a scintillating 14:25, in registering the fastest split of the final stage by fourteen seconds and comfortably attaining the fastest mark of the day. Dave Webb’s useful 14:39 run moved Leeds from fourth to second and Phil Wick’s 14:45 leg was enough to bolster the Belgrave quartet from second to first.

Senior men – 1st (1:00.04) – Belgrave Harriers – (Steve Sharp (6th) 15:05.03, Mark Pollard (4th) 15:08.45, Mark Miles (2nd) 15:04.55, Phil Wicks (1st) 14:45.80.

2nd (1:00.22) – Leeds City AC – (Martin Roscoe (17th) 15:25.10, Adam Grice (10th) 15:15.85, James Walsh (4th) 15:01.85, Dave Webb (2nd) 14:39.65.

3rd (1:00.29) - (Bedford and County AC) – (Dan Dalmedo (8th) 15:10.95, Matt Janes (2nd) 14:58.25, Darren Deed (3rd) 15:11.00, Neilson Hall (3rd) 15:09.75.

Fastest legs – 1 F Tickner 14:25.80 (Wells City Harriers), 2 M Skinner 14:33.85 (Blackheath and Bromley Harriers AC), 3 Dave Webb 14:39.65 (Leeds City AC), 4 P Riley (Leigh Harriers AC) 14:42.15, 5 P Wicks (Belgrave Harriers) 14:45.80, 6 M Geele (Newham and Essex Beagles) 14:48.10, 7 A Baddelely (Harrow AC) 14:49.00, 8 A Bowden (Harrow AC) 14:51.65, 9 Steve Vernon (Stockport Harriers) 14:52.20, 10 R McLeod (Loughborough Uni) 14:52.25

Great Edinburgh Cross-Country International – Holyrood Park, Edinburgh – Sat 12th Jan, 2008. (written for Running Fitness 01/08).

Edinburgh’s dress-rehearsal for the forthcoming IAAF World Cross-Country Championships in March passed with flying colours, as the Scottish capital provided an exhilarating day’s action, supported by superb organisation and entertainment, and witnessed a plethora of first-class performances, writes Nicola Bamford.

The historic Holyrood Park was the setting for race five of the eleven-event 2007/8 IAAF permit series; poised with the traditional amusement of bagpipes and customary wintery conditions. The firm underfoot conditions and testing inclines around the illustrious extinct volcano, ‘Arthur’s Seat’ on ‘Haggis Knowe’ hill, failed to prevent the World’s elite from exerting their usual aptitude and top of the class was Ethiopia’s multiple World and Olympic Champion, Kenenisa Bekele and fellow countrywoman, Geleta Burka. The star-attraction, with an inspired breakthrough performance far beyond her tender 18 years, was Britain’s Stephanie Twell.

Looking comfortable throughout the men’s 9.3km route, the 25 year-old Bekele, waited patiently until the final incline before unleashing a devastating kick on the sharp descent, to leave arch-nemesis, Zersenay Tadesse in his wake – somewhat of a redemption since tasting defeat from the 2007 World road running Champion at the World cross in Mombasa last year.
The ten-times global cross-country victor thus captured his third consecutive win for the Nova International-organised event; indicating his strong capability to take the World crown once more when he returns to Edinburgh for the March 30th event. “It was a fantastic race, a very fast race,” the triple World 10km Champion explained, “I am very happy to win for a third time and now I am confident for the World cross-country.”

The 200-plus enthusiastic Eritrean supporters could not lift their hero to glory, although the Olympic 10,000m bronze-medallist did threaten the lead on several occasions during the gripping contest; eventually coming home a mere second adrift of his Ethiopian rival and fractionally ahead of the World 5,000m runner-up, Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya. “It was a good race, especially as there were so many Eritreans here supporting me,” revealed the reigning World cross winner.

Such was the fanatical hype surrounding him, the ever-smiling 25 year-old had to be sped away from the finish-line to the safety of the elite athletes’ tent; “It makes me very proud and happy,” said the athlete who had previously admitted that his fans cause him to feel more pressure than his illustrious competitors.

Kipchoge meanwhile; the 23 year-old Olympic 5,000m third-placer, voiced his disappointment; “I felt ok – I’m happy with the result but I wanted to win.” Kipchoge headed a group of five after the mid-point followed by Joseph Ebuya, Bekele, Tadese and American Dathan Ritzenhein.
At the bell, the four lead African runners took contention, with Ritzenhein a couple of metres adrift. Tadese was the first to make a move; powering away to the front in a downhill section, however Bekele ominously ghosted alongside, before quickly opening up a five-metre lead, as he floated down the hill and into the finish.

In spite of finishing the men’s 9.3km route just over a minute behind the king of the mud larks, Britain’s Frank Tickner showed no fear around his African rivals to throw himself into the mix of such rare, high-calibre company; crossing the finish-line in ninth-place overall and becoming the top European.

