Pleasant weather and firm underfoot conditions made for some competitive racing at the British Athletics Cradiff Cross Challenge on Saturday.
The event took placeon a new course at Llandaff Fields and incorporated the first fixture in the 2017/2018 Gwent cross Country League.
In the senior ladies race 2017 CAU Cross Country Champion Jess Judd (Chelmsford AC) looked to defend her title with 2015 winner Lily Partridge (Aldershot, Farnham & District) amongst the competition.
Charlotte Arter (1401) and race winner Jess Judd (1432)
Judd has enjoyed fantastic last 12 months which included victory at English National Cross Country Championships and reaching the Semi Finals over 1500m at the IAAF World Championships in August and now looks forward to what the winter season will bring.
Partridge had begun her winter with a runway victory at the Cardiff 10km in September and a 72:10 clocking for seventh place at the Simply Health Great North Run the following week.
Cardiff AAC’s Charlotte Arter was a local favourite and had proved her Cross Country pedigree as the runner up in Liverpool last year, going on to enjoy a successful season which included a seventh place finish at the Great Edinburgh International.
Verity Ockenden hails from rival club Swansea Harriers and had also improved steadily through the last winter season with accolades including a second place spot in Cardiff.
Juliet Potter had taken the Home Countries International title on her last competitive trip to Wales and started the race alongside twin sister Jane.
The first lap saw a large leading group which included Judd, Partridge, Arter and Ockenden. Inevitably the group thinned as the race approached the latter stages with Judd pulling clear and Arter the most willing to stay in touch.
However the fast finishing Ockenden began to close the gap with around 500m to go and just as the finish appeared on the horizon.
Judd who is coached by father Mick indeed went on to repeat her win from January with relative ease. Behind her Ockenden repeated her second place finish from last season ahead of local girl, Arter in third.
Natasha Cockram (MMRT) came through the field to finish in 14th place followed by Sian Edwards (Swansea Harriers) in 17th.
Judd commented on the race saying; ‘’It was a really good race, I love it in Cardiff. The conditions were really good, it was really warm’’
On her race tactics she added; ‘’On the first lap everyone took it easy and then Charlotte made a move. There were only two hills on the course and I got dropped on both. I probably went a bit too early with about 1500m to go’’.
‘’I was really really struggling over the last 500m. My dad said are you ok and I was shaking my head but I held on and I’m really happy to retain it’’.
The senior men’s race was similarly cagey from the start. The early leading group here included; Sam Stabler (Lincoln Wellington), Mahamed Mahamed (Southampton AC), Graham Rush (Cheltenham Harriers), Jonny Hay (Aldershot, Farnham & District) and local duo Ieuan Thomas (Cardiff AAC) and Tom Marshall (Cardiff AAC).
Tom Marshall (2045) and Ieuan Thomas (2063) on the first lap
Mahamed was a bronze medallist at the European under 20 Cross Country Championships and was a CAU Inter-Counties Champion as an under 17.
Thomas had come to notoriety in the summer, competing for Great Britain & Northern Ireland in the IAAF World Championships in London over the 3,000m S/C.
Cardiff AAC club-mate and training partner Marshall is another athlete with proven track speed, gaining the Commonwealth Games 1500m qualification standard for Wales in June.
Lincoln Wellington’s Stabler had finished third in February’s English National Cross Country Championships in Nottingham and fourth at the first edition of the CAU Inter-Counties Cross Country Championships to be held at Prestwold Hall in Loughborough.
He had also been fourth at the final staging of the event at Cofton Park in Birmingham and holds a 5,000m best of 13:30.
It was the local pair that first lost touch, with Rush looking comfortable and Hay who had won the U20 race in Cardiff in 2011 and the BUCS title in the City in 2012 working hard to move back in to the medal positions.
By the stat of the second lap of three large laps it was Mahamed and Stabler that had eased away from the chasing pack, followed by Cheltenham Harrier, Rush.
