Liverpool Preview: In My Mersey Paradise

It’s been a long cold lonely winter. Lots of miles covered, lots of gym sessions in the bag… all in preparation for Liverpool, the European Cross Country Trials held in the iconic Sefton Park every November. Training eight days a week in order to toe the line in the form of your life, Great Britain vests in contention. The Harie contingent at this years’ race is impressive. International and club athletes alike will assemble on the banks of the Mersey in that stunning shade of green. They will come together, right now, all with different goals but the unity and spirit of the Haries behind them.

 Starting with the boys, in the under 20 race we have Alex Carcas, donning a Scotland vest at this years’ trial off the back of his third place position at the National Short Course Championships. The real weight Alex is bearing on his shoulders isn’t the potential for a GB selection, but the imposing threat of his younger brother, Freddie, racing each other for the first time. Alex had better be on his toes as Freddie’s first semester training in Loughborough will see his arrival in Liverpool a statement to be feared. Get back to where you once belonged.

 Completing the under 20 line up is Thomas Otton. The Borders’ finest hill runner, he’s going to be in for a treat at the flat and pacey course in Sefton Park. He’s made frequent appearances at home international hill races, also with his career peaking as second Brit home at the WMRA International Youth Cup in Bulgaria. He won’t be saying “help, I need somebody,” all his early morning training will get him round in a flash. Becoming quite the club legend, he’s going to leave the Harie stamp in its rightful place on the course.

Filling the senior ranks, we have Logan Rees and Alexander Chepelin. Given Logan’s current form, his potential this weekend is going to be a privilege to watch. Recently taking the Scottish U23 10km record into his hands at the Leeds Abbey Dash, his laps and laps and laps of meadowbank, week in week out are clearly working wonders for him. Watch this space. If he runs like he did at Parliament Hill last year with no fear and can subsequently hold his pace for the gruelling 9.8km he will be on to a winner. Alexander Chepelin is also demonstrating top form at the moment. Despite his orienteering background, his ability when it comes to cross country is second to none. Notably taking the bronze medal at Scottish Uni Champs a few weekends ago, Alexander has proved he’s got what it takes to be up well within the pack at Liverpool. His endurance will flourish, along with his speed he’s been fine tuning at the track. Hopefully the two lads will give Andy Butchart a run for his money. You say “stop,” I say “go, go, go.”

The female representation is in outstanding numbers, again proving the strength of Scottish distance running – especially among the Haries. With 6 of us toeing the line for the under 20 women’s race, I know that I get by with a little help from my friends. Anna MacFadyen, part time GB international and part time Law and French student will have her competition quaking in their spikes. Her experiences at the World Cross Country Championships this summer and the Salomon Young Guns Academy in Austria provides her with plenty of skills, tactics and of course, athletic finesse that is above and beyond. She is a big name within the cross challenge series, winning the inter-counties race last March: nerves are filling her to the brim, yet clearly they add to her endorphins and only make her stronger. Laura Stark, Glasgow’s finest, has represented Scotland on the hills (placing sixth this year at the British and Irish home international), and also boasts a 1500m PB of 4.36. Winning Scottish Uni Championships will add to her confidence and mental preparation for what is at stake in Liverpool. You know you look so good.

Naomi Lang, yet another Harie fresher with admirable athletic achievements – Commonwealth Youth Games 3000m specialist, she’s got speed nailed to a T. She even impressed the Queen at the Braemar Highland Games, where in the hill race she gave the boys something to be worried about. Beneath the blue suburban skies of meadowbank, Rhiannon Kirk, yet another Scotland international hill racer will be approaching Liverpool for the first time. Her training and dedication is admirable and despite injury problems throughout last year, I am sure that she’s got her feet back on the ground, and will hit it running – fast.

For the English contingent representing the Haries, Katie Lowery kitted out in a North of England vest, this English Schools Medallist will want to show her competition down south how she’s improved leaps and bounds whilst training with Scotland’s finest upcoming distance stars. Although she’s a Mancunian, crossing onto Merseyside gives her no worries, her athletic prowess doing all the talking. Shake it up, baby. Thus, completing the line-up is me. I’ll be cheering and supporting, enjoying my race, but mainly attending to have fun – the privilege of lining up in such a prestigious race an achievement in itself.

For the senior women, Steph Pennycook: national 1500m champion, second place at the National Short Course Championships (a mere stone’s throw behind Laura Muir)… the list of her achievements is endless. Currently residing in her hometown of Kirkcaldy as she is in a midwifery placement involving hefty shifts, this isn’t stopping her from training harder than ever proving to be a challenger for a GB vest and a plane ticket to Slovakia for the Euro Champs. It’s been a hard day’s night, however her resilience, tenacity and excitement to get on the skite after the race is commendable. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. Mhairi MacLennan, yet another contender for the top 4 is in the form of her life. Currently studying a masters in Spanish Literature, her hard work will not go unnoticed. She had her warm up and preparation down in Milton Keynes – she knows the competition and will leave it all on the course.

Rebecca Johnson, home for her is just round the corner from Parliament Hill. She has dived straight into the Scottish cross country scene and I’m sure will be dangerous on the course in Liverpool, proving to her English teammates that they had better watch their back.  Catriona Graves is yet another Scottish international hill runner, she’s been to the European Mountain Running Championships and medalled at Scottish Nationals. She’s always up for a run round Braids and also balances her medical studies well with her passion for athletics. Louise Mercer, we do appreciate you being round, is making a quick leap across the pond to come back for this race. Completing a masters and training now in Utah with NCAA champions, she is in an extremely good position to impress on Saturday. We are all excited to see her return in such great shape, happy to be representing Scotland back in Europe.

When it rains and shines, it’s just a state of mind. With the weather set to be a washout of rain and mud, we’ll all be hoping that here comes the sun. A staggering thirteen out of the fifteen runners have represented their nation, showcasing the high standard among the Haries that is continually growing and blossoming. We are going to see how they run, all athletes with no good reason for taking the easy way out. Each and every one will walk on, walk on with hope in their heart and they will never walk alone.

As we head for Penny Lane, in our ears and in our eyes, we will have the potential for success lifting the spirits and encouraging each other’s’ performances. Theres nothing you can do but learn how to be you in time, everyone wanting to prove that their efforts and commitment to the sport will ensure their name becomes even more established within the world of athletics. If theres anything that you want, be it an international vest, or just the grin on your face encapsulating the pure enjoyment of cross country (or both… the dream), Liverpool will deliver. There will be an answer, let it be.

Lydia Blythe