The 24 year-old Wells City Harrier thus celebrated the finest achievement of his young career to date, following several national domestic victories; “I’m absolutely ecstatic! I executed the race well and had a great finish,” the reigning English cross-country Champion, “Top 10 – I’m very happy! I had a good passage of training over Christmas but now I’m back at work (in foreign logistics), so it’s a different story. I’ll do the World cross trials and see how I go,”

2012 hopeful, Steph Twell flew through her master class of senior international competition, to scorch to an outstanding fourth-place overall; destroying her older, continental counterparts. The 18 year-old Aldershot, Farnham and District runner; with two European junior cross-country titles to her name, made light work of the toughest race of her young life and even momentarily took the lead against an established world-class field. “I really enjoyed the race! I thought it was superb. I got a lot of inspiration from the race, as I had visions of racing Championships on the track when I’m older,” exclaimed the delighted youngster.

The confident, modest teen challenged 2006 World short-course cross-country Champion, Geleta Burka for lead at the mid-way stage and ran strongly to the line; missing the podium by inches, behind World 5000m silver-medallist, Vivian Cheruiyot of Kenya. “It was good to get the experience and learn from their tactics,” explained the European junior 1500m runner-up, “It gave me a huge boost being so close to them!”

Burka and the World junior cross-country Champion, Linet Masai – 18 - comfortably strode away in the final two laps, before the 21 year-old Ethiopian charged ahead to cruise to a 15-second victory – her third in as many consecutive attempts.

Now, evidently over an Achilies injury, Burka appears a serious contender for World cross-country glory this year. “The cold is different,” she said of the icy weather faced in Edinburgh. “The injury is okay, and it is good to be a three-time winner.”

The ultra-consistent Aniko Kalovics of Hungary showed her arduous marathon training was no barrier to the speed required in the 6.7km test, as she strode home in 20:38 to place fifth overall. “It was a very undulating course. The field was very strong and I really wanted to be first European; I really fought for it,” recalled the 2003 European cross-country bronze-medallist from this Edinburgh course.

Liz and Hayley Yelling (GBR); the established marathon-runner and 2004 European cross-country Champion, respectively, took the third and fourth European spots, ahead of France’s Saadia Bourgalih Haddio. “I’m quite pleased – I felt good,” revealed Liz; Running Fitness’ very own Women’s Editor, “I’ll have a break now before the marathon training.” Hayley – an impressive winner of last weekend’s IAAF permit event in Belfast admitted “I didn’t feel my best but it was nice to run the World cross course.”

The men’s 4.4km was an entirely British affair, with World Championship 1500m finalist, Andy Baddeley taking the honours, ahead of European under23 cross-country third-placer, Andy Vernon and track specialist, Tom Lancashire.

Baddeley secured victory with a powerful late burst, after stealing the march in the final furlong. “The crowd was really good and I thought I ran well,” the Harrow AC British metric mile Champion recalled, “The last hill was really treacherous and they almost got away from me but I managed to finish strong. Next, I’ll do an indoor mile in New York, followed by a 3km in Boston before eight-weeks’ training in South Africa.” English under 23 5000m Champion, Vernon started conservatively and reacted diligently as the pace increased; “I got in a good position then just went for it! I knew Andy had a good kick so I sprinted as fast as I could. I hoped for top-5, so second’s a surprise!”

Gateshead international cross-country races incorporating the UK Cross Challenge – November 10th – an insider’s review (written for Running Fitness 10/07).

After a ten-year absence, the North-East city of Gateshead made a triumphant return to the cross-country calendar, when it successfully hosted the inaugural 2007/8 UK Cross Challenge fixture on the infamous and testing Riverside bowl course, writes Nicola Bamford.

Although the event failed to live up to the ‘international’ tag; with few overseas athletes in attendance, it did impress with its superb organisation, course and spectator marking and thrilling domestic competition.

Poised to be later televised on Sky Sports television and with its lung-bursting hills and undulating terrain, Gateshead provided a first-rate endeavour to be considered for future Cross Challenge fixture selection.

Success was not just resigned to the organisers, though; with former European cross-country Champion, Hayley Yelling leading the charge of victorious athletes.

The diminutive, yet gutsy Windsor, Slough, Eton and Hounslow runner’s change of heart on the eve of the race as to whether or not to compete due to a knee niggle was justified, following her fearless, front-running display.

Over the five laps, totalling 7.3km, Yelling destroyed a top domestic field with consummate ease, by taking the race by the scruff of the neck and extending her lead over the sharp hills, in a race in which your writer finished 15th.

A star-studded pack including British 3000m steeplechase record-holder, Hatti Dean (Hallamshire Harriers), Helen Clitheroe (Preston Harriers), Louise Damen (Winchester and District) and reigning European junior cross-country Champion, Steph Twell (Aldershot, Farnham and District) assembled in Yelling’s wake, some 15 metres adrift.

That lead was stretched to 50 metres at the completion of the second lap, with only Twell, Dean and Damen capable of withstanding the pace.

Disaster for the leader was averted on the second steep incline on lap three, as Yelling lost a shoe; “I glanced back quickly as I hit the top of the hill, and realised I had time to put the shoe back on,'' revealed Yelling.

