So Close But Yet So Far

20 Oct

For the Seniors at Saturday’s National Road Relays

So close but so far might be the obvious conclusion to our performance in the National road relay championships, but it’s an assessment that takes no account of the unfortunate late withdrawal of internationals Katie Knowles and Tom Russell, who were both down with chest infections.

Not that you would have realised it as the women made light of Knowles’ absence and all but snatched the bronze medals, which was our best performance in the event since Kate Reed anchored us to victory in 2005.

In a drawn out nail-biting finish that Claire Hallissey (14:29) could have preferably done without after her magnificent effort in the previous weekend’s World half marathon championship, she fought an exhausting, but ultimately vain battle to hold off the late challenge of Norwich’s UK steeplechase international Barbara Parker (14:15) for the bronze medal position behind the respective Southern and Northern champions Aldershot and Chester-le-Street, though still at least ahead of our perennial rivals and Midland conquerors Charnwood.

Disappointed as Claire was, she still broke 14;30 for the first time on the course to cap a fine effort by our other three runners. Rebekah Randell (14:48) achieved her target of breaking the 15 minute barrier to give us a great start on the opening leg with a time that former junior international star Emily Pidgeon only bettered by a second for Stroud on the next leg.

Imogen Ainsworth (15:11), saddled with the task of replacing Katie, responded convincingly to keep us within striking distance of the medals in a time only just short of the 15 minute hallmark of class, which gave Kate Goodhead (14:27) all the incentive she needed, and capitalising on the strength she has been developing on the mountain running circuit she stormed round the third stage to put Claire in the sought after medal position in our best time of the day and her best ever for the hilly lap.

Meanwhile let’s not not forget our talented B team’s formidable effort by going one better than their first team colleagues and beating Aldershot’s second string, only to suffer the ultimate double whammy at the feet of Chester-le-Street, who again just edged us out of being the first B team by a few seconds – 12th to our 13th. Uncannily too the times of our quartet of Ruth Mitchell, Ellie Wimshurst, Charlie Coffey and Helen Fines almost exactly mirrored those of the Northern champions, with only 12 seconds separating our four. Ruth’s was a particularly fine run as she improved nearly 50 seconds on her Midland effort, and it’s not bad, is it, to reflect that only 10 other clubs in the country could beat our second team!

The C team unfortunately ended up one short due to Sian Davies pulling out with achilles tendinitis, but that did not stop rookie Erica Golland (16:21) producing one of our best performances of the day to better her Midland time by close on a minute and a half.

As with the women before them the men did not let Tom’s absence demoralise them. In fact the need to make up for it seemed to inspire Jon Wills (17:12) , who ran out of his skin to only just miss out on heading the 87 strong elite field on the opening stage as he was only just outsprinted by budding U23 1500m star David Forrester in easily his best ever time for the
lap. Behind him Kev Heywood (17:23), now regrettably back with Bideford, showed just what we have lost by also clocking his best ever time only 12 seconds down on Jon.

Outstanding as Jon’s run was, it completely threw our strategy of putting young Rich Peters (18:24) on the second leg so that he would have a number of runners lined up ahead of him to chase. To make matters more intimidating within a few metres of the start he found himself in front, and whether running scared or a victim of his own natural high cruising speed, he clearly overcooked it for his current level of fitness on the way out, and though still leading at the turn he paid for it on what was a painful return journey to end up only just inside the top 20. Even so to be fair to him he still clocked a time nearly 50 seconds faster than he had done three weeks before in the Midland event.

In Tom’s absence Phil Wylie (17:39) was entrusted with the job of repairing any damage, and in his ever committed way he relentlessly hauled us back into top ten contention with his fastest time for the course. Nor did Steve Mitchell (18:01), who had taken Tom’s place, let us down. He ran more than half a minute faster than he had at the Midlands to hold our place in the top dozen and keep us within striking distance of our revised top ten target.

It was just the sort of challenge that Tom Merson (17:49) relishes, and like Phil he never let up relenlessly closing the gap further to put us back in the top ten and achieve his ambition of breaking 18 minutes.

This just left Robbie Bugden (18:07) to bring us home, but though up to 9th after the first mile, by his own admission his lack of racing and competitive training during his year long RAF induction caught up with a vengeance on the final drag to the finish, and in his own words “legless” he agonisingly lost three places to demote us to 13th at the line.

Yet to put that into perspective we were only seconds away from a top ten position, and the one minute that Tom’s absence cost us would have just about achieved the top six position we originally hoped for in what was universally agreed to be the strongest field that has contested the race for some time.

Our B team, like the women’s C squad, also failed to finish as Matt Peters, who was nursing an achilles strain, bravely gave it a go on the last stage, but wisely pulled up when the pain resurfaced halfway round the lap. However our other five runners – Steve Gallienne (18:21), Nathan Young (18:38), Dan Woolford (18:41), Harry Webb (18:51) and Phil Parry (19:00) – all clocked 19 minutes or under, with Steve, Nathan and Dan all smashing their Midland relay times by just over or under three quarters of a minute.

Yes and there is a postscript to our effort. We can still justifiably claim to have kept our position in the top three senior teams in the country. For the only fair way to assess this is to add the men’s and women’s times together, and on that reckoning we end up a reasonably close third behind Aldershot and Bedford, and more significantly ahead of all the “mercenaries”, many of whom seem to forget the women!