Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Gunning for Glory


Training up to 90-miles per week, steeplechase specialist Luke Gunn combines life as an athlete with a full-time job in a hectic journey en route to 2012, writes Nicola Bamford.

The 25-year-old from Birmingham usually runs at 7am each morning ahead of yoga or circuit sessions in the gym, an eight-hour working day and training again in the evening in his quest for the international breakthrough he craves.

Working as the Sports Scholarships Manager and West Midlands Regional Hub Manager for the Talented Athlete Support Scheme at the University of Birmingham, Gunn enjoyed a mainly positive 2010 campaign, with a 3:42.1 1500m lifetime best, fourth and eighth-place finishes in two IAAF Diamond League appearances and also claimed the UK 3,000m steeplechase title.

However, the 8:28.48 ‘chaser was left disappointed when failing to make the Team GB squad for the European championships this summer in Barcelona and placing only seventh in the Commonwealth Games in Delhi back in October:

“My season was on the whole satisfactory but in raw honesty, I was hoping for more and feel that with a little more fortune in my early races - I could have seriously revised my best for the ‘chase and gained selection for the European’s,” Gunn explained.

“I was fortunate enough to attend my second Commonwealth Games, which I ran aggressively taking on the Kenyans, to my detriment in the end but most importantly, it was the first time I was unafraid to run with them - and I will take that sentiment with me through this winter and beyond to raise my game once more.”


Coached by Bud Baldaro, Gunn is not supported by UK Athletics despite claiming two national titles in recent years but since graduating after six years at Florida State University, he was happy to take up his current role.

“I am not in a position to gain funding or sponsorship, which would enable me to train full time, so I sought out a system that made me self sufficient whilst giving me enough freedom to train,” the Derby AC runner revealed.

“I am still learning to balance the work-load to its maximal efficiency, but I would say on the whole I have found a sustainable balance of the training-work load. There are of course times when one of the two must take priority over the other, but as long as these are planned for well in advance - neither need suffer.”

Proving athletes do not necessarily need to train full-time and enjoy bouts of warm-weather and high-altitude to experience success, Gunn even braves the cross-country season during the winter in order to gain more strength for his track outings in the summer.

“With the focus on laying down a strong endurance base for the summer track season,
I aim to compete in the National and Inter-County cross-country events this winter (in February and March),” explained Gunn, who placed an encouraging tenth and eighth, respectively in his over-distance efforts earlier this year.


Sixth in both the 2005 and 2007 European under23 championships, Gunn always knew that his forte lay within the steeplechase event but it has been a frustrating discipline to be part of at times.

“The standard now in Britain is largely poor, but I cannot say I am surprised,” the British number one revealed.

“UK Athletics made some grave errors on selection in the past that have put us in the situation we are in today. In 2008 we had at least four guys that looked as if we could take the event forward again, into the sub 8.20's.

But the strict, confusing and demoralising standards for the Olympic Games (in 2008) meant that Andrew Lemoncello moved to the marathon, Adam Bowden switched to triathlon and Stuart Stokes walked away from the sport entirely until a brief return this year.”

With the World championships (in Daegu, South Korea) and the Olympic Games in London among his biggest goals for the next two seasons, Gunn can recognise the hard work ahead but is confident he can realise his Olympic dream two years from now.

“I want to a GB regular at major championships and work towards becoming the best European at my event,” Gunn explained.

“Europeans have proven in current years that the Africans are not super human. I know a major medal is a long, long shot but to be able to mix it with them and be competitive in a major final would be incredible.

Essentially I want to walk away from the sport knowing I got everything I could out
of my body.”

Untapped Potential


Back in 2008, Jeanette Kwakye burst onto the global sprint scene with a world indoor medal, a national record and an Olympic final place and now, after a two-year injury nightmare, she’s back with 2012 firmly in her sights, writes Nicola Bamford.

The 27-year-old Londoner has used the upcoming Olympic Games in her own backyard as motivation to return to her former self in time to make a comeback of Olympian standards and is already on the right track.

Coached by Mike Afilaka, the British indoor 60m record-holder is injury-free and feeling strong for the first time in years and is relishing the fight for top fitness in the countdown for the big summer after next.

“As most people know, the last two years I have been suffering from various injuries and had to undergo two operations,” Kwakye explained.

“Obviously this has been something I have found very difficult however, I am over all of my injuries and I am currently fighting fit and looking forward to the 2011 season and of course 2012.”

Understandably, her key aim is to stay injury-free yet the Woodford Green with Essex Ladies athlete still harbours hopes of returning to the international podium, believing anything is possible if she stays fit and healthy.

Cruel Fate

The last Olympic year brings great memories for Kwakye for it was the season when she made her international breakthrough and far exceeded her ambitions.

Taking world indoor 60m silver in Valencia with a 7.08 British record, the sprint sensation went onto win the UK outdoor 100m championship and Olympic trial before placing an outstanding sixth in Beijing – becoming the first British woman to reach the final since Kathy Cook in 1984, in a 11.14 lifetime best to go fourth on the
British all-time lists to boot.

With such a promising season under her belt, the future was looking bright yet Kwakye could not capitalise on her splendid form due to injuries, ensuring her great potential remained relatively untapped.

