The late withdrawal of Rob Bugden with a stress fracture in his foot hit the Men’s ‘A’ Team but on paper the team still looked strong enough to match recent performances which had seen the team finish in the top four every year since 2005.
With John Wills content to settle in second for the first half of the first lap the team looked set for a good start and when John moved into the lead on the return half of the dog leg on the first long stage we couldn’t have asked for a better start. Jon’s time of 26:24 was fourth fastest long stage of the day and brought him home 3 seconds in front of UK Inter-Services Champion Ben Livesey running for Birchfield. Craig Peters made an appearance and showed that class will out. Despite over a year away from the sport he still looked lean and some 20 minute tempo runs around Yate had convinced him that he could cope with a short stage – and so it proved as he lost one place to finish second with a 15:52 clocking. What price sub-15:30 come the National’s in two weeks time. On this leg Tom Purnell took Stroud into an early lead but it was clear that they were front loading their team. On the third leg Steve Francis, another returning to competition after a fairly lean year, showed he is further on with his training than Craig as he ran a solid 15:27 to retain second place and record fourth fastest time on his leg.
The second long leg (Stage 4) saw Phil Wylie start like a man on a mission and so it proved as he gained the lead and clocked the joint fastest long stage of the day with a 26:20 clocking. Behind T Shifferaw for Birchfield ran exactly the same time to lift Birchfield three places into second 1 minute 27 seconds behind Bristol & West. Fellow duathlete Rhys Park then ran with great maturity as he clocked 14:52 to extend the club’s lead – a great leg for an 18 year-old out in front on his own. Behind Rhys, Mark Mitchell closed twenty seconds for Birchfield with the second fastest short stage (14:32). Steve Mitchell on leg 6 was hoping for a race but didn’t have one as he time trialled around to a 14:37 for third fastest short leg of the day. Steve admitted to feeling a bit leg heavy – no surprise there as he is half way through a heavy training block. Birchfield had a bad leg and Tipton came through to second but the gap was 3 minutes and 7 seconds.
The third long leg was always going to be critical and Shaun Antell was promoted to this honour after two recent good half-marathon performances. Shaun did not disappoint with a 27:29 leg. Behind James Trollope (26:21) took Birchfield back past Tipton for whom Phil Nicholls ran 27:32. The lead was down to 2 minutes 3 seconds. Tom Merson – another athlete returning from injury – clocked 15:07 in his first race since November and the gap was back up to 2 minutes 38 seconds. Out came Tom Russell for leg 9 and his 14:42 saw the lead up to 3 minutes 18 seconds. Tim Dalton ran 14:31 on this leg for Severn AC for the fastest short stage of the day.
Oli Mott cut a lone figure on the final long leg (Stage 10) as he ran 27:49 – afterwards he said he was hoping to run quicker but it is a difficult venue to run quickly on your own as shown by some of the other times posted on his leg from the other runners for the teams in the top six. Nathan Young looked well in control as he clocked 15:09 for the second fastest stage on Leg 11. Charlie McLean then ran a solo 14:55 as he brought the team home to a clear victory. Team Manager Mike Down was delighted with the win – which represented a good return for his hours on the phone. His only disappointment being that a few of the team won’t be available for the Nationals in two weeks time due to warm weather or altitude training.
The club entered a Senior Men’s ‘B’ Team and despite Mike’s best efforts it was incomplete on the day. Danny Randell gave them a solid start with 29:50 on the first leg (29th). Adam Speake pulled back 12 places with a fine run on the second leg as his 15:47 clocking brought him home seventeenth (and he was five seconds quicker than Craig for the ‘A’ Team). Gerry Hogan’s 17:31 kept the team in seventeenth. Gareth Cullen ran 32:31 as the team dropped back to twenty-third – many thanks to Gareth for running in the middle of his London Marathon preparation. On leg 5 John Downsborough, a product of Chris Elson’s group, caught up 3 places to bring the club into twentieth place. Mike Jacobs kept the forward momentum going as his 16:33 lifted the team to eighteenth place. Unfortunately at that point we ran out of numbers and so weren’t able to reproduce 2011’s performance when the ‘B’ team finished ninth.
Like the Men, the Women have a good record in these Championships and have medalled every year since 2004. Team Manager Keith Brackstone was keen to keep this run going and like Mike Down in the Men’s race thought leg order would be crucial to getting the most out of the team.
Paula Gowing gave the team the solid start they hoped for as she finished sixth in 17:49. Emma Bowers ran a gutsy 20:25 on the second leg as she battled to keep the team in the top 10. Step up Annabel Gummow who the team manager hoped would pull the team back into the scrap and she didn’t disappoint. Annabel’s 15:50 leg time not only took the fastest lap of the day but was also a championship record eclipsing Jane Potter’s time of 15:54 from 2008 by 4 seconds. Her run lifted the team to third 21 seconds down on Westbury Harriers.
On stage 4 Kim Dyer kept the team in medal contention, dropping to fifth as Trentham and then Notts AC went past. Rebekah Randell pulled the team back up to third on the penultimate leg clocking 17:03 but will be disappointed having run 16:36 last year and her recent form on the country has been better than in 2011. Long-time club servant Clare Stevinson did not disappoint on the final leg as she held on to third position to give the team a well deserved bronze – her time was 18:18.
Special mention must be made of Sarah Everitt who travelled to Sutton Park to give the team cover if needed – her reward was a very good 19:56 clocking for twenty-fifth on the first leg.
Overall it was another good day for the club but it was frustrating to think of the quality of some of the athletes who did not compete. Local neighbours and rivals Westbury Harriers won the women’s race and we take our hats off to them and to their Team Manager Tamsin – a great result and especially well done to get all of your top six ladies fit and at the start line on the day – as Mike and Keith can testify that is a real feat!