Bristol & West Ladies six-stage road relay team gave a confident display on a bright and sunny Saturday afternoon at Sutton Park on 19th March 2011 to run out comfortable winners. As ever the days leading to the event were fraught for Team Manager Keith Brackstone who was concerned that the team was missing the likes of Kate Goodhead, Katie Knowles, Ellie Wimshurst and Hannah Alderson –all of whom were injured. However, the late addition of Nikki Brookland strengthened the team, and with the team accumulating 4 silvers and a bronze in the last 5 years – the Team Manager was confident that another team medal was on the cards.
In an effort to give everyone someone to run at the leg order was Nikki Brookland, Vicky Tester, Charlie Wills, Grace Crane, Imogen Ainsworth and Rebekah Randell. As usual the first leg proved unrepresentative with Rose Ann Galligan (16:46) leading the way for Gloucester followed by Stacey Johnson of Cannock & Stafford in 16.57. Nikki Brookland brought Bristol & West home in third place with a 17.33 clocking. Vicky Tester (18.31) soon caught the Cannock and Gloucester second leg runners to briefly take the lead before being caught by M Kirkham of Coventry (17.56) and D Johnson (18.00) of Birchfield. Charlie Wills (17.14) ran a storming third leg to pass the Birchfield athlete and close on Coventry’s UK International Celia Taylor (17.22) as she lifted the club into second place. Grace Crane was only drafted into the ‘A’ Team on the morning of the race and took to the big time like a duck to water passing Jayne Mumford of Coventry to hand over to Imogen Ainsworth with a clear lead at the end of the fourth leg. Grace’s time was 18.43. From there on the club’s lead grew as Imogen (16.52) ran the fourth fastest leg of the day to set Rebekah up for a comfortable glory leg. Despite the lack of any pressure (or perhaps because of it) Rebekah ran 16.36 for the second fastest time of the day and with a total time of 1.45.29 the Ladies won by 4 minutes and 33 seconds from Coventry Godiva with Birchfield a further 50 seconds behind.
It was disappointing not to have a full ‘B’ team but great to see Ali Hurford enjoy herself so much running 19.26 to finish 18th on the first leg in a very competitive group (14th ran 19.16) before handing over to Sian Davies. Sian pulled up to 11th place as she ran 19.11 for the second leg despite having no one to hand over to.
Having started 20 minutes before the Women, the Men were setting the tone for the day with a 26.39 clocking for John Wills bringing the team home in third place on the first leg as Matt Clowes of Staffs Moorlands led the field in 26.22. New man Steve Francis showed he can run quick times away from his beloved Bridge Inn as a fast 14.39 lifted the club into the lead – just two seconds in front of Birchfield. On leg 3 Phil Wylie showed his versatility by clocking 14.27 to extend the lead over Birchfield to 44 seconds.
On leg 4 Tom Merson ran a lonely 27.01 and probably never saw another male athlete as the Birchfield runner closed the gap to 26 seconds. Onto leg 5 and Dan Woolford ran below expectation with a 16.02 clocking as Birchfield re-took the lead and went 27 seconds clear. This gave Mike Wilsmore something to chase on leg 6 and he duly closed to within nine seconds of Birchfield clocking 15.05 – the equal fastest time on his leg. On leg 7 Birchfield threw in one of their Kenyan athletes – Simon Tonui – and although he initially pulled away from Tom Russell, Tom has made late charges his trade mark in a Bristol & West vest and he pulled one from the bag charging up the hill to close the Birchfield man to one second as he ran 26.28 to Tonui’s 26.36.
Another Bristol University athlete Chris Dodd made a fine road relay debut for the club on leg 8 taking the lead from Ben Livesey of Birchfield as he ran 15.03 for the fastest time on his leg. Tom Lowe ran a solid 15.23 on leg 9 but couldn’t hold off Birchfield as Ian Williamson put the Stags back in front with 14.22 – the fastest short leg of the day.
On leg 10 Jean Ndayisenga – another of Birchfield’s African contingent – ran the fastest long stage of the day 25.57 – to open Birchfield’s lead out to 1 minute 39 seconds. Behind him Mike Johnson ran an excellent – if isolated – 26.52 to keep Bristol clear in second as Tipton’s cross-country international Phil Hinch ran an equally isolated 26.56 and it was pretty much medals sorted at that point.
On leg 11 Harry Webb pulled back 16 seconds on Ben Sharman of Birchfield – despite never seeing him – as Chris Warburton secured Notts AC in fourth place with a 14.33 clocking for fastest on the leg. On the last leg Steve Mitchell closed the gap marginally as he ran 14.32 to James Trollope’s 14.37 for Birchfield – behind them both Phil Nicholls ran 14.27 for Tipton.
So the final 1, 2, 3 – First: Birchfield 3.45.44, Second: Bristol & West 3.47.02 and Third: Tipton 3.48.30.
If Keith had issues trying to get two teams of 6 ladies to the start line then spare more than a thought for Mike Down who was trying to get 2 senior teams of 12 and a vets team of 6 to the start line. By Thursday it was clear that a vets team wouldn’t happen and Phil Parry, Steve Goss and Gerry Hogan were called in to bolster the ‘B’ Team – the target finish in the top 25 to qualify for the National.
Steve McGuigan looked good in training on Tuesday and carried that form into the race to come home eighth on the first leg in 28.10. Danny Randell clocked 17.17 as the team finished 15th on leg 2. Sean Hazell clocked 16.09 as he lifted the team back to 12th place on leg 3. Veteran Phil Parry pulled back another position as his 29.25 clocking brought the team up to eleventh. Dan Noad ran a very solid 16.55 to hold eleventh on leg 5. Another vet – Steve Goss – ran a fast 15.57 to lift the team to ninth at the half-way stage.
Ollie Mott – looking as if he had never had a couple of years off with injury – ran very solidly to clock a 28.12 long leg and pull back another position. On Leg 8 the ‘B’ team reached the dizzy heights of seventh thanks to a 17.28 leg from V50 vet Gerry Hogan. Newcomer Neil Williams dropped to ninth as he clocked 18.13 – only for Matt Crane to pull both places back as he finished seventh with a 28.39 clocking.
Desperate times call for desperate measures and with the team one short women’s Team Manager Keith Brackstone pulled on a club vest again and was relieved to lose only one place as he ran 18.13 on leg 11. Finally, Andy Cooke ran 16.32 – a very fast ‘B’ team time but still dropped a place as the Owls ‘A’ team anchor leg runner clocked 15.35. Still the ‘B’ team in ninth place were well inside their target of a top 25 finish and finished clear ‘B’ team winners in 4.11.10 with Notts ‘B’ next in thirteenth some 7 minutes 56 seconds behind.
All-in-all a great days running from everyone in the club which sets us up nicely for yet another tilt at the National Road-Relay Titles on 9th April 2011. Please let Keith Brackstone (women) and Mike Down (Men) know your availability for the big event – it would be great to see the club win team medals in both men’s and women’s events and in view of the support for the regional races the club will be entering two men’s teams and two women’s teams in the National 12 and 6 stage road relays. – See you all there.