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2 December, 2013

Final countdown to European Cross Country Championships for Keith Gerrard

Having just returned from his second home in Albuquerque, New Mexico to earn selection for the European Cross Country Champs, Keith Gerrard a member of the Isle of Man Sporting Excellence Programme talks about his final preparations and hopes for 2014.

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There is no better feeling than pulling on a Great Britain vest and representing your Country and that is exactly what I will be doing in next week’s European Cross Country Championships in Belgrade, Serbia. I love the Euro Cross because the GB & NI team are always well to the fore and in the fight for medals and it’s a fantastic opportunity for British XC runners to be competitive on an international stage. I have been fortunate enough to run the Euro Cross as a Junior, U23, and Senior over the last eight years, and it’s always been a major fixture for me. I am very excited to be part of this year’s Senior Men’s team!

My preparation for the European Championships began in earnest in September when I left the Isle of Man for my high altitude training base in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Training in Albuquerque is something which has worked extremely well for me in recent years, and the place has become a second home. The Albuquerque era began in 2009 when I took a Track scholarship at the University of New Mexico – this is how I came to meet my Coach and started building a fantastic network of training partners and friends who have helped me every step of the way, thanks guys!

Albuquerque is an excellent place to train because it is located at high altitude and has glorious weather all year round. It has miles of endless trails and dirt paths, and any performance facility an elite athlete could wish for.  Another thing I like is the lifestyle, the people are very friendly and outgoing in Albuquerque and you have all your Western World comforts to hand should you need them, a happy athlete will always perform better than a miserable one!

I arrived in Albuquerque feeling fresh, motivated and ready to step things up a notch. The European Cross is a perfect aim for someone like me, and I knew what it was going to take to get there.  My Coach set a training plan which followed a similar template to what has worked in the past, so it seemed obvious to me; get through this training block healthy and I’d be fine at the British trials, easier said than done sometimes! Everything went well, and I was waking up each morning with a desire to execute each day’s training and a place on the GB team on my mind.

The Trial went well; I finished third on the day, which earned me automatic selection for the Senior Men’s team.  So now there’s just the small matter of the European Championships themselves to deal with!

In terms of my expectations for the big day, I never really like to say, it’s always better to let your legs do the talking. Last year’s European Cross was a very negative experience for me, so it shouldn’t be too hard to better that! If I can mix it up with some of the best in Europe and score some good points for the GB team, then I will walk away with my head held high.

Right now I am in that two week gap between the Trial and the Championships, and as the Trial was in Liverpool it was easy for me to return home across the water to the Isle of Man. This was a good decision, as I can keep comfortable at home and put the finishing touches on my shape. Running on the Island is great, but couldn’t be more different to Albuquerque. I have to do most my training by myself (which isn’t always a bad thing) and it’s a lot wetter and muddier than the desert of New Mexico. I like the contrast though because it makes the other place more refreshing and a pleasant change when I go back. One thing is for sure, it’s nice to have sea level oxygen now that I’m back – I can breathe properly again! My next training spell in Albuquerque is planned for January, shortly after the Edinburgh International XC.

My aims for the remainder of the winter and 2014 include my National Cross Country title defence and a Half Marathon in March. Then of course there is the Commonwealth Games 10,000m on the 1st August, scary stuff. The more I think about that the more I realise what occasion that will be for me, especially as I will be representing the Isle of Man. The Island has not had a distance runner compete at the Commonwealth Games for many years now, and with it being in Glasgow it’s a as close to a home Games as it will ever be for me!

Many people might think it’s a disadvantage to be an athlete on the Island, but that’s not actually true at all. The Isle of Man has a fantastic sporting community, highlighted through the many elite sporting initiatives going on there, such as the Isle of Man Sporting Excellence Programme with Kelly Holmes Education and Isle of Man Sports Aid.  I am very lucky to be part of these programmes and have such a great local Sponsor, Microgaming who also support the Sporting Excellence Programme. If I can get to that start line in Glasgow, I just want to be a credit to myself and make the Manx proud!

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The European Cross Country Championships will be broadcast live from Belgrade, Serbia on BBC Two on Sunday 8 December from 10:00 until 12:00. Former OCWK athletes Laura Weightman and Charlie Purdue will also be representing GB alongside Bobby Clay, who took part in Backing Talent in Kent.


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