MIKE DOWN’S NATIONAL 10K COUNTDOWN

23 May

Any thought that our leading runners would be resting on their silver medal-winning laurels after last month’s National 12-stage road relay championship would be totally misplaced as they have been capitalising on their race fitness with a string of further ground-breaking performances on both road and track.

MIKE WILSMORE set the ball rolling just four days afterwards as he continued his intended transition to to the 5000m on the track by setting a new personal best for the distance on the road when winning the opening event in the Yeovilton 5K summer series in 14:51.

The following weekend produced what has been the outstanding performance since the relay when our star of that memorable day PETE LE GRICE underlined his burgeoning reputation by slashing more than five minutes off his previous best to win the Brighton marathon in 2:16:23, which at the time was the second fastest by a UK athlete in 2019. While he has predictably fallen down the pecking order following the recent London marathon, his time still keeps him on the fringe of the top ten, and unlike London he had to run the last 15 miles at Brighton on his own and was on for a considerably faster time at 21 miles before turning into the prevailing wind. Being based in deepest Cornwall, Pete is used to ploughing a lonely furrow, and few would bet against him going faster in his next marathon which should deservedly be in a British vest.

On the same day in Brighton HARRY ALLEN continued the relentless progress he has made over the winter by carving another half minute off his best 10K with a time of 30:34 in the accompanying England Athletics championship race. Not content he followed it up with a memorable marathon debut in London, which he admitted he was only doing for the experiemce. As so often happens to many debutants at the distance, he made the mistake of setting off too fast and paying for it in the cl.osing stages. Even so his time of 2:23:30 was no mean achievement, though he admits he has found recovering from the effort something of a challenge to his consequent training plans. Remarkably finishing just ten seconds behind him in 2:23:40 MACIEJ BIALOGONSKI continued his flirtation with the marathon, and though like Harry suffering too from going off too fast he still hacked more than three minutes off the time he set in winning last year’s Abingdon marathon to surely confirm that this may well be his event. Bear in mind too that Maciej has a nightime job that’s hardly conducive to any form of taining, let alone the marathon! Harry and Maciej were backed up for the National team championship by two members of our successful B team GRAHAM BREEN (2:35:19) and ANDY DRAKE (2:36:59), though it is not clear where our team finished.

Continuing the marathon theme JARLATH MCKENNA  successfully defended his Northern Ireland marathon title in the Belfast City marathon and was in fact the first British finisher behind a posse of Africans. Unfortunately thee race was found to be 460m over distance, though the times were adjusted accordingly with Jarlath credited with a time of 2:26:18. He was reasonably satisfied with the outcome as he says he ran virtually the whole race on his own.

Meanwhile back to the indefatigable Maciej, who only gave himself a week to recover from his gruelling London effort before leading our team to a convincing victory in Bristol’s annual 10K. What’s more he still improved his best for the distance, finishing 5th in 31:40 and followed closely in 6th and 7th by CALLUM JONES and ANDY WATT, who both dipped under 32 mins for the first time, Callum clocking 31:54 and Andy 31:55. Behind them DAVID AWDE made it four in the top ten finishers with another pb of 32:32. Dave has also been busy on the 5K scene recently, with three sub 15min efforts, two of them 15:44 and 15:35 in parkruns and the other 15:51 for 4th place in the club’s new Pomphrey Hill evening 5K series.

JACK BANCROFT has also continued his comeback recently, following his fastest long leg for our successful B team in the National road relay. He followed up victory in Exeter’s Fast Friday 10K in 32:25 by finishing a close second to Cheltenham’s PHIL BEASTALL in that Pomphrey 5K in 15:10 to suggest that he should soon be back to his best.

Others of our silver medal winning team have been proactive, but more particularly on the track. WILL CHRISTOFI and JACK MILLAR were both close to their 3000m pb’s as they wound up their preparations for the BUCCS championships in an early season open meeting at Watford, Will clocking 8:19.37 and Jack 8:25.21, while close behind them KURT TAYLOR maintained his remarkable progress over the last year  with another pb of 8:30.40. it proved ideal preparation for another breakthrough back on the road in Cardiff’s Victory 5K that incorporated the Welsh championship event where he made the top ten in a star-studded field in 14:46, a time almost 10 seconds faster than he had posted in the super fast Armagh 5K back in February. Just five places behind Kurt OWAIN JONES, who joined him in a Midland Counties representative team, was only five seconds outside his 15min target. As for Will and Jack the BUCCS 5000m championship was not run the way they had hoped, with a crawl over the first half making it a middle distance runner’s race for which they weren’t prepared, Will having to settle for 7th place in 14:40.15 and Jack a disappointed 15th in 15:03.02. Since then both have improved their times in the Oxbridge v Harvard and Yale match, Will to 14:26 and Jack 14:35.

