In the National Road Relay Championships held at an unseasonably warm Sutton Park Bristol & West Women’s Team finished second before being denied the silver medal by the Race Referee. The Men’s ‘A’ Team finished sixth but Team Manager Mike Down was hoping that after a few fallow years the team would have broken into the medals. The full stories follow.
The Women’s Race
Women’s Team Manager Keith Brackstone encountered his worst nightmare when trying to use the on-line entry system for the first time on the Friday night he found that two names he thought he had entered weeks ago weren’t appearing on the list of Bristol & West entrants. Frantic calls and emails could not raise the Race Secretary on the Friday night so it was left to race day to try and resolve the issue. After an initial sympathetic hearing from a couple of officials the decision was left to the Race Referee who declared that the two athletes who were not listed in the programme could only run in the ‘B’ Team and could then not collect individual medals if they ran the fastest legs of the day. An appeal to have the club’s best six athletes run as a ‘guest team’ was rejected and so the Team Manager took the decision to run the two athletes in the ‘B’ Team as advised but to transfer the four strongest runners from the ‘A’ team to the ‘B’ team so that the club’s strongest team ran together.
The plan for some weeks had been to run Charlie Wills, Hannah Alderson, Annabel Granger, Amy Stiles Chalk, Imogen Ainsworth and Rebekah in that order with Charlie giving the team a solid start and, as in the Midland 6-stage relay, the team getting stronger as the race progressed.
As usual several clubs who would not be contenders put their strongest athletes on the early legs to give them a good run out and it was no surprise when Charlie Wills came home in twelfth place in 17.13 (one second quicker than her Midland run). First home was Lauren Howarth with a startling 15.41 (second fastest time of the day) with Hatti Dean (16.06) second on the leg and fourth fastest on the day. This was a great performance by Charlie who chose to race against the advice of new coach Malcolm Brown after a week of hip problems.
On the second leg Hannah Alderson again proved her commitment to the club when after a few weeks out with a hip problem she agreed to run when far short of race fitness. Her stage time of 18.14 bears no comparison to what a fully fit Hannah would have run but losing only 2 places when finishing her leg in fourteenth place and one minute 23 seconds down on second place meant that the club was still in with a chance of a medal position. Leaders at this stage were still Hallamshire Harriers through a 17.42 clocking from Calli Thackery, while Beth Carter lifted Aldershot Farnham and District eight places to third with the leg’s fastest clocking of 17.10
On the third leg Annabel Granger rolled back the years as a 17.22 clocking lifted the team 11 places to third and just 7 seconds behind Aldershot’s Alice Lethbridge who had to cede the lead to Hollie Rowland who stormed to a 16.31 clocking to lift Norwich into the lead.
On Leg 4 Lily Partridge regained the lead for Aldershot with a 16.26 leg as Amy Chalk lifted Bristol & West into second place with a time of 16.35, four seconds quicker than UK Marathon International Susan Partridge whose 16.39 lifted Leeds City into third place.
A determined Imogen Ainsworth set off to chase the in-form Louise Small of Aldershot but despite closing the gap to eight seconds never quite managed to get on terms as a 16.50 clocking kept Aldershot clear of Imo’s 16.42. Further down the field Charnwood our perennial rivals in such events finally got going with home international cross-country winner Juliet Doyle’s 16.25 lifting Charnwood into the top three for the first time in the afternoon.
Up stepped Charlie Purdue – ‘saving herself for a 10k in Dublin on Sunday’ as Mick Woods succinctly put it – to show why she was first European in the World Cross. Rebekah Randell ran a great 16.34 (ninth fastest of the day) to keep the Bristol & West Ladies clear in second but she had no answer to the fire-power of the diminutive Aldershot athlete who took the day’s fastest time with a stunning 15.23. Behind these two Hannah Whitmore closed the gap on our Ladies as she ran 16.01 for third fastest leg of the day but this still left the fellow midlanders 3 minutes and six seconds adrift of the silver medals – that is until the anticipated disqualification.
Had Vicky Tester and Sian Davies ran in the ‘A’ team in place of Hannah Alderson and Annabel Granger the team’s time would have been 1 .40 seconds slower – which in theory would have meant that the club would still have been second one minute and 26 seconds clear of Charnwood – but then the race might have been wholly different.
