English cross-country champion Steve Vernon is targeting Olympic success in a new event
By Nicola Bamford. Last Updated: 02/03/11 10:34am
Having finally achieved a career goal of winning the English national cross-country title, Steve Vernon is targeting Olympic success in a new event.
The 30-year-old from Stockport claimed his biggest domestic victory to date at the Staffordshire Alton Towers course, following a year with as many ups and downs as the rollercoaster venue.
Winning by over 20 seconds in muddy conditions, Vernon's success is even sweeter having succumbed to injury and illness in the previous two editions when placing second and third, respectively.
And after three attempts at just missing gold, his recent win has spurred a bold decision.
"I'm looking towards a marathon later this year and would be stupid not to have a go for 2012," explained Vernon on his ambition to make the GB Olympic squad for London next summer.
"It would be really tough (to qualify) but you have to dream big. It's a slim chance as even the 'B' 2:16 qualifying standard is hard, a lot of good guys will be chasing selection and I haven't even raced one yet but I hope to do well in the trial (in the London marathon next spring) and there would be nothing better than running in the Olympics in your own country."
Although such goals may appear lofty for a marathon virgin, Vernon is quietly confident of being able to join Britain's top 26.2-mile ranks in time for the biggest sporting event of the year next August.
With seven men registering times either around or below the qualifying mark in 2010, the Stockport Harrier is well aware of the stiff competition he will face for team spots but his current form shows an exciting potential, especially following double surgery in the past 12 months.
Vernon's impressive winter campaign comes off the back of a stomach operation in late 2009 to halt ongoing stitch problems and a procedure on his calf last autumn to no longer inhibit his foot-plant on hard surfaces.
"Although I missed the whole spring and summer, I've not been injured just managing some problems," said Vernon.
"Things have improved massively and I'm on the right track with the help from a fantastic team around me."
A top junior over 3,000m in the late 1990s, Vernon bounced back into the racing scene after eight months out last November and into fine form once he had blown away the cobwebs.
"I had the complete disaster at the European cross-country trials (placing 25th in Liverpool) following illness but I bounced back in Brussels (as top Briton) running really well," he explained.
"(The Bupa Great) Edinburgh International was a great performance for me (placing fourth and top Briton) but I ran like an idiot at the start of the Northern cross-country champs (eventually finishing runner-up).
"Though, I knew the national would suit me - I'm a strong mud-runner and if you're fit, there are no excuses.
"I knew it was a tough course, as I'd ran there in 2008 (placing third) but I knew I'd have a good chance of winning if I ran well.
"I wanted it badly and the national's the event that goes down in history - it was such a big goal and to finally achieve it after putting so much pressure on myself, makes me want to win it again - it's where everyone's career has started."
Vernon will next target this weekend's British inter-counties championship in Birmingham, where he may have a shot at making the squad for his sixth World cross-country event.
"It's been hard to pick myself up again and I've not even read the selection criteria as all I can do is run my best - I'll run to win or at least get a medal and making the GB team will be a bonus," he revealed on the race in Spain later this month.
"It would be a fantastic achievement to go, as it's the greatest race on earth but I'm taking it one step at a time.
"The biggest thing for me is staying injury-free and for the first time in my life, I have been for nearly 12 months now.
"I've been consistently running around 90 miles per week this winter - with work commitments, it's hard to keep it over 100 miles but it's about finding the balance."
As yet undecided where his first marathon will be, Vernon is relishing the increase of mileage in his quest to achieve his Olympic ambition
"It will be very, very hard but 2012 is not unrealistic," he explained. "I see myself running well for many more years as I still feel fresh after so many with breaks - maybe I'll have to wait another four years (in Rio 2016) for my chance but I'm going to give it a good shot."