“2008 for me was a massive breakthrough on the international stage with the indoors and the Olympics, so I went into 2009 with every intention to push further and challenge for the top spots, unfortunately due to injuries this was not meant to be,” Kwakye revealed.

“I am very proud of my Olympic final place and my British indoor 60m record.”

Fate was indeed cruel for the Loughborough University Politics and Economics graduate, for she could only race on a handful of occasions over the next two seasons, barely finishing within half a second of her best.

Unfinished Business

For a woman with six national titles as well as fourth place from the 2007 European indoor championships under her belt, training and competing in pain and at a below-par standard were extra tough to contend with but her sponsors Nike remained faithful and the sprinter has not given up her athletic dreams just yet.

“My training in the winter currently consists of lots of base work so plenty of running on grass and tough gym sessions,” Kwakye explained.

“I now take extra special care with my conditioning work so I can avoid injury, too.”

Currently unsure as to whether she will participate in the full indoor season this winter, Kwakye’s focus is firmly on regaining her form in time for the summer where she intends to book her place on Team GB’s squad for the world championships in Daegu, South Korea.

“My goals are to reach as close to my full potential as possible,” Kwakye revealed.

“I want to break records and set the bar for the next generation of sprinters coming through, and I am quite keen to see what opportunities will arise after 2012. I have had a bit of media experience but I would love navigate myself through the business world and apply what I have learnt from elite track to that.”

With that same fighting instinct to succeed, Kwakye evidently still has some unfinished business in the sport and judging by the level of her confidence and ambitions, she may well finally fulfil her potential after all.

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Switch to Success


Having spent three years on the injury sidelines after breaking into international class, hurdler David Hughes is back better than ever before after switching events, writes Nicola Bamford.

The 26-year-old from Trafford AC began life as a mutli-eventer, placing thirteenth on the under20 all-time indoor heptathlon lists in 2003 before finding his athletic niche in sprint hurdling.

Indeed, in his first season tackling the 110m hurdle event, the Sheffield Hallam University graduate captured the European under23 title in Germany in only his
twelfth race over the barriers.

Evidently blessed with raw natural talent, Hughes progressed to make his senior international debut the follow year when, as a 22-year-old, he sped to a scintillating 13.57 clocking to move up to eighth and seventeenth, respectively, on the British all-time under23 and senior rankings.

Major championship selection followed, too, when the Manchester-born athlete earned international call-ups in 2006 for the European championships in Sweden - where he reached the semi-final stage - and the Commonwealth Games in Melbourne to finish a promising seventh.

With a very bright-looking future ahead of him, Hughes’ performances appeared to be on a roll.


Yet just as he was leaning towards world-class level, Hughes endured year after year of injury heartbreak – three consecutive years in fact.

“Those seasons were very poor due a list of injuries,” Hughes explained.

“I ran particularly well in 2005 and 2006 but missed three years of properly competing between 2007 and 2009, as I had two operations and three serious injuries.”

Competing only once in the whole of 2007, a frustrated Hughes managed to win the Loughborough International before missing the entire summer season, which was meant to be his breakthrough year on the global stage.

The following year, he enjoyed a full indoor and outdoor season, placing runner-up in the UK indoor 60m hurdles rankings and championship but missed out on selection for the 2008 Olympics after finishing fourth in the UK outdoor championships and trials for Beijing.

Although disappointed, his health and fitness seemed to be improving but another injury-ravaged winter again put paid to his ambitions, leaving the sprinter’s 2009 campaign a further write-off with only three 400m races over the season.


It seemed as though all hope of returning to his 2006 form was lost after lacking consistency and the winning edge for so long but Hughes was determined to not give up and so he and his brother and coach Steven decided to take a risk which fortunately, paid off with dividends.

Based in Loughborough, the pair made the unusual decision to switch to the 400m hurdles – being four times as long as his normal event, the move was a dangerous choice but Hughes’ improvement in his first season in the discipline has been outstanding and the less-explosive event has kept the problems at bay.

Finally showing glimpses of his potential to reach world-class, Hughes witnessed a staggering improvement of his personal-best time by almost three seconds in the space of ten weeks this summer – catapulting him to third in the UK rankings in his first full season in the event.

Beginning with a first attempt of 52.35 in May, Hughes recorded 51.49 later that very same day to win the British Inter-Counties championships and progressed to a 50.33 clocking a fortnight later in June.

Still learning and with a lot more training required, the refreshed athlete had been given a new lease of life, a second opportunity to reach international representation and every race became an exciting learning curve.

Three weeks down the line came his first sub-50-second mark with 49.87 ahead of claiming the English title. Hughes did however, suffer a minor blip when placing fifth in the UK championships and European trials in July but he subsequently bounced back to register a superb 49.58 new lifetime-best the following month in Switzerland to go to twenty-first on the British all-time list.

While many were surprised at the sudden achievements, Hughes believes more is certain to come and after making his second Commonwealth appearance in his new event in Delhi back in October – where he finished eighth – the future is looking bright once more.

“My season went very well,” Hughes revealed.

“I met all of my targets of sub-50 (which he reached on three occasions), reaching the Commonwealth final and being re-instated on the world-class funding programme with UK Athletics.”


Though he is part of the ‘development’ support list, Hughes still works part-time on his business, body2win in the East Midlands town, where he sells sports performance products and runs a media agency – his most notable client being Commonwealth 200m champion Leon Baptiste.