The whole experience left Women’s Team Manager Keith Brackstone absolutely deflated at the thought of six athletes losing out on a hard-fought national silver medal due to technical problems using the on-line entry system. If there was any consolation it was knowing that the Club can now mix it with the very best at National level and if Aldershot can point to the absence of Stephanie Twell and Emma Pallant and Charnwood the absence of Gemma Steele and Tara Kryzwicki then Bristol & West also have the likes of Kate Reed, Kate Goodhead, Claire Hallissey, Katie Knowles and Ellie Wimshurst who will hopefully be available for National competitions in the future.
The other Bristol & West Women’s team consisted of Vicky Tester, Sian Davies, Rosemary Hurford and Julia Belyavin. Vicky began by finishing thirty-fifth in 18.32 in a competitive first stage that saw 66 finishers. Ever reliable Sian Davies was disappointed that her 19.04 clocking – although quicker than her time in the Midland six-stage – didn’t quite get her under the 19 minute barrier. Nevertheless it did lift the team to thirtieth place. Rosemary Hurford – back from University at Oxford – did the Hurford family proud clocking 20.48 on the third leg to bring the team home in thirty-sixth place. Julia Belyavin – despite a fall when warming–up ran 19.46 to gain one place. With no sixth runner available on the day due to an on-the-day withdrawal the injured Clare Stevinson for once put herself before the Club and decided not to run around due to injury. The standard on the day was such that had last minute injuries not deprived the club second team of the services of Camilla Briggs, Nikki Brookland and Jenny Jagger then two teams in the top eight finishers would have been a real possibility.
The Men’s Race
If Keith Brackstone dreams of a big women’s team win then a win in the National 12-stage for the men has almost assumed ‘Holy Grail’ proportions for Mike Down. As Mike approached his 50 years in coaching he really felt that although a win might prove beyond the Men’s Team a medal might be in the offing.
The ever reliable Jon Wills was lead-out man and Jon seemed to be one of several who were caught by the sudden hot day. Coming home twenty-second in 27.14 was not the start the club had hoped for but in a competitive opening stage the gap on the leader Mark Buckingham of Holmfirth who ran 26.07 was a minute and 7 seconds. Steve McGuigan’s clocking of 28.12 got the ‘B’ Team off in a creditable thirtieth place and thankfully the men had no declaration issues to worry about with all 24 having been declared successfully on-line the night before.
Into the second leg and Mike Wilsmore ran a solid 15.29 to lift the club to eighteenth place but his time was slower than his Midland’s run from three weeks before on a day when people needed to find a bit more if the medal dream was to become a reality. Danny Randell clocked 17.42 for the ‘B’ team as they slid 16 places to forty-sixth. Fastest second leg of the day was Daniel Clorley of Luton with 14.11.
Phil Wylie began a busy afternoon with a 27.00 clocking to lift the club to twelfth place – he then followed his leg with a 40k bike ride and 5k time trial as preparation for a Duathlon next week. Phil Parry ran 29.28 to lift the ‘B’ Team four places to forty-second. Fastest third leg was UK cross-country and steeplechase international James Wilkinson of Leeds who ran 26.17. Second fastest leg 3 was Ben Noad with a 26.32 (wouldn’t Ben be a great addition before the 2012 event).
New-comer Charlie Maclean – cheered on by Coach Tom Watson – ran really well after a couple of weeks with a cold to post 15.01 as he lifted the team into the top 10 in tenth place. Phil Lucker – who answered a late call from Mike – ran 18.03 to bring the ‘B’ Team home in forty-fourth place. Fastest fourth leg was Jermaine Mays of Kent AC in 14.04.
Angus Maclean ran a great 27.07 fifth leg to edge the club up to ninth and just under two minutes behind the race leaders who at this time were Belgrave. Andy Chamber’s run of 28.59 lifted the ‘B’ Team to forty-second. One of Birchfield’s African Legion clocked the fastest leg time of 26.03 as he lifted the Stags nine places up to fourth.
Steve Francis was again under 15 minutes as his 14.52 clocking (fourth fastest on the leg) kept the club in ninth but closed 20 seconds down on leaders Belgrave. At the half-way point 43 seconds off third place meant that a medal was still a possibility but the spark that is needed to get the team fired up and start a charge just didn’t seem to be materialising. Simon Thornton’s clocking of 16.35 was a good ‘B’ Team leg but as the gaps down the field grew it was only good enough to pull back one place to forty-first. John Beattie’s 14.05 fastest stage leg lifted Newham and Essex Beagles five places into the second slot.
