Northern Athletics Cross Country Relay Championships, Graves Park

Saturday 21 October 2017

There were a number of very good individual and team performances at the Northern cross country relays despite the strong winds and soft conditions under foot.

A very young men’s A team finished just outside the medals in 4th place. Tom Horton got them off to a very good start, finishing quickly in 3rd in 10:32 (5th fastest time of the day). Cameron Bell ran a strong leg to hold on to 3rd in 10:53. Josh Taylor-Brown moved up to 2nd with a time of 10:52. Connor Milnes ran well despite a heavy cold to take 4th in 11:30.

Pete Hodges ran the fastest leg for the B team, finishing 40th in 11:54. Josh Walton surprised himself moving up to 37th with 12:23. Rob Cook maintained the position with 12:50 and Dave Sprot led the team home in 33rd with 12:12.

It was very encouraging to see a large turn out by the Senior Women. The A team emulated the men’s performance with 4th place. Imani Wilson ran a fine opening leg to finish 7th  in 12:21 (the 9th fastest time of the day). Zanthe Wray gained five places to finish 2nd in 12:36. Charlotte Ward was involved in a close struggle over the final leg, finishing 4th in 13:03.

Hannah Fletcher got the B team off to a good start, finishing 13th in 12:41. Evie Brailsford looked very strong, running 13:21 in 11th. Ellie Crownshaw ran a good final leg to finish 13th in 14:08.

Lexie Wilson was the lead leg for the C team, finishing 44th in 14:47. Charlotte Slack moved up to 30th with 13:41 and Hannah Whitelam gained a further 7 places to finish 23rd in 14:16.

The D team were led off by Tina Wilson in 62nd in 16:56. Sarah Booker gained 8 places to finish 54th in 17:15. Maggie Quinn led the team home in 53rd in 19:41.

David Lewis ran strong opening leg for the U17M with a promising time of 7:39. Christian Snelgrove finished 16th on the final leg in 8:30.

The U17W team finished 5th with some strong runs. Laura Trask ran a very good opening leg to finish 4th in 8:37, the 9th fastest time of the day. Eve Crownshaw ran well to take 5th in 9:02. Saskia Huxham maintained the position to bring the team home in 5th in 8:50.

The U15B A team ran extremely well to win the Northern title. Taylor Hill got them off to an excellent start, finishing in a scramble for the line in 6th, the 7th fastest time of the day. James Hartley ran a very strong middle leg to take the lead with 7:26. Joe McDadd never looked like relinquishing the lead, running 7:22 (the 9th fastest time of the day) to clinch the gold medal.

Dylan Stevens ran well on the opening leg for the B team, finishing 30th in 8:00. Jonah Patton brought the team home in 27th on the final leg in 8:52.

The U15G team finished 5th. Jodie Hill ran another good opening leg to take 5th in 8:08, the 6th fastest time of the day. Zena Hill continued her return to form finishing 4th on the 2nd leg in 8:50.

Holly Booker opened for the B team running 8:43 for 12th. Tatti Wilson moved the team up to 8th with a time of 9:03. May Quinn ran well to finish 15th in 9:40.

Ffion Patton ran well on the 2nd leg for the U13G C team, finishing 14th in 6:52.

Photos available here.

South Yorkshire Cross Country League 1, Longley Park

Sunday 15 October 2017

The opening fixture of the South Yorkshire cross country league provided a testing, hilly course with few areas of flat, fast running.

Cameron Bell and Connor Milnes set off with the leading group in the senior men’s race. Dom Brown (UoS) made a fine start to the winter season, moving away from the leading group to win in 27:17. Dane Blomquist (HallamU) held on well to come in 3rd in 27:43, just behind Mike Tanner (Sheffield RC). Tom Horton, after leading in the early part of the race came through to finish 4th (28:09) with Billy Hobbs (UoS) finishing strongly in 5th (28:16) and Michael Ellis 6th (28:20). Cameron Bell, in his first senior men’s xc, showed good strength to take 7th (2nd U20M) in 28:29 with Connor Milnes always in touch, finishing 8th in 28:34. John Birch was 10th in 28:51 and Rob Cook 31st in 31:45.

