Monday, 31 January 2011

Crossing the Pond


In an effort to break into world-class, British 800m runner Darren St.Clair spends half of each year in America and recently, this sacrifice is paying dividends, writes Nicola Bamford.

The 25-year-old Enfield and Haringey half-lap runner is currently training in Arizona with the Canadian middle-distance squad in a six-month stint during the winter and spring.

Guided by Wynn Gmitroski on each side of the Pond, St. Clair is relishing being able to spend time with the coach who has been instrumental in his noticeable progression in the past two seasons.

“I usually split my time between living in London - working part time in a running store and training - and then travel to Arizona to train full-time,” St.Clair explained.

“Arizona is perfect for training, where the weather is between 20-30-degrees every day and with Flagstaff - which we use for altitude training - only an hour drive away, it has everything you need to be able to prepare and perform when the track season starts.”

It is this dedication to live abroad and his meticulous preparation which has aided St.Clair’s journey from talented junior to potential Olympian.


The St Mary’s university graduate has plied his trade as an 800m athlete since the age of fourteen - taking English silver medals as a schoolboy and under-23, reaching the heats of the 2003 European under-20 championships in Finland and placing fourth in the 2007 continental under-23 edition in Hungary - but it wasn’t until the summer of 2009 when he began to make his mark.

Sitting second on the British rankings for the year with a best of 1:46.20, St.Clair had improved in his specialist event by over a second and even registered a swift 46.17 to place tenth on the national 400m list.

Capitalising on his fine form, St.Clair went onto enjoy an even better 2010 – again, securing second spot on the British radar to go thirty-third on the all-time lists, courtesy of another lifetime best, a scintillating 1:45.74.

Opening his season in the US, he then finished third in the UK championships to just miss out on selection for the European Championships and won the English crown before clocking his best at the Aviva London IAAF Grand Prix at Crystal Palace in August to book his spot on Team England’s squad for his first major senior championship – the Commonwealth Games.

It was there in Delhi, India that St.Clair finished a respectable sixth in a tactical final (1:52.66) but the Asics-sponsored runner had mixed emotions of his momentous year:

“My 2009-2010 season was one of huge highs as well as some lows,” St.Clair explained.

“Obviously missing out on the European Championships was hugely disappointing for myself but I knew training had gone really well and I was in great shape, so I remained focused on preparation for the Commonwealth Games and running a personal best for the 800m.

My experience at the Commonwealth Games overall was a feeling of huge satisfaction and I felt extremely proud of achieving a life-long dream and representing my country at a major championships. Not only for myself, but it was a truly amazing experience for my friends and family who have supported me throughout my athletics career.”

Although disappointed with a below-par execution in the final due to fatigue and a torn adductor muscle from his warm-up - which also forced him to miss the 4x400m relay - St.Clair remained optimistic for future opportunities:

“I feel all this will make me stronger and make me more determined to come out this year and perform at the 2011 World Championships in South Korea,” St.Clair revealed.


It is the aforementioned event in Daegu this coming August which represents St.Clair’s biggest aim for 2011 – making his competitive debut on the global stage.

Such is his desire to make a bigger impact on the track this summer and further improve his times, St.Clair has chosen to bypass the current indoor season in order to concentrate on his outdoor campaign:

“Each year, I generally do not compete indoors so that I can build up my general endurance base which is vital for my success in the summer,” St.Clair explained.

“I will then usually start my outdoor season in April in America before going up to altitude training in May for three weeks and coming back to race in Europe in June and July.”

On his return to the UK 800m scene, St.Clair will find some tough opposition – all eager to fight for the same championship selection spots in a fast-improving discipline:

“The depth at the top is definitely getting better,” St.Clair explained.

“With athletes such as Michael Rimmer, Andrew Osagie and Gareth Warburton, every time you race against these guys you have to be prepared to bring out your ‘A game’ otherwise you can get beat. The difference is training smart and be willing to go after what you want and believe in yourself.”

With aspirations to one day permanently move to Vancover –such is the strength of his relationships with his Canadian training partners – St.Clair would also like to work as a physiotherapist – all after, of course, taking a crack at 2012.

“(The) 2012 (Olympics) is only a step away and I am certainly working towards being able to perform at my home Olympics in front of a home crowd,” St.Clair revealed.

“My aim is to be one of the best 800m athletes in the world and go to the Olympics and World Championships and pick up medals.”

And what with his current rate of progression, he may just fulfil his wish, thanks to his dedication at home and across the Atlantic.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Many Strings to his Bow


Series: England Athletics national volunteer award-winners

Official of the Year – Peter Lee.

Nicola Bamford profiles the winner of the 2010 Official of the Year award from the England Athletics national volunteer awards ceremony last autumn.

An athletics and rugby competitor in his youth, Lee first became involved with his local club Stevenage and North Herts AC when his daughters joined as members back in the early nineties.

From his days as a helpful parent at club training nights and meetings, Lee has gone onto span an impressive array of officiating duties within the local area - attracting his recent ‘Official of the Year’ award from the governing body of his beloved sport.

“The first thing I knew was when I won the ‘Official of the Year’ award for the East Region of England Athletics,” Lee explained.

“That was a shock to start with, as I don’t think I do anything fantastic. When the invitation came to attend the England Athletics awards ceremony, I was not keen to attend but my wife persuaded me.

When Katherine Merry announced that the award would be presented at the beginning, my first thought that I could cheer the winner and then enjoy the evening! I was totally gobsmacked when I was announced as the winner - the rest of the table cheered and my wife had to nudge me to actually go and receive the award.

I didn’t hear a word of the citation as I walked up to the front. I never really got over the shock that evening but I did manage to enjoy it. What has been humbling is that so many officials think I deserve it!”

Modest like many of his peers across the UK, Lee’s journey to his current level-four status has evolved through several duties which have spanned many voluntary facets in the sport.

The Herts County Officials Secretary since 2000, Lee also acts as the Honorary Officials Secretary for his county’s schools association and is a level-three Electronic Distance Measurement (EDM) course tutor.

“I qualified as an official in 1992 so I’m actually quite new to the game when compared with others,” Lee revealed.

“There are many other officials in the South of England who have helped and guided me. My daughters do not compete now but I got the bug and can’t stop!

I write a short news letter which goes out twice a year and I also seek volunteers to officiate at schools county League matches and district championships.”

Perhaps in his most pioneering role to date, Lee is additionally instrumental in the provision of the much sought-after EMD equipment for fellow officials.

“I started running courses for officials on how to set up and use EDM machines and then UKA started their own training system, so I became one of their Level 3 EDM tutors,” Lee explained.

“I have always tried to help other officials who are perhaps newer than me to gain experience and confidence and to answer any questions they may have.
When Tony Sach and I were on the Field sub-committee of the South of England Officials Association (SEAOA) – (of which Lee is still a member) - we arranged for a number of senior officials to get EDM training but then found that there were few opportunities for them to exercise their knowledge.”

