A mass boycott of the official South of England Athletics Association Road Relays event in Crystal Palace last year saw the creation of an alternate event organised by Aldershot, Farnham & District. The match was given equal prominence to the official SEAA version and there were still eight automatic places for the National Road Relays up for grabs, plus ten more to be taken into consideration.
Finishing 35th on the day, Bournemouth AC didn’t manage to make it through on that occasion. This year the SEAA agreed to hold the actual event at the Rushmore Arena, meaning all the clubs in the south would come together compete in a huge showdown, with the top 25 clubs qualifying for the Nationals. Any B teams finishing in the top 25 would earn their club a second team at the Nationals.
The standard at the Aldershot Road Relays the previous year was so high that the Bournemouth AC men knew it was going to a tough ask to achieve qualification. With all the clubs there this time, the depth of quality in the field was liable to be even greater this time round. But the BAC men were certainly prepared to give it their best shot and see if they could rise to the challenge.
The SEAA Road Relays took place on the same weekend as the Round the Lakes 10k staged in Poole Park and that was a Dorset Road Race League fixture. That meant resources had to be divided between the two events, making it potentially even more difficult to get a team together with the quality they needed to realistically contend for a place.
BAC road runners supremo Rich Nelson put out an appeal to see who was available and it looked as if they might be able to get two teams of six out. In fact, they had 13 members committing to it in the end. Amongst them were several top talents, including Rob McTaggart, Josh King, Ollie James, Stu Nicholas, Szymon Chojnacki, Adam Corbin, Ben Collins and Rich Brawn.
Of course they needed to select the best six of the available athletes for the A team and it was vital they got it right as every second could count. Who would make it into the A team was the source of much deliberation between Rich Nelson and Rich Brawn. Rob McTaggart and Ollie James were shoe-ins for the A team. They had both produced sub 15 minute 5ks on the track and were definitely fast enough to hold their own in an event of that magnitude.
After over four years out from competitive racing, Josh King had recently come back into the fold and had impressed everyone with a 4:44 at the Bournemouth AC Mile of Miles Relays where he was the fastest senior male. He then went on to win a 1500m track race at the Bournemouth open in an outstanding time of 4 minutes 7 seconds.
With that sort of ability in his armoury, Josh was an easy choice for a place on the A team. Perennial Bournemouth parkrun first placer Stu Nicholas was the other man who seemed an obvious choice, with the consistency of his performances and his reliability a key factor. The big decision that needed to be made was, which two out of Szymon, Adam and Ben would be best for the A team. It was a tough one to call.
Adam had recently produced an exceptional time of 16:15 at Poole parkrun but Szymon had produced a 16:26 at a race in Warsaw and as the distance had come up slightly over, his average pace was the same as Adam’s. Ben doesn’t do parkrun and hadn’t done any recent 5k races so it was difficult to gage where he was at by comparison. He’d been super quick in every track session in training though and was in really good shape.
In the end they decided to go with Szymon and Adam for the A team and Adam was keen to run the first leg, which is usually the most competitive. That meant Ben would be opening proceedings for the B team, so in fact, they would now be able to see who was quicker out of the two. Ben had been in the team the previous year at the Aldershot Road Relays and had come away with a time of 21:12 for the 6k course, although on that occasion he had started way too fast and had suffered later in the race.
After picking up an injury just before the event, Barry Dolman was ruled out, meaning they were down to 12, so still had enough for two teams. Then George Biggs pulled out, citing that he was suffering with covid. That meant they were one person short. Luckily, Alex Goulding agreed to join the team, meaning they would now be able to field an A and B team.
Also running for the B team was Rich Brawn and Dan Trickett who were both in squad the previous year at Aldershot. Adrian James was in the line up as well, along with David Pinney and now, Alex Goulding.
It was the same two lap course as it had been the previous year, which contained a couple of tricky undulations that could easily stunt the speed somewhat. It was a real test with the calibre of the opposition making it necessary to be absolutely on top of your game.
After what happened last time, Ben was determined not to go off too quick and resisted the temptation to try to keep up with others. That meant that by the time they came down to pass near where they started after completing a loop which was a section of the first lap, Adam was a fair few seconds ahead of Ben.
As the racing continued, Adam opened up a larger gap between himself and Ben, with Adam making it to the line in an excellent time of 20:18. That put the A team in 77th place out of 106 teams.
Ben then arrived to complete his lap 20 seconds later in a time of 20:38. That was 34 seconds quicker than he’d managed the previous year though, so Ben was happy with that. He’d put the B team in 86th place to start off with.
