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National Road Relays Roundup - Seniors

Second Best in the UK Can't Be Bad Guys!

I can’t off hand recall who first coined the expression ‘all that glitters is not gold’, but its application to the remarkable performance of our silver medal winning team in the National 12 stage road relay championship at Sutton Park could hardly be more fitting.


In a week when the nation’s attention traditionally switches to having a bet, you could have got each way odds of at least 10% and probably much higher of us being medal winners in our own Grand National.


Yet while topping the podium may seem as elusive as ever, such is the current dominance of the apparently ever strengthening Leeds City squad, it was as if our guys had considered the top six target I had set the team in my preview as something of an insult to their aspirations as to a man they produced a string of glittering efforts that seemed to grow ever stronger throughout the race.


To beat one of the pre-race favourites Southern champions Highgate had looked beyond us in a race that apart from Scottish champions Central AC’s success last year has been increasingly monopolised at the front by Southern clubs, yet not only did we do it but also left all the other leading Southern and Northern clubs in our wake could in what was a true all round team effort, with little more than 20 seconds separating the times of most of our long stage runners and similarly less than 15 seconds on the majority of the short stages.


Our success says much for the strong team bond developing among our runners, which was exemplified not only by our road captain Kurt Taylor being determined to ignore time zone problems and turn out despite only getting back from an Australian holiday the afternoon before the race, but even more so by our cross country ace Jack Millar who literally jumped off a plane from Kenya on the actual morning of the race and took a train to Birmingham to make sure he could make it in time to do the penultimate stage.


Brutal Wind

So how did it all happen on a day dominated by a blustery wind gusting at times to more than 40mph that wrecked any chance of record-breaking times, particularly on the long stages where on the return journey from Streetly Gate it took a brutal toll.


At least some of the runners that started for the 65 teams that had qualified at the area championships were able to seek shelter on the opening stage from those at the head of the race, among whom were DAN STUDLEY (26:30) whose planned job was to get the team into the top ten by the first changeover. Using his career long experience Dan was content to let the early leaders Bedford and Midland champions Western Tempo set a hot pace in front while staying out of the wind in a seven strong chasing pack, all of whom he eventually outstayed to give us the start we wanted in 7th position less than half a minute off the lead held by Bedford’s Jack Goodwin (26:04).


OWAIN JONES (16:10) knew his task was to try and hold that top ten place on the first short stage, and though quickly overhauled by the Leeds and Aldershot runners, our ace vet did well to lose only two further places and virtually match the time he had set in the Midland championship despite the unfavourable conditions.


FELIX MCGRATH (27:30) held that 11th position on the second long stage while closing right up on his old clubmate JACK BANCROFT (28:08) running for our Midland conquerors Western Tempo, and though he was disappointed to not at least match his Midland time, the half minute he was slower was very similar to that lost by others on the long stages due to the windy conditions.


Up next our recent American recruit NAPH MOULTON (15:36) then underlined what an asset he is going to be to the team by clocking the third fastest time on his leg to move us up three places and back into the top ten in 8th place almost exactly two minutes down on the new leaders Highgate.


MAX DAVIS (26:32), who seems to be coming something of a Sutton Park specialist, which is perhaps not surprising given a surname matching Telford’s legendary record-breaking exponent on the course CHRIS DAVIS, then repeated Naph’s progress by gaining a further three places to lift us up to 5th with the equal second fastest time on the stage.


The question then was whether HUGH BRASHAW (15:44), who is a relative newcomer to the sport, could hold our position, but so fast has the progress he has been showing in training recently that not only did he hold our 5th position, but with the 6th fastest time on his stage kept us only just over 20 seconds outside the bronze medal position that was still held by early pacesetters Bedford.


Although our latest recruit UK steeplechase champion WILL BATTERSHILL (26:20) had said beforehand that he was not ready for anything like a full out effort having only been back running seriously for five weeks following a chronic achilles problem that had prevented him from racing since last year , he later admitted that when seeing the Bedford and Hercules-Wimbledon runners just up ahead he could not resist setting off in pursuit. The net result was that he overhauled both of them to put us in the bronze medal position exactly two minutes down on the leaders Leeds as well as actually clocking our fastest long leg.


“I’ve never had the chance to do this event before, but it was fun. I really enjoyed it and just pleased that I could help the team have such a successful day,” said Will, who will now be concentrating on his preparations for the coming track season when he hopes to achieve the Olympic steeplechase qualification time.  


Taking over from Will, JOHNNY THEWLIS (15:42) clearly felt a responsibility that he had probably not been anticipating, but seemingly locked into his own concentrated effort zone he proved more than equal to the task, posting the third fastest time on the stage to extend our third-place advantage over Hercules-Wimbledon to exactly half a minute.


While admitting to not having his racing legs after his return the previous day from Australia team captain KURT TAYLOR (26:43) still clocked the 5th fastest time on his leg to actually extend our bronze medal advantage as the Hercules-Wimbledon runner was caught and passed by his Cambridge and Coleridge rival.


With MIKE WILSMORE dropping out of the selected team, it was left to ALEX STEWART (16:22), who is himself only just coming back from an injury issue, to try and hold off the challenge coming from the duel behind between the two chasing Southern clubs, and to his credit he succeeded despite the gap being reduced to only just over 20 seconds.