Further explaining how their aim to make the equipment available at sub-national level became a success, Lee continued:

“That was in early 2007, currently we have eighteen machines with spikes, prisms, batteries and chargers and we have just formed a partnership called Precision Athletics with another official, Bob Hammond, because we found the hiring out was getting to be as much as two of us could cope with.

Another way Precision Athletics tries to help is by holding free “EDM Play Days” when officials can spend time setting machines up and using them at their own speed to give them more confidence. The next “Play Day” is 20th February 2011; hot drinks and bacon butties provided!”

Evidently keen to establish breakthroughs in the provision and skill set of UK officiating, Lee also enjoys working at events from school to international level.

“I help a local school who use the Stevenage track and I officiate at district schools championships, county championships, county-level track and field Cups, combined events, regional matches, the southern League, the EYAL, the national junior league and also Inter-county and Inter-College and Varsity, territorial matches, national and international matches.

These can be as a field judge, clerk of the course, technical manager or referee,” revealed the man with many strings to his bow and a diary busier than ever.

Tuesday, 25 January 2011

The Bee’s Knees


Despite an enforced month-long rest through injury last summer, 400m hurdler Meghan Beesley bounced back to reach the Commonwealth Games final, leaving the university student with a taste for more championship selection, writes Nicola Bamford.

It was in Delhi last October when the 21-year-old Birchfield Harrier made her senior international championship debut for Team England over the one-lap barriers to finish a highly-respectable seventh in 58.36.

Evidently fatigued from the previous day’s heat, where she registered a swift 56.95 to qualify, Beesley competed as her nation’s sole representative in the event and went on to clock a relay lifetime best of 52.48 in the 4x400m final, helping England to the silver medals.

Her performances in India were a far cry from her days in rehabilitation two months prior:

“I was happy with running personal bests and with our silver medal in the 4x400m however, I did find my season frustrating because I had two major injuries so I felt that had I not missed so much training, I could have ran faster over the hurdles,” Beesley explained.

“I was pleased with my performance in the heat in Delhi but in the final, I didn’t perform as well as I should have due to lack of stamina after my injuries. However, I can draw a lot from the fact that I was in the final at a major championships so I now know what to expect.”


Indeed, the Loughborough University student – in her third year of four on the Maths with Sports Science course – has shown many glimmers of potential in the past three seasons, experiencing many international meetings to hone her skills as a senior.

Starting her athletic career as a heptathlete, Beesley captured five national medals between 2005 and 2008 and can also boast nine national medals in her specialist event to date.

After placing sixth in the hurdles and second in the relay in the 2007 European juniors, the bubbly blonde went onto achieve her greatest accomplishment yet – bronze in the 2008 World junior championships.

Keen to build on her momentum, Beesley could only reach the semi-final stage of the European under23 championships the following year but aged only nineteen and having recently started university and changed coach, she was still on an upward curve.

“I am most proud of my World junior medal,” Beesley revealed, “Although, when I ran the 400m flat in 52.91 in Los Angeles last March, I was so happy with the time I screamed when I heard it announced. I didn’t expect to run such a big personal best and the race didn’t feel particularly quick.”


Coached by Nick Dakin at her East Midlands base and sponsored by Nike, Beesley enjoyed more pleasing performances other than on her American adventure in 2010.

Firstly, at the turn of the year, she equalled her indoor 60m hurdles best of 8.60 at the Loughborough Open then improved her 400m best by almost one second at the LA meeting.

Then, following victory in the British university championships and second place at the Loughborough International, Beesley took half a second off her lifetime best in her specialist event in France at the end of June with 56.65 before securing silver in the Aviva European trials and UK championships before disaster struck, courtesy of a stress fracture then tearing her quadriceps muscle.

While her biggest rival, Perri Shakes-Drayton – the winner of the British title - went on to capture European bronze in Barcelona last July, Beesley meanwhile, was reduced to the sidelines in a battle to reach fitness in time for Delhi – a battle which she fortunately won.

“My closest rivals are based at either end of the country so I don’t come into contact with them except at major competitions,” Beesley explained.

“400m hurdles is such a strong event currently on both the men’s and women’s side - it’s really good to have people such as Perri, Tasha (Danvers-Smith) and Eilidh (Child) who are winning medals at major champs - it keeps me striving to achieve what they have done.”


After recently returning from holiday in Tenerife, Beesley is back to her studies and training hard for the summer without the distraction of the current indoor season.

“Being at Loughborough is really good as my lectures are only a five-minute walk from training so it’s easy to combine lectures and training,” Beesley revealed.

“I have only been with my current coach - Nick - for two years. (From working with him) I now feel that I have really benefited and my overall fitness has vastly improved.”

With the London 2012 Olympics only eighteen months away, her progression is timely and Beesley would love to be included:

“I hope to be competing at major championships in a competitive way for as many years as I can.

Winning medals is obviously something that I am hoping for in the next few years as I mature within the event and I love travelling, so would also hope to be competing around the world in the IAAF Diamond League events.”

Thursday, 20 January 2011

Jumping Beauty


With a background in modelling, it is little surprise that high-jumper Steph Pywell is leaping to success competing in an event which requires elegance and poise, writes Nicola Bamford.

The 23-year-old Sale Harrier jumped to third on the British rankings this year to place seventeenth on the UK all-time lists, in an impressive comeback season
following a career-threatening injury last winter.

Based at the High Performance centre at Loughborough University and coached by
Graham Ravenscroft and Steve Hughes, Pywell enjoyed a stellar 2010 campaign which began with a third victory at the Loughborough International in May with a lifetime best-equalling 1.90m – in her first competition for eleven months.

Buoyed by her return to form and fitness, Pywell went onto place ninth in the European Team championships for Team GB the following month with 1.85m and also won her second UK crown - following her 2008 win – with a 1.84m leap in Birmingham last July.

Eager to gain more international experience, the Loughborough University graduate finished seventh in the Aviva IAAF Diamond League Grand Prix at Crystal Palace with 1.85m before making her senior major championship debut at the Commonwealth Games in Delhi last October, placing sixth with a 1.78m effort.

“Jumping 1.90m at Loughborough was a great start to the season despite only having had two months of training due to the serious back injury the year before,” Pywell explained.

I was delighted to jump 1.90m but the lack of training did come back to haunt me and I was disappointed not to jump higher later in the season.

I was hoping for a medal at the Commonwealth Games but it wasn’t to be – it was an amazing experience though and will no doubt help in my journey to London 2012.”


Indeed, it was the thought of participating for her country in the Olympic Games eighteen months from now which spurred Pywell to recovery during her darkest days last winter.

Diagnosed with a double stress fracture of the lower spine, the Manchester athlete was told that she may have never jumped again:

“It was heartbreaking and I found it difficult to cope with knowing that there wasn’t much I could do except wait,” Pywell revealed.

“My recovery was just going to be down to how well my body reacted to rest and recuperation. I was out of action for almost a year and during this time did very little training.