Rob McTaggart was on duty for the A team in the second leg and Rich Brawn assumed the baton for the B team. Tag had a magnificent run at the Aldershot Road Relays the previous year, finishing in 18:42. with his average pace coming in at 4:56.
This time Tag went through the first mile in 4:53, before following it up with a 5:06 and a 5:04. Then again, his pace dipped under five minutes for the last three quarters of a mile. It was another brilliant performance from Tag and he’d overtaken 25 other runners, clawing the team up to 52nd in the rankings.
Completing the run in 18:59, Tag was 28th fastest out of anyone on their second leg. Rich had forgotten to look at the splits from his previous race at the Rushmore Arena, so he had no way of knowing whether he was going faster or slower. He felt it was faster.
Sure enough, clocking a time of 20:58, Rich had beaten his previous time by four seconds. He’d also gained six places, boosting the team up to 80th in the rankings. Rich was 72nd fastest out of all the runners on leg two.
Meanwhile, Josh King was well on his way to completing the third leg for A team. Since he’s on a programme where he only runs twice a week, Josh wasn’t really sure how he’d measure up against the top quality athletes he was facing but he felt in good condition.
Rich had handed over to Dan Trickett who was on third leg duty for the B team. Again, Dan had also been doing very little running of late so if he could put in any sort of a performance off the back of that, he’d be very pleased.
Gaining five more places for the A team on his run, Josh completed his 6k effort in an excellent time of 19:35, making him 39th fastest out of anyone on that leg. In fact, he would have been faster but he didn’t realise he had to turn into the finish funnel on the second lap and carried on running straight past the finish line. He had to then turn back and go over the finish line so the chip could register so that would have lost him some seconds.
Nevertheless, it was a stellar performance from Josh and showed that whatever he’s doing in training, it is working and his fitness level is high despite the lack of running.
Last year Dan got round in 21:12. This time he managed to eclipse that time, finishing in exactly 21 minutes. That was a very good run, given the circumstances and he was responsible for raising the team up four positions to 76th. He was also 76th quickest runner on the leg three.
He then handed over to Adrian James for the fourth leg. Ollie James (no relation) was already storming his way through the fourth leg for the A team. Tag was thinking Ollie might even get a quicker time than him. Going through the first mile in 4:53, Ollie then followed it up with a 5:04 for his second mile. He became isolated on his second lap though and that made it much harder to keep the intensity up.
Posting a 5:21 for his third mile, he then closed it out with a 5:16 pace for his last three quarters of a mile. He was given an official time of 19 minutes exactly, which meant he was just one second off Tag’s time. It was a phenomenal effort from Ollie and he was pleased with that as he felt he hadn’t been top form in his most recent races or parkruns.
In his last race at the Overton 5, Ollie had fallen over right near the end, pushing his legs to the absolute limit in a bid to get third place. In fact, he pushed them over the limit on a very hot day and ended up on the ground receiving medical treatment after the race. He also had to be carried over the line at the end, going from 4th down to 7th.
It’s still a learning curve for Ollie though and he will know for next time perhaps to just back off slightly if he feels his legs start to twinge like that again. He does have a very competitive nature though and is so determined to be the best that he can be. That took the A team up a further nine places to 38th position and Ollie was 17th fastest out of anyone on leg four.
Unfortunately Adrian wasn’t feeling too great when he was on his leg and struggled to tap into his usual speed. He thought he’d taken 22-and-a-half minutes but in the results, he was put down as having run a 20:30. There may have been some confusion as there was a mistake made in the changeover and David Pinney ended up going at the wrong time.
Stu Nicholas was next to go for the A team and he started off with a 5:16 for his first mile before registering a 5:27 for both his second and third miles and then completing the last three quarters of a mile at a slightly quicker pace. That put his time at 20:03 which was actually a fair bit quicker than the 20:25 he did the previous year.
That put him 40th fastest out of anyone on the fifth leg and he maintained 38th position for the team. Now it was down to Szymon Chojnacki to bring it home for the A team.
Opening his run with a 6:05 split for his first mile, David Pinney then went on register a 6:24 followed by a 6:34 before rounding it off at 6:30 pace for his last three quarters of a mile. That put his time for the 5th leg at 23:39. The B team were in 76th place at the point that Alex Goulding picked up the reigns for the final leg.
Starting off with a super quick 5:05 for his first mile split, Szymon then followed it up with a 5:26 for his second mile, which is is more uphill, whereas the first mile is mostly downhill. He then registered a 5:33 for his third mile before completing the last three quarters of a mile at 5:26 pace.
