Mike Down previews today's Midland Six and Four Stage Road Relays, held at Sutton Park, Birmingham.
Missing Faces Make Medal Mission a Real Challenge
The outcome of the autumn road relays is always difficult to predict, with fitness, form, and availability after the summer season subject to all forms of speculation. Having said that we have an impressive record to defend having won the 6-stage men’s title five times and finished runners-up on four occasions in the 16 times it has been held since the club was rebranded as Bristol and West.
Proud as that record sounds, we have not won it for the last five years, having to be content with the silver medals the last two times the event has been staged. Nor has the clash this weekend with the city’s two major road races – the Half marathon and 10k – made our cause any easier.
Nevertheless, while it’s reassuring that all our acknowledged first team runners have stayed loyal to the cause and are not engaged in the Bristol races, we will still be missing Ben Robinson, Felix McGrath, Owain Jones and Ben Westhenry, who are all unavailable, while both Jack Bancroft and Dan Studley, who are returning from injury problems, have both asked to be put in the B team.
So, what can we expect? To start with team captain Kurt Taylor is the only member of the six-man first team to have competed seriously on the track this summer and more than made his mark in doing so, failing only narrowly to break the 14-minute 5000m barrier for the first time. He will be ably supported by our cross-country specialist Jack Millar, who has been flirting with the Half Marathon distance and succeeded in running inside 66 mins in Edinburgh.
Most heartening from the team’s point of view is that Johnny Thewlis seems to have finally shaken off the injury and illness issues that have frustrated his progress in the past 12 months and will be turning out, while promising Bath based runner Max Davis, who has recently joined us from Avon Valley Runners, will be making his debut for the club.
This leaves two of our past relay stalwarts Josh Moody and Adam Stokes to complete the A team in the absence of Ben Robinson and Felix McGrath, couple with Dan Studley and Jack Bancroft’s preference to test their fitness in the B team.
Dan and Jack may well be needed if we are to ensure that we qualify a second team for the Nationals in two weeks’ time, as the clash with the Bristol races has left us short of runners to choose from. Fortunately, four more club ever presents Andy Watt, Will Christofi, Pete Bains and Andy Drake have come to the rescue and will hopefully make sure they finish in the top 25.
As previously indicated the composition and form of any of our medal rivals is difficult to predict so early in the season, but it would be a surprise if the holders top Birmingham club Birchfield Harriers, who seem to set particular importance on winning the race on home ground, are not the team to beat especially if their two Ethiopian stars are available.
Nor can we ever dismiss the challenge of our perennial rivals Notts AC, who along with up-and-coming Cheltenham based club Western Tempo have given us the most trouble in recent years, though thriving Bromsgrove based club BRAT and Tipton Harriers are also sure to mount a challenge for the medals.
Our women’s team resources have been more sorely stretched by the clash with Sunday’s Bristol races and Team Managers Owain Jones and Elaina Gard report that as a result we are only fielding one team in the accompanying 4-stage women’s championship.
Even so the quartet chosen are not without a chance and could certainly improve on the tenth place achieved the last time the event was held. The team includes Chelsea Baker, who has recently joined from the Vale of Aylesbury club, and more than proved what an asset she is going to be by clocking the fastest time in the recent Avon Road relay championship at Cleeve.
Chelsea will be supported by one of the team’s stalwarts Catie O’Donoghue, Caz Buckeridge and Elaina herself. Like the men’s team they face a formidable task against the holders Birchfield Harriers and long-time rivals from Loughborough Charnwood AC.
Men’s Teams (in provisional running order}:
A Jack Millar, Josh Moody, Max Davis, John Thewlis, Adam Stokes, Kurt Taylor.
B Will Christofi, Dan Studley, Pete Bains, Andy Watt, Andy Drake, Jack Bancroft.