• Ben

At Last It’s Back To The Relay World!

Today we're catching up with the Senior Men's Team Captain Mike Down in anticipation of the Midland Road Relays at the weekend.


It’s been a long-time guys, in fact, I can’t even recall exactly what happened the last time we competed as a team in a road relay, other than that we took the silver medals behind top Birmingham club Birchfield Harriers in the Midland championship two years ago.


A fair amount of water has passed under the bridge since then, with various to-ings and fro-ings among our athletes, be it due to career or injury problems. So, to begin with, here is a rundown on faces we don’t see so often, particularly our international members.


Will Christofi has made career defining use of his time. After doing a probationary year as a teaching assistant at an independent school in Essex, he spent last year securing a teaching qualification at Cambridge University and is now furthering his experience by taking a joint part time appointment at a state secondary school Impington College and an independent prep school St Faths, both of which are in Cambridge. The good news from the club’s point of view is that he has resumed training again, and though nothing like race fit is hoping to have a first runout in Saturday’s Midland relay.


Will’s former student colleague at Oxford, Jack Millar, has also embarked on a new career in the Civil Service. Based in London now, as is their other former Oxford colleague, Miles Chandler, who for his part is still struggling to overcome a long standing achilles problem. Jack is naturally looking forward to the cross-country season but will follow up his podium run in Sunday’s Bristol Half by turning out in the autumn road relays.


Speaking of Oxford, Dan Studley has left Loughborough, while continuing his part time job there by Zoom and is back living in the city where he did his undergrad studies at Oxford Brookes. Another long standing achilles sufferer like Owain Jones and Luke Evans, Dan is back training again and cautiously optimistic that his international road running career is far from over with his target one of next year’s marathons. Unfortunately, he will not be ready for the autumn road relays, though has not ruled out November’s National cross relay.


Talking of marathon specialists Pete Le Grice reports he has had a hectic summer helping run the family’s guest house in Cornwall due to the staycation demand this year. Not that he would have been as active as he would have liked due to a niggling shin problem. However, he hopes to be back in full training and race fit again before Christmas.


Dan and Pete are not our only elite marathon men anymore, as we have given a warm welcome to Johnny Thewlis, who while long established in the city working at Rolls Royce has finally decided to join us from his former club Notts AC. Not only will his experience be an asset to our team, but he is also keen to get involved on the coaching side and is shortly to secure a qualification via UKA’s Athlete to Coach pathway. He will be concentrating initially on helping the club’s longer distance aspirants.


Finally Rich Peters has not quite thrown the towel in yet. He has recently tied the knot with his stunning bride and fellow international Pippa Woolven, who met at the Edinburgh Commonwealth Games. Pippa for her part is keen to resume her international running career. Both are cycling a lot and Rich even won a fun 10K recently - he had to win to beat his missus. Dream on, I hear a few of you laugh, but I never say never where the 12 stage is concerned!


Another face missing from the local scene this autumn will be Felix McGrath, who has been such a stalwart member of the BTC group during the pandemic. After a couple of years working as a locum at Weston General Hospital, he has transferred to Cardiff to undertake his three-year GP induction training. Not that he has been inactive, he achieved his best ever position in the UKA fell running championship that were held in the Lake District last weekend. Finishing in the top ten for the first time, in 9th place, he reports that those in front of him were all established GB fell running internationals.


Jarlath McKenna has also recently been dabbling with fell running more seriously, but his immediate challenge is running in the forthcoming Belfast marathon, because of which he will not be available for the autumn relays.


On the domestic front we are welcoming back Andy Salmon, who has recently re-joined us after a couple of years working in Liverpool, while another relatively new face Hugh Brashaw has recently hit the headlines by winning the British Middle Distance triathlon championship in Scotland. However perhaps the best news of all is that our legal beagle, Harry Allen, has recently changed jobs and is on the comeback trail, he will be re-joining the BTC group shortly.


Meanwhile our current road captain Kurt Taylor, seems to have at last put the foot problem that cost him any chance of a track season behind him, will be back heading the team in the coming 6-stage relays along with Jack Bancroft, who has enjoyed a successful run of victories for our NAL team this summer before winning last Sunday’s Bristol 10K.

Less fortunate however is Kurt’s cross-country counterpart Owain Jones, who continues to be plagued by the achilles problem that has sporadically interrupted his competitive career for the past three or four years. While unlikely to be fit for the road relays, he is hoping to be back for the cross season.


There are better tidings from former junior international Ben Westhenry, who seems to have at last put his long-standing injury problems behind him, and while not back to full race fitness will certainly strengthen the team for the forthcoming relays. Others vying for places in the A team are middle distance specialist Josh Moody and yet another of our marathon men Adam Stokes, who has been showing much improved form in training recently.


Others who will be challenging the current hierarchy include Will Parkin, Henry Cochrane (injury permitting), and young Steve Kerfoot, who will become the first junior to join the squad for more years than I can remember.


The one blot on the horizon is that Callum Jones, one of our leading runners on the track this summer, has, apparently for personal reasons, decided to leave us and re-join his longstanding former home club Cornwall AC. It is a very disappointing turn of events, and he will be sorely missed.


To the present and what lies ahead at Sutton Park this weekend. Our record in the Midland 6-stage leaves little room for error, having won the title three times - in 2014, 2016 and 2017- in the last six years it has been staged, and as already mentioned taken the silver medals when it was last held in 2019. It’s a tough act to follow, while due to the pandemic and the two years that have elapsed since current form and fitness of our likely rivals is difficult to predict.


The Birchfield team, headed by Ethiopian Omer Ahmed, will surely start favourites to retain their title, while the former group of Cheltenham’s leading runners, now competing as Western Tempo, also look likely to be strong medal contenders. Nor can the chances of Notts, Tipton and Coventry, who all have a fine record in the event, be dismissed lightly. Nonetheless finishing in one of the medal positions as ever must be our minimum target, with the B team again aiming for a position in the top ten as they managed in 2019.


Unfortunately, we will not be at anything like full strength, as among others Jack Bancroft is on holiday, while Johnny Thewlis has had to withdraw due to a lingering respiratory infection. Yet, this gives others an opportunity to challenge for a place in the team for next month’s National Road Relays.


The teams selected in alphabetical, not running, order, are as follows:


A: Felix McGrath, Jack Millar, Josh Moody, Adam Stokes, Kurt Taylor, Ben Westhenry.

B: Graham Breen (TBC), Joe Connors, Felix Rusby, Andy Watt, Adam Wilson, TBC.

C: Aled Anderson, Pete Bains, Will Christofi, Tom Foxon, Steve Kerfoot, Tariq Kurd. Res: Matt Brydon.


The exact running order of the teams is still to be finalised, so if anyone has a particular wish, please let me know ASAP, although as always tactical considerations will be the main decider. We will communicate the order decided on Friday.


As you are all aware by now there is a minibus leaving the Water Tower on the Downs at 9.30am sharp, while Adam Stokes is driving up later at approx.10.30am and has three seats available if required. Please liaise with our road captain Kurt Taylor if you still need a lift.


Mike Down (Team Manager)


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