“I train in the morning then work in the afternoon,” Hughes explains.

“It seems to fit well and I enjoy the business as its shown good growth lately and it keeps me occupied when I’m not training.”

Training at the National Performance Centre, Hughes does speed-work sessions with Baptiste and 2006 World junior 100m champion Harry Aikines-Aryeetey and next summer, has aspirations of making his World championship debut and of breaking the 49-second barrier.

In an event which boasts a strong calibre of athletes, Hughes is aware that he must stay injury-free in order to capitalise on his current form to further progress:

“My event is one of the best events in the UK,” he revealed.

“Dai Greene is one of the world’s best, and we have Rhys, a European and Commonwealth medallist. I think between those two and I, we had three out of the top-eight ranked in Europe this year.”

Preferring to by-pass the indoor season this winter in order to focus on making another impact going into his second summer over the one-lap barriers, Hughes’ biggest goal is to make the 2012 Olympic squad for the London Games.

And after returning stronger than ever against the odds, this promising athlete may well make up for lost time and in a very big way over the next couple of years, too.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Leon’s Baptism of Gold


He was a prolific teenager, clinching sprint medals like there were no tomorrow before a succession of injuries ended the golden dream but now, seven years since his first international crown, Leon Baptiste is back on top of the winners’ podium, writes Nicola Bamford.

The 25-year-old 200m specialist underwent knee surgery in 2005 and has since failed to return to the limelight of which he had become accustomed to following a series of promising years in his youth.

The Enfield and Haringey sprinter – who is also a former semi-professional footballer – has an impressive athletic CV which boasts him as a four-time national 200m champion and two-time 100m winner during his time in the under20 and under23 ranks, as well as highlighting his European junior 100m and 4x100m relay victories in 2003 - his finest year until now.

For during 2010, Baptiste – who is based in Loughborough - finally fulfilled his bright potential with his first senior international championship medal when spectacularly claiming the Commonwealth Games half-lap title in Delhi back in October.


Indeed, his first major crown since his continental victory seven years previous was all the more sweet, for Baptiste managed to bounce back from the disappointment of missing Team GB selection for this summer’s European championships in Barcelona to register his three-fastest times of the year in India.

Speeding to a 20.43 lifetime-best in the semi-final, the London-born runner moved to sixteenth on the British all-time lists and third on the national rankings for the season – an achievement which was rewarded with the promotion to ‘podium-level’ funding by UK Athletics, meaning Baptiste could begin life as a full-time athlete this winter.

“My season finished on a high, setting a new personal best on my way to winning the Commonwealth Games 200m title,” Baptiste explained.

“This did not come without struggle, most noticeably not being selected for a place in the individual 200m at the European Championships in July.”


Returning from adversity to finally achieve the success which was expected of him years before has understandably, come as a huge relief for Baptiste.

It was shortly after making the semi-finals of the 2005 World junior 100m rounds that injury began to rear its ugly head, resulting in four disappointing years by his own standard.

In 2007, Baptiste finished a below-par sixth in the European under23 200m final but then briefly bounced back – after joining Michael Khmel’s training squad in Loughborough’s National Performance Centre - to place third in the 2008 Olympic 200m trial and 2009 World 200m trial, with a UK indoor title in between for good measure.

Frustration still followed, however, as selection for the Beijing Olympics and Berlin World championships eluded him, a set-back which was repeated again this summer – yet Baptiste has managed to turn his disappointment into determination to prevail against the odds and he did so in style this season.

“2008 and 2009 were disappointing as I did not make the Olympic and World Championship teams. Ultimately, this spurred me on to train harder and I believe this helped lead to my recent success,” Baptiste revealed.

Managed by Commonwealth 400m hurdles eighth-placer David Hughes at Body2win in the East-Midlands town, Baptiste began his 2010 campaign with a 6.73 60m indoor personal-best before taking the UK indoor 200m title and winning the Aviva International 200m in Glasgow.


Building on from an impressive indoor phase, Baptiste took to the outdoor track this summer to claim the 100-200m double at the Loughborough International – the former taken in just short of his fastest time since his 10.26 clocking in 2008 – fifth place in the European Team championships in Norway for Great Britain and finished just out of the medals at the UK championships and European trials in July.

Forced to undergo a behind-the-scenes ‘race-off’ for the third and final plane ticket to Spain, Baptiste lost the battle to impress the selectors but gained redemption for his rejection twelve weeks later by surprising his critics to clinch the Commonwealth crown.

“I think the 200m is very strong at the moment and has developed a lot over the last three years,” Baptiste explained.

“All of us are pushing each other onto faster and faster times. Next year I aim to make the World Championship team (in Daegu, South Korea), and if successful my ultimate goal is to make the final.”

Naming his mother as his biggest inspiration, Baptiste has chosen to bypass the 2010/11 indoor season in order to focus on next summer as the champion of the Commonwealth intends to continue to make up for lost time by making a mark on the
global scene.

“Obviously (London) 2012 is in the back of everyone’s mind,” Baptiste revealed.

“However, all along my ambition has been to win Olympic and World Championship medals, regardless of when and where that is.”

Now he is injury-free and has a more recent taste for success, hopefully this sprinter will not have to wait another seven years to receive one.

