Stephen Scullion – Unfinished business

I find Stephen Scullion in a coffee shop in Teddington. Barely a mile from the same track on which he’s plied his trade for almost 16 years, the same Bushy Park where shoeprints have left their mark from mile after mile of tempos, easy runs and the soul-searching in between.

Scull, as he’s known to many, is an athlete whose achievements very few can hope to emulate but one who’s ambitions will have a familiar feel for all those towing the line.

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Chasing a feeling

Only one Irishman in history has ran faster than the Belfast man did running laps of St James Park. A cold and wet October morning leaving some of the world’s best stepping to the side.

2.09.49, three minutes behind a broken Eliud Kipchoge and bettered only by John Treacy’s 2.09.15 on a Boston course many federations regard as record-ineligible.

Yet Scull, sat on a bench drinking his cortado, has every sense of a man with unfinished business.

“I raced three weeks before London in Larne and ran 61.08 for a half. Just how I felt that day. If Larne was 10/10, London was 5. And I ran 2.09 5/10. So London’s just fucked me. If London was 10/10 I could just call it and hang my shoes up and just go f**k it. That was it.

How I felt at Larne, it was one of those days where running just paid you back. It went, you’ve worked really hard, I’m going to help you out today. This is going to be a gift, you’re going to love it and I’m in my home. 20 mile up the road from where I live. My parents are there, I’m running with Mo Farah, who I’ve just trained for a month with in Font Romeu. It was just priceless. It was a gift.

That was special but of course now I’m fucked because I need to get on the startline of a marathon feeling like I did at Larne, so there’s still a better result there. “

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Choosing himself in Tokyo

The last 18 months have been tough for Scull.  His Olympic dream fulfilled, he made the startline of Tokyo after a tumultuous build-up in which, on occasion, the only option looked like stepping away from the sport:

“A lot of this time I’ve forgot a lot of pain can be purely psychological. It doesn’t present itself in an “ow”. It’s more of just a weight or a bad feeling, a sadness. And then what comes with that is you don’t feel as springy in your step. You’re not as confident. You’re not as sure of yourself. So how on earth could you perform on the biggest stage of all?

It’s really terrible timing to be going through the little things that I was dealing with. I look back now and I’m like wow that was heavy. It’s just a shame it was the Olympics.”

Scull earnt that place in Tokyo, no-one else did and it was as much his right to step to the side miles later:

“I was kind of surprised but in a way it sounds unfair. I was almost proud of myself in that moment for picking me. I didn’t pick people on Twitter. I didn’t pick the people that were going to judge you.

 I picked a broken man that was hurting and went today I’m going to stick up for you and if you don’t want to do this, we won’t do it. And I go to the side and I walk off and I didn’t regret that. I still don’t regret that. I’ll never regret that.”

Finding perspective

The 33-year-old followed Tokyo with a return to Larne, just less than a year on from finding that magical feeling on the Antrim coast. His performance was over two minutes slower, leaving Scull sat on his Belfast sofa reflecting on what he describes as his worst year as an athlete.

With one mate sat to his side, perhaps tipsy from a stag do he’s just attended and another laughing at him from another sofa, in comes a video call from a former training partner.

Mo Farah had started the race that day in Larne and had been speaking to a listener of Scull’s podcast. An honest and frank portrayal of the often loneliness and vulnerability of life as an elite marathon runner, Scull is often his own worse critic.

“Don’t you know you don’t owe anybody anything Scull.” The four-time Olympic Champion tells him.

And he doesn’t. The bemused faces to the left and right of Scull give him a reminder of just how far he’s come. From a boy riddled with nerves heading to an Irish Schools XC, an adolescent getting in trouble a few years later, to a man who has held his own alongside some of the world’s best.

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Laps of the lake

It brought him back to a few months before and his stay at altitude in the Pyrenees:

“There was a moment during that camp in Font Romeu, Sunday morning and I’m doing laps of this lake on a long run and I’m hurting and Mo knows I’m hurting, so madness he actually just told me to sit in.

Two mile into a long run I’m hurting and we’re working.

The next 18 miles he just leads. I think we’re running like 5.15-20 pace at altitude and it’s no wonder I’m hurting.

I got to a moment probably about 16 miles where I just went, can you just open your eyes a minute? You have Mo Farah leading you round this lake. On a long run, he’s helping you. The sun’s shining, you’ve no shirt on.

Do you know how much money people would pay to not only go for a run with Mo but go for a run with Mo at this speed as organic as that was? It wasn’t forced there were no awkward hellos, no ‘nice to meet you, let’s go for a run’. It was a priceless moment.”

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Seeking balance

2022 has seen Scull approach running differently, no longer will he excuse himself from social occasions and find himself isolated in his flat, instead he is attempting to find some balance.

“I still think I can get better but I need to do it a different way than I’ve been doing because you’re getting a bit miserable by this point. I’ve said no to every social thing that has existed for 15 years and if I did say yes to something it got way out of hand and I retired because I got too drunk and felt guilty. I thought oh my god I’m a bad runner, I’m a bad person. I quit.

This year I thought let’s try something different, balance, moderation. We’ll go to the pub have a couple of pints, we’ll go home, go for a run the next day and not beat ourselves up about it.

I’ve found that the fitness is seemingly good but I’ve found better balance in terms of happiness and maybe those parts of my personality coming back can lead to, if not better results, then it’ll lead to me still being an athlete for three/four years.

If you kept the trajectory you were on, not only were you getting worse, 2021 was my worst year, you were getting very close to a place where you were like no.”

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Representing his country

For the first time in years, Scull has avoided altitude and instead returned to south-west London. Partnering with European Indoor finalist Jack Rowe as well former GB junior Dan Jarvis, Scull has embarked on what he describes as good honest hard work. He’s pleased with the progress he’s made.

It sees him head to Rotterdam next weekend with a genuine chance of running quicker than he ever has before. A World Champs qualifier of 2.11.30 one goal but further ambitions await.

“I definitely think there’s still a faster marathon in me and I hope to god one day I can run in an Irish vest or a Northern Ireland vest and actually run well at a championship. I’ve had so many sh**e championships.”

A month or so after Rotterdam Scull will go for the Commonwealth time at the Night of the 10,000m in Highgate, North London. 28.30 is a mark he feels confident of bettering and he flirts with the idea of also running a 5,000 (13.30) ahead of those Games.

A marathon at the European Champs has a nice ring to it and then hopefully a reunion with the best on the planet at Oregon.

20 years in the making, ups and downs along the way but continuing to move forward, Stephen Scullion continues to chase that feeling.

With thanks to Stephen Scullion.

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Featured image “2017 London Marathon – Stephen Scullion (2)” by katieteresachan is marked with CC BY-SA 2.0.

