THE success of Ellie Baker and Ben MacMillan at the second Saucony Grand Prix of the season sums up the enduring appeal of the British Milers Club and the important work they do in supporting and developing the country’s middle distance runners.
GB international Baker turned to the organisers of the Sportcity meeting when she was bumped off her budget flight to Poland for the Poznan meeting and was forced to make a late switch.
“The BMC was amazing and fitted me into the 1500m as a super late entry,” said Baker, who rewarded the organisers with an impressive win in the 1500m.
“It was an okay time having decided to front-run the race though I would have liked to have run faster.
“But to be honest I was just happy to get into a race after a stressful time when I found out on Thursday my flight to Poland for the Friday meeting was over-booked.”
It was Baker’s fifth Grand Prix A race win – her four victories last year earned her the BMC’s inaugural points series prize of £1,000 – while in stark contrast MacMillan was celebrating his first.
The Central AC runner and Stirling University student was rewarded for the trip south with not only a big personal best of 3mins 40.60secs, smashing his 2021 best of 3:44.00 but also a Scotland qualifying standard of 3:40.77 for the Commonwealth Games.
It is worth noting that his previous best was set in the same meeting a year ago when he finished ninth, which had been his highest position in a GP A race alongside a 10th at Loughborough and 14th at Watford during last summer.
Now MacMillan has made a big leap forward and coming on top of further recent PBs of 1:55.58 for 800m and a 3:57.76 mile at the 5th Monument Classic in Stirling – and in the process becoming the first Scot since John Robson and Adrian Callan in 1985 to run a sub-four minute mile on Scottish soil – it may prove to be his breakthrough moment, which many before him have achieved on the Saucony Grand Prix circuit.
Angus Harrington appears to have enjoyed two breakthrough moments this season already. The 20-year-old Cambridge University student, who competes for Blackheath & Bromley, opened the season with his first Grand Prix win in the 800m B race at Birmingham University.
That earned him promotion to the A race on Saturday and Harrington fully justified that with another impressive win in a PB of 1:48.58.
“I think the time was a bit slow to win an A race but it was my first ever time in an A race and I’m really pleased to win,” said Harrington, who is coached by Phil O’Dell.
“I held back off the pace on Saturday and that helped me but at Watford I’ll go out harder and see if I can sneak another half a second or so off that time.
“Hopefully a faster time will come but Saturday was probably the biggest win of my life!”
Jenny Selman knows what it is like to run a lifetime best at Sportcity after she won the A race in 2021 in 2:02.16. She has since gone on to improve that to 2:00.70 indoors in February and while delighted to retain her title on Saturday with a season’s outdoor best of 2:03.00 knows she is still short of that indoor form.
“I had a long indoor season that went on until mid-March so I went for a solid block of endurance training after that and I’ve not done as much specific 800m training so far,” said Selman.
“But it is still early doors and I’m hoping that in the next month I’ll be going quite a big faster. Sub two minutes is the target now which seems a bit mad as it wasn’t that long ago I was aiming for 2:02/3.
“But now I have run two minutes dead indoors I’m confident that if I can find the race in the right conditions it could happen.”
And if that happens it will strengthen Selman’s bid to make the Scotland team for the Commonwealth Games, though she accepts selection is going to be very difficult.
Behind Selman there was some terrific young talent making an impression. Leeds City’s 20-year-old Bethan Morley carved over a second off her PB with 2:05.38 for third while 17-year-old Cleethorpes athlete Ella Greenway, who won the B race at Birmingham University in a then PB of 2:07.48, lowered that to 2:06.73 in fourth.
Meanwhile in sixth place Kettering’s Alice Bennett, who only turned 16 last month, lowered her PB from 2:08.06 to 2:07.54. That time, like Ella’s, is inside the European U18s qualifying standard of 2:08.00 and puts Bennett second in the UK U17 Rankings behind Phoebe Gill (2:03.74).