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Against the Odds


With thousands of hours of hard graft and years of dedication, highs and lows, chasing an Olympic dream is hard enough, but for some athletes like Bruce Raeside, the journey to 2012 Olympian is tougher than most, writes Nicola Bamford.

Neglected by his home nation and with limited funding, the 28-year-old Scot has battled adversity to rise to potential British representative in the London Games two years from now.

Working part-time in an entertainment call-centre to fund his Olympic dream, the Notts AC athlete had an injury-ravaged summer but still managed to register four lifetime bests on the track and the road and no less than eighteen race victories during the 2010 season.

Based in Nottingham since his university days as a Sports Science student, the distance runner strained his adductor muscle whilst training with the UK Athletics camp at high-altitude in Font Romeu, in the Pyrenees back in April, resulting in him temporarily quitting his specialist steeplechase event.

“I couldn’t hurdles the barriers as my groin was really painful,” Raeside explained.

“It took a few months to go away but I was stubborn, running through the summer and it paid off – I’ve had no pain for a while now.

I focused on 5,000m as I couldn’t do any speed-work, as it hurt so much and I could only get to 75% of my maximum speed so I was surprised to win the Home International mile (in Middlesbrough in September) in 3:52.00 and beat three guys who went onto the Commonwealth’s.”


It was the Commonwealth Games in Delhi last month that represented Raeside’s biggest goal of the year and despite showing promising form on the track, he inevitably failed to make the Scottish squad due to the ongoing groin issue.

“Not making Delhi was tough but I knew I couldn’t steeplechase and I only finished sixth in the 5,000m trial after having a weeks’ rest. I was limping and think I could have got a medal and qualified if it wasn’t for that.

I’m looking forward to the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow but I want to prove a point to Scottish Athletics – they don’t communicate with or support me, perhaps it’s because I live in England but I’d love to run for them.

I was obviously disappointed but overall, I turned the negatives into positives and it makes me hungry for the future,” Raeside revealed.

Indeed, refusing to be down-beat and end his season on a low note, Raeside plugged away to overcome his injury nightmare before returning to set the quickest short stage in the national road relays last month and even took his injury-free body on an adventure by winning the Men’s Health Survival of the Fittest Tri-Nation series over the autumn to secure two new sponsors.


Coached by Trevor Muxlow, Raeside states winning the Home Countries cross-country international in March and speeding to 13:53.93 for 5,000m on the track in May as his highlights of his year but now in winter training – averaging 90-miles per week – Raeside hopes to make an even bigger impact on both the domestic and international scene.

Contesting the British trial for the European cross-country championships this weekend, Raeside hopes to be selected for the continental competition in Portugal next month before turning his attentions to the track.

“I won’t do the indoor season but I’ll do the 3,000m at the UK championships and European trials (for Paris in March),” Raeside revealed.

“I want to train purely for the cross season for strength and target the UK cross-country championships and World trial – also in March - so I can have a good summer on the track.”

Evidently eager to return to his track roots over the barriers in fine form next summer, the 2009 UK runner-up in the 3,000m steeplechase will hope for a big revision of his 8:49.60 lifetime best, set in 2009 which ranked him third in the country.

“I’d like to make the World’s (in Daegu, South Korea) next year for the ‘chase and the big focus is making 2012,” Raeside explained.

“I’m determined to make the steeplechase team for 2012 - I just need to get into the low 8:20-range. There aren’t enough high-quality steeplechase races in the UK and it’s hard to get opportunities abroad.

“I’ve definitely got the best lifestyle to give myself the best possible chance to make 2012 – it was only three years ago, I made the commitment to slow down my social life in order to step up so I’ve probably got quite a few years ahead until I peak.”

Revealing that he aspires to go into personal training in London after the Games, Raeside explained:

“Having ‘2012 Olympian’ on my CV would look great for that.”

It certainly would and after surviving many set-backs and prevailing against the odds, this determined runner surely deserves to reach his Olympic dream on a much smoother path to 2012 and beyond.

Thursday, 2 December 2010



REPORT - McCain Liverpool Cross Challenge inc. European cross-country championship trials – Sat 27th November, Sefton Park, Liverpool

Four athletes gained revenge as well as prestigious GB vests on an epic day of thrillingly-close finishes.

In one of the few places in the UK to escape the snow, both senior winners and two medallists from the two under-20 races gained redemption in glorious, nail-biting style in Liverpool’s Sefton Park last Saturday, writes Nicola Bamford.

Senior men’s winner Andy Vernon bounced back from Commonwealth disappointment to clinch the 9.8km event whilst Louise Damen sped to a surprise senior women’s victory following two-years of injury woes.

John McDonnell meanwhile, answered the sceptics to capitalise on his fastest stage at the national cross-country relays a fortnight earlier by taking the under-20 men’s title, as Emelia Gorecka made up for missing the 2009 continental championships for being too young by placing runner-up to ensure not to miss out again.

Although the weather was cool and frosty underfoot, the day’s action was as hot as the destination every athlete wanted to be selected for – Portugal, for the European
cross-country Championships in a fortnights’ time.

Vernon prospers in tight call

Senior/U23 Men

In arguably the tightest race of the day for plane tickets, Aldershot’s Andy Vernon claimed the top spot by a mere second over under-23 contestant James Wilkinson of Leeds City AC.