Dave Clarke – Three races that made me

Sitting down with Dave Clarke, it’s almost impossible to distill a 20-year-long career into a few thousand words. 12 appearances at the World Cross-Country, three National XC titles and two decades racing the best in Europe, here’s our attempt; three races that made me.

World Cross-Country Championships 1983

Riverside Park, Gateshead, 20th March 1983. Green and gold up front, a string vest resting on the torso of a moustachioed man who would become marathon world champion later that year, Rob de Castella.

To his right Carlos Lopes barely eighteen months from Olympic gold. Alberto Salazar resplendent in undergarments from top to toe.

Bekele Debele of Ethiopia moments away from his greatest triumph. Some Muge about to win Kenya’s first ever individual medal.

Antonio Prieto, the Spaniard working hard to stay in touch and at the back of the pack, a blonde-haired England vest, peering over the top.

The commentator says:

“Good to see Dave Clarke’s got himself back to the sort of form we expect of him. He was the National Cross Country champion last year. He was second at Luton.”

In era where British runners excelled on the track, the roads and the cross, Dave Clarke is on his way to another underrated achievement, seventh in the World Cross Country Champs 1983, his second top-10 placing in as many years.

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But for the man who would go on to win four team medals across the event’s history it is still a case of what if:

I got dropped on the penultimate lap and caught them up on the last and stayed with them all the way round the hills. I just got dropped with about 700 yards to go. I always looked back and I’d been quite ill. Hutchings had won the National but I’d had a lousy awful cold. I spent most of my Nationals in those years on antibiotics.

People say now you shouldn’t race on antibiotics, well I had no option! You didn’t run the race, you didn’t make the team. In some ways I ran very well.

That was a brilliant race but I always just wished if I could stay with them that little bit longer then what would have happened in the last bit? I’d have finished higher than 7th.

But it was a massive who’s who of everyone who’s anybody, these amazing athletes. But in 82 and 83. I hadn’t been injured. I was getting better and better and there was absolutely no reason why when you went into a race that you were worried about anybody. Why should you be?”

1978 English National – Bernie Ford versus Ian Stewart

Barely five years before that run in Gateshead, Dave Clarke had decided he was going to take the sport seriously. Gone were the weeks of running 15 miles and winning the odd Surrey medal, now he would ditch the cricket and various other pursuits that caught his attention.

A few months later he was up in Roundhay Park for the National XC:

“In 1978 I finished third in the national as a Junior. It was a lovely day at Leeds and I watched the Seniors afterwards. This is one of the great Nationals of all-time.

If you were at Leeds and you were one side of the slope you could hear them coming before they came. It was a procession, the who’s who of every single distance runner you’d seen on the television, you’d recognized in Athletics Weekly.

At the front in the last two laps it was Bernie Ford against Ian Stewart. Behind them Tony Simmons, Dave Black, Steve Ovett. It was just this line. The speed they went through was wow.

Ian Stewart, 2604 alongside Bernie Ford, Tony Simmons, Dave Black and Steve Ovett behind – credit: Peter Tempest

Olympic medalist versus the hard man of Surrey

It was a head-to-head coming into the last mile. Bernie Ford against Ian Stewart. The two of them came past me with about a mile and a half to go. They were just side by side smashing it out.

They hit the bottom of the hill. Bernie was the cross-country runner. Ian Stewart was the bronze medalist in the 5000m, he was also a 1500m runner.

You just thought if Bernie doesn’t destroy him up the last hill there’s no way he’s going to win. It’s 400 metres from the top to the finish. They went up the hill side by side, came off the top side by side and then you didn’t see them again. You jog towards the finishing area and think what happened?

Bernie Ford won it by two seconds. You thought no way, how could he have beaten the Olympic bronze medalist? But he did. They were just wonderful days.

You saw so many good people. Then you got on with your own training. That was still ’78 and you’ve got a long way to go.”

When three years later Clarke made his debut at the World Cross, who else would be his room-mate but the man he describes as the hard-man of Surrey, Bernie Ford?

The pair would train together for a number of years.

1982 English National – The first of three titles.

Clarke would finish a distant and lonely second chasing Julian Goater round Parliament Hill in 1981 but returned to Roundhay Park for the Senior National quietly confident:

“I went up to Leeds and Pat Butcher was the Times correspondent at the time. I’d stayed with a lady called Christine Boxer who was a Loughbrough student on the way up. We were at the services and Pat came up.

He said, “Hi Dave can I have a chat about the race? Who do you think’s going to win today because McLeod’s here and he’s in great shape and Moorcroft’s here and all these people. And he went through all these people and I said yeah they’re in good shape.

 I did the warm up with Grenville Tuck (who would finish 46th) and I just ran round with him. Reasonable day, bit windy, little rain but not much. After the race Grenville came up to me and said I knew you were going to win the race, on the warm up I was flat out and you were just chatting to me.

It was a bit of a battle, mainly because on the first lap there was a strong-ish wind against you on the last bit. Roundhay Park was a good course but it had two big hills in it. The last one was “hill 60”.

Generally whenever we ran there there was a hot dog stand right on the top of the hill and also there’d be a bloke normally there with a cigar. And you can imagine you’re there desperately trying to get oxygen and there’s cigar smoke wafting in your face and the hot dog stand next door to you.

Dave Clarke (far right) in the 1982 National, Dave Moorcroft (689), Mike McLeod (925), Barry Knight (3175)

On the first lap into the wind, Mike and I had got away a bit and I turned to McLeod, “do you want to alternate a bit and we can get away from these into a headwind?”

He just turned to me and went “f**k off” in the way only a northerner could do.

So I said that’s a no then is it? We battled against each other all the way round the second lap and near the end of the second, we came to the second of the big hills and there’s this huge crowd lining both sides of the course. Most of them are northerners. It was that time where there was the song Hey Mickey.

There are all these Northerners going, “hey Micky you’re so fine”.

“Go on Mickey, stuff the Southern b**t**d. Go on Mickey stuff him.”

My friend Alex turned up at the right time. In the side of the crowd, I’m running there and he’s going f**k the c**ts and I’m thinking ‘jesus Alex for God’s sake leave it out’. I’m going to get disqualified if you keep using this language.

He was running two metres to the side saying go on get the b**tard and eventually I pulled away from him and ran the last lap on my own.

Dave Clarke at the 1982 National – Credit: Peter Tempest

The most frightening thing of all, when you’re at Leeds you come off the lake, up a slope round a summer house and then straight back down, just 20 metres from where you’d been coming up.

Imagine, I think I won by 14 seconds. As you’re 30 metres down, you’ve got hundreds of people coming up and you’re thinking s**t I’ve got a mile and a half to go, basically there’s 1600, 1700 people chasing me.

