Lily Partridge (coach: Mick Woods) has set her sights on defending her crown at the British Athletics World Trials and Inter Counties Cross Country Championships incorporating the Cross Challenge Final on Saturday 7 March.
A lot will be at stake for the athletes competing in Birmingham this weekend with the overall Cross Challenge titles up for grabs, and also a place on the GB & NI team for the World Cross Country Championships in Guiyang, China later this month.
Partridge secured a commanding five second victory over nearest rival Katie Brough (Andrew Carter) at Cofton Park last year and admits that anything less than repeating that feat would come as a disappointment.
The 23 year old said: “I’d be disappointed if I didn’t win again on Saturday. Obviously winning it once, you don’t want to lose that title, so I’m really looking forward to it.
“I’m really excited – I love running the Inter Counties for Surrey and it’s always a good race when it’s the World Cross Trials, as everyone seems to turn up.”
The Aldershot, Farnham & District athlete has gone from strength-to-strength since her 11th place finish at the European Cross Country Championships in December, winning the British Athletics Cross Challenge in Cardiff before going on to win the English national cross country title two weeks ago. The overall series is now well with in her grasp, but is well aware of the test that will be posed by the likes of European Cross Country team gold medallist Elle Vernon (Steve Vernon), World Mountain Running silver medallist Emma Clayton (Andrew Henderson) and Cross Challenge leader Imogen Ainsworth (Keith Brackstone).
“I think being in the running to win the series makes it more of a challenge and I always get excited going into the big races. All the girls are really strong – I’m not counting anybody out because it’s a World Cross Trials and everybody is going to be on form so it should make it a good race. I think it always makes the event more exciting when there’s so much at stake and knowing there are girls that do want to go to China, they’ve got a lot to gain from it so it’s going to be really tough.”
In the senior men’s race, close attention will be paid to Cross Challenge leader Adam Hickey (Eamonn Martin) as well as Andrew Butchart (Derek Easton) and Charlie Hulson (Paul Roden), who won the Scottish and English National Championships respectively.
“Leading the series, you’re always going to be a target and I had the same last year as the joint leader with Dewi (Griffiths). Unfortunately, by this time last year, I started to feel fatigued whereas this year, I’ve got stronger as the season has progressed and I’m ready to deal with what comes on Saturday,” added Hickey, who was eighth at the event in 2014.
Butchart meanwhile avenged his defeat to Callum Hawkins (Robert Hawkins) in 2014 to claim the national title in impressive fashion last month, and is ready to make history by becoming the first Scottish senior male to win the overall Cross Challenge series this weekend.
The 23 year old said: “I never planned to win the series at the start of the season, but I’ll obviously go for it now it’s there. It would be great to be the first [Scottish senior male] to win the Cross Challenge series, so I’m going to make sure I do everything to bring the title back to the north of the border on Saturday. It would be great to get that under the belt and finish off the winter season as good as I know I can.”
In the U20 men’s race, it is likely to be a two-way tussle between Jac Hopkins (Kevin Tobin) and Iolo Hughes (Andrew Walling), with just five points separating the duo in the series. Between them, they have taken maximum points from the last two Cross Challenge events and will go head-to-head in a battle to win the overall title. Abel Tsegay (Peter Mullervy), who was the runaway winner at the Liverpool stage will again look to blow away the competition on the 8km course.
European Cross Country U20 team silver medallist Phoebe Law (Richard Holt) will be looking to replicate the form that saw her win the last Cross Challenge in Milton Keynes, but with one point separating her from Bronwen Owen (Henderson), the overall series is in the balance ahead of the event finale in the West Midlands. Also looking to put in a strong showing at Cofton Park is Harriet Knowles-Jones (Paul Roden), who will be keen to replicate the form that saw her win the England U17 national title at Parliament Hill.
For startlists for the British Athletics World Trials and Inter Counties Cross Country Championships incorporating the Cross Challenge Final, please visit: https://www.britishathletics.org.uk/competitions/the-british-athletics-cross-challenge/