Mike Down’s National Six-Stage Reflections

Yet another fine hard core effort boys, albeit not delivering the overdue climax we had been hoping for. Medalling is possibly more difficult and certainly less predictable in this event than the 12-stage as many more clubs can field up to six fast guys. This of course makes it even more imperative to get all your top runners out as losing just one can make all the difference as we found out again on Saturday when we had to replace JACK BANCROFT the day before.

Our record in the race since I took over as team manager back in 2004 – the first time we competed as Bristol and West – makes interesting reading. We certainly soon put the rock bottom 50th place finish the previous year behind us and since have built up an impressive record, but without ever quite hitting the jackpot. 2006 remains the only time the club has ever medalled in the 6-stage. Not even the legendary 12-stage team managed it.

2003 50th in 1:59:22

2004 4th  in 1:47:29

2005 14th in 1:50:19

2006 3rd in 1:47:01

2007 5th in 1:46:14 (our best ever time)

2008  4th in 1:46:41

2009 13th in 1:47:12

2010 11th in 1:48:27

2011 6th in 1:46:48

2012 10th (Clumber Park – foot and mouth)

2013 10th in 1:48:18 (Phil Parry V50 late replacement)

2014  15th (4th or 5th likely as Oli Mott missed Will Christofi finishing at first changeover costing more than 3 minutes)

2015 5th in 1:48:02

2016 11th  (4th most likely as Rich Peters took over in 4th on the last leg but tore a calf and hobbled round in 19:50)

2017 5th in 1:47:58

Practically speaking we have therefore finished “5th” at least for the last four years, so you can understand my continued frustration as Team Manager. Yet after JACK MILLAR’S brilliant opening leg to finish within sight of the lead in eleventh place in 17:39 (a remarkable 47 seconds faster than his Midland time), it looked as if this could be our year, especially when TOM MERSON followed it up by storming through to fourth  with his best ever time over the course of 17:49. With JARLATH MCKENNA and DAN STUDLEY both expected to improve on their Midland times, medals seemed to beckon, but nothing in this event ever seems to go to script for us, and neither Jarlath nor Dan could find that bit extra required to give our brave reserve MACIEJ BIALOGONSKI the gap he needed to give STEVE MITCHELL a sporting chance on the anchor leg.

Not that Jarlath or Dan failed to keep us at the sharp end. Despite slipping back to seventh Jarlath’s 18:04  was only four seconds slower than he had been at the Midlands, while Dan, who subsequently admitted he had clearly not fully recovered from his impressive half marathon debut the previous weekend in Amsterdam, was similarly only a few seconds slower than at the Midlands and his 17:41 still pulled back five places to put us in the silver medal position.

It was a real baptism of fire in the A team for poor Maciej, the late replacement for Jack Bancroft, and made even more daunting as he set off with the Tonbridge, Lincoln and Aldershot runners racing together hot on his heels. Running scared like that he inevitably went off too hard, and like Dan feeling the effect of his fine PB in the previous weekend’s Cardiff half, he wilted on the final drag to the finish, losing he reckons another 15 seconds or so and another place to Liverpool with a time of 18:58.

Unfortunately Steve, now back in sixth place, never saw the medal chasing trio until the dog leg out to the turn when they were already well on their way back, and though he had no trouble passing the Liverpool runner he had to be content with another solid time of 17:48  for yet another fifth place finish – frustratingly just outside the Englsh championship medals.

Sadly due to Jack’s late withdrawal and MARK EDWARDS pulling out with a cold , the B team was incomplete despite Chris and my exhaustive efforts the night before to find replacements. Even so nothing deterred JOSH MOODY from clocking 18:42 to slash more than 20 seconds off his Midland effort on the opening leg. MILES CHANDLER’S 18:46 was just six seconds slower, but probably worth a tad faster as he had been on the opening stage for the A team at the Midlands.

For his part ROBBIE STEWART’S 19:42  was six seconds to the good on the third stage,  while PHIL RADFORD’S impressive 18:39 on the fourth suggests he could challenge for a place in the A team for the 12-stage. This left ROSS GRAINGER to complete our quintet. His 20:53 virtually matched his Midland time, though he vows he will be well under 20 next year and we are sure he can.

So once again we live to fight another day! Our short term target surely must be to make amends in next month’s National cross-country relays, in which we were surprise bronze medallists last year. Dan, Tom, Jack, and yes Steve too have all indicated they are up for it and would prove a formidable quartet considering their times were all within ten seconds of each other at Sutton Park.  It’s revenge time guys, but please don’t finish fifth!!

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