In the Senior Women’s race, Ellen Downs (UoS) pulled away from the field on each lap to win in 21:34. Lauren Stoddard (guest) moved through the field to finish 2nd in 21:52. Hannah Fletcher did well to take 3rd in 21:58, just ahead of Charlotte Ward in 4th in 22:03. Juliet Downs (UoS) was the 1st U20 in 6th in 22:14. Evie Brailsford ran strongly for 12th in 23:21. Taylor Hammond (Barnsley) was 29th in 25:17 with Rachel Poole 49th in 27:34.

David Lewis was 2nd in the U17M race in a time of 23:21.

Laura Trask continued her fine start to the season winning the U17W race in 16:15. Saskia Huxham ran strongly to take 2nd in 16:25.

Dylan Stevens worked hard to take 7th in the U15B race in 15:16. Tom Atkinson showed his improvement with 12th in 15:48. Sam Tierney (SheffTri) did well to finish 16th in 16:05 and Jonah Patton ran a strong 2nd lap to finish 17th in 16:07.

In the U15G race, Holly Booker looked strong in finishing 4th in 12:54, just ahead of the fast finishing Zena Hartley in 5th in 13:05. May Quinn continued her recovery, finishing 15th in 14:06.

Ffion Patton ran very well to finish 7th in 12:54 in the U13G race.

Photos available here.

Young Athletes and the ParkRun

Many of you know that I disapprove strongly of young athletes running the Parkrun. Interestingly, Athletics Weekly carried an article this week on young athletes and the Parkrun that mirrors many of my own views.

It may look impressive and be exciting when a young athlete is beating lots of adults and running an impressive time over 5k at a parkrun. However, this is very misleading and hides dangers to young athletes and their development.

As young athletes grow, their bones are soft, particularly at the ends, and their tendons are vulnerable to the pressures that are caused by racing on hard surfaces over long distances. Their bones, muscles, tendons and ligaments are at much greater risk of injury than those of adults. Bones are particularly vulnerable during growth spurts. Running in general, particularly on softer surfaces, tends to stimulate bone growth and help muscle development. However, when racing on hard surfaces, the force placed on each leg is up to 3 times body weight. Imagine the forces going through each leg and the number of steps a young runner will take over 5k on a tarmac surface. If bones—particularly while growing—are overstressed by such severe impact on repeated occasions, they can become weaker and breakdown.

Some of the dangers are inflammation and damage to the growth plates or tendons or even stress fractures. The growth plates—the areas of developing cartilage at the ends of growing bones—are particularly vulnerable to inappropriate stress. Fractures in these area can damage normal bone growth. Such injuries can impair growth and may lead to long-term health problems.

The experience of running fast times and beating lots of adults is exciting for young athletes (and parents). But it leads to inappropriate competition, expectations and the pressure of running faster —and so increasing the impact forces—each time. It is part of the powerof10 culture where the focus of too many athletes and their parents is on times and rankings even at the very youngest ages. Young athletes need to be exposed to healthy competition within their own age group and to appropriate racing distances (800m and 1500m on the track and cross country in the winter). An unhealthy focus on running more and more parkruns while chasing pbs will eventually lead to burn out and becoming disillusioned with the sport.

Young athletes should focus on developing their endurance and learning to race over shorter distances. It is important to develop their running speed over these shorter distances as they are growing. This will be a major factor in their development and increase their chances of success as they move up to longer distance (where appropriate) when they are older and more mature. Running longer distances—including 3k on the track as well as 5k park runs—before developing ability over 800m and 1500m will inhibit how fast the longer distances can be run. Basically, if you run slowly at 800m and 1500m, you are going to run slowly (or even more slowly) at 3k and 5k. The development of basic speed while young will have a positive impact on racing success over longer distances as a fully developed athlete.

