Rumours of summer's arrival began to circulate throughout the country towards the end of last week, which came as a relief to those of us heading to Birmingham for the National Road Relay Championships. Following the cold and miserable winter which resulted in the cancellation of the Southern 12 Stage, we were invited to send a team to the National Championships and finished off a solid day's work in 28th place. The overall title was retained by Tonbridge's ever-impressive youthful squad, proving Alan Hanson ('you never win anything with kids') wrong. They were closely followed home by Met League rivals Highgate with Swansea finishing off the podium places. The event came under some criticism following a mass start on stage 12 for all but the three teams in the medal positions at that time, potentially scuppering chances of the 4th and 5th placed teams from chasing down clubs ahead of them. There was some movement in positions during the 12th stage although the medal places were not affected, to the relief of the (since apologetic) organisers.
With a late shuffle in the running order for logistical reasons, team manager Darren Southcott threw himself into action early on the day, taking leg one responsibility. A pre-race plan to not start too fast quickly went out the window as Darren settled at the back of the lead pack after the first triangular loop of the course before tackling the long hill. It was here he began to sense that he may have been a bit over keen with a long way still to run. Darren held on reasonably well to close in 36th place out of 70 starting teams and was credited with a 28.32 leg for our 4th fastest long leg of the day. Dan Steel took over the mantle on leg 2, using this as a sharpener for his sub 2 hour 30 bid at London this coming Sunday. Dan paced his effort well, with a net gain of one place and our second fastest short leg of the day. We were sitting in 35th spot, half way up the field, with 10 legs still to run and anticipation was building to see how high we could climb. On Leg three, we had Phil Norman, making his debut for the club's winter section. Following his good performance at the inter-counties (11th), Phil was a standout candidate for a long leg and despite suffering from a stitch half way round, still laid down a time of 26.55 for the 5.38 mile leg. As the stage 3 men of the teams ahead of us set off, Phil eyed up his targets and reeled them in, gaining eight places, moving us up to 27th.
Fresh from his 2.36 marathon effort in Manchester the week before, Simon Beedell posted our quickest short leg of the day on stage 4. We unfortunately slipped one place down to 28th, but Simon worked hard and showed there is still speed in the marathon runner's legs and he worked his way around the 3.1miles course. From our fastest short to our fastest long, Simon handed over to Ed Shepherd, who was to move us into our highest position for the afternoon, and be our biggest mover of the day. Despite having only returned from a trip to Villamoura in the early hours of the morning, Ed still managed to put down a time of 26.30, the third fastest on his leg, and moved us up to 17th. This tops off a fantastic winter for Ed, with a top 25 place at the national and a 65 minute half to his name. He now turns his attention to the track season and it'll be interesting to see how he will fare! Harold Wyber took us to the half way point in 22nd spot with a run of 18.10 for the third short leg. Although admitting he was not in the best shape, Harold was hoping his foray over cross country skiing in Switzerland had given him some fitness and indeed this was a par run for the multi-sport man who has been training over various endurance disciplines of late.
Essex Cross Country Bronze medallist Tom Beedell took over on leg 7, maintaining our 22nd place. Although not too pleased with his run, by this point the gaps were reasonable and Tom was essentially running on his own the whole way round. It is a long way out and back for the dog leg and the later stages can feel quite isolated. Nonetheless, this was a good effort from Tom, who produced our 3rd fastest long leg of the day with 28.25 and then handed over to Pete Caton. Pete, the super vet 1500m man, made the journey to Birmingham for 19.11 worth of running before having to get back for important family commitments. With adrenaline rushing through his veins and his mind understandably on other things, Pete didn't feel he had a great run, and will no doubt have better days in the famous green and white hoops. Pete exemplifies the attitude we have in the squad as, regardless of other commitments, he was determined to turn out for the team. Josh Entwistle was next up on long leg duty. Training has been sporadic of late for Josh as he settles into a teaching career and the challenges that come with it. He has been working hard to get back into the shape which has seen him post great track times in the past, and with the added motivation of the Frankfurt Marathon on his mind, used this event to gauge where he is. Josh posted a time of 30.00 flat as we slipped into 28th position.
Legs 10 and 11 saw the return of two faces from the past. Rob Cox was back on short leg duty having had 18 months out of the sport with Achilles problems. Rob has found a method that appears to be working for him both, training wise and injury prevention, and will no doubt come on leaps and bounds as his fitness returns. Running largely on his own for the 5.1km short leg, Rob ran a pleasing 18.25 and maintained the overall team position, and confirmed a solid base for him to build on going forward. Leg 11 saw the return of Matt Shone, the former 8/15 man who once informed team manager Darren that he's always in 'ok shape' and just needs a race target to sharpen up. Having never forgotten that conversation, Darren was quick to take Matt at his word and threw him back into relay action. With a mixed build-up of good sessions and hamstring problems, Matt was unsure of his fitness but a 29.52 shows he is good to his word and he is never far away from good relay leg shape. This was a pleasing run as Matt moved us into 27th spot, handing over to Joe Everitt to round off the team. Due to an error from the organisers, Matt didn't get to hand over to Joe as all but three teams were involved in a mass starts. Despite protests, the officials would not move from this stance and so Joe set off with a race on his hands, not being certain whereabouts we sat in the overall standings. Joe paced his effort well following a midweek cold to post a time of 18.19.
After four and a half hours of racing, we finished in 28th place out of 62 finishing teams. This was a good effort with a pre-race target of top 25, I think this was a par performance for the men's team and all should be pleased with their efforts. This rounds off the winter of racing for our squad.
I'd just to say thanks to all who have raced, supported and officiated throughout the last six months, and enjoy the summer before we hit the mud running in October!