Carson and Mahamed win senior titles at Cross Challenge final

Grace Carson winning Cross Challenge

The 2022/23 British Athletics Cross Challenge series came to an end at the Final at Prestwold Hall in Loughborough, in an event which also incorporated the UK CAU Inter-Counties Championships.Grace Carson and Mahamed Mahamed were the senior winners on the day.

Carson (handicap -1.8) dominated the senior women’s race from the early stages as she became Inter-Counties champion for the first time, and also won the Cross Challenge series overall to complete a successful winter season for the Northern Irish athlete from Omagh.

She moved away from the field on the opening lap, and had a 15 second lead before the halfway point, such was the control she had over the rest of the field. As the European Cross Country U23 team gold medallist moved away, Gemma Steel (handicap -1.2) and Julie Emmerson (handicap 1.0) were embroiled in a battle for the other podium positions, both athletes exchanging positions throughout. In the end, the 2014 European cross champion, Steel, earned second spot with Emmerson reaching her first podium at the event.

Carson, who became the first Northern Irish athlete to win the senior women’s event for several years, said, “I am delighted to win today. I did not know what to expect coming into this race. I wasn’t sure who would be here, but I was focused and I’m really happy to get the win.

“My coach had told me not to go off too fast, just stick in there and go when you felt ok. And I did feel ok. It was getting a bit bunched up and I was worried about falling. I didn’t want to get caught up in that, so I decided to go for it.

“It’s a really special moment for me. My dad is here today to watch, so it was nice that he could watch me do that. I wouldn’t be able to do all of this without their [family] support, so I am so pleased he was here today.”

In the senior men’s race, Mahamed (handicap -6.7)showed all his experience as he navigated an increasingly muddy course to secure another Cross Challenge Final win at Prestwold Hall.

The GB & NI international was always a major player in this race, and asserted his authority on his opponents at the key stages of the race. His lead extended on the final lap as he glided across the muddy sections, and such was his lead, he had time to high five the crowd in the final few metres before the line.

With Tom Evans (handicap -0.3) outsprinting Jack Gray (handicap -5.7) in the final 200m, a valiant effort from the pair, they secured second and third place overall, ahead of Zakariya Mahamed (handicap -6.7) who faded in the final run-in for the line.

Mahamed spoke post-race, “I felt fairly strong from the beginning. The guys went off too quick so I felt comfortable just following early on. I felt good up the big hill, so I just went. It is a nice feeling to take the win.

“I think this is one of my favourite races of the year. This is the last one of the cross country season, so I tend to focus, and get things done! I like the course and I like the mud. The mud is hard because it is sticky; it felt like my shoes were coming off. But they didn’t and I am happy with the result.”

After representing GB & NI in Bathurst at the World Cross Country Championships a few weeks ago, Megan Harris (handicap 0.4) returned to racing in style as she won the U20 women’s race to secure the overall Cross Challenge title in the age group, and also seal the Inter-Counties title on behalf of Essex.

She settled into the group over the opening laps, but once she reached 3km, she put her foot on the gas and made her move which would prove decisive. She sprinted clear of her opponents in the final 300m with Hannah Ryding (handicap 0.4) coming home in a clear second, and mountain runner, Eve Whitaker (handicap 3.2) in third.

Soon after crossing the line, she commented, “I just took the first 2km out nice and easy, that was the plan. Because it is a muddy race, I didn’t want to go out and lead it early and get tired. When we got to 3km I started to pick it up. I felt really strong up the hills. At that point I just said to myself ‘this is my race, go and win it.’ I felt good so I went and took the lead.

“It has been a great winter season for me. To go to Euros and then Worlds, and to have two golds at the Cross Challenge, it just goes to show all the hard work is paying off.”

In the first race of the day, Luke Birdseye (handicap -4.7) earned a solid victory in the U20 men’s race as he overcame the quick start from George Couttie (handicap -3.6) who led for long periods.

The Yorkshireman took on the pace in the early stages and even opened up a gap on the rest of the field as they headed into the second lap. Birdseye, fifth at the European Cross in December, bided his time and overhauled several athletes then Couttie over the final few kilometres to take the victory for Berkshire. With it, he also won the U20 Cross Challenge series for 2022/23, adding to his win in Milton Keynes last year.

Couttie was second, and Ethan Primett (handicap -4.7) came through superbly to earn a podium place ahead of Samuel Hodgson (handicap -4.7).

Birdseye said, “I knew it was going to be a fast start, so I relaxed going into the first corner. So I was sat quite far back so I just slowly worked my way through on the first lap. On the second lap, George (Couttie) had already made a move. I followed a move to close the 20m gap. I caught him up and I thought I had dropped the others, but they were still there in a group behind me.

“Coming down the final downhill, I knew I wanted to be ahead, so I got in front of George and kicked on home.”

“Every year I am improving”, he added, “Last year I came fifth in the U17 race, so to come here and win is a big achievement for me.”

UK runbritain rankings for endurance events and age groups 

Other results from the weekend are on the following links: 

Road/multi terrain