“Alice has not had the best preparation as she is in the midst of GCSEs and feeling pretty stressed while training has been disrupted but she is absolutely buzzing after that,” said coach Shane Smith.
“She is making really good progression and we are hoping she can dip under 2mins 07secs at the Watford Grand Prix next month.”
Back to those 1500m races and behind Baker one of the most eye-catching results came from 16-year-old Iris Downes. The Shrewsbury athlete had already run the European U18s qualifying standard of 2:08.00 at the Saucony Birmingham University Grand Prix with a PB of 2:04.44 and now she boasts the standard for the 1500m as well.
Judging her tactics perfectly Downes finished eighth in 4:23.02 to carve seven seconds off her 2021 best and dip well inside that Euro qualifying mark of 4:26.00.
“I was really pleased with that time,” said Downes.
“I only did the event three times last summer and I feel I am still learning the race. As my coach Colin Lancaster warned me, it is so different to racing the 800m!
“But the 800m will remain my main focus as I love that event. But the standard for the 800m is very high so it is going to be tough to get into the team. But it is all very exciting.”
Downes also gave special praise to the BMC.
“To be honest I don’t know what I would do without the races the BMC put on,” she added. “They are amazing.”
It was also good to see Hannah Nuttall continue her comeback from injury with a solid 4:14.69 in second place and there were also PBs for Megan Davies, Alexandra Millard and Tilly Simpson.
The women’s B race threw up a terrific result for 15-year-old Leven Valley runner Jess Bailey, as she claimed a superb victory in a time of 4:22.71.
That not only clipped just over three seconds off her previous best, set in the Gold Standard meeting at Stretford last month, but also was well inside that European U18s Championships qualifier of 4:26.00.
That means she now has two qualifying standards having also achieved the 9:38.00 standard for 3000m with a sparkling PB of 9:19.91 in the Gold Standard meeting at Birmingham University earlier this month.
“The 3000m is the big one for me and that is what I’ll be focussing on for the next few weeks but for now the 1500m was a good opportunity to work on speed and tactics,” said Bailey.
“I was hoping to run around 4:24/25 so 4:22 was a bit out of the ordinary!”
The top three in that race all clocked PBs as did the leading three in the C and D races won by juniors Hannah Ryding and Abigail Stratton respectively.
In the men’s 1500m races the winners of the C, D, E and G races – Tendal Nyabadza, Tomer Tarragano, Matthew Fuller and Sam Tyas respectively – all notched up lifetime bests.
Nyabadza was particularly impressive as the 16-year-old Harmeny athlete from Scotland smashed his PB by almost five seconds – 3:52.77 set when winning the E race at the Birmingham University Grand Prix – to win that C race in 3:47.86, well inside the European U18 Championships standard of 3:52.00.
Remarkably the teenager hadn’t broken four minutes until this year when he clocked 3:59.87 in the indoor season.
Two other young runners achieved the Euro U18s standard with Team East Lothian’s Corey Campbell tenth (3:48.49) in the A race to go top of the UK U17 Rankings – and 17-year-old Sam Mills of Exeter Harriers clocking 3:49.49 behind Nyabadza in the C race.
The 5000m runners enjoyed the conditions with 23 of the 40 men in three races clocking PBs and 16 season’s bests including A and B winners Jacob Cann, who broke 14 minutes for the first time with 13:58.66 and Blackburn junior Matthew Ramsden.
For the women the ratio was even higher as nine of the 11 finishers ran lifetime bests led by City of Stoke’s Midlands cross country champion Kate Holt, who in her first 5000m of the season smashed her four-year-old best by 15 seconds with 15:48.45 as she went under 16 minutes for the first time.
Overall of the 307 runners there 139 PBs, representing a healthy 45 per cent success rate.
The Grand Prix Series moves on to Watford for the international Grand Prix on the 11th June.
Angus Harrington, Zak Curran