Into the second half and was Tom Russell’s strong leg finally going to start a charge as his 26.53 clocking pulled back two places and lifted the club to seventh. More importantly up front Belgrave were running out of steam and Bristol were now less than a minute off the lead and 29 seconds off third (at this point thoughts went back to the Midlands where Jon Wills and Mike Wilsmore were a combined 57 seconds quicker than at the National). Ollie Mott showed he is getting fitter running 28.19 to catch three places for the ‘B’ Team and lift them into thirty–eighth place. Phil Hinch of Tipton with a 26.51 clocking just eclipsed Tom Russell for fastest stage by 2 seconds.
Leg eight saw Chris Dodd run a well judged leg to pass the Belgrave and Birchfield runners up the final hill and as the club hit the two-thirds distance in fifth place was a medal about to appear like the proverbial rabbit out of a hat. Even Chris’ time of 15.14 though was marginally slower than his 15.03 run in the Midland. Steve Goss posted a super-quick 15.16 for the ‘B’ team following Nick Talbot of Notts AC ‘B’ team who ran a staggering 14.38 for the second fastest eighth stage. Nick McCormick posted the day’s fastest short stage on this leg with a 13.49 clocking (but would this prove costly for Morpeth later?).
The penultimate long leg saw Tom Merson ‘fresh’ from some Axe to Exe madness run 27.40 but still lose a place as Jean Ndayisenga ran 26.13 for Birchfield but even this was overshadowed as Phil Nicholls 25.48 for the fastest long stage of the day took Tipton into the lead. Further down the field Tom Kingsnorth – another to answer a last minute plea from Mike Down – clocked 32.36 to lose one place.
Harry Webb ran 15.11 to hold sixth place keeping a six second gap in front of seven placed Leeds. By now the leaders Tipton were all but 3 minutes clear and a medal was 2 minutes away. Matt Peters lifted the ‘B’ team to thirty-seventh with 16.52 – showing that his recent spell of injury has left him short of fitness. Ian Williamson of Birchfield Harriers followed up his fastest short stage in the Midlands (14.22) with a 14.38 lap for fastest stage ten – to show that it wasn’t only the Bristol athletes who were finding the conditions less conducive to good times than the Midlands.
On Leg 11 up front Morpeth edged into the lead past Tipton and the stage was set for a great showdown on the last leg. Ian Hudspith of Morpeth running 26.25 (the fastest leg time) to catch Ian Williams of Tipton (27.28) as they changed over with both teams given the same end of leg cumulative time of 3.56.11. Michael Johnson had a torrid time for Bristol & West – the hot conditions inducing an asthma attack – he battled bravely to the finish and did well to hold the Leeds City runner to a 10 second gap. For the ‘B’ team Andy Cooke (30.49) stayed in thirty-seventh catching one but in turn being caught by the City of Norwich runner.
The last leg proved to be a cracker: Ian Rawlinson (Tipton) and Matthew Nicholson (Morpeth) ran through the first mile shoulder-to-shoulder whilst behind James Shane of Newham and Essex Beagles tore after the pair of them. In the end the Tipton man (14.25) broke his Morpeth counterpart and held off James Shane to give the green and white hoops victory in 4.10.36 by 22 seconds as James (14.19) lifted Newham to silver by just 4 seconds from Morpeth 4.10.58 to 4.11.02. Steve Mitchell – after an initial surge to pass Leeds to re-take sixth place – cruised around in 14.39 in the third fastest stage time. The team’s overall time of 4.14.25 being over 2 minutes behind fifth and 3 minutes 23 outside a medal. Dan Woolford literally spilt blood in the ‘B’ team cause going over on the gravel as he lifted his team to finish thirty-fourth with a time of 16.12.
So one of the premier team events of the year in the road-racing calendar passes the club by without a medal again. Is there cause for optimism? I think so – the club does have a talented group of young athletes and there are other clubs with distinctly aging squads. The 1980 team’s time still sits proudly on the National Road-Relay record books – but will we ever see a 4.00.37 clocking again from the Club Men’s team? I think Mike Down might find the Holy Grail first.