In the thick of it at Sutton Park
ERRA national road relays, 6 October.
Sutton Park near Birmingham is a delightful place to be when the autumn sun is shining. Unfortunately, the weather forecast was a for a belt of rain moving southwards on Saturday, but it was due to clear Birmingham by around midday. And so it proved. The autumn edition of the national road relay championships is when the younger age groups are brought in and the seniors have their shorter version of 6 legs for men and 4 for women.
The Under-13s and Under-15s were on first and had the worst of the weather, but our first set of combatants was the Under-17s, and by the time the lads lined up the rain had pretty much stopped. An 8-race programme of relays is hard to fit into a single day and so there were usually 2 races going on together, one starting 10 mins after the other. All of the YA races use the same tough 4 km circuit.
Alex Pennington led off for us, braving the manic downhill kick off and coming in 48th of the 76 starters. Alfie Clay battled hard as usual on leg 2 (54th) and Kie Francis finished things off to bring us in 42nd (58 teams finished). Beth Darwent was on first for the Under-17 women, bringing us in 34th of the 51 starters in 15:34. There was another solid performance on leg 2 from Izzie Jones (34th,16:52) and on the final stint Mieke Bedlington (32nd, 16:32) had to dig in hard up the final hill to hold off her rival by just a handful of seconds - this after nearly 50 mins of racing. 41 teams finished.
On to the seniors and now there was even a hint of autumn sunshine. The senior women cover a slightly longer lap of 4.3 km. With 83 teams facing the starter, Lottie Siddle (17:08) sensibly opted for a cautious opening on the narrow park road before moving through to 53rd by the changeover. Another gritty run from Chloe Ridewood (16:57) brought us through to 48th on leg 2 and in her first national as a senior Katharine Harris (18:33) kept us in the mix in 50th at the end of leg 3. On the final leg, Cordy Parker found herself in a situation she always relishes, with a string of people to chase. Never was the term "right up your street" more appropriate as she scythed through to 35th with a 16:07 clocking.
The senior men have an additional loop to do to make up a 5.8 km lap. All senior men's teams had to qualify via their regional championships held a few weeks ago, and 77 classy teams lined up. Having bagged the final qualifying spot at Crystal Palace and with some of our guys from that race unavoidably absent, this was always going to be tough.
Jack Shayler made the short trip from his new university abode in Birmingham to take leg 1 for us in 55th (18:57). Dan Hamilton made his longer trip from our Cardiff office very worthwhile, taking us up to 43rd (18:39). Calum Steer was another having a first taste of national senior racing as he progressed us to 40th on leg 3 (18:54). Paul Hughes (49th, 20:19) was on next as the strength in depth of some of the bigger clubs began to tell and it was very definitely in at the deep end for national-level debutants Cameron Weir on leg 5 (56th, 21:49) and Andrew Caruana on leg 6 (23:19, 65th). Andrew was locked in battle with his Worcester rival on the final climb to the finish - both gave their absolute all and after 2 hours of competition there was a single second in it at the line.
Proof if it were needed that every second counts for everyone in the team - it is all too easy when running in a vacuum to switch off and enjoy the pleasant environs of somewhere like Sutton Park. However, these are national championships and when it's our turn we are not there for the scenery. Time enough for that during cooldown.
Depth of field
As ever at this event there was a liberal sprinkling of current and former Olympians and internationals amongst both competitors and spectators. Huge depth all the way down all of the fields, very well done to all of our athletes, you did us proud.
And of course many thanks to the officials, marshals and organisers who put on a full and hectic day of first-class racing. Once again data-handling guru Graham Fecitt had provisional results online before most of us had got home.