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Wind Fails to Prevent Another Odd Down Spectacular

The cool blustery conditions for the latest race in our 5k summer series may have marred any chance Jack Bancroft and Felix McGrath had of challenging the fastest time recorded so far by a B&W runner on the Odd Down course Kurt Taylor’s 14:29 in the June event, but it certainly in no way detracted from what was another thrilling friendly battle between the two rivals.

However, unlike their close duel in the May experimental event this was never just a two-horse race, with a group of as many as seven runners leading the initial charge downwind on the first of the three plus laps of the l-shaped Odd Down circuit. Cardiff’s Lloyd Sheppard was the initial aggressor forging ahead first time up the slope to the top of the course shadowed by Jack, with Felix heading a chasing group that included Sheppard’s clubmate Mike Kallenberg and the Gloucestershire pair of Charlie Jones and former B&W runner Ben Robinson.

The leaders passed through the first lap in 4:15 well on course for a sub 14:30 clocking, but by the second time round the windy conditions had taken their toll and the pace had dropped to around 8:50 at 3k, with Felix now in front and ramping up the pace in a now familiar attempt to open a gap on his clubmate. It was enough to shake off the Cardiff pair as well as Robinson, but not Western Tempo’s Jones who was the last to succumb before Jack, in his now inimitable way, turned on the after burners once they had rounded the final corner and begun the final surge to the finish line.

There was never more than a metre or two in it, with Jack crossing the finish mat in 14:40, followed closely by Felix in 14:43 and Jones, who hung on tenaciously to set a new pb of 14:44 in third place. The Cardiff pair were a quarter of a minute back both just inside 15mins - Kallenberg in 14:55 and Sheppard 14:57 - with Robinson completing the top six in 15:06.

“It was frustrating that I couldn’t shake Jack off,” commented Felix. “I really need a longer distance to make him suffer enough! But all credit to him. Once the finish is in sight if he’s still there, he takes some beating.”

It was Felix’s’ last domestic outing before he moves to Cardiff this week, where he will be based for the next three years as part of his training to become a GP. He will be sorely missed by our BTC group to which he has made an outstanding contribution during the long pandemic months.

Four other B&W runners bettered the 16-minute 5K and all finished inside the top 20, led by Graham Breen (15:41) 14th, Kieran Batty (15:42) 15th, Andy Watt (15:47) 16th and young Steve Kerfoot (15:51) 18th, while four others were within striking distance of it: Marcus Dunsford (16:10), Trevor Newman (16:11), Dan Madden (16:13) and Dan Cannon (16:15).

Yet the best performance of the race surely came from talented 16-year-old Westbury Harrier Artie Savage-Swaine who exceeded expectations and anything he had done before to finish as high as 10th in an outstanding time for a boy of his age of 15:14, which apparently ranks him among the ten fastest for his age in the country.

As in the June race Phillipa Williams again headed the women’s field in 16:41, which despite the unfavourable conditions was only just over 10 seconds slower than her previous best over the course of 16:30. But more significant, with the club’s women’s team in mind for the coming winter season, was the fine performance of former U23 cross international Hannah Alderson, who is making a welcome comeback to the sport after the best part of ten years in retirement. Her time of 17:03, the fastest of the women in the opening wave, was equal second fastest overall with Taunton’s Katie Drew despite having to deal with a cloudburst in the closing stages of her race.

Annie Carroll (17:49) and Kate Mactear (17:56) also battled bravely to make the top ten in 6th and 7th places respectively, while it was also encouraging to see Ellen Harrison (19:42) back in action again.

While conditions were far from ideal, all but 50 of the runners bettered their previous bests – a return of almost 40%. What’s more a comparative analysis of Jack and Phillipa’s times here with what they recorded in June - differences of just 9 and 11 seconds respectively - suggests that the natural exposure of the course to the elements may not have anything like the decisive influence many of us feared.

Mike Down

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