Cheltenham Harriers had a successful afternoon at the Midlands Six Stage Road Relay Championship with a fine sixth place finish as they qualified two teams for the national championships and finished with the events leading B, C and D teams. For the A team track specialist Dan Owen took the opening stage of the tough 5.88km Sutton Park course and was content to sit back in the pack during the testing uphill opening mile. The steeplechaser then picked his way through the field to hand over in an impressive fourth place in an excellent 18:13. Jon Barnes then posted a 19:27 leg, his best ever time on the course, to leave the Harriers in tenth place after leg two. As expected, Graham Rush then moved the Harriers back up the field with an 18:20 clocking that put the team up to fifth at the half way stage of the race. Dave Roper then held this position on leg four with an 18:25, before Anthony Bailey’s 19:27 PB left the Harriers in sixth place. Marc Fallows then recorded 20:00 on the final leg to maintain this position as the Harriers finished sixth behind Bristol, Tipton, Notts, Wolverhampton and Coventry and just one place short of their best ever finish in the event.
Last year the Harriers B team finished as fourth B team home in twenty-second place overall to qualify for the national championships for the first time. However, the squads improved strength in depth this year meant that their sights were set considerably higher. Middle distance runner James Miller ran a personal best of 19:41 for thirtieth place on leg one, before Sutton Park debutant James Bingham gained eleven places with an impressive 19:36 to leave the Harriers as second B team behind Coventry. Dave Aubrey then gained a further four places with 19:38 to hand over in fifteenth before Will New gained two places with a course PB of 19:47 that left the team just one place and four seconds adrift of Coventry. Roger Mullins then both gained and lost a place with 20:08 to remain in thirteenth, but significantly he moved the Harriers up to leading B team. Richard Evershed then recorded a 20:14 leg to hold position on the final stage, as the Harriers stayed ahead of the B teams from Bristol, Coventry and Notts that finished in fourteenth to sixteenth respectively.
The Harriers C team were led off by club stalwart Andy Gore whose 20:27 left them 43rd overall and as second C team. Alex Lee then ran well for 20:41 on his Sutton Park debut to gain eight places overall and move the Harriers up to first C team, a position that was never relinquished. Team manager Andy Prophett made a welcome return from injury with 21:36 to hand over in 38th place before Mike Gray took the team back to 35th with 21:00 and Miguel Mundinano gained a further two places with 21:08. The final leg then saw a close battle between rival Gloucestershire clubs with the CLC’s A team finishing as third county team behind the two Harriers teams. However, at the finish there was only 22 seconds between Gloucester A in 31st, Cirencester A in 32nd, Severn A in 33rd and Cheltenham C who finished in 34th place thanks to Gareth Edwards’ 21:56. This left the Harriers team almost ten minutes ahead of the next C team and behind the B teams of just four other clubs.
For the first time for many years the Harriers also had a D team competing, with 400m man John Merrett showing good endurance to place 58th on leg one with 21:40, a position held by Matt Evans who clocked 22:55 on leg two. New signing Wai Ming Loh recorded 22:43 to gain two places before Ian Giles took the team up to 53rd with 22:46. Lee Groenewegen’s 25:24 put the team in 56th place before James Wilkinson gained two places as the team finished as 54th of the 81 complete teams. As the leading D team they finished behind just one other clubs C team.
Martin Ford claimed the British Masters V70 10,000m title with a time of 40:53:47 at Birmingham’s Alexander Stadium. At the Cheltenham parkrun Ben Williams became the eighteenth Harrier to win the event as he lowered his personal best to 17:48 whilst Jacob Pickering took third in a PB of 17:58.
An updated Harriers 6 Stage Rankings for all sub 20 runners on the Sutton Park course used since 2001 is available.