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An Enduring Challenge

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Column by UK Athletics Chairman Ed Warner, as seen in Athletics Weekly magazine

 

 

24 December 2007

 

The broad success in this month's European Cross Country Championships constitutes a welcome antidote to gloomy prognoses about the future of British endurance running.

 

Congratulations must go to the athletes and their coaches for their performances in Toro which saw the Norwich Union Great Britain & Northern Ireland team take home an impressive haul of eight medals and confirm their status as the strongest cross country nation in Europe. But the challenge on the world stage remains undeniable.

 

One objective of UKA's Road Running Leadership Group (RRLG) is to support performance in raising the standard of elite endurance running. So far, the Group has focused its attentions on the introduction of a new race licensing system and is developing an online community for both runners and race organisers.

 

As those initiatives launch in early 2008, so the Group's attention will shift to how to spend its income, both to enhance road running locally and to fund those initiatives set by performance at the elite level.

 

While the RRLG can call upon deep experience of endurance running, it will still be keen to canvas widely for solutions to the elite question, as it provides support to those setting the policies that will underpin the event.

 

In recent weeks I've had occasion to quiz a number of former top distance runners and their coaches. Asked - if money were no object - how they'd develop our endurance elite, ideas are surprisingly few.

 

The challenges posed by the dominance of the African nations, societal changes that militate against the necessary training workloads, and the lack of raw athletes with the essential ingredients are often cited as insuperable problems.

 

However, as a recent article in Athletics Weekly highlighted, a number of squad-based initiatives are beginning to bear fruit in American marathoning. Similarly, UKA's own Endurance Performance Centre (EPC) at St Mary's - supported by London Marathon, and part of the West London HiPAC - is gaining traction. And Paula Radcliffe's dedicated approach is a shining example of what's possible.

 

While in endurance running, as in all athletic disciplines, there is no substitute for hard work, there is probably also more than one way to identify and then develop talent. The greater the perceived gap between best of British and best in the world, the more open-minded we must be to innovation and it is my hope that the RRLG will provide the support for those members of the performance team charged with these essential tasks.

 

There are about to be elections to the RRLG, so that in future it comprises a mix of elected and appointed members. I hope that a good list of candidates emerges for roles that really could make a difference to what is a vibrant strand of our sport but which could do with more Britons at or near the front of international fields.

 

The existing members of the RRLG believe that smart investment can and will make a difference - over the long haul.