Queen of the country eyes up track success

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Cross-country ace Fionnuala Britton talks exclusively to SPIKES about being in the form of her life, marathons and her plans for taking her success on the snow to the track…

One of the standout performers of the winter season has been Ireland’s Fionnuala Britton, 28.

After eye-catching successes at the European Cross Country Championships in Budapest and at the Great Edinburgh International, Britton continued her winning streak at the weekend with a victory at the IAAF Antrim Cross Country.

Although the pride of Kilcoole AC is in a rich vein of form, success on the track at the Moscow World Championships is her priority for 2013.

“I really enjoy cross-country, it is my strength,” says Britton, who has few peers in the discipline she took up aged seven. “But I would really like to improve on the track.”

“Cross-country is not all about times, but more about simply beating your competitor. For me, being consistently in good shape for the past few months has helped me. The last two years have been the most successful in my career.”

For Wicklow-born Fionnuala (pronounced fin-noo-lah), the arrival of coach Chris Jones in 2011 has been a key factor in her development.

“The structure he has given to my training has made the difference,” she says. “The sessions are much more specific to me. His strength is to be able to change the sessions to suit, to make a difference.”

Jones was also the man who saw Britton’s potential over the longer distances and persuaded her to drop the steeplechase for the 5000m and 10,000m. Good enough to finish 12th in the 2007 World Championship final over the barriers, she was initially resistant to the move. 

So far she has not quite delivered her potential on the track: finishing a respectable fourth in the 10,000m at last summer’s European Championships in Helsinki, and placing 15th in the Olympic final.

Over 5000m in London she registered a personal best of 15:12.97 in her heat but did not progress to the final. Given her winter form, that PB must be due some revision.

So why has Britton been unable to translate her cross country form on to the track?

“The key for the summer is being in consistently good shape. But because the summer season is so much longer it is harder to reach that same level of consistency. My aim now is to get below 15 minutes for the 5000m: that has to be anyone’s aim to get to major finals.”

Many believe her best event will one day be the marathon, and while she does not dispel the prophecy, the former primary school teacher’s medium-term goals lie on the track.

“I do see the marathon as a long-term goal but to be honest I’m struggling to plan as far ahead as the summer. I’d like to do one, one day. But I don’t have anything planned seriously.”

In the short-term, the hurling fan hopes to round off an outstanding winter season at the World Cross Country Championships in Poland on 24th March, looking to improve on her 16th place at the last edition, in Spain two years ago.

Her displays have been met with high praise from Great Britain’s world marathon record holder Paula Radcliffe yet there is little chance of the modest Irishwoman getting carried away.

“You have to take the good and the bad. There was a lot of criticism of Ireland around the Olympic Games and you have to try and ignore that, so you also have to take the good stuff with a pinch of salt.”