With Yelling storming ahead to victory, the fight for the runner-up spot proved a titanic battle between Dean and Twell in a cat and mouse affair on the final circuit, before the Hampshire teen confirmed her participation in the senior rather than junior event as a wise choice, by pulling away in the final kilometre to show resilience and strength beyond her eighteen years.

Yelling was delighted with her victory saying; "I'm glad that I did decide to start, that was a great beginning to my season.''

Twell, who planned to run the junior race at the European trials a fortnight later despite being pre selected for the continental championships, said: "I'm delighted to finish second to Hayley. The over-distance race is just what I wanted before the Trials and the European Championships. The course was a proper cross-country course with the hills in it and I really enjoyed myself.'

1 Yelling 25:43, 2 Twell 26:08, 3 Dean 26:13, 4 Milton 26:19, 5 Clitheroe 26:28, 6 Damen 26:34

The senior men's race turned into a gripping contest between Burundi-born, Jean Ndayisenga of Birchfield Harriers and Cannock and Staff’s Tom Humphries.

Following his Birmingham cross-country victory a fortnight earlier, 26 year-old Ndayisenga sat on Humphries' shoulder throughout the contest before easing to the front midway through the last of the six laps in the 8.7km clash.

The victor recalled his achievement through an interpreter; "I'm always confident running behind someone especially if the pace is good. It was a good race but the hills were extremely tough.''

The pair had opened up a sizeable gap by the midway stage to pull clear of the challenge of English National Cross-Country champion Frank Tickner (Wells City), Portugal's Vitor Reis, Mike Skinner (Blackheath & Bromley), Lee Merrien (Channel Isalnds) and Billy Farquarson (Notts AC).

Fast-finishing Tickner took third place, just two seconds behind 23 year-old Humphries.

Humphries delievered his post-race analysis; "I tried a few surges to get away but every time I did he just followed me. I knew he was in good form but couldn't do anything about it when he went ahead. It was a really strong field so it gives me confidence going into Liverpool. My target is to make the team for the Europeans and hopefully the Worlds next year.''

1 Nadayisenga 27:32, 2 Humphries 27:37, 3 Tickner 27:39, 4 Skinner 27:47, 5 Farquaharson 28:11

The men's international one mile race earned the biggest cheer of the day with local favourite Chris Parr (Gateshead) tasting a one second victory over Gavin Massingham (Sunderland).
Parr, who has completed his studies at Loughborough, celebrated his 23rd birthday early by building a lead which Massingham just failed to haul in at the line.Welsh trio Chris Moss, James Thie and Stephen Davies (all representing Cardiff) finished third, fourth and fifth, respectively.

BUPA Great Yorkshire Run – an insider’s review (written for Running Fitness 09/07).

Thousands of runners from all over the UK and of all abilities took part in the inaugural BUPA Great Yorkshire Run, as the event made its debut in the heart of Sheffield’s vibrant city centre on Sunday, 9th September, writes Nicola Bamford.

The undulating 10km city centre route proved a fabulous addition to the Great Run calendar of events and was an overwhelming success.

John Kibowen and Benita Johnson confirmed their status as pre-race favourites by claiming the titles at the elite end of the field, as the world-class stars took their respective races by the scruff of the neck from the outset.

Two-times World cross-country champion, Kibowen of Kenya outclassed the opposition with a lead of 150 metres, clocking an impressive 28:40 over the 6.25 mile route. The runner-up spot went to Australian marathon runner, Andrew Letherby with 29:04, followed by a 29:19 performance from former Ethiopian refugee Tomas Abyu of Salford. Two-time Olympic marathon fourth-placer, Jon Brown, who, despite being based in Canada, belongs to City of Sheffield AC, claimed an encouraging fifth-place position on his return from injury. The run marked a significant improvement for Brown in his fight to regain full fitness; as he ran a useful 29:28 in only his second serious race since a breathing problem caused his withdrawal from the Flora London Marathon in April.

Brown, 36, is hoping to recover full fitness before next year's Olympic Games, after which he may retire. "I think my performance today indicates my breathing problems are finally over and at least much better," said Brown, who was forced to miss the recent World Championship marathon because of the illness. "Today although I'm still not fully 100 per cent, went a lot better and I was much more competitive." Brown is hoping to achieve the Beijing qualifying standard by the end of the year, and is targeting the Fukuoka marathon in early December to tackle the mark. His next outing will be at the BUPA Great North Run in September, in a step up to the half marathon distance.

Australia’s Johnson scored a runaway win to lift the women's title by over a minute, with an impressive time of 32min 55sec on a course with some testing inclines. Johnson, preparing for next month's Chicago marathon, finished comfortably ahead of Brits, Birhane Dagne and Vicky Gill who recorded marks of 34:02 and 34:06, respectively.