Battling down the home straight like men possessed, Vernon, Wilkinson and Bedford’s Mark Draper fought to the line with every last gasp of breath to excite the crowds and book their automatic spots to Albufeira.

Evidently refreshed since finishing tenth in the Commonwealth 10,000m last month, the 24-year-old Vernon remained close to the head of the pack throughout the proceedings as the 26-year-old Draper stuck close.

With 800m to go, Vernon – only fifth here in the 2009 edition – strode out to create a one-metre advantage on Wilkinson and Draper before launching for the line to clinch the win in scintillating fashion by a single metre.
Twelfth in Dublin at last year’s European championships, Vernon revealed:

“It went pretty well, I’m pleased that I won. It went to plan and I wanted to make a statement by putting the boot down.

The guys were really strong as well and stuck on me but I tried to make it a true-run race and I wanted to test myself heading into the European’s.

I was used to being ahead of most of the Brits last year so I thought I’d get a bigger gap today so people have really stepped up. I’m really impressed with James - he’s one to look out for. I’d like to get into the top seven or even five in the Euro cross.”

Frustrated to lose the victory by such a close margin, 20-year-old Wilkinson remained gracious in defeat and looks set to improve on his third place from the under-20 event in Dublin, albeit in the under-23 category this time around.

The Birmingham University student explained:

“It went well and I knew no-one was beatable, I thought it (the win) was there but never mind. I surrounded myself with the experienced guys then kicked on from the lead group.”

Two-seconds adrift in third, Draper – who registered the fastest stage in Mansfield –
vastly improved on his sixteenth position from 2009 and showed a no-fear approach:

“I felt really good early on and I’m happy to make the team. I’m not the best at cross-country but I felt really fit and strong and dug in on the last lap. I wanted to give top-three a go. Portugal’s a bonus and I’m not scared of anyone, they’re all human so we’ll see what I can do.”

2009 national cross-country champion Tom Humphries returned to form, finishing fourth just ahead of 2008 European tenth-placer Frank Tickner, who has this season returned from an injury-plagued couple of years and Ryan McLeod, whose recent training stint at the UKA endurance camp in Kenya evidently helped him improve on eighteenth last year.

Runner-up in the under-23 category and eighth overall, New Marske Harrier’s Ricky Stevenson finished clear of third-placed Mitch Goose (City of Norwich) in eleventh overall to book their spots on the national squad for next month.

Fourth overall in 2009, the 22-year-old Stevenson hopes to now better his eighth position from Dublin:

“I took a gamble running off high mileage so I was running tired. I felt a bit sluggish but it’s a matter of toughing it out before easing down for the Euro’s. I’m not pleased but the job’s done and hopefully Portugal will suit me, being a track runner – I hope to challenge for a medal.”

Derek Hawkins, 2009 European silver-medallist Nick Goolab and Ashley Harrell completed the top six in the age group.

Glimpse of the past excites

Senior/U23 Women

Following almost two years of injury hell, 28-year-old Louise Damen returned to top the domestic battle for places at the championship where she finished a fine ninth two years ago.

The Winchester AC runner, who is self-coached concentrated on the roads during the early part of the winter, finishing a surprising seventh in the Bupa Great North Run
and stole the show here in equally surprising fashion.

With Steph Twell missing the trial to concentrate on training after being pre-selected for Portugal and Freya Murray on the sidelines with injury, the women’s 8.1km race was fairly wide open so two former GB pals decided to take advantage of the opportunity.

One place ahead in Brussels two years ago, Hatti Dean - who herself had been under the radar until the trials - relished the chance to battle it out with Damen once again, but the 28-year-old Hallamshire Harrier was no match for her rival on the final circuit, finishing fourteen-seconds adrift.

Charnwood’s Gemma Steel and Aldershot’s Emma Pallant, meanwhile, had the race of their lives to finish third and fifth, respectively – the latter claiming the top under-23 spot in one of the shocks of the day.

Commonwealth 3,000m steeplechase fourth-placer, Helen Clitheroe, 36, was an early leader and returned from Kenya to claim fourth whilst reigning European champion Hayley Yelling-HIgham failed to repeat her 2009 heroics as the 36-year-old conceded to a lack of race experience and a cold of late.

The winner meanwhile, explained:

“It (the win) means so much more as it’s my first cross-country race in 21-months. I split a tendon in my ankle last summer so I’ve been slaving away in the gym like a Trojan and the thought of this really kept me going – it’s given me such a buzz and a high.

I was conscious to sit back early on – I know I’ve got the endurance but my speed’s not as good. I’ve had so many great ding-dong’s with Hatti so it was really great to battle it out with her again. I hadn’t thought of the Euro’s and the course probably won’t be very much to my suiting but I’ll give it my best shot.”

Dean, the 2009 national champion and fourth in the European 3,000m steeplechase back in July, revealed:

“I think my taper and sharpening with a good group in Birmingham really brought me on. I went too early with Helen and Louise but it was good enough.
I got back from Kenya a month ago so I got a good base over there and the last month has gone well. I’m really excited about the European’s – my minimum would be top ten – I’m in as good shape from when I was eighth so I hope for top six.”

Keeping warm in the camper van she travelled in overnight, 25-year-old Steel showed the same vein of form that saw her whisk to a classy 53:44 10-mile best last month, as she collected her debut GB vest in third.

