Mike Down’s National Road Relay Roundup

CHAMPIONS IN WAITING?

Champions in waiting? Hopefully yes, but let’s give credit where it’s due right now. The men’s team that exceeded our expectations by taking the silver medals behind this season’s all-conquering Leeds City squad in Saturday’s National 12-stage road relay championship is arguably the best the best team the club and the city of Bristol has ever had.

I know it might seem crass to compare it with the legendary
record-breaking 1980 team that is the only one to have won the event, but that year they did not even medal in the Midland championship beforehand, nor in the preceding National cross-country championship, so by any yardstick this year’s team is undoubtedly the most successful overall the club has ever had, evolving as it has from a squad that had
already medalled twice in the event during the past three years as well as achieving the club’s best ever second place in thee National cross two years ago. Unlike many of our rivals too in this year’s race there are no particularly big names in the team, but a group with a collective spirit that I have not experienced to the same degree in any of the
previous Bristol and West teams I have had the privilege of being associated with. Nor should it be forgotten that our B team, much to Chris’ satisfaction, came out top of all the other second string teams that qualified for the race for the fourth consecutive year in 25th place, and if you combine their finishing times we actually come out faster overall than champions Leeds whose B team were second best but
some four minutes behind us!! Further evidence in support of my contention is that both our teams clocked over three minutes faster for the course than they have done before, the silver medal winning team’s time actually now being the second fastest recorded since the course was changed five years ago.

And so to the action of the race itself. From my pre-race preview it was self evident that Northern champions Leeds were odds on favourites with their Southern counterparts Aldershot, on paper at least, most likely to follow them home, leaving last year’s winners Tonbridge among others to
overcome if we were to medal. At the same time we felt that the reinforcing of our Midlad winning team with Dan Studley, Pete Le Grice and Mike Wilsmore must surely make us capable of averaging 26:45 for the long stages and 15:45 for the short, which would produce a course record time of 4hrs 15mins that would have obviously been good enough for
victory in the previous four years. That may have appeared an ambitious call, but nothing of it as our team actually did marginally better than that, our long legs averaging 26:42 and the short stages 15:43 for a finishing time of 4:14:33, which was not only inside Swansea’s record of 4:15:07 set in 2016 as mentioned, but the second fastest ever behind
Leeds’ new winning mark of 4:12:21.

Averages are all well and good, but inevitably there were high and lower points en route. WILL CHRISTOFI did his usual solid job on the opening stage, running almost ten seconds faster than he did at the Midlands with 26:50 to finish within a minute of the lead in 14th place of the 68 teams that started. The runners all lined up in front of him were all the bait KURT TAYLOR needed taking over on the second stage, and once
again he proved what a growing asset he has been to the team this season by clipping 12 seconds off his Midland mark despite the breezier conditions to lift us into the top ten in 7th place, his time of 15:31 being only just outside the top ten fastest of the day. He handed over to HARRY ALLEN, who had cut short his holiday to fly back for the race, and in the circumstances it was perhaps not surprising that he was
unable to repeat his brilliant opening effort at the Midland relay. After what looked a promising start he sufferred in the closing stages and slipped back three places to 10th with a time of 27:16.

Undeterred CALLUM JONES took up the cudgel with a vengeance and more than made up the leeway on the second short leg, slashing nearly 20 seconds off his Midland time to lift us into the top six for the first time, his 15:39 being 15th fastest overall. Next up JARLATH MCKENNA, as
reliable as ever, was four seconds quicker than at the Midlands and despite losing one position his 27:08 kept us well in touch in 7th place that RICH PETERS, though unable to improve, maintained with an almost identical time to his Midland performance of 16:04.

The question now was whether our two top distance runners currently could do any damage on the next two long legs, and it was DAN STUDLEY on the queen stage who set about our march towards the medals. Despite being caught by Aldershot’s European medallist ANDY VERNON (25:34), he
lost only just over half a minute to him and moved us back into the top six with our second fastest long leg of 26:07. Needing no encouragement big JOSH MOODY kept up our relentless forward progression on the next short leg to lift us to 5th with a time seven seconds faster than he had
clocked at the Midlands of 15:47.

