Graham Rush produced the fourth fastest relay leg of the day at the National Six Stage Road Relay Championships as he led Cheltenham Harriers to another impressive team performance in Sutton Coldfield. The highly competitive opening stage of the undulating 5.88km Sutton Park course saw OIi Mott run a composed leg, as he started steadily and picked his way through the field to finish in an impressive twentieth. His time of 18:05 was a 24 second improvement on the time that he ran on the same course two weeks ago as part of the Harriers silver medal winning team at the Midland Championship. Rush took over from Mott and quickly started moving through the field to gain sixteen places and take the Harriers into fourth position as he finished just a single second behind third placed Southampton. The Dave Newport coached athlete’s time of 17:07 took 24 seconds off his own personal best and club record for the course. By the end of the day this was only beaten by Olympic 5000m sixth place finisher Andrew Butchart (Central, 16:29), Welsh Commonwealth Games athlete Dewi Griffiths (Swansea, 16:49) and Ben Connor (Derby, 17:05).
Stage three saw Phil Wylie take the Cheltenham team into third place by the top of the long hill, but he was passed again to finish in fourth place with a 17:56 clocking. The unenviable task of taking leg four fell to Alex Lee who ran his fastest ever time on the course of 18:41 to leave the team in tenth place. Team Manager Andy Prophett had set his team the target of beating last year’s club record fifteenth place finish, but with midweek injuries to Phil Beastall and Dave Roper it was going to be a tough task. Harry Bishop made a welcome return to the team on leg five and recorded 19:12 to hand over to John Parker in sixteenth place before the veteran’s 19:18 leg saw the team finish in seventeenth place. The team’s time of 1:50:19, however, was 54 seconds quicker than last year and exactly matched the time they achieved when placing second in the Midland Championship.
The Harriers B team were led off by Jon Barnes who lowered his best time on the course to 19:25 to hand over in 71st place to Will New who was just one second outside his course PB with a 19:16 leg that gained four places. Marc Fallows then retained position with 20:10 before Liam Roarty ran well to record 19:38 and take the team up to 64th place. Marcus England then broke the 20 minute barrier for the first time with a pleasing 19:46 to gain a further five places before Mark James held position with a course PB of 20:08 as the team finished in 59th place, the highest ever finish for a Harriers B team.
The Cheltenham ladies team made a welcome return to the Championship and were led off by Rachel Longstaff who ran well to complete the 4.33km course in 15:50, a time that was a 31 second improvement on her Midland time and earned her 40th position. Fee Maycock then took eleven seconds off her time of two weeks ago with a 17:04 leg that gained four places. Team Manager Jo Wilkie then cruised round in 18:29 as she handed over to debutant Chloe Hawling whose 19:41 clocking brought the team home in 46th position. The following day’s Oxford Half Marathon saw Wilkie run well for a time of 1:33:40 and Lizzie Sandham record 1:40:28. Weekend parkruns saw wins for Ben Williams (17:28) in Cheltenham, Andy Gardiner (17:51) at the Sherwood Pines event in Mansfield and Gavin McCaugherty (17:31) at the Crissy Field event in San Fransicso whilst James Wilkinson (19:29) finished second in Tewkesbury.