Five Things we learned at the Great Edinburgh Cross Country, by Cathal Dennehy for RunBlogRun

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Great Edinburgh Cross Country, 2014, photo by Dan Vernon Photography


Cathal Dennehy visited the Great Edinburgh Cross Country Festival last weekend, January 9-10, and wrote several pieces for RunBlogRun on the event and the super stars at this important cross country fixture. 

Five things we learned at the Great Edinburgh Cross Country

By Cathal Dennehy

Holyrood Park: a cross country course from Heaven and Hell


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Chris Derrick photo by Dan Vernon Photography

Most athletes either love or hate this kind of course, but for many, this was cross country at its most brutal, get-it-in-your-gut, best. The course in Holyrood Park is renowned as the most challenging on the international circuit, but on Saturday it was made even more gruelling, courtesy of an icy wind and occasional sleet storm which must have made the athletes, as notoriously tough as they are, question their very existence. 

There was the occasional piece of decent running ground, but lots of squelchy, muddy patches, mini-streams to cross, steep hills to climb, and more. It was the antithesis of the manicured surfaces most collegiate athletes in America are used to, and indeed of many championship cross country courses in recent years. Of course, those have their place too, but courses like this should never be absent from the cross country scene. They are the great equaliser among elite athletes, and embody the very spirit of what cross country is supposed to be: chaotic, challenging, and occasionally brutal. 

Dathan Ritzenhein is on the road to recovery 

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Dathan Ritzenhein, photo by PhotoRun.net

In his second race in four days - his first being a win at the Campaccio cross country earlier in the week - Dathan Ritzenhein announced he is well on his way back to the top tier with a third-place finish in Edinburgh. The 4K distance, he said, felt like an all-out sprint for him, which isn't surprising. Ritzenhein, of course, is a 12:56 5K runner, but has turned his attention to the marathon in recent years, where he holds a personal best of 2:07:47. 

The 32-year-old endured an injury-riddled 2014, racing just once in August, but has since rebuilt his body and with eight weeks of healthy training behind him, is now building up for the Boston Marathon in April. Ritzenhein, who is now self-coached, has been running 80 miles a week and is adamant that he'll take a conservative approach to training over the next few months to ensure he makes the start line in Boston healthy. There was no disguising his pleasure at being back competing with the world's best athletes on Saturday. His first reaction after finishing third? "It was fun."

Garrett Heath: he's better than you think

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Garrett Heath from 2014 race, photo by Dan Vernon Photography 

It's funny, but if you polled most knowledgeable observers before the 4K race on Saturday on who they thought would win, virtually no one would have gone for the man who defeated all the East Africans this time last year: Garrett Heath. The man himself, even, probably thought defending his title was out of the question, given how he much he struggled with injury on the lead-up to the race. Heath even ran the race with his left calf half-covered in blue kinesio-tape. 

However, when the gun fired, the Minnesota native ran a patient race, sheltering behind the leaders for the first lap until, midway through the second lap, he unleashed a devastating surge which tore the field to shreds in a matter of moments. World Cross Country champion Japhet Korir couldn't handle the surge, neither could 12:56 5K man Dathan Ritzenhein, or 3:27 1500m athlete Asbel Kiprop, or indeed a host of other world class athletes further back such as Augustine Choge, Bernard Lagat and Silas Kiplagat. Heath, himself a 3:34 man, looks set for a big season if he can transfer this form to the track. And one thing's for sure: no one will be forgetting about the 29-year-old American when making their predictions in Edinburgh this time next year.

Emilia Gorecka has arrived

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Gemma Steel and Emilia Gorecka, 2014 race, 

photo by Dan Vernon Photography 

The British 20-year-old was an impressive winner of the senior women's 6K race in Edinburgh, defeating much-decorated athletes several years her senior such as two-time European cross country champion Fionnuala Britton and newly crowned champion Gemma Steel. In truly apocalyptic weather conditions on the last of three laps, Gorecka dug in and forged a lead on the resolute Britton, one which grew to seven seconds by the finish. 

Gorecka has been one of the most promising athletes in British distance running for a number of years, and was twice a European cross country champion at junior level, but finished a disappointing 12th in the under-23 race last month in Samokov. However, with this run under her belt, she consigned that run to the distant past. It could be a big year for the Royal Holloway University student. 

For Asbel Kiprop, it's all about gold medals

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Asbel Kiprop, photo by Dan Vernon Photography

Though he finished a slightly disappointing fourth on Saturday, world 1500m champion Asbel Kiprop sounded in confident form about the year ahead when speaking to RunBlogRun afterwards. Kiprop said he will now skip the indoor season and focus on retaining his 1500m crown at the World Championships in Beijing in August. 

He said training has been progressing well and he is hopeful for a big summer season. Asked if he will, at any point this year, make an assault on Hicham El Guerrouj's 1500m world record of 3:26.00, Kiprop said: "No; for me this year it is all about one thing: winning the gold medal in Beijing."

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