On another encouraging  note JOSH MOODY and ADAM WILSON made the most of their opening to the track season in the BMC’s popular PB Classic meeting at Millfield School. Like Kurt Josh continued the relentless progress he has made during the winter by clocking an impressive 8:38.15 in his first ever race ovver 3000m, while behind him Adam, at last curbing his customary over ambitious early pace, only just failed to break his 9min target with a new pb of 9:00.73. This followed a notable 15:52 Cardiff parkrun that was only two seconds slower than he had run earlier at Armagh.

With the track season now gathering pace Kurt gave himself a busy workout in the club’s opening Midland League match at Abingdon on the weekend just gone. After finishing a close second in a tactically run 1500m with a time not far short of his best of 4:01.7, he teamed up with ANDY WATT to complete a doube success in the 5000m. Having only 20mins to recover from that 1500m, in which he had covered the last two laps in a blistering 2:02, Kurt let Andy set the tempo and he did it so effectively that he ended up setting a new personal best only just outside 15:20 to finish right behind Kurt whose winning time was 15:18.

Back on the road DAN STUDLEY followed up his 25K pacemaing stint in the London marathon with an impressive top ten finish in the prestigious Manchester 10K that was won spectacularly by 18 year old Ugandan prodigy JACOB KIPLIMO in a time only just outside Haile Gebrisselassie’s course record of 27:31. Meanwhile Dan, albeit just over two minutes down, was 4th UK finisher in 29:39, which shaved a couple of seconds off his previous best on the road.

With runners’ priorities now heading in different directions, there is just one more team target this coming weekend when the Vitality National 10K road championship is staged in the capital on Bank Holiday Monday. Unfortunately Dan Studley has pulled out as he has been given a place in an international 10,000m in Holland the weekend after next, and while he will obviously be missed PETE LE GRICE is still due to head a strong squad including HARRY ALLEN, JACK BANCROFT, MACIEJ BIALOGONSKI, OWAIN JONES, KURT TAYLOR, MIKE WILSMORE and ANDY WATT. It’s only three to count, but apparently there are team awards for the top six teams.

MIKE DOWN’S NATIONAL CROSS COUNTBACK

27 Feb
Will Christofi in action

Fortunately sometimes in life you get what you deserve, and the bronze medals we won in Saturday’s National cross-country championships were certainly no more than our runners derserved having agreed at the start of the season that this was the event on which they wanted to be judged. As team managers Chris and I have nothing but praise for the unity and commitment in making this our main goal of the winter. Let’s too not underestimate the scale of the achievement. This is not parkrunning! Some 2000 runners competed representing as many as 250 clubs, and to come third team in this line up of all England’s top clubs once again underlines our position as one of the top three or four endurance running clubs in the country. This too was only the third time that the club has medalled in the 136 year history of the race, all three of which have been since the club was rebranded 15 years ago.

Notwithstanding that such is the standard that our runners have set themselves that I sensed there was an air of disappointment in the camp in the immediate aftermath. So much so that we even missed the presentation ceremony, though to be fair there was no announcement to indicate it was taking place due it seems to a breakdown in the PA system. Then somehat downbeat reaction was because one or two of the team felt they had underperformed, though it was also a .consequence of the overwhelming superiority of our con  querors host city Leeds and defending title holders Tonbridge. It may have been over optimistic as we had genuinely hoped to be at the races with them, but have to concede that we still have some way to go to close the gap. At the same time on the credit front we well and truly avenged our defeat in the Midland championship race by Notts and Birchfield to retain the trophy for thew top Midland team as well as the unique plinth that goes to the leading club among the eleven founder clubs of the English Cross Country Union back in 1884. Both are now sitting proudly on the sideboard of our most improved runner this winter Josh Moody.

