ANDY VERNON (above, pic: Richard Xerri) won an exciting senior, McCain World cross country trial, over a lightly undulating 12,000m at Crofton Park, Longbridge on the 5th of March. Running for Hampshire he gained the individual Inter-County title in fine style. The course had one stretch of mud for fifty metres but nothing like the horrendous conditions in the National cross-country at Alton Towers two weeks previously reports Alastair Aitken
Harun Abdi, the Newham & Essex Beagles nineteen year old, led for half the first lap before a large group swallowed him up. The group was still sizeable as they entered the third lap till, Tom Humphries, decided to split it up, as he felt there were too many in there for his liking. Quite suddenly only Vernon, Mike Skinner and Ryan McLeod and of course Humphries were in the leading quartet with a sizeable gap opening to the rest.
It was in that last lap, on the corner, when coming back into the main field and just going up a little climb, that Vernon put the boot in and then Skinner had to be content with a good second position, to replicate his place in the 'National' .. Ben Noad 8th, also had the same position he had in the 'National' at Crofton Park but one ahead of Steve Vernon the 'National' winner.
However I can remember Bernie Ford winning the 'National' one year and not able to motivate himself in the International ' World' cross country, a few weeks after that and therefore well back in the International.
In Steve Vernon's case, where he won the coveted 'National' senior title for the first time, after several attempts, it would have been difficult for him to motivate himself again two weeks later at Crofton Park, I would think!
(292 finished and the first ten were 1 Andy Vernon, 35:45; 2 Mike Skinner 35:53 3 Tom Humphries 35:56 4 Ryan McLeod 36:11, 5 James Walsh 36:19, 6 Derek Hawkins (36:21), 7 Luke Gunn 36:24, 8 Ben Noad 36:27; 9 Steve Vernon 36:30; 10 Steve Scullion 36:33. Teams -North East 173 (4,24,26,40,46) 2 Scotland West 250; 3 Kent 265.
" I have not raced much this year. Last year I raced a bit too much. I got into the Summer season and I was a little bit knackered. We decided to back off races and not have the pressure of having to be in shape. I needed to recover a little bit the next day between sessions. I did not always say 'you have got to do this race or that race'
'Regarding altitude I am hopefully going to do that in June'
'In the Summer this year I am not going to do 10'ks on the track but will do 5'ks and 1500's'
His club Blackheath & Bromley must mean a lot to him?
" Brilliant to me, fantastic. I have been a member of Blackheath since I was 10!"
You were an 800/1500 runner in 1999/2000 !
' That was when I started out and I progressed to the 5000 and now want to do a few 10,000's and even a rumour of a marathon on the horizon'
I saw you matching strides with Steve Vernon in the 'National' at Alton Towers, at the half distance in the far field. You did well coming second there!
' It felt great that day to be honest. It was the conditions that beat me more. I don' to think I was efficient as Steve Vernon was through the mud. It was a very different race at Croton Park for him.'
2008 was a good year for Tom winning the senior 'National' at Alton Towers and having a good run in the Inter-Counties
'I started running when I was 4! I joined Telford when I was an Under 11 and, after running my first cross-country at Oswestry. When I finished that race I told my Mum I was never going to do cross country ever, ever, again.!! I hated it but then I decided to join Cannock & Stafford, as we live on the borders of Staffordshire and Shropshire.
' Bob scouted me for the Shropshire League. The first track season I ran an Under 13's county record something like 4:50 for the 1500. It just went on from there really.The year after that cross-country I came second in the Under 15's Inter-Counties. Second to Rory Smith of Liverpool (1999). I ran in the English schools cross country and after that the Under 20 World's .
' The year I did well in the National and also won the Inter-counties, I got anaemia after that, because I went to high altitude and trained too hard and broke down.I had a lot of hip problems. Two year hip problem. I knew I had done something to my back and I found out when I was tilting forward. I had to stop running and do a lot of core work. 2 hours of core work a day, just to build up my strength. I had been basically running on one leg. Racing the National & Inter-counties at 85%. I had a lot of time out from running to sort out my back first
' I just love running and going out training. It is completely part of my life so I was really disheartened that I could not run but I knew to get back running, which I enjoyed, I needed to work and build up my strength. So, now it has been a slow progress again and I was 15th in the European in November and first British guy.'