It’s quite a chilling sort of situation to be in because you’re thinking if my shoelace comes undone or I fallover or get tired, I’ve had it. I won’t even make the team, let alone win the damn thing.”

His shoelaces stayed tight and his body vertical. He would add two more National titles before he was done, a total only two men in history have bettered.  

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Featured image by John Burles.

Callum Elson – from footballer to sub-four

A footballer three years ago, a distance runner in December, Callum Elson is now a bonafide miler.

On 12 February 2022 Callum became the 217th Brit to run a sub-four-minute mile, finishing second in 3.59.71 at the BU Valentine meet in Boston, Massachusetts.

Fast forward a month and Elson is the NCAA Div II Indoor Mile champion, winning a national title in just his fifth ever mile outing.

It’s an eye-catching rise, one followed by the thousands of followers of his sub-elite focused Instagram, the Distance Project and enough to earn a supportive text from his football-loving dad:

“Who do you think you are, Roger Bannister?”

Football first

Elson is not without pedigree. His mother, Sara, represented Great Britain at the World Junior Champs over 400m Hurdles, but it was football that captured his early attention.

Callum joined his local team and by seven had been asked to play with Leeds United Academy. Four times a week he would train, one of the smaller players buzzing around in centre-mid, and playing with Leeds until he was 14.

Elson still played to a good level after his departure, regularly representing Leeds Schoolboys, but slowly he realized he might have even greater talent elsewhere. Elson said:

“The main attributes (my teammates) would say. One that I was loud because I always shout on the pitch and lose my head a bit but secondly that I would just run around like crazy in terms of the endurance. For whatever reason, getting around the pitch was my greatest attribute.”

Callum Elson and his two sporting passions.

A different kind of double

Elson decided to try out his local parkrun in Roundhay Park, running low 19 minutes as a 13/14 year-old. Parkruns morphed into local cross-country leagues and before too long his juggling act commenced.

“My mum was driving me over to the cross-country in the morning. I would race a local cross-country come like sixth or seventh being a tiny little kid against big guys that were doing it seriously and then I’d drive straight in the car. Spikes off, football boots on. Arrive literally just before kick-off and they’d say ‘oh you’ve had a warm-up Callum’. Then I’d play football for 60 minutes, 70 minutes and that was just the weekend.”

Callum persuaded his school to enter him as their sole representative in the West Yorkshire Schools Cross Country, where he did enough to earn a vest and become a regular at the English Schools. 142nd in 2013, 184th the next, 152nd in his first senior boys.

Callum Elson finishing second in a BMC A 3000 in Leeds in May 2021

Schoolboy success

His years would look the same, play football throughout winter and spring, then run in the off-season.

2017 came around and Callum made a pretty startling breakthrough, one that probably makes the subsequent ones easier to fathom.

“How the age groups worked, when I was the younger age group Emile Cairess was always the one above me so he would destroy everyone. When you’d go to English Schools you’d think, hopefully Emile can come in the top ten and we’ll just fill the numbers in the 150th or whatever.

But for some reason that year (2017) I’d actually won the County’s and I’d thought I’d won the county’s because not many people had turned up.”

National breakthrough

He’d quickly find out why he had won the West Yorkshire title. In Norwich at English Schools he’d start front of the pen and finish 16th.

“You look at the people in front of me and it was Tom Mortimer, George Mills, Angus McMillan, like they’re all within one or two places of me. They’re all now some of the best runners in GB. Some of them running professionally. So whether that was a mix of hitting puberty, being stronger, whether it was actually cumulative as you’ve being doing some training. I just ran really well and thought that’s decent.”

Decent indeed, but not good enough for Callum to leave football behind altogether.

“It probably shocked other people more than me. Kevin Hussey (Ethan Hussey’s dad) was the team manager for us and I think they were like bloody hell that is high.  Butnot good enough for me to start pursuing running and go to Leeds City. Arguably the best club in the country which is right on my doorstep.

I would just start training in the summer, go off play football. Go to uni, play football for three years. So yeah it was impressive.

If I could go back and say to myself today, bloody hell you could be on to something here I probably would but that’s not how it works out.”

Callum Elson competing for AIC in the Cross

Chasing the team atmosphere

Elson went to Durham University, initially trying to focus more on athletics but the buzz of team football slowly drew him back to the sport:

“I’m really big on the camaraderie and the team side of football I really like. That’s what I try and have here (in America) with the college team. Track and field is such an introverted sport sometimes and you get such dedicated people that you don’t always have that team element. I think that’s why so many people are attracted to America because it seems like in the NCAA you have that team atmosphere.”

That’s what I’m trying to always put on people here. It’s like come on, lighten up. Let’s arrive 10 mins early, have a bit of banter as we put on our spikes. Let’s not do 10 x k and leave.”

AIC at the NCAA Div 2 East Regionals

An individual sport?

Probably because I wasn’t part of an athletics club when I was younger that was probably why I had that view that running had always been an individual thing that I would do.

Running does have that team side to it. Thinking back, if I’d gone to Leeds City, people like Emile that have gone on to amazing things. Josh Dickinson, they’re all training in that environment now.

You only have to look at their social media for two minutes to see the camaraderie they have when they’re all training together. It’s good that people can see that through Sweat Elite and different things now.

You see an insight into what running’s actually like. It isn’t as simple as you just turn up to a track and do your thing. Whether it’s in hindsight or I’m just slightly a different personality now, I really see the team element of it.”

Callum Elson and his AIC Team celebrating a conference title.

Moving to AIC

While chasing that team atmosphere at university, staying in touch with athletics over the off-season did have its benefits.

It was Callum’s outings over 5k and 10k that drew the attention of the then American International College coach Lee Mayo:

“At this point (2019) I’m probably doing four or five months where I’m focusing on running. I’m trying to do some 5ks, 10ks. At this point I’m getting pretty decent times in the grand scheme of things. I got down to 15.12.

Those times for Division 2 NCAA are still pretty decent.

Leo Mayo reached out to me and said are you interested at all in American college? Have you thought about it? And me being me, graduating from Durham I either had chances to continue for interviews for graduate schemes and head down to London for a job or have the opportunity to come out to America.

He was like look if you come here in this environment I think you can get down to a level where you can be good enough for us if that makes sense. You’re going to be competitive at the conference level. You’re going to score some points which is what they want.

I don’t think they could have envisaged that I would have gone on to run the times that I have and really pushed on in that sense. That’s the same as everyone in our team. No-one came over as someone that was identified as winning a national title but they’ve stumbled across some hidden gems if you will. Guys that didn’t really have the potential to go to top D1 schools but have come here.

 and now we’ve got a guy who runs 1.48, we’ve got me 3.59, we’ve got a 13.40 5k guy.”

