Cheltenham Harriers ran a club record time and produced their highest ever finish in the National Six Stage Road Relay Championship with an excellent team performance in Sutton Coldfield. Dave Roper took the highly competitive leg one, running well to complete the hilly 5.848km course in 26th place in a time of 18:00 that was just seven seconds outside his best time on the circuit from 2010. Rhys Park then showed great maturity as he worked his way through the field into 19th place with a course pb of 17:58, as he became just the fourth Cheltenham runner to break the 18 minute barrier on the loop that has been used for Midland and National Championships since 2001. The wait for the fifth athlete to accomplish the fete didn’t take long as GB 1500m international James Brewer continued to take the Harriers through the field with a 17:49 clocking that brought the team up to tenth place at the halfway point of the race. Brewer’s time also saw him break Tom Lowe’s club record on the course by two seconds. John Parker then had the unenviable task of taking over at the sharp end of the race and his pleasing 18:48 leg saw him hand over in 18th place. This position was maintained on the fourth stage as Graham Rush gained and lost a place with an impressive 18:46 to present Andrew van Kints the chance of giving the club a top twenty finish for the first time. The RAF champion took the Harriers past Derby and just failed to catch former champions Newham and Essex Beagles. This brought the team home in 17th place and surpassed their previous best position of 22nd from the 2012 event. The team’s time of 1:50:20 also broke the clubs fastest time on the course from the 2004 national and was quicker than the time set by Coventry when winning last month’s Midland Championship on the same course.
The Harriers were also one of only thirteen clubs in the country to qualify a B team for the event, which gave a further six runners the chance of competing on the national stage. On the opening leg Darren Jordan impressed with 19:16 as he knocked 30 seconds off his time at last month’s Midland relay to bring the team home in 66th place, two places adrift of Severn AC. The Midlands event had seen the Harriers B team enjoy a close and successful battle against their local rivals, who had just one team in the national event. On stage two Andrew Kaighin improved his time from last month by 25 seconds with 20:12 to hand over in 69th place with a one place advantage over the Gloucester based club. Severn then struck back on leg 3 as Kyran Hale took them up to 62nd whilst Harriers team manager Andy Prophett ran 20:50 to hand over in 73rd place. Mike Gray then improved his Midland time by 29 seconds with a 21:06 leg to maintain the Cheltenham position before Andy Gore gained two places with 21:00 on the fifth stage. Meanwhile Severn started the final leg eight places ahead in 63rd place. Roger Mullins again took the Harriers anchor leg and just like at the Midland event he passed Severn in the closing stages with 20:00 to improve his Midland time by 19 seconds. This brought the Cheltenham B team home in 66th place, 18 seconds and two places ahead of their rivals.