A team of five athletes headed to Granollers in Spain over the weekend, to represent England at this well-established Half Marathon and collectively reduced their life time bests by an impressive 8 minutes 10 seconds!
Whilst some of the leading East Africans are likely to appear in next weekend’s sister Half Marathon taking place in Barcelona, this particular event provides an excellent international experience for English athletes.
Over the years this event has attracted world class winners such as the course record holders Sami Wanjiru and Gete Wami. It also regularly attracts strong domestic fields and in 2017 also incorporated the Spanish National Championships.
The England Team, guided by Team Leader Geoff Watkin, included Matthew Clowes, Mohamud Aadan, Matt Sharp, Sophie Cowper and Ruth Barnes, with both Barnes and Aaden making their England debuts.
The race takes place around the town of Granollers in Catalonia. Whilst the hilly course isn’t an obvious one for fast times it has nonetheless produced some quality performances over the years - and this year was no different.
The race winner was 21 year old Kenyan athlete Alexander Mutiso, who ran away from his elder statesman Kenyans and Spain’s leading challenge in Javier Guerra to take the win in a time of 61:22. Former World Cross winner from 2013, Japhet Korir took second place in 61:37, with the Spaniard taking third place in 61:38.
Matthew Kipkoech Kisorio, with a life time best 58:46 finished 4th, followed by England’s Mohamud Aadan finishing in an new PB of 63:15 (his previous best of 64:26 from the Great North Run back in the autumn). A delighted Mo who had just returned from a stint of altitude training said after the race "Chasing the Kenyan boys up and down the hills of Granollers was like being on the dirt and dusty road of the home of champions in Iten. Delighted to clock a new personal best".
A little further down the field Messrs Clowes and Sharp battled it out in the international field with Clowes finishing 8th in a 64:38 (32 second improvement on his best). A gap of just under a minute opened up between Clowes and Sharp, but nonetheless this was another fine PB of 65:37 for Sharp (67:39 being his previous best).
In the women’s race it was a runaway victory for Kenya’s Mercy Kipchumba finishing in 73:20, but England’s Ruth Barnes enjoyed the run of her life to finish in second place and smashing her PB by 33 seconds to run 74:59. The 39 year old GP who manages to juggles training with a demanding career said, "I was thrilled to be selected but was naturally a little nervous. I work full time as a doctor while bringing up my 2 children. As a result I was anxious that I may not be able to train hard enough to do the opportunity justice. I was however absolutely thrilled to have a great race and to make the podium was just wonderful."
She continued, "The atmosphere at the race was amazing and the locals made us all feel so welcome. I ran most of the race with a couple of Spanish men who encouraged me all the way round and really helped me to run a good race. The cours is uphill to the 10km turn. I arrived at the 10km point feeling really good and then had a great run back to Granollers."
Sophie Cowper in her first serious Half Marathon since dabbling in 2015 lowered her best to a highly respectable 76:25 to take third place ahead of Cuba’s Dailin Belmonte.
Team Leader Geoff Watkin said of the team’s performance, "Despite some fast times being run on the Granollers course, the race is far from easy with the uphill half demanding and on race day the wet conditions made all of the cobblestone sections very slippery and difficult to drive off."
He added, "Despite this, every member of the team ran an excellent race - finishing strongly and recording very respectable times which will then hopefully move them forward to more England and GB international vests. The standard of this event is ideal for up-and-coming developing athletes moving to the road and then perhaps onto the marathon."
1 Alexander Mutiso 61:22 (Kenya)
2 Japhet Korir 61:37 (Kenya)
3 Javier Guerra 61:38 (Spain)
5 Mohamud Aadan 63:15 (England, Thames Valley Harriers, Coach: Paul Oppe)
8 Matthew Clowes 64:38 (England, Cardiff / Cardiff Met Uni / Staffordshire Moorlands)
9 Matthew Sharp 65:37 (England, Enfield & Haringay, Coach: Geoff Watkin)
1 Mercy Kipchumba 73:20 (Kenya)
2 Ruth Barnes 74:59 (England, Avon Valley Runners, Coach: Steven Williams)
3 Sophie Cowper 76:25 (England, Rotherham Harriers &AC, Coach: Gary Warhurst