Our thanks to Mike Down for his report on how Team B&W fared at the 2022 English Cross Country Relay Championships.
Better than 2021 Despite Depleted Team
Any hopes we had of challenging for the medals in the English cross country relay championships at Mansfield were dashed by the enforced withdrawal of half of our selected first choice team.
With exciting new recruit Tim Lefroy forced to pull out due to a recurring ankle injury following his career boosting second place in the prestigious Leeds Abbey Dash 10k, and young Max Davis because of an urgent University study project, it was left to experienced duo Johnny Thewlis and team captain Owain Jones to step up and fill the void.
So, our original pre-race target of a chance of placing in the top six of the 198 strong field had to be revisited, and the reset mission was to maintain a position in the top 20 and hopefully improve on last year’s 18th place in a race that is arguably the most competitive team event in the winter calendar.
It’s encouraging to report that they never looked like failing to meet that target after Jack Millar, as reliable as ever, had put the team on course on the first of the four two lap undulating 5km stages. Despite the recent rain, the going underfoot was still relatively fast as Jack attached himself to the leading group from the gun. As in the recent six-stage road relay championship, he only lost ground on the front of the race in the closing stages, to finish just inside the top ten with a time some quarter of a minute quicker than he had recorded last year of 15:28.
It was the sort of start that would have been essential if a medal challenge had been in the offing, but though that was never an option in the circumstances, Dan Studley (16:48) kept us well inside the top 20 on the second stage, placing 18th at halfway.
Owain then produced a typical captain’s effort on the third stage to gain two positions with our second fastest time overall of 16:20 - how does he keep doing it one might ask? – while Johnny was only some ten seconds slower with 16:31 on the anchor leg, gaining another place to bring the team home in a creditable 15th position, three better than last year. It still left us third best Midland club behind Notts 7th and Birmingham 11th, as we had finished in the in the Area road relay championship.
Unfortunately, the B team was unable to complete the distance as Will Christofi, who along with Aled Anderson had agreed to fill in the gaps due to Owain and Johnny’s promotion, could not get a train from his Cambridge base due to the train strike, but having said that in Luke Burgess it looks as if the club has found another star of the future.
For after Adam Stokes, who was using the event as a tune up for next weekend’s Masters international when he will be making his debut for England in Dublin, had almost exactly matched the time he clocked last year with 17:18 on the opening stage to finish well inside the top half of the huge field, Luke literally tore through the pack lined up ahead of him, clocking 16:21 to gain no less than 40 places and lift the team into the top 50 at halfway. It proved without any doubt that he is going to be a real asset to the cross squad this season.
Although Aled had nothing to run for on what would have been the penultimate leg, he only lost seven places in a time just outside 18mins to leave us in 54th position (18:09) when we had to stop.
Top Third for Ladies
Like their male colleagues, our lady’s team were missing several of their leading runners but managed to hold their own and finish in the top third in the 3x3k women’s championship that had as many as 139 teams this year contesting the event.
Sarah Everitt fresh from her spectacular fastest time in helping the club win the previous weekend’s National Masters V55 championship, clocked an impressive 11:56 to finish only just outside the top half of the field in 75th place on the opening leg.
Team captain Elaina Gard took over and underlined her ability by gaining as many as 26 places on the second leg with our second fastest time of the day of 11:11, before Catie O’Donoghue’s anchor leg of 11:40 moved the team up four more places to finish 45th.
The Jolliffe family dominated the B team, their dual act of Emma’s 12:13 and mum Clare’s 13:10 leaving them only just outside the top half of those that started. Chelsea Baker, who was only there to watch after her superb international Inter-Services marathon triumph the previous weekend in Washington, turned out at the last minute to make sure the team finished and still clocked our fastest time overall of 10:57 moving them up 16 places to 60th.
Such is the competitiveness of this event that despite the club’s growing strength in depth, you have no chance of success without the support of all your top runners, so if we really want to continue snapping at the heels of the Leeds, Aldershot and Tonbridge’s of this world, the message to all concerned is obvious and goes without saying!