The driving force all the time was that I didn't (and still don't) feel that I have achieved my potential yet. I want to be in the Olympic final in London 2012 and I ultimately want to be the best female British high-jumper ever.”

In terms of domestic rivalry, Pywell has two main competitors to battle for the coveted spots on the British Olympic squad next summer - with one being World and European heptathlon champion Jessica Ennis and the other her training partner, Vicky Hubbard.

With the former solely focused on achieving 2012 glory in the combined events competition despite being the UK’s number one high-jumper, Pywell has a strong opportunity to realise her Olympic but first wants to raise the profile of her beloved event:

“Women’s high-jump is not well known as one of the most successful events in the UK and I am determined to change that view,” Pywell explained.

“The only way this can happen is by jumping high and winning medals. On a whole, the competition was not a very good standard and my performance was no exception.

(Making the Commonwealth’s) did provide me with the opportunity to spend some time away in a holding camp and at a major games, and it has helped to drive me forwards and understand what I need to do to succeed in 2012.”


Choosing to bypass the majority of the indoor season with an exception to the UK championships in Sheffield next month, Pywell’s training regime is focused on the summer outdoor campaign - with a view to qualifying for the World championships in Daegu, South Korea in August.

Sponsored by Asics and Maxinutrition, and managed by MaceSport management, Pywell’s ability has come a long way since failing to qualify for the final of the European under-23 championships in Hungary three years ago.

Blessed with natural talent, Pywell won the 2001 English Schools championships at aged fourteen with 1.75m and in recent years, has found another calling – fitness modelling:

“I have done quite a bit of modelling for the sportswear and the fitness industry as this suits my look best,” Pywell revealed.

“Reaching the final of Miss England (last year) has definitely brought a lot of enquiries recently. I want to show that it is possible to be both feminine and a successful sportswoman.

At the moment, modelling is a way of funding my ambitions within athletics and we manage the amount I do very carefully. But who knows, in the future I could definitely see myself modelling more and would love to try my hand at TV presenting.”

In addition to harbouring these glamorous dreams, Pywell has aspirations to operate a business in the leisure industry and to become a coach but the athlete with the beauty to match her talent, is not quite finished with her own sporting career just yet:

“I just love the sport and I hope that I can in some way help young athletes on their own journeys to success whatever that may be.

(My long-term goal in the sport) is fairly simple really - I want to jump high - high enough to hold the British record - and to win medals.”

Spreading the Running Bug


Run In England Leader of the Year – Amanda Thirsk.

In the new series profiling the winners of the England Athletics national volunteer awards handed out last October, Nicola Bamford spoke to the nominated 2010 Run In England Leader of the Year – Amanda Thirsk.

Having taken up running in the mid-2000’s with her local club Rochdale Harriers, Thirsk decided to turn to coaching after her own coach, Brenda Jackson left the training group, causing numbers to dwindle.

After completing her level-one coaching award in June 2010, Thirsk enrolled on the ‘Leadership in Running and Fitness’ (LIRF) course the following month and became a level-two coach last month.

Almost a year has passed since the mother and full-time worker came across the Run In England community and such has been her success, Thirsk was a popular winner of the national award late last year:

“I still can't believe it - I have never won anything in my life apart from the odd medal which was given out to everybody who runs,” Thirsk revealed.

“The awards night was unbelievable to say the least. Meeting some of the athletes I used to watch when I was younger like Dame Kelly Holmes and Linford Christie, oh my god!”

A keen 5km and 10km runner herself, Thirsk also enjoys half-marathons and ran 2:08 on her debut last spring.

“I have been running, or so I call it, for about six years but decided to become a coach for the juniors when my own children started going to the club about two years ago just helping out,” Thirsk explained.

“I must admit I got the bug from then on and haven't looked back since. I started leading the beginners group in February and have completed four lots of ten-week training programmes since then.”

Running the beginners group under the umbrella of Rochdale Harriers once a week, Thirsk also works alongside club-mate Julia Moore.

“We also have a group called an ‘improvers group’ and it seems to work really well,” Thirsk revealed.

“We also have a Facebook page where we can chat about runs that we have done, PB's achieved and arrange to meet up during the week for additional runs. Some of the ladies, although haven't signed up to Rochdale Harriers are doing the local Parkruns.”

Like the majority of volunteers, Thirsk leads a busy life but working in the sport which she has grown to love certainly makes life a lot more fun and her recent award is testament to the passion which she passes onto others every week through her sessions.

“I am very lucky in the fact that my family support me as I am out Monday evening with the beginners group and Tuesday and Thursday evenings with the juniors, which are under-11’s,” Thirsk explained.

“At the present time, I am out the odd weekends, too, as we have SportsCity indoor competitions and the cross country season - busy, busy, busy.”

Monday, 17 January 2011

Sergeant's Orders


Series: England Athletics national volunteer award-winners

Development Coach of the Year: Phil Sergeant

In a new series profiling the winners of the England Athletics national volunteer awards handed out last October, Nicola Bamford spoke to the nominated 2010 Development Coach of the Year – Phil Sergeant.

Having competed as a distance runner for his school, county and Durham University in his youth, Sergeant found the sport again to keep himself fit whilst travelling the world for work purposes by joining the jogging boom of the 1980’s and 90’s – participating in the London marathon three times.

As his professional life calmed down, he became more involved with athletics upon his retirement, joining Chelmsford AC and Sergeant currently coaches at the club’s track twice a week, schools athletics in after-school hours on another two evenings and his highest-achieving group on another two occasions – each session accompanied by his wife, Sylvia – a level three sprint hurdles coach.

A current level three long and high-jump coach himself, Sergeant admits to feeling surprised at his recent win at the Birmingham ceremony:

“My wife and I attended the England Athletics Awards ceremony in Birmingham and when my name was announced I was overawed,” Sergeant explained.

“We were surrounded by people who have written the recent history of track and field athletics. It was awesome, and took some time for me to realise the magnitude of it all. People who I respect came up to congratulate me - that touched me greatly.”

Having become immersed in his local club through his children’s involvement over twenty-five years ago, Sergeant’s roles have developed as impressively as his skills – from team manager to field judge, from starter/marksmen to club secretary and from county secretary to trusted and admired coach.

In his favoured role as a coach and mentor to many children and teenagers, Sergeant has spent the past eleven years providing running master-classes to seven to ten year-olds on behalf of Chelmsford Borough Council and in a number of schools in his local area.

Chelmsford County High School for Girls for instance – where Sylvia previously worked as Head of PE – has benefitted from over a decade of his services, as Sergeant helped them to win the Schools Cup final on two occasions in recent years.

Further emphasising his love for encouraging people to get into his beloved sport, Sergeant also aided the development of the recent England Athletics Essex Athletics Network to enable the local clubs to work together to improve their services.

“It is very exciting and I hope that we will see benefits which we can pass on to attract other organisations into the network,” Sergeant revealed.

