By Owen Morgan
Dewi Griffiths made a winning return to the Welsh Cross Country Championships by chalking up a magnificent seventh title just a couple of days after arriving back in Wales from a month’s altitude training in America with Steve Jones.
The Swansea Harrier had won six titles in a row before missing last year’s event through injury, and was determined to regain his title despite having only stepped off the plane on Thursday.
Moments after crossing the line at Pembrey Country Park, near Llanelli, Griffiths said: “I wasn’t sure how the legs were going to react after travelling back from Boulder on Wednesday evening, Thursday morning. My body probably doesn’t know what time of day it is.”
If Griffiths was feeling the effects of his transatlantic trip, he certainly didn’t show it as he completed the 10,350m course in 31.50, comfortably ahead of fellow Commonwealth Games athlete Ieuan Thomas (32:14) and Cardiff clubmate James Hunt (33:09), who was the reigning champion.
Griffiths, who led from the start, said: “I’m really happy with that. I knew Ieuan and James were running well, they ran well last week in Armagh, so I knew I had to be on it on the day to beat them.
“It was nice to get away relatively early, I could then set my own pace and keep myself in a good rhythm. I’m running well at the moment and it’s another stepping stone towards London. That’s the big aim for the spring for me.”
Preparation for the London Marathon was the reason behind Griffiths’ trip to Boulder, Colorado, where he trained high in the mountains with Welsh former marathon world record holder Jones.
“Training at altitude is that little bit harder,” said Griffiths. “But for me it was the chance to get away and have a good four weeks where you just forget about everything and concentrate on training.
“I trained hard, obviously, but I’m in a good place and I’ve got a lot of hard miles behind me now. There are a couple of races between here and London and hopefully, on the day, you never know what can happen.”
The London Marathon will also act as the trial for Great Britain’s marathon team for the World Athletics Championships in Doha, later this year.
Griffiths is hopeful of putting in a strong performance on the streets of London, having made a spectacular marathon debut in 2017 when he clocked 2:09.49 in Frankfurt before suffering the injury which meant he missed much of last season, including the Commonwealth Games.
“I debuted pretty well, if I can emulate that I’ll be doing well,” said Griffiths. ” As a runner, you always want to go faster, so I’ll give it a good go on the day and roll the dice to see what happens.
“I’ve got a half marathon and a couple of 10ks before London. It depends on what happens in London. Doha and Tokyo are on the line really, so it’s all on London. Hopefully it’s a good one and all the doors will be open for the next few years.”
Griffiths also revealed there was some banter in Boulder from former Newport Harrier Jones, whose record of nine Welsh Cross Country Championships, the Llanfynydd man is closing in on.
“He keeps on trying to say that he had six in a row, well I’ve got six in a row too. But he’s got nine in total, hasn’t he? He got nine in 10 years, I’ve got seven in eight years now.
“The aim for the next couple of years is to try and tick them off and hopefully I can match him and maybe beat him, who knows? If you can match his level then you know you’re doing well!”
There was an equally impressive victory in the women’s senior race as the early events at the 115th edition of the George Crump Memorial event were staged in unseasonably warm and sunny conditions.
Worcester AC’s Jenny Nesbitt covered the women’s 7,360m course in 25:59, almost a full minute ahead of Winchester and District AC’s Melanie Watkins (26:58) and Amman Valley Harrier Jade Williams (27:17).
Nesbitt came into the race in excellent form having celebrated the turn of the year by setting a new 10k personal best in Valencia.
In the bright early afternoon sun, Nesbitt said: “Today was really nice. To get a national title is a really big thing as an athlete, so to come out here today and do that, I’m really happy.
“It was fantastic out there, you wouldn’t believe it was February. I think I might go and have a dip in the sea! It was great, the course here is fantastic, I really enjoyed it and you can’t really ask for better conditions in February.
“With cross country you turn up and deal with whatever you’re provided with. That’s one of the great things about cross country, it’s not dictated by time at all, it’s done on effort and I think that makes for great racing.”
Nesbitt was glad to put in a good performance having been disappointed by her performance at the Barcelona Half Marathon, which she ran on the back of a successful warm weather training camp in Spain.
“Unfortunately for me, Barcelona didn’t go as well as I’d hoped but I came back from Spain in really good shape.
“I think going out there in January with a great group of people and the Welsh Athletics coaches has put us on a really good footing going into the year. In Barcelona, so many of the girls and guys got PBs. That goes to show how important those kind of things are.”
Nesbitt will hope to take this form into the final event of this season’s British Athletics Cross Challenge in Loughbrough next month, which will incorporate the Great Britain team trial for the World Cross Country Championships, to be staged in Denmark at the end of March.
Another athlete to feel the benefit of the warm weather camp in Spain was Swansea Harrier Ashleigh Willis, who won the women’s under17/under-20 race.
After clocking a winning time of 19:50 the under-17 category runner said: ” Because I was out in Spain with so many senior athletes, I think I am making more sense of a race, not just going out fast, but using common sense and working through the race well.
“It was pretty tough but I made it through. I like mud, so it was pretty fast, but I pulled through on the hills. I thought the wind was going to be really tough but it was actually alright, apart from on the hills.”
Willis was followed in by under-20 athletes Katrina Higginson, of Bridgend AC in 19:59 and Martha Owen, of Deeside AAC in 20:09.
The men’s under-20 race was won by another Swansea Harrier, Conor Smith, who clocked 24:38 around the 7,360m course.
Smith said afterwards: “I sat in on the first lap to stay out of the wind and then put in a few efforts to test the other lads in the field. Then I spotted I had a chance in the hills and I put that to good use on the last lap.
“I had a bit of a scare in the last 800 metres when the lads started to come back to me a little bit and then managed to find that last little bit of strength at the end to move away and make sure it was comfortable across the line.
Smith was chased home by Cardiff’s Larry Ryan in 24:50 and Carmarthen Harrier Ben Thomas in 25:04.
In the team competitions, Swansea Harriers took gold in the Senior Women’s event, while Cardiff AAC were triumphant in the men’s senior competition.
A hugely successful and entertaining day’s running saw hundreds of athletes taking part from primary school age groups through to senior and masters categories on the coastal park course which will host the event for the next two years.
A full list of results, including all the team competition standings can be found on the Welsh Athletics website.