MIKE DOWN’S NATIONAL CROSS RELAY REFLECTIONS
“NOT ANOTHER 5TH PLACE!” might be the reaction of our home made election guru Brenda of Brustol. Yet uncanny as it is how many times in recent years we have finished 5th in National road/cross-country relay championships, finishing that close to the medals and fifth best in the country against nearly 200 teams is not to be sniffed at. However one feels about the outcome, our runners certainly put us back where we belong among Britain’s leading distance running teams after our indifferent performance in the recent 6-stage championship.
At the same time one cannot help but be frustrated at a record that sees us forever falling just short of the promised land. Just reflect on our results over the last five years: 2014 4th, 2015 6th; 2016 3rd; 2017 5th; 2018 5th. Our failure to find the winning formula is open to question. Perhaps the fact that we have rarely fielded anything like tha same quartet has something to do with it. But a more likely explanation is that we have lacked the one runner such as our all-time fastest ROB WHALLEY (14:49) as in all five years our runners’ times have all been remarkably close without any real standouts. This year again, bearing in mind that the first leg is up to 10 seconds shorter, our four times were all within approximately a quarter of a minute of each other.
Once again our overall time was almost spot on the 15:30 average that invariably ensures a top six finish. In fact we were just three seconds short of that target, but actually marginally faster than when we took the bronze medals two years ago. The harsh reality is that to have any hope of winning the event we need to be up to some 20 seconds a man faster, while in this year’s ideal conditions it would have been almost exactly 25 seconds as the Leeds winning quartet averaged 15:05 a man. While that may seem beyond us at present, the availability of our international pair DAN STUDLEY and a fit again RICH PETERS could feasibly make the difference as of course might the continued progress of our talented younger runners WILL CHRISTOFI, JACK MILLAR, HARRY ALLEN and KURT TAYLOR. So this is no time for despondency as the players needed to go that extra mile are possibly already in our ranks. Everyone just has to work that little bit harder and perhaps be more selective in their racing programmes.
So much for what could be, it’s time now to celebrate our revival in fortunes following the 6-stage debacle, for our three teams collectively demonstrated the club’s growing strength in depth, with our peer team’s 5th best actually being upstaged by the B and C teams, who were 4th and 3rd best in their respective categories. Robbie, or should I say his smart phone, is claiming bragging rites! T have attended most of these championship races since they were moved from Crystal Palce to Mansfield in 1989, but cannot recall when conditions were drier with vitually no mud in the woodland section of the course. However the strong winds on the day left many of the runners complaining of the dust being kicked up in their faces by the runners ahead of them in the woods where the traffic problems encountered on such a short 2.5k lap are raising serious concerns regarding the size of the field. Too many were complaining of being slowed down by lapped runners. Maybe it’s time the ECCA considered some form of qualifying procedure via the area championships as happens for the road relays. That would also boost interest in the area races that have never been supported as enthusiastically as the road events.
In the prevailing conditions getting off to a good start was more critical than ever, and JACK MILLAR certianly rose to the occasion, resuming the remarkable progress he made last season by setting our fastest time of the day, even allowing for the shorter opening stage, at 15:14 for the 5k distance. Always on the heels of the leading group he finished just inside the top ten of the huge 179 strong field in 9th place. Any doubts about WILL CHRISTOFI’S readiness for action in this company after his long summer lay-off due to injury were soon dispelled as he characteristically paced his effort according to his current fitness to clock a more than creditable 15:40 and actually move us up yo 7th. Like Will before him OWAIN JONES used his knowledge and experience of the course to ignore the couple of runners that flew past him on his first lap and not only pulled them back in the closing stages but ended up gaining another place to come home 6th in 15:33. Unfortunately for our anchor man PETE LE GRICE any hope of challenging for the bronze medals behind Leeds and Aldershot, who were out of sight, was never really on as the Birchfield and Tonbridge runners were more than half a minute ahead when he set off, and while he had soon moved up to 5th and held them round the first lap, he never had them in his sights and in the end had to resist a late challenge from Norwich clocking an almost identical time to Owain of 15:34.
Meanwhile further back the B and C teams enjoyed a similar progression to their peers by building steadily throughout the race on solid opening legs from JOSH MOODY 47th (16:18) and ROBBIE STEWART (17:14) 76th. HARRY ALLEN (15:53) ran a storming second leg to advance all of 20 places to 27th, as did ANDY WATT (16:52), who despite feeling he had gone too easily on his first circuit still made up even one more to take the C team up to 55th. KURT TAYLOR (16:10) then passed another five to lift the B team to within sight of a top 20 finish, while PHIL RADFORD (17:13) grabbed another eight places to take the C team into the top 50 at 47th. All that was left was for JACK BANCROFT (16:28), without busting a gut as he has only recently resumed training after a month’s holiday, to move the B team into the top 20 and for MILES CHANDLER (17:05) to sustain the C team’s relentless progression to finish 46th. Robbie’s instantly computer generated graphics duly revealed a perfect lesson in relay running order!
Perhaps we should ask Rob to generate the model we need to medal, but on the evidence here it seems we need at least another leg and maybe two if we are to win! Computer models notwithstanding, the motivation is clearly there now for our next challenge. How about going for a hat-trick of titles this season, beginning with the South West at Yeovil at the turn of the year, followed by the Midlands at Leamington and finally the golden fleece that’s the National at Leeds? I like to think nothing is beyond you guys, it just depends whether you want it enough.