In his fifteen years with Chelmsford AC, Sergeant has evidently had a major impact in the club’s prosperity since originally being heavily involved in the construction of the in and outdoor facilities many years ago:

“As the club has developed, we began to coach combined events and have coached many county-standard multi-event athletes over that time, starting with our own son David who represented Essex at Pentathlon, Octathlon and Decathlon. He is now a PE teacher and so is passing on his knowledge,” Sergeant explained.

Other athletes to benefit from his expertise and care include Alex O’Brien, the third-ranked British under-15 pentathlete and fourth-ranked long-jumper of 2010, Alex Woolnough and Max Paulin, two under-15 top-ten ranked high-jumpers from last season and Ben Clark, the under-17 seventh-best Octathlete of the year and number eight of the 2010 long-jump list.

“When I first coached Sam Bailey (the top-ranked under-20 high-jumper in the UK last year), seeing him win the English Schools was the most incredible feeling I have ever had,” Sergeant explained.

“Equally, seeing Poppy Lake (fourth in the under-15 high-jump rankings last year) win the English Schools made me feel proud as I felt it justified asking Carol Jackson to coach her as I felt she has done such incredible work with Sam Bailey she should be able to do the same, it is about chemistry.”

Stating the club’s achievement in having seventeen athletes in the Essex Schools’ team of sixty, eight of which won gold as his proudest moment as a coach to date, Sergeant credits Jackson as a source of inspiration as well as other peers such as Beth Harris, Bruce Longden, Dennis Costello and 1999 World decathlon silver-medallist Dean Macey from nearby Harrow.

Eager to pass on his own muse to upcoming coaches, Sergeant even finds the time to mentor and support Sarah Stark, a current level one coach, Sacha Sewell, a parent of one of his athletes and a level two coach and Jeff Reed, a recently qualified level one addition to the group.

“We believe that the team approach we use enables us to coach combined events athletes while still balancing their programme and avoiding overload,” Sergeant revealed.

“It also enables me to divide my club coaching time most efficiently.”

Although clearly a man with vast amounts of talent, dedication and experience, Sergeant is still committed to improving his skills:

“My wife and I agree that the year we have spent involved in the Local Coach Development Programme, which is run by Rob Thickpenny, the England Athletics Club and Coach Support Officer for Essex and East London, has been one of the most inspirational of our careers as coaches,” Sergeant explained.

“I believe that work has transformed my approach to coaching, and made me more self-critical and analytical. When asked a question which I can't answer, I know someone who may know the answer through the programme, that is a fantastic resource and I am looking forward to this winter’s programme.”

Indeed, having encompassed so many duties and enjoyed so many successes over the past three decades, it is certainly clear why Sergeant was nominated for such a highly-acclaimed national accolade yet the Essex man is not finished with his own development just yet.

Snow Joke for Mo


REPORT – Bupa Great Edinburgh cross-country, Saturday January 8th, Holyrood Park, Edinburgh

[Britain’s Mo Farah and Kenyan duo highlight the snow-drenched revamped event]

Set in a picturesque white and sun-covered scene for the second year running, the annual Bupa Great Edinburgh cross-country – fresh from a facelift for this year’s event – saw a series of hot international action despite the freezing temperatures in Holyrood Park, writes Nicola Bamford.

In the fourth leg of the IAAF's 2010/11 permit season, an afternoon of thrilling battles provided three equally-impressive victories in the Scottish capital, following a revitalised format which included the introduction of the successful men’s International Team Challenge and bales of hay for further obstacles on the famous undulating Arthur’s Seat course.

Britain’s 2008 European cross-country champion Mo Farah proved that a recent training stint in Kenya has worked wonders for his form and confidence with a runaway win, whilst Kenyan duo Eliud Kipchoge and Linet Masai took their second victories in the city with similar dominance.

Men’s Short Race (4.2km) -

Kenyans Dominate with 1-2-3

Four years since the race last sported an international flare, three world-class Kenyans stole the show in an impressively-dominant display over the rutted, icy course, which was specially adapted to a faster route for this 2.5-mile event.

With fine memories from his previous competitive visits to Edinburgh and boosted by the recent birth of a new addition to his family, 2008 Olympic 5,000m silver-medallist Kipchoge asserted his authority in the second half of the race to add to his 2005 victory.

The 2003 World 5,000m champion – who has also finished runner-up in the long-course event here – started conservatively in around seventh place behind Brits Ricky Stevenson, Steve Vernon and Mike Skinner until gradually hitting the head of the field at the one-minute mark.

Stevenson - the 2010 winner in the then domestic-only race – had intentions of making his presence felt from the fore after finishing a slightly disappointing ninth in the European under-23 cross-country championships in Portugal last month and the 22-year-old New Marske Harrier knew he had a battle for domestic supremacy on his hands courtesy of the inclusion of two-time runner-up Steve Vernon.

Indeed, the former 4km cross-country champion was a man on a mission following an illness-induced below-par run at the European trial in Liverpool last November, forcing him to miss out on selection for the continental championships.

Having placed an impressive ninth in the Brussels international prior to Christmas however, the Stockport Harrier was back in form and determined to give Stevenson a run for his money.

Three minutes in, Vernon began to apply the pressure with no fear of his African counterparts as he ran shoulder-to-shoulder with Kipchoge – also the Commonwealth 5,000m silver-medallist and Asbel Kiprop – the 2008 Olympic 1500m and 2007 World junior cross-country champion.

At the four-minute stage, Vernon – after only reaching his hotel at 11pm the evening before and having not slept much due to eating so late – again pushed the pace and momentarily held a slight advantage, as the Kenyan duo and Stevenson and Commonwealth 1500m eighth-placer Tom Lancashire of Bolton held the rear of the leading group.

Approaching the half-way mark heading up to the daunting hill Arthur’s Seat, the three African middle-distance men injected a sudden change of pace which only Vernon could hang onto.

On the descent, Kipchoge had established a comfortable three-metre lead from Kiprop, whilst Brimin Kipruto – the 2008 Olympic and 2007 World 3,000m steeplechase champion - was feeling the pressure of Vernon and Lancashire close behind.

These same positions remained at the bell signalling one final lap to go and nine-minutes in, Kipchoge still enjoyed an easy margin on his chasers.

Approaching the only yet thigh-bursting hill, the leader stretched his winning margin to fifty-metres and as Kiprop fell backwards to Kipruto, he maintained a relentless, aggressive pace until the tape to taking the top-spot by six-seconds – 13:12 to Kiprop’s 13:18 and Kipruto a further second adrift.

The outgoing, modest victor said afterwards:

“My training’s been very good so I have had high expectations for this race. Having the best at 1500m and the steeplechase as well as the best from Europe and the UK, I knew it would be a good field but I am happy to win.”

