Today’s the day: Mike Down’s National Cross Country Relay Countdown

03 Nov


Right guys it’s a redemption mission today! This is an early opportunity to put our disappointing performance in the National 6-stage well and truly to bed. We may never have won this event since its first staging that I actually reported on at Crystal Palace in 1985, but our record since the club’s rebranding 15 years ago has been more than respectable, having taken the bronze medals twice in 2008 and 2016 as well as finishing third team in 2012 before being disqualified on a technical error.

While we did not contest the race in 2013, our consistently impressive record over the past four years has confirmed our position among the top six clubs in the country, finishing 4th in 2014, 6th in 2015, 3rd as already mentioned in 2016, and 5th last year. When one bears in mind that the race is regularly contested by over 200 teams – there are 207 entered this year – it’s a record to be proud of, and one that we must go all out to maintain in what is arguably the most fiercely contested of all the relay championships due to the fact that many clubs can field four good runners. Proof of this is that frequently there’s no more than a minute covering the top ten clubs over the 20km distance. To further emphasise just how competitive it can be the best overall time we have recorded in the event in 2007 still left us back in only 7th place.

So what can we expect this year? To make the podium again would require something exceptional as Stockport, winners more than once in recent years, will start the hottest of favourites after their convincing victory in the recent 6-stage championship, while last year’s winners and National cross and 12-stage champions Tonbridge and the 2016 champions Aldershot are sure to fancy their chances too. Throw into the mix the newly crowned area cross relay champions Preston (North), Tipton (Midlands) and Highgate (South) as well as perennial Northern rivals Leeds, Liverpool, Lincoln, and Morpeth, plus Midland 6-stage champions Birchfield and other leading Southern contenders Belgrave and Shaftesbury-Barnet, and it is clear that even making the top ten will be no mean achievement.

It is not helping that of our two fastest runners in last year’s 5th placed team DAN STUDLEY is away on holiday, and JARLATH MCKENNA moving house to Newcastle. Even so WILL CHRISTOFI and JACK MILLAR, who led our silver medal-winning team in the National cross championships earlier in the year, are both back, along with OWAIN JONES, who has been in fine early season form, while the A team will be completed by the revelation of the South West road running season this autumn PETER LE GRICE.

Pete’s recent form has been nothing short of spectacular, setting pb’s like confetti. I reported last week on his remarkable marathon/half marathon double, but that wasn’t enough and last Sunday he made it a hat-trick , this time slashing his 10K best by nearly two full minutes to 29:44 in scoring a convincing victory for Cornwall in the South West Inter-Counties championship held in conjunction with the Gloucester 10K.

Given decent conditions an average of 15:30 per 5K leg will normally guarantee a place in the top six and that must be our target. Will and Owain’s best times on the course of 15:12 and 15:14 suggests such a time is not beyond us, but whatever happens our minimum target must be a place in the top ten.

Perhaps the most encouraging feature of this year’s event is that selection has not been straightforward. The B team is certainly the strongest we have ever fielded and will be looking to improve on last year’s 16th position, which was a welcome surprise in itself. JOSH MOODY is the only survivor from that team and will be joined by one of our top track men JACK BANCROFT and the club’s two rising stars HARRY ALLEN and KURT TAYLOR. They could well have the A team in their sights and must be contenders for the leading B team, as surely will the strong C team line-up  of PHIL RADFORD, ANDY WATT. ROBBIE STEWART and MILES CHANDLER.

After a cracking final training session on Tuesday there is a buzz of expectation in the camp and we are not going to fail for lack of motivation. The home based B team squad are out to surprise their peers. So come on lads in true Nike parlance let’s just do it!!

The teams in proposed running order are – A: Jack Millar, Will Christofi, Owain Jones, Pete Le Grice. B: Josh Moody, Harry Allen, Kurt Taylor, Jack Bancroft. C: Robbie Stewart, Andy Watt, Phil Radford, Miles Chandler. There is a minibus leaving the Watertower on the Downs at 8.45am. If you have not already booked a place or there is a change in your travel arrangements please let Chris know  asap.