A large field of runners will step out into a large field in Northumberland tomorrow in pursuit of a trip to South Africa. Sadly, but sensibly, Paula Radcliffe will not be among them.
The British Athletic Federation Cross-Country Championships at Stakeford, which form the trial for the World Championships in Cape Town on 23 March, will lack the Briton who has the best chance of an individual world medal, following her minor injury last weekend.
Having bruised and cut her knee on wooden steps during a race in Diekerk, Luxembourg, the 22-year-old Loughborough student informed the BAF that she did not want to risk running in a trial where the going is likely to be firm. Assuming the injury is not worse than expected, she will take one of the two women's discretionary places available for Cape Town.
"It is not particularly welcome news," said Matt Frazer, secretary of the BAF cross-country commission. "But we understand what she is saying. She has more than proved her fitness in recent races."
Unlike last year, when the World Championships were held in Durham, this year's location offers the opportunity of timely warm-weather training, with the option of altitude training. This lure is one of the reasons why the depth of talent this time round is significantly greater.
In Radcliffe's absence, Lucy Elliott, Alison Wyeth, Suzanne Rigg, Liz Talbot, Angie Hulley, Vikkie McPherson and Sonia McGeorge will be among those seeking the first four automatic selection places.
The men's race includes the Commonwealth 10,000m champion, Rob Denmark, Adrian Passey, Martin Jones, Jon Nuttall, Jon Brown, last year's European cross-country bronze medallist, Andrew Pearson, who is third in the World Cross Challenge ratings, and the man two places behind him, Chris Sweeney.
Keith Cullen and Gary Staines have both sustained recent injuries - Cullen hurting a hamstring in the Luxembourg race, Staines turning his ankle two weeks ago. They are likely to make late decisions on whether to hope for one of the two discretionary men's places rather than seek one of the automatic places for the first seven home.
Sweeney offered a personal analysis of the situation this week: "There are probably going to be four or five clear favourites for the side, and another two to four places up for grabs, with probably 20 guys struggling for them. I intend to be one of those 20."