With his schedule next taking him to Stuttgart to race indoors over 3,000m, he concluded:

“The snow was really challenging, we don’t experience anything like this and the cold in Kenya. My aim was to maintain the fast pace and I’m happy my tactics succeeded. I may not do the World cross-country championships – I need to race indoors twice before thinking about the Kenyan trials for that.”

Having made strong ground in the final few hundred metres on the top trio to come home only two-seconds behind, Vernon was delighted with his efforts and looking forward to his forthcoming races:

“I wanted to be in the first three but first Brit was always the goal,” the Dave Turnbull-coached runner explained.

“Their track speed was just too much for me but it was a good run though and I’m happy. The race started slowly so I pushed the pace to let them know I was there to get away from the big kickers, as I usually get my arse kicked in the last 200m. If I’d have gone earlier, I might have taken one of them.”

Targeting the Northern and National cross-country championships as next on his list, Vernon continued:

“After the disaster in Liverpool, I needed the confidence boost which I got from Brussels. My coach, Dave Turnbull said don’t be afraid of anyone so I decided to lead and I was pleased I came back to them and felt strong on the hills.”

A further eight-seconds back in fifth place, 25-year-old Lancashire – the UK’s top 1500m on the track last summer – soundly beat reigning European 1500m champion Arturo Casado of Spain, with Stevenson just behind.

Women’s Race (6.2km) –

Victory for Masai, Breakthrough for Purdue

As expected, the three invited Africans comprising of two global champions and a world junior champion topped the medals podium yet the surprise of the day – albeit an inevitable breakthrough – was the fourth-place finish of Britain’s 19–year-old Charlotte Purdue.

Having used her usual tactics of gradually increasing the pace as the race progressed into the latter stages, Purdue’s stored energy was clearly evident in the final two kilometres as the recently-crowned European junior cross-country champion finished strongly to come within thirteen-seconds of third-placed Genzebe Dibaba – the world junior 5,000m champion and younger sister of multiple World and Olympic medallist Tirunesh.

Originally at the head of the field from the gun, marathon-specialist Liz Yelling made her cross-country return following the birth of her daughter in 2009 and Spain’s Alessandra Aguilar joined her with World 10,000m champion Linet Masai, World 5,000m champion Vivian Cheruiyot, Dibaba and Britain’s Hattie Dean and Gemma Steel closely behind.

It was only a matter of minutes until the three Africans began to assert their authority and Masai – the 21-year-old 2009 winner – led the way with her Kenyan team-mate Cheruiyot, a two-time runner-up and running in her fifth outing here for close company for pace-making duties.

Eight-minutes into the race, Steele, Purdue and Steph Twell lead the chasing pack with others also choosing to relinquish their early spots alongside the leaders – reigning European cross-country champion Jessica Augusto and Yelling, who began to suffer quite quickly after her sharp early tempo.

By the ten-minute mark, Dean – seventh in the senior race in Portugal and fourth in the European 3,000m steeplechase last summer – was on the shoulders of Masai and Cheruiyot and three minutes later, Purdue – fourth in the Commonwealth Games 10,000m last October – had suddenly made up good ground, settling 15-metres adrift.

With the second of three hill efforts cleared effortlessly with her long, elegant stride, Masai – a former World cross-country silver and bronze-medallist and runner-up here in 2008 – pulled two-metres clear to push hard in a long run for home as she increased her advantage to five-metres by the bell.

Ethiopia’s Dibaba reacted to the one-lap-to-go signal by closing in on Cheruiyot as Purdue took over the British lead from Dean, who fell five-metres behind her younger domestic rival.

With the final lap almost turning into a clear-cut victory circuit for Masai, Cheruiyot – the Commonwealth 5,000m winner lost her runner-up position to two-time World junior cross-country champion, Dibaba as the top three were separated by eight and four-seconds, respectively.
The victor simply said:

“I was not confident of winning because of my African colleagues were so strong – I thought it would be much harder but I managed to beat them.”

Relishing in her senior cross-country debut, Purdue pushed Dean into fifth and impressed by beating and challenging athletes many years her senior, yet the Mick Woods-coached Aldershot athlete took the experience all in her diminutive stride:

“I’m really happy with how the race went. All the races I’ve had as a junior were 4km but I find these longer distances suit me much better. I’ve been training really well but I only thought of finishing first Brit,” the St Mary’s university student explained.

“I’ve missed this race for the past two years with injury so I’m really happy just to be here. I held back on the first lap until I got warmer, I might have left it a bit too late to challenge for top three but today gives me great confidence, it’s a good learning curve.”

Purdue will next target the Cardiff and Antrim legs of the McCain UK Cross Challenge series before tackling the British university championship and her biggest aim of the winter, the World cross-country championships – in Spain in March.

Commonwealth 1500m bronze-medallist and fourth over 5,000m, Twell ran well to finish seventh just ahead of Yelling and Steel but after previous impressive performances akin to her training partners in this event, will be eager to work hard on her training trip to Kenya with Masai and Cheruiyot this month.

Sixteen-year-old Emelia Gorecka – another from Wood’s group – raised eyebrows by soundly beating last year’s Bupa Great North Run winner, Augusto in twelfth.

Men’s International Team Challenge (8km) –

The ‘Mo Show’ as Europe also impress

In a new format which pitted Team GB against the best of Europe and the USA and GB under23/under-20 squads, Britain’s 2008 European cross-country champion Mo Farah stole the show with an eye-catching display, leading his outfit to third place behind Europe and their visitors from across the Atlantic.

Taking a comprehensive nine-second victory from American Galen Rupp – fifth in the World indoor 3,000m - and European silver and gold-medalists Ayad Lamdassam and
Sergey Lebid, Farah paced himself at the pack of the leading pack before reacting brilliantly to Rupp’s mid-race surge on the steep incline to forge ahead to a runaway, popular victory.

At the gun, nine-time European champion over the terrain, Lebid headed the field with Britain’s Tom Humphries, and around the five-minute mark, the Ukrainian gestured behind to usher for some help with the pace, as Farah was settled back in tenth position.

Rupp meanwhile, sporting full-length tights for warmth, moved up to in third at eight-minutes in and soon after, the World 10,000m finalist was joined by Farah – the European 5,000m and 10,000m champion - in pulling clear of the pack up the second ascent.

With four minutes remaining just before the bell, Farah made a big effort for glory in this, his long-course debut in Edinburgh and the 27-year-old had soon established a fifty-metre winning margin over his American counterpart – who had been doing interval sessions in his sponsors’ Nike’s World HQ in Oregon due to bad weather - with Lamdassam and Lebid chasing hard further back.

Removing his hat to help the crowd recognise him down the finishing straight, the modest Londoner revealed his thoughts after a promising days’ work:

“I was happy with the win. It started off slow and I knew Galen and Sergey are great athletes so I intended to stay with them then wind it up at the bottom of the hill to try to pull away.

It was tough trying to stay on your feet as it was slippery – very different to running at Iten at 10,000ft – there was no snow there. Training’s gone well over the last few weeks and my last race was mega. I prefer track and road but cross-country makes you strong.”

