The sun shone on Sutton Park for the second time in three weeks as the Senior National Road Relay Championships enjoyed unseasonably sunny weather just as the Midland Senior Relays had done.
Again the ladies were up first with a noon start and the ladies team manager was delighted to be fielding three full ladies teams. On the first leg for the ‘A’ team Steph Barnes all but matched her Midland time with a 15.08 clocking to finish fifteenth and it must be said that the effects of a cold during the week were more apparent than she hoped would be the case. The ‘B’ team got a tremendous start through Olivia Sadler who found the competition of a first leg outing helped her to thirteenth place in 15.01 – a time that was a lot quicker than her Midland clocking. The’C’ team came home in eighty-first place as Charlotte Green led a team comprised almost entirely of athletes who joined the club as recreational runners a matter of months ago.
The second leg saw Kate Goodhead storm through the field to lift the ‘A’ team into second place – some of her mountain racing exploits might not have produced the results she was hoping for but training for them has left her strong as she clocked 14.20 for what was to be the eighth fastest leg of the day. Sian Davies was drafted into the ‘B’ Team overnight (Nikki Brookland strikes again) and ran a great leg in 17.26 to bring the ‘B’ Team home in thirty-first place. For the ‘C’ Team Emma (Hills what hills?) Bowers made up fourteen places to lift the team into sixty-seventh place.
The third leg saw a real race within a race of three of the UK’s most talented youngsters went head-to-head. Out in front Emilia Gorecka ran 14.30 to retain Aldershot’s lead, behind her Annabel Gummow shaved 8 seconds off her Midlands time as she ran a very quick 14.15 (for sixth fastest time of the day in her first year of senior competition) but even that was not enough to hold off Hannah Walker as the Birchfield athlete edged past into second with the fourth fastest time of the day. The ‘B’ team were in thirty-third place as Kim Dyer ran 17.14 to give us a glimpse of her potential Sarah Everitt continued the rise of the ‘C’ team as her 19.11 clocking lifted the ‘C’ team to sixty-third place.
And so to the final leg – an initial surge saw Rebekah Randell lift the club into second place but in front and behind the top two UK athletes on the road were setting the Park alight. Charlotte Purdue brought Aldershot home to a comfortable win with a 13.48 clocking – no way Rebekah was going to close on that – but there was a threat from behind as Gemma Steele advanced Charnwood’s cause with a stunning 13.45 to record the fastest lap of the day. Rebekah – running with heavy strapping to ankle ligaments damaged whilst warming up at the Gwent League at Bridgend ran a solid 15.07 to bring the ‘A’ tyeam home for bronze medals. Further down the field the ‘B’ and ‘C’ team last leg runners were also producing sterling runs – Paula Gowing lifted the ‘B’ team nine places to twenty-fourth as she clocked 16.07. For the ‘C’ team Clare Stevinson shrugged off injuries – and once again displayed true club spirit – to run 17.08 and lift the ‘C’ team five places to fifty-eighth. For the record the ‘B’ team finished third ‘B’ team and the ‘C’ team finished third ‘C’ team – a very consistent performance.
For both the club and the fastest lap times overall there was something of an arrival of the young guns with several young athletes performing exceptionally well.
Shortly before the ladies received their bronze medals the Senior Men’s Relay got under way with the evergreen Jon Wills leading out the ‘A’ team and youngster Rhys Park leading the ‘B’ team. As usual there was a close finish and although Jon was eleventh his time of 17.29 was only 23 seconds down on race leader Ricky Stevenson of New Marske. Rhys recorded 18.30 in finishing forty-eighth. On leg two Charlie MacLean showed that he had learnt a lot from the Midland Relays and a couple of weeks additional training enabled him to cut 41 seconds off that time as a 17.36 lifted the club into fifth place. Shaun Antell made the long journey from Devon worthwhile as he caught seven places lifting the ‘B’ team to forty-first with a time of 18.23.
Like Charlie, Steve Mitchell found a further three weeks training of great benefit after his end of track break and his 17.49 would surely have been even quicker had it not been for a stomach bug (or was it his dodgy cooking?). Namesake (and also fellow Bristol University graduate) Steve (Francis) caught one place for the ‘B’ team running 19.01. Past half-way and Tom Merson (a late promotion to the ‘A’ team following Rob Bugden’s withdrawal with injury) kept the club in the hunt as 18.26 saw him finish in ninth position. For the ‘B’ Team Phil Parry ran 19.32 to come home forty-second. Phil Wylie gave his usual battling performance and caught two places to finish seventh with a 17.48 clocking. Oli Mott took time off from his Doctor’s duties and having told Mike Down he was in ‘just about sub-19 shape’ proved it to clock 18.55 but this was only enough to gain one place.
On the last leg Tom Russell pulled out a 17.40 time to send Team Manager Mike Down – ‘if we perform well we’ll make the top six’ – home happy. For the ‘B’ team an 18.31 clocking from Chris Dodd that lifted the team eleven places to thirty-first sent his coach Keith Brackstone home happy.
Two great team performances and some really good pointers for the future with former junior stars returning to senior competition when finding child-minding is one of the key tasks pre-race, good youngsters stepping up to the senior ranks and performing well and former recreational runners making debuts in national competitions within months of starting running with the club made it an enjoyable day at a sunny Sutton Park.