The innovative nature of the course at the IAAF/Mikkeller World Cross Country Championships Aarhus 2019, taking in the grassy roof of Moesgaard Museum, the hilly surroundings, a mud pit and a section of water as part of the two-kilometre loop, is going to make it a true test of strength. Therefore, the appeal of the Aarhus course to steeplechasers is perhaps no coincidence.
Two steeplechasers who will be on the start line tomorrow are world 3000m steeplechase silver medallist Courtney Frerichs of the USA and European U23 steeplechase champion Anna Emilie Moller, the latter leading the hopes for the home nation.
For 21-year-old Moller, it is perhaps of little surprise that the biggest attraction is the opportunity to run in a global championships on home soil. Coming from Copenhagen, approximately three hours from Aarhus, Moller is excited that her family and supporters will be out on the course to watch her in an event in which she made her debut two years ago in Kampala aged just 19. Since then, the Danish athlete has gone from strength to strength, most recently winning the European U23 cross country title in Tilburg in December.
Now based in the UK for much of the year having started studying at St Mary's University in Twickenham last September, Moller enjoys training with the strong university squad and running round Bushy Park and Richmond Park, two of London's Royal Parks. As for the similarities between steeplechase and the course in Aarhus 2019, Moller said, “Steeplechase is all about breaking rhythm and both are tough events.”
Frerichs agrees that the nature of the course could play to the strengths of steeplechasers.
“I ran the course yesterday and I think it's going to be a real equaliser. Often steeplechasers are at the shorter end of the distance spectrum for cross country races, as we only race 3000 metres, but this course is so tough it could be a great leveller between us and the longer distance specialists. Steeplechase is all about how you react to barriers, to fallers and how you re-focus,” she explains.
The American is also quick to point out that having seen and tried the course in real life, it is harder than she and her team mates had expected.
“You can't see it from the videos and pictures,” she said, perhaps referring in part to the deceptively steep nature of the hill over the Moesgaard Museum, which runners in the senior races will ascend five times.
With all its physical challenges, Frerichs thinks the toughest test is going to come mentally.
“I've been taking advice from Shalane Flanagan, who thinks it is the toughest course she has ever seen. Therefore, I think it's going to be a more of a mental battle. We have been speaking about using energy efficiently, putting consistent effort up the hill and staying mentally focused.”
Having come through the NCAA collegiate system in the United States and being on the winning University of New Mexico team at the NCAA Cross Country Championships in 2017, the discipline's team element is another appeal for Frerichs.
“The NCAAs was a real highlight for me,” Frerichs said. “I love the fact that in cross country the whole team has the same goal.”
The main goal for Frerichs is to use the race to prepare for the track.
“Its an innovative course, so it will be an experience to remember. Hopefully we can all use it as a springboard to the track.”
Emily Moss for the IAAF