This weekend something exciting is happening, the European 10,000m Cup and the British Championships / Olympic Trials in Birmingham. James Rhodes starts with a preview of the stacked women’s race.
Let’s start with a whistle stop run through of the evening and what is at stake. The races are two-fold, the European 10,000m Cup and the British Championships / Olympic Trials. There are individual and team medals up for grabs in the European Cup and, whilst there is plenty of interest in this, I have focused on the domestic competition to avoid presenting you with an essay of an article.
The first two Brits across the line, if they have the Olympic qualifier (31:25.00 for the women and 27:28.00 for the men), will automatically book their spot on the plane to Tokyo. There are also athletes with eyes on qualifying times for the Commonwealth Games.
Wavelight technology, alongside human pacemakers, will run just inside the Olympic qualifying standard in both races, with wavelights for set slower times also.
Often we focus on the mens race and the fact that Mo Farah is back on track, but for us the women’s races provide just as much, if not more, intrigue and do not come with obvious choices for top-two spots.
The European Cup squad comprises Eilish McColgan, Amy Eloise Markovc, Jenny Nesbitt, Jess Judd, Verity Ockenden and Samantha Harrison, whilst other athletes running as domestic entrants include
Other notable: Charlotte Arter, Clara Evans, Eleanor Bolton, Fast Running’s Hannah Irwin, Kate Avery and Mhairi MacLennan.
A favourite for the win?
Thanks to her 30:58.94 in California in February, Eilish McColgan goes in to the race as the fastest Brit.
For context, that time is the fastest 10,000m by a British athlete in nine years, since Jo Pavey and Julia Bleasdale at the London Olympics. I do not think it unreasonable to call the Scot the favourite to secure a Tokyo spot, and she told me this is the primary objective for a race where she has high hopes:
“I’m looking forward to racing on Saturday. There has been a lot of uncertainty about whether races would be going ahead or not which has made planning competitions a little tricky, but it’s great to see Birmingham hosting the event. Training has been going really well so I’m hoping I can have a strong run out”.
I mentioned the impressiveness of Eilish’s run over the distance in February, which has been followed by a 14:52.44 5000m in April and a 4:03.89 1500m in May. It put her fifth on the UK all-time list and less than two seconds shy of the athlete in fourth, her mum Liz.
I asked if bettering that time is a motivator for the race, and it is certainly on the radar for 2021. “It’s definitely a huge motivator for me this year. I know I can break her PB and Scottish Record but 10,000m races are very few and far between. The focus this weekend will be to qualify for Tokyo and then my goals will be firmly set on running as fast as I can [over 10,000m]”. If she succeeds in taking the Scottish Record, it will mean she has bettered all of Liz’s PBs. An impressive feat!
How will Eilish relax before the biggest race of the year so far? A bit of music, Netflix and Line of Duty with her other half, former 800m runner Michael Rimmer. I am sure Ted Hastings will approve!
So Close to Olympic QT
Whilst Eilish is the only athlete to hold the Olympic standard, two have come very close – within less than a second – in the same race three weeks ago in California, Amy-Eloise Markovc and Jessica Judd, both in their debut over the distance on the track.
It has been an excellent year for Amy-Eloise so far, having been crowned European Indoor Champion over 3000m back in March. That good form has been carried to the outdoor season, with the US-based athlete significantly improving her 5000m PB to 15:05.96 last weekend in Boston, an Olympic qualifying time.
Having fallen just 0.96 seconds shy of the Olympic qualifying time in California to go eighth on the British all-time list, I hope it will be a fast race to enable that PB to be rewritten.
No track, no problem
I also hope it is a good race for Jessica Judd, who finished just behind Amy-Eloise in that race in California. It’s been a good start to the outdoor season for Jess, a solo 8:52 over 3000m at the Birmingham University track, followed by a stint of training and racing in the States which provided a new PB over 5000m (15:06.02, an Olympic Q) and of course 10,000m.
