MARATHON runner Susan Partridge heads for Falkirk today with her eyes firmly on the Scottish Cross Country crown that has been the sole preserve of Freya Ross for the past four years.
Ross will not defend her title at Callendar Park as she is in Boulder, Colorado, undertaking altitude training in preparation for the London Marathon and a possible appearance at the World Championships in Moscow in the summer. Former champion Partridge was the last woman other than Ross to win the cross country title back in 2008, and, while she expects tough opposition in a field of 301 entrants for the 70th Women’s Scottish National, the Leeds-based athlete will be hard to beat.
With the biggest overall field for 16 years, more than 1,000 senior athletes having entered, the Scottish Athletics National Cross Country is another example of increased participation in sport in the aftermath of last year’s Olympic Games. “I think the national championship is one race that is really good to do if you can, and it is a title worth winning,” said Partridge, who was 24th in the World Championships marathon two years ago, and who, like Ross, has an elite entry for the London Marathon on 21 April.
“In some ways I am disappointed Freya isn’t there. I’d love to race her. But she’s out in Boulder and I will be in Scotland, which is almost the two of us swapping previous roles. This time last year I was in the States.
“I totally understand what she is doing now ahead of the London marathon, but I am pretty sure there will be a part of her wishing she was ploughing around Callendar Park.
“It is a race I am looking forward to – I don’t know about the ‘pre-race favourite’ label right enough. Rosie Smith has been running well this winter and there will be others believing they can get up there and challenge for medals. I am sure there will be a few women looking to inherit Freya’s title and it should be very competitive. I think it will take some very good running from someone to win it.”
As well as Great Britain international Smith, Beth Potter and Amy Campbell should also challenge Partridge. Other contenders include Elspeth Curran and Sarah Hood. Curran has had a fine domestic season and her Grand Prix title is all but assured with a ten-point lead heading into an event which carries double points in that regard.
It is much tighter at the top of the men’s table with Alex Hendry and Wegene Tafese level on points and liable to be in contention for the national title itself at Falkirk. Derek Hawkins has decided against taking part with London very much on his radar too.
Joe Symonds won the North District event and Murray Strain won the East, and few would be surprised if they made the podium. Deeside’s Robbie Simpson took silver at the East Districts and then won the Inter-Districts in Edinburgh on 5 January and could well be another to pose a strong challenge.
In the under-20 age-groups the likes of Rhona Auckland and David Vernon will be among the pre-race favourites. Laura Muir will not defend her under-20 title as she prepares for a Great Britain appearance at the European Indoors Championships over 1,500 metres.
With four age-groups for those aged from as young as 11 or 12 up to 19 as well as the senior men’s and senior women’s race, the overall entry of 1,955 athletes reflects rising numbers in national events in athletics over the past 12 months. “The national cross country is one of the red letter days in our calendar and the most significant of the cross country season in Scotland,” Scottish Athletics chief executive Nigel Holl said.
“I always look forward to it myself as a real highlight and it is great to have almost 2,000 people entered to compete. The biggest growth area is in under-13s, both boys and girls, and it is great to see kids getting out, being active and competing. I think one of the marvellous aspects of Saturday is that it is a mass event – yet a national championship. I can’t think of too many sports in Scotland where they have 2,000 people putting themselves on the line for a national championship.”
“I’ve spoken about an Olympic bounce effect, and while I believe that is happening I also believe clear signs of growth have been taking place since before London 2012. And we hope it will follow through way beyond Glasgow 2014.”