Explaining that he intends to discuss his forthcoming racing plans with his (secret) coach shortly, Farah will next target the Birmingham indoor grand prix next month before tackling either the European indoor championships (in Paris in March) or the World cross:

“It would be nice to defend my indoor 3,000m title,” he said.

“I’m going out to train with Alberto Salazar in Albuquerque with Rupp and Dathan
Ritzenhein and it’s a good place to go as I’ll still be able to race out there - not like when I go to Kenya.”

Finishing a fine fifth as second Brit, Andy Vernon made a positive return to action after withdrawing from the continental championship with stomach cramps to finish shortly behind Lebid and soundly beat four strong European entrants.

Other Brits to impress included Ryan McLeod in eleventh and top British under23 Derek Hawkins in twenty-second place, shortly ahead of team-mate Ross Murray.

Europe took the team title with fifty points ahead of the USA’s fifty-three total, Team GB’s sixty-nine and the GB under-23/under-20 squad’s one hundred and sixty-four.

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Doctor's Orders


Life as an international marathon runner can be busy enough yet Rebecca Robinson’s daily routine impressively also includes juggling work as a full-time medical registrar with part-time Masters’ education, writes Nicola Bamford.

The 28-year-old distance runner’s exhausting lifestyle is testament to her recent breakthrough in the toughest of all traditional athletic events.

For the dedication and strong mental aptitude that she applies day in day out, propelled the Kendal AC athlete to register the fifth-fastest time on the British rankings last year courtesy of her 26.2 mile debut alone last spring.

The event was the 2010 Virgin London marathon back in April and Robinson flew to an eye-catching 2:37.14 clocking, placing fourth Briton along the way.

The performance earned her selection for another debut – her first major international championship, in the European championship marathon in Barcelona last July – where, for Team GB, Robinson finished a respectable 24th and helped the squad to collect team bronze in the process.

“Competing in a European championship was a dream-come-true and so inspiring,” Robinson explained.

Physically it's been a tough year, as the marathon will always find your weakest links, but nothing compared to how much I've enjoyed the experiences and want to keep building on them now.”


Based in Sheffield for her role in Sports and Exercise Medicine, Robinson regularly travels to Nottingham and Leeds for her studies and mostly trains alone in her quest for athletic perfection.

Evidently a strong academic, Robinson used to work 80-hour weeks as a junior doctor but has since found an easier work-life balance in order to progress in her running endeavours:

“My hours have been a little more 'normal' (of late) but I'm doing a Masters in sports medicine, so it's busy as usual,” Robinson revealed.

Her average day would include a morning run before an eight-hour day then a second bout of training, but some days will alternate with university seminars and meetings across the north-west, with a sports clinic, meeting or conference thrown in too for good measure.

“I've less on-call commitments during the weekends and evenings so a long run or a race is easier to fit in,” Robinson explained.

“My employers are very supportive; it helps they're involved with athletes, too; because mostly as a junior doctor the pressure of work came first, as I learnt trying to prepare for Barcelona.

My role is actually a lot to do with trying to improve the health of people with chronic illness like heart disease, through exercise.

And of course, many can't aspire to run or become athletes, so it's challenging but inspiring. I will become involved with athletics clinics over the next year, too.”


Questioned on whether she felt it necessary to become a full-time athlete in order to ‘make it to the top’, Robinson revealed:

“I think it's different for each athlete. On one hand, modern athletics is a serious career-demanding application. I think it just depends on trying to full-fill your potential and balancing everything else in life.

I definitely want to work in medicine long term, but would rather see how far I can go with athletics while I can, as it is time-limited - although with the marathon, hopefully I've some years to develop yet!”

Having registered a lifetime best of 54:52 (for 10-miles) and placing fourth Briton in the Bupa Great North Run last autumn, Robinson indeed enjoyed a stellar 2010 campaign despite it being amidst adversity:

“In terms of training, it's been tougher than I thought getting back from two marathons, but races have been going better and I'm enjoying it,” Robinson explained.

“It's been bittersweet though, as two great friends who believed in me much more than I did - coach Norman Matthews and my aunt, Julie, passed away last autumn.”

Using their memory to inspire her onto fine performances, Robinson now has her eyes firmly set on the year ahead as she moves into her second season as a marathoner – and who knows, judging by her potential and spirit, perhaps even a spot on the 2012 Olympic squad.

Monday, 10 January 2011

Working Through the Miles


Five dedicated athletes explain to NICOLA BAMFORD how they juggle their run-work balance.

Whilst the majority of the nation is gripped in arctic chaos, causing many to neglect their jobs in favour of home comforts, thousands of determined runners refuse to slack on their daily grind and here, five of such provide an insight into how they cope with the demands of working for a living as well as towards international success...

Stuart Stokes: 3,000m steeplechaser, full-time PE teacher and father of one –

For 34-year-old Stokes, life is hectic and planned out to the minute but he would not have it any other way.

Combining training twice a day with the pressures of teaching secondary school children then coming home to his two-year-old son, Stokes is the epitome of dedication like all of our profiled athletes – a trait which reaped the rewards this season, as he made his third Commonwealth appearance, placing an admirable fifth for England in Delhi in his specialist event, the 3,000m steeplechase.

A self-confessed obsessive-compulsive athlete, the Sale Harrier is used to leaping barriers both on and off the track, each with great success, too.

After taking the English steeplechase crown this summer, Stokes began working at Holy Cross High School in Chorley as a PE teacher and a month later, his students were gathered for a special assembly to watch their role model battle it out in India.

“I’m very fortunate that school support my running and it wasn’t a problem having time off to go out to Delhi,” Stokes explained.

“It is incredibly hard - working, training and entertaining my son when I arrive home each day but I’m very, very focused and I don’t waste a single minute of any day.”

Defying the belief by some that athletes must train full-time in order to taste international success, Stokes rises at 4:30am each morning to run between thirteen and twenty miles before working a nine-hour day ahead of a gym session.

“My wife, son and I have dinner together, then its bath and bed for about 8:30pm. How dull does that sound?!” Stokes, whose wife also teaches at the same school, revealed.

“As a family, we have a lot of fun and support each other, which are massively important.”

The self-coached runner uses the ‘no stone unturned’ approach when it comes to his beloved sport and is content at having created a secure future for his young family away from the life of constant funding and sponsorship-chasing he lived as an full-time athlete.

“I think it’s great if you are fortunate enough to be a full-time athlete but I don’t think nearly enough British athletes understand how lucky they are and don’t take their opportunities by training hard enough when they are full time,” Stokes explained frankly.

Indeed, no one can accuse Stokes, who lies twelfth on the British all-time lists with 8:23.66, as lazy being with neither his training nor his lifestyle.

“I sleep well, have a clean diet, take the correct supplements and have an equally supportive wife and family,” he revealed.

“Ultimately, it comes down to how bad you want something. You only have to read about Lance Armstrong to know how much you can actually fit into a day as long as you are smart about things.

