By Owen Morgan
It’s a long way from a muddy November cross country on Llandaff Fields to the start of an Olympic marathon on an August morning in the centre of Paris.
But Dewi Griffiths hopes his latest outing at Saturday’s Cardiff Cross Challenge will be another step on the journey towards realising his Olympic dream next summer.
The Swansea Harrier was the first Welsh athlete home in a high-quality men’s race at an event which attracted some of the best male and female cross country runners in the world for an action-packed day of racing.
As the sun started to set on another hugely successful Cardiff Cross event, Griffiths spoke of his Olympic ambitions.
“In the spring, my aim is to give myself one go at the Olympic standard and if it works out it works out,” said the Carmarthenshire farmer. “But I want to give myself one honest go.
“So, hopefully in the spring I’ll be on the start line somewhere and be in the shape I want to be so I can give that 2:08 a proper go,” he added, referring to the Great Britain team Olympic qualifying standard, which must be achieved by April next year.
Following a successful track career, which including representing Wales over 10,000m at the 2014 Commonwealth Games and Great Britain at the 2016 European Championships, Griffiths made a spectacular marathon debut in 2017.
His time of 2:09.49 was the fastest by a British athlete that year and placed him second behind former world record holder Steve Jones on the all-time Welsh marathon list.
However, a mixture of injury and illness has meant Griffiths hasn’t been able to replicate that kind of form over 26 miles, although he did finish 11th representing Wales at the 2022 Commonwealth Games marathon in Birmingham.
Griffiths believes he can recapture the type of form which made the marathon community sit up and take notice on his debut in Frankfurt.
“I wouldn’t set about it if I didn’t think it was still there,” he said. “But it’s whether you can get it out on the day, that’s the big question. But I feel there is something still left in me, so I owe it to myself to give it one big go and see what I can do.
“It would be great if I can get there, it would be great for family and friends to be there as well. Paris as a city is quite easy to get to rather than the other side of the world somewhere.
“It’s something I’m working towards at the moment. I’ve got a big three months or so ahead to prepare myself to be on a start line and be in the kind of shape I want to be.”
Asked about his current fitness, Griffiths said: “You always want to go quicker, don’t you? I’m better than I was a month ago and that’s all you can ask for isn’t it? Every week, every month, as long as you are getting better, you’re happy.
“I’m getting there, I’ve still got a few months left of training. A lot can happen in those months, so hopefully by the time it matters, I’ll be where I want to be.”
Although Griffiths’ ultimate sights are set on next year, his appearance at the Cardiff Cross Challenge wasn’t just another stepping stone towards Paris.
As an eight-time Welsh Cross Country Champion he has a deep affinity for the discipline and for this particular event, which has gone from strength to strength in recent years.
This year’s entrants hailed from around the globe, including Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Australia, Burundi, Rwanda, Sweden, Denmark the Netherlands and Hungary, as well as some of the United Kingdom’s top athletes.
A former winner of the senior men’s race, Griffiths said: “It’s great to be back, running the cross-country in Cardiff. It’s always a great event and it was nice to see everyone and all the local clubs across South Wales. And then you’ve got your global stars. It’s a real leveller of where you’re at!
“It’s one of the first dates you look for . . . when is Cardiff Cross? And then you put it in your diary.
“As a Welshman you want to work towards it and run well in front of a home crowd and hopefully beat some of the big names. The support I get on the way around makes it worth all the effort I put in.”
Griffiths is a big fan of the inclusivity of the event, which sees club athletes of all abilities rub shoulders with global stars, and cross country in general.
“Cross country is cross country. It’s athlete versus athlete. There’s no fancy stuff. It’s muddy, you get your shoes on and you go. You don’t worry about splits and stuff like that, you just go as long as you can as hard has you can, whoever you are.”
Now in its 26th year, the event is the only World Athletics Cross Country Tour Gold Label event in the United Kingdom.
In recent years, that status has naturally attracted some of the top cross country athletes in the world to do battle with best runners in Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom.
The event is part of the British Athletics Cross Challenge Series and also incorporates a John. H Collins Gwent League fixture, allowing club athletes of all ages from across South Wales and the South West of England to share a stage with the sport’s elite.
The men’s race, where Griffiths finished 25th, was won by Uganda’s Keneth Kiprop, who negotiated the 9,600m course in a time of 28.32. Kenya’s Vincent Mutai was second in 28.35 with Abele Bekele, of Ethiopia third in 29.06.
Senior men’s race winner Keneth Kiprop moves up to lap Gwent League runners at the Cardiff Cross Challenge. Pic: Owen Morgan
Despite the multi-national field, the women’s senior race was won by an athlete from closer to home in the shape of Scotland’s Megan Keith.
Megan Keith on her way to winning the senior women’s race. Pic: Owen Morgan
The European Under-23 5,000m champion left three Ethiopian women in her wake to win by 17 seconds as she cruised home over the 6,400m course in 20:35 with runner-up Likina Amebaw clocking 20:52 followed by Asmerech Anley (20:59) and Meseret Yeshaneh (21:02).
Welsh Commonwealth Games athlete Jenny Nesbitt was the first local runner home crossing the line in 15th place.
Jenny Nesbitt, of Pontypridd Roadents was the first Welsh finisher in the senior women’s race. Pic: Owen Morgan
The Pontypridd Roadents athlete said afterwards: “It was fantastic, honestly I think that this is the best that the event has been in all the years that I’ve done it and I’ve done it a lot of times!”
This year, the schedule was also enhanced by the introduction of men’s and women’s elite mile races, sponsored by SportsShoes.Com, who have joined Dragon Signs and Sportin Wales in supporting the ever-growing event.
Hannah Irwin, of Cambridge and Coleridge, won the inaugural women’s mile ahead of Lily Hawkins, of Southampton, and Reading’s Lauren Church.
Hannah Irwin wins the Women’s Elite Mile. Pic: Owen Morgan
The men’s race featured a close finish with Birchfield’s Tom Dodd crossing the line ahead of Great Yarmouth’s Tyler Billyard and Cambridge and Coleridge’s Alexander Melloy.
With the increasingly international flavour and ever improving fields, Welsh successes were hard to come by in the main races, but there were podium finishes for home athletes in the age group events.
Cardiff Archers’ Lucas Howard-Machado won the boys Under-13 race, ahead of Edward Salter, of Taunton, and Sam Deery, of Giffnock North.
Rising middle distance star Libby Hale, of Swansea Harriers, produced an excellent run to finish second in the girls under-15 race, which was won by Olivia Forrest, of Brentwood Beagles.
Meanwhile, another Swansea Harrier, Dafydd Jones, also finished second in the men’s Under-20 race behind Samuel Hodgson, of Windsor and Slough.
Overall, there were 13 races throughout the day, featuring athletes aged from under-11 to over 70s in the masters’ categories.
The entry of more than 2,000 athletes was bolstered by those taking part in the second fixture of this season’s John H. Collins Gwent League.
A full round up of the races and results can be found on the Welsh Athletics website.