Mike Down’s National Road Relay Roundup: Senior Men

TOP SIX RECORD MAINTAINED

All I can say is well done guys for yet again exceeding pre-race expectations to maintain our position among the top six teams in England.

When HARRY ALLEN, after being laid low by a chest infection, decided he was in no fit state to do himself or the team justice in Sunday’s National 6-Stage road relay championship at Birmingham’s Sutton Park, it seemed unlikely we could do more than make the top ten if even that such was the competitive line-up this year. That however took no account of the close knit determination of our current squad that, backs to the wall or not, proved they had the spirit to rise to the challenge, while as if to emphasise this Harry himself volunteered to run round the last leg to ensure our B team finished.

With Harry the fastest runner in our silver medal-winning Midland team missing, the target we set of an 18 minute average per runner was always going to be difficult to meet, and so it proved, though in the end we only finished 7 seconds a man down on that in what were much windier conditions than encountered in the Midland championship.

JACK MILLAR set the example required with a storming opening stage of 17:46 that left us only just outside the top ten of the 80 teams that qualified to start in the National final. Clearly benefiting from a recent training camp with his ex-Oxford colleagues in Majorca, he not only settled in the huge leading pack up the long drag to the top of the course, but made the critical split as the pace at the front quickened from the dog leg turn to home and maintained his position on the long run back to the initial changeover.

Next up ANDY WATT, whose new found form was the revelation of our Midland silver medal-winning performance, followed up what was surely is best ever midweek training session by running more than ten seconds faster than his excellent Midland effort, his 18:05 moving us up two places to a position just inside our original top ten target.

This left late substitute ADAM STOKES with the daunting task of filling Harry’s shoes on the third stage, but though eventually losing four places it was only to the small group of runners that he got involved with early on. Underlining the stamina that saw him win the previous weekend’s Barnstaple half marathon as part of his preparation for the Inter-services international marathon in Washington at the end of the month, he hung in there most of the way to complete the job required of him in a creditable 18:40.

Like Adam, DAN STUDLEY is also in the middle of a heavy mileage programme in preparation for his marathon debut in Spain this December. Though predictably not perhaps as sharp over this relatively short 6k distance as in past years he still dipped under the 18 minute barrier; his 17:57 lifting us back into the top ten again and close enough to the teams ahead not to rule out further progress.

Well conditioned to this sort of situation over the years JARLATH MCKENNA, as reliable as ever and despite having no one within striking distance, set about the task of closing the gap on the Southampton and Sale runners some way up ahead to give our anchor leg runner KURT TAYLOR a chance of making it into the top six. And once again he delivered the goods, not only passing the Bedford team but leaving Kurt with a real chance of achieving our goal with another fine leg of 18:06, which was more than 20 seconds quicker than last year.

Needing no further invitation Kurt resolved to past the Sale and Southampton runners as soon as possible before settling down to a holding operation as he was not feeling 100 per cent himself. His was a true captain’s effort, and while he had to make sure of holding off a furious chase by top North East club Morpeth, he clocked 18:09 to finish 7th overall much closer than we had been at the Midlands to Birchfield who were less than a minute ahead in 6th. With Welsh champions Cardiff, competing as guests in 4th place, it meant we made the top six in the English championship race that was, as anticipated, dominated at the front by last year’s all-conquering National champions Leeds City and Southern title-holders Aldershot, the latter having to settle for the silver medals, with the bronze going to a Cambridge and Coleridge team that had World Championship 5000m recruit MARK SCOTT to thank for a blistering leg of 16:46, which was by far the fastest of the day.

The fortunes of our B team were obviously diminished by the enforced change to the A team and, as already mentioned, we had to rely on Harry Allen to shrug off his chest infection and run round the final stage to make sure the team actually had a finishing position.

At least our first pair JED BARTLETT and HENRY COCHRANE were as originally selected and gave us the start we had hoped for. Jed, though like one or two others not feeling at his best, matched his Midland run, his time of 19:04 leaving us 60th on the opening stage and close enough to the pack of runners just ahead of him for Henry to underline the promise he showed in the Midland championship by reining in a dozen of them with a time more than ten seconds quicker than for the C team then at 18:52.

ADAM WILSON maintained the progress with a time nearly a quarter of a minute faster than he recorded at the Midlands of 19:25 to gain another four places and hand over to NICK ROBERTS in 44th position. Nick, himself an eleventh hour replacement, did well to hold his own, and despite losing a few positions, achieved his goal of breaking 20 minutes with an encouraging effort of 19:56.

PETE BAINS, who by his own admission is in his best form for years, then took over for the penultimate stage and not only regained the lost ground and a bit more to leave us just outside the top 40, but as at the Midlands produced arguably one of our best runs of the day, his time of 19:30 being almost half a minute faster than his Midlands effort, when he had been a similar amount quicker than in last year’s race.

This left HARRY ALLEN to shrug off his chest infection and ensure the team finished. Sensibly running well within himself he did enough to lift us into the top half of the select field, his time of 19:09 leaving the team to finish 38th and ironically matching the A team’s 7th position overall in the unofficial second team race, though even closer to arch rivals Birchfield who were just two seconds ahead!

In retrospect Harry’s absence from the A team arguably had little effect on our overall 7th position as he would have had to clock a time around 17:45 to have a hope of avenging our Midland defeat by Birchfield and closer to 17:20 to challenge London club Shaftesbury-Barnet for 5th place.  To conclude then we certainly made amends for last year’s disastrous 18th place finish, but it is a sobering thought that champions Leeds were nearly four minutes ahead, and if we are to reduce the deficit we will need every one of our leading runners charged up for the 12-Stage.

Ironically we would have had the club’s current top man PETE LE GRICE  on board if he had not been refused  an elite entry for the recent Bristol Half marathon, and he duly underlined what the Bristol race had missed by smashing his personal best to finish 12th and second Brit in 64:21 behind a posse of African runners in Sunday’s Cardiff Half, to which he had switched as final preparation for his GB debut in the Frankfurt marathon at the end of the month. Among others in action at Cardiff MACIEJ BIALOGONSKI followed up his 2:28 10th place in the previous weekend’s Warsaw marathon with 34th position in 70:58, while back in 57th ANDY DRAKE set a new pb of 74 mins and bits.

Elsewhere ANDY CHAMBERS warmed up for this coming weekend’s opening UK Cross Challenge race at Cardiff by scoring a runaway victory in the Bournemouth Festival 10K in 31:29, with clubmate OLI SHEPPARD also on the podium in third place.

Our attention now switches to next month’s national cross-country relay championships at Berry Hill Park, Mansfield on November 2nd, with a first warm-up scheduled for Saturday’s opening Gwent League race at Cardiff. Meanwhile please let Chris know if you want to run this weekend or either of us if you are available for Mansfield.

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