I get the most out of every day, I keep learning about myself and my event. I stay as healthy as possible and hopefully this will put me in a position to challenge for a 2012 (London Olympic) place.”

Freya Murray: Distance runner and part-time Graduate Structural Engineer –

Having broken through onto the international scene in the past couple of seasons, 27-year-old Murray has experienced glimpses of top sporting success whilst working 25-hour weeks as a Graduate Structural Engineer in Newcastle.

The Chester-le-Street runner – who is currently returning from injury, forcing her to miss this weekend’s European cross-country championships in Portugal, the event she placed ninth in last year - began her role at Cundall, a multi-discipline engineering consultancy in 2006 and does most of her training to and from her work-place:

“This includes sessions as well as runs of varying intensity and my weekly mileage probably averages out around 80-90 per week,” Murray explains.

The Edinburgh-born athlete, who registered fine lifetime bests for 5,000m (15:26.5), 10,000m (32:23.44) and 10-miles (52:27) this year – the latter which positions her as sixth on the British all-time lists – also cycles to Gateshead most mornings before running, doing a strength and conditioning session then cycling again to begin her working day.

“I usually get up pretty early and do my harder training session in the morning before work, for example on a Tuesday I start my session at 7am (which took a bit of getting used to), “ Murray revealed.

“Then I tend to work from about 10.30am to 4pm but this is flexible depending on my training and workload. In basic terms, I help design the structural support for buildings - this involves a lot of calculations, computer modelling, sketching, attending meetings and site visits.”

Her employers have indeed showed a flexible approach towards the UK 5,000m champion’s sporting ambitions as Murray has enjoyed three bouts of training with her coach Steve Jones in Boulder, Colarado in the past two years as well as attending Delhi to place fifth and seventh in the 10,000m and 5,000m respectively.

“Cundall have been very supportive about giving me time off and I've also been able to take additional leave for important races,” Murray explained.

“This season has been one of ups and downs for me, but generally I'm happy with the progress I'm making. I feel like I've developed a lot over the last 18-months and I'm hoping to continue that improvement, as I do not feel I did myself justice in India.”

Funded by Scottish Athletics, SportScotland and the Scottish Women’s Road Running and Cross-Country Commission, Murray additionally receives sponsorship from Adidas, such is her athletic potential.

Having such extensive support ensures the 2012 hopeful can remain in part-time employment and focus on improving on her 37th position from the last World cross-country championships – the forthcoming event in March which is her main goal of the winter.

“As long as I want to continue to develop in my running, I will find it difficult to progress my career as quickly as other graduates but there's plenty time to be an engineer,” Murray revealed.

“I don't want to get to fifty and then wish I had put more into my running when I had the opportunity.

There are good days and bad days, I think it’s good to have different things to focus on outside of running, but it can be difficult to find time to do everything - you just have to be very organised, determined and not mind getting up early!”

Andi Jones: Distance runner, Head of Design and Technology and father of one –

Another whose days are filled from start to finish is marathon-specialist Jones, who heads the Design and Technology faculty at Falinge Park High School in Rochdale after ten years in teaching.

The 32-year-old Salford Harrier - who ran 2:15.20 to finish first Brit in the 2009 London marathon - like Stokes, works nine-hour days around double-day training and going home to a young family.

“I really do love my job and enjoy every minute of it. Even when things are tough, work is and things don’t go to plan, I really enjoy it,” Jones explained.

“The kids are excellent most of the time and a great pleasure to work with. Some days I can teach for five hours, other days two but when I’m not teaching, I am doing planning, preparing resources for the students or doing other work linked to being head of faculty.”

With aspirations to progress into a head-teacher role one day, Jones is well-aware of the commitment he must give to life outside his training. Fortunately, his partner Donna is an 800m runner with Sale Harriers so she understands his dedication to putting in the miles away from work.

“I do believe that if you balance your life out and consider everything you do, you can make it to a high level while having a full time job,” Jones revealed.

“ I often get the impression that some people at the top in the running world and I mean team officials, national coaches etc do not take me seriously, as I have a full-time job and therefore do not have the option of going to the altitude training camps they have set up.”

Whilst Jones – tenth and second Brit in this year’s London marathon – does not have the luxury to head off to Kenya or the Pyrenees, he was fortunate enough to be granted time off work to attend the European championships in Barcelona this summer and the Commonwealth Games more recently.

“My aim this year was to make both marathon teams and I achieved this but unfortunately, the races at both these championships didn’t go as planned and I suffered in the heat with hydration problems in Spain and with an injury in India,” Jones explained.

“This put a real downer on the year but I am aiming to be fit and raring to make amends for these poor races at the Edinburgh XC and the Northern XC in January. My coach (Bob Merrell) and I are yet to discuss whether to aim for a spring or autumn marathon.”

Training each weekday morning at 5am on the edge of the Pennine Moors, Jones typically runs around 110-miles per week and luckily escaped a surprise Ofsted inspection whilst preparing for Delhi out in Doha.

“My Headteacher, Mr. Robin Lonsdale is very supportive of my running. The whole school is supportive from the governors to the colleagues I work with everyday,” Jones revealed.

“Most of the students often stop and ask me about my running. I like to try and use my participation in sport to help encourage them to try sport whether it is in running and athletics or any sport. I try to instil in them the benefits of living a healthy active lifestyle.”

Sponsored by Asics and Assist Management, Jones intends to make more championship squads before his work becomes his sole focus so he can “one day look back and say to myself that I gave the best I could.

I can’t tell my students to give their best to everything they do if I don’t do the

Rebecca Robinson: Distance runner, Registrar in Sports & Exercise Medicine and MA student –

Having made her Team GB marathon debut this summer in Barcelona, where she finished a respectable 24th, Kendal AC’s Robinson successfully juggles full-time work as a medical registrar with part-time Master’s education and marathon training.

The 28-year-old is based in Sheffield and regularly travels to Nottingham and Leeds for her studies and mostly trains alone in her quest for athletic perfection.

Evidently a strong academic, Robinson used to work 80-hour weeks as a junior doctor but has since found an easier work-life balance in order to progress in her running endeavours:

“My hours have been a little more 'normal' (off late) but I'm doing a Masters in sports medicine, so it's busy as usual,” Robinson explained.

Her average day would include a morning run before an 8-hour day then a second bout of training, but some days will alternate with university seminars and meetings across the north-west, with a sports clinic, meeting or conference thrown in too for good measure.

“I've less on-call commitments during the weekends and evenings so a long run or a race is easier to fit in,” Robinson revealed.

“My employers are very supportive; it helps they're involved with athletes, too; because mostly as a junior doctor the pressure of work came first, as I learnt trying to prepare for Barcelona.

My role is actually a lot to do with trying to improve the health of people with chronic illness like heart disease, through exercise.

And of course, many can't aspire to run or become athletes, so it's challenging but inspiring. I will become involved with athletics clinics over the next year, too.”

