British athletics diaries: Paul Halford writes about Ben Connor and how Team New Balance is helping him improve his game


Ben Connor won the British men's Trial, as a member of the club, Team New Balance. Team NB is similar to the group training and living conditions of Nike Oregon Track Club, Bowerman Track Club, Nike Oregon Project and HOKA ONE ONE Northern Arizona Elite. Paul Halford writes about Ben's continuing evolution as a runner.

Following the lead of the American distance running scene, a professional running team in Britain has worked wonders for Ben Connor, who last weekend enjoyed arguably the biggest win of his career.

Team New Balance Manchester (TNBM) is a rare example of such a set-up in Britain, although it's more commonly seen Stateside in the shape of outfits like Bowerman Track Club, Nike Oregon Project and Boulder Track Club.

One of its members, Connor, won last Saturday's trial in Liverpool for the European Cross Country Championships and will head the British senior men's team for the event in Samorin, Slovakia, on December 10.

Coached by former British international Steve Vernon, many of the TNBM runners train together every day. Connor shares a house with fellow squad members Ross Millington, Jonny Mellor, Eli Kirk and Anna Silvander.

"Joining the team here as definitely helped me quite a bit," he said in reference to why 2017 has been his best year ever. "It (the set-up) is rare [in Britain]. We're trying to be a bit more like the Americans with their teams. It's just a group of us training together every day. It makes it so much easier. There's a structure to it - training with people rather than having to get out there by yourself. It makes it more professional, more fun. Having Steve (Vernon) as a coach is always good - he's been there and done it and he knows what he's doing."

He added: "I think we need to create more teams like ours. It works in America and then there's Melbourne Track Club in Australia. Why wouldn't you try and get a group of people training together and committed to their running?"

Connor has flourished since joining the group last March. During the outdoor season he took 24 seconds from his 5000m PB with 13:29.90 and also substantially revised his 10,000m best to 28:23.58.

Pointing out part of the reason for his success this year, he said: "It's a cliche but it's just consistency really. Putting in a year to 15 months of uninterrupted training, a few little setbacks but nothing major. That just develops you aerobically."

After such a summer, the 2017 English national cross-country champion was among the favourites for the trial race in Liverpool last weekend, but with the field including names like Andrew Butchart, Dewi Griffiths and Andy Vernon, his win was quite a coup.

He will be hoping the British senior men's team there can repeat their win from Chia 12 months ago, with half of the team returning in the shape of Butchart, Connor and Griffiths. He is also keen to improve on his own 16th from last year. "I try not to set too many goals because if you set goals, it sets limits. I want to place as high as possible," he said.

It will be Connor's third appearance in the event as he was a non-scoring member of the team which won gold in the junior race at the 2010 edition. Three of the four Brits ahead of him on that occasion have not competed at the top level for at least two years, but Connor has gone to make it to the top - despite admitting to have "enjoyed [unversity] a bit too much for a couple of years" while at Providence College, Rhode Island.

However, his dedication more recently is clearly paying off now. "I then got back and stuck with it," said the 25-year-old. "You're always going to have your bad times, your bad races, but if you want to do it you'll do it."

Great Britain will send a full team of 40 athletes to the European Cross Country Championships. The squad announced this week also includes 2014 European champion Gemma Steel and two-time junior winner Emelia Gorecka, who won the senior women's trial last weekend.

Senior Men: Andrew Butchart, Ben Connor, Dewi Griffiths, Tom Lancashire, Sam Stabler, Alex Teuten
Senior Women: Emelia Gorecka, Lily Partridge, Gemma Steel, Charlotte Taylor, Steph Twell, Elle Vernon
U23 Men: Patrick Dever, Daniel Jarvis, Mahamed Mahamed, Chris Olley, Jack Rowe, Joe Steward
U23 Women: Philippa Bowden, Amy-Eloise Neale, Amy Griffiths, Jess Judd, Phoebe Law, Mhairi MacLennan
Junior Men: Scott Beattie, Ben Dijkstra, Jake Heyward, William Richardson, Lachlan Wellington, Matthew Willis
Junior Women:Niamh Brown, Cari Hughes, Harriet Knowles-Jones, Khahisa Mhlanga, Erin Wallace, Victoria Weir
Senior Mixed Relay: Cameron Boyek, Melissa Courtney, Tom Marshall (replaced Charlie Grice), Sarah McDonald

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