South West runner storms to victory as James Dargan, Lyla Belshaw and Evan Grime are also among the winners on Saturday
Innes FitzGerald’s winning streak continued at the TCS Mini London Marathon on Saturday (April 22) as she successfully defended her under-17 women’s title. Like so many young athletes these days, she wore super shoes as she sped around the 2.6km course in 8min 11sec. Such is her dominance, though, she probably didn’t need them as she won by 15 seconds from South West team-mate Sophie Nicholls.
FitzGerald has been devastatingly impressive since taking running seriously under coach Gavin Pavey around 18 months ago. The Exeter Harrier is all legs and lungs and after winning her first Mini London Marathon title in October she finished a gallant fourth against much older rivals in the under-20 race at the European Cross Country Championships in Italy in December.
During the rest of the winter she won the English Schools, English National and Inter-Counties titles in style in addition to some Belgium Cross Cup events. Now, after turning 17 earlier this month, she has won another Mini Marathon crown.
“It all seems to be coming together and I’m getting used to the pressure and the nerves,” she told AW before receiving a congratulatory hug from Paula Radcliffe and then joining Jake Wightman to record a mini BBC feature on the Saturday’s event.
FitzGerald only seems to know one way to run – hard all the way – and invariably looks exhausted at the finish. “The nerves get to me a bit and I think ‘they might come past me’ so I’m trying to run as fast as possible!” she explains, adding that her training environment at home in Devon is much more relaxed.
Looking back, what is the highlight of recent months? Mini Marathon aside, of course. “I think the English Schools was quite big for me because there are lots of people there who might not be in the English National as they’re not part of a club. And it’s a great environment,” she says.
“Going to Italy (for the Euro Cross) didn’t quite work out for me either but it was such an amazing experience and a really big highlight of mine.”
The Mini London Marathon has developed a reputation of being every bit as high quality as the end-of-winter cross-country championships, though. FitzGerald agrees and adds: “I really enjoy the crowds at these kind of road races. At cross country it can often get a bit lonely going around fields but at London Marathon there are more people cheering.”
Could she see herself doing the full 26.2 miles in the future? “I’d definitely want to do it at some point in a few years,” she says.
But first, she is keen to improve her 3000m best – her 8:59.67 saw her smash the UK under-17 record last year – and also some shorter distance races.
“I want to get more training in and see how fast I can get,” she explains. “I want to improve my 3000m but also do a few 1500m races to try to get my speed down.”
James Dargan finished fifth in the Mini Marathon last October and was runner-up in the English National and fourth in the English Schools in the past couple of months. Here the Aldershot, Farnham & District runner stuck to the pre-race instructions of coach Mick Woods, though, and emerged winner in 7:19 – three seconds ahead of Lughaidh Mallon of Northern Ireland with Corey Campbell of Scotland third.
“He told me if I didn’t stick to the plan and sit and kick then I’d be in a trouble,” Dargan smiled. “I don’t usually have much of a kick on me but it came out today.”
After clocking 7:19, he added: “It was a different course, different set-up and different field today (from last October) so it worked out quite well.”
After finishing sixth last October and eighth the previous year, Lyla Belshaw was only hoping for a top five position but she surprised herself by winning the under-15 girls’ title.
“With a kilometre to go I was looking back and didn’t see anyone gaining, so I just went for it,” the Colchester Harrier, who was representing East of England, said. “I saw my grandad on the side shouting for me too and that motivated me a bit.”
She added: “Isla McGowan and Holly Cross were just behind me. Usually I get beaten by them but maybe I’m a bit better on the road than cross country.”
Cross was fourth and McGowan ninth in a competitive race as Belshaw won in 8:26 ahead of runner-up Millie Gold of Wales with Katie Pye of London in third.
Her grandad aside, Belshaw added: “My mum will probably be crying somewhere now!”
Evan Grime is progressing nicely as he moves up through the age-groups and the Salford Harrier took the under-15 boys’ title here in 7:39 from fellow North West athlete Matthew Clark with Jon Pepin of the South East third.
Like FitzGerald, Tom Thake is another winner from last October who successfully defended his under-13 boys’ title on Saturday. The Yorkshire & Humberside runner won by one second in 8:05 from Jack Baranowski of the North West with Fred Jones of the West Midlands third and Thake was relieved to take victory in such a competitive race.
“I like running on the flat,” the Hallamshire Harrier said. “The pace was quick – it seemed faster than last October – so I just sat in and sprinted at the end.”
The under-13 girls’ race saw Isabella Harrison of London win in 8:47 from Isabella Buchanan of the South East with Jorjia March of London in third.
In the wheelchair races, 16-year-old Illias Zghoundi won the under-17 men’s race in style after negotiating what he felt was a slightly twistier, more compact and “technical” course in 7:02.
“This is my third year doing the Mini Marathon and I’m progressing well at the Weir Archer Academy.”
Full results here
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