So what of the race itself? You could hardly have found a more magnificent setting in the picturesque grounds of the Harewood House estate with ite rolling downland punctuated by a series of leg-sapping climbs that made the race a true test of speed and stamina. In order to ensure that there was less lapping than occurred at Parliament Hill last year the organisers opted for a longer 6K lap that had to be covered just twice. There was very little pure flat running on a course dominated by endless climbs and sweeping descents, terminating in a very fast downhill run-in that certainly did not favour the majority of our longer distance runners. The race too was made that much more testing by the long uphill start that allowed little respite after the traditional opening stampede of a National field, the speed being exaggerated by the firm underfoot conditions.

From the gun our top two runners PETE LE GRICE and WILL CHRISTOFI both showed their ambition by going with the searing early pace and settling on the heels of the leading phalanx that numbered 20 or so runners. Despite admitting a mid-race energy crisis, which was more than likely due to the unremiiting pace at the front, Pete hung on to a position not far outside the top ten, but Will found he had overcooked it and fell back on the closing lap to be passed by his Oxford room mate JACK MILLAR, who as reliable as ever was never far off the top 30.  Pete was actually in 13th place up the final climb, only to be a victim of the fast finish referred to earlier that saw him lose four or five places and end up a still very creditable 18th. Jack for his part held on well to finish little more than half a minute down on Pete in 32nd place, with Will close up in 37th admitting he may have overdone it early on.

Behind our leading trio JARLATH MCKENNA as usual found the early pace too hot to handle, but was always picking off runners on the second lap to eventually come in only a couple of seconds behind Will at 41st – more than ten places up on last year. This gave us a total of 128pts that was actually 22 better than our silver medal-winning team managed last year, so everything was going to depend on our last two scorers expected to be HARRY ALLEN and OWAIN JONES. Harry has been in the form of his life this winter, concluding in his massive pb in the Armagh international 5K, but he is never really happy on any ground that breaks up your rhythm and even more so up hills. Try as he did you could see the frustration on his face at not being able to cope the way he wanted and he ended up 135th, while, Owain who was nursing a calf strain and  would not have started had it not been the National, naturally set off cautiously, but having missed almost two weeks training had to be content with just getting round and being sure to finish in case required to score. It was a real team captain’s effort and just as well as he ended up as last counter in 102nd. Meanwhile behind Owain and Harry it was JOSH MOODY, who was to have the run of his life. Showing grit and determination, like Jarlath up ahead he was always moving forward and eventually passed both Harry and Owain before producing a rousing finish to come home way ahead of expectations as our fifth scorer in 84th place.

This gave us a total of 313pts, which was 22pts the other way compared to last year, and with the Northern and Southern champions Sale and Aldershot appearing to have packed in ahead of our last two scorers, my first impression was that we were just going to lose out on the medals. However in the hurly burly of the finish I had been unaware that their last counters were much further back and as so often is the case that proved decisive. So in the end it was the unsung Bedford squad whom we thwarted by a mere four points to secure the bronze medals, with Sale and Aldershot 5th and 6th.

We had always been confident that in the separate nine to score competition we would be relatively stronger and so it proved as we again took third place well clear of Bedford and the rest. Our other two counters along with HARRY ALLEN were ANDY WATT  and RICH PETERS. Andy for his part did well to even start as he was suffering with a heavy cold, but after taking some time to get going did well to work his way through to finish 179th right behind former clubmate PHIL RADFORD. As for Rich, who is still unable to put together more than a couple of days running, let alone proper training, due to his career long achilles problem, he struggled to get round and finished a well chastened 202nd.

Right on Rich’s heels ALBERTO BELTRAM had easily his best race since coming to the UK to finish 203rd, but further back MILES CHANDLER never looked happy and had to be content with 239th position. Not that far behind Miles GRAHAM BREEN 254th and National debutant JOE BALLARD 284th were within a minute of the top 10% of the field, while PETE BAINS 470th and newcomer MATT BOND 742nd completed the Bristol and West contingent.

My only reservations about the venue, which provided a specataculer backdrop to the championships, concerned the chaotic access to the estate. We took nearly an hour to cover the last two miles partly it transpired due to the archway entrance not permitting two way traffic as there were a considerable number of those who had already raced trying to leave the estate at the same time. Besides that issue the PA system was inadequate – hence our missing the presentation ceremony – while the course design could have been much more spectator friendly as it was really only possible to view the race twice on each lap.

