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Men’s Team Smash and Grab Midland Cross Relay Title at First Attempt

Mike Down reports on another medal winning weekend for the Senior Men's team.

Our men’s team has produced a spectacular performance to add the Midland cross country relay title to the senior championship crown they won for the first time earlier in the year.

It was the teams’ first ever appearance at the event that acts as the annual precursor to next month’s National cross country relay championship, and not only did our quartet dominate the race from start to finish, but also unofficially set a new record time for the 4x6km distance. I say unofficially as at the time of composing this report the official times had still not been released.

What is perhaps especially significant about the performance is that, apart from the club’s brilliant young prospect Max Davis, the team included none of the runners who had represented the club in the recent autumn Midland and National road relay championships. Such is our growing strength in depth.

After having had to settle for the bronze medals in the Midland 6-stage road relays before improving that position to finish second Midland club in the National, the pressure was on to go one step better again and take the gold medals here. While our anticipated rivals Notts and BRAT were at nothing like at full strength, they would certainly have needed to be, such was the impressive dominance of our four man team of Felix McGrath, Luke Burgess, Max Davis and Ben Robinson.

The course - an undulating and somewhat convoluted 3km lap that had to be covered twice by each runner – was a mixture of fast grassland and woodland paths with a couple of short steep ascents, and with its artificially manufactured switchbacks and sharp turns resembled many of those one finds on the European cross circuit. It would probably have been quite a challenge had not the underfoot conditions and the sky above been near perfect, but regardless with the National in mind our guys will have profited from the continual need to check and pick up the pace.

It was particularly encouraging to see Felix and Ben back in action for the first time this season following their recent misfortunes, and it was Felix who was entrusted with the opening stage, with Ben given what we hoped would be the glory leg following the efforts of our two student athletes Luke and Max.

Felix had hoped to tackle the recent Cardiff half, but contracted Covid for the first time, and since then his training programme has been restricted too by his current hospital duties. Yet you would hardly have known it the way he ran. Content to let the Telford runner set the early pace round the first lap, he surged ahead off one of the sharp corners second time round and without having to overextend himself gave Luke a more than useful lead of around half a minute in a watch time of 18:19.

Luke set off as if his life depended on it – not surprising perhaps as it was his first appearance for the team in a championship event – but he need not have worried for, looking full of running, he soon extended our lead to more than a minute, and though Adam Peacock brought BRAT back into the race with one of the fastest legs of the day, they were already a long way back in third place behind last year’s winners Rugby and Northampton. As for Luke, his estimated time of 18:40 underlined what an asset he is going to be to the senior squad.

A fourth-year student at UWE, he is the University’s athletics captain and chief motivator and certainly a young man of many talents. If you don’t believe me, just head up to Llangollen next Sunday where he will be contesting the National Hill climb championship on the Horseshoe Pass – on a bike not legs of course!

With the team having established a long lead by the halfway mark, Max could have been excused for having a comfortable training workout round the course, but nothing seems to be stopping him at the moment, and though looking relaxed throughout he powered round to give Ben a lead of well over than two minutes with what was surely the day’s fastest time of 17:47.

Like Felix, Ben too has been indisposed for some time due to fracturing a rib in a scooter accident and felt he needed the race to test his fitness for the National. Well, he certainly passed the test and even surprised himself. Pushing hard all the way, he extended our winning margin to around three minutes over runners-up Rugby and Northampton with a time of 18:15.

Like Luke, Ben, as many of you are aware, also has another sporting passion and was using the race as preparation for his bid to win the European dog racing championship in Austria the weekend after the National cross relays, and it’s that to which our attention is now switched, with the selection of the two teams likely to cause a headache or two, such is the current overall strength of our squad.

While our cross team enjoyed a triumphant weekend, there was plenty of success elsewhere. New signing Tim Lefroy slashed 34 seconds off his previous best 10k time to underline his ability by finishing a close second to Steve Millington in 29:24 in one of the country’s top road races the Leeds Abbey Dash.

Much further afield - in Spain no less – our respective road and cross captains Kurt Taylor and Owain Jones also broke new ground in the prestigious international Valencia Half marathon. Though both finishing some way down the field – the top five broke the 60-minute barrier - Kurt reduced his personal best by 38 seconds to 66:11, while Owain, who admittedly has rarely run the distance, carved more than four minutes off his to a remarkable V40 time of 68:53.

Mike Down (Men’s team manager)

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