Cheltenham Harriers produced an excellent performance as they claimed their highest ever position at the National Six Stage Road Relay Championships with a fine twelfth place as Graham Rush produced the third fastest leg of the day. Having claimed silver in the Midland Championships on the same Sutton Coldfield course two weeks ago, the team’s hopes of bettering their best ever position of fifteenth looked to have been dashed by injuries with only three of the medal winning sextet available for selection. However, the Harriers squad showed its strength in depth with a determined and battling performance. Having set a course PB of 17:53 at the Midlands event, Phil Beastall was looking to beat his time for the hilly 5.88km circuit of Sutton Park on the highly competitive opening leg. Running an excellent race Beastall came home in an impressive twelfth place as he posted a 17:40 time that also moved him up from sixth to second on the Harriers all time rankings for the course. Starting 26 seconds behind the race lead Graham Rush quickly set about moving through the field at a blistering pace, picking off places up the hill before putting the Harriers in the lead half way along the flat section to Jamboree Stone. Continuing to pull away from the field the Dave Newport coached athlete went on to record a time of 17:16, the third fastest leg of the day, to leave the Harriers with a 24 second lead over second placed Stockport. The unenviable task of taking over from Rush fell to Dan Owen, who managed to keep the lead until just after half way round his leg. Doing well to only lose one more place Owen recorded 18:25 to leave the Harriers in third behind Swansea and Highgate as the race reached the halfway point.
The inevitable drift down the field then continued as James Denne clocked 19:03 to finish his stage in tenth place. Alex Bampton then produced an excellent leg as he took twenty-one seconds off the course PB he set at the Midlands event to move the Harriers up a position into ninth place with an impressive 18:36. With just one leg remaining, the club record of fifteenth now seemed within reach as late call up to the team Alex Lee set off. Running eight seconds quicker than he ran two weeks ago, Lee posted 19:25 to bring Andy Prophett’s team home in twelfth place. Finishing one place ahead of Notts, the result confirmed the Harriers standing as second team in the Midlands as rivals Bristol finished fifth whilst Swansea, Tonbridge and Lincoln took home the medals. The Harriers B team were one of only five Midlands teams to have their B team qualify for the event and were looking to beat their best ever position of 59th place. Charlie Jones got the team off to a good start as he beat his course PB by seven seconds with 19:20 for 69th place. Dan Thomas then followed suit with an impressive sixteen second PB of 19:24 to gain three places, before Dave Aubrey knocked four seconds off his Midland time with 19:47 to leave the team in 61st at the halfway point of the race. Richard de-Camps then impressed with a six second PB of 19:16 as he gained eight places before Edd Charlton-Weedy ran 19:39 on his Sutton Park debut to hand over in 54th place. Dan King then posted 20:02 to gain a place on the final leg as the Harriers were the eighth B team home.
The Cheltenham ladies went into their four stage looking to build on their growing reputation, despite having only two of the four runners that won silver medals at the recent Midland Championships available. Shona Crombie-Hicks came into the team on leg one and ran well to come home 41st in the 111 strong field with a time of 15:58. Hilary Mott then ran an excellent 15:29 for the testing 4.33km course to gain fourteen places as she took a second off her course PB from last month. Fee Maycock moved the team up a place with a 16:52 leg before Naomi Eaton brought the team home in 25th place with an impressive fourteen second PB of 15:48. Only a year ago the club was delighted just to have a single team in the championship after a long absence and finished in 46th position. This year the B team were hoping to finish in a similar position and they got off to a great start as Amber Watson impressed with a nine second PB on leg one for 61st place. Team manager Jo Wilkie then improved her Midlands time by eighteen seconds with a pleasing 17:12 to gain eight places before Gemma Collier’s 17:39 took the team up to 51st place. Having never competed in a race before, former cyclist Emma Silversides took the final leg and brought the team home in 47th position with a pleasing debut time of 18:04. Elsewhere Gareth Edwards ran 38:18 for the Bournemouth 10k whilst James Wilkinson (18:12) was first across the line at the Tewkesbury parkrun. Andy Gardiner (17:21) placed second at the Kingsway parkrun in Gloucester whilst Dave Francis (18:50) lowered his PB at the Cheltenham parkrun.