Despite a move by Mahamed, it was Stabler who powered in to the finishing straight first went and on to win by four seconds from the ever improving mahamed with Hay in third and Thomas the first Welsh finisher in fifth.
A delighted Stabler explained his tactics saying; ‘’My Coach Rob Denmark told me to sit in on the first lap and then on the second lap try to push it on to see how I feel’’.
‘’I did that and I thought everyone was still there until I noticed that it was just Mo. I tried to break him on the third lap but he just would go away, he’s so good’’.
‘’He got ta 10 metre gap going in to the last mile but I think that the strength and conditioning that I’ve been doing over the last few weeks paid off. I had a sprint at the end which I don’t normally have and I managed to get away’’.
Wales’ Cari Hughes (Swansea Harriers) had won in Cardiff twice before and was always near the front in the U20 girls race. She had made her Great Britain & Northern Ireland debut at Edinburgh in January and followed up with a run at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Kampala.
Cari Hughes (692) at the front of the under 20 women's race
Khahisa Mhlanga (Chelmsford AC) was another pre-race favourite who as the English Schools Champion was always likely to feature.
Mhlanga surged away from Hughes in the closing stages to win the combined U17, U20 Women’s race with Hughes next home, followed by Julia Paternain who completed the podium places in the under 20 race.
Under 17 victory belonged to Grace Brock of Cornwall AC who finished fifth overall and was followed home by Grace Copeland (Wimbourne AC) and Lynn Mckenna (Giffnock North) who secured silver and bronze medals respectively. Abi Fisher (Cardiff AAC) was the first local athlete here.
Cardiff man Jake Heyward announced his off-track ambitions taking under-20 men’s victory despite losing touch of the leaders earlier in the race.
Jake Heyward taking under 20 men's victory
Heyward, who is the European under-20 1500m champion, was always likely to be a threat in the closes stages if he remained in contention.
Despite starting as an underdog in a race containing Luke Prior who competed at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Kampala and English Schools runner-up Tom Mortimer, Heyward is no stranger to causing upsets to the form book.
He commented on how the race had gone, saying: “It was a tough race, we were all together in a group until Tom Mortimer really pushed the pace on. He made his move because I think he knew he needed to break me’’.
‘’The Freshers Flu has been going around in Uni and that really din’t help my chest but I dug deep’’
“In the (London) Mini Marathon Tom got the better of me so I waited and waited, until I felt I could sprint properly’’.
“It really did help having the home crowds here today. I really wanted to win because it was a home course.”
City of Portsmouth’s Lachlan Wellington surged to a gritty under 17 victory. After appearing to drop Josh Dickinson and Tom Keen, the pair went on to reel Wellington back only to relinquish hopes of the race win as he accelerated away once again.
Dickinson subsequently overcame Keen to finish second with Keen third this time.
Wellington commented; ‘’It was a really tough race today, I got pushed all the way it was fast from the start’’.
‘’I got a break at the top of the course just after the hill but they caught me I had to kic with 400m to go but they pushed me all the way’’.
Sian Heslop took the under 15 Girls title ahead of Scottish Champion, Lily-Jane Evans-Heggarty. Samia Jones (Menai Track & Field) was just 12 seconds off the bronze medal in fourth.
Mike Spill (Menai Track & Field) finished just behind English Schools 1500m Champion Ethan Hussey in the boys equivalent age group. The Welsh Champion was followed home by Rhys James (Neath Harriers) in third.
The under 13 races were won by Vale Royal AC’s Holly Weedall and by Poole AC’s William Rabjohns. The first Welsh Athletes were Neisha Roberts (Deeside AAC) and Math Thomas (Menai Track & Field).
The programme had started with an under 11 titles for Savana Smith of Charnwood AC and a win in the Gwent Cross Country League for Carmarthen Harrier Ifan Bowen.
Pictures by Paul Stillman.