RICHARD Morrell stormed to his best ever performance and put himself well in the reckoning for his first international call up.
Considering his best performances in the past have came on the track, you would have thought the mass of thick mud at Sunderland’s Herrington Park wouldn’t take the fancy of the 25-year-old at the National Cross Country Championships.
But by the time the gruelling 12,000 metre race was behind him, the Hartlepool distance runner had surprised himself, and maybe some of his rivals, with an outstanding performance of mud running to finish in 11th place on Saturday.
Taking into account his previous finishes at the prestigious cross country event have been 65th and 79th and the fact he placed 19th at the Northern Championships just last month, he admitted he did have to pinch himself at times during the race – especially as he moved alongside the leader into second place in the first of three laps.
But the Morpeth Harrier, who was also celebrating after winning the team event – his first national gold title – settled in to the front pack early on, and although it was “hard work”, he never felt in any danger of going backwards fast.
“After about 500 metres I was right up at the front and I thought I might have gone off a bit hard,” admitted Morrell.
“But then I settled in and to be honest I felt quite comfortable.
“After the first lap I knew I had committed to the pace and it was just a case of hanging on.”
Morrell, an ultrasonographer at Newcastle’s Freeman Hospital who lives on Hartlepool’s Bishop Cuthbert estate, can take his new found confidence to the trials for World Cross Country championships, in Birmingham, a week on Saturday.
And he told SportMail he plans to race just as aggressively there as he did at the Nationals.
“I’m going to have another good go there,” he said.
“Obviously I’ll have the confidence from Saturday and there is no point in me going there and setting off easily and running for 15th or a top 20 spot.”
And there is another race which is now buzzing about in Morrell’s mind – the Home Internationals Cross Country later this month, where Morrell would “love” to pull on the England vest for the very first time.
“I’ll just have to wait and see what happens with that,” he said.
“But hopefully with Saturday’s performance I’ve give myself a good chance of getting selected.”
While others may have been surprised by Morrell’s breakthrough on the mud on Saturday – coming in as second North East counter only behind his teammate and established international John Taylor, he knew he was in good shape before he got to the startline.
“This year I have been running less miles than I have in the past but I have been running them a little bit quicker and I’ve done more strength work in the gym,” he said.
“My weight is the lowest it’s ever been and my power-to-weight ratio is good.”
It all bodes well for the track season, where although Morrell doesn’t want to put an exact figure on his target time over 1,500m, he knows if he carries on in this form he may have to get used to upsetting the big names in the big races.