British athletic diaries: Paul Halford writes about Sam Stabler, winner of the first race in Britain's premier cross country series his winter

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Cardiff-Cross-Challenge-Sam-Stabler-by-Paul-Stillman-2017-750x450.jpgSam Stabler wins Cardiff, photo courtesy of Athletics Weekly

In this last weeks' column on British Athletics, Paul Halford writes on Sam Stabler and his experiences in US and how it has helped his overall running development. He also writes on a big prize for a 2:52 women marathoner.

Sam Stabler, the winner of the first race in Britain's premier cross-country series this winter, talks about the US college system, by Paul Halford

The unheralded Sam Stabler took victory in the opening leg of the British Athletics Cross Challenge last weekend and then paid tribute to the US university system in overcoming his injuries.

Stabler, a 13:30 5000m runner who went to Lamar University in Texas, returned back home to Britain last year. After a couple of near misses he hopes to make his GB international debut soon.

He arrived in Texas in 2011 with three just races under his best in the previous 18 months. Due to injury, he had run only the races he needed to in order to gain the scholarship.

"A lot of the physiotherapy every day and the underwater treadmill pretty much got me running again," he said. "If I'd gone to Loughborough, for example, which was my first choice, I know they've got really good physio, but I would no way have been able to afford to go every day whereas in America you get physiotherapy every day and they've got all the facilities, which I wouldn't have been anywhere near at Loughborough.

"America is just a great team environment as well, so when you've got people to run with every day you're never short of motivation."

He highlighted the importance of underwater treadmills and the AlterG antigravity machine in his coping with persistent knee injuries. The former is so often associated with the high-tech, advanced facilities enjoyed by Mo Farah, but British running enthusiasts would be surprised how common they are stateside. Stabler said: "I'm pretty sure the majority of universities in America have either an underwater treadmill or an alter-G.

"For the first semestre, the whole of January I'd be on it (the underwater treadmill) three or four times a week as I struggled to run with any impact."

He also said: "You get flown around to races and you get paid more money than is required to be able to go to all these races."

However, though enthused with with the facilities and the funding available, he warned the new intake of British runners in US colleges of the "brutal" NCAA system.

"A lot of the time you can rush things when really you should take it easier and step back, not worry too much about the early season," he said. "The only races that really matter are like the last two of the season."

They should also be prepared for the incredible standard, he said. He recalls finishing 228th in his opening race in Texas, a relatively low-key affair. "You're used to being about fifth or at least top 10 in the country at home," he said. "And then you get to America and you're all of a sudden nowhere. You sink or swim."

However, it's not all positive, said Stabler. "There's no club system in America so once you finish in America unless you're going to go pro most people just retire," he said. "So you have all these quality athletes who if they were European would probably run for their country for the next five or ten years but most of them give up because they don't have that infrastructure."

But Stabler still appears as devoted as ever to his running. Although he perhaps too readily downplays his chances of making the team for the European Cross Country Championships in Slovakia in December, he is focused on going sub-7:50 for 3000m in the indoor season and then on 5000m next summer.

"To qualify for the European Championships would be great but the 5k [standard] is normally 13:25 and there's probably 15-20 capable of running that," he said.

His 7:53 for 3000m in 2015 put him within four seconds of the standard for the European Athletics Indoor Championships. Further, his fourth at the Inter-Counties last winter would normally have given him a berth at the World Cross Country team, but British Athletics controversially decided not to send any senior men.

"That's probably one of the reasons I'm [probably] not doing Liverpool (the European Cross trials)," the Rob Denmark-coached athlete said of that policy. "I don't want to go and run well and not get picked again. It's quite disheartening to build yourself up to think you've got a chance and then not anyone go at all."


Big prize shocks 2:52 marathoner

Sophie Kelly has been training seriously for just over a year so she was as surprised as anyone to collect £2000 ($2600) for a marathon win in 2:52 last weekend.

The 24-year-old took more than 22 minutes from her personal best as she triumphed in the inaugural Birmingham International Marathon.

"I was aiming for sub-3," said Kelly. "My last marathon before that was 3:14 but that was before I joined the running club and started training properly, so to do 2:52 I was completely shocked."

She was unaware beforehand of the prizemoney - put up by the Great Run Company, one of Europe's best-know organisers.

"My face when I found out must have been hilarious," she said. "That was a bit shock. A very nice shock."

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