Having registered personal bests of 54:52 (10-miles) and 2:37.14 when placing fourth Brit in the London marathon back in the spring on her debut, Robinson – who was recently fourth Briton in the Great North Run – enjoyed her 2010 campaign amidst adversity:

“Competing in a European championship was a dream-come-true and so inspiring,” Robinson explained.

“In terms of training, it's been tougher than I thought getting back from two marathons, but races have been going better through the autumn and I'm enjoying it.

It's been bittersweet though, as two great friends who believed in me much more than I did - coach Norman Matthews and my aunt, Julie, passed away this autumn.

Physically it's been a tough year, as the marathon will always find your weakest links, but nothing compared to how much I've enjoyed the experiences and want to keep building on them now.”

Questioned on whether she felt it necessary to become a full-time athlete in order to ‘make it to the top’, Robinson revealed:

“I think it's different for each athlete. On one hand, modern athletics is a serious career-demanding application. I think it just depends on trying to full-fill your potential and balancing everything else in life.

I definitely want to work in medicine long term, but would rather see how far I can go with athletics while I can, as it is time-limited - although with the marathon, hopefully I've some years to develop yet!”

Luke Gunn: 3,000m steeplechaser, Sports Scholarships Manager at the University of Birmingham and West Midlands Regional Hub Manager for TASS –

Birmingham-based Gunn spent six years studying at Florida State University and at the same institution he works at now as Sports Scholarships Manager and TASS
Regional Hub Manager and the 25-year-old enjoys balancing his full-time joint role with around 90-miles per week of training.

The Derby AC 3,000m steeplechaser usually runs at 7am each morning before sessions
of yoga or circuits in between his working day and evening sessions.

“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,” Gunn revealed.

“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.”

Guided by Bud Baldaro at the university, 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 claimed the UK steeplechase title.

However, the 8:28.48 ‘chaser was left disappointed when failing to make the squad for Barcelona and placing only seventh in Delhi:

“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.”

Instead of training full-time in the sun with a team of sponsors behind him like most championship performers, Gunn, like the four aforementioned runners, will be working hard this winter around a demanding career away from the sport.

“I do enjoy the career I have, where I feel I can pass on my experiences to very talented individuals with every chance of turning into senior internationals, whilst having a near ideal set-up to train full time,” Gunn revealed.

“We monitor and mentor each of the 40 athletes on as many as fifteen contact hours a week and I am also heavily involved in recruitment, admissions, coaching, promotions and raising sponsorship at the university.

The hours are very flexible, which I use to the full advantage of my training and my employers have been more than accommodating with training, international competition and even bouts of altitude training. I do still work some long unsociable hours, but only when I deem it necessary and plan my training accordingly.”

With the focus on laying down a strong endurance base for the summer track season,
Gunn still aims to compete in the National and Inter-County cross-country events this winter after placing an encouraging tenth and eighth, respectively earlier this year.

He too, strongly believes that athletes need not shy from employment in order to reach a world-class standard:

“I think it is certainly easier to achieve success without other distractions or time commitments, but I cannot see why it would make it impossible,” Gunn explained.

“I want to work towards becoming the best European at my event and essentially, I want to walk away from the sport knowing I got everything I could out of my body.

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.”

Further proof that if an athlete wants success badly enough, they can still enjoy a rewarding career to pay the bills.

Friday, 7 January 2011

Injection of Team Spirit


A look ahead to this weekend’s action in Edinburgh - Great Edinburgh Cross, Jan 8, 2011 - PREVIEW

n the UK international opener for the new year, the Scottish capital hosts a revitalised event aimed at creating mouth-watering head-to-heads while providing genuine opportunities away from the usual dominant African force of entrants, writes Nicola Bamford.

The new format not only sees the event’s title slightly changed but the introduction and twist of three tantalising races – a short 4.2km course for a strong men’s international field, a high-calibre 5.7km event for some of the globe’s finest female athletes and a new International Team Challenge over 8km for men, which will pit Great Britain & Northern Ireland’s best senior and under-23 men against the United States and European Select’s finest.

Once again, a plethora of stars will boost the reputation of the competition, with Britain’s Mo Farah, Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge, Vivian Cheruiyot and Linet Masai, Europe’s Sergiy Lebid and USA’s Galen Rupp taking on the famous undulating Arthur’s Seat course.

Entry into the picturesque Holyrood Park is free for spectators and a giant LED television will screen the international races following several Scottish Inter-District championship events, the Bupa Junior Winter Run and the Bupa Great Winter Run warm-up races earlier in the day.

On a specially adapted, albeit demanding course, the men’s short race is highlighted by three world-class Kenyans. Reigning Olympic champions Asbel Kiprop (1500m) and Brimin Kipruto (3000m steeplechase) are shooting for their first victories in Edinburgh along with former world 5000m champion Eliud Kipchoge.

European 1500m champion Arturo Casado of Spain will lead the continental challenge, while defending champion Ricky Stevenson should benefit from stronger opposition this time around.

The victor in 2005 and 2006, Morpeth’s Nick McCormick completes the field. The 29-year-old has not raced since registering the fifth fastest time at the national relays in early November but should fare well.

Reigning world champions Vivian Cheruiyot and Linet Masai will lead an equally strong Kenyan challenge for top honours in the women’s long race.

Recently crowned European champion Jessica Augusto of Portugal will need her strongest form again to compete with her African rivals, before switching her attention to the roads and making her 26.2-mile debut in the Virgin London Marathon in April.

World bronze medallist and Commonwealth steeplechase champion Milcah Chemos is another strong Kenyan, and she will be chased by Scottish duo Steph Twell and Freya Murray.

Following his amazing 2010 track campaign, Mo Farah will make his eagerly awaited cross-country season debut by leading Team GB’s hopes of glory in this fresh new international team format. The European 5000m and 10,000m champion will be making his long-course debut here and will look to make up for his disappointment of 12 months ago here when he finished third.

Nine-time European champion Lebid captains an extremely strong European team, which includes Ayad Lamdasssm and Youssef El Kalai, the silver and bronze medallists in Albufeira, plus fourth and fifth finishers, Mourad Amdouni and Abdellatif Meftah, who led France to its first overall team title since 2006.

In the GB team, Frank Tickner has replaced Chris Thompson, who has withdrawn as a precaution with a slight hip injury. Also representing Britain will be Tom Humphries, Ryan McLeod, Phil Nicholls, Andy Vernon, Scott Overall, John Beattie and Lee Merrien.

An under-23 GB squad also competes and is made up of Ryan Saunders, John McDonnell, Mitch Goose, Ashley Harrell, Derek Hawkins, Johnny Hay, Robbie Farnham-Rose, Ben Connor and Andy Combs.

Each nation will field nine athletes and the first six athletes to complete the course will receive a score based on their position. The team with the lowest overall score will win.

» BBC1 will cover the event from 1-2.30pm.