Liver­pool Cross Chal­lenge



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.

Se­nior women

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.

Se­nior men

“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

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