"That's a good comeback after the World Championships where I fell in the 10th lap," said Johnson who was involved in a pile up during the 10,000m event in Osaka, subsequently finishing a disappointing 17th."It's good for my confidence to come back and run such a good time after what happened. The win is pointing me in the right direction and shows I'm well prepared, before I go to the USA. I felt so strong, particularly in the last 5km, although I was running on my own,” claimed Johnson on a race in which your writer finished 11th on her 10km debut.

Following the organised BUPA crowd warm-up, the mass race lived up to expectations; with a 4,500-strong field descending upon the city on a mild, sunny Sunday morning. The atmosphere was buoyed by substantial crowds and energy-lifting music along the course, which included a television screen situated at the half-way mark and a thoughtful run-through shower to cool the competitors ahead of the uphill finish into the picturesque Peace Gardens, in the welcoming city centre ambience. The BUPA Great Yorkshire Run Business Challenge and Tesco Junior and mini Great Yorkshire Runs attracted hundreds of businesses and children alike, as the competitors on the day received a Great Run t-shirt, finishers medal and goody bag.

The Steel city strider (written for Athletics Weekly 09/07).

World 1500m semi-finalist, Abby Westley describes her emotions to NICOLA BAMFORD following an unprecedented summer that has made her hungry for more.

The year 2007 will be highlighted as a breakthrough season in the diary of metric-mile wiz, Abby Westley, for the Loughborough Students AC runner has this summer propelled herself from top under-23 to joining the world’s elite in the senior ranks; irrespective of her tender 20 years of age.

The Sheffield-born middle-distance star’s meteoric rise, although unexpected so soon, is no surprise to keen followers of the sport, as the George Gandy-coached ace had made steady progression over the years before establishing herself as a key protagonist for senior Great British selection. Her achievements of late are a million miles away from her days as a 12 year-old novice at Hallamshire Harriers, yet, keen to praise those who contributed to her successful teenage years and rise to World-level, Westley credits her former coaches; “I’d like to thank Keith Whitelam and Ian Wainwright for the work, friendship and support they provided for me while I was at Hallamshire Harriers – I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for them.”
Initially a swimmer for the Dronfield Dolphins, the secret recipe behind Westley’s eye-catching achievements has appeared to coincide with her collaboration with the Director of Athletics at Loughborough; George Gandy. Frequently referred to as the ‘guru of endurance running’, Gandy’s work, which incidentally has landed him a place in the SportsCoach UK Hall of Fame, with the psychology undergraduate has bore fruition this summer, with further success indisputably heading their way.

The 2006 European junior cross-country 10th-placer began her 2007 track campaign with an emphatic 2:04.14 800m victory at the British Universities Championships, improving her best by over a second and thus showing glimmers of her forthcoming prowess over the her specialist, longer discipline. The 2005 World junior cross-country and European under20 800m-representative then dramatically stamped her authority on the UK middle-distance scene by scorching to a sensational 4:08.74 1500m triumph at the Loughborough International; obliterating her personal best by nine seconds in the process and catapulting herself to second on the outdoor British season’s list.

Consolidating her sudden superlative form and refusing to rest on her laurels, the World-Class Development funded –athlete subsequently impressed on her Great Britain senior debut by claiming 1500m victory in the European Cup First League. Rising spectacularly to the occasion at the televised event, Westley unleashed her trademark scintillating finishing-kick to triumph in a tactical 4:21.12 at the Finnish venue. "I really enjoyed competing in my first senior international. It was a huge honour to be selected and I was pleased to win maximum points for the team," recalls Westley.

A comfortable win at the Luzern European Permit meet in Switzerland soon afterwards, guaranteed Westley went into the European under23 Championships brimming with the confidence and expertise required of an international gold-medal contender.

Indeed, the birthday wish came true for likeable Yorkshire lass, who lives with fellow athletes, Chris Warburton and Tom Settle, as she celebrated her 20th birthday in style, by claiming the European under23 1500m title in Debrecen, Hungary. Despite entering the championships as only third-quickest on the age-group 2007 rankings, Westley used her international racing experience and trademark finishing kick to devastating effect, to triumph in 4:15.48. In a tactical affair, Westley waited patiently on the shoulder of the long-time leader before unleashing a scintillating final 100m to seal the best birthday present she could have wished for; the gold medal. “I’d waited all week for my final - it was quite slow with a bit of pushing, so I thought there’d be more people with me at the end. I was so pleased to win; it felt like it was meant to be, as it was my birthday. The GB team sang ‘happy birthday’ to me when I was on the podium!”

The European title was the icing on the cake for the baking enthusiast until World Championship selection beckoned. “I was delighted, especially as I was ill and didn’t run in the World Trials. I didn’t know if I’d blown my chances and what to expect from the selectors,” Westley explained. “I couldn’t believe it! I didn’t expect it, as I only got the development qualifying standard. I rushed to tell my mum, dad and boyfriend, and George was really pleased, especially as he coaches Lisa (Dobriskey – my training partner), too,” she recalled of her excitement, despite having to turn down the chance to compete in the World University Games in Bangkok.
Continuing her outstanding vein of form, Westley gave herself a superb farewell present ahead of flying out to the GB acclimatisation camp with two commanding displays at Stretford, Manchester in the BMC 800m open and BMC Grand Prix 1500m, respectively; clocking 2:03.24 to rank 12th on the British senior lists and another confidence-boosting 4:08 performance.

