24th November 2017


The prestigious Liverpool leg of the British Athletics Cross Challenge takes centre stage this weekend, with record numbers due to compete. The country’s finest endurance runners descend on Sefton Park for the event which combines the Trials for the European Cross Country Championships next month.

Last year’s senior men’s winner Andy Butchart (coach: Terrance Mahon) competes in his first cross country race of the season after a training block in Font Romeu. The Central AC star will have a battle on his hands to defend his title with a stacked field providing tantalising competition.

After a staggering 2:09.49 posting in his first ever marathon last month, Swansea’s Dewi Griffiths (Kevin Evans) will be among the leading contenders over the muddy terrain on Merseyside, more so after winning a Gwent league cross country just a couple of weeks after his sterling effort in Frankfurt.

Sam Stabler (Rob Denmark, Owls Leicester) and Mahamed Mahamed (Peter Haynes, Southampton), winners of the Cardiff and Milton Keynes Cross Challenge events respectively, will hope to carry that sort of form into the final series event before the turn of the year. The latter is one of the leading U23 names in the men’s field alongside Patrick Dever (Andy Bibbey, Preston) and Chris Olley (Mark Hookway, Tonbridge).

Four-time winner of this race, Andy Vernon (Nic Bideau, Aldershot Farnham & District), Ben Connor (Steve Vernon, Derby) and Luke Traynor (Glasgow City) are among a bunch of athletes who have the pedigree to shine at this event; even if the weather is forecast quite the opposite on Saturday.

After four successive victories in a row at Sefton Park, it is fair to say that Gemma Steel (Liz Nuttall, Charnwood) has dominated this event in recent years and will expect to feature at the top end of the race once again this weekend. She will face supreme opposition in Jess Judd (Mick Judd, Chelmsford) who has been in outstanding form so far during this cross country season, winning the opening two fixtures of the Cross Challenge series, so expect another strong showing from the World University Games medallist.

However, it would be a mistake to think this will be a two-horse race as a number of strong contenders are clipping at the heels for the top placings at the events to secure selection for the Europeans in Slovakia.

The evergreen Steph Twell (Mick Woods) will proudly represent Aldershot Farnham and District whilst others to watch out for include Verity Ockenden (Tony Houchin, Swansea), who has earned top three placings in the first two events of the series, Lily Partridge (Aldershot Farnham & District), Kate Avery (Shildon) and U23 Phoebe Law (Woods, Kingston & Poly) but this is by no means an exhaustive list, such is the standard of the senior women’s field.

Not only is the senior women’s race a must-watch, but the U20 / U17 women’s race will be equally fascinating. The leading juniors will be battling for places on the plane to Samorin including the main protagonists from last year’s event.

In 2016, Victoria Weir (Bud Baldaro, City of Plymouth) stormed through in the closing stages to pip Harriet Knowles-Jones (Paul Roden, Warrington) to the line and seal victory. Both will feature once again, with a great deal of others vying for that crown.

One of those being Khahisa Mhlanga (Mick Judd, Chelmsford) who has dominated the U20 races during this series so far in 2017 and will be keen to make it three Challenge victories in a row.

Scotland’s Anna Macfadyen (Edinburgh University Hare and Hounds) competed for the British team at the world cross country championships earlier this year, and will have her eyes set on earning a vest for the European edition as well.

Bracknell’s Amelia Quirk (Beverley Kitching), 9th at the European cross last year, is a notable entry, as are Jemma Reekie (Andy Young, Kilbarchan) – the European U20 1500m champion – and Ella McNiven (Lynn Webb), the Liverpool Harriers athlete who runs as an U17, is an exciting prospect.

Always impressive on this terrain, Ben Dijkstra (Leicester) leads entries in the U20 men’s field, coming soon after his triumph at Teardrop Lakes in Milton Keynes earlier this month. European U20 1500m gold medallist Jake Heyward (James Thie) flies the flag for the Welsh contingent in the event. The Cardiff athlete won his home Cross challenge event last month after a devastating closing section to the race, and he will be aiming for a similar outcome this time around.

Alongside these races will be a full complement of age group contests as athletes, starting at 11am, contributing to the record figure of over 3000 entries.

Full details on the British Athletics Cross Challenge, Liverpool can be found here.