Mike Down’s National Cross-Country Relay – Mansfield Medal Mission

While fifth place in the National 6-stage road relay championship may have 
been the frustrating common denominator of our many near medal attempts 
over the 14 years since the club re branded as Bristol and West, our 
experience in the English cross-country relay championships, albeit more 
inconsistent, has been much better rewarded, finishing third on no less 
than three occasions.

Like the 6-stage road relay, however, it is an event that the club has 
never won in its long history. This mind you is perhaps less surprising 
as with only four runners involved the leading clubs' usual superiority 
is more easily challenged. A natural consequence of this is that it is 
nearly always one of the most exciting events of the year with the top 
ten of the 200 plus teams in contention frequently finishing within the 
same minute.

Evidence of this is that the fastest overall time we have recorded was 
ten years ago in 2007 when we had to be satisfied with only seventh place  - 
close as it was to the medals and our highest position up to that date - 
when all our four runners were separated by only a few seconds, headed 
by the 15:14 clocking of ROBBIE BUGDEN, whose talent and humour we 
still miss so much following his tragic parachute accident.

It was two years later when we made the medal podium for the first time 
in the club's history after a sensational last lap by TOM RUSSELL 
snatched the bronze medals almost on the line. His time that day of 15:08 
remains our fastest apart from the legendary ROB WHALLEY'S 14:49 in 2005 
when we could still finish only ninth.

It was another four years before we finished in the frame again, only to 
be denied the bronze medals due to OWAIN JONES' name being left off our 
entry due to a computer glitch that meant we were never able to review 
our list of runners. We appealed, but it fell on deaf ears.

Undeterred OWAIN led the way the following year with our best time that 
day of 15:14, but in another close finish we had to settle for forth 
place. Then to continue the jinx two years ago we seemed certain of 
another set of medals when STEVE MITCHELL took over with a clear lead on 
the anchor leg, but looking more like a beaten up boxer with his face 
badly swollen due to a tooth abscess, his s literally gave way in the 
closing stages and we ended up only 6th

Yet how fortunes can change and last year ,very much against the odds as 
we went into the race without any  real medal hopes, especially after 
having to bring in JACK MILLAR  as a late replacement along with a half 
fit RICH PETERS, we exceeded all expectations. Inspired by a cracking 
15:12 run by WILL CHRISTOFI, with admirable back up from Owain and Jack, 
Rich managed to snatch the bronze medals behind Aldershot and Tonbridge.

So can we at last go one or two better this weekend? On the face of it 
there seems to be no reason why not, for though Rich is still out of 
commission and TOM MERSON unavailable due to a recent job switch, our 
chosen quartet looks as good as we have ever fielded and certainly 
stronger than last year's, with captain Owain able to demote himself to 
the B team.

Both JARLATH MCKENNA and DAN STUDLEY have produced outstanding 
performances recently. Jarlath surprised everyone, including himself, by 
finishing an unofficial seventh in the opening UK Cross Challenge race at 
Cardiff that was held in conjunction with the Gwent league. Not only was 
he only just behind GB international Ieuan Thomas, but within half a 
minute of Graham Rush who is arguably one of the leading distance 
runners in the country at the moment.

Dan for his part made a spectacular 10 mile debut in the Great South Run 
at Portsmouth, not only making the top ten of the huge field in ninth 
place, but also dipping under the magic 50 minute barrier at his first 
attempt at the distance in an impressive 50:41.

Meanwhile STEVE MITCHELL, who will relish a return to the 5k distance at 
Mansfield, enjoyed an easy training workout behind Jarlath in the Gwent 
League, finishing in the top ten ahead of club mates MACIEJ BIALOGONSKI 
and OWAIN JONES, while JACK MILLAR has followed up his ground-breaking 
run in the 6-stage by finishing a close second in the annual Oxford 
Cuppers cross-country event that is the first trial for the annual 
Oxbridge match in early December.

Strong as our team looks, the opposition is as tough as ever, headed by 
our two conquerors last year Aldershot and Tonbridge, who were again 
too good for us in the recent 6-stage. Likewise the new kids on the block 
Lincoln Wellington, who also beat us in the 6-stage and have gone on to 
win the Northern cross relay championship. While those three teams are 
certain to be in the shake-up, both Morpeth, the pride of the North 
East, and Highgate,  who had a battle royal the year before last, are 
also likely to figure. So it's a formidable challenge.

Anyway let's give it our best shot and dedicate our effort to Robbie 
Bugden, who led the team ten years ago. If we clock as fast an overall 
time as the boys did that day, we won't be far away!

The following are the two teams in proposed running order:

A - STEVE MITCHELL, JACK MILLAR, JARLATH MCKENNA, DAN STUDLEY.

B - JOSH MOODY, MILES CHANDLER, HARRY LANE, OWAIN JONES.

There is a minibus leaving the Water Tower on the Downs at 9.30am. 
Please let Chris or me know if you want a place. We know that most of 
you will be making your own way.

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