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Midland Road Relays

Mike Down reports on how the seniors fared at the Midland Road Relays.


I suggested in my race preview for Saturday’s Midland 12 stage road relay championship, which was held at its traditional venue in Sutton Park, that with around half of our first-choice team missing we would face a tough challenge to maintain our near unblemished medal-winning record in the race, even more so after the further withdrawal from the selected team of MAX DAVIS due to a strained back.

What we certainly did not bargain for was that we would actually end up with a mountain to climb by giving away almost ten minutes to our rivals through missing one of the takeovers, and that too with only the second half of the race to make amends for the disaster. The fact that we eventually pulled back most of the time and positions conceded to still finish in the top six of the 75 teams that started says much for the spirit and determination of our later runners’ refusal to accept that all was lost.

Earlier in the day FELIX MCGRATH (27:47) had given us his usual reliable start to come home 7th on the opening long stage, with a gap of little more than half a minute to the medal positions, with the defending champions Notts AC already setting a hot pace at the front.

Young LUKE BURGESS (27:54), in need of a run on the long leg course before the National in a fortnight’s time, followed next and not only hold his own but moved up three places to 4th, which as it turned out was to be the highest, we were to reach on the day.

Third man up JOHNNY THEWLIS (29:11), who was transferred to a long leg in DAVIS’ place, had the unenviable task of being chased by one of Birchfield’s Ethiopian stars KADAR OMAR *26:51), and despite no lack of effort he was disappointed at not being able to reproduce his recently improved training form as he was not only passed by the Birchfield flier, but fell back to the 8th position that we were in before Luke ran.

On the last of the four 8K stages JACK BANCROFT (27:43), in his final run for the club, did all he could to prevent the gap to the medal positions being extended further by moving back up to 5th place. Even so disappointingly we were still more than two minutes away from the medals, while it looked as if the race at the front would be between the defending champions Notts, who had led from the start and Birchfield, for whom OMAR AHMED (25:53) had set the day’s fastest long stage ahead of Jack and moved the Birmingham club into the silver medal position.

ADAM STOKES (16:28) did all he could to start making up some of the lost leeway and held on well to 5thplace before supposedly handing over to the team’s latest recruit ALEX STEWART, which is when the disaster struck. Unfortunately, poor Alex had misjudged his start time and was not on hand to takeover. It seems his mistake was partly due to the odd lettering system that the Midlands seem to always use for the identification of the successive stages.

“I had been given the H number for my leg rather than the G that I thought would apply to the previous stage, so when the runners on Adam’s leg started coming in, I thought I still had plenty of time before I needed to go to the start,” said a confused but desperately apologetic Alex.

Unfortunately, when he was finally spotted still getting prepared before heading up to the start nearly ten minutes had elapsed, and he eventually set off only just ahead of our second team runner Sam Johnson.

Confused and upset as he must have been, he certainly vented his frustration in the ideal way by posting a very creditable time for a first effort on the course of 16:08 to prove what an asset he is going to be to the club. It also still meant that we ended up losing only 11 places on Adam’s finishing position by the time he came back in 16th place.

Having had to wait for the best part of ten minutes before he was due to set off WILL CHRISTOFI (17:09), one of the team’s late replacements, must have been wondering what had happened to Alex. But when he did eventually appear after more than 25 minutes, Will showed that he is beginning to find his true form again and did as well as could have been expected to hold his position before DAN STUDLEY (15:42) made a real impact by storming round to begin the recovery process in earnest. Clocking the sixth best time of the day, Dan made up a lot of ground and advanced two places to 14th.

ADAM WILSON (16:22) then underlined his current training form by continuing the team’s forward progress to lift us another place to 13th, while it was left to the first of our two vets in the team OWAIN JONES (16:08) to get us back into the top ten with another impressive effort.

Nor was another of our supervets GRAHAM BREEN (16:45), who was only added to the team overnight, phased by the ongoing challenge and he too managed to grab two more scalps and move us up to 8th on the penultimate stage.

Time and distance by now was running out, but not quite, and our team captain KURT TAYLOR (15:19) duly underlined his growing class by rocketing round the anchor leg to be rewarded with the medal for the day’s fastest short leg overall. It lifted us yet another two positions to 6th, which was only one lower than where we had been when the takeover disaster struck. Up ahead Birchfield were clear winners ahead of their local rivals BRAT, with Western Tempo surprisingly just pipping the holders Notts to the bronze medals.

