07 March 2009
Andy Vernon and Steph Twell were impressive senior winners in Saturday’s McCain Cross Challenge Final at Wollaton Park in Nottingham, whilst Nick Goolab and Lily Partridge were strong junior title winners.
The prestigious cross country event which also plays host to the CAU Inter Counties Championships as well as the World Cross Country trials, was blessed with cool dry conditions, and the testing terrain of the hill up to Wollaton Hall played its part in deciding many of the races.
Senior Men 12k
Andy Vernon found the Wollaton Park course to his liking as he sprinted away from Frank Tickner over the last 200m to take a worthy first senior Inter Counties title. Vernon – who had finished adrift of Tickner and Steve Vernon at the National Cross Country at Parliament Hill just a fortnight ago, ran a canny race to stay in touch with Tickner who played all the cards he possibly could to rid himself Vernon’s strong sprint threat.
Tickner, who had been to the fore of a group consisting of Phil Wicks, Keith Gerrard, Lee Merrien and Phil Nichols for much of the race pushed on after halfway and the only threat to his title challenge was Vernon, who dug in and managed to hang on to the strength of Tickner's surges.
With 1500m to go Tickner pulled away slightly, but it was not enough to rid him of Vernon who powered past over the last 200m to take the victory – the second trial race of the winter where he has been victorious.
Vernon was delighted with his days work:
“I knew it would be closer here than at the national,” he said. “Wollaton Park is a much faster course and more to my liking than Parliament Hill.
“Frank was pushing on over the final stages and I was working hard to stay with him – but I knew he would be trying to do that to get away – I just held on and in the home straight I was able to go for the sprint.”
Tickner meanwhile was gracious in defeat:
“I knew that I coudn’t go off like I did at Parliament Hill, so I tried a quick spurt at the end of the first lap but that didn’t work and didn’t really break the group but about halfway through I pushed on again and although the group broke I couldn’t get rid of Andy.
“I tried my best but I knew that if he was still around with 500m to go, I’d struggle to out-sprint him.”
Lee Merrien took the third and final automatic qualifying spot for the World Cross Country in third place, but impressively steaming through the field in the final stages was 1500m specialist Tom Lancashire to take fourth.
Results: 1 Andy Vernon (Hampshire) 37.23; 2 Frank Tickner (Avon & Somerset) 37.26; 3 Lee Merrien (Guernsey) 37.52; 4 Tom Lancashire (Gt Manchester) 37.54; 5 Phil Nicholls (Staffordshire) 37.56; 6 Keith Gerrard (Lancashire) 37.57.
Senior Women 8k
Steph Twell was a dominant winner of the senior women’s race with a 25 second winning margin - ironically, the only time the talented athlete looked in any discomfort was sat mid-pack during the first lap.
She was not in that position for long however, and by the second lap was looking far more comfortable as she stretched away from Sarah Tunstall and Freya Murray.
Whilst Twell’s victory was confirmed almost as soon as she hit the front, the minor placings were not so clear, and as Murray faded in the later stages, Charnwood athlete Jane Potter climbed up to third place and into an automatic spot for World Cross Country Selection.
For Twell the day proved a delight as she enjoyed a victory over a course that injury has prevented her from running on for two years.
“One of my training partners and I have both been injured the last two years and we’re both running here today. At parts of the course I could hear him shouting for me and he was saying “Come on Steph – enjoy every step!” and I did,” she said.
“Wollaton Park is unfamiliar territory to me in that respect but I love it here I love the crowds and the atmosphere.
Twell was also determined that taking part in the World Cross Country would be a benefit to her summer:
“For me the bigger the base the better. Doing the worlds and racing competitively over long distances not just 6k is what it’s all about – it’s my bread and butter, and I can’t wait!”
For Potter in third, the Senior GB cross country vest at 27 had been a long time coming, after a strong junior career where selection had been plentiful:
“This is so nice. It has been hard, but I’ve been lucky to be consistent in my training recently. The only downside is I wish Juliet (her twin sister in 13th) had been closer to me, “ she said.