The journey continues

Callum’s progress may seem explosive but the fault lines were already there. A 14.07 5k man, sub 4 miler with a national title to his name, Callum is an inspiration for all those sub-elite athletes hoping to take the next step.

It’s a journey so far built on hard work, discipline and being a student of the sport. To watch it continue, with international vests the ambition, follow the Distance Project for regular updates.  

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Featured image from Callum Elson, the Distance Project.

NCAA Indoor Champs – The Brits involved

The NCAA Division 1 Indoor Track and Field Championships will take place the weekend of March 11-12 at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, Alabama. It’s a schedule packed full of Brits to keep an eye out for.

The full schedule can be found here closer to the time. This is being shown on ncaa.com but look out in the days leading up as there is a chance this will be broadcast on a BT channel or on Youtube (I will keep this page updated).

Included below are all the British entrants in the individual events, their college and their home club in the UK. The numbers at the beginning denote their qualifying ranking with the times/distances/points their season bests.

200m Mens

14. Toby Makoyawo – 20.73 – Boston University (Windsor Slough Eton and Hounslow)

400m Womens

9. Amber Anning – 51.87 – LSU (Brighton & Hove)

800m Mens

6. Yusuf Bizimana – 1.47.27 – Texas at Austin (Victoria Park & Tower Hamlets)

15. Tiarnan Crorken – 1.47.68 – Ole Miss (Preston)

1 Mile

Men

8. James Young – 3.55.20 – Ole Miss (Morpeth)

16. Adam Fogg – 3.56.60 – Drake (Coventry)

Women

13. Ellie Leather – 4.34.89 Cincinnati (Westbury)

3000m Men

10. Charles Hicks – 7.43.84 – Stanford (Shaftesbury Barnet)

60m Hurdles Men

9. Joshua Zeller – 7.67 – Michigan (Bracknell AC)

Shot Put Women

6. Divine Oladipo – 17.92m – Vanderbilt (Blackheath & Bromley)

Pentathlon Women

7. Isabel Wakefield – 4159 – Duke (Harrow)

Best of luck to all those competing at the NCAA Indoor champs.

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Featured image “JK1_5338” by Ripon College is marked with CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

The Wallsend Harrier making a green and gold splash – Sam Charlton

Once again on Parliament Hill, amongst a sea of familiar vests, one made its way to the front. The green and gold of Wallsend, a distinctive undershirt beneath and a 20-year-old quickly making his mark.

Sam Charlton has established himself as one of Britain’s most exciting prospects, winning English Schools, Inter County and National titles in 2019 and going onto being a record breaker on the road.

On Saturday in the National Junior Men’s race he came fourth.

Sam Charlton leading the Junior Men’s race at the English National XC 2022 – Credit Mark Hookway

Foundations in football

When you think of Wallsend, most conjure the junior football club, Wallsend Boys Club where Peter Beardsley, Alan Shearer and Michael Carrick first learnt their trade.

Charlton was no different, playing for the club as a youngster and his introduction into athletics was a touch of fortune. He told us:

“At the time I was playing for them at around U8s to U10s. I did the Junior Great North run for charity as part of the club by chance. There was a lad on my team who was doing it, he was ill on the day and said do you want to use my number?”

Charlton entered the U11s race, finished 65th and said he loved the experience of racing against people his own age. Despite continuing with the football it was enough to tempt him back.  

52nd as an U13, 46th the next year, in 2016 Charlton came ninth as an U15.

At this point Wallsend realized they might have a bit of a talent, even if they couldn’t have anticipated the degree to which that would prove true.

Sam Charlton racing at Watford in 2021 – Credit: Mark Hookway

Representing the North-East

Paddy Dinsmore, Sam’s first coach was the first to spot it, setting the centre-midfielder a plan and weening him away from football.

Paddy is one in a number of good people from the North-East for whom Sam is keen to place credit. Another is Bill McGuirk, former head of the English Cross-Country Association, one of Wallsend’s first founders and a giant in Tyneside running and beyond.

“It’s a really good feeling when we get to represent them guys because they’re the one that have pushed us up to that top level and just believed in us when selecting to represent teams whether it’s the Inter-counties, Northumberland Schools, whatever. They’ve given us that belief that we could go and achieve something.”

Taking each step at a time

Reassuringly for any athlete reading this, success takes many different forms and one of the first fond memories Charlton has is his first English Schools in 2017.

“I think I was 126th. At the time I was over the moon with that because the way it was told to me is that you’re 126th in the country for your age. That sounded like a huge deal and it still is because there’s thousands of kids that go out to their school events. It was quite exciting at the time.”

That result goes down as Charlton’s worst English Schools performance. The next year he came sixth before winning it as a first year Senior Boy in 2019.

Sam Charlton winning the 2019 English National U17s – Credit: Mark Hookway

Dealing with the pressure

With such a rapid rise, you’d expect some pressure, going from not even knowing your competitors to being the guy everyone wants to beat.

Charlton, however, has largely seen each step as an opportunity rather than a potential stumbling block.

Whilst he admits moments where it has weighed on him, generally he’s maintained that outlook, seeing every race as an opportunity to showcase the green and gold.

Sam Charlton finishing 4th at the English National Junior Mens 2022 – Credit: Mark Hookway

A British record

One occasion where that wasn’t possible is one of Charlton’s best races to date. Racing the Abbey Dash in October, Charlton adorned the purple of Leeds Beckett, making his debut over the 10k distance.

Jon Gascoyne’s 1991 British U20 record of 29.35 had withstood almost 30 years of record attempts.

“When I got to 5k and saw the clock on the lead car and saw 14.39, I was doing the maths in my head thinking I’ve overcooked this a bit. I’ve messed this race up and gone through too fast. But then I kept building into the race and everyone told us before the race you’ll get to 7k and you’ll usually get that bite and really struggle at that point.

I got to that and I was waiting and waiting for that bite to happen and it never came. I didn’t really understand what was going on. This doesn’t really feel right, I just feel like I’m getting stronger and stronger.

Seeing the clock when I turned the corner for the finishing straight. I was looking ahead trying to see what it was and it was still in the 28s. The clock must be wrong. I’ve crossed the line and I’ve seen 29.20 odd and I was having to double check that the time was right and I was double checking with people that the course was definitely the right distance because obviously the year before it had been short.”

The course wasn’t and Charlton had taken 18 seconds off the junior record, finishing fourth in a stacked field.

Nudging that ceiling higher

We’ve seen countless examples of juniors who’ve achieved similar feats and then failed to make the next grade, but there seems little to indicate that will be the case for Charlton.

Under the patient tutelage of Helen Clitheroe, his biggest week ever is a modest 59 miles and the Wallsend man averages between 50 and 55 miles with three quality sessions.  It’s much less than many of his training partners at the Leeds Talent Hub and without putting too much emphasis on it, Charlton believes it will be one day useful for his progression.