As with the post on Basic Principles, it is crucial to remember that we are dealing with young children and trying to set out a path for them to enjoy and develop in athletics for the rest of their lives. They are not miniature adults: they are not miniature Mo Farahs or Paula Radcliffes. These are young children whose talents and abilities need to be nurtured and protected.

The Training and Racing Year

We need to break the year into different segments. For most athletes in our group, there will be two main periods of racing, a period of transition between the two blocks and a short period of rest and recovery before the new training year begins.

  1. Winter (Cross Country) Season (September to March)
  2. Transition to track/road racing (March/April to May)
  3. Summer (Track or Road racing) Season (May to August)
  4. Rest and Recovery (2 weeks in August/September)

There may be slight variations for some individual athletes and, particularly, for those who wish to have an indoor season rather than a full cross country season or are focused on major marathons in the year. Yet the principles for training remain the same.

In general terms, there is a natural development to the year which helps to define the aims for the year. In the winter, the main focus in on preparing for the cross country season, particularly developing endurance and strength (though speed is still an important element). The summer sees a switch in emphasis to track racing—particularly for many of the juniors or track and/or road for many of the seniors—with the focus on building on the winter work and sharpening the speed and speed endurance for track and road. The transition period between the two is a critical phase of training that helps to link the two main parts of the year together.

1. Winter (Cross Country) Season

The first part of the winter season (September-December) is used to develop endurance by gradually increasing mileage, the volume of training and developing overall strength by hill work, circuits and weights (where appropriate).

The road and cross country relays at the start of the winter season provide an excellent transition into the longer cross country races. They offer a chance to race hard over shorter distances and be part of a team before the longer races become the main focus.

The races at this time of year (Sheffield Schools and South Yorkshire XC League) are generally used as part of developing racing fitness and sharpness up to Christmas. It is important to pick and choose the races carefully so that they form part of the racing build up and are integrated with weekly training.

A few in the group may target the British Cross Challenge at Sefton Park, Liverpool as qualification for U20s, U23s and Seniors for the European XC championships

The major championship races generally take place in the second half of the winter season (January-March). This is the focus of our training and all athletes in the group should be targeting these major races:

Yorkshire Championships (qualification for the InterCounties)
Northern Championships
National Championships
InterCounties (qualification biannually for the World XC Championships for U20 and Senior)

Also for the Juniors:

Sheffield Schools Championships (qualification for South Yorkshire Schools)
South Yorkshire Schools Championships (qualification for English Schools Championships)
English Schools Championships

2. Transition (March/April-May)

A critical phase of training that helps link the winter and summer seasons together. The early track races in this part of the year will help to prepare for the main focus in the summer season.

3. Summer (Track/Road) Season

Generally, the main focus for the majority of the group is preparing for the major track races in the summer:

Yorkshire Championships
Northern Championships
National Championships (qualification for U20s for European Junior and World Junior Championships; qualification for Seniors for European, Commonwealth, and World Championships and Olympics).

Also for the Juniors:

Sheffield Schools Championships (qualification for South Yorkshire Schools)
South Yorkshire Schools Championships (qualification for English Schools Championships)
English Schools Championships

There are many other races that can be used to prepare for the championships: open graded and league meetings. For those with qualifying times, the British Milers Club (BMC) races are a very important for learning and preparation.

4. Rest and Recovery

It is important at the end of an exhausting year of training and racing to take at least 2 weeks off from running in order to recover physically and mentally. If athletes try to train through this the risk is injury and breakdown once the new training year starts. The aim is to return refreshed and enthusiastic as the build up begins all over again in September.

In later posts, I will discuss each of these periods of training in more detail later.

English Schools Cross Country Cup, Graves Park

Wednesday 11 October 2017

Taylor Hill eased away from the IB field on the opening lap of 1st round of the English Schools cross country cup. He increased his lead steadily throughout the race to win comfortably. Dylan Stevens produced a strong performance to move through the field on the second lap, finishing 4th and in close contention with 3rd place. They helped Tapton School to finish 4th overall.

