Liverpool Cross Challenge
ROSS MILLINGTON AND CHARLOTTE ARTER HIT FORM AS SEFTON PARK SEES RECORD NUMBERS AND GREAT RACING AS EURO PLACES DECIDED
THERE was an undeniable and recurring sense of athletes overcoming adversity as a tremendous day of action unfolded at the Liverpool leg of the British Athletics Cross Challenge, which also doubles as the trials event for the European Championships.
Both Ross Millington and Charlotte Arter have bounced back from injury struggles and have booked their tickets to Tilburg in Holland after victories in the senior races. They were not the only athletes with comeback stories to tell.
In what were near perfect conditions, with the ground firm underfoot, a number of tight and entertaining races were run as the pace was pushed.
The event, which is run in conjunction with the Mid-Lancashire Cross Country League and the Liverpool and District Cross Country League, saw a record number of finishers, while the Welsh flag was flying high, too – thanks not only to Arter’s victory but also the under-20 success of Jake Heyward and Cari Hughes.
THESE are exciting times for Charlotte Arter. Not only does she now have a second appearance at the European Cross Country Championships to plan for but life as a full-time athlete also beckons.
The 27-year-old is about to embark on a career break from her job at Cardiff University as she looks to focus on and fulfil her sporting potential. Given her performance last weekend as a ‘part-timer’, the Cardiff
AAC athlete has much to be encouraged by.
She finished first in what was the best race of the day. Given the entertaining tussles which had been produced at this year’s other Cross Challenge events at Cardiff and Milton Keynes, this was a keenly anticipated contest which was expected to go right to the wire. It didn’t disappoint.
From the moment the starting gun was fired and Jess Judd surged to the head of the fastmoving field, it was clear there wasn’t going to be any holding back over the 8.1km course which involved one short and two long laps.
Judd ultimately couldn’t maintain her spot at the head of affairs, later admitting a back problem had hampered her attempt to improve on last year’s runner-up finish as an under-23.
Instead Arter, Jess Piasecki, Kate Avery, Melissa Courtney and Verity Ockenden formed a leading group that would only begin to break up in the latter stages.
Piasecki, racing in the event for the first time since she won it as an under-23 six years ago as she continues her comeback following her struggles with injuries related to RED-S (Relative Energy Deficiency in Sport), opted to move to the front in the second lap and looked in real contention to add victory in Liverpool to her runnerup place in Milton Keynes.
But Arter arrived right on her shoulder entering the final 600m and it became a straightforward fight to the finish. Sefton Park’s final bend leads on to a finishing straight with an incline which is slight but does enough to make the legs burn.
It was on that straight where Arter edged clear and hit the line in 26:10. Behind her, Ockenden had closed in and the Swansea runner just pipped Piasecki to second place, with both athletes being given at time of 26:14.
Welsh Commonwealth 1500m bronze medallist Courtney was two seconds further back to take the last of the four automatic European qualifying places. Milton Keynes winner and Cardiff runner-up Avery was fifth in 26:27, while Judd finished 15th and Gemma Steel, a European team gold winner in Samorin 12 months ago, 16th.
“It was a really competitive race and there was a large group of us hanging on,” said Arter, who missed out on
Euro Cross selection last year following Achilles trouble. “I went with Jess and it then became a matter of deciding when to go.
“I made a move but she hung with me so I thought ‘I’ll use that final straight’ and hoped I had that speed in my legs, so I’m really happy with the win.”
She added: “I had a really good year this year but unfortunately another injury meant I couldn’t make it to the European Champs on the track (Arter finished fourth in the 5000m at the British Championships) so to come here and get the win four months later finishes 2018 really, really nicely.”
It’s also the perfect way to head into this new phase of her athletics career.
“I work full-time at Cardiff University but I’m actually taking a career break at the end of this year,” she added. “The university have been really great in giving me permission to effectively take a year out.
“I don’t want to look back in 10 years’ time and say ‘what could I have done?’. I want to give it my all as a full-time athlete so I’m really excited about what’s coming next.”
Piasecki is another athlete enthused by future possibilities and the former European under-23 cross country champion admits she has benefited from a change of perspective, a move to Nottingham – where she teaches at Nottingham Trent University – and the guidance of coach Robert Hawkins.
“I was gutted I didn’t win but I tried my hardest and I know the last 100m isn’t my best,” she said. “On the second lap no-one wanted to do the work and I find I’m better running in open space so I just went to the front to try and test it a little bit.
“I felt comfortable so I just tried to wind it up. Charlotte and I were tussling and she just had that extra gear.”
She added: “It was six years since I’d been here last – and I won it then – so to come back and make the team was the main aim. I was a bit emotional because I’ve been through the mill. I don’t think anyone, other than my family, really realises what I’ve been through. I’ve taken a bit of perspective over the last year – I got married, went away for a bit and I just let it happen by itself rather than forcing it.