“There are some guys who are already on really high mileage at my age and don’t really have many more places to go with their training. For example a lot of the five k, ten k guys in their peak they’re probably running 100-miles a week. There’s 40 more miles I’ve got to build upon in my training to get to that level.

I think she’s (Helen’s) quite excited to see where she can take my training to. Of course I’m really  excited for that too because I think that will make a big difference as well.”

Sam Charlton winning at the BMC Grand Prix 800m – Credit: Mark Hookway

British 5k record attempt

Just a few weeks ago at the Podium Under the Lights, Charlton came within two seconds of the 5k record, running 13.56 for fourth.

It wasn’t even a record he still thought he was eligible for but has since learnt that he has until August. On 12 March at Podium he will give it another go.

“I think it would be silly not to be aiming at that. I’m only two seconds off. I think it’s definitely within my reach. The BUCS was only six days before that race and it took me five of those days to actually pull myself around because that mud really drained my legs.

I was getting a bit worried that week of how it was going to affect the 5k. I was just having to do everything I could. I’m not very good at keeping on top of my stretching and stuff like that but last week I was on it because I knew I had to. My easy runs were at 7.30s when normally they’re at 7 minutes. I thought I’ve got to do everything I can just to recover my legs.

To be honest on the day they felt good but they didn’t feel as good as I know they can do and I think that was down to having that race still in my legs a bit so I think that just gives us extra positives for that next race on 12th March at Podium.

I just hope the conditions are good. It’s Podium, there are always top athletes there to drag you round so hopefully we can find that two seconds somehow.”

Two more seconds for an athlete who has made giant leaps over the last few years. On 12th March look out for the green and gold, showcasing the North East on a national level once more.

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Featured image – Mark Hookway

Jimmy Ashworth – “Running gets under your skin”

Even if you wanted to, it would be almost impossible to replicate the approach to running of Jimmy Ashworth. The world, for better or worse has irrevocably changed.

Jimmy’s a familiar face for many endurance fans but for most of his early life had little intention to get involved in the sport.

Jogging for fitness

“We got married, we had a young family and I was putting weight on. I thought I’ll do something to get fit and I just went out and did a bit of jogging. My wife said why don’t you join a club? I went down to join Bingley Harriers, they set of out the door and bang.

We hadn’t even crossed the football field and I got dropped so I just turned round and went back, said to my wife I flipping hate it it’s a waste of time.

She said give it another go and I did, lasted till the end of the football field, got dropped and then I just stuck at it because I did enjoy it.”

Within six months he entered his first 20-mile road race, running 2hrs 6 minutes on his 21st birthday. Though he would take almost half-an-hour off that time in later years (1.41.05 to win the 1984 Inter Counties 20), it was enough to get him hooked:

“It suits my nature, addictive personality. Running it’s one of these things that gets under your skin, it is an addiction, it’s an obsession. I think you must have that nature surely to succeed at the elite level because especially living in this country the weather can be against you quite a lot. I just went out and ran because that was all I was interested in.”

Jimmy Ashworth winning the Barnsley Half

Stepping up in distance

Despite settling on the marathon, Jimmy’s first desire was to be an 800m runner. His training partners at Bingley put paid to that.

“When I started to train and run, the two guys who were that little bit younger than me were Steve Binns and Colin Moore. Steve Binns went onto to run 13.27 when he was 19. When you’re training with someone as fast as that at that age and you’re getting left, dropped big style, even though you might be going fast yourself you think I’m not much.”

Binns would later run in the Seoul Olympics over 10,000m and finish fifth in the 1987 World Champs. Moore would run 28.13 over 10,000m. It was perhaps a warped perception of ‘fast’.

For a man who reiterates its always about racing to compete those training sessions forced his hand. Jimmy moved to the marathon and within 18-months of first being dropped at that Bingley session was running 100-mile weeks.

Rewards came quickly but looking back he admits a more gradual approach may have yielded greater success.

“I really believed that if I’d have trained at the volume but not gone into marathon running I’d have been a lot faster over the track and faster over the marathon.”

Marathon miles

What followed, even by the standards of the day was a relentless schedule. For the next ten years Jimmy would average between 130 and 150 miles per week, every week. His biggest? A frankly ludicrous 182.

Typical training week (just the sessions, every day a double)

  • Monday – Fartlek or hill work
  • Tuesday – Track in summer, a road session in winter. Anything from 10 miles sustained effort to repeat miles on the road
  • Wednesday – long run up to 15 miles
  • Thursday – A track session with the same overall volume but shorter reps.
  • Friday – 2 easy runs – for a period of time he ran 15 miles to work in the morning, 5 at lunch and 11 in the evening. “Friday was always my easy day.”
  • Saturday – track session or big session on the road
  • Sunday – Long run, between 20 and 33 miles – No double if he ran 30+ miles

It wasn’t just the running that tired Jimmy out, by day he worked in the scrapyard, his party trick being able to lift a mini engine on to a set of scales with his hands. Tiring physical work, coupled with what most would describe as an exhausting hobby.

“You get used to it, you’re constantly knackered but you actually get used to it. It was part and parcel that you’d be tired, there’d be no bounce in your legs, you were just dead. But I didn’t realise or understand that you need to have peaks and troughs. It was a constant thing. If I was racing this week and it was a 10-mile race and it wasn’t really important I’d drop down to 100.

I’d drop down less if I wanted to run really well but I’d race off 100 mile a week and I would still expect to go well. I remember running a half marathon in 64 minutes and I’d run a 100 mile that week. I’d drop down to about 70 for marathons.”

Jimmy Ashworth (far left) at the Great North Run 1988

Burning out

For Jimmy it’s hard to say the approach didn’t work, his 2.11.43 in winning Berlin still sits 43rd in the UK all-time list and he had four further Inter-Counties titles to boot.

It saw him travel to Lille, Venice, New York twice, win in Miami and Manchester and run 62:24 over the half. But there’s a part of him that, 35 years later, still leaves him questioning what might have been.

“With hindsight it were far too much. The balance between rest and recovery wasn’t there. There wasn’t the recovery there should have been to support the quantity I was doing. This is why I ended up being worn out, why I had a short career.

I sort of packed it in when I was 32, sort of dabbled around but I’d stopped training hard. I probably had maybe 12 years at it from starting running to finishing.”

Jimmy Ashworth at the 1989 Venice Marathon – Gelino Bordino winner of the 1988 Seoul Olympics (no 7)

Finding your limits

Jimmy’s running was built on a lack of compromise and whilst there’ll always be a morsel of regret there’ll be much more that will be thankful for finding out just how far he could go.