“I didn’t expect to get third – I hoped for top-six but kept fighting. I’m in shock, I stuck behind Hayley then the race panned out well. It’s my first GB vest and I just hope to see how the race (Euro’s) progresses.”

Better known as a track runner and middle-distance specialist, 21-year-old Pallant caused another surprise by sticking with the lead pack for much of the race and coming out on top of the under-23 pile.

She explained: “It went ok – I was pleased but didn’t finish as strong as I’d like but I made the team so that’s good. The last month’s been really encouraging – I’m finally pain and injury free, getting consistent training in so I hope to do really well (in the u23 race in Portugal).”

Behind her, 21-year-old duo Emily Pidgeon, the European 5,000m bronze-medallist and English u23 5,000m runner-up Elspeth Curran took the second and third automatic spots to come home clear of Sarah Waldron, Imogen Ainsworth and Lauren Howarth, respectively.

McDonnell no flash in the pan

U20 men

Proving his fastest leg performance in Liverpool was no one-off, John McDonnell took control of the 6.7km junior men’s event when it mattered most – at the business end.

Based at St Mary’s University, the 19-year-old Luton athlete created fireworks in the finishing straight to once again conquer his rival Jonny Hay of Aldershot by three-seconds.

Derby’s 18-year-old Ben Connor - eighth in the U17 race last year - ran strongly for third after leading for much of the race with his team-mate Tom Bishop, who faded to eighth.

Pulling clear with a mile to go, the 18-year-old Hay was reeled in by McDonnell - who here vastly improved on his fifteenth position from the 2009 event - with 800m remaining to cause another upset.

Shocked and in his usual modest manner, the victor revealed:

“It feels good (to win) – I sat in the group to save energy then the confidence I got from Mansfield made me go for it. It worked out ok and I got my first GB vest – I just want to do the best I can.”

Applauded for his brave front-running tactics, Hay explained:

“I made a mistake in trying to break him too early but I needed to try it out and it backfired, but I got selection and the big one is in two week’s time.
I was ill a couple of weeks ago but training’s got better so I’ll focus hard on the Euro’s now. The medal’s been in my head since the last European’s but I tried to stay calm and relaxed today.”

Ryan Saunders, Robbie Farnham-Rose and Andy Combs completed the top-six.

Business as usual for AFD duo

U20/U17 women

As expected, Charlotte Purdue was a class apart in this 4.4km race, as the 19-year-old Aldershot runner bided her time before unleashing her usual dominating display to cruise to a 100m victory over her younger team-mate Emelia Gorecka, as AFD boasted an impressive four runners in the top six.

Following fourth and sixth-place in the 10,000m and 5,000m at the Commonwealth Games, Purdue sat in the leading pack for the first half of the race before kicking away with relative ease en route to her goal of a third-consecutive under-20 medal at the continental event.

Already with a silver and bronze to her name, Purdue explained:

“I wanted to put in a dominating display before the Euro’s and I’ve been training hard and I haven’t tapered for this race.

I didn’t want to go off too soon so I made my break decisive. I feel refreshed – I only started my track season in May after the knee operation. I’ve got a bronze and a silver medal so we’ll see what’s next.”

Sixteen-year-old Gorecka, meanwhile, made up for last year’s sweet yet sour episode with a commanding performance in her first major event as an under-20.
The prodigious youngster led the field on various occasions before explaining:

“I’m absolutely over the moon, as I know Charlie’s a class act so. I wasn’t sure of
my form as I had a virus and I had some problems but I gave it my best shot.

I put myself on the line and I’m looking forward to my first European’s. I’ll go out there with the same mentality and try to run strongly against those girls.”

Shildon’s 19-year-old European bronze-medallist Kate Avery showed the benefits of her Kenyan adventure by placing third ahead of Lily Partridge, Georgia Peel and Annabelle Gummow.

In the u17 category, Worchester AC’s Alice Wright and Chelmsford’s pre-race favourite Jessica Judd battled right to the wire to clock the same time, with Wright given the verdict.

The 16-year-old, in only her fourth season in the sport, surprised 15-year-old Judd - the quickest in Mansfield - as the Midland cross-country runner-up scored the finest victory of her young career to date.

Another to burst onto the domestic radar was third-placer Beth Swords.

Dixon follows the form-book

U17 Men

Despite placing only twentieth last year, Aldershot’s Harvey Dixon put the memory behind him to comfortably take the 5.5km event.

The 17-year-old English School’s cross-country champion finished fourteen-seconds clear of runner-up Grant Muir of Giffnock North and Windsor’s Bradley Goater in third.

Muir’s improvement was equally-impressive following seventeenth place in 2009, whilst 16-year-old Goater – fourth in the English 1500m championship - was the surprise package.

Younger Age Groups:

Oldham and Royton’s Adam Howard took the 3km under-15 boys’ race from Matt Shirling in a tight two-second finish, with Kyran Roberts in third.

The 2009 under-15 girls’ winner, Abbie Hetherington of Carlisle led until the half-way stage in this 3km event but conceded defeat to Aldershot’s Harriet Preedy in another two-second victory. Bronwen Owen was third a further second back.

In another tight finish, City of Norwich’s Ashley Waterson prospered in the under-13 boys’ event over George Butler and Samuel Elliot in this 3km race.

