WRITTEN FOR SKYSPORTS
Having finally achieved a career goal of winning the English national cross-country title, Steve Vernon is now turning his attention to a new event, with the dream of making an Olympian impact next summer, writes Nicola Bamford.
The 30-year-old from Stockport claimed his biggest domestic victory to date a fortnight ago at the Staffordshire Alton Towers course, following a year with as many ups and downs as the said rollercoaster venue.
Winning by over twenty-seconds in mud-drenched conditions, Vernon’s success is even sweeter having succumbed to injury and illness in the previous two editions when placing second and third, respectively and after three attempts at just missing gold, his recent win has spurred a bold decision:
“I’m looking towards a marathon later this year and would be stupid not to have a go for 2012,” explained Vernon on his ambition to make the GB Olympic squad for London next summer.
“It would be really tough (to qualify) but you have to dream big.
It’s a slim chance as even the ‘B’ 2:16 qualifying standard is hard, a lot of good guys will be chasing selection and I haven’t even raced one yet but I hope to do well in the trial (in the London marathon next spring) and there would be nothing better than running in the Olympics in your own country.”
Although such goals may appear lofty for a marathon virgin, Vernon is quietly confident of being able to join Britain’s top 26.2-mile ranks in time for the biggest sporting event of the year next August.
With seven men registering times either around or below the qualifying mark in 2010, the Stockport Harrier is well aware of the stiff competition he will face for team spots but his current form shows an exciting potential, especially following double surgery in the past twelve months.
Coached by Dave Turnbull, Vernon impressive winter campaign comes off the back of a stomach operation in late 2009 to halt ongoing stitch problems and a procedure on his calf last autumn to no longer inhibit his foot-plant on hard surfaces:
“Although I missed the whole spring and summer, I’ve not been injured just managing some problems,” revealed an athlete who refuses to complain and moan.
Things have improved massively and I’m on the right track with the help from a fantastic team around me.”
A top junior over 3,000m in the late nineties, Vernon bounced back into the racing scene after eight months out last November and into fine form once he had blown away the cobwebs:
“I had the complete disaster at the European cross-country trials (placing twenty-fifth in Liverpool) following illness but I bounced back in Brussels (as top Briton)
running really well,” he explained.
“(The Bupa Great) Edinburgh International was a great performance for me (placing fourth and top Briton) but I ran like an idiot at the start of the Northern cross-country champs (eventually finishing runner-up).
Though, I knew the national would suit me – I’m a strong mud-runner and if you’re fit, there are no excuses.
I knew it was a tough course, as I’d ran there in 2008 (placing third) but I knew I’d have a good chance of winning if I ran well.
I wanted it badly and the national’s the event that goes down in history – it was such a big goal and to finally achieve it after putting so much pressure on myself, makes me want to win it again - it’s where everyone’s career has started.”
A full-time national participation manager for British Orienteering, Vernon will next target this weekend’s British inter-counties championship in Birmingham, where he may have a shot at making the squad for his sixth World cross-country event.
“It’s been hard to pick myself up again and I’ve not even read the selection criteria as all I can do is run my best – I’ll run to win or at least get a medal and making the GB team will be a bonus,” he revealed on the race in Spain later this month.
“It would be a fantastic achievement to go, as it’s the greatest race on earth but I’m taking it one step at a time.
The biggest thing for me is staying injury-free and for the first time in my life, I have been for nearly twelve months now.
I’ve been consistently running around 90-miles per week this winter – with work commitments, it’s hard to keep it over 100-miles but it’s about finding the balance.”
Forty-fifth in the 2003 edition, Vernon typically works nine till five hours and fits his double-day training around his role at the sport’s governing body:
“It’s great as it’s a running sport and I’m not sat behind the desk all day,” he explained.
“I really enjoy it and the flexibility is really good. The job means I can’t go warm-weather or high altitude training more than once a year but I have a great coach, training squad and environment at home.”
A two-time North of England cross-country champion, Vernon led Team GB to gold in the 2008 World Mountain Trophy in Switzerland with his thirteenth individual position and is intending on returning to his first love next season.
Rather than competing on the roads like most marathoners this summer, Vernon’s biggest aim will be the European mountain running championships in Turkey in July before tackling his marathon debut in the autumn:
“When I’ve focused on the mountains in past summers, I’ve had good results in the winter,” he revealed.
“I’ll still train on the roads – the mountain racing is just tough endurance training. Andi Jones (Britain’s number-two marathon runner in 2009) is a mountain runner so I know I can combine both.”
As yet undecided where his first marathon will be, Vernon is relishing the increase of mileage in his quest to achieve his Olympic ambition:
“It will be very, very hard but 2012’s not unrealistic,” he explained.
“I see myself running well for many more years as I still feel fresh after so many with breaks – maybe I’ll have to wait another four years (in Rio 2016) for my chance but I’m going to give it a good shot.”