Distance Running News, 2 April

Cheltenham Harriers Men’s team created history with their first ever Midland 12 Stage Road Relay Championships medal as they narrowly missed out on a victory in Sutton Coldfield. Whilst defending champions Notts took the early lead and last year’s silver medalists Bristol lay in fourth place, Oli Mott ran well to place sixth for the Harriers with a 27:57 opening leg in a 64 strong field. The second long leg then saw Harry Bishop gain a place with an impressive 28:02 clocking as Bristol moved up into second behind Notts. Phil Wylie then brought the Harriers up into second place on the third leg with an excellent 26:38 leg that was the second fastest of the day. This put the Harriers just 21 seconds behind Notts and 23 seconds clear of Bristol. The fourth and final long leg then saw Graham Rush produce the fastest long leg of the day to take the Harriers into an unexpected lead with gaps of 59 and 70 seconds respectively over Bristol and Notts. With eight short legs to go, Ben Price then extended the lead with a 16:13 leg that saw the gap behind grow to 93 and 100 seconds respectively as the race distance passed the half way point. Richard de-Camps then recorded a 16:23 leg to increase the lead to 106 and 122 seconds, with the top three positions still unchanged. Stage seven then saw Marc Fallows run 17:01 as the lead went down to 56 seconds over Bristol, but extended to over two minutes to Notts.

An excellent 16:29 from Richard Dare then increased the Cheltenham lead to 76 seconds as he handed over to Will New with four legs to go. The changeover box showed that both Bristol and Notts had their best short legs athletes waiting and that the gap would be significantly reduced. Whilst New ran a pleasing 16:46, Will Christofi brought Bristol within 24 seconds and Notts were now just a further six seconds adrift after Doug Musson’s 15:15. The race then closed even further as Notts overtook Bristol on stage ten to close the gap to just three seconds as Anthony Bailey hung onto the lead with a 16:53 leg; the gap to Bristol in third was also now just 12 seconds. Andrew van Kints, however, then pulled clear of Notts before being caught by the Bristol athlete. The pair then ran side by side before the Dutchman opened a few metres gap again to hand over with a lead of three seconds after his 16:35 leg. Notts meanwhile were now 27 seconds behind. The final leg saw Dave Roper go up against Bristol’s Adam Speake, a runner who has ran 14:46 for 5k this year. After catching Roper, Speake ran side by side with his rival up the two early hills before pushing the pace on the flat section as Roper gamely hung on. However, in the final mile back towards Keeper’s Pool Speake moved clear and had a gap of about five seconds with half a mile remaining which extended to 12 seconds by the finish as Roper recorded 16:33. Notts meanwhile finished just 19 seconds adrift to take third whilst fourth placed Tipton were a further three minutes back. Speaking after the race a delighted team manager Andy Prophett commented, “this is the biggest team achievement in the club’s history. We’ve been improving as a team over several years and this just highlights how far we have come. I’d like to thanks all the athletes and coaches who have contributed, but particularly Dave Newport who has helped so much in building and developing this squad.”

The Harriers women were attending the Championship for the first time in over a decade and produced an excellent team result in their six stage relay. Rachel Longstaff showed great maturity for an 18 year old to place 8th from a field of 57 runners on the opening long stage with 33:12. Team Manager Jo Wilkie then ran a 21:48 short leg to hand over to Vickie Wilkinson in tenth place with Wilkinson’s 35:51 long leg taking the team back into ninth place. Susan Mair then enjoyed a 23:40 debut for the team on leg 4 with a 23:40 to leave the Harriers twelfth before fellow debutant Sam Anderson gained a place with 23:00. The final leg saw Sam Pickering gain a position and record 24:48 as the team finished as the first Gloucestershire club home in a very pleasing tenth place. Meanwhile the Harrier men’s B team finished fourteenth overall and as second B team home in the 12 stage event home thanks to the efforts of Andy Prophett (30:56), Dave Aubrey (31:47), Darren Jordan (29:52), Marcus England (30:16), Jacob Pickering (17:24), Kieran Hill (20:08), Russell Forsbrook (18:05), Gavin McCaugherty (17:39), Matt Evans (18:43), Iain Devlin (18:16), Lee Groenewegen (19:48) and Mike Gray (18:18).