Mahamed Mahamed (coach: Peter Haynes, county: Hampshire) and Phoebe Law (Mick Woods, Surrey) took emphatic wins in the senior races at the Inter-Counties at Prestwold Hall on Saturday to secure the overall British Athletics Cross Challenge titles.
The fifth and final fixture of the series on the quagmire-like course near Loughborough produced plenty of close finishes in the standings.
None more so than in the senior women’s section, where Law pulled away in the second half and with a 12-second margin added to her win in the English National and Southerns last month. So heavy was the going that she was held back to 32:51 for the 8km course.
2014 European cross-country champion Gemma Steel (Liz Nuttall, Leicestershire & Rutland) was second with Abbie Donnelly (Rob Lewis, Lincolnshire), who enjoyed the best run of senior career, just nine seconds behind in third.
Such was the winner’s effort that she collapsed to the floor as soon as she had cut through the tape. Though ending on equal on points with Steel, the series title was decided on positions here, therefore the Kingston athlete took the senior title for the first time. Having finished fifth last year and third the year before, Law’s rich vein of form saw her replicate the Inter-Counties win she scored as a junior.
Law, who was 10th at the European Cross in December, said: “It was really tough today. Especially with Gemma chasing me, which was really terrifying.”
The Kingston & Poly athlete added: “This is definitely the course for me. Mick (Woods) makes me strong.”
Explaining how she ended up at the floor after the finish, she said: “I was exhausted at the end. I thought they were closing on me.”
Steel, who is preparing for the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships later this month, was disappointed to lose out on the series title, complaining of stomach trouble.
Mahamed has enjoyed a breakthrough season and this was another leap forward for the 20-year-old.
The Hampshire athlete pulled away from his only close pursuers, Sam Stabler (Rob Denmark, Leicestershire & Rutland) and Adam Hickey (Eamonn Martin, Essex), at the start of the second lap and stretched away for a 49-second win over the 12km course.
“I’m really happy with that. It was my last cross-country of the season so I just wanted to see how I felt and go for it,” said Mahamed, who was 12th in the U23 race at the Euro Cross this winter. “I felt good and nobody came with me. I thought Sam (Stabler), Andy (Vernon) and Adam (Hickey) might have worked together and caught me but fortunately they didn’t so I was happy.”
Stabler described the race as the hardest he had ever run as he secured second in the race and in the series. Meanwhile, Hickey was another seven seconds behind in third, 27 seconds ahead of Andy Vernon (Nic Bideau, Hampshire), who was third in the standings.
Earlier in the day, Tom Mortimer (Christopher Brown, Gloucestershire) took the junior men’s race by 12 seconds over Nathan Dunn (Peter Crook, Lancashire) to end his season on a high after a disappointing pre-Christmas.
The 19-year-old, who won bronze at the English National, said: “Nobody pushed it on [at the start]. It was really slow. Once I got to the top of the hill, I thought I may as well go, I’ve got a bit of a gap anyway. I thought I could win it but I didn’t think I’d win it by that much.”
Behind Dunn in third, Cardiff’s Jake Heyward (James Thie, South Wales) was another eight seconds behind as he did enough to confirm the overall Challenge win. It shows the incredible range of the British Athletics Futures Academy athlete who only set a PB of 8:00.93 over 3000m indoors last month.
Niamh Brown (Mick Woods, Surrey) made a move at about halfway to come away to a nine-second win in the junior women’s race.
It capped a fine season for the 18-year-old, who was 12th at the Euro Cross for GB&NI in December who said: “I’ve had a good season, so far so it was really nice to end it with a win.”
In the early stages, Brown had to battle Cambridgeshire’s Julia Paternain (Mark Vile, Cambridgeshire), who walked away with the Cross Challenge title for the very first time.
Brown added: “Once I was clear I had to stay mentally strong and confident to not let it fall back, but I think I did a good job.”
Morpeth’s Rory Leonard (North East) was a surprised winner of the U17 men’s race, crossing the line 21 seconds clear of Thomas Keen (Mark Vile, Cambridgeshire), who prevailed in the series standings.
It was a vast contrast in fortunes for him compared to two weeks ago at the English National when he fell and ended up concussed, unable to finish. Zakariya Mahamed (Peter Haynes, Southampton) was third, 16 seconds adrift of Keen.
Grace Brock (John Knowles, Cornwall) took the U17 women’s race and with it the overall challenge title after pulling away about 3km into the 5km race. Describing it as the best win of her career, she was 20 seconds clear of Holly Smith (Andrew Carter, Cheshire). India Pentland (David Lowes, North East) was third, ahead of National winner Ella McNiven (Lynn Webb, Merseyside).
In the U15 boys’ race, Will Barnicoat (Trevor Raggett, Surrey) left it until about three quarters of the way through his 4.5km race to take the lead and moved away to finish three seconds clear of Samuel Martin (Alli Crossman, Surrey) and Liam Rawlings (Colin Lancaster, Shropshire) who wrapped up the podium positions. Mohamed Ali (Steve Mann, Middlesex), the English champion, was fifth which did enough to win the Challenges series in the age group.
Beth Cook (Sussex) used the uphills to her advantage in the U15 race to win by 18 seconds from Lily-Jane Evans-Haggerty (Scotland West), who was crowned Challenge champion, with Anna Hedley (Scotland East) third in the race at Prestwold Hall.
William Rabjohns (Mark Paulley, Dorset) secured an U13 title hat-trick for 2018 and the Challenge win as he pulled away at the start of the home straight to take a close race. The Poole runner had already won the Southern and English National this year. Joshua Blevins (Lee Morgan, North East) was six seconds behind in second as Zena Saez (Bedfordshire) was third.
Maisy Luke (Cornwall) took the victory in the U13 race by three seconds over Beth Rawlinson (Shropshire). In third, Holly Weedall (Pauline Thom, Cheshire) captured the Challenge title after a consistent run across the series.
Full results can be found on the UK Athletics Cross Challenge website pages.