The Bristol and West men’s team was cruelly denied what looked a gilt-edged medal-winning opportunity on a dramatic last leg of the National 6-stage road relay championship at Birmingham’s Sutton Park.
They had executed a strategic plan to work their way progressively through the top class field for Dan Studley to hand over to their leading runner Rich Peters in 4th place for the final showdown on the anchor stage.
It seemed odds-on that Peters, potentially the team’s fastest runner after his outstanding run in their Midland title-winning effort two weeks ago, would catch Northern champions Liverpool to take the bronze medals at very least behind the Welsh duo of Cardiff and Swansea.
But Peters was nursing a calf muscle strain contracted in training earlier in the week, though after warming up he was confident it would settle down as long as he started cautiously.
“Although it was sore I really thought it would be OK once I got going, but almost with my first stride I felt a stab of pain,” said a devastated Peters.
“I tried to race, but it became impossible as the pain was constant every stride I took and I was reduced to little more than a jog.
“Two weeks ago I was the hero, but now I felt more like the villain for letting the guys down as I was really confident with my current form that I could have got close to the runners in front.”
Even before the race started the team’s fortunes had been compromised by the late withdrawal of Tom Merson with a suspected broken foot and Ben Westhenry , who was stricken with a gut bug.
Yet their replacements Will Christofi and Jarlath McKenna more than played their part in mounting the team’s medal challenge.
Christofi (17:56), back to near his best with a time some three quarters of a minute faster than he had recorded in the Midland event, gave the team a solid start finishing 14th of the near hundred strong line-up that Owain Jones (18:11) sustained despite losing two places.
McKenna (17:41) not for the first time then proved a real revelation by clocking the team’s second fastest split and moving up seven places to 9th at halfway only just over a minute off the lead.
Former England 1,500 metre champion Steve Mitchell (17:46) then further reduced the deficit, gaining two more places to hand over in 7th to Studley (17:26), who despite it being his first race since mid-summer proved his fitness by clocking the team’s fastest leg to just pip defending champions Tonbridge and set Peters up in 4th place.
Despite his predicament, and running at least two and a half minutes slower than anticipated, Peters (19:51) still only lost seven places to finish just outside the top ten.
“What happened was a real shame, but we have again shown that we are a match for the best teams in the country and will be all out to make amends in the real big one – the 12-stage next April,” commented Studley.
For his part Studley is off to Portugal this week to prepare for next month’s National 10K championship that is being held in conjunction with the Leeds Abbey Dash that he won last year.