Wednesday, 8 July 2009

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.

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