James Rhodes is on the ground in Gateshead today doing what he loves, watching and photographing athletics. But don’t worry, we made sure he got the first half of this week’s round-up so no one misses out. 

Isn’t it good to have running back? I type this from a hotel in Gateshead, eagerly anticipating the first Diamond League of 2021 (and my first in person for 625 days). That does mean, however, that this week’s Weekend Roundup is slightly different to normal, and comes in two parts, with Sunday’s action (alongside some results from Saturday evening) will be covered in a separate round up. 

Have no fear though, there has been plenty to bring you from the roads, track and trails over recent days. Ready? Here we go!

Golden Performances at the Golden Spike

Part of the World Athletics Continental Tour Gold, Wednesday saw the 60th edition of the Golden Spike at the famed Mestsky Stadium in Ostrava in the Czech Republic.

There were plenty of noteworthy performances on a cold and windy evening at a stadium that has witnessed numerous World Records, including by Emil Zatopek and Kenenisa Bekele over 10,000m, with British duo Max Burgin and Keely Hodgkinson taking centre stage with both setting new European (and British) U20 Records over 800m.

European Indoor Champion Hodgkinson was one of a handful of athletes to follow the pacemaker through the first lap in 58 seconds, before moving to the front at 600m and staying there, finishing with 1:58.89, a new PB and her first time sub-1:59. An outstanding performance by an outstanding athlete that moves her to twelfth on the British all-time list.

Photo: European Athletics via Getty Images

“Anything you can do, I can do better”

Five minutes later, it was almost a case of “anything you can do, I can do better” as Max Burgin took to the track. 

I don’t have enough superlatives to describe what unfolded in the next 105 seconds. Max was the only athlete to go with the pacemaker and a noticeable gap appeared to the rest of the field after the break at 100m.

That gap continued to grow after the pacer dropped off at 450m, having gone through the bell in 50.2, with Max passing 600m in 1:16. He finished strongly on the home straight to be rewarded with a 0.6 second PB of 1:44.14. That’s the fastest time of the year, well inside the Olympic qualifying standard and over a second ahead of the rest of the field that included European Indoor Champion Patryk Dobek and World Championship medallists Adam Kszczot and Amel Tuka. 

It was a brave and gutsy run, and a nice early birthday present as he turned 19 the next day. If you’ve not seen it, I highly recommend watching it back. As he noted post-race, “I saw the race of my good friend Keely who ran just before me and she ran so fast so I thought, ‘I just have to match it at least’”. That he certainly did. 

On the track where he set his 1:44.18 PB last September, Jake Wightman finished third with 1:45.47, his fastest season opener.

Norman finally gets his mark

Earlier in the evening there was a superb run by Phil Norman in the 3000m steeplechase. His 8:20.12 was not only a PB but also moves him to eighth on the British all-time list (and is the fastest by a Brit since Tom Hanlon ran 8:20.04 27 years ago).

More excitingly, however, it is also a deserving Olympic qualifier for the Woodford Green & Essex Ladies athlete who was denied his chance to compete at the World Championships in Doha after his World Athletics invite was turned down. I for one am, all being well, looking forward to seeing Phil compete with the best in Tokyo. 

The evening’s action culminated with Joshua Cheptegai, World Record holder over 5,000m and 10,000m, attempting to break Daniel Komen’s longstanding 3000m WR. Some of the greatest – El Guerrouj, Gebrselassie, Bekele – have tried to better the 7:20.76 time set in 1996 and have not come close.

It is one of the greatest and toughest records standing, and looks to stand for a fair while longer as, after being on pace for the early laps, the toughness of the challenge became evident with Cheptegai finishing in 7:33.24, a PB but 13 seconds shy of becoming the third man in history to hold the three distance track WRs simultaneously. 

I also have to mention Joshua’s countryman Jacob Kiplimo, who ran a solo 26:33.93 to go seventh on the all-time list over 10,000m. 

Ry Webb beat Jon Ellis’ course record by a mere 40 seconds over 50 miles. Photo: Stuart March/Centurion Running

To the Trails

Running along the North Downs Way National Trail from Farnham in Surrey to Knockholt, the NDW50 5,600 feet of elevation gain over a point-to-point 50 mile run. Saturday was the tenth annual edition of the race, covering the first half of the NDW100 course.