Again, over 3km, Blackburn’s Elizabeth Greenwood took a five-second under-13 girls’ victory over Elisabeth Hood of Poole AC. Sophie Tarver was third.

Kath’s Comeback


Having been off the athletics radar for the past five years, British sprinter Katherine Endacott is back with a bounce in her step after taking two championship medals in a glorious comeback season, writes Nicola Bamford.

The 30-year-old from Plymouth has endured four career-saving knee operations since 2006 and battled diabetes since aged fourteen, which has played havoc with maintaining an athletic weight.

Combined with these frustrating setbacks, the Devon athlete’s progress stalled with the birth of her daughter Mia in 2007 and rather than enjoying the lifestyle of a full-time athlete, Endacott is not on any funding or sponsorship, resulting in her working part-time as a teaching assistant.

Indeed, the past few years have been tough – she witnessed her father Stephen, who is also her coach, suffer a heart-attack at a track meeting and supported her mother successfully beat Breast cancer – but Endacott is one tough cookie herself.

Also guided by 1992 Olympic 100m champion Linford Christie for monthly sessions in London, Endacott has battled against the odds to transform herself into the championship medallist and London 2012 Olympic prospect she is today.

“After five years out after having my daughter and four knee operations, this year has been amazing,” Endacott explained.

“I tore the cartilage in my knee in 2003 and it got worse again in 2006 and 2007 so

I eventually had surgery to remove it and I have struggled with my weight all my life but I’ve now got it (the diabetes) under control.

(Funding) would have made life easier but I’ll hopefully prove them wrong next year. When someone says I can’t do something, I try so hard to prove them wrong and bounce back stronger with a fighting instinct.”


Endacott certainly is a fighter – and in more ways than one, for she boxes twice a week for conditioning purposes and even aspires to become a competitive boxer after life on the track.

Having only finished fifth in the UK Championship over 100m back in July, Endacott was fortunate to be selected for the event in last month’s Commonwealth Games but needed all her hunger and drive to mentally survive the battle which lay ahead in India.

Speeding to a lifetime best of 11.44, Endacott originally finished fourth but was surprisingly upgraded to the silver medal position over the following days due to two disqualifications.

“I won’t forget Delhi in a hurry,” Endacott revealed.

“It was a bonus just to get there and I tried not to get caught up in all the drama.

I was over the moon with fourth but after the petitions, I was promoted to bronze then when having breakfast the next day, someone said I’d got the silver but I only found out officially after the relay – people at home knew before me!”

Leading the English squad off to a great start on the first leg of the 4x100m final, Endacott received her second medal in Delhi:

“Relay gold was another bonus. All in all, it was a good season for a comeback year.
2010 was my time and in the last few years, I was thinking whether it was time to stop. I went from strength to strength and really enjoyed it, I was quite pleased and I hope next year will be even better.”


The former 60m indoor specialist, whose 7.34 ranked her fifth in Britain this year, will be hoping for a much brighter future now she has turned a corner.

During her career, Endacott has only placed seventh in the 2003 World Student Games, failed to progress beyond the heats of the 2005 European indoor 60m and World outdoor relay and finished second and third in the 2005 and 2010 UK 60m indoor championships.

Occasionally even competing in the long-jump, high-jump, shot put and discus to support her local club, Endacott’s personal 100m best still only ranks her as seventh in the 2010 British rankings but the progress after years of adversity is promising.

“I’ve got big expectations for next year and I’ve stepped up my game going into winter training with dad and Linford,” Endacott explains.

“I hope to get into 11.1/2 shape, I don’t just want to be a one-off. I was so emotional in Delhi after all my troubles and what I’ve been through – I need to experience that again.

I’ll do the indoor season from January. Paris (the European indoors in March) is definitely an aim and I would like to step up again in the final there – I saviour being an unknown quantity.”


Less of an unknown is Christie, who is currently enjoying a popular spell in the Australian jungle on televisions’ “I’m a Celebrity, Get me Out of Here!” reality programme but rather than feeling lost without her mentor for a month, Endacott is in confident mood:

“Linford’s only away for four weeks – he’s doing great and coming across really well. He was my childhood hero and I bit his hand off when he offered to coach me.”

Should Endacott’s form continue to rise then she too could become more well-known to the public and she refuses to rest on her laurels when it comes to gaining more championship selection:

“Paris and Daegu (for the World championships next summer) are my aims but I want to take each year as it comes and if I continue improving like I am, then 2012 will be within my grasp.

2012 would be amazing but I don’t want to set long-term goals as I thought my career was over five years ago.”

How wrong she was.

Cope-ing with the Load


Training for the marathon is a demanding task for any runner and logging the miles whilst looking after three sports-mad daughters is even tougher, but Michelle Ross-Cope manages to take it all in her stride, writes Nicola Bamford.

The 38-year-old shrugs off suggestions that motherhood and belonging to a master’s age-category could thwart her ambitions to excel on the international scene in true gutsy style.

Indeed, such steely determination and focus amidst such a hectic lifestyle has been rewarded with two fine championship performances during her 2010 campaign - with 14th place in the European championship marathon in Barcelona last July (with 2:38.45, leading Team GB to the bronze medals) and 6th in the Commonwealth Games event last month with 2:46.13.

