Cheltenham Harriers created history as they claimed their highest ever finish with second place at the Midland Six Stage Road Relay Championships in Sutton Coldfield. Having claimed bronze medals at last year’s event and silver at this year’s 12 stage relay, the team went into the race full of confidence and with a strong line up. Oli Mott took on the opening leg of the challenging 5.8km course and came home in a pleasing fourth place in a time of 18:29. Significantly the other fancied medal contenders of Bristol, Birchfield, Tipton and Notts were all behind Mott as Leicester, Stoke and Corby led the way. The second stage saw Tom Lowe run well to move past Corby with a pleasing 18:59 leg, but he was also passed by Bristol so retained fourth position. Phil Wylie then moved past Stoke and Leicester to move the Cheltenham team up into second place with an impressive 17:49. However, Bristol’s Richard Peters ran 17:29, the joint fastest time of the day, to give his team a 22 second advantage over the Harriers at the halfway point of the race with Leicester were a further 58 seconds adrift. Dave Roper then ran well with an 18:37 leg, but still lost 29 seconds to Bristol’s Ben Westhenry as he extended the lead over third placed Notts to just under two minutes. The fifth leg was always going to be important, with the Harriers star man Graham Rush chasing down Bristol’s Owen Jones. Rush gradually closed down Jones, catching him in the final stages and handing over to Alex Lee with a one second lead. Rush’s time of 17:29 equalling Peters’ fastest stage of the race. Lee had the unenviable task of going head to head with Bristol’s GB international Steve Mitchell and stuck to the 4 minute miler for the opening mile. Mitchell then opened up a gap which he extended to 34 seconds by the finish as Bristol took the title. Lee crossed the line in 18:56 to give Dave Newport’s training group an excellent silver medal as the Harriers finished almost three minutes clear of third placed Birchfield.
The Cheltenham B team was also strong and hoping to get inside the top ten places for the first time. Marc Fallows (20:09) placed 32nd on leg one before Richard de-Camps (19:34) pulled the team up into 18th and Alex Bampton (19:58) gained a further two places. Will New (19:40) put the team into 15th before Jon Barnes (19:58) overtook two more teams. Unfortunate to not be picked for A team Phil Beastall then produced a very impressive 18:42 to take the team up into ninth place which saw them as the leading B team with an almost three minute advantage over Bristol. The Cheltenham C team also performed well to finish 25th overall and as the leading C team in the event thanks to John Merrett (20:50), Mark James (20:56), impressive debutant Liam Roarty (19:42), Dave Aubrey (20:37), Roger Mullins (20:58) and Russell Forsbrook (21:21). The D team were also the first D team to finish as they placed 40th from the 96 complete teams through Lee Groenewegen (22:23), Alister Brown (22:53), Matt Evans (22:15), Tommaso Migliuolo (21:00), James Wilkinson (22:53) and Elliot Prince (21:51). The Harriers Ladies team also enjoyed a good performance in their four stage event held over a 4.3km leg with Rachel Longtaff giving them a good start with a 16:21 opening leg. Jo Wilkie then gained two places with 17:41 before Susan Mair (19:21) hade over in 18th. Fee Maycock then made up three places to give the team a pleasing fifteenth place finish from a field of 83 complete teams.
There were fine second placed finishes for Dave Roper and Shona Crombie-Hicks as Cheltenham Harriers dominated the Cheltenham Half Marathon and took the team title with eight runners in the top ten. Roper was the only athlete to follow pre-race favourite Toby Spencer in the early stages and stayed with the Coventry runner for the first two miles before Spencer pulled clear on his way to a clear victory. Roper’s tactics though worked well as his Harriers teammates of Alex Lee, Oli Mott, John Parker and Ben Price behind stuck together in a pack. Running solo for the rest of the race Roper ran a controlled race and was pleased to break the 70 minute barrier as he took second place in 69:53. Mott clearly had not recovered from racing at the previous day’s Midland Six Stage Road Relay and dropped off the pack at around the half way point of the race whilst his three teammates stuck together until the 11 mile mark. Price then put in a surge that saw first Lee and then Parker fall away as he went on to claim third in a personal best of 72:19. Parker finished as first veteran in 72:48 for third before Lee placed fourth in 73:23. Marcus England ran a well-paced race for sixth in a PB of 73:48 before Will New ran well for seventh in 74:30 and Mott cruised home in 74:59 for eighth place. After ex Harrier Will Woodcock (Wirral) had taken ninth Dave Tomlin completed the top ten as he finished as second veteran home in 76:36. Ben Williams (79:08) impressed on his debut over the distance before Mike Gray (81:36) and Andy Gore (83:48) completed the course.
The women’s race saw Crombie-Hicks lying third for the first half of the race behind Annabel Granger (Bristol) and women’s Ironman triathlon world record holder Chrissie Wellingon (BRAT). Crombie-Hicks moved through the field in the second half to pass Wellington and cross the line in 83:49 for a pleasing second place. Steve Hall (84:12), Gareth Edwards (84:23), Paul Wade (86:15), Mateusz Podsiadly (86:50), Simon Critchley (86:56), Matt Evans (87:27) and Jacob Pickering (88:28) all soon followed before Jo Wilkie (94:46) finished as 23rd lady home. Wilkie’s time meant that the Harriers won the mixed team event based on the cumulative time of the first two men and two women from each club.
Representing the club in the Cirencester 10k were Anthony Bailey who finished as first veteran in third place with 35:01 and V50 runner Andrew Hussey who finished fourth in 35:52. Dave Rantell (37:49), Paul Barnes (42:23), Martin Ford (42:52) and Debbie Smith (45:50) completed the Harriers contingent.