Aware that her winning streak was undoubtedly nearing an end, the baby of the GB squad in Osaka, Japan drew reminiscence of a young Steve Cram, making his global debut at such young age. World-ranked 51st heading into the cauldron of top senior competition, Westley passed her baptism of fire with flying colours; to establish herself amongst the World’s elite and cope admirably by making it to the semi-final stage. “I wasn’t nervous - I got used to running with a camera in my face back at the European Cup. I was just so excited – I’ve worked so hard so it’s nice to get a reward; it’s a big boost,” asserts the mature runner.

Ranked 11th out of the 13 athletes in her heat, Westley brushed aside the 35-degree heat and eighty-percent humidity to produce a fine 4:09.67 sixth-place finish in her heat to grab the last automatic qualifying spot. Then, starting her semi-final as the seventh fastest of the twenty-eight qualifiers, the young British Lioness bravely fought her way through a extraordinarily tactical race to finish a credible eighth in 4:16.21. "I hadn’t raced with a pace that slow all season," revealed Westley, evidently frustrated. "It took me by surprise because I thought the first lap alone would be ten seconds quicker. It changed the race and unfortunately I wasn't in the right place at the right time and they got a jump on me that I couldn't close. There was quite a bit of bumping and pushing but these are world-class athletes and they are not going to give you an inch. It was all good experience for next time."

Her Osaka experience proved a steep learning curve for the talented teen, yet Westley refuses point-blank to say a permanent sayonara to World-level competition; "I’d love to go to Beijing but I’m not going to take anything for granted. I can't imagine what it will feel like to miss the Olympics or another major championship now. I'd hate to watch it on TV and not be a part of it but I need to keep working hard and improving,” divulges the determined Westley. “It was great in Osaka. When I got to the stadium I almost had tears in my eyes. I was warming-up with people like Sanya Richards and Jeremy Wariner; people I've watched on TV and admired for years. It still feels a bit unreal that I'm actually part of it.”

Westley must now become accustomed to the senior elite environment however, as she looks set to be a part of it for many years to come. "This season has been such a learning curve. I'm really proud of what I've achieved but I'm not going to rest. This is where I want to be and it's given me such a taste for it. I'm loving what I'm doing and I'm showing that I can beat some of the best girls in the world. I'm still young but I don't see why I can't be one of the big names in a few years."

Further ensuring the bubbly battler is firmly situated on the athletics radar and can look back on her remarkable 2007 campaign with pride, is her nomination for the inaugural Waterford Crystal European Athletics Rising Star award; the result of which will be announced in October.

Reflecting on her remarkable summer, Westley, who cites fellow Sheffield-born athlete, Becky Lyne as her inspiration and role model, states; “My season’s been quite surprising, as I was injured between January and March. But everything started to click, and then I got stronger and made a big step up.” Paying tribute to the man instrumental in achieving her extraordinary form and to those who have supported her; “I must say a big thank-you to George; he’s brought me on a lot and came out to Macou and Osaka to support me; and also to my parents and boyfriend, Tom.” Should her athletic achievements stall, however, Westley harbours hopes of specialising in clinical psychology.Evidently level-headed, Westley plans to resume her studies in the autumn on a part-time basis, in order to capitalise on her outstanding progression. Only a second off the Olympic qualifying standard, one could forgive the 1500m starlet for being brash but no; “There’s no reason I should change just because I’ve gotten faster!” the Steel city strider exclaims.

Becky returns to Steel City for international comeback (written for Athletics Weekly 07/07).

European 800m bronze-medallist Becky Lyne is set to make her competitive return to the athletics arena this Sunday at Sheffield’s Don Valley stadium, in the Norwich Union British Grand Prix, writes Nicola Bamford.

The televised international will represent a baptism of fire for the 25-year-old, as the Hallamshire Harrier has had to endure a lengthy injury lay-off since her last race six-months’ ago. The Sheffield meeting will provide a homecoming for the British middle-distance star, and a stepping stone to a potential return to international class.

On the forthcoming event, at which she will contest the 800m, the former Tapton school pupil commented; “I’m sure I’ll be really nervous when it comes to it, as I’ve done very little 800m-pace work. I’m anxious but as it’s at my home track, there’ll be lots of support and a good atmosphere.” On her aims for her season debut, the Stockport-based runner is reluctant to predict an immediate return to world-class performances; “Last season I would have hoped to win, and although I’m a very competitive person, I’ve got no target time in mind and won’t let myself feel pressured.”

It is unsurprising that Lyne is hesitant to forecast a performance akin to her 2006 form. The 2001 European Junior and 2003 European under23 800m champion has had to contend with a difficult and frustrating pre-season’s preparation, which would test the patience and determination of any athlete. After picking up a calf strain whilst training in Australia, Lyne then experienced Achilles troubles, followed by a reoccurrence of the calf injury. A three-month-long spell of rehabilitation proceeded, consisting of swimming and cross-training, which Lyne described as “soul destroying – I didn’t run between mid-February and mid-May; it was so frustrating.”