With World-record holder Paula Radcliffe returning to fitness after childbirth and Mara Yamauchi also getting back into shape following injury, the British number-one tag has befallen to Ross-Cope in the past two seasons.

Never one to rest on her laurels, however, the City of Stoke athlete is still left feeling frustrated at the lack of revision to her 2:36.02 lifetime best set on her 26.2-mile debut in London last year.

Still, intermittent bouts of injury and illness combined with the priority of championship racing rather than pacing, provides a clear reason to the time stagnation and surely there is more to come.

Taking up the sport at aged eleven, Ross-Cope competed for England over cross-country, track and road in the 1990’s and had her first child aged-24. Returning to fitness quickly, her mother then passed away, enforcing Ross-Cope to take a break from competition, though she has never missed a day’s training.

Following marriage and her second child, Ross-Cope returned to racing before falling pregnant for the third time and moving on to join her local athletics club and has not looked back since:

“After my youngest, a few of the girls from Stoke were asking me to go up to the club, so I joined in on sessions and found I was quite fit. I was then asked to race and I suppose it started from then. I just thought it was silly to do all the running I was doing and not making any use of it, so it was good when I got back racing and was getting personal bests,” Ross-Cope explained.

Coached by Bud Baldaro, Ross-Cope moved up to distance running in 2007 and come the following season, the Staffordshire athlete had emerged onto the Team GB radar, placing 47th on her British debut in the World half-marathon championships.

Finishing first Briton in the 2009 London marathon in a time which puts her as 15th on the V35 all-time lists, Ross-Cope’s performance was even more admirable – coming only ten days after the passing of her father.

“It was very tough losing my father, I did consider pulling out of London but he would never have wanted that. He was so excited about me doing the marathon,” Ross-Cope revealed.

I was caring for him and checked on him each day, so when I went round to run from his house I found him dead. Again I had to decide whether to bury him before or after the marathon, I decided on before so I buried him the Thursday before London.

I just wish he could have hung on a little longer just to watch me, but looking back now I think he went when he did so I didn't stress too much on the marathon.”

Six months later with the emotional wounds slightly healed, Ross-Cope progressed to 34th in the World half-marathon championships in Birmingham – her occasional base – but suffered through injury to finish 16th in the New York marathon the following month.

“I think my 2009 season was very mixed,” explained Ross-Cope.

“I had a great start and did my debut in the marathon which I was pleased with. However, I got injured and was fighting fitness to make the World half-marathon team. Unfortunately, I didn't make selection as I was still not fully fit in the qualifying race at Bristol but Paula had to pull out with illness, so I was put in the team and luckily I produced a pretty good performance.

At the time I was in training for the New York and unfortunately, that marathon didn't go to plan as I suffered with major cramp from mile 16 so ended up walking and jogging the rest of the way.”

The injury nightmare continued after being forced to withdraw from London this April with a calf-strain, which was all the more annoying for Ross-Cope following
victories in the Wilmslow (inc. English championships) and Bath half-marathons, together with encouraging personal bests of 26:53 for five-miles (to go fifth on the V35 all-time lists) and 72:02 for the half-marathon, which places her as 23rd on the overall all-time lists for women.

Nevertheless, Ross-Cope managed to turn her season around again to storm to two impressive performances when it mattered most over the past few months – in major championships.

“When I look back over the years, who would have thought that I would be in the GB Team for the Europeans and then go onto the Commonwealth Games?” Ross-Cope reflected.

“I know the times weren't the best, however both marathons were in brutal conditions so I think the positions were good.

I think my main regret was not being able to run London but Barcelona went well, as I felt really strong before the end. It’s so hard mentally with the marathon as the last one I did was New York and I suffered badly with cramp, so that was in my head. I started off steady and didn't panic, so the later stages it was good to pass people.

As for Delhi, I was just so pleased to be on that start line as three-weeks before the race, I had to have an MRI scan and then an injection in my calcaneum, as my bursar was very inflamed. This meant no running at all, no cross training for a few days and then I was only allowed to do easy running so I was relieved to be on the line pain free.”

Running up to 110-miles per week, travelling from Stoke to Birmingham as often as possible and looking after her girls who appear to do more exercise than their mother outside of school hours, it is little wonder that Ross-Cope is enjoying some well-earned ‘down time’ at present.

“I think I will just train for the rest of the year with no pressure of racing,” she revealed.

Sponsored by Asics, Cope is currently seeking additional sponsorship or funding after recently leaving her job as an accounts assistant:

“Unfortunately, a few issues came up with me requiring the time away to compete for my country at the Europeans and Commonwealths, I chose my country first,” she

“I have had a pretty tough year - even though I didn't do London I trained all the way up to it. I aim to just to do easy running and then start doing sessions in December.

I aim to do a spring marathon but having discussed this with my coach, we are still not sure which one to do. Hopefully if I produce a good marathon I would love to go to the World Championships (in Daegu, South Korea) in the autumn.

Unfortunately age is not on my side so I plan to run for as long as I can. I would really like to improve my personal bests over a number of distances, and if I continue to improve I'd love to compete in the Worlds and of course, the Olympics. I just need to stay fit and injury free.”

With a new lease of life despite arguably being one of Britain’s busiest runners, Ross-Cope should certainly achieve her goals after proving in impressive style that she can cope with the load of being a marathon mum.