Sam Stabler, Luke Traynor, Steph Twell and Jess Judd are among the top runners racing in Northern Ireland.
Some of the fastest athletes from the UK, Ireland and further afield are ready to race at the 29th edition of the Armagh International Road Races on Thursday (February 14).
Last year in the cathedral city, Sam Stabler led home a record 93 men under the 15-minute mark in the Brooks men’s 5k, while Laura Weightman was at the forefront as 34 women dipped inside 10-minutes in the Intersport women’s 3k.
Stabler clocked 13:59 to clinch the win and returns to defend his crown against another stacked men’s field. However, women’s course record holder and two-time winner Weightman sits out this year, leaving the path clear for a new champion on Thursday night.
After a period on the sidelines, Wreake and Soar Valley’s Stabler is still working his way back to race fitness, but should be in the mix for the top prize once again.
The 26 year-old’s first race back was at the Northern Ireland International Cross Country in January before competing over 3000m at last weekend’s British Indoor Championships.
Also among the leading British entries in the men’s 5k are Luke Traynor, Richard Allen, Jonny Mellor, Kieran Clements, Graham Rush, Philip Sesemann and Luke Caldwell.
Traynor produced a number of impressive runs in 2018, including a 5000m performance of 13:39.95, and no doubt aims to knock a big chunk of his 14:41 5k road best from 2016.
Joining the Giffnock North runner in a strong Scottish team is Caldwell, who ran a PB of 14:05 to finish seventh last year, and 2018 Leeds Abbey Dash 10k winner Adam Craig, who races for the first time over 5k on the roads.
Liverpool Harriers Mellor, who is also a member of the Team New Balance Manchester set-up, is another one to watch and previously clocked 13:57 to finish third in 2012.
Aldershot’s Allen will run for England and is one of the most prolific 5k road runners in the last 12 months.
The 23 year-old ended 2018 ranked third in the UK after a PB run of 13:51 in Ipswich.
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Also set to race in Armagh for the first time is Shaftesbury Barnet’s Clements who posted a PB of 14:00 in 2018. Leeds City’s Sesemann joins him in the England team and certainly has the potential to lower his 14:09 best.
Leeds City clubmate Rush returns for the third consecutive year and has previously finished seventh and sixth, posting times of 14:07 and 14:05 respectively.
Matt Bergin clocked 14:08 to finish 12th in 2018 and features in the Irish team along with Kevin Dooney, who ran 14:24 two years ago. David Flynn and Brian Maher complete the Irish quartet.
The trio of James Hunt, Abed Teweldebrhan and Guy Smith compete for Wales, while Adam Kirk Smith, James Edgar, Neil Johnston, Ben Branagh and Conor Duffy will race for Northern Ireland.
Among the leading international entries is American Matt McClintock, who has a 13:49 road 5k best, while Belgium’s Yannick Michiels returns to Armagh after a fourth place finish last year in 14:03.
Poland’s Krystian Zalewski is also back and has previously clocked a 14:02 best to finish fifth in 2015.
Meanwhile, Fast Running’s Robbie Britton, who is more widely known for his exploits in ultra running, is set to continue his step down through the distances.
Britton recently clocked a sub 2:30 marathon and now aims to greatly improve his 5k road time of 15:41. Rumour has it he has is eyes on taking to the track over 800m in the future.
Steph Twell, Jess Judd and Kate Avery head the women’s 3k
Steph Twell and Jess Judd are the two standout entries in the women’s 3k field, however, a host of other top athletes, including Kate Avery, should challenge for honours.
Reigning British 5000m champion Twell races in Armagh for the first time – and over 3k on the roads for that matter.
Last November, the 29 year-old announced her plans to focus on the roads following an illustrious track and cross country career.
The marathon at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics Games is Twell’s target for future, and after a strong 2:30 debut at the Valencia Marathon in December, she certainly looks to have a bright future over the distance.
The Aldershot athlete, who has a 3000m PB of 8:40.98, most recently clocked 33:17 to break the course record at the Chichester Priory 10k.
No stranger to the podium in Armagh, Judd claimed the runner-up spot last year in a time of 9:03, following a third-place finish in 2017.
The 24 year-old, who has an 8:43.24 best over the distance on the track, most recently finished fourth at the BUCS Cross Country Championships.
Last year in Armagh was one of Avery’s first races back after missing the majority of 2017 through injury.
The Shildon athlete ran 9:26 to finish 11th before working her way back to race fitness throughout the year. Avery ended 2018 with a number of strong cross country performances and few will be surprised to see her on the podium on Valentine’s night.
Lauren Heyes (Howarth) and Amy Griffiths finished fourth and fifth 12 months ago and both athletes are among a strong English team that also includes Elsey Whyman-Davis and Holly Archer.
Northern Ireland 5000m and 10,000m record holder Emma Mitchell finished sixth in 2018 and is set to race in Armagh ahead of making her marathon debut in two months time.
Commonwealth Games steeplechaser Iona Lake finished seventh last year and returns, as does Leeds City’s Claire Duck after securing a top 10 place in 2018.
Also among the entries is 2017 fifth place finisher Katie Snowdon, and Commonwealth Games athlete Alex Bell, who finished 14th last year, while 2:35 marathoner Hayley Carruthers races for the first time in a 3k road race.
Fionnuala Ross of race organising club Armagh AC finished 12th last year and heads the Northern Ireland team that also includes Kelly Neely, Jessica Craig and Teresa Doherty.
Kerry MacAngus, Morag Millar and Eloise Walker join Twell in the Scotland team, while Bronwen Owen and Beth Kidger compete for Wales. Set to compete for Ireland are Grace Lynch, Emma O’Brien, Nakita Burke and Una Britton.
Poland will be represented by Mariola Slusarczyk, who finished 19th last year, while Isabeau Lenaerts and Elise Van Raemdonck compete for Belgium.
The night of racing gets underway with the juvenile races at 6.30pm, before the women’s 3k action at 8.10pm, followed by the men’s 5k at 8.30pm. The open men’s 3k will conclude the 29th edition of the Armagh International Road Races at 8.55pm.
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