Women’s Team Manager Keith Brackstone was hopeful of repeating last year’s second place when the Women’s ‘A’ Team had a very solid and experienced look to it as Paula Gowing, Kate Goodhead, Amy Chalk, Lucy MacAlister, Annabel Granger and Rebekah Randell all committed to running and this year the phone time was spent on trying to secure 6 runners to field a complete ‘B’ team.
The ‘A’ team’s strategy was to put Paula, our slowest leg on paper, on first to give the rest of the team athletes to chase. Paula gave it 100% to bring the team home in 27th place in 18:08 which was 19 seconds slower than her Midland’s run but it was a colder and windier day. With many teams fielding their fastest (or only) athlete on the first leg the team were always going to improve their position.
Leg 2 saw Kate Goodhead scythe through the field to lift the team 19 places to eighth with a 16:39 clocking (13th fastest time of the day). With Amy Chalk clocking 16:50 on Leg 3 (18th fastest of the day) and lifting the team into fifth place in the process a chance of a medal was still on. Amy clearly showing that the marathon miles for London haven’t blunted her speed on the road over shorter distances too much.
On Leg 4 Lucy MacAlister started the battle with Leeds as she lifted the team into third place clocking 16:44 (16th fastest of the day). On Leg 5 Katie Parry lifted Leeds back into third as she overtook Annabel Granger who clocked 17:43 to keep the club in with a medal shout.
On the last leg Rebekah Randell was already struggling with tight calves before the off and the on-set of a stomach upset during the leg meant that her 17:11 clocking was by no means representative of her end of cross-country form and we hope she will be back to 100% fitness by the Bristol 10k. The team finished fourth and we must take our hats off to the three teams in front – Aldershot who were outstanding and at strength throughout (and their ‘B’ Team which was fifth), Swansea who we had marked down as dark horses but who performed as thoroughbreds with some stunning individual legs amongst an all-round great team performance. Finally Leeds were solid throughout and our loss of Charlie Wills was definitely their gain.
Team Manager Keith Brackstone was delighted with the commitment of the Ladies and was disappointed for them that their performance didn’t succeed in securing a medal on the day – but this team will be back.
Thanks also to the four ‘B’ team runners who also performed well – new-comer Ellen Harrison was running the course at the same time as boy-friend Steve Francis (second leg for the Men’s Team) – and is a great addition to the squad – her 18:16 clocking is indicative of her recent improvements and there is much more to come (her 32nd place reflects the competitiveness of the first leg). Clare Stevinson was as dependable as ever passing ten to lift the ‘B’ team into 22nd place with a time of 18:21, Clare Hodgson also completed her club debut running 20:21 to finish 25th – after some time out of running Clare has yet to run any sessions so there will be a lot more to come. Kim Dyer on the fourth leg was our final runner following two drop-outs the day before the race. Kim’s 19:49 clocking saw her bring the team up to 24th and although she knew there was no-one to hand over to the spur of finishing in front of the Westbury ‘A’ team runner saw her strive to catch that place – she was heard to say ‘Old habits die hard!’.
It was also good to see Jo Emery of Coventry Godiva (16:58 for 21st fastest) and Gwenno Brown (17:23 for 38th fastest) finish 6th and 11th respectively on the first leg. Both are regular members of the club’s women’s training group.
Men’s Team Manager Mike Down could not have been more exhausted had he run seven back-to-back marathons. The vogue for warm weather and altitude training, illnesses, injuries, work and family commitments and ‘my coach doesn’t want me to run’ made his life unbearable by the end and it is no surprise that at 9 p.m. on Friday 13th April he said enough is enough. At that point the Senior Men’s Team was down to nine runners. We always knew that the team would not be as strong as the team that won the Midland Road Relays just 14 days earlier but there were people missing who had no real reason to be and it was an opportunity missed.
Jon Wills who planned his warm weather training so he was back for the National Road Relays (showing it can be done!) was solid as ever on the first leg. He came home in 26:35 expressing disappointment with his time and admitting to being fatigued from his time away warm-weather training. No matter Jon – like the true club man you are you came back and fronted up for the club. A 15:24 clocking on leg two from Steve Francis couldn’t stop the club dropping to fourteenth as the race remained very tight, with the club 58 seconds behind the leaders. On Leg 3 a 27:23 from Oli Mott lifted the club to eighth but the race was beginning to stretch out as despite catching 6 places the gap to the leaders had grown to 1 minute 56 seconds.
Cue the arrival of Tom Russell on Leg 4 and a 14:29 leg that saw the club up to fourth and 45 seconds off the lead. Tom might be about to leave us soon but if (or when) he does go it will be runs like this that will live on in the club memory. On Leg 5 Angus MacLean showed that he is in good shape going into the London Marathon as a 26:58 long leg left us second and only 42 seconds behind Tipton. Evergreen Phil Parry got in some experience over the course and distance (as if he needs it) prior to the Masters Road Relays in May to keep the team in a medal place finishing third with a 15:30 clocking as Ryan Parker of Bedford and County moved past him.
Shaun Antell dropped three places as he came home sixth with a 27:42 clocking but the team were still very much in contact with the medals at the end of Leg 7. On leg 8 Adam Speake was another (like Shaun Antell) to make the long journey from the West Country in the full knowledge that there was an incomplete team and kept the club in the top ten finishing seventh in 15:54.
And so to Leg 9 for most teams the ¾ stage of the race at the end of this leg – for us on the day it would be the finish. Again another club supporter Owain Jones ran a long leg despite a long history of knee and achilles problems (and compounded by a turned ankle out on the course). Owain’s 29:17 clocking is by no means representative of his ability (a former Welsh cross-country champion) but demonstrates his commitment to the club cause. We hope the ankle injury won’t be too serious and the ice and strapping will have helped.
A dejected Mike Down could only reflect on the journey back on the opportunity missed and the need for athletes to have a less egocentric approach if the club is to ever stand a chance of repeating the glory days of 1980 (when the club won this event in a course record almost 10 minutes quicker than this year’s winning time for Tipton Harriers).