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Back In the Medals Again but Unable to Match the Winning Tempo Western Set

The Bristol and West men’s team put their changeover fiasco that lost them nearly ten minutes in last year’s Midland 12 -stage road relay championship behind them when they took the silver medals in this year’s event that was held as usual in Birmingham’s Sutton Park.


Admittedly it was not the perfect result, but as we were using it too as a trial for the National championship race in two weeks’ time and it provided the tactical information the team management needed for selection purposes as we were missing several of our first-choice runners who will strengthen our squad for the blue riband event of the road racing year on April 6.


Even so victory for the fast-rising Cheltenham based club Western Tempo was the culmination of the steady progress they have made over the last few years and as such well-deserved, while they were adamant that they had specially targeted the event as their season’s highlight, and to do so had also bolstered their line-up with several new signings since last year.


That is not to say that we did not make a race of it from start to finish, but despite a blistering anchor leg by our cross-star Jack Millar we were always on the back foot and never really able to match the blazing pace Western Tempo had set after the first of the four long stages.


A cold windy day that was punctuated by several sharp showers and laced with hale at times hardly made for any fast times, yet after Coventry Godiva had set the pace on the first of the long 8k stages, it quickly became clear on the second stage that Western Tempo were out to dictate the pace and aim to lead all the way.


As for us Felix McGrath (26:57) produced his usual reliable opening leg by making the top six of the 68 teams that started to finish well within a minute of the lead despite the fact that he admitted to not being fully race fit due to a lack of hard sessions following recent medical exams.


This presented one of the newcomers to our team American Naphthali Moulton (27:07) the chance to prove his case for inclusion In the team for the National on the second long stage, and while the Oxford post grad student, who trains with Dan Studley, had to overcome some of the worst conditions of the afternoon he certainly passed the test by running only ten seconds slower than Felix to lift us two places to 4th.


Up next Johnny Thewlis (27:27) celebrated his relatively injury free spell for the past couple of months by keeping us safely in 4th position with his best time on the course for a couple of years before handing over to young Max Davis for the last of the four longer stages.


Nor did Max need any invitation to the task he faced, for apart from the Notts and Leamington teams up ahead he was also chasing Western Tempo’s latest star recruit Tony Crockett. But underlining his growing confidence and self-belief he left nothing in the tank to post the third fastest time of the day at 26:06, which was quicker than Crockett recorded up ahead, to put us in the silver medal position, albeit still the best part of two minutes down on the leaders.


It then fell to young Loughborough student Steve Kerfoot (16:42) to run the first of the subsequent eight near 5k short stages, and nerve-wracking as it might have been on his debut for the first team, he kept his cool to keep us safely in the silver medal position, though we clearly needed a real shot in the arm if we were to mount a serious challenge for the gold medals.


And it was Dan Studley (15:19), who was looking to sharpen up for one of the long stages in the National, that provided it by posting the second fastest short leg of the day to reduce the deficit to less than a minute for the first time, which as it turned out was to be the closest we were to get to the leaders.


Unfortunately, Adam Wilson (17:04), who had bruised his ribs following a fall in training earlier in the week, was unable to sustain Dan’s assault on the lead. Given that Adam had to take painkillers he did well in the circumstances.  Owain Jones (16:09) held his own on the next stage so the gap to the eventual winners that had been restored to more than two minutes was to change little until the closing stages.


Not that our guys ever gave up the chase. To start with ex triathlete Hugh Brashaw (15:55) underlined the progress he is making as a pure runner by clocking the fourth fastest of our eight short legs before Robbie Stewart (16:17) lost little in what was however becoming a vain chase with only the final two stages to go.


We had purposely left two of the fastest members of the team for those legs, but by then the gap was realistically unbridgeable, and though Ben Robinson (15:32) gave it his all to set the fourth fastest time of the day, he only pulled back just short of half  a minute, so it needed something super human from Jack Millar (14:56) to even get the winners in his sights, and though he had a real go blasting round the hilly lap in easily the fastest time of the day, it still only reduced Western Tempo’s winning margin to just over a minute.


“It would have needed a time under 14 minutes to even get close to winning overall, but considering that Dan and I were both restricted to running short legs, we could have probably have produced a grandstand finish if we’d both been on two of the long stages, but I can assure you it will be a different story at the National in two weeks’ time,” claimed Jack.


Yet perhaps the most remarkable statistic of the final result was that the eventual bronze medallists BRAT finished more than seven minutes behind us, with our old rivals Notts even further back in 4th place.


With such large gaps at the front, it was no surprise that our B team, for whom Fraser Roach (16:34) posted a short leg that was worthy of a place in the A team, had no problem in qualifying a second team for the National by finishing in 17th place, which I will leave my colleague Chris Elson to expand on below.


Meanwhile we are hoping to announce the two teams selected for the National on April 6th with the closing date for entries Friday 29th March.


B Team

It was redemption too for the B team after failing to field a team in 2023. The team needed to finish in the first 25 to qualify for the National Road relays and Aled Anderson (28.54) duly stepped up to lead the team off with a blistering first leg, some thirty seconds faster than his previous best on the course. The first leg is highly competitive with many of the smaller clubs committing their fastest runner to it, so Aled finishing 24th really kept the team in the hunt. Next up was Adam Stokes (29.02) who lifted us 6 places. Adam has had some niggling injuries to contend with and looked uneasy at last weekend’s Podium 5K but here he looked more like himself running smoothly. Marathon master’s star Andy Drake (30.08) took over and ran a typically controlled race to keep the team in 19th place. Alex Hobley (30.33) stepped up to run the last long leg at short notice and did well to keep us in 19th place.


Matt Davies (17.41) was suffering from a chest cold earlier in the week but shook it off sufficiently to hold the team in 19th place on the first of the short legs.  Luke Burgess (17.06), one of our gifted younger runners has had a quiet year so far with injuries and his university studies. Here he showed that he’s getting back to form gaining another place. Lee Gawler (17.44) too has been injured with chronic hamstring problem but again showed he is on the road to recovery holding on to maintain the team in 18th place. I had high hopes that Harvey Hancock (16.57) would pull something out of the bag and that he did with the second fastest time of the B team short leg runners and even better the 5th fastest time of the day on the eight leg and gaining one place for the team. Joe Connors (17.07) was another appearing in the fastest times on a leg with 8th fastest on the 9th leg. Phil Parry (18.28) is a club legend and at 61 still running amazingly well. Phil stepped in and produced a great run keeping us in17th place. Fraser Roach (16.34) is another graduate of the famous Edinburgh University Hare & Hounds green machine. This was Fraser’s introduction to the Midlands Road relays and he produced the 5th fastest time of the day on the 11th leg to take the team into 16th place. That left Hamish Wyatt (17.42) with the responsibility of the last leg. It was something of a gamble to put Hamish in the team as he is a relative newcomer to serious running, but having observed how he runs in training I was quietly confident that he was up to it. Events proved me to be correct. Hamish exceeded my expectations with his run. There’s more to come there.


Overall, this was a truly creditable run by every team member with nobody running badly. Looking at the other clubs the B team were only 7 seconds behind Coventry Godiva, and minute behind Team Bath.


Can the team do better at the National RR? Yes, but only if we people put themselves out to run.


Mike Down (Team Manager)

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