30th October 2014

Sister Act

With the cross country season picking up speed, we caught up with the Clay sisters who have formed the backbone of successful junior GB & NI cross country teams over the last few years, to see how their preparation for the Liverpool Cross Challenge had been going. Bobby, aged 17 and Alex, aged 19, are both coached by Peter Mullervy and are working hard to combine their studies with their training, as they prepare for the Sefton Park race on 29 November, which incorporates the European Cross Country Trials.

With a handful of team medals each at recent European and World Cross Country Championships, the Invicta East Kent duo have had contrasting seasons but are happy to be back racing over the country this winter.

Bobby Clay has seen big improvements in her running during the track season, making the 1500m final at the IAAF World Junior Championships, but admits the start of her season didn’t go entirely to plan.

“Something seemed to change once I had qualified for the team – I suddenly relaxed a bit more and I was running more the way I knew I could. At the holding camp in Eugene, I probably trained the best I ever have”, said Bobby.

Finishing second in her heat in Eugene to qualify for the final, she went on to finish eighth, providing a vital learning curve for the 17 year old, whom is currently two months into the second year of her A-level studies.

“The final didn’t go perfectly time-wise, as I really wanted a personal best, but race-wise I couldn’t really have done much more. It was really exciting and great to be involved. As soon as I’d finished I wanted to go again.

“It was such a tactical race and I hadn’t experienced that before but it was fun and I am pretty honoured to have been part of it.”

After the excitement of the summer for Bobby, who holds the UK U20 leading time for 3000m this year of 9:13.00, she is looking forward to the start of the cross country season. However, she admits that she wasn’t too excited about the prospect when resting in the hot climates of Oregon, after her race at the World Junior Championships.

“I whinged about it like someone who hates cross country, but I do it every year in the wet, mud and the cold; inside though, I love it really! I think it is more the thought of being muddy which I don’t like!

“So far I’ve done a few county league races and relays which have really got me up for it. I’m feeling really good at the moment and I’m excited for Liverpool. That’s really what I am focusing on at the moment.”

Bobby, who is supported by the British Athletics futures programme, is focused on her first aim, which is to guarantee a place in the team for the European Cross Country Championships in Bulgaria with a good performance at Sefton Park.

“Firstly, I want to get selection for the team. It would be lovely to get some wins at the Cross Challenge events but all I want to do is work my butt off to get into the team. If I don’t, obviously the girls are stronger than me and they deserve it.

“In international events, I embrace it and I feel as though I come alive in those races because I am racing girls who I don’t know, and I’m away from home so it is really exciting.”

Meanwhile, older sister Alex started reading Osteopathy at the European School of Osteopathy in September, and admits that the long studying hours may have impacted slightly upon her training in recent weeks.  After a season focused on the 5,000m, her recent lower key training means she isn’t putting too much pressure on herself ahead of the European trials.

“I’m looking forward to racing the cross country events again. It’s been a bit challenging after starting university, and I know I am at a slight disadvantage to others as I have chosen to study Osteopathy, which is quite a 9-5, five times a week course. So at the moment it is a bit full on and I’m still trying to find the time to train as much as I would like.

“I’m obviously training as much as I can though and will have to see how it goes in Liverpool.”

Alex finished second behind her sister in the U20 race at the Great Edinburgh Cross Country in January this year, and will be one to watch out for in Liverpool as athletes race to earn their place on the plane to Samakov. The 19 year-old speaks of her pride in representing her country at these international cross country events.

“It’s a feeling which you can’t really describe. I think at the time you don’t really take it in as much as you should – you get a bit overwhelmed by it all. When you look back on it though, it is such a massive achievement.

“I love the whole atmosphere with international racing – I’m more relaxed and enjoy it more. You build up so much pressure just to get in the team that you relax when you get there to try and do the best you can.”

The Clay sisters will be battling it out with the best U20 athletes in Liverpool as they seek selection for the junior event at the European Cross Country Championships, and Alex summarises the atmosphere amongst the girls who are looking for a place in the Great Britain & Northern Ireland team.

“Suddenly you go out to compete with your biggest rivals but you are now working as a team. It’s a really nice environment to be part of.”

For more information on the Liverpool Cross Challenge incorporating the European Trials, click here.