“I remember chasing Steve Jones at the Birmingham AAAs half marathon and he set out like a bat out of hell. A couple of guys followed him and I think the turning point was at two miles. You could see the pack was way away and really the race was over, I’d committed because I wanted to compete.

I didn’t set off thinking I need to look at my watch and do five-minute miling. I think the attitude would stay the same. I’d blow up a lot more because I’d go with the pacers because I wanted to compete. I think science is a great tool but so much gets stuck on the watch, instead of noting what’s happening with the group. Maybe if they committed and went with it they might surprise themselves.”

To see Jimmy run in today’s era, aided by the new shoes and gifted by the experience of his previous career would be some fantasy prospect.

In his story, there’s lessons to be learnt, both in pushing yourself to the limits and stepping back when you’re about to cross them.

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Featured image courtesy of Jimmy Ashworth twitter

English National Cross-Country Champs Preview 2022

The English National Cross-Country Championships returns to Parliament Hill for the first time since 2018. That day Adam Hickey prevailed for the men with Phoebe Law taking the women’s title.

With the effects of Storm Eunice leaving Parliament Hill a mudbath, it promises to be a war of attrition over 12k for the Senior Men and 8k for the Senior Women.

Defending champs

Calum Johnson won in Wollaton Park in 2020 in similarly difficult conditions and back in December said he was ‘100% going back’ to defend his title. He told us:

“I’m not doing it because I have to defend the title, I’m doing it because I love the National cross. I love the atmosphere, everything about it. I grew up watching that race so I always found it inspiring. Winning it last year meant so much to me and everyone’s seen that in the photos.

I won’t be there because I feel I have to defend the title, I’m gonna be there because I want to be there.”

Calum’s latest outing came after suffering COVID over Christmas where he finished 17th at the Northern Ireland Invitational. A month later, free from illness he may be the event’s dark horse.

Calum Johnson at the British Cross Challenge – 8th

On the women’s side Anna Emilie Moller won in 2020, despite not actually ever competing for GB or England. The runner-up that day was Jess Judd, with third place Bronwen Owen of Leeds City. Owen makes this year’s start line but Judd is not on the entries list.

The men’s favourite

Emile Cairess has to start as favourite and comes into the race after a stint at altitude in Kenya. Whilst training out there he participated in a stacked Kenyan race, part of the World Athletics Cross Tour and finished in 41st. Having tied Mo Farah’s British record over 10k on the roads he looks to be potentially a class above the rest of the field, but this is cross.

Emile Cairess on his way to 2nd place in the 2019 National – Credit: Mark Hookway

The women’s favourites

On paper the women’s race would be more open but by virtue of their wins at the Southerns, Northerns and Midlands respectively, Jess Gibbon, Eleanor Bolton and Katie Holt appear to be the early favourites. Both Gibbon and Holt won by good margins.

Jess Gibbon winning the Southerns in 2022 – Credit: Mark Hookway

Bolton was fourth in the most recent Northern Ireland International, first English woman ahead of Gibbon in 7th. Holt did not race but was 9th in the recent Cross Internacional Juan Muguerza in Elgoibar, the first British woman.

The men’s contenders

Andy Coley-Maud’s last appearance at Parliament Hill saw him take the runner’s up spot in 2018. Since then, he is unbeaten across five subsequent cross appearances and ran bravely to win his second Southerns title in late January. At the later end of his career he would be a popular winner.

Hugo Milner has really reached a new level over the last year and was unlucky not to make the Euro-Cross team. He was 4th in Northern Ireland and acquitted himself well in finished 9th in the Cross Internacional Juan Muguerza in Eigobar.  

Milner wearing the Derby vest at the British Cross Challenge – Credit: Mark Hookway

The man who finished second behind Milner at the Northerns was Nigel Martin. The Sale Harriers man will be there or thereabouts.

Alexander Leprêtre is clearly in decent form having finished 3rd to run 13:55 in the Podium Under the Lights.

Zak Mahamed won in Northern Ireland and was second at the Bucs Cross-Country. He will compete and will be inspired by the presence of his brother Mahamed, a previous national winner in 2019. Together they lead what looks to be a very strong Southampton side.

Zak Mahamed on his was to winning the U20 title in 2020 – Credit: Mark Hookway

Joe Steward and Linton Taylor chased home Johnson for second and third the last time this race was run and will hope to make the step up this time. Steward hasn’t raced since his national runners-up spot but is listed on the entries, while Taylor has been in Kenya training alongside Cairess.

Olympic triathlon silver medalist Alex Yee is listed on the entries for Kent AC but it would be surprise to see him there.

Doug Musson deserves mention by virtue of his impressive win at the Midlands Champs.

Two-time winner of the U20’s race, Ellis Cross is listed amongst a strong Aldershot, Farnham and District. Having raced infrequently of late he could surprise a few and has previously stated his career ambition to one-day win a senior national.

The women’s contenders

Lauren Heyes may have finished 4th in the Northerns but in finishing 9th at the British Cross Challenge she’s shown good pedigree this cross-season. She’s on the start list for Hallamshire Harriers.

Lauren Heyes – finishing 9th at the 2021 Cross Challenge – Credit: Mark Hookway

Nicole Taylor is currently nursing a slight injury but won the Sussex Champs in early January. Her best national was a 12th place in 2019. Fellow Tonbridge athlete Lucy Reid won the Kent equivalent and was one place behind Taylor in 13th in 2019.

Nicole Taylor – English Cross 2020 – Credit: Mark Hookway

Sophie Tarver was second behind Bolton in the Northerns and finished 13th in Elgoibar. That day Alexandra Millard finished in 10th though she competes in the Junior race.

Pippa Woolven finished 11th and is on the entry list for the Seniors. Woolven finished 2nd in the 2019 National and maybe a dark horse for this year’s title.

Amelia Quirk is also on the entries list though looks set to compete at the British Indoors.

Past winners in the field

Adam Hickey has fond memories of Parliament Hill, having won in 2018 and is entered though he has raced infrequently of late.

Ben Connor, a winner in 2017 is also listed though there are some doubts as to whether, given his marathon schedule, he will tow the start line.

Tips

Matt Seddon, Co-host of the Sunday Plodcast: Emile Cairess

Keith Scofield, Organiser Friday Night Under the Lights: Mahamed Mahamed, Jess Gibbon

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Featured image: National Cross 2020 Senior Women’s Race – Credit: Mark Hookway

“What excites you the most leads to the best performances” – Matt Leach

Matt Leach speaks to me from across the Atlantic, fitting in an hour or so conversation around 100 weekly miles and life as a software engineer at Google.

It’s quickly apparent he’s an intelligent man but with his athletics there’s a side of the old romantic.  

You’d be forgiven for thinking Leach is a marathon runner now. 2021 saw him improve his best to 2.15.31, finishing 9th in London on his second attempt at the distance.

