If only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun, what to make of the thousands of Scots and fellow Britons insane enough to venture forth amid pummelling rain and vicious winds in Stirling yesterday to feed their affection for cross-country running? Admirable and bonkers, in equal measures, there were sodden squelches aplenty in mud, glorious mud.
The return of the British Cross Challenge series to Scotland after a 16-year absence offered the kind of authenticity that only weather gods can buy. In recent times, aficionados have lamented seeing world championships staged in droughted lands where the odds of witnessing a single puddle are a million to one.
Not here, not close. Kings Park resembled a brown swimming pool. The participants – some athletically primed, others painfully not – had to freestyle simply to survive.
It is the terrain on which Andy Butchart cut his teeth before progressing on to the track and the nadir of an Olympic 5,000m final in Rio. From Dunblane, this was long his home turf but he would have preferred not to have reacquainted himself with a head-first tumble during the early laps of the senior men’s race. “As soon as I hit the deck, I thought ‘that’s it’,” he reflected ruefully.
Eventually slogging to fourth place, he was not alone in succumbing to the treachery. Eventual winner Kris Jones of Wales had to regain his dignity before crossing the line in 25 minutes and 33 seconds, well ahead of leading Scot Jamie Crowe.
The Dundee Hawkhill Harrier timed his late charge well. “Andy put a dig in with two laps to go and he got a quite a big gap quite quickly – maybe ten metres – and I thought ‘that’s it, he’s gone’,” Jones said. “But over the course of the lap he started to come back to me. And I thought that whenever you catch somebody, you’ve got to go and push past them. I did that and I’m just really happy that was the win.”
A few questioned the wisdom of Butchart’s excursion as he prepares to fly out to Kenya this morning to accelerate his readiness for an Olympic campaign. “My missus back home is very confused as to why I was here,” he revealed. “But why not? I don’t care if I don’t win the race, that doesn’t bother me, it’s not the Olympic Games.”
His contribution helped Scotland to triumph in the adjoining Home Countries International. Enough of a return. “It was fun,” he grinned. “I can’t say I enjoyed it though.”
Defending British Challenge winner Kate Avery won the women’s race in 29:20, 11 seconds ahead of Abbie Donnelly as the duo guided England to home nations supremacy. Bronwen Owen of Wales was third with Mhairi MacLennan nudged into fourth as the Highlander readies herself for a half-marathon debut in February in Barcelona and a hoped-for qualification for the world championships. “That’s the aim,” she affirmed. “I’ve got another cross country at the end of the month and will then move on to the roads. It’s something totally new and I’ll be completely out of my comfort zone but it’s new and exciting and 2020 is going to be a better year.”
Megan Keith and Cera Gemmell – both team gold medallists at last month’s Euro Cross in Lisbon – provided a Scottish 1-2 in the Under-20 women’s race with England’s Olivia Mason third. Tom Keen took Under-20 men’s victory from England team-mate Matthew Stonier while Anna Hedley, the prodigious teenager from Fife, won the Under-17 women’s race.
Heather Paton equalled her Scottish indoor record of 8.34 secs in winning the 60m hurdles in Loughborough.