Snow, rain, wind, hail, chill, and even a brief cameo from the sun.
The climatic variables in Holyrood Park were almost limitless during yesterday’s Morrison’s Great Edinburgh Cross-Country, each taking their turn to torture the participants, for whom fortitude was a mandatory trait.
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Garrett Heath came well prepared, however. An explorer’s bushy beard provided primarily insulation, the cold winters of his native Minnesota offering a more prolonged exposure to temperatures approaching sub-zero than many of the world-class contingent of Kenyans who would end up in his wake.
On a four-kilometre circuit whose grassy trails resembled thick treacle, the American carried on regardless to repeat his victory of 2014 in a time of 12 minutes and 11 seconds. “I guess it’s just the cold and mud here, I just love it,” he said. “Being from Minnesota, I’m used to cross-country skiing but this is the first time my fingers and toes have been frozen in a race for a while. It feels good.”
Closest behind was the reigning world cross champion Japheth Korir, and then a flurry of others with global silverware to their name. All the kinds of scalps to give a man hope that his 2015 might bring rich rewards. “I can’t complain,” Heath said. “Whenever you get a chance against a bunch of guys like that, you have to take down as many as you can. And you assume not everybody’s going to be on their best game. As long as you come in prepared, you can take down a couple. If you get lucky, you can take down all of them.”
Chris O’Hare was among those well in arrears, 35 seconds adrift in tenth place. The European 1500m medallist has previously confessed to a loathing of such conditions. “It was as horrible as it looked,” he said. “It was so heavy underfoot that getting any kind of traction was a nightmare. Some guys are suited to the mud and some aren’t. Unfortunately, I’m one of the ones who isn’t.”
American dominance was comfirmed with Chris Derrick’s repeat triumph in the men’s 8k as he saw off compatriot Jacob Riley, with Andy Butchart the best of the three Scots involved in 16th place.
That result figured heavily in the USA securing overall victory from four senior and junior races in the three-team international event, accumulating just 121 points to see off the challenge of Europe, with Great Britain & Northern Ireland languishing in third.
Yet the hosts’ brightest moment was saved for last, with a brilliantly hardy excursion from Emilia Gorecka that decimated her challengers in the women’s 6k. The 20-year-old Englishwoman had points to prove after deflation at last month’s Europeans but delivered an emphatic riposte, with Ireland’s two-times continental champion Fionnuala Britton seven seconds adrift by the conclusion.
“I never meant to hit the front,” said Gorecka, who won in 21:26. “It was too dangerous almost to go out. But with a lap to go, I found myself at the front, I wasn’t trying to go until a kilometre left when my coach said it was time. That’s when I pushed the pace. I would never have gone otherwise. I was under strict instructions to be sensible because I didn’t want to be the person who got caught. But then I was done waiting. I just tried to leg it as much as I could.”
There was a solid showing from 17-year-old Euan Gillham with the Paisley-based schoolboy, a late call-up to the GB&NI squad, the second Briton home in the junior men’s race in tenth place overall. Insights gained from training along with Callum Hawkins, his Kilbarchan club-mate, smoothed his path.
Gillham said: “He’s given me an idea of what to expect. But he’s also made me think I can do these things because I see him up there and think: ‘Why can’t I do that?’”
Laura Muir will now focus her energies on the European Indoor Championships in eight weeks’ time but the 21-year-old looks in rude health. Running her leg of the 2x1,000m relay in a leading time of three minutes and 35 seconds, she saw team-mate Ross Matheson slip to third but it was a satisfactory trial. “I didn’t really know what to expect really,” admitted Muir, who remains undecided over appearing at the forthcoming Glasgow International. “It was very different. There was a really strong wind towards the end. I was just glad I could pass it on to Ross in first place.”
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