Matt Willis And Caryl Edwards Roll Back The Years As They Power Through The Mud At Welsh Championships

Matt Willis wins the men's senior race. Pic: Owen Morgan

Matt Willis And Caryl Edwards Roll Back The Years As They Power Through The Mud At Welsh Championships

By Owen Morgan

Comebacks were the order of the day in the senior races at the 119th Welsh Cross Country Championships in Brecon on Saturday.

Senior men’s winner Matt Willis was competing at the championships for the first time in five years after a series of injuries halted his career as one of Britain’s most promising triathletes and endurance runners.

While former Commonwealth Games marathon runner Caryl Edwards won her first Welsh Cross Country title for six years.

Willis produced an excellent run in windy and muddy conditions to overcome Eryri Harrier Tom Wood and Ciaran Lewis, of Les Croupiers, who had led for much of 10.26km race.

Judging his effort to perfection, Willis crossed the line in 29:48, ahead of Wood in 29:57 and Lewis in 30:09.

The Wrexham AC athlete said afterwards: “It was very windy out there, which I wasn’t expecting so much. Ciaran took it on, so fair play to him for doing all that work.

“And then I had Tom right behind me the whole race. So that was a bit of extra motivation as well.

“It was a really good race. It’s been about five years since I did the champs. So, it’s nice to be back and to win.”

Caryl Edwards on her way to winning the women’s title. Pic: Owen Morgan

As an 18-year-old, the Wrexham AC athlete won the World Duathlon crown in 2018 and looked set for a successful triathlon career – gaining five podium finishes in the World Triathlon Championships Series.

As a cross country runner he represented Great Britain a number of times including at the 2019 IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Denmark.

But then the COVID pandemic and injuries intervened.

“COVID came around, and then I had a knee problem, so I had to get an operation on that,” said Willis.

“That kept me out for about a year. Since then, I just picked up injury after injury.

“I went to the States for two years. I was in North Carolina for a year and then Los Angeles for a year.

“While I was there, I was trying to run a little bit, but I was also just having fun, going travelling and doing all that kind of stuff. So, I wasn’t taking it too seriously.

“Now, I’m back in the UK and making the most of enjoying running again. Just trying to get stuck in.

“I think my triathlon days are over. It’s very hard to balance that with a full-time job,” said Willis, who is a data analyst.

Dafydd Jones, of Swansea Harriers, leads the way in the men’s Under 20 race which he went on to win. Pic: Owen Morgan

“It’s definitely just the running now. In terms of goals, I really don’t know. If you’ve got any suggestions, please let me know because I’m just rolling from one race to another at the moment!

“In LA it was hard to find a good group to run with. And outside of work, you’ve got very limited time to do the training and do the socialising.

“If you can do them together, then that’s kind of what I’m after. I’ve just moved to Oxford, and we’ve got a really good group there. It’s nice to train with those guys and socialise with them, too. Right now, I think I’m striking a pretty good balance.”

Running for enjoyment is also a major motivation for senior women’s race winner Edwards, who like Willis timed her run brilliantly to overcome long time leaders Alaw Evans, of Les Croupiers, and Martha Owen, of Deeside.

Producing a determined sprint finish, Edwards broke the tape in 38:48 just ahead of Evans in 38:50 and Owen, who completed the 6.85km course in 39:03.

Edwards, who finished eighth in the 2018 Commonwealth Games marathon on Australia’s Gold Coast under her maiden name of Jones, was delighted with her victory.

Beth Rawlinson, of Wolverhampton and Bilston won the Under 20 women’s race. Pic: Owen Morgan

The 36-year-old said: “I’m really chuffed, I surprised myself and surprised a few others, hopefully.

“I did the Pembrey cross country back in about 2021 or 22. But I don’t think Pembrey really counts as cross country because it’s dry and it’s like running on the road. So, it’s the first time I’ve run in mud for about six years!

“It was quite sapping, and I found that they got away from me in the mud, but I knew that hopefully they would slow a bit, so I’d catch them. They did get a gap on me in the mud, and they were stronger early on.”

Asked what her goals for the coming season were, the Swansea Harrier said: “I’m going to do Marathon Eryri 24 to make up for last year with a bit more training in my legs this time. So, everything’s geared towards that really.

“I’ve got two children now and running is just my escapism now, something for myself really.

“The children are wonderful, but sometimes you just need a couple of hours to yourself. That’s what I’m using it for and just enjoying it. Running is good for mental health as well as your physical health.”

The sheer joy of running was something of a theme throughout the day, which featured more than 1,000 runners from primary school pupils to pensioners.

Iwan Thomas, of Carmarthen Harriers, on his way to victory in the men’s under 17 race. Pic: Owen Morgan

The 11-race programme got underway with two primary school races, held jointly with Urdd Gobaith Cymru.

In the championship races, Macsen Watts, of Blaenau Gwent Athletics, won the boys Under 13 title in a time of 10:31. Silver went to Osian Phillips, Cardiff Athletics in 10:42, and Hedd Griffiths, of Cardiff Athletics took the bronze medal.

Martha Bown, of Menai Track and Field, added the Under 13 girls title to the inter-regional title won earlier this season. The North Wales athlete finished in 11:36 ahead of Manon Fflur Phillips, Taf Running and Orienteering Team, in 12:00, and Katie Doherty, of Deeside AAC, completed the top three in 12:03.

The Under 15 boys race saw a sprint finish to the line. Osian Parry, of Menai Track and Field came out victorious in 13:43, followed by Finlay Burns, of Cardiff Athletics, in 13.44. Lewis Davies, of Deeside AAC, was third in 13:48.

There was a strong line-up in the girls Under 15 race, but it was Swansea Harrier Libby Hale who claimed the title in 14:54. Hale’s team-mate Holly Humphreys was second in 14:54, while Bryony Boyce, of Cardiff Athletics, finished third with 15:01, having moved up an age group.

Carmarthen Harriers enjoyed a clean sweep in the under-17 men’s race. Iwan Thomas won in 15:15 – 47 seconds ahead of Finlay Bruce in 16:02 and Ifan Bowen in 16:17.

Millie Gold, of Swansea Harriers, on her way to the Under 17 women’s title. Pic: Owen Morgan

In the combined Under 17 and Under 20 women’s race, Swansea Harrier Millie Gold was the overall race winner, finishing in 17:54 to claim the Under 17 title. Abigail Doherty, of Deeside AC took silver with 18:21 and Eve Bailey, of Winchester and District was third in 18:44.

Beth Rawlinson, Wolverhampton and Bilston, secured the Under 20 title in 18:06. Caitlin Jones, of Aberdare Valley, took the Under 20 silver with 19:53, and Ceri Griffiths, of Newport Harriers, was third with 20:04.

Dafydd Jones, of Swansea Harriers, retained this Under 20 men’s title in 20:05. Oliver James, of Bournemouth AC, took the silver medal in 20:44, and Henry Evans, Newport Harriers, completed the top three in 21:16.

Full results can be found on the Welsh Athletics website.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.