A total of 271 athletes took to the court early on Saturday morning, with Ry Webb first to finish in a new course record of 6h36.55, bettering the 2017 record set by Jon Ellis (6h37:27). “It’s been a long term goal of Ry to win one of the Centurion events and it was really great to see him cross the line first this weekend” said his coach and FR editor Robbie Britton. “He really works hard with his ultra-running and continues to improve year on year.”

Belgrave Harrier Samantha Amend was the first woman to finish, with a time of 7h59:39. Another excellent outing, four weeks after breaking the British Record for 100 miles on the track and one week after winning the Kew Gardens 10k. 

Fast Running’s own Gill Bland was also in action, finishing in 8:35:01 for a strong 4th position.

Right on Track

Whilst Britain’s best were taking to the stage in Ostrava, there was plenty of domestic track action taking place in England during the week. 

Wednesday’s Hercules Wimbledon Distance Night saw athletes take to the track for a series of 5000m, 3000m and 2000m steeplechase races. Newham & Essex Beagles’ Charlie Brisley took an emphatic win in the 5000m by coming across the line 26 seconds ahead of second placed Ben Nagy, his time of 14:16.60 improving his PB by 23 seconds.

Naomi Taschimowitz took the honours amongst the three women competing over the distance (16:24.33), ahead of Hannah Viner (16:49.75) and Yasmin Goater (16:53.99). 

The highlight of the shorter distance races came from an athlete with the same home track as me as Dom Nolan ran an impressive 18-second PB of 8:09.81, almost four seconds ahead of the rest of the field.

By my reckoning that is the fastest ever outdoor 3,000m by a Croydon Harrier, bettering a 34 year old mark, and just two seconds shy of the outright club record held by Commonwealth Games finalist John McCallum from 2001. AFD’s Alice Garner was the fastest of four women competing, setting a 9:37.17 PB in a race won by Sam Crick in his first outing on the track since 2018. The same race rewarded me with a five second PB (9:28.21). 

Niamh Thompson won the 2000m steeplechase with 7:31.94, almost a minute improvement on her only other race at the distance. 

More 3000m running in the North

The second of this year’s North East Grand Prix took place in Jarrow on Wednesday with races over 800m and 3000m. In his first race since winning the Cheshire Elite Half Marathon last month, Gateshead’s Calum Johnson (8:16.91) finished with a winning margin of over seven seconds ahead of Luca Minale (8:24.79) and David Race (8:25.54), with all three recording new PBs. It was a closely fought battle in the women’s race with Eva Hardie pipping Charlotte Dillon to the line (10:03.47 to 10:04.57).

Over two laps the fastest times went to Lucy Scothern (2:13.00) and Christopher Perkins (1:54.88). Earlier in the week the same track hosted the North East Masters AA League, with wins for Stephen Jackson (9:08.4) and Stephanie Maclean Dann (10:36.5) over 3000m.

One track that has seen more races than most this year is at Longford Park where the eighth Trafford Grand Prix of the season took place on Tuesday. Double Paralympic bronze medallist David Devine, competing in the T12 category, recorded the fastest 3000m with an 8:18.18 PB in his first track race since August 2019. There was also a PB for Mollie Williams of Stockport, the fastest female over seven and a half laps (9:29.70).

The 1500m saw fastest times recorded by Tamsin McGraw (4:39.83) and Callum Davidson (3:54.75), the latter improving his PB. 

Track meets like London buses these days

At the BMC Regional Races in Leeds on Thursday there were wins in grim conditions for Beth Ansell (2:13.96) and Will Bellamy (1:52.17) over 800m, whilst Joshua Dickinson and Claire Duck ran well over 3000m, finishing in 8:25.82 and 9:35.66 respectively. The event also hosted a 3000m walk, where Christopher Snook took victory in his first race since finishing fifth at the British Olympic Racewalk Trials in Kew in March (12:26.91). Agata Kowalska’s 14:02.64 placed her as the fastest of the female entrants. 

Thursday also saw the continuation of Harrow AC’s Spring Open series in sub-optimal conditions. It was Lizzy Totten (17:43.50) and Rupert Allison (16:23.83) who got round 5000m quickest, with both making their debut over 12.5 laps in gusting wind and rain.

