Liverpool’s legendary football manager Bill Shankly used to say the winning was not everything, it was the only thing. That’s been the attitude of our hitherto unbeaten mighty men’s masters’ team, who were defending their title for a fifth time in the National veterans road relay championships at Sutton Park in Birmingham on Saturday. So losing the title was a bitter pill to swallow, especially when there was the carrot of a £300 performance bonus from our kit sponsors Ron Hill Sports if successful, just ask Alec. “Surely they can backdate it!”
Unfortunately mighty as the team has been, they could hardly reach almighty status without three of their gods – Rob Whalley, Dan Moore and Clive Bromhall – on board. All three had to cry off with injuries that are unfortunately all too mortal -hamstring, foot and calf muscles respectively!
Yet considering that Rob and Clive’s late withdrawals meant we had to rob our prospective V50 team of Jerry Hogan and Jon Goodland, which raised the average age of our team to 46+, the bronze medals behind old rivals Herne Hill and a “reconstituted”! Leicester team in a field of more than 80 teams was no disgrace.
Stepping in at the last minute after Clive had unsuccessfully tried out his calf on the course, Jery, as reliable as ever, was only a few seconds slower than last year (16:47) but a fair way down in 44th place. Andrew Harrison duly set about repairing the early damage by gaining 20 places, though with his fine 2:37 London Marathon still in his legs, he too was marginally slower than last year (16:08).
Alec Woods continued the advance and took another 13 places in his stride to move up to 11th (15:26), which Martin Hula, as ever straining every sinew, improved further to put us within sight of the medals in 4th place at halfway. His time of15:22 was our second fastest. So just how does he do it from one year to the next? “I like coming back to do this once a year to remind me how much it hurts” is his answer. Presumably he then needs 12 months off to get the urge again!
Next up was new signing Rob Goutcher, who kept us in the medal hunt with a fine first effort on the tricky course (16:26), which left the irreplaceable Phil Parry to bomb round with our fastest split (15:05) to finally put us in the bronze medal position. Unfortunately by then Herne Hill and Leicester, who had always been between one and two and a half minutes ahead of us, were too far ahead to be caught, but Jon Goodall, the oldest member of the team who was also making his debut for the club and ‘shitting bricks’ that he would let us down, battled to the last on the penulimate stage. Though passed by Sunderland he kept them within striking distance for another of our iconic figures Mick O’Doherty with a more than respectable run of 16:44. Mick, as calm as ever, set about closing the gap on the North Easterners, and choosing his moment to attack when it hurts most out on the switchback, surged past to make sure we at least returned home with something to show for our efforts. Disappointing as it was to lose the title, there was real consolation in seeing Rob and Jon collect their first National medals, something they would almost certainly have never been able to do with their other clubs.
In fact it was certainly not a day for doom and gloom, for once again as they have done all season our women threw down the gauntlet to the men by overcoming the odds to take the silver medals in the V45 championship ahead of one of the pre-race favourites Norwich The women have certainly shown the men how to do it this season, and thanks to the efforts of Alison Hurford, Sian Davies and Nicky Bromhall they did it again. Alison, on the comeback trail, ran an encouraging 19:22 to put us in 5th position on the opening stage and handed over to Sian, who looking more like her old self, worked her way up to third behind the runaway leaders Reading and Norwich. Finally Nicky undaunted belied her inexperience by coolly pulling back the Norwich runner to land the silver medals. Sian and Nicky’s times of 18:34 and 18:40 respectively were only just shy of a podium position, the third fastest time being 18:29. How life can change. What price could you have got last year, when Nicky was not even running, that Clive would dutifully being carrying his wife’s shoes as she went up to collect a medal in her first championship race? So all in all another enjoyable day. There is a real spirit of camaraderie at these masters events, but let me add there will be no room for that next year guys. Alec wants that £300!