23 Sep


On the face of it my concern that with so many of our first choice runners missing we might be up against it in the Midland 6-stage road relay championship may appear to have been unwarranted as our expectations were comfortably exceeded. How else to view our three teams’ results, with the A team beating all bar the hot pre-race favourites and defending champions Birmingham’s top club Birchfield Harriers to take the silver medals, and the B and C teams quite remarkably finishing 10th and 17th respectably among the huge field of 122 teams that started.

While our teams’ performances are a glowing recognition of the club’s ever increasing strenth in depth – what other club, for instance, could boast one of its third team members ending up with a time among the top 50 of the close on 700 runners that covered the undulating 6K lap round Sutton Park – there is need for caution in one’s conclusions. As you all know one of my favourite maxims is that the watch never lyes. Let me explain.

The brutal reality is that our overall time was still less than a minute faster than we clocked in 5th place last year and actually half a minute slower than we subsequently recorded when finishing a very disappointing 18th in the National. That if you recall heralded an interrogation on what had gone wrong. What’s more when we last won the Midland 6-stage two years ago and went on to finish a creditable 5th in the National we posted a time nearly two and a half minutes faster at 1:48:33 compared to this year’s 1:50:47. Admittedly it was a freakishly hot day and all six of our runners bar Andy Watt ended up running vitual time trials, yet no one clocked a time within a minute of the day’s fastest.

So it’s feet on the ground time guys and to be realistic a statement of where we are fitness wise at this early stage of the season, with many of you only recently returning to serious training after holiday breaks. True as that may be we have only two weeks to find at least three minutes – half a minute a runner – to be genuinely competitive in the National. All six of our runners need to break 18 minutes to give us any sort of a medal chance, but more of that in next week’s preview.

For now it’s time to celebrate Saturday’s successful day when perhaps the biggest surprise was the brilliant start we were given on the opening stage. “So Watt” was ANDY’s characteristically modest response as he gave a model lesson in how to deal with the varied contours of the tough Sutton Park circuit. Refusing to get involved with the initial skirmish at the front up the long drag to the top of the course, he methodically worked his way into a position just behind the leaders. Perhaps he was goaded by the sight of one of his current training group FELIX MCGRATH (18:11), who was running for Newcastle Staffs, setting the pace with Bath’s former junior international ALEX CARTER (18:07). He was never able to get on terms with either of them, but passed everyone else among the early pacesetters to finish only ten seconds down on the lead in a time of 18:17, which was nearly half a minute faster than last year’s (18:42). It was surely his best ever run at Sutton Park and continued the progress underlined by his recent 10K pb of 31:11 at Stirling.

HARRY ALLEN for his part had probably expected to have a few more to try and hunt down on the second leg, but found himself soon in front and left to open up as large a gap as possible aware that the Birchfield team appeared to be backloading their challenge with their African star OMAR AHMED set to run the anchor leg. Following his third place in the Bristol Half the previous weekend, Harry was expected to post our fastest time and his 18:03 duly extended our lead over Birchfield, who were now up to 4th place, to almost a minute.

It left JED BARTLETT, who had only come into the team due to ADAM STOKES being involved in a car accident the day before, with a daunting task on his debut in the event, and although he predictably lost gound to the chasing pack, cool head Jed showed no sign of panic and ran his own race to just hold off his fast closing Birchfield rival with a creditable effort of 19:04.

It was now up to team captain KURT TAYLOR to preserve our narrow lead, but he had the Brummy club’s Sutton Park specialist WiII RICHARDSON (17:28) to deal with, and having only just resumed serious training wisely let him go when caught on the opening hill, but stuck to his task and consolidated our silver medal position with a time only just over 10 seconds slower than Harry’s of 18:15.

Next up WILL CHRISTOFI, who has just started a new teaching job in Essex, was faced with the unenviable task of knowing that he would have needed a course record time to give ANDY CHAMBERS  any hope of holding off Omar Ahmed on the anchor stage. But Will has been having to fit his training in round his new job and this was his first race of any kind since the early summer, so while satisfied with the way he felt he had run, his time of 18:49 was only enough to consolidate our silver medal poasition well clear of our old rivals and eventual bronze medallists Notts.

Despite ANDY CHAMBERS  knowing he faced a fruitless task chasing Birchfield’s pocket rocket, he had not travelled up from Exeter to cruise round in view of his plan to run the Swansea Bay 10K the following day That would have been understandable in the circumstances, but flogging it hard all the way he was rewarded with another creditable mark of 18:19, which meant that four of the team had all clocked times within a quarter of a minute of one another to provide a solid platform for next week’s National challenge.

As for the B team OLI SHEPPARD (19:58) did not have the start his recent training efforts had suggested, but still broke the 20 minute barrier to finish only just outside rthe top 30 on the opening stage. The pack of runners lined up ahead  was just the cue newcomer to the team JOHNNY SUTTLE, who has been training with Bristol & West AC’s ‘Whitehall Runners’ since joining from London club Queens Park Harriers, needed, and he duly gained nine places to move us up to 23rd with what proved to be the team’s fastest time of 19:24.

If DAVE EAGON, who had moved up from the C team following Jed’s corresponding promotion to the A team, felt he had a point to prove, he certainly did so as his 19:30 – the team’s second fastest – lifted us another eight places to 15th before handing over to ADAM WILSON, who was only eight seconds slower, his time of 19:38 being some half minute quicker than last year and maintaining the relentless progress up to 12th. Another new face to the squad Bristol University graduate FELIX RUSBY (19:46) advanced another place on the penultimate stage to 11th, leaving 800m specialist OTIS MONDIR to prove he is more than a two lap wonder by gaining that one vital place to  finish the team in the top ten with an impressive time of 19:33.

Meanwhile the C team owed their remarakable 17th position to a flying 4th stage by young HENRY COCHRANE, who with his long standing injury problems behind him underlined his natural talent with an eye-catching time of 19:03. Earlier LEE GAWLER (21:09), who had to move up from the incomplete D team, finished only just outside the top 50 on the opening stage, while another newcomer to the squad from Bitton ROB FARLEY was some half minute faster, his 20:30 moving the team up 13 places to 39th. Club stalwart ANDY DRAKE (20:19) then passed another five before Henry’s spectacular effort gained ten more positions, leaving  ANDY COOKE, whose 19:47 was the team’s second fastest and PETE BAINS to lift us into the top 20 for the first time. Pete’s time of 19:59 was more than a minute faster than last year’s and arguably one of the club’s best performances of the day.

All in all then, as my fellow team manager Chris Elson concluded, as successful and rewarding a day as we could have hoped for, but all must accept that we need a productive next two weeks of work if we are to make the mark we want to at the National.

PS ANDY CHAMBERS shrugged off any residual fatigue form his Sutton Park effort as well as the rain and wind  to equal his pb of 31:22 and finish 7th in the Swansea bay 10K.