There was also a PB for Basil Rock in winning the fastest of the 1500m heats in 4:04.89, whilst Chiltern’s Maddie Hughes was the quickest woman with 4:56.54. A rarely-run 1200m was also held for U13 athletes, with all twelve in the field setting new PBs. As always, it’s great to see the younger generation getting a chance to race at events like these. 

The Kettering Evening Open Meeting on Tuesday saw plenty of lifetime bests, including in the 1500m and 800m. Over 1500m the fastest times were recorded by Adam Barber (4:07.55) and Madeleine Pearce (4:50.68), both setting big PBs, whilst the two lap races saw Stanley Clarke dip under two minutes for the first time with 1:59.01 and an impressive PB for U15 Shaikira King (2:12.89).

Just two days later, Shaikira improved that PB to 2:12.72 at the Charnwood AC Open, with Jai Sispal recording 1:53.28 as the fastest result of the evening. In the 1500m it was Georgie Campbell (4:42.64) and Owls AC’s Jake Boat (4:10.46) who took the quickest runs of the evening.

Monument Mile continues to grow as event

It is nice to be able to bring you some results from north of the border and the Monument Mile Classic held in Stirling on Friday. The evening saw a total of 27 heats culminating with two elite races. On the women’s side, it was Hannah Cameron who took the win with 4:46.86, improving her PB, set at the same event last September, by over five seconds. The Edinburgh AC athlete finished almost three seconds clear of Rebecca Johnson (4:49.85, PB) and clubmate Katie Johnson (4:50.58). 

The elite men’s race was a closer affair with Ben Potrykus, fresh off a win over 5000m at the BMC Grand Prix two weeks ago, crossing the line first in 4:03.57, an impressive 12 second improvement on his best set indoors last year. There was a PB for Kane Elliot in second with 4:04.02, with Josh Carr rounding out the top three (4:04.82).

An earlier race also saw Fiona Matheson set a new British W60 Record for the distance with 5:41.65, improving the previous record of 5:43.40.

Staying in Scotland, Thursday’s FVH Districts Apart Series in Grangemouth saw good runs from Kane Elliott (1:51.4) – racing twice in two days – and Caitlyn Christie (2:20.5) over 800m.

Returning abroad, three Brits ran over 800m at the Anhalt Meeting, part of the Continental Tour Bronze in Dessau, Germany. Alex Botterill ran a PB (1:46.52) for third, with Ben Pattison finishing sixth with 1:46.82, one tenth outside his PB. Following her solo 2:00.14 at the BMC Grand Prix in Stretford, Alex Bell ran 2:02.04 for fourth. 

On the Roads

The On Running Bristol Track Club Elite 5km saw a high quality field battle it out around Bath’s Odd Down Cycle Track.

Cardiff’s Charlotte Arter was a class apart in the women’s race taking comfortable victory in 16:10. Naomi Mitchell was 2nd in 16:37 with Daisy Baker 3rd in 16:52.

The men’s race was a much closer affair with Josh Grace showing impressive finishing speed to take victory in 14:12 with a Chris Perham a second behind. Sub four min miler Tom Marshall was 3rd in 14:16.

As always, RunThrough continue to host a variety of races across the country. Saturday’s racing at the Olympic Park provided 10km wins for Seyed Taha Ghafari (31:07) and Kelly Butler (37:29), whilst Maja Marimla (17:12) and Nathan Chapman (16:09) crossed the line first over 5km. 

On Wednesday, Nick Leahy (36:18) and Charlotte Davies (41:33) were fastest over 10km, with Amee Mooney (23:38) and Lasse Eini (16:30) quickest for the 5km distance, at the Wimbledon Common Chase the Sun. 

Thursday’s Leicestershire Chase the Sun saw wins for Lewis Budgen (34:08) and Samantha Mare (40:35) over 10km, Abbie Donnelly (16:57) and Matthew Bowser (15:46) for the 5km, Namir Batavia (58:03) and Julia Matheson (65:58) over 10 miles, and Amelia Arbon (6:31) and Matthew Williamson (5:33) for one mile. 

Looking Forward

As I said at the start, today sees the return of international athletics in England with the Gateshead Diamond League, with some of Britain’s best in action. There is plenty else happening also, including the Loughborough International, Adidas Boost Boston Games in the United States and a handful of road races across the country. We’ll bring you all the highlights in a separate article before long!