It’s Deja Vu with Another Silver Lining
Any concern that the two-year absence due to the ongoing pandemic might ruffle the status quo in the autumn area road relay championships was unfounded. It was almost as if the runners involved had been vaccinated against the risk of change!
In short there was no change in the pecking order at the front. Top Birmingham club Birchfield Harriers dominated the race as they had done two years ago and consigned us again to the silver medals, though admittedly we were closer to them this time, with Nott AC too repeating their bronze medal position. The only change for us was that our second team finished just two places lower in 12th position - a nonetheless impressive result in a field of 117 teams as only ten clubs across the whole Midland area beat our second string on the day.
Although we were missing Jack Bancroft and Johnny Thewlis, we would have been hard pressed even with both in our line-up to seriously challenge the Birmingham powerhouse, for whom their Ethiopian pocket rocket Omar Ahmed’s fastest stage of the day was almost a minute and a quarter quicker than our best individual time.
Not that you could have predicted the outcome early on as Birchfield chose to backload their team over the last four of the six undulating stages. From our point of view, we had Josh Moody (18:03) to thank for giving us a better start than expected by producing what was surely his best performance for the club on the road. He gave a master class on how to pace the opening leg, sensibly refusing to battle it out with the early pacesetters on the long grind uphill to the top of the course before easing his way through the leading pack from a position just inside the top 20 to finish in 5th place just 13 seconds off Notts’ lead, with a time some 40 seconds faster than he had done on the course before.
The 13 second deficit gave Felix McGrath (18:03) the sort of challenge he relishes, and after the opening loop he soon made his fell running ability tell surging past three of those ahead on the climb to the top of the course before catching early leaders Notts on the long run across the open downland to the dogleg turn at Keeper’s stone. Though admitting to still feeling the effects of the previous weekend’s UK Fell running championships in his legs, he had enough in the tank to open a gap of 10 seconds on Notts by the finish with Birchfield now up to third.
Unfortunately to be in the lead was hardly the situation that Ben Westhenry (18:41) can have hoped for in the first serious race of his comeback, particularly with Birchfield poised to start their forward charge, but though caught and passed by Shaun Evans for the eventual winners, he managed to just hold off the chasing Notts runner to keep us in the silver medal place at halfway.
Although Jack Millar (18:04) could only see Birchfield’s course specialist Will Richardson, who clocked the day’s third fastest time of 17:27, receding into the distance for the defending champions, he ran his own race to prove that he is rediscovering his true form in anticipation of the coming cross-country season.
Like Jack, Adam Stokes (18:42) and Kurt Taylor (18:04) were left with nothing more than time trials on the final two stages, with Birchfield now out of sight. Adam has been showing his best form recently in training and could feel well satisfied with his solo effort, while team captain Kurt saw only his own shadow in front of him when the sun broke through and was content to run within himself and cement our silver medal position.
On reflection perhaps the most remarkable stat of the team’s performance was the incredible consistency of our times, with the fastest four clocking within a second of each other and the slower two the same!
And so to the B team. While they narrowly failed to quite match the top ten position achieved two years ago, there was never any doubt they would safely qualify a second team for next month’s National. Ben Maliphant (19:30) set the ball rolling on the first stage. Like Josh he avoided the opening scrimmage and established a position just outside the top 30 by the top of the hill and held it till the finish, coming in within sight of the top 25 needed to qualify.
Next up Joe Connors (18:54) posted the team’s fastest leg to ensure that place in the top 25 by gaining no less than 14 places to move up to 17th overall, which Felix Rusby (20:07) improved three more to 14th at halfway.
Adam Wilson (19:31), despite by his own admission tiring visibly on the final drag to the finish, still did well to claim another two scalps on the next leg and leave us only just outside the top ten in 12th place, and that’s where we were to stay thanks to two sterling efforts by late Substitutes Steve Kerfoot (20:03) and Tom Foxon (20:26) who were both making their first appearance in the event. Both ran admirably in the circumstances, with young Steve only just missing out on a sub-20-minute clocking and Tom making use of his middle-distance speed on to hold off the pursuing Wells and BRAT runners.
Aled Anderson (20:19 ran strongly for the depleted C team after taking over from Tariq Kurd (22:31), both of whom still chose to run and sample the Sutton Park course.
All that remains now is for everyone to hone their form and fitness in the next fortnight for the greater challenge that lies ahead in the National, for which the teams will be finalised on Tuesday, October 5.
Mike Down (Team Manager)