Fortunately for the Dave Turnbull-coached athlete her agent, sponsor and coach respectively, stayed loyal to her during these testing times. “Dave’s been fantastic; he’s got a family and a job yet he measured trails for me to run on and cycled alongside me in training – he nursed me back well,” Lyne praised. “I’ve been with Nike (her sponsor) since 2003 and luckily they’ve kept faith in me by renewing my contract and Nic (Bideau, her agent)’s been great, too.” Doing presentations and motivational speaking in schools, as well as practising her Spanish helped keep Lyne sane during those challenging months.

The support of her team has undoubtedly ensured Lyne remains in the sport and maintaining her place on the World-Class Performance Lottery Programme has enabled the Loughborough and Indianapolis University graduate to access free medical back-up and train full-time without financial worries; a contribution which was pivotal to her athletic return. “My physio; Alison Rose, was fantastic, absolutely phenomenal,” Lyne recalls

Never one to concede defeat and surrender her fitness, Lyne is eager to retain her status as Britain’s number one over the two-lap distance. Her current personal best from her breakthrough 2006 season of 1:58.20 puts her third on the UK all-time 800m lists, though a plethora of British women are fast making headway on this mark.

The next stop after Don Valley will be Manchester’s Sport City for the World Trials; it is here that Lyne hopes to book herself a ticket to join the Great Britain squad at this summer’s World Championships in Osaka, Japan. Of the July 27-29th event Lyne explains, “I can’t hide away but I haven’t decided if I’ll do the 800m or 1500m yet. My 2006 season should hopefully put me in a good position with the selectors possibly giving me more time to get the qualifying time. The event’s progressed with lots of great girls now so I won’t spit my dummy out if I don’t get to go.”
Regardless of whether Lyne attains the qualifying time of two-minutes and finishes highly at the trials, she intends to compete shortly afterwards at the Norwich Union London Grand Prix at Crystal Palace and possibly tackle the European circuit to continue her quest in returning to world-class status. As the athletics community eagerly awaits her return since overcoming such adversity, Lyne will most certainly hope to capitalise on her talent and experience and show everyone she’s back with a vengeance.

Catch yourself a sponsorship deal (written for Athletics Weekly 06/07).

The arduous, daunting and even embarrassing task of searching for sponsorship is now a thing of the past thanks to a website set up by sports promotions and consultancy agency, Catch Sport, Writes Nicola Bamford.

Promising athletes of all ages and from all sports can now complete specifically designed forms which highlight their sporting profiles and sponsorship criteria, in order to attract the funding of potential organisations in their area.

Managing Director, Karim Bashir; a former international fencer reveals, “By focussing on athlete funding, my goal is to establish, build and maintain the UK’s largest online database of elite athlete profiles. My aim is remove the financial burden that hampers the UK’s most promising young athletes as well as those who already have an established reputation in their sport.”

The focus of the initiative is to provide an online communication tool to bring sports people and their funders closer together, by enabling athletes to post their online profiles and funding needs for free. In turn, sponsors will be able to complete the sponsorship criteria pages and use Catch Sport services to identify the athletes who fit their requirements.

Sponsors will be able to subscribe to use Catch Sport services for a fixed annual contract fee of £495.00. Each organisation will be able to add their contact details, complete the sponsorship criteria pages and search for athletes on an anonymous basis, who match their requests.
In order to encourage long term and multi-athlete funding, discounts will be offered for longer term contracts and when more than one athlete is sponsored by a single organisation. Catch Sport will match individuals or groups of athletes corresponding to each organisation's needs, with tailored and innovative packages put together for each interested party.

“I know from my own experiences as an international fencer that most sports funding is provided on an ad-hoc basis. Whilst this funding is valuable and useful it is not conducive to producing successful international athletes for years to come,” explains Bashir.

Taking a long term view to athlete funding Catch Sport will target:-
- promising junior athletes for performance related long-term sponsorship contracts;
- established senior athletes for “major championship” related medium-term sponsorship contracts;
- UK selected (or equivalent) junior and senior athletes for “major event” related short-term sponsorship contracts and
- junior and senior athlete funding grants (one-off payments).

Once registered, an athlete’s information will remain confidential and secure, courtesy of the ‘blind search’ facility on the website. So if a sponsor was looking for “athletics” and/or “London” and/or “under 23”, an athlete matching this criterion will be automatically matched to them.

Urging athletes to take this valuable opportunity and to regularly update their profile, Bashir adds, “Sport in the UK needs long term investment so that we are able to compete for medals at major events in the future.”To register your profile or search for an athlete, log onto www.catchsport.com for further information and see if you can catch yourself a sponsorship deal.

Anorexia nightmare for Frost twins (written for Athletics Weekly 09/07).

