The second of five British Athletics Cross Challenge meetings for 2017/18 saw Mahamed Mahamed (Peter Haynes, Southampton) and Jess Judd (Mick Judd, Chelmsford) claim thrilling victories in their respective senior races at Teardrop Lakes in Milton Keynes.
Following up to Cardiff’s series opener four weeks ago, the series meeting in Milton Keynes played host to no less than ten races, with the numerous tight bends and steep climbs adding elements of jeopardy to an already damp surface following overnight rain.
For Mahamed the victory was one that came with a tinge of surprise, though that is to take nothing away from an athlete who has not long stepped into competing as a senior following his 20th birthday back in September.
Facing off against a strong field which included the likes of Andy Vernon (Nic Bideau) – himself a four-time winner of the overall Cross Challenge series as a senior – and Sam Stabler (Rob Denmark, Wreake & Soar Valley), Mahamed ran a mature race throughout, sitting just off Vernon and Stabler as they set the early pace.
When the field came round for the beginning of the second and final ‘large lap’ within the 9.5km course, it was clear that the story of the race had changed drastically, with Mahamed pushing on in the lead ahead of Stabler, while Vernon, who was racing competitively for the first time since July following injury troubles, dropped back to third.
Taking victory by a gap of significance come the finishing straight, Mahamed reflected on his victory with delight, saying: “It was quite tough out there; it was muddy on the long straights of grass but mixed in with the concrete surfaces every now it keeps you on your toes.”
“I was just sitting behind them [Stabler and Vernon], and it was about seeing how it went. When Andy dropped I knew I had to chase Sam down, then I managed to get the lead and kick from there in the closing part of the race. Ultimately to be up with top athletes like Sam and Andy – both of them are great runners – is obviously something I’m over the moon with.”
The women’s equivalent was equally as entertaining, Gemma Steel (Liz Nuttall, Charnwood) electing to take the front early on, with Judd and Katrina Wootton (David Dix, Coventry) among those nipping at the 2014 European Cross Country champion’s heels.
Managing to wrestle the lead at around the half way point of the 5.9km route, Judd looked to push on but by her own admission was halted in doing so by the numerous challenging climbs present on the course.
With Steel insistent on pushing this year’s World Championships 1500m semi-finalist all the way, Judd managed to push through the pain to take the tape by a matter of yards, adding victory in Milton Keynes to her comfortable win at Cardiff’s meeting back in October.
“I tried to run the race differently than I did in Cardiff – I was tying up in the end there – but today I tried to kick for the finish, though I don’t know where that came from as I haven’t done any speed work for a while!” reflected Judd.
On the finish to the race, she added: “I thought she’d [Steel] got me; when we got round the back of the course she opened up a bit of a gap and then we went downhill – something I’m notoriously bad at doing – then it looked like the gap had got bigger.
“I thought if I was going to lose I at least wanted to be level and just not have the kick, but something worked and I managed to get away; it was nice to have that battle before we go to Liverpool as it keeps any complacency at bay – I like to be pushed and find it hard.”
Clearly something of a good luck charm to one another, Judd’s step-sister Khahisa Mhlanga (Mick Judd, Chelmsford) claimed a storming victory in the combined women’s U20/U17 race to match Judd’s feat of two wins from two Challenge outings for 2017/18.
Having spent much of the race behind both Amelia Quirk (Beverly Kitching, Bracknell AC) and Ella McNiven (Lynn Webb, Liverpool Harriers), Mhlanga showed the type of speed that saw her claim European Junior gold over 800m this summer to open up a huge gap on the pair, with McNiven holding on for second – and the first U17 overall – while Quirk settled for third.
Returning to the mud for the first time this Autumn, Ben Dijkstra (Leicester) dominated from gun to tape in the combined U20/17 men’s race, with Jack Meijer (Barry Hearn, Marshall Milton Keynes) the first U17 over the line on home soil.
Elsewhere, the U15 girl’s race saw Lily-Jane Evans-Haggerty (Victoria Park City of Glasgow) – a second place finisher in Cardiff – ensure that she left the Lakes with maximum points as she stormed down the finishing straight in commanding fashion. The boy’s equivalent saw Mohamed Ali (Idrus Hamud, Ealing Southall & Middlesex) break clear for the win following a near race-long battle with Menai Track & Field’s Mike Spill (Stephen Livett).
In a repeat of the age-group winners from Cardiff’s Challenge opener, the U13 races saw victories once again for William Rabjohns (Poole AC, Mark Pauley) and Holly Weedall (Vale Royal AC), both of whom bolster their points tallies ahead of Liverpool’s meeting in two weeks’ time.
The opening race of the day saw Chiltern Harrier Lesedi Nkoane (Nick Hughes) take the victory, with Isabelle Haines-Gray (Oxford City AC) finishing strongly to be the first Cross Challenge entrant to finish in third-place overall from the U11 girls, while Nathaniel Rowe (City of Stoke AC) was first across the line in the U11 boys race to claim the win.