A very respectable showing, just over a minute outside the qualifying standard for the European Champs and 91 secs outside England Athletics’ own Commonwealth bar.

With a 62.57 half-marathon best, part of a father and son combined world record (his 55-year-old father ran 71.10) it suggests there’s plenty left to come.

Matt Leach – second from left in the British Champs 5000m, 2021 – Credit: Mark Hookway

25 lap return

For now, however, marathon ambitions are on hold with Leach planning a return to the track for the Night of the 10,000m on May 14th. He told us:

“I think a big thing that my coaches over the years have encouraged is do what feels right. I feel like I really want to run fast on the track.

You should do what you want to do. All these races are really cool. The Night of the 10,000m, the London marathon it’s a really fun race and doing what excites you the most leads to the best performances as well.”

Matt Leach running the 2018 Night of the 10,000m – Photo credit: Mark Hookway

It means rather than chasing a Commonwealth standard that 99 Brits in history have run, he instead focuses on an even more ambitious 10,000m time. England Athletics have made the goal for the 10,000m 28:00, a mark only 33 Englishmen have ever bettered.

In finishing 4th Brit in last year’s Olympic 10,000m trials the former Bedford and County man ran 28.22, a second outside his two-year-old lifetime best.

“I feel there’s a lot of time that could come down in the 5k, 10k. 28 flat is a nice round number. I’d like to run that or as close as I can as possible. I feel there’s more time in the legs after last year.”

Long-term goals

Running fast on the track is clearly something important for Leach and it all helps towards a goal he’s happy to whisper quietly; making the GB team for the Paris Olympics.

“I do say it out loud because if I talk to people at work and they say it, they ask this question and the Olympics is the obvious thing to say. And I guess it’s not so out of the question that it doesn’t feel wrong.

I don’t think about it that much, I just want to be as good as I can be and wherever that takes me is where it is. Have fun, try and be as fast and as good as I can be. See what happens.”

Matt Leach at the Watford Open Graded Meeting 1500, 28 Jun 2017 – Credit: Mark Hookway

From Cambridge to San Francisco

It’s an attitude that has got him to this point, so why change it? His time at Cambridge University under the tutelage of Phil O’Dell saw him improve from a decent county-level athlete to third place at the 2014 BUCS 5000m.

It earned him a scholarship to San Francisco University, allowing him to juggle professional ambitions in the tech industry with the next steps in athletics. From there he continued to build.

“From my personal point of view consistency is a big thing. Trying to build miles on top of miles, years on top of years. Not trying to push it too far that you end up getting injured, taking a few steps forward but three steps back.

Every year I try and keep on improving. This year I’m trying to take my strength and conditioning more seriously than I have done in the past.”

Peninsula Distance Club

After university Leach chose to stay on the west coast, linking up with his current coach Dena Evans at Peninsula Distance Club.

“Peninsula Distance Club is a running club based in the Bay Area. We have probably around 50 or so people maybe 20 to 30, who train regularly, meet two maybe three times a week. For a Tuesday and maybe a Saturday session.

It’s almost entirely people who’ve graduated. There’s a fair number of Stanford Phd students as well as people who work in the area. It’s just a really great community and a lot of people who I’ve become good friends with over the years.

We do 800 all the way up to the marathon and there’s been some people who run ultras. We have a big range, a really big group and I think I’ve been lucky to find that after graduating because I do think there’s more of a club system in the UK for once you leave university.”

Matt Leach in the 2018 British Champs over 5000m

Work/life imbalance

I look to wrap up the conversation, aware that Leach is a busy man. That’s clear to see and despite support from London Marathon Events and SOAR, he still essentially pursues his ambitions as a hobby.

“I always had it in my head that when I started running the marathon I would go part-time at my job because it is just a lot more training, you’re really tired all the time. There were definitely days where I was struggling at work because I was too tired.

But the marathon has come, I’ve run it and I’m still working full-time so that hasn’t happened. I do think about going part-time but I think it’s something very personal to each individual. For me I would want to be doing something that isn’t just being a professional runner.”

With big ambitions for the track, a breakthrough year in 2022 may force Leach’s hand but for now he’s happy to juggle it all.

In doing so he provides that little bit of inspiration for every other athlete doing the same.

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Millrose Games 2022 Preview

Josh Kerr’s quest for World Championship gold begins this Saturday over the mile at the Millrose Games, where he will face a star-studded field.

The Scotsman, fresh from Tokyo bronze, faces an Olympic final re-run against 11th placer Ollie Hoare, as well as the challenge of a developing Hobbs Kessler.

With Craig Engels and Clayton Murphy also making the field Kerr may seek to challenge Yomif Kejelcha’s world indoor record of 3.47.01, set in Boston in 2019.

Men’s 3000m

Another stacked field sees European U20 cross-country champion Charles Hicks square off against recent Nike signings Cooper Teare and Cole Hocker in the men’s 3000m. It’s a race which also features New Zealand’s newly-crowned 5000m indoor record holder Geordie Beamish.

Women’s 3000m

European indoor champ Amy-Eloise Markovc opens her season over 3000m with fellow Brit Holly Archer. They’re set to take on a host of American talents as well as Olympic Steeplechase fourth placer, Mekides Abebe.

Women’s 800m and Men’s 400m

Neutral observers will have an eye out for Athing Mu, who could threaten Maria Mutola’s 800m world mark of 1.56.36, as well as the season opener of Donovan Brazier over 400m.

Men’s 60m

In the men’s 60m Christian Coleman’s second race after his return from a doping ban will see him meet world-indoor medalist Ronnie Baker, 200m Olympic champ Noah Lyles and 2021’s fastest man over 100m, Trayvon Bromell.

Men’s Mile (B Race)

Watch out for Adam Fogg in the B race. The Warwickshire man is due to switch nationalities back to his native GB and ran a 3.56.60 indoor mile just this weekend.

He could be dragged quicker in a strong field featuring US Olympian, Robby Andrews.

Other fields

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Featured image “2015 Millrose Games – Wanamaker Mile – Armory – O’Hare, Lagat” by Steven Pisano is licensed under CC BY 2.0

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“The only way you build consistency is being a step back” – Kris Jones and a summer of twin ambitions.

Kris Jones raced at the weekend in the Scottish Inter-District. He won, perhaps no great shock to many neutral observer but it was significant nonetheless.

Kris hasn’t raced since last summer’s Olympic 10,000m trials. That day in June the Welshman ran 28.23.50, fifth Brit and crucially well under the Commonwealth Games standard. Since fast 10,000 m races are difficult to come by, he tells me that Birmingham felt like his last shot at getting under the 28.30 he required. 

Recovering from long-term injury

Little did Kris know that just a few weeks later problems started to emerge. A stress reaction on his femur.

