Mike Down previews this weekend's National Road Relays.
Let’s Avenge Midland Defeat and Target Top Ten At Least!
Since the club was rebranded in the 2003/2004 season, the National 6-stage autumn road relay event has proved the team’s toughest challenge of all the major championships we contest every year.
The medal podium has proved particularly elusive as we have only succeeded in taking third place on one occasion, sixteen years ago in 2006, such is the ability of many clubs to field a six-strong team.
Even so we have been one of the most consistently competitive teams among the country’s top endurance clubs, having finished in the top six eight times, and it would have been double figures but for a missed changeover on the opening leg on one occasion and an acute injury sustained on another, when both times we would have finished at least fourth or fifth. What’s more in only five of the 18 races staged that we’ve contested as Bristol and West have we failed to make the top ten, two of those as a result of the accidents just referred to.
Those stats certainly indicate just how competitive an event it is to succeed in a line-up of the country’s top 80 or so teams that come through the qualifying Area championship races. Nor does this year look any different, with Aldershot, who were convincing winners of one of the two Southern qualifying races with a near all international line-up, likely to start favourites to retain their national title against rivals Leeds, who none the less look as formidable as ever, having remarkably placed three teams in the top 7 when winning the Northern championship.
So, what of our chances? On the face of it does seem as if the rest of us, including our two Midland conquerors Notts AC and BRAT, will be racing at best for a place in the top six, such is the ever-strong challenge provided in particular by the other leading Southern clubs Tonbridge, Bedford, Highgate, Southampton and Cambridge and Coleridge, all of whom will be targeting a place on the podium. Add in Northern runners-up Sheffield based Hallamshire, Salford and the pride of the North East Morpeth, and a top ten place again would be no mean achievement.
Encouragingly we look capable of fielding our strongest team since we were fifth five years ago, as another new recruit Australian Tim Lefroy is set to make his debut for the club and will join our other recent signing Max Davis who made such an impression in the Midland championship. Unfortunately, neither Felix McGrath nor Ben Robinson is available, but team captain Kurt Taylor still has Jack Millar and Johnny Thewlis joining him from the bronze medal-winning Midland team, with Josh Moody, Jack Bancroft or Dan Studley - the last two named having come back from recent injury problems – set to take the final place in the A team.
It’s a team that could possibly challenge the best time we have ever recorded in the race: 1:46:41 in 2008 when we finished fourth. That’s an average of 17:47 for the hilly 6km lap, and while it’s a minute and a half faster than we recorded in the recent Midland championship, it’s a statistical anomaly that every team member normally runs between 10 and 20 seconds faster in the National race.
At the same time, to make the medals these days - with the help of the new faster shoes - a finishing time of at least 1:45 (17:30 per man) is required and that admittedly looks beyond our current squad. But whatever our first team’s fate, we hope to be fielding what on paper looks to be our strongest ever B team, with a place in the top 25 not out of the question. Our cross captain Owain Jones and Ben Westhenry, who both missed the Midland championship race, come into the team this time, along possibly with Hugh Sadler, who has recently returned from his studies in America.
Teams (in provisional running order)
A: Jack Millar, Dan Studley, Tim Lefroy, Max Davis, Johnny Thewlis, Kurt Taylor.
B: Owain Jones, Josh Moody, Adam Stokes, Hugh Sadler/Andy Watt, Ben Westhenry, Jack Bancroft.
Ladies Out to Repeat Last Year’s Superiority!
Undaunted our women’s team will be quick to point out that last year their seventh place was better than the men’s ninth and they too will again be targeting a place in the top ten in the accompanying 4-stage women’s championship.
What’s more, except for our new marathon star Hannah Alderson, they will be fielding what is probably the best quartet we have in the club at present. The team, put together by team managers Elaina Gard and Owain Jones, is boosted by new signing Chelsea Baker, who posted one of the ten fastest times in the recent Midland championship race, and promising young athlete Megan Hornung. Megan makes her debut for the senior squad and joins the club’s top middle distance runner Natalie Bretherton and Katrina Entwistle, who set a new personal best in last weekend’s Bristol 10k.
Many of you may not be aware that it was our ladies’ team, not the men, that provided our first success story at National level following the club’s rebranding. Led by Olympian Kate Reed, B&W won this 4-stage championship two years running in 2004 and 2005, clocking our fastest ever for the event of 57:46 that was a course record at the time, with Kate incredibly dipping under 14 mins for the hilly 4km lap on both occasions (13:59 and 13:56).
While our current quartet are not yet quite up to that exalted level, there is no reason why they cannot break the hour barrier and build on that during the coming winter season. I had the privilege of looking after both the men’s and women’s team back then and am excited to see our ladies back in the firing line.
Teams (in provisional running order):
A: Natalie Bretherton, Megan Hornung, Katrina Entwistle, Chelsea Baker.
B: Hannah Pollak, Amy Nicholls, Anna Ford, Caz Buckeridge.
Mike Down (Men’s team manager)