'At Christmas I went back home, running on all that ice I strained my groin. I ran the Edinburgh international cross country and for the first three laps was with the lead group which included the Americans.I hit the hill with my groin. It just wiped me out then I just ended up just running strongly (that was all) and I finished 4th British. I had another two weeks off after Christmas. I was a bit curious and concerned because, I have not had to two and half weeks off before Christmas which is quite close to the Inter-Counties so, I was pleased to come third'
" It was my best position.I was 41st last year.I put myself in the first four as I felt good in the first 2 laps so, I kept running at the front. A couple of times the group came through and I worked my way back. It was good I enjoyed it.'
'I am going to try to run 5k in the Summer. My best so far is 13:54. I will try for 13:40 this year.'
Your Father Mike McLeod must be quite pleased with your run' He is standing just behind you!
Mike Mcleod (Inter-counties Champion 1985 and Under 17 winner in 1970)
" I am pleased because he is doing alright and keeps working at it.'.
"Years ago did you know he would become a good runner?
" My other son's got more talent. Mark is a County Champion at the 400 and he high jumped 1.96 He has just never got into it. He does not like the pain. You have got to have the pain.'
'Ryan running well must give you a lot of pleasure as a Father?"
' I thought he could win this because coming off the track with speed, on the country there is a possibility he could win. My philosophy is that. I ran 27:39 for 10,000 on the track mid-week I ran 3:56 for a mile. You are not going to run that quick in a 10,000 at the start of the race you are jogging or tripping. I finished off with a 54 last lap. The speed was there and strength. You have to get to the last lap do the last lap.'
' I think in the race today Ryan struggled a bit at one point as, I think he got cramp as he was holding his side but that is not an excuse. He has worked through the week and he will run Trafford 10 next week, then go to the States to run a 5k.He should get a 13:30. There is a possibility.'
Mick Mcleod won the National cross country at Luton on the 3rd of March 1979
Was that a special memory for him?
" Very special because, every time you stood on the line, you looked along the line at there were 10 or 15 people who could win this!! People that finished '50 to 60' in those days could win some of the races these days. The standards are not there. The runners are not coming in. You take the 1960's and 70's you had lots of people to chose from, now only a small amount to chose from. I am not saying today's runners are not determined."
Let us look back then to the names of those who finished in, let us say the first 20 in that National of '79 and see if Mick has a valid point or not?
(1 Mick McLeod, 2 Bernie Ford, 3 Nick Rose, 4 Steve Kenyon, 5 Julian Goater, 6 Steve Ovett, 7 Barry Smith, 8 Tony Simmons, 9 Keith Newton, 10 Nicky Lees, 11 Andy Holden, 12 Roy Bailey, 13 Graham Tuck, 14 Nigel Gates, 15 Nick Brawn, 16 Dave Clarke, 17 John Wheway, 18 Peter Standing, 19 Brendan Foster, 20 Mike Kearns 1672 started)
You had a fantastic record on the road in the North East (16 times you won the Saltwell road race in consecutive years ) and even took Brendan Foster, when he was running well, to the cleaners several times but looking back I assume the Olympics was special for you?
"I think normally for anybody it is very special. It is the pinnacle of their careers.I was fortunate to get to three.
On the first one I tore a hamstring, the third one I had a very bad virus. The second one I got things right Burt obviously the guy who beat me, there were question marks about him.1 Alberto Cova of Italy (27:47.5) 2 Mcleod (28:06.2)."
He said sometime afterwards he admitted to being blood doped?
" If I had been blood doping I would have taken my chances on the last lap with him!"
As far as the UK was concerned there were a lot of natural athletes around in those days. Dave Bedford was a natural athlete?
" He worked bloody hard. I trained with him in 1977 on his honeymoon. First thing in the morning we would run 10 mile hard, not too hard.. In the afternoon we trained hard'
'Ian Stewart 'Around about '77 again we were in Portugal and we did 180 miles in one week. 10 to 7 the alarm would go off. 7'o'clock we would go 30 minutes out and 30 minutes back. At night time we would do long runs on the golf course, nice and easy.He was determined and he was a hard man. There are not many around like that.'
'Brendan Foster was hard.Bren would do a 10 miler on Thursday at the club with a track suit on. People actually eased down for that and put racing shoes and shorts to go out with him. It was not a race for Bren.It was a 10 miles at 'sub 5 minute milling' and that was his training. People would ease down there training, just to keep up with him.'
Years later when you were 40 years old you won the World Veterans 5k road race near Birmingham. Was that pleasing?
" I was quite nervous. To be able to still run like that.'
'Obviously the determination disappears a little bit when you get older and I can't run much now, which is not surprise because it is just wear and a tear."