05 Oct

Mike Down looks ahead to the Senior Men’s race at tomorrow’s National Road Relays…

Many more clubs can be competitive in the autumn road relay championships, with six runners rather than the twelve required for the spring championship, which is still rightly regarded as the supreme test of a club’s true strength in depth. The net result is that there are many more teams to consider when assessing prospects for success in the 6-stage event.

Our overall record here in the 14 championships since the club’s rebranding as Bristol and West is a testament to just how difficult it is to medal against the top 80 or so top teams in the country. We have only managed it once, taking the bronze medals more than ten years ago in 2006. Even so we can be proud of our overall record, having finished in the top six no less than eight times in those 14 years, and it should have been ten but for the mishaps in 2014 and 2016. Just how difficult it is to medal is highlighted by the fact that we have literally knocked at the door in 4th or 5th place on six occasions.

This year’s race presents an even more daunting prospect for our tean after having finished only 5th in the area championship that we had won in the three previous years’ Admittedly we were without a host of our normal first choice runners, including Steve Mitchell, Dan Studley, Rich Peters, Mike Wilsmore, Will Christofi, Jack Bancroft, Luke Evans, Harry Allen, Ben Westhenry, Andy Chambers and Kurt Taylor – almost two complete teams in fact! But having said that only Steve, Mike and Harry of that number will be in our line-up on Saturday.

The harsh reality is that to have any chance of a top six place you need to average 18 mins per stage. In the Midland event our average was half a minute slower than that, so we have a mountain to climb to match that sort of target. As a general rule of thumb one finds that most of one’s  runners, weather permitting, tend to better their Midland times by between 10 and 20 seconds. but even if our runners achieve that on Saturday it suggests a place in the top 10 is realistically the best we can hope for. That certainly must be our target.

Unfortunately the opposition too looks more formidable than ever this year. On current form the three area champions Aldershot, Lincoln and Birchfield, as well as Southern runners-up  National 12-stage and cross-country champions Tonbridge. look well out of reach, while depending on their representation in the Cardiff half marathon the two top Welsh clubs Cardiff and Swansea both have top three teams on paper. Throw into the equation our perennial rivals Leeds and Liverpool from the North; our other Midland conquerors Tipton, Cheltenham and Notts; plus several other leading Southern teams such as Highgate, Shaftesbury-Barnet and Southampton and that top ten target would be no mean achievement.

I have always claimed that any club only manages to get all its first choice runners out roughly once every ten years, and once again we are proving that! Nevertheless to finish on a positive note the team selected for Saturday looks considerably stronger than the one we fielded in the Midlands, with our recent Bristol Half stars Harry Allen and Mike Wilsmore plus team captain Steve Mitchell all available. Unfortunately at the time of writing the B team remains incomplete though Phil Radford, Miles Chandler and Simeon Howson have all indicated they will run anyway.