Former Great Britain steeple-chasing duo, Bryony and Kathryn Frost have revealed the heartbreaking reason behind their sabbatical from the sport at the tender age of 21 – their agonising battle with anorexia; writes Nicola Bamford.

The disappearance of the two promising athletes was sudden and somewhat of a mystery until now. But, at aged 23, the Isle of Wight pair are finally ready to reveal the angst behind the decline in their athletic performances and expose the devastating health effects they faced, in an attempt to prevent other athletes from sliding down the same slippery path. The Frosts hope their revelation will act as a warning.

Tipped as potential 2012 hopefuls and dubbed the ‘Kournikova’s of running’-thanks to their striking blonde looks, the Hampshire girls explained how chasing their Olympic dream lead to a intense battle with the eating disorder; which subsequently saw their diets and track times spiral out of control; “We were determined to be the thinnest and the fastest on the track and soon became obsessed,” explained Bryony. “We went through phases when we’d eat just one thing at a time. We were caught up in our own little world.”

Studying at Loughborough University, away from the watchful eye of their parents, enabled the twins to continue the strict eating habits they had previously devised. The plan initially bore fruit, with Kathryn experiencing significant improvements in her favoured discipline; the steeplechase, and, inspired by her sister’s success, Bryony soon followed suit.

However, despite achieving considerable immediate athletic success, including appearances at the 2003 European Junior Championships, where the former Adidas-sponsored pair reached the semi-final stage in the 2000m steeplechase, their weight soon plummeted to just over 6st for Bryony and an alarming 5st for Kathryn.

Unsurprisingly, their performances then began to suffer as a consequence but the twins remained oblivious to the danger they were putting themselves under. “We were really determined and we shared the same ambition to run in the Olympics. We wanted to do the best and we’d do anything to get there. I thought if I were thinner, I’d run quicker, so I decided to diet,” Kathryn divulged.

The ultimate wake-up call for the 2002 u20 5000m gold and silver-medallists however, was when a bone density test discovered that Kathryn, at just age 21, had developed osteoporosis in her spine and Bryony had a stress fracture in her back. Evidently not eating enough and training too hard during their teenage years, their GP subsequently diagnosed the girls with anorexia; and their worst fears were confirmed-they’d have to give up running or face being paralysed.

“The doctor told us that if we carried on we’d end up in wheelchairs. We were devastated,” recalled Kathryn. “We must thank Bill Foster and a team of people at Loughborough University, who helped us get better.” Having not competed since 2004 in order to improve their bone density and regain their health, the ‘Frosties’ harbour hopes of returning to the sport which gave them so much joy and success; “We’ll never go back to being completely normal, but we have now accepted there’s more to life than running. It’s not worth risking our health for,” revealed Bryony.

Upbeat Ellis undeterred by knee injury (written for Athletics Weekly 07/08).

European 800m bronze-medallist Sam Ellis is refusing to lose his faith and sense of humour, despite having to undergo diagnostic surgery on his left knee this week, writes Nicola Bamford.

The 25 year-old Sheffield City and Barnsley AC member, who has not raced since last September when on team GB duty at the Norwich Union international, was experiencing his best training to date up until Christmas when, shortly after the New Year, he developed a sharp pain in his knee during a routine training run. The Alan Hasty-coached runner has since endured a catalogue of unsuccessful attempts to cure the ailment, but insists on staying in a light-hearted mood. “I’m sure when the knee’s clear, I’ll be back. I was depressed at first especially because of my last summer and was looking forward to this season, but I’ve now lightened up and realised I’m not going to be racing this summer.”

Further emphasising Ellis’ buoyant attitude to adversity, Hasty proudly states, “It’s great how positive he’s been; it’s just so frustrating for him after such a successful breakthrough summer.”
Ellis’ positive frame of mind does not reflect the outlook expected of an athlete who has had to go through many ineffective ultrasounds, MRI-scans, cyst-draining, epidurals and numerous cortisone injections. “I’m probably half-full of cortisone now!” joked Ellis on his extensive list of treatment , “I’ve been through various doctors and physio’s and still no-one really knows the cause of the injury – that’s why I’m having surgery. It’s been a stop-start past 5 months, every time the cortisone numbed the pain and I’d get excited and try to run, then pain would come back again.”

Fortunately, as part of the World Class Performance Programme, Ellis at least doesn’t have to take the financial strain of his treatment, but adds, “It’s annoying to get injured now after trying to get the funding after all these years, but I’m really grateful for the help.” Ellis plans to utilise the medical support from the Sheffield and Loughborough English Institutes of Sport, for regular treatment and advice in his battle to regain his health.

Playing down the seriousness of his injury woes, Ellis continued, “I’m trying to do whatever I can without crippling myself. At its best, I can do 60m sprints, but at its worst, I need help pulling my trousers on! I normally like walking in the Lake District but I can’t walk anymore than a mile and a half right now; I need to hop back.”