An impressive few weeks for the Blackburn athlete who didn’t have access to a track until mid-April, and who has a good mentality going into the race:
“I’m not putting any pressure on myself for the weekend; I still have to remember that I didn’t have access to a track until mid April so I’m just enjoying racing and training normally again! I loved racing in the US, … it was a good stepping stone for me so whatever happens this year I have achieved some PB’s, anything else is a bonus”.
How will she relax pre-race? A walk with her dog Bruce. I like the sound of that!
Making 2021 a stand-out year
Another athlete who has rewritten their 5000m PB in recent weeks to run under the 15:10 Tokyo mark is Verity Ockenden.
The Swansea athlete made her major championships debut at the European Indoors in March, where she came home with a much deserved bronze and new PB in the 3000m. A period in the States followed, including a 1500m PB (4:09.34) and 5000m (15:03.51), a 31 second improvement.
I asked Verity if that performance has given her a confidence boost ahead of Saturday:
“The 5000m PB has definitely cemented my self-belief and I feel that I am in just as good shape for the 10,000m. My aim is to gain selection for the Olympics. … Training has been really smooth with the added benefit of actually getting to spend some time under the supervision of my coach Tony (Houchin) for the last week of altitude training spent in the USA”.
This will be Verity’s second outing at the European Cup, having taken a team gold (and setting her PB) in 2019. Whilst a different venue and, without packed-out spectators cheering from lane 3, will those good memories provide motivation on Saturday?
“Although I love Highgate and it will certainly help give a positive vibe to the event having been successful at the European Cup with women’s team gold before, which I believe we are in a great position to replicate this year, I’ll be focusing entirely on the present and what I need to do in the moment to succeed”. A good approach indeed.
European Cut Veterans & Debutants
Jenny Nesbitt is relishing the chance to wear the British vest on Saturday, and also to be in a strong field after solo-run wins at the Comeback 5000 (15:46.62) and BMC Grand Prix (15:40.10) this season.
“I am really excited for the weekend. It feels like a long time since I have been to a race of such depth and significance and I’m so pleased to be on the start line! It is always an honour to represent Great Britain, and it feels like a while since my last opportunity to do so, so it’s even more special!”.
Jenny has also raced at four of the Highgate-based editions of the event (2015 through to 2018), two as part of the British squad for the European Cup. Her 32:38.45 PB was set at the 2018 edition. Does this add a special element to Saturday’s race?
“The European Cup (and Highgate!) hold a special place in my heart! This is the third European Cup team I’ve been on and the last two were really good experiences! I have heard Birmingham are pulling out all the stops, and the track is lovely to run on!”
Her goal is to secure the Welsh Commonwealth Games standard (32:30), with “anything else a bonus, but I would love to come away with a positive experience”. After a 32:44 run in a field of four in Newport in March, both feel like good targets.
Exciting prospects galore
I am also interested to see how Samantha Harrison runs after her hugely impressive 69:48 at the Cheshire Half Marathon, currently top of the UK rankings for 2021. Saturday will be her debut over the distance and only the ninth track race of her career!
Athletes running who have competed at previous Highgate-held races include Mhairi MacLennan (2017, 2018 and 2019), Charlotte Arter (2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019), Clara Evans (2017), who ran a 32:49.01 PB in Newport in March and Kate Avery (2016 and 2017).
Beth Kidger, fresh from the European Team Championships last week, and Fast Running’s own Hannah Irwin will be making her debut over the distance in the A race.
For the men’s preview check out the separate article here.
17:30 – Elite para 1500m
18:00 – Men’s domestic 10,000m
19:00 – Women’s 10,000m including European Cup B race
19:45 – Men’s 10,000m including European Cup B race
20:30 – Women’s 10,000m including European Cup A race & British Olympic trials
21:15 – Men’s 10,000m including European Cup A race & British Olympic trials
How to Follow
Full start lists can be found at https://data.opentrack.run/en-gb/x/2021/GBR/not/event. The races will be streamed live on the British Athletics website, and I will be trackside bringing updates via twitter (@james_athletics).