“It just wasn’t going to be our day it seems,” was the captain’s conclusion, “but I want everyone to really pull together now and more than make amends in the National.”

Meanwhile the obviously weakened B team had not been given much of a chance of qualifying for the National by making the top 25 of the 75 teams involved, but such was the huge disparity in standard that they ended up surprising themselves despite having to call on 60+ supervets PHIL PARRY and DAVE BEDWELL to complete their line-up.

It was particularly heartening to see JOE CONNORS (29:45) back in action after a long injury absence, and while still by his own admission nothing like race fit, he toured round the opening stage to finish just inside the top half of the field in 32nd place.

To his credit ALED ANDERSON (29:51) was only six seconds slower than Joe on the second stage. Running exceptionally well, he gained ten places to put the team well inside that top 25 qualifying target, which NICK ROBERTS (30:31) and CHRIS NEILSON (30:08) duly improved still further by moving forward another four positions to make the top 20 for the first time in 18th place at the end of the long stages.

Although JON HIGGINS (18:30) was unable to maintain the forward march on the first of the short stages, he held on to that top 20 position, which SIMON JOHNSON (17:57), who did well to dip under the 18-minute barrier, had no problem consolidating.

ALEX HOBLEY (17:46), while admitting that he is not back to full fitness, even though he was faster than Simon, did lose one place on the next leg that TARIQ KURD (18:43), despite having done a morning parkrun as a warm-up, somehow managed to regain to put the team back inside the top 20 again.

All it needed then was a faster run by normal first team man ANDY WATT (16:58) to remove any doubt, which he did, lifting the team to 18th and providing both Phil and Dave with the time in hand to make sure of maintaining a top 25 position in 20th place.


The only confident pre-race prediction before the accompanying women’s 6 stage championship was that the holders Birchfield would again take all the beating, with their main challenge likely to come from Midland cross country champions Charnwood. The first was spot on, but Charnwood were at nothing like full strength, which opened up the race for the medals, with our girls, though themselves nothing like as strong as they could be, still in with an outside chance of matching the bronze medals they had won in the cross-country championship at the end of January.

They chose to frontload, letting the team’s star runner CHELSEA BAKER (31:31) put them in a challenging position from the off, and despite only just making the start after a typical marathon runner’s long warm-up, she certainly did what was required. Following Birchfield’s lead runner HANNAH ROBINSON up the long hill to the top of the course, she eventually took the initiative near Keeper’s pool to establish a narrow advantage that she held to the finish, where she handed HANNAH POLLAK a 12 second lead after recording the second fastest long stage of the day.

HANNAH (19:10) was predictably passed by her Birchfield rival on the first short stage, but still clocked the day’s 7th fastest time to keep the team in a comfortable second place before handing over to team captain ELAINA GARD (35:39) for the other of the event’s long stages. Elaina, who is in hard training for her ironman triathlon debut, had only come into the team as a late substitute for the flu stricken CATIE O’DONAGHUE), but only forfeited one place to Cheltenham club Western Tempo to keep us in the bronze medal position at halfway.

And with somewhat alarming gaps between the leading teams, that’s where we were to stay till the finish. Veteran star JESSIE SANZO (19:41) really made sure on the second of the short stages, while HANNAH DYER (20:07) and supervet SARAH EVERITT (20:30) left the chasing Stroud team well adrift to finish off what was an unexpected medal success for the team.

Perhaps it was no surprise in the circumstances that the same three clubs also proved the pick of the B teams. EMMA JOLLIFFE (38:24) set the ball rolling by coming in 31st on the opening stage that her supervet mum CLARE JOLLIFFE (20:25) improved to 24th on the first short leg. That’s where ELLEN HARRISON (39:22) and TANYA CHOWDHURY (21:51) were to stay on the next two stages, only for BILLIE WILLIAMS (20:50) to move up five more places into the top 20 and SIAN DAVIES (22:28) to belie her 60 years and finally cross the finishing line as third B team in a very creditable 18th place.

Finally, I would especially like to thank Owain and Kurt, on behalf of both teams, for the extra time and effort they have put in helping with the entry and transport organisation. Now guys let’s make sure we redeem our fortunes in two weeks’ time at the National!!

Mike Down (Team Manager)

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