WRITTEN FOR THE ENGLISH CROSS-COUNTRY ASSOCIATION
In the form of his life following years of injury nightmares, Stockport Harrier Steve Vernon has been the comeback story of the season and is speeding into this month’s National cross-country Championships as the red-hot favourite, writes Nicola Bamford.
The 29-year-old 2003 and 2005 UK 4km cross-country Champion has been looking forward to the February 27th event in Leeds’ Roundhay Park all winter, since a remarkable comeback season has witnessed a major resurgence in form for the Dave Turnbull-coached runner.
And now, the North of England British Orienteering Federation participation manager has set his compass to gold in his attempt to improve on his 2009 runner-up position.
Vernon explains: “I am in good shape but this has come from a lot of steady running and tempo based sessions - I have only been on the track once. I have learnt that high volume aerobic training gets you 90% of the way there so lung busting sessions aren't always necessary.
Defending my Northern title was great!” On whether he is surprised about his recent form, the Nike-sponsored runner continued: “Not really, as I had done six-weeks of 90 miles-plus leading up until the Edinburgh 4km. I don't tend to race if I'm not ready to compete at the front end of domestic races so I knew I would be competitive going into the race.
“I was surprised however, at how easy the pace felt after doing very few race-pace sessions. Before that I had built up my mileage over 6 weeks following a 5 week complete break from running after my stomach operation in August. I have a very supportive girlfriend in Elle Baker who has had injury nightmares since 2007. She is extremely tough though and will no doubt bounce back during 2010.”
Despite spending the autumn on the sidelines with a rare calf and stomach ailment – the latter of which resulted in surgery – Vernon has found the same form that saw him place thirteenth in the World Mountain Trophy back in 2008 to bounce back onto the domestic scene.
Training with former GB marathon man, Pete Riley – who has also blasted back onto the radar this year – and internationals, Stuart Stokes and Dave Norman around his Cheshire base and the Peak District, Vernon surprised British athletics in his comeback race last month after a five-month competitive absence.
Placing second behind promising miler, Ricky Stevenson in the BUPA Great Edinburgh International televised 4km cross-country race, Vernon beat the likes of world-class runners, Mo Farah and Andy Baddeley to ignite his unprecedented success streak.
Full of confidence and turning down an England international call-up in Antrim to continue his progression on home-turf, Vernon then took a gun-to-tape convincing victory by a very comfortable margin in the North of England cross-country Championships to rack up his third victory in the event, following wins in 2006 and 2009.
Ahead of the Leeds event, Vernon said: “I have had two bronze and one silver in the last four-years so a gold would be nice. It will be very tough, though and all depends on my performance on the day.”
Stating his season goals as being victorious in the aforementioned event in addition to the Inter-Counties and World cross-country Championship selection race, Vernon also harbours an ambition to finally tackle the tarmac in search for representation in the 2012 Olympic marathon – depending on whether he can cure a vascular problem in his calf which stops him running on road: “that could change my future dramatically,” Vernon admits.
But of course, the National comes first and following such a superb start to his 2010 campaign, few would bet against this outgoing, determined athlete achieving all of his targets this year.