The 2004 AAA 800m champion, whose personal best of 1:45.67 last summer catapulted him to number 44(?) in the World Rankings, has however, refused to concede defeat by maintaining his sprinting, gym and weights routines. Despite the injury preventing Ellis from doing any cycling work and also inhibiting his running to a high degree; the Sheffield Hallam University architecture graduate explains, “I’ve kept sane by doing lots of part-time jobs – mostly from a seated position of course! – book illustrations and teaching in the local junior school, but I’ve also done a couple of outward-bound cycle trips with the kids.”

Eagle-eyed athletics fans may have even spotted the likeable Yorkshire lad turning his hand to javelin competitions of late; for such is his desire to keep involved in the sport and be part of his team’s exploits, Ellis has earned valuable points at the last two British Athletics League matches, launching the spear into the respectable mid-50m range. Could we see a change in event for the two-lap international? “No,” Ellis laughed, “I’ve always thrown the javelin for various clubs; I don’t train for it, I just pick it up and throw it!

On his charge’s future, Hasty asserts, “the target’s still the Olympics next year; we’re hoping to start normal winter training in September.”Evidently a team player and survivor, the optimistic Ellis has continued to go to almost every session during his lengthy injury lay-off in order to stick to routine and maintain his enthusiasm for the sport; a decision which is proving pivotal in his mental state during these testing times. Regardless of his recent misfortune, Ellis is unmistakably a tough nut to crack and injury-permitting, will most certainly make his mark once again if his mentality is anything to go by.

Edwards makes tentative return to training (written for Athletics Weekly 09/07).

World junior cross-country and 5,000m track representative, Sian Edwards is cautiously returning to light training, following a four-month-long spell on the sidelines, Writes Nicola Bamford.

The 18 year-old Kettering Town Harrier suffered a stress-fracture of the right foot shortly after the World Cross-Country Championships in Mombasa, Kenya last March and has subsequently, had to endure a lengthy rest period. To further exasperate matters, the injury remained undiagnosed until May, leaving Edwards on crutches for six agonising weeks. An extensive rehabilitation programme of aqua jogging and cycling thus commenced, in an attempt to obtain a swift recovery for the 2006 World Junior Cross-Country 10th-placer.

The Neville Marshall-coached runner recalled her recent testing times; “It was really frustrating not being able to run, as this year is my last junior year, so I hope things get better for the cross-country season.”

Fortunately for the World-Class Potential Programme member, frequent physiotherapy sessions with UKA physiotherapists, Mark Buckingham and Alison Rose, in Northampton and Loughborough respectively, have gradually helped Edwards to walk pain-free again; although, as Marshall stressed, “The physio’s wouldn’t let her do any weight training or go on the cross-trainer, to take the pressure off the foot, so she’s lost a lot of speed and strength.” On her steady recovery process, the former English U20 5,000m champion explained, “Training in the pool wasn’t too bad, as I had company from other injured runners. I’ve been following a plan from Alison – I’m not sure how long it’ll take to get back running properly, but I hope to be doing 20minutes jogging every other day next week.” Edwards was understandably full of praise for the help she has received; “Mark and Alison, as well as my doctor, Nick Pierce were really helpful in getting me back to training and Neville’s kept me motivated and involved, as I’ve been keeping in touch with my training group by watching them train.”

The once-tipped future Olympic star has even received an occasional email from World marathon record-holder, Paula Radcliffe, who, like the entire athletics community, is keen to see Edwards make a speedy recovery. Aware of how her rivals are progressing, Radcliffe’s ‘Athlete of the Month’ for March 2005, says without a hint of jealousy, “I’m really pleased the girls are doing well, it’s great to see.”

Marshall too, appears to have faith in his protégé; “I can’t put a timescale on how long it’ll take her to get back but Sian’s a very tough lady – very determined and intelligent. She’s managed to stay fairly cheerful and, although obviously very disappointed, at least she was able to focus on her studies.” The enforced break from training may in fact turn out to be a blessing in disguise for the 2006 European junior cross-country 6th-placer, as she was able to fully focus on her A-Level exams. Edwards is hoping to attend Loughborough University to study psychology and link-up with distance coach John Nuttall and rival, Emily Pidgeon in the autumn.

Refusing to look on the bleak side, Edwards and her team remain adamant that they have encouragement to look to the future. The 2006 British Athletics Writers Junior Female Athlete of the Year is no longer experiencing pain whilst walking and jogging and appears refreshingly upbeat. Focusing on making a competitive return in time for the forthcoming cross-country season and not taking her health for granted, a realistic and cautious Edwards insists “I’ll have to see how things are going; how quickly I can get back to full fitness. I hope to do the Euro cross-country Trials in November and I’m fairly confident of getting back to my best.” Reluctant to predict an instant return to form, the 2006 Daily Telegraph and Norwich Union School Sport Matters Awards Female Pupil of the Year, believes “The Euro Cross is ideally the target, but at the moment, it’s just nice to get back to training.”After overcoming such adversity, the runner who was unbeaten on home soil in the 2006 winter season will surely be content and relieved to first make the start-line this autumn, as she begins her patient journey back to the sport which has brought her so much success.