Preview: Get set for the English and Scottish Nationals

Runners return to Sunderland and Falkirk on Saturday Feb 23 for National Cross Country Champs action

Keith Gerrard (Mark Shearman)

The Saucony English National returns to Sunderland for the first time since 2007 this year and will see some of England’s most talented distance runners race in the shadow of the Penshaw Monument on a rolling and almost certainly muddy course at Herrington Country Park.

This Saturday sees the 126th senior men’s race – a statistic that illustrates the event’s tremendous history, as English Cross Country Association secretary Ian Byett agrees: “The National is truly one of the greatest mass participation national championships in the world,” he said.

Keith Gerrard and Gemma Steel are the reigning senior champions after winning at Parliament Hill in 2012. Here we take a look at who will be battling for 2013 titles at Herrington Country Park on Saturday.

Senior men

With Frank Tickner, Tom Humphries and Andy Vernon not set to take to the Herrington Park course, the strongest performances are likely to come from Gerrard, who is sure to put up a good defence of his senior men’s title, as well as Steve Vernon and Jonny Taylor.

Vernon is fresh from his fifth North of England title while Taylor was European trials winner, so both athletes will not be wanting to give Gerrard an easy time.

Senior women

Steel is still on the comeback trail from injury, recovering from her recent Achilles problem, although she did claim victory along with a PB at the Alsager 5 at the beginning of the month.

As such, the women’s title looks to be between marathon-running mud-lover Louise Damen, Euro U23 winner Jess Coulson, and steeplechaser Hatti Archer, as well as AFD trio Lily Partridge, Steph Twell and Emily Pidgeon, if they all run.

Age-group races

The junior men’s race is set to be one to watch, with the field including Weynay Ghebresilasie, who competed for Eritrea in the Olympics. The 18-year-old, who is now an asylum seeker and has been embraced by Sunderland Harriers, won the Northern title in Liverpool last month and with track bests of 8:28 for the 3000m ‘chase and 13:53 for 5000m he is the strong favourite ahead of Jonny Davies and Ian Bailey.

In the junior women’s race Emelia Gorecka, whose victory in the under-13 race the last time the event was held in Sunderland proved the first of six age-group victories, looks invincible as she faces athletes such as Annabel Gummow, the Cornish athlete returning from injury in 2012.

Scottish Athletics National Cross Country

Athletes will also be in cross country action at Callender Park, Falkirk, this Saturday for the Scottish Athletics National Cross Country.

The senior women’s title will go to an athlete other than Freya Ross for the first time since 2008 this year, as the six-times champion is away training in the USA.

As such, Susan Partridge, who has had a strong cross country season so far, seems to have taken up the pre-race favourite spot in the senior women’s race.

In the senior men’s race Derek Hawkins has decided to stick to the roads rather than try and make it three wins in a row. Joe Symonds is another runner who has been putting in the miles recently and is set to face competition in the form of Robbie Simpson and Murray Strain.

» The Feb 28 edition of AW will include 10 pages of Nationals coverage, plus keep an eye on our Twitter feed @AthleticsWeekly on Saturday for results and updates. Find a more in-depth preview of the Saucony English National, including race timetable, in this week’s AW, out Thursday Feb 21, which is available here

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