Here’s Mike Down’s assessment of the senior men’s race last weekend. Read on for stories of effort, commitment and banana cake.
Reports on the ladies and juniors to follow!
MIKE DOWN’S NATIONAL ROAD RELAY COUNTOUT !
It might be disingenuous to say that the highlight of the day for me was the post-race banana cake expertly crafted by our aspiring bake off contender Owain Jones, but to be frank to finish only 18th was a disappointing result in the light of our impressive record in this event over the last 15 years – our lowest since 2005 when we were 14th in an almost identical time and the only other occasion when the team failed to finish inside 1hr 50mins.
This is not in any way to undermine the effort and committment of our eight runners (there were only two in the B team), and it is true that the overall times at the front of the race indicate that the standard was perhaps higher than it has been in the past five years, with the three medallists Stockport, Leeds and Aldershot all clocking times well inside 1hr 46mins. The time for instance that we clocked last year in 5th place would have been good enough for only 9th on Saturday. It suggests that my top ten target was perhaps over ambitious when you compare the composition of the two teams and our lowly 5th place in the Midland championship. But one could hardly have set a meeker target!
Yet we have to admit that the result was still well short of our expectations and suggests that maybe we are not keeping pace with the apparently ever rising standards of the competition, particularly when bearing in mind that for the past three years we have finished in the top six (or certainly would have but for mishaps on two occasions) in both the 6 and 12-stage championships. As a general rule, as I indicated in my preview, the majority of our runners always run between 10 and 20 seconds faster in the National than in the Midland race due to the higher level of competition, but Jack Millar was the only one of our four runners in action to do so, as well as being the only one member of the team to better the 18min average achieved last year. Owain almost matched his Midland time, while Jarlath, admittedly nursing the after effect of a heavy cold, was slower, as were B team pair Phil Radford and Miles Chandler.
Of the trio who missed the Midlands Steve Mitchell, though acknowledging beforehand that he was some way short of race fitness, admitted he had expected to run significantly faster, while despite Harry Allen and Mike Wilsmore running creditably enough, they both may still not have fully recovered from their fine efforts in the Bristol half marathon. Whatever the exccuses – and the biggest of all being the number of likely first choice runners unavailable – we need to face a reality check of what’s needed to recover the top six ranking we have established among the country’s leading clubs in recent years.
As for the race detail, we certainly got off to a positive start as JACK MILLAR (17:56) had promised. He may have been back in 25th position at the first changeover, but he was no more than three-quarters of a minute off the lead in what was a talent-packed opening stage headed by international JONNY MELLOR (17:10). OWAIN JONES (18:03) then had a sea of runners lined up ahead of him, as he’d had at the Midlands, and duly moved up eight places to 17th on the second leg, but that’s where our expected progression stalled.
Next up HARRY ALLEN (18:24) held his position without making further progress, while JARLATH MCKENNA (18:29), who was not expecting to be at his best due to the cold he had suffered since the Midlands, not only failed to make any further headway, but actually lost a place that a clearly undercooked STEVE MITCHELL (19:01) could not improve on the penultimate stage, leaving MIKE WILSMORE (18:23) with too big a gap ahead to make any further impression. Earlier PHIL RADFORD (18:40) and MILES CHANDLER (20:12), hardly surprisingly when running for a depleted B team, failed to match their Midland efforts.
Despite our rather uninspiring performance the ladies saved the day, for their 8th place meant we still managed to finish only just outside the top six clubs in the country on the combined rankings in 7th place, albeit some way short of the regular top three position we have consistenly occupied in recent years. So all is not lost, but the challenge now is to make amends in next month’s English cross-country relay championships, for which Chris and I have received encouraging early support.