While Josh kept Aldershot within shooting distance it was PETE LE GRICE, our Cornish missile, who opened the gateway to our eventual podium place. With Aldershot’s internationsl RICHARD ALLEN ahead of him and expected to consolidate their second place behind Leeds, who were by
now in front, it looked as if the bronze medals were the best we could hope for, but Pete’s progress this winter has gone largely under the national radar and no respecter of reputations he inexorably closed the gap on Allen to almost catch him at the takeover and move us up to third
in the remarkable time of 25:43 which is our quckest ever long leg and 5th fastest long stage of the day behind a quartet of Britain’s current leading distance runners ALEX YEE, DEWI GRIFFITHS, PHIL SESEMAN and VERNON as well as tying that of Notts international DOUGGIE MUSSON who
had posted the fastest time at the Midllands.

With excitement now mounting on leg 10 OWAIN JONES used all his experience to take no chances against his Aldershot rival and sat on his heels until they began the descent from the stone for the final mile when he took the initiative for the first time but had to fight all the way for the few vital seconds he gained. as he exactly matched his Midland time of 15:43. We were now in the silver medal position for the first time but well adrift of leaders Leeds, for whom Northern and BUCS
champion EMILE CAIRESS had taken commanding control by setting a new short stage record of 14:43. It left JACK MILLAR in an almost identical position to what he had faced on the anchor stage at the Midlands when he was chased by Birchfield Olympian ELLIOT GILES, but as then he kept
his cool and put in a safety first run before finishing strongly to extend our advantage over Aldershot to 22 seconds in a time matching Jarlath’s of 27:08.

It was still by no means cut and dried, but MIKE WILSMORE knew that he would back himself if it came to a sprint finish, so like Jack before him he resolved to keep something in the tank in case needed, which was just as well as Aldershot’s anchorman never gave up the chase and had closed the gap to no more than a cricket pitch as they reached the final
undulating half mile. It looked set for a grandstand finish, but turning on the after burners as they hit the finishing incline and roared on by his Bristol and West colleagues Mike duly powered his way home to finish with six seconds still in hand. His time of 15:37 meant that five of our short stage runners were ranked among the top 21 fastest.

As for the B team JED BARTLETT’S respectable 28:38 on the opening leg put us in the top 50 in 44th position. On the next two stages ALBERTO BELTRAN (16:15) proved what we had long suspected that he had the speed for a fast 5K, while JACK BANCROFT (27:21), happily recovered from his Achilles problem, further emphasised the squad’s growing strength in depth as between them they advanced 17
places to put us safely in the top half of the field in 27th position. Although the youngest team member, BILLY COCHRANE (17:25), and ANDY DRAKE (29:55) “fresh” from taking another 90 seconds of his 10K PB last Sunday, sacrificed some of those gained, our following stalwart trio MILES CHANDLER (16:59), ANDY WATT (28:26) and ADAM WILSON (16:50) regained any ground lost to put us in our eventual finishing position of 25th, which, the odd reversal apart, PETE BAINS (29:38), OTIS MONDIR (16:59), GRAHAM
BREEN (28:40) and NICK ROBERTS (17:26) ensured was where we finished.

In conclusion we are clearly not miles away from reaching the promised land, and while it’s always impossible to predict what the strength of the opposition will be, we only need to progress that little bit more to close the two minute gap Leeds beat us by – that’s just 11 seconds per leg or an average approximately of 26:30 for the long legs and 15:30 for
the short. Whether ideally we still need another new face or two is questionable, for if for example RICH PETERS, JACK BANCROFT and LUKE EVANS can shrug off the chronic injury problems that have restricted their training over the last 12 months and show the form they are all capable of, it might be enough, as indeed could be a measured cranking
up of everyone’s training programme. The signs are already in place for us to go that extra mile such is the enthusiasm and dedication of our current squad. Anyway for now from Chris and I congratulations to all of you and our thanks for the support you have given to the team.

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