Attention now switches to the spring road relays, and with 12 runners to count our growing strength in depth must give us confidence that we can be even more competitive. Chris has taken on the challenge of entering three teams for the Midland 12-stage championship on March 23rd, so please check your diaries and make yourselves available. The Midland event will also serve as a selection trial for the National two weeks later. As usual I shall endeavour to keep you in touch in the meantime with our build up to the blue riband of the road racing year.      

MIKE DOWN’S NATIONAL CROSS COUNTDOWN NO 1

12 Jan


SOUTH WEST CHAMPS SMASHED AGAIN

In my final countout to the road and cross-country relay season back in November I jokingly challenged our guys to target a hat-trick of cross-country titles in the New Year: South West, Midland and English National!

Well tall order as that might be, our team made a spectacular start to the trilogy by smashing the opposition in Sunday’s South West championships held on ground round Aldon Hill at Yeovil that made full use of the contours that gives the venue its name.

The course, more suited to mountain goats with two brutal, leg-sapping climbs on each of the three large lap 8500m race, proved no problem for our team, who literally took the opposition to the cleaners, while to complete a perfect day our team captain OWAIN JONES regained the title he last won in 2015 at the Devon and Exeter racecourse.

Once again underlining his pedigree over the country Owain judged his precision to take the lead on the second lap from Wells’ junior international LUKE PRIOR and hold off a determined late charge from former B&W stalwart PHIL WYLIE that looked likely to succeed as they approached the last two gruelling climbs. But Phil appeared to run out of fuel on the penultimate climb, and while Owain admitted he had to dig deep he had enough left in his tank to pull clear again on the final run-in to the finish.

Owain was accompanied early on by Wylie plus JACK MILLAR, who is still not fully race fit after a knee injury had restricted his training for several weeks since finishing a close 4th in the annual Varsity match back in early December. Although Jack could not match Phil’s late surge, he still finished strongly in 4th place to take the senior bronze medal after being passed in the closing stages by brilliant Cornish youngster FINN BIRNNIE who took the U20 title.

I While Owain and Jack by their own admission are both cross specialists, it was the support behind them from HARRY ALLEN 7th, JOSH MOODY 9th, ANDY WATT 12th and newcomer JOE BALLARD 16th that underlines the ever growing strength in depth of the team. Harry was no less than two minutes faster than when 11th last year, while Josh is even beginning to wonder whether he might just be much more than a middle distance specialist. Both admittedly are much happier on the road and track, but gave due credence to the old school dictum that when you are fit enough you can run more than respectably on any surface. Andy too is working his way back to full fitness after recent training interruptions, whil Joe is clearly a first team prospect in waiting on this exceptional performance in his first major championship event.

The net result was a virtual whitewash of the opposition, winning by nearly 150 points from Team Bath and Cornwall AC, with our team not only providing Avon with an equally overwhelming victory in the accompanying South West inter-county championship, but also having the satisfaction of beating all the other county teams on their own. My fellow team manager CHRIS ELSON must have enjoyed his packed lunch with extra relish, while reflecting with me that that all our scoring runners, if we include Jack, who is back on vacation from Oxford, are training together in an elite group based in Bristol that has not been the case for some years and which could be the foundation in our quest for further National success.

Nor it must be added is the team we fielded at Yeovil anything like as strong as the one we are hoping to turn out for our major target of the season the National at Leeds at the end of next month. Of those missing PETE LE GRICE is the most notable. Pete has made a dramatic breakthrough this autumn, following his spectacular African-splitting second place in the Guernsey marathon that lifted him to 15th in the UK rankings – despite a course that is described as testing – by smashing the course record in winning the Great West Run in another huge new personal best and then being the first South West finisher in the European cross trial race at Liverpool. Not content Pete has continued his new found form, opening the New Year by clocking the fastest ever Parkrun in the South West with yet another personal best of 14:38. at Penrose in Cornwall.

Our first finisher and star turn in last year’s National WILL CHRISTOFI has still not fully recovered from the foot problem that wrecked his summer racing programme. It is thought his problem is Haglund’s syndrome, but it has not stopped him racing altogether and he still managed to finish in the top 20 in the second UK Cross Challenge race at Milton Keynes behind Jack, but just ahead of Owain, as well as finishing 5th only a few seconds behind Jack again in the Varsity match. Looking forward, he is still hoping to get into top shape for the British Students championship at the beginning of February and our subsequent National challenge.

