A big congratulations to everyone who competed at the National Road Relays last weekend. It was a successful day for the club, with the Men finishing a great fourth and 31st (2nd B team), and the Women finishing twelfth. A shout-out also to Josh Moody (15:28) and Natalie Bretherton (18:34) for recording the fourth and eighth fastest individual short leg times of the day!
Chris Elson and Mike Down report on how the men and women got on.
With COVID infections ravaging the women’s teams for the Midland Road relays, would enough nippy ladies to recover to make a team? They did, but it was a close-run thing.
Catie O’Donoghue ran the first leg, which is long and a big ask if you’ve only had a week to recover from COVID and no speed work. In the event, Catie proved the athlete's adage, when the going gets tough, the tough get tougher, and ran strongly to finish in 33:50 in 21st position!
UWE captain Verity Potts ran the second short leg holding on to 21st position and clocking 21:09. Our club treasurer took time off from minding the club finances to run a storming 18:34 pulling five places back, the eighth fastest short leg of the day! Natalie managed to look serene flying past her cheering supporters with 300m to go.
Jessie Mackie, fresh from her third place in Hanover 10K last weekend, carried on where Natalie left off pulling back another three places with a 32:18 a satisfying 36 seconds faster than her time at the Midland road relay a fortnight earlier.
That left Sorrell Walsh to run the anchor leg for the team. Sorrell hadn’t had the pleasure of a previous encounter with Sutton Park and was pleasantly surprised by it, remarking that the Eastville parkrun provided a good preparation for the relays. Sorrell recorded 20:10 and pulled back another place leaving the team in a highly commendable twelfth place and even more satisfying, third Midland team, three up on a fortnight ago!
Men - Medals Just Denied Again - But a Season's Best All Round Performance
Fourth is a tough place to finish in any race, especially when there are National championship medals at stake, and for it to happen twice in the two major events of the season is particularly gut-wrenching.
But following our fourth-place finish in the National Cross-Country Championships, that’s the fate our men’s team ended up suffering when the winter season came to its traditional climax in the National 12 Stage Road Relay Championship, held as always at Birmingham’s Sutton Park.
Medals may not have been the reward on the day, but this was surely our team’s best all round performance of the season as we underlined our place among the country’s elite club teams. Not only did we conclusively avenge our defat by Notts AC in the Midland Championships a fortnight ago, but we also saw off the challenge of all the Northern clubs that had qualified, including pre-race favourites Leeds - albeit they had lost ground on the opening leg due to their runner suffering an asthma attack.
What a thrilling race it was from start to finish. Only just over two minutes separated the top four teams after some four and a quarter hours of racing, with the eventual winners Tonbridge only catching long time leaders Highgate almost within sight of the finish on the final stage.
Just how close it was is shown by the fact that we missed medalling ahead of third placed Bedford by the equivalent of less than six seconds a man, with all five members of the team who ran the same distance legs as they had in the Midland event clocking significantly faster times than they had done two weeks previously. The rest of the team, including those who had missed the Midland race, all more than lived up to expectations, while the B team produced what was almost certainly the best performance by the club’s B team to finish only 35 seconds adrift of favourites Leeds B team in 31st place overall.
“I couldn’t have asked for more from our guys today. We were in the shake-up all day and we’ll all be back next year to go at least one better”, said team captain Kurt Taylor.
So how did it all transpire. Felix McGrath (26:41), as he had at the Midlands, gave us the kind of start we had hoped for. After tucking in with the leading group on the opening climb to the top of the course, he had to dig deep when the race really erupted on the long dogleg back to the rundown for the last mile, but he held it together well to finish less than 40 seconds off the medal positions in 14th place. Some 30 places back Andy Salmon (28:13), who has been improving all winter, brought the B team home third of the seven clubs that had qualified two teams in 43rd position of the 64 that lined up.