“I just let sessions come to me and I’m working with Robert Hawkins now, who is the most chilled guy and he’s so nice. He said to me during the week ‘chill out, it’s only the trials, no biggie’ and he’s just as happy as I am.
“I only started thinking about racing in the summer. It’s just good to be able to still do this. You don’t realise you can still do this until you get out there.”
Aldershot’s Amy Griffiths, eighth overall in a time of 26:48, was the first under-23 finisher.
Poppy Tank (27:18), Dani Chattenton (27:33) and Abbie Donnelly (27:51) were the other athletes from that age group to make sure of their British vests for Tilburg.
“I NEEDED that,” admitted Ross Millington a few minutes after storming his way to victory in Liverpool. When you consider the injury problems he has faced in recent years, it’s not difficult to understand why.
The 29-year-old was a Rio Olympian in 2016, running in the 10,000m which saw Mo Farah clinch gold once again. That is the last time the Stockport Harrier donned a Great Britain vest, as repeated spells on the sidelines thwarted him just as he was looking to take strides forward.
He had been due to compete for European Championships selection at the Highgate Night of the 10,000m PBs back in May, only to have injury stand in his way again.
Yet, following a good recovery and some of the most consistent training he’s ever managed to produce, his form is returning and he will now be required for national service once again in Holland.
Millington was to the fore from the early stages of the race, joined by the likes of Marc Scott, Dewi Griffiths, Liverpool Harrier and Cardiff Cross winner Charlie Hulson, as well as Belgrave’s Nick Goolab.
It was the man who tasted victory here back in 2015 who would not beaten, though, as he floated his way over the turf, extending his lead and having time to enjoy the moment as he broke the tape in 28:00 to succeed last year’s winner Ben Connor, who was unable to defend his title due to injury.
Goolab, who has admitted he struggled badly with confidence issues over the course of this year and had been 51st in the Surrey League meeting at Wimbledon two weeks previously, surprised himself with a remarkable turnaround in performance and second place, four seconds behind.
The Belgrave Harrier headed a scramble for the line, with last year’s NCAA 10,000m champion Scott finishing in 28:05 and Hulson enjoying the support of the local crowd to take fourth and the final automatic qualifying place for Tilburg in 28:06.
Griffiths, part of the side which took European team gold in Samorin last year, was three seconds behind in fifth.
Millington will now prepare for making an impact at what will be his fourth European Cross Country Championships – and is relishing the opportunity.
“It’s been a tough two years since Rio for me,” he said. “To make the Olympics, which was such a high, and then I
struggled with injuries. I had a really bad injury last year when I tore a tendon in my knee and I was seven months out. Then I was getting back and I had a stress reaction in my femur in April this year. It was just a really bad cycle for me.
“I raced a bit during the summer on the road just trying to get back a little bit but this was always going to be my first major goal in terms of trying to get back.
“I felt better than ever out there. It was really hard – there are some very good guys – but I’m really happy to take the win.”
He added: “I’m proud of myself to get back. I’ll never write myself off and I wanted to get back to doing what I love doing, competing and trying to be the best that I can be.
“I’m really pleased and proud to get back in a GB vest.
“I got the momentum with those road races in the summer. Since June I put in the most consistent block of training that I’ve ever done.
“Hopefully now I can start showing that. In the other races I felt just below being able to get a good one out but I think now I’ve started to do some proper work over the past four weeks and it’s going to start to come out.
“Hopefully it will really start to come out at Euro Cross. That’s the plan.”
Leeds City’s Emile Cairess, who has yet to turn 21, was sixth overall and the first to claim his under-23 GB vest in 28:23, just edging the inform Mahamed Mahamed of Southampton.
Thames Valley Harrier Paulos Surafel followed three seconds behind, while Oli Fox – who made the junior Euro Cross team in 2015 – ensured he will compete in British colours again as he continued his resurgence.
The Wells City athlete, who is learning how to manage the bowel condition Crohn’s Disease he was diagnosed with a couple of years ago, ran 28:29 to finish ninth overall and took the final automatic European under-23 qualifying place.
Ross Millington: the Stockport Harrier (1148) leads the senior men’s field at Sefton Park
Group effort (from l to r): Emily Hosker Thornhill, Melissa Courtney, Jess Piasecki, Charlotte Arter, Kate Avery and Verity Ockenden jostle for position
Flying start: the senior women’s field speeds away
Shoulder to shoulder: Jess Piasecki and Charlotte Arter in the closing stages
On the rise: Ross Millington opens up, followed by first under-23 finisher Emile Cairess, Petros Surafel, Paulos Surafel, Charlie Hulson, Nick Goolab and Kristian Jones
Giving chase: Dewi Griffiths(left) and Marc Scott