Scottish runner beats Ethiopian trio as Ugandan Keneth Kiprop wins men’s race and Innes FitzGerald shines in under-20 women’s race
Megan Keith reckons she “off-seasoned too hard” and missed a week of running on her return to training due to a niggle last month. Yet despite this the 21-year-old looked in terrific shape at the Cardiff Cross Challenge on Saturday (Nov 11) as she left three Ethiopian women in her wake to win by 17 seconds.
Likina Amebaw had beaten Keith by more than half a minute two weeks earlier in Spain, but Keith turned the tables in Cardiff as she cruised home in 20:35 with runner-up Amebaw clocking 20:52 followed by Asmerech Anley (20:59) and Meseret Yeshaneh (21:02).
Keith won the European under-23 5000m title in Finland in July followed by a big 5000m PB of 14:56.98 in London which earned her a call-up to the World Champs in Budapest. Last December she was runner-up behind Nadia Battocletti of Italy at the European Cross Country Championships under-23 race in Turin and it is the Briton’s aim to climb to the top of the podium in Brussels next month.
“I was told my lead was 20 metres during the second lap and I was doing my best to hold it so I’m glad to hear it grew toward the end,” said Keith. “I took a nice long break after track to refresh and came back feeling fit. I had a bit of a blip about a month ago and was on the bike for a week.
“I think I rested too hard. I learned that tendons don’t like rest. I think I off-seasoned too hard! But it didn’t seem to set me back.”
Like many athletes in Cardiff, Keith was testing herself ahead of the Euro Trials in Liverpool in a fortnight. “It’s always good to focus on something during the winter months and the Euro Cross is a good one to have on the calendar as an aim,” she said.
After Christmas, she suggests she might race indoors and is mulling over whether to target the World Cross in Belgrade. “It kind of depends on what happens with the Emirates renovations in Glasgow. I’ve never raced indoors either,” she added before running for a train to take her home to Scotland.
Behind Keith and the Ethiopian trio, Jess Warner-Judd was fifth followed by Izzy Fry, the 2022 World University cross-country champion on the comeback from injury. Sophia Thøgersen, aged just 18 from Denmark, was next, just ahead of Jess Gibbon.
Another 18-year-old, Keneth Kiprop of Uganda, was sixth in the World Cross under-20 race in Australia in February. Cardiff was his first cross-country event in Europe and he attacked the senior men’s race with venom as he burst into an early lead, making light of the soft ground, twists, undulations and occasional log jump.
Yet after building a big lead, he began to tire and was caught by Vincent Mutai, the Kenyan who won the recent Cardiff Half-Marathon. When it came down to a sprint on the final downhill section to the finish, however, Kiprop stretched clear again to win by three seconds in 28:32.
Due to the event being part of the World Athletics Cross Country Gold Label series, it is attracting stronger fields every year. In third was Abele Bekele Alemu of Ethiopia with Zak Mahamed the first Brit home in fourth. Mahamed won Euro Cross under-23 silver last year behind Charles Hicks but will be a senior at this year’s event in Brussels, assuming he qualifies, of course, although in this kind of form it looks probable.
Egide Ntakarutimana of Burundi and Yves Nimbona of Rwanda were fifth and sixth followed by Brits George and Charlie Wheeler, Angus McMillan, Scott Stirling and Matt Stonier as they finished just ahead of world under-20 1500m champion Vincent Keter of Kenya.
On the comeback trail from injury, Marc Scott was 16th but will look to improve in coming weeks as he builds back to full fitness.
The surprise package of the men’s race were the Wheeler twins who have found great form back in the UK after spells at separate universities in the United States. In a fortnight they will try to make the GB team for the Euro Cross and, if that plan fails, they will tackle the Telford 10km, although they see their future on the track primarily. Either way, they look here to stay and the duo caught the eye in Cardiff with not only their fast running but their Steve Prefontaine-style looks with blonde flowing hair and mustache.
READ MORE: Meet the Wheeler twins
Hannah Irwin and Tom Dodd took victory in elite mile races that were added to the programme to allow athletes to sharpen up for the trials in Liverpool. Irwin almost didn’t race due to illness during the week but she was in fine shape as she came home nine seconds ahead of Lilly Hawkins in 5:19.
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After such a short race, Irwin then disappeared to knock out four mile reps before warming down. Dodd, meanwhile, clocked 4:35 to beat Tyler Bilyard by a second with Alex Melloy third. “It was my first cross-country mile race,” said Dodd, who will run the short-course event at the trials with Irwin racing the classic longer distance.
Innes FitzGerald was the most dominant athlete of the day as she finished 57 seconds ahead of runner-up Lizzie Wellstead, Eliza Nicholson (the first under-17) and Jess Bailey in the combined under-20 and under-17 women’s race. Such is FitzGerald’s strength and stamina, she said she tried to race “tactically” in Cardiff but still ended up with a giant lead in a race that was only 4450m in distance.
“I didn’t realise that I won by that much. I went off a bit slower than last year,” she said. “And it paid off.”
The Exeter Harrier, who is now 17, was fourth against older rivals at the Euro Cross last year in Italy and is looking to win a medal this time in Brussels, hopefully gold. Looking beyond this into the new year, she says she would love to find a way to race at the World Cross Country Championships in Serbia, too, without having to fly of course.
Sam Hodgson grabbed his Windsor, Slough, Eton & Hounslow singlet with delight and gave a salute as he crossed the finish line. It showed what victory in Cardiff means to the young athletes and he took first place in the under-20 men’s race by 16 seconds, too, from runner-up Dafydd Jones and Louis Small.
“It means a lot to win one of these,” said Hodgson. “My grandad always said I need to smile when I’m running. I love the cross.”
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Alex Lennon punched the air with delight after out-kicking Oscar Schofield to win the under-17 men’s race. The Sutton & District athlete said the start was “proper violent with lots of pushing and shoving” but after cutting loose with Schofield he proved he had the stronger finish.
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Evan Grime had a sensational summer with 1:54.08 for 800m and 3:54.36 for 1500m in the under-15 age group. The Salford Harrier has shot up in height in the past year and now stands 6ft 1in tall. Given this, his rangy stride was too much for his rivals to handle as he kicked past Calum Dick and Joseph Scanes to win the under-15 boys race.
“It’s good to be back racing as I was injured (with a hip problem) in July and August,” said Grime, who plans to race in Liverpool and his county champs before Christmas.
Evan Grime, the Salford Harriers U15 who ran 1:54 for 800m and 3:54 for 1500m this summer, has bounced back from a hip injury to win at the Cardiff Cross Challenge. pic.twitter.com/8MnkPmm6eH
— AW (@AthleticsWeekly) November 11, 2023
Olivia Forrest of Brentwood Beagles AC was also impressive as she finished 31 seconds ahead of Libby Hale and Ellarose Whitworth in the under-15 girls’ race. “It felt quite hard as the mud was quite slippery but I felt better once I got into it,” Forrest said.
“At the start my legs didn’t feel very happy but I soon got into it.”
— AW (@AthleticsWeekly) November 12, 2023
Maisie Mullett of Wreake & Soar Valley and Lucas Howard-Machado of Cardiff Archers were first runners home in the under-13 races in this British Athletics Cross Challenge meeting with the day made busier by the presence of competitors in the Gwent League. “I’m really proud as I didn’t expect it,” said Mullett. “It’s a dream come true.”
Full results here.
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