Meanwhile another of last year’s National heroes JARLATH MCKENNA has spent the autumn settling into his new surroundings in Newcastle, and though competing sparingly has still shown enough to suggest he will once again be a valuable member of the team. He reports recent I-T band trouble, but still hopes to have a run out in the Midland champs, a race in which he has a fine record of making the top ten on several occasions.

ANDY CHAMBERS is another of last year’s silver medal-winning team who has been suffering with a niggling injury problem, in his case a hip strain,  but he too has raced well enough a couple of times, finishing our second best behind Owain in the opening UK Cross challenge race at Cardiff followed by a solid 5th in the Devon champs not far behind TOM MERSON. He is also hoping to warm up for Leeds by boosting our team for the Midlands.

However our other medallist last year BEN ROBINSON has not been so lucky, and although successfully retaining his European dog racing title has since been forced to rest due to a chronic foot problem that unfortunately has forced him to abandon the rest of the winter season.

Back on the roads there have been a string of personal bests from HARRY ALLEN (31:16), KURT TAYLOR  (31:32), ANDY WATT (32:13), JOSH MOODY (32:24) and ADAM WILSON (33:20) in the Telford 10K, while Kurt (15:05) followed that up with another in the Nos Galan New Year’s Eve 5K, finishing 7th in a high class field just ahead of training partners Owain (15:10), Jack (15:16), Josh (15:32) and Adam (16:20). Harry and Kurt are two of our most promising younger runners who are both improving in leaps and bounds and look sure to feature prominently in our road relay teams this year.

Other autumn highlights have included MACIEJ BIALOGONSKI’S unexpected triumph in the Abingdon marathon in a time inside 2:27 that suggests he may have found his event, and DAN STUDLEY’S outstanding run in Clevedon’s popular Boxing Day 4M road race. His winning time of 18:50 was the fastest for ten years and is testament to what an asset he is going to be in the spring 12-stage relay championships.

Two other missing faces this autumn LUKE EVANS and RICH PETERS have not thrown the towel in despite both being plagued by achilles and calf problems. After a 10 week enforced lay-off Luke is on the comeback trail and shedding pounds en route to a return sometime next month, so he could be fit for the relays, while Rich, despite having to drop out of a recent Chiltern League race due to a cramp in one of his calves, is back running again and determined to run in the National. Some race to make a comeback in, but who would put it past him!

MIKE DOWN

Gwent League #2 – Pembrey Park: Senior Men

12 Nov

Chris Elson reports:

A sample of our cheery chaps!

With a posse (Jack Millar 11th, Will Christofi 17th & Owain Jones 18th) starring at the British Cross-Country Challenge and many of those performing heroics at last weekend’s National X-Country Relays or in various marathon races round the country engaged elsewhere, it looked as if it might be tough for those men competing at the Gwent League X-Country. The results however dispelled anxiety and were most gratifying with the A, B, C, D & E teams all holding on to their overall top spots!

Andy Watt, showed that  he is rapidly getting back to where he was, headed the men home in 12th place. Miles Chandler (21st) arguably produced his best run in the league, while Joe Ballard was Saturday’s revelation finishing over 50 places higher than at Cardiff  in 25th.  Alberto Beltran made his debut for the club in 37th position, and Josh Habgood-Coote (65th) completed the A team, which was 2nd team on the day just 32 points behind Micky Morris Racing team, but with a healthy 73 point lead overall. Pete Bains making a welcome return to the League led the B team home in 86th place while Darren Garmen 90th (8th M45) and Brad Pontin 98th were close behind.  Matt Burden (106th) notably improving 47 places over his Cardiff run and Kieran Batty, improving nicely, completed the B team in 112th. Leion Grogan (115th) was first for the C team followed by Neil Turney (119th), Andy Dunn (138th), Dan Titheradge (141) and Mark Taylor (142 & 18th M45), an ever reliable posse packing in together.

Jon Bennett (148) led the D team home with Tom Newman back from injury in 167th, Michael Chandler (170th) and our two star M60’s Jon Goodland & Dave Bedwell finishing 2 seconds apart (tooth & nail?) in 175th (5th M60) & 176th place completed the team. Dave Bedwell (6th M60) deserves a special mention as this was his last 10K race in the Gwent League as he ascends to the M65 ranks in time for the third race in the series (watch out M65’s). Doug Webb, making his debut for the club led the E team home in 185th place, with Bill Hull still battling Achilles tendonitis 192nd and Jack Longstaff, perhaps not running as well as he would like in 212th, providing the E team back up. 405 men finished.