All depended now on what JACK MILLAR (26:21), whose incredible effort to even make the start has already been highlighted, could pull out on the penultimate stage, but not only did he allay any fears of our being caught, but incredibly recorded the second fastest time on his leg to actually catch and pass the Highgate team ahead and put us in the silver medal position, albeit by just 13 seconds, with only the final stage to come.


“To be honest like Kurt I did not feel my normal self energy wise after all the travelling and rush to get here, so just concentrated on trying to catch the Highgate runner which I just managed to do,” sighed the ever-modest Jack.


It certainly set up a potential grandstand finish for the silver medals behind Leeds, but BEN ROBINSON (15:30), who is something of an expert on these anchor legs, let his Highgate rival, who inevitably tried to close the gap too quickly, have his say before applying his own mid race surge to open up the gap to over 30 seconds at the finish with the equal third fastest time on the stage.


With Welsh champions Swansea only just making the top ten and defending Scottish title-holders Central only 15th, it meant that we were in receipt of both the UK and English silver medals. In all a very memorable day!


“We’ve got to be pleased with that as we could hardly have done better on the day and I would like to thank all the team for their fantastic efforts. It’s the ideal way to end the winter programme and give us the motivation for what we could achieve next season”, concluded captain Kurt. 


A Fitting Tribute

Meanwhile I am sure many are probably unaware that it’s 20 years ago this month that I instigated the rebranding of the club as Bristol and West, and once again it is significant to point out that many, if not all, of the National successes we have had since would not have been achieved without the input of our West country recruits, as it was again here in which both Will and Max played a vital role.


In that context on behalf of all our runners I would like to mark this latest success as a tribute to one of our most long serving and respected members MIKE STRANGE, who recently passed away and always shared my belief and ambition in striving to make the club one of the most successful competitive teams in the country.


Finally my thanks to Aaron Bruce who is injured at present and spent the day photographing the race, and as ever to my colleague Chris Elson, who once again spent hours trying to make sure we fielded a full B team, and magician as he is even he could not replace a runner due to run the first leg at midday after only receiving the message of his withdrawal at 9.39am!!  Having said that our apologies particularly to Harvey Hancock, who had been looking forward to going for a time on one of the short stages, but selflessly agreed to do that first stage so that the rest of the team could at least have a run.


MIKE DOWN (Team Manager)


B Team

There was drama too for the B team. With the team losing over a third of its strength in the few days preceding the race a deal of reshuffling was inevitable. With only fifteen minutes to go before the start of the first leg, our young star HARVEY HANCOCK (31.15) stepped forward to lead the team off on the long first leg. Harvey collects the newly minted club award for fortitude in the face of extreme running adversity first won by Adam Wilson a fortnight ago at the Midlands Road relays (running a leg with two broken ribs). Having voided the contents of his stomach after the first mile Harvey then developed stitch due to lack of time before the race start for an adequate warm up. Running into the teeth of a howling gale on the return from Streetly gate was enough to test the resilience of the hardiest of runners. So well done and congratulations to Harvey for keeping the team in the hunt.  


FRASER ROACH (16.29) was already moving through the field and looked strong running up the hill. He’s been looking good in training! Frazer lifted the team 10 places to 52nd. It is worth mentioning that the times in general were slower than at the Midland road relays due to the aforementioned wind so a 5 second improvement on his Midlands time was a worthy achievement Marathon master’s star MACIEJ BIALOGONSKI (27.58) then took over and ran a storming leg picking up another 10 places so the team was now in a creditable 42nd place. Club legend and super-vet PHIL PARRY (18.36) was another victim of the reshuffle and was brought forward several legs. Phil ran amazingly well again keeping the team in 45th place.


ALED ANDERSON (28.56) seems to be going from strength to strength at the moment and after joint first place in the Weston Prom run on Thursday produced another stellar run a mere couple of seconds slower than his Midlands time. In doing so, Aled picked up 7 places taking the team into 38th place DANIEL ELLAM (17.02) made his debut in a road relay and produced the goods picking up another two places with the second fastest time of the team’s short leg runners. (Note master’s team manager Dan is a M35).  LUKE BURGESS (28.26), one of our gifted younger runners continued his comeback from a quiet year with injuries and his university studies with a controlled run. Luke picked up another two places to take the team into 34th place.


It was now a matter of whether those drafted into the team at the last minute and/or reshuffled could hold on! They did! Club talisman TARIQ KURD an M50 (19.20) duly pulled something out of the bag losing one place. A remarkable performance given that he too ran the Weston Prom run on Thursday evening. JOE CONNORS (30.06) gradually getting back to form after injury held on to 35th place. Joe was quietly pleased with his run, deservedly so.  SAM JOHNSON (19.22) did the same. Sam was pleased that he got round the course in one piece and even more pleased that his time was only a couple of seconds slower than Tariq’s. That left LEE GAWLER (30.34) who was drafted onto the last leg long leg as a consequence of the withdrawals. Lee had the misfortune to start just before the mass start at 4.30pm which made pacing his run difficult as people running the short leg went by potentially disrupting his rhythm. Lee successfully avoided the hazard and leaving the club in 36th place.


If the B team had a runner on the 12th leg capable of running 5K in 19 minutes the team would have finished 36th and 33rd English club. Not quite up to the 24th place of 2019, but still very respectable.


Chris Elson (Team Manager)


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