Jodie Hill led from the start of the IG race and although under pressure for much of the course, she maintained a good rhythm throughout to win with something to spare. Zena Hartley maintained a good pace throughout and finished strongly to take 8th. Holly Booker, having set off very fast on a tough course, did well to take 12th. Tati Wilson maintained her form throughout, finishing 16th. May Quinn ran well on her return from injury to take 21st. Tapton girls qualified in 2nd place for the regional finals.


Some Basic Principles

 Since we often have new athletes—including parents of younger athletes—joining the group, I thought I would explain some of the basic principles that I use to design the training schedules for individual athletes or the group as a whole. Once the principles are set out, it becomes easier to to understand how to select particular training sessions and then put these together as an overall plan for the year.


The major aims of the group are for all athletes to enjoy training, racing and to fulfil their potential as an athlete.

This is a mixed group with a considerable number of senior and junior athletes. The principles of our training are the same for junior and senior athletes but the volume and intensity of training changes depending on the age and experience of the athlete and the time of year.

Middle distance and endurance running requires long-term commitment and development. However talented a young athlete, long-term development—with year on year sustainable development—is the major focus of our training so that an athlete can fulfil their potential as a senior and, hopefully, make running a life-time commitment enjoying the benefits of a healthy lifestyle and socialising with friends they have trained with over many years.

In particular, with young athletes, it is important to be PATIENT. Young athletes develop at different rates, physically, mentally and socially. Worrying about rankings—as in the powerof10 rankings—and chasing after impressive times can be detrimental to the long-term development of an athlete. Success in competition or UK rankings is important but only if an athlete is physically and mentally mature enough to achieve such success. The obsession with short-term gains invariably leads to long-term injuries, burn out and rejection of the sport. Progress needs to be carefully controlled and sustainable over many years.

My most important guiding principal is to remember that these are CHILDREN—not fully mature adults—and the primary emphasis in these years has to be on ENJOYMENT.

Athletes in our group have had considerable success at national and international level. Some athletes have progressed from U13 level to represent Great Britain at junior and senior level at European and World cross country and track championships. This has been achieved by sustainable development over many years.

In the next post, I will explain how we organise our training and racing year so that athletes and parents can understand how the athletics year fits together and which races we target at different times of the year.

Sheffield Schools Cross Country League 1, High Hazels Park

Saturday 7 October

David Lewis was a comfortable 2nd in the senior boys race in the opening fixture of the Sheffield Secondary Schools Cross Country League.

Laura Trask ran well to win the IG race with Eve Crownshaw 2nd, Holly Booker 3rd and May Quinn, after a long injury layoff, 5th.

National Senior and Junior Road Relay Championships, Sutton Park, Sutton Coldfield

Saturday 7 October

The Senior Women finished 20th with a very young team. Charlotte Ward was 42nd on a fast opening leg with a time of 15:59. Natalia Hackett followed her run at the Northerns with the fastest leg of the day for HHS, running 15:27 for 27th. Hannah Fletcher continued her return to racing with another good run to take 20th in 16:13. Imani Wilson looked strong and fluent on the final leg, running 15:39 to maintain 20th. Lexie Wilson,the only runner in the B team, was 90th on the opening leg in 18:58.

The U15B team finished 30th despite a mixup in the changeover that cost them around 60 places. Taylor Hill had a fine run on the opening leg, handing over in 7th in 12:52; just outside the top 10 times for the day. Dylan Stevens did very well to cope with the problem in the pen and ran well to get back to 45th. Joe McDadd had another promising run, bringing the team home in 30th in 13:19.

The U15G team performed well to finish 17th. Jodie Hill ran very well on the opening leg to take 4th in 14:13, the 10th fastest time of the day. Emily Hunter continued her good start to the season finishing 16th in 16:01 and Zena Hartley ran well on the final leg to take 17th in 15:46.

Photos available here.