Cheltenham Harriers celebrated success at the Midland Road Relay Championships in Sutton Coldfield as their ladies and men’s teams both claimed superb bronze medals. With sub-zero temperatures, frequent blizzards and ice cold winds, there was more than the famous Sutton Park hills for the athletes to battle against as the region’s top clubs went head to head. In the ladies six stage event Alice Taylor led the Harriers off on the opening 5.4 mile long leg. Running well, she handed over in fifth place from the 55 teams with a time of 32:39 as Bristol, Birchfield and Tipton filled the early medal positions. Rachel Longstaff then tackled the first of the 3.2 mile short legs, gaining two places with an impressive 18:44. This took Cheltenham within 55 seconds of Bristol, as Birchfield started to build an unassailable race winning lead that was never challenged. Beth Hawling then took the next long leg and quickly set about reducing the deficit as she took the team up into second place. Stopping the clock at 30:43, the fourth fastest time of the day, Hawling finished 29 seconds clear of rivals Bristol as she handed over to Naomi Eaton. In her first race of the year, Eaton recorded 19:53 to maintain position, although Bristol closed to within 13 seconds. Veteran Fee Maycock then ran well with a 20:24 clocking, but was overtaken by Bristol who then started the final leg with a 36 advantage over the Harriers. With no imminent pressure from behind, the bronze medals were assured as Sarah Sheppard’s 21:01 brought Jo Wilkie’s team home in a third place. This fine achievement was the first time a Cheltenham team had ever claimed medals in the regional six stage championship.
The men meanwhile competed over 12 stages with the Cheltenham team hoping to add to their silver and bronze medals from the previous two championships. Oli Mott got the team off to a great start with a 27:40 long leg to put the team in second position from 57 teams, as Birchfield took a 59 second lead and Tipton trailed the Harriers by just six seconds. Phil Wylie then ran third fastest leg of the day as his 27:13 closed within two seconds of the leaders, with Tipton now 25 seconds adrift and defending champions Bristol just a further 29 seconds behind. The positions remained unchanged on leg three with Alex Bampton impressing with 27:36 as Birchfield gained 13 seconds and Tipton lost 19. The final long then saw Ben Price post 27:50 as Birchfield extended their lead to 36 seconds whilst the Harriers held an advantage of 22 seconds over Tipton and an exact one minute over Bristol. Richard de-Camps took the first of the eight short legs and recorded 16:38 to gain a second on Birchfield, but Tipton and Bristol meanwhile made gains of 13 and 49 seconds respectively. Dan Owen’s 16:23 saw Birchfield gain six more seconds, but the gaps behind grew as Bristol overtook Tipton. The Bristol charge then continued on leg 7 as they swept into the lead through Will Christoffi, whilst James Chantler-Mayne ran well for 16:38 on his Sutton Park debut to close within thirteen seconds of Birchfield. Alex Lee then ran the team’s fasters short leg with 16:20 to take Cheltenham back up into second, with the gap ahead to Bristol now 28 seconds and the gap to third placed Birchfield up to 55 seconds. Leg 9 saw Marcus England post 17:03 to hold position, but Birchfield closed to within 28 seconds as Bristol extended their advantage to over a minute. Stage 10 then saw things close up yet again with Eliot Taylor’s 16:38 meaning that after three and a half hours of racing Bristol were just 24 seconds ahead of the Harriers and Birchfield just 13 seconds behind. Both the Harriers rivals had strong leg 11 athletes, with Charlie Jones’ 16:51 meaning the Harriers dropped back to third with one leg remaining, with gaps of 67 and 36 seconds now to Bristol and Birchfield. The final leg saw Jacob Pickering post 17:08 to ensure the bronze medals as the Cheltenham time of 4:03:58 trailed Bristol (4:02:05) and Birchfield (4:02:21), but kept the team clear of fourth placed Tipton (4:04:41).
The Harriers also entered a B team into the competition and showed their strength in depth with a fine display as Dan King (29:14) put the team in 14th before Dave Aubrey (29:11) gained three places and Edd Charlton-Weedy (29:16) moved the squad up into seventh place. Dan Thomas (29:29) then took the team up to sixth on the final long leg, a position that Mark James (17:44) held on the opening short stage. Mike Gray (20:16) struggled on stage 7 as the team dropped back to tenth, but an impressive 17:40 from Alex Lindfield gained two places back. The team position then was held through Andy Gore (18:20), Matt Lambourne (18:57), Roger Mullins (18:02) and Ian Giles (19:14) before team manager Andy Prophett (19:36) ensured the team remained the highest placed B team in eighth place overall. Weekend parkruns meanwhile saw Gareth Edwards (17:48) enjoy a win at the Worcester Pitchcroft event whilst Gwenael Blanck (18:43) was first over the line at the Cheltenham event where Rachel See (21:09) was the second lady home.