There’s nothing like early momentum in a road relay to give a boost to morale to the rest of your team and didn’t Josh Moody (15:28) achieve just that. Posting what was arguably the team’s performance of the day, he clocked the fourth equal fastest time overall for the short stage to move us up eight places to sixth position in a time 42 seconds faster than he had managed at the Midlands. Meanwhile, behind him Billy Cochrane (17:14) held his position for our second string.
Our cross-country specialist Jack Millar (26:34), though passed by Belgrave’s international star Nick Goolab, who was to post the day’s fastest long leg of 25:23, did more than enough to consolidate our sixth position on the second long stage, on which Pete Bains (29:14) went a full minute faster than he had recorded at the Midlands to gain two places for the B team.
Next up Henry Cochrane (15:46) delivered a cracking run on the second short stage. Not only did he catch three of the teams ahead, but in doing so lifted us into the bronze medal position for the first time in the race, while Andy Watt (16:55), nursing an ankle strain, still managed to follow Henry’s example by lifting the B team five places to 36th position.
There was a check to both teams’ forward momentum on the third long stage. Owain Jones (27:34) was switched to a long leg due to Jack Bancroft’s recent COVID experience. Despite the switch, Owain delivered the time sort of time we had hoped for but was up against strong competition and ended up dropping back to sixth. For the B team Richard Elston (31:10), who was only called up the day before, ran well but also faced strong competition on the leg, and bought B team home in 40th.
This presented the in-form Will Parkin (15:40) with the sort of challenge he needed, and running 24 seconds faster than he had at the Midlands he soon regained two of the places lost to move us back to fourth position at the halfway point, while behind him Harry Allen (16:24), running half a minute faster than he had managed at the Midlands, took a similar cue to regain four places and leave the B string back in 36th position.
Kurt Taylor (26:20) continued the forward march by clocking our fastest long leg on stage 7 to lift us back into the bronze medal position for the second time in the race, while further back Johnny Thewlis (27:37), who had transferred to the second team due to not feeling 100%, will have been relieved to post the fastest long stage for the B team and move them up three places to 33rd.
While Southern clubs Highgate and Bedford were now beginning to look beyond reach, Ben Westhenry (15:51) had a battle royal with eventual winners Tonbridge on the eighth stage, and though eventually losing out to his rival, ran more than half a minute faster than he had two weeks previously to keep us close enough to still be in with a shout of the medals. At the same time Adam Wilson (17:03) exactly matched his Midland effort to keep the second team in the same position as he started.
This left Dan Studley (27:22) to keep us in touch with the medal positions, and though he too ran ten seconds quicker than he had at the Midlands, the Tonbridge runner he was chasing was going even faster in pursuit of the leaders, while he was also caught by Hercules-Wimbledon, whose forward position was the surprise of the race. Dan Shepherd (29:43) meanwhile kept the B team’s progress going as they moved up another position to 32nd, which Graham Donald (17:25) was able to maintain on the penultimate short stage.
Up ahead on the tenth stage Joe Connors (15:54) did everything that could be expected of him by ensuring all our short leg runners broke 16 minutes to maintain the A team’s fifth position.
Yet with Tonbridge now still forging ahead in their ultimate pursuit of victory, Ben Robinson (26:33) was faced with an impossible task to close in on the medal positions on the last long leg. Even so, he still clocked our second fastest long stage time to catch and pass the Hercules-Wimbledon runner and lift us back up to fourth again, which is where we were to finish. Meanwhile for the B team our super-vet Graham Breen (29:17), who was still recovering from riding the near 300km Tour of Flanders sportive in Belgium last weekend, kept us in 32nd position.
Now it was only left to Jack Bancroft (15:48), happily recovered from COVID, to cruise round the anchor leg and keep us a clear fourth well ahead of Leeds, and for Tom Foxon (16:47) to move the B team up another place to 31st with their second fastest short stage time.
In all it has been another successful winter season for the team, with the depth of our distance running squad growing ever stronger. We have been within striking distance of winning one of the country’s major distance running titles, just as we were before the pandemic interrupted competition.