From running with his mum to pulling on the Team GB jersey, Emile Cairess’s rise has been steady and one of steely determination.
The Bradford-born athlete has been running seriously for six years, splitting his focus between cross-country and 5,000m on the track.
His eyes are firmly fixed on winning a medal in this weekend’s Northern Cross Country Championships in Pontefract, the first of three events coming up before the end of February.
His greatest success so far has come in cross-country when he was part of the GB team that picked up a silver medal in the European Under-23s Championships in Holland late last year.
It took a monumental effort from Cairess, who lives in Saltaire, Bradford, following a fall at the half-mile stage. He managed to move up 59 places to finish eighth and, while it may not have been the experience he dreamed of, pulling on the jersey gave the 21-year-old an immense sense of pride after an arduous journey of near misses.
“Putting on the vest, I felt honoured to do that,” said Cairess, who was introduced to running at the age of four by his mother. “It was a special moment to be there on the start line, representing Britain.
It was a good experience to race against some of the best athletes in the world and see how fast you really do have to be.Emile Cairess
“I didn’t want to get too carried away emotionally because I had aspirations for the race as well, so you have to keep your racing brain on. You try not to be overwhelmed by the occasion and to get the best result you can.
“I wasn’t one of the best in the country straightaway. I can’t put enough emphasis on how gradual it’s been and what a long process it is.
“Each year it’s a little bit more training, a little more dedication.”
While Cairess enjoyed playing football for his local Sunday League team in Saltaire, it was the risk of breaking a leg in the physical-contact sport that eventually put him off the sport at 15. It was a decision that paid off as it allowed Cairess to take his running more seriously.
His first taste of running competitively was with Bingley Harriers at the age of 12, and he then went on to win vests for Bradford, West Yorkshire, the North and England before he suffered setbacks earlier in his career at the Liverpool Cross Challenge trial races, which are run by British Athletics.
“You have to come top six in your category. If you come top six you know you’ll be selected [for Team GB],” he said.
“In the juniors I think I came 18th in the first year I did it and 20th the next year, so I went backwards a little bit, and then I moved up to the under-23s.
“They compete with the seniors and I was coming in 20th at under-23. Last year I came sixth overall and won the under- 23s, so when I crossed the line I knew I’d done it. That was a great feeling because I’ve had a couple of near misses with selection on the track before for Britain so it was a great feeling of relief that I’d done it [in cross-country].
“At times you start questioning whether you’ll ever do it.”
It is the track events that are catching Cairess’s eye now as the evenings get lighter andSpring is within touching distance.
In 2017 he brushed shoulders with Ethiopian long-distance runner Dejen Gebremeskel, whose personal best of 12:46:81 in the 5,000m sees him ranked the fifth fastest runner for that distance. While Cairess, who recently returned to Bradford Grammar to put on training sessions for his former school, admits he was far from that speed, it was a humbling and invaluable experience.
“It was a good experience to race against some of the best athletes in the world and see how fast you really do have to be,” said Cairess, who runs between 12 and 15 miles a day, fitted around gym sessions and studying sports science at St Mary’s College in London. “They were so far in front of me that I was really more of a spectator than a racer.”
His medium-term aim is to qualify for this summer’s U23 European Athletics Championships.
Prior to that, today’s Northern Cross-Country Championships in Pontefract are the priority, before another block of training on the road to the top level.
He said: “There are the days where you don’t want to train, but that’s what separates those who don’t perhaps make it. It’s being consistent and dedicated.”