Finishing in the top ten clubs in the country can’t be bad, can it? Yet despite all our team matching their current form at the English cross country relay championships, it was still a somewhat disappointing result when viewed against our outstanding record in the race for the past seven years in which we have never finished lower than 6th.
It was disappointing in particular because our main rivals among the country’s leading distance running teams Leeds and Aldershot managed to get virtually all their top runners out on the day as proved by the remarkable results achieved by their second teams. It’s true of course that our recent success in the bigger team championships have been due to the strength in depth of our squad rather than the brilliance of a few individuals, and with only four runners per team in this event even one such star performer can make a significant difference.
Another mitigating excuse for our overall result is that had we not accepted WILL CHRISTOFI’S always frank assessment of his current fitness and relied for selection on his fine previous record in the event, we would have actually ended up two positions higher at 8th in the club rankings. While that justifiably may be considered a team manager’s mistake, Will admitted after running that maybe the sodden underfoot conditions played more to his natural strength than he had anticipated in assessing how he was likely to run. That’s certainly so in comparison with his replacement JOSH MOODY, who is much happier on a running track than the waterlogged course that produced the worst conditions in the more than 30 years the championships have been staged at Mansfield’s Berry Hill Park.
While Josh would obviously have preferred it firmer underfoot, they were conditions relished by our talisman on the day JACK MILLAR who gave us a storming start, attaching himself to the leading group from the gun and only losing ground on the second of the undulating two lap 5K distance to finish just 20 seconds off the medals in 8th place of the huge field of 190 teams that started – his time of 16:18 right up there with those recorded by many of his elite rivals. While It should be borne in mind that the opening stage is slightly shorter than the other three and worth an estimated advantage of around 10 seconds, Jack showed that in this sort of form he could be heading for his best ever winter season.
His run was just the start we had hoped for, and ANDY WATT, who has been in the form of his life recently, duly kept the flag flying, and though dropping one place he lost little or no ground on the front of the race with another creditable time of 17:15 before handing over to FELIX MCGRATH, who then showed just what a valuable recruit to the club he is going to be. While a top six position now looked out of reach, he matched Andy’s fine effort and kept our position in the top ten with another encouraging time of 17:17, which was actually the tenth fastest overall on his leg.
It was always going to be a formidable task for JOSH MOODY to hold our position on the anchor leg, for not only had he suffered a pelvic strain after a midweek training session that had left his participation in doubt, but after more than a thousand runners had left parts of the course a muddy morass conditions could also hardly have been less in his favour. Even so he coped surprisingly well and, though passed by one of the Leeds teams, as well as top Southern clubs Newham and Tonbridge, he managed to hold off a late challenge from our Midland and National 6 Stage conquerors Birchfield, whose scalp was one of the day’s consolations, to finish 12th overall in a time only 20 seconds slower than Will’s of 17:55.
As for the B team ADAM WILSON, who was promoted from the originally planned third quartet, took the first leg and did well to finish inside the top half of the 190 teams that started in 78th position with a fair time for a track specialist in the prevailing conditions of 18:52. While WILL CHRISTOFI may not have been as fit as he would like to have been for the race, faced with a pack of runners to chase he certainly made the most of it, passing all but 30 of them to lift the team into the top 50 at halfway in a better time than he had expected of 17:35.
JED BARTLETT maintaind the progress on the third stage, albeit not quite so spectacularly, to gain another seven places with a more than respectable time of 18:09 and leave JACK BANCROFT to finish it off in the sort of conditions that he has never happily come to terms with. Undaunted he still managed to pass another five teams , his time of 18:55 leaving us to end up 37th of the 161 teams that survived.
As an incentive for next year hopefully it is no coincidence that our three bronze medal positions were recorded at four year intervals in 2008, 2012 and 2016, so to keep the sequence going next year’s event must be the target, but if this year is anything to go by it will need a fully committed squad. Please keep the first Saturday in November clear!
Meanwhile the next important championship for the club is the South West cross country at Haldon Hill, Yeovil at the beginning of the New Year, where we will once again be defending a title we have never lost as Bristol and West. Hopefully it will prove a dress rehearsal for a major assault on the Midland and English championships later in the winter. Before then I know the Telford 10K is on most of our top runners’ agenda, while Chris will be hoping to see as many of you as available for the forthcoming Gwent League races, the first of which is this coming weekend.
Finally we must congratulate our spartan ladies trio of ISSY TALBOT-PRYCE, NATALIE GRIFFITHS and the one and only KATE MALTBY, who put the club’s disappointing performance in the National 6 stage championship well and truly behind them by upstaging our guys and only missing a place in the top six in the women’s championship by a fraction of a second. Muddy marvellous girls!