“I went for a scan and I had swelling on the bone tissue. I tried to read up as much as you can and it [bone injuries] tends to be if you’ve got risk factors. Big changes in your training, issues with not getting enough energy, being deficient in certain nutrients and we were going through everything. I had blood tests and it seemed there wasn’t any factor associated with it.”

Weeks off and little signs of improvement, Kris remembered something about a run after the 10,000 m race. Like he often does running in the mountains and through the forests Kris had been bitten by a tick, removing it like he always does. It is a regular occurrence in his life as a top-level orienteer. But unlike most ticks, this one carried Lyme’s disease.

A test confirmed as much and Kris, aided by antibiotics, walked the tightrope of hoping to avoid some of the disease’s worst effects. Chronic fatigue for months, years on end. Anything like that and Kris’s place with the elite would likely be over. 

Fortunately for Kris it isn’t and his showing over the weekend confirms as much.

Credit: Kris Jones

Orienteering – A family affair for Kris Jones

Whilst his life at the sharp end of UK athletics has been a more recent phenomenon, Kris’s success in orienteering dates far longer.

“I first started orienteering when I was about 11-12, just locally in Swansea. My dad did it and he took the whole family along. It’s quite a good sport for that because you can all go out and do your own race and there’s different levels of difficulty. The kids do shorter, easier courses and the parents do more difficult courses.

I got involved in running through that. I’d join my dad for a run. I thought if I can get better at running I’ll get better at orienteering and it was always that way around. I was making county teams, Abertawe schools, West Wales but I was more interested in the orienteering.”

International selection

It wasn’t long before Kris started making international teams, being picked for British Orienteering in the 2008 European Youth Orienteering champs, where he enjoyed an up and down weekend:

“I was entered for the long distance, relay and a sprint distance. I think it would be a 70-minute race, a 30-minute race and a 15-minute race.

I think I might have been disqualified in the long distance. I punched the wrong checkpoint. I think I ran quite well in the relay, and I won the sprint.”

Three races in a weekend might seem a lot to those involved in athletics but for orienteers it’s part of the beauty of the sport.

“I quite enjoyed that aspect that you could always race. As soon as you’ve done a race you were on to the next one. It’s a little bit less physically intense than running but it’s difficult because you have to navigate. You’re kind of running at a threshold level and you quite often see orienteers racing really frequently because of that.”

Credit: Alexander Chepelin – Kris Jones competing at the European Orienteering Champs 2018

Sticking with the sprints

Kris began to realise the sprint distance was the event for him, aided both by how it suited his strengths and his ability to train.

“To train for orienteering you need to have lots of good terrain. We don’t have lots of it in the UK, concentrated pockets of good terrain.

Quite a lot of people I grew up with orienteering have ended up moving to Scandinavia because they have a huge amount more forest than we do. It’s a much bigger sport out there, so there’s a lot more support in terms of clubs and races and things like that. I never really got on that path to move somewhere with lots of terrain.

The exception is the sprint distance. It’s a 15-minute race and it tends to be quite simple navigation.

The difficulty of the sprint is that you are running at potentially 3 minutes per kilometer. You’re running really fast. The navigation isn’t difficult but some of the decisions are. You’re deciding between two different route choices and if you run an extra 100-metres that’s an extra 20 seconds on your race time. In a 15-minute race that could be the difference between winning a medal or not.

We’ve got loads of really great sprint terrain in the UK. We’ve got lots of towns. Lots of old towns or council estates tend to be like a labyrinth.”

Success came quite quickly for Kris, winning World Junior silver in the Sprint Distance in 2010. Three years later he was 16th in the senior edition in Finland.

Credit: Unknown – Kris Jones at the European Orienteering Champs 2018

Dual pursuits

In tandem with orienteering progress his running also improved, though Kris will admit it was constant consistent progression rather than huge breakthroughs that helped.

15.19 for 5k aged 20, 19th in the BUCS XC in his third year as an undergraduate at Sheffield Hallam, a move to Loughborough for his Masters took it up another rung as did his PHD a year or so later.

“From 2010 to 2015 it was a little bit better each year but I was still in elite sport, improving. I felt like I was an athlete. I wasn’t running fast times on the track or anything but I was GB for British Orienteering and I had aims of getting selected for the World Champs or trying to improve my result there.

Those things keep you moderated, because I think the temptation is to think I’ve got all this motivation to be really good and I’m going to do it all, go really hard but it’s the consistency.

The only way you build consistency is being a step back.”

Without limits

Speaking to Kris he makes it sound so easy, gradual improvements but achievable ones too. Their mind-boggling nature comes from the fact they appear to have no ceiling.

“I’ve always looked at the next step so it’s been quite a few stages where I’ve surprised myself. I ran the Scottish 5k champs on the track and I wanted to run a good deal under 15. I sort of thought I could run 14.45 or 14.40 and I ran 14.20. There’s been a few occasions where that’s happened.”

That was 2016, a year in which he also made significant breakthroughs in orienteering. Fourth in the World Champs in three different events. The sprint, the sprint relay, and the relay.

Steadily Kris was making the rise to the very best, both in the UK as an athlete and the world in orienteering. 14.20 became 14.03 on the road in 2017, 13.45 on the track in 2018, significant improvements that enabled a further step-change moment in orienteering.

In 2018 Kris won bronze in the European Champs in Ticino, Switzerland. In a Euro-centric sport, the result really does allow him to say he is one of the finest on the planet. 

Credit Anwen Darlington – Kris Jones running at the Olympic Trials

Commonwealth ambitions

It’s progress that puts Kris in a well-earned but enviable position as an athlete who would count himself mightily unlucky not to be in Wales’ Commonwealth team. And it should serve inspiration for anyone out their ploughing their own path, taking it one day at a time.

“No-one would have picked at school that I would potentially be in the frame to run for Wales in the Commonwealth Games. I do the same as anyone in a running club. I’m training in my spare time. I buy my own shoes. It’s essentially a hobby, I just spend an awful lot more time doing it.

I think the Commonwealth games you see a lot more of those athletes. Those are the stories that every time the Commonwealth Games come around I almost latch on to.

In Glasgow it was Steve Way. He was a smoker, overweight and then he’s running in the Commonwealth Games for England. In Australia it was Robbie Simpson.

No-one would have picked me for it. No-one would have said watching Swansea Harriers in 2006, you wouldn’t have said that’s the one.

I’ve run European Cross Champs. I’ve run World Half Marathon Champs. I see the Commonwealth Games as the biggest.”

Kris’s win on Saturday will be a welcome relief, one that gets him rolling into the spring with a double on the horizon. The World Orienteering Champs in June and the Commonwealths in August.

With a career of hard graft and challenging moments behind him it’s a summer many years in the making.

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Featured image by Bobby Gavin.