“All credit to Steph, she has made it as a senior so well. It has been frustrating for me – but I’ve done it now – I had wondered if I was going to get to this level again!”
Results: 1 Steph Twell (Hampshire) 28.15; 2 Sarah Tunstall (Cumbria) 28.40; 3 Jane Potter (Notts) 28.43; 4 Hannah Whitmore (Leicestershire) 28.48; 5 Freya Murray (Scotland East) 28.49; 6 Sonia Samuals (North East) 28.59.
Junior Men 8k
Nick Goolab continued his dominant winter cross country form and matched his English National title with the Inter Counties victory.
The Belgrave Harrier managed to stay calm as Welshman Simon Lawson galloped away from the pack in the early stages and gained a 20m lead over the field. But soon the pack led by Goolab caught Lawson and he used the momentum to run away with the title.
Goolab who caused a surprise in finishing second at the McCain Liverpool Cross Challenge in November proved to be the class act and enjoyed an eventual winning margin of 16 seconds ahead of James Wilkinson (Yorkshire) and Simon Horsfield (Gt Manchester).
For Goolab – relocating to Birmingham for his Maths degree last autumn and rejoin his coach Steve Sharp who had moved to the West Midlands has turned his endurance fortunes around, however he admitted he didn’t exactly follow all his coach’s advice:
“We’d planned for me to stick in there for three or four kilometres, but I felt fresh the whole way and got a bit enthusiastic and pushed on,” he admitted.
“When the guy went ahead I thought he perhaps couldn’t be that good and was sure we would catch him – but fair play to him he was still ninth.
“I’m looking forward to the World Cross Country – I know it’s going to be an 8km sprint, but it’s great to make the team.”
Results: 1 Nick Goolab (Middlesex) 25.40; 2 James Wilkinson (Yorkshire) 25.56; 3 Simon Horsfield (Gt Manchester) 26.01; 4 Jonny Hay (Surrey) 26.03; 5 Tom Farrell (Cumbria) 26.04; 6 Ronald Sparke (Essex) 26.04.
Lilly Partridge ran a perfect tactical race in taking the junior women’s title ahead of European Cross Country silver medallist Charlotte Purdue.
In one of the day’s most competitive fields, the final climb of the hill saw five athletes vying for three automatic World Cross Country spots, but it was Partridge who had climbed slowly up through the field for the duration of the race who was clearly the freshest looking athlete in the group.
Her relaxed appearance was justified as she left it until 1km to go before pushing on to a popular victory ahead of Purdue and Kate Avery.
Partridge, who was overwhelmed by the precious winning moment, recalled her race tactics:
“Early on the plan wasn’t to do anything – just to make sure I could see the front of the pack. On the second lap I moved up to about sixth and people shouting for me were telling me it was the ideal position.
“Then as I went up the hill I was feeling good, but I didn’t want to go and held back. When I finally went I thought someone else would have gone by then but they hadn’t and I thought – I’m feeling good, I’ll go on.
“I have been aiming for this race all season, but as I crossed the line I was thinking ‘oh what have I done’!”
Purdue – who was one of the title favourites, especially with Laura Park dropping out mid race, had to be content with second place, but was happy with her afternoon’s work:
“I’ve only been back running for three weeks, and not fully training yet. I’ve not raced since the Euro Cross,” she said.
“But I had to run today to prove my fitness. I wouldn’t have selected me as I hadn’t raced, so I was pleased to do enough to be selected.
“Mick (Woods) told me to run how I felt and that I was in good enough shape to make the team if not win, so I’m pleased.”
Results: 1 Lilly Partridge (Surrey) 22.55; 2 Charlotte Purdue (Hampshire) 22.57; 3 Kate Avery (North East) 22.59; 4 Louise Small (Hampshire) 23.04; 5 Beth Potter (Scotland West) 23.13; 6 Hannah Walker (Hertfordshire) 23.23.
Full results can be downlaoded below