28 Jan

Mike reflects on the senior men’s performance in Leamington this weekend, and looks forward to the rest of the season…

First our congratulations and apologies to our ladies team for failing to match their victory in Saturday’s Midland cross-country championships  Yet I’m sure none of them would deny that we faced a far more formidable challenge against the virtual full strength squads assembled by long-standing champions Notts AC and top Birmigham club Birchfield Harriers. When one considers that Notts were defending the title for the 9th successive year, and that not only have we never won this championship, but have not even contested the team event seriously for the last five or six years, to end up with the bronze medals little more than 20 points down on the winners was a genuine cause for celebration.

More significant of course in any anaysis of the results is that our three top counters in last year’s National silver medal winning team – WILL CHRISTOFI, JACK MILLAR and our recently crowned South West champion OWAIN JONES –  were all missing from the team we hope to field in our season long target this year’s National at Leeds next month. In the circumstances to finish so close to the Midland’s other top challengers must surely give a real confidence boost to our prospects.

As I’ve mentioned, this was the first time for many years that we have fielded a team  to seriously contest the Midland championships as a stepping-stone to the National, and aware that Will and Jack were saving themsleves for next weekend’s British Student championships we knew beforehand that our team chances would be limited. So the way our guys attacked the race from the starrt was a real tribute to the growing strength in depth of our current squad. No Will, Jack or Owain – so what? Out of the closet came PETE LE GRICE from the tip of the South West, JARLATH MCKENNA from his new home at the opposite end of the country in the North East, as well as ANDY CHAMBERS up from Exeter to join home based trio HARRY ALLEN, ANDY WATT and MILES CHANDLER.

From the outset there was no sense of surrender on what was a new course over Leamington’s Newbold Comyn and one considerably tougher than its predecessor. There were two gruelling climbs on each of three large 4K laps, the second of which by the last lap found even the leading runners wondering whether walking might be a better option after the unusually fierce pace that had been set from the off! It was a course on which unsurprisingly our marathon men Pete and Jarlath came to the fore. Throwing caution to the wind, Pete went with the leading group, but was soon forced to back off the almost suicidal pace that ultimately left  reigning champion Alex Brecker throwing in the towel. That left Pete in something of a vacuum , but he never faltered and was up into 5th place once Brecker pulled out. Even so he was never able to close the gap on the leading quartet despite extending his advantage over Notts’ two former Midland champions Jonny Thewlis and Alistair Watson.  Ahead of them all an inspired Jack Gray ran away from Birchfiled’s African favourite Omar Ahmed, with Notts international taking the bronze medal.

Meanwhile Jarlath, despite admitting he was nothing like as fit as he would like to be due to a niggling I-T band injury that has seriously compromised his training for the past month, as so often in the past called on his remarkable natural endurance capacity to somehow move through to 8th and eventually finish less than ten seconds behind Watson. What both Pete and Jarlath may lack in natural speed is more than made up by their ability to sustain a pace close to their maximum, and underlines why I am convinced that both are capable of running inside 2-20 for the marathon.

Behind our leading pair Harry, as ambitious as ever, was soon running only just outside the top ten and was to prove the adage that despte preferring  to work on a firmer surface if you are fit enough you can run on any ground. Admittedly he could not quite hold on to his early position, though that was hardly surprising considering the extra 2K of the 12K championship distance, and he still held on well enough to finish a very creditable 15th just ahead of clubmate Andy who had caught and passed him on the final lap. Andy for his part too could feel well pleased with his 16th position as he is nursing a chronic hip problem.

All then ultimately depended on whether Andy and Miles could make a late charge.Both tried their utmost, but were also perhaps caught out by that extra 2K, and while Andy did manage to hold on to his 23rd position, Miles, who had run much of the way no more than ten places further back, did lose a couple of places to finish 36th. Up against the  phalanx of runners that Notts fielded, our total of 103 points was never going to be enough to win, but as already intimated it was a pleasant surprise and very encouraging to find we were beaten so narrowly. At Leeds it could surely be a very different outcome.

Of our other runners on the day our Spanish guest ALBERTO BELTRAN, predictably for a 800/100m specialist, found the 12K a very long way, but still squeezed into the top 50 of the 400 strong field at 48th just ahead of JOE BALLARD, who was 51st, while triathlete SCOTT WATKINS shrugged off an on-going stomach problem to finish well inside the top 100 in 81st place.