Runners across England, Scotland and Wales get ready to contest national cross country championships on Saturday (February 24).
After taking place at Wollaton Park in Nottingham last year the Saucony English National Cross Country Championships makes a return to Parliament Hill for the 16th time since the first in 1950.
With over 9000 entries across all races, there will be plenty of memorable cross country moments as runners charge the iconic uphill start on the Hampstead Heath course.
With a packed winter and spring calendar of racing from those entered there will surely a few big names missing on the start line in the senior races. One man not entered is last year’s winner Ben Connor, who after this huge 61:12 half marathon personal best in Barcelona has his sights on the World Half Marathon Championships in Valencia next month.
The 2016 national champion Jonny Hay is entered. The Aldershot athlete has had a fairly low key winter of racing, with a 14:12 personal best at the Armagh 5k last week his only outing from December.
Also entered is Northern cross country champion Carl Avery as well as South of England and Midlands winners John Gilbert and Alex Brecker.
Charlie Hulson, the men’s champion the last time Parliament Hill hosted the nationals in 2015, is entered and will surely be among the favourites if competing. Hulson, who finished sixth last year, has been in excellent form on the roads with personal best in Telford and Armagh last Thursday.
On the third podium step at last year’s nationals, was Sam Stabler. Stabler has been in good form this year in cross country and pipped Hulson to the Armagh 5k title last week. However, he sits out this year and will next race at the Inter Counties Championships in March.
Providing BUCS cross country champion Alex Yee has recovered from his foot injury the battle with Ben Dijkstra and Mahamed Mahamed should make a thrilling junior men’s race.
Last year the men’s team title was won by Tonbridge, and after sitting out the South of England Championships, the club will be heavily represented once again led by fourth-placed in Nottingham Chris Olley.
A special mention also goes to ‘class of 2018‘ duo Dave Norman and Ben Fish who will be on the start line in Hampstead Heath. For Norman, it is his 21st National and fifth time at Parliament Hill.
Defending champion Jess Judd is entered for the women’s 8km race, as is 2017 South of England champion Phoebe Law.
After finishing second and third last year, Aldershot’s Louise Small and Leeds City’s Claire Duck, will surely challenge again for top honours.
With Aldershot winning the team title in 2017 they will be once again favourites with a host of top names entered including Emily Hosker Thornhill, Philippa Bowden and Lauren Hall.
Defending champion Harriet Knowles-Jones will be a strong favourite in the junior race. After winning European junior cross country gold in December the 19-year-old went on to clinch the BUCS title at the beginning of February.
The women’s senior 8km race starts at 2:20pm with the men’s 12km at 3:00pm, while the junior races are at 1:05pm (women) and 1:35pm (men).
Jones and Oates to renew rivalry in Falkirk
Scotland is leading the way with changes to cross country and after equal distance for both the senior men and women at the Lindsays Scottish Cross Country Championships, all age groups compete over the same distance on Saturday.
With over 2000 entries cross country will once again flourish at Callendar Park over the nine races. 2017 champion Callum Hawkins sits out this year as he continues his preparations for the marathon at the Commonwealth Games.
That leaves Kristian Jones and Lachlan Oates ready to renew their rivalry after finishing second and third last year. Most recently the pair finished first and second at the Scottish Inter District Championships.
Injury forces women’s champion Moran MacLarty to miss out and Steph Pennycook will start as one of the favourites.
Last week Pennycook ran a 3k road personal best in Armagh and also wore the Scottish vest in the 4x1K International Relay at the Great Edinburgh XC in January.
Fellow Edinburgh Uni Hare and Hounds athlete and North of England XC champion Mhairi Maclennan will be among those leading the challenge.
The full competition will broadcast ‘as live’ on Saturday evening and in a technology first, the coverage will also include drone footage.
“We’re really excited to step up our coverage of this flagship event this year by introducing these innovations, said Scottish Athletics Head of Communications, Peter Jardine. “We hope adding both drone footage and a same day as-live broadcast will add to the excitement and sense of occasion that already surrounds this fantastic day of athletics in Falkirk.”
The women’s senior race starts at 1:25pm with the men’s at 2:55pm.
Griffiths and Kidger aim to retain Welsh titles
Fresh from a successful first race back after injury Dewi Griffiths returns to a happy hunting ground of Swansea’s Singleton Park. The Swansea Harrier has won six straight Welsh titles and will start as the strong favourite once again as edges closer to Steve Jones’ record of nine.
With the senior races incorporating the Welsh Masters Championships, Ryan McFlynn who finished second last year behind Griffiths starts for the first time as a masters athlete.
Iolo Hughes finished third last year and the New Mexico student is stateside having a full indoor season.
Dominant Swansea won the men’s title last year and as well as Griffiths, fellow Harriers Marc Hobs, Phil Matthews and Jack Gooch will aim to retain that crown.
Favourite in women’s senior race will be defending champion Beth Kidger. The Brighton Phoenix runner won last year ahead of Clara Evans and Lucy Marland who lead the Cardiff AAC team to victory last year.
2016 team winners Swansea will hope get back to their title and Andrea Whitcomb and Alaw Benyon-Thomas will head that charge.
The women’s 6.42km senior race starts at 12:15pm with the men’s 10.1km race at 2:55pm.