That put his finishing time at 20:21 which put him 52nd out of all the competitors on the anchor leg. It was also seven seconds quicker than he ran in the Aldershot Road Relays the previous year.
That resulted in a 41st place finish for the Bournemouth AC A team in a total cumulative time of 1 hours 58 minutes and 18 seconds. It was a creditable result, but sadly not good enough to earn them qualification for the Nationals. It had been a valiant effort from each member though and they could definitely walk away with their heads held high and a degree of pride in what they had produced.
That meant Alex Goulding was the last man out there running and for the majority of his leg, he was stranded on his own, with no one else around to contend with. He did manage to overtake someone at one point though before completing his run in a time of 22:22. That put him 79th fastest out of all the runners on the final leg.
The Bournemouth AC B team had ended the day in 75th place, in a time of 2 hours 8 minutes and 4 seconds which wasn’t a bad result really considering the standard of the teams they were up against. They’d been competitive and given their all and that was all anyone could ask. Having two teams out there did demonstrate that the club has enough strength in depth to put put together a strong outfit when the 12 stage one comes around.
When they arrived at the venue, the Bournemouth AC lads pitched up next to their Dorset neighbours Poole AC. That immediately started a theme of camaraderie between the two clubs and in contrast to how it is in the Dorset League races where they are bitter rivals, it felt they were more like allies. It was a different sort of situation when they were in competition with all the clubs in the south of England.
It turned out Poole AC had brought a very strong team to the party, including superfast youngster William Rabjohns who had recently run a 3:46 at the Commonwealth Youth Games. They also had Mark Ruby who registered a 14:43 time at the Hercules Wimbledon 5000m Festival.
Jamie Grose had been on fire over the summer as well, chipping his 5k best down to 14:50. Fred Harris had run a 3:57 1500m over the summer and had a parkrun PB of 15:21 and Ben Gibbons and Gareth Hale completed their line up.
Mark Ruby got them off to an electrifying start with an amazing time of 18:23, which put him 18th fastest in what would have been the highest standard leg. Jamie Grose managed a 19:24 and Fred Harris chipped in with a 19:28. Then Ben Gibbons ran an excellent fourth leg in 19:39.
After Gareth Hale’s 20:55 fifth leg, they were in 37th place, with William Rabjohns taking the reigns for the anchor leg. There aren’t many men better to have on the last leg than him and he soon set about taking names and moving through the field.
At the end be became embroiled in an enthralling sprint finish with Rob Sesemann from Kent AC and at the time the Poole AC men though it was for 25th place. In fact, it turned out to be for 24th, but William Rabjohns got it, reaching the line in a phenomenal time of 18:22. BHe was fifth fastest of anyone on the anchor leg and it was an incredible way to end the event for Poole AC, seeing them through to the Nationals in dramatic fashion. Their total cumulative time was 1 hour 56 minutes and 12 seconds.
Having switched allegiances again, Harry Smith was there as part of a classy looking Southampton outfit that were easily capable of contending at that sharp end. Alex Tueten, Sam Costley and Jacob O’Hara were also in their line up.
Unfortunately one of the worst things that could have happened happened to them when Alex Prinsep picked up an injury in the warm up. He was supposed to be running the first leg for them and of course, it was too late to substitute anyone in, so they had to go with it.
He still managed to get round in 20:17, which wasn’t a bad time but it put them down in 76th place and meant they’d have to work extremely hard to claw their way back into the qualifying positions.
Aiden Lennan picked up the invisible baton for leg two and got round in 19:03, which put them up 55th. Luckily they had Alex Tueten next and he blasted round in 17:51 which was 4th fastest of anyone on that leg. With that, he’d gained them 28 places which moved them up to 27th. That meant they were almost in the qualifying positions already.
Clocking a time of 18:28, Sam Costley was 9th quickest out of anyone on leg four and he gained a further seven places to move them up to 20th. Harry then took over for the fifth leg. His first mile split was 4:46 and that was followed up by 5:01 and 4:56 before he went on to run the last three quarters of a mile at 4:50 pace.
That was enough to net him a time of 18:42 which was 8th fastest of anyone on the fifth leg. He gained four more places, putting the team up to 16th. Jacob O’Hara then took over the anchor leg and he put in a magnificent display to get round in 18:01, which was third fastest of anyone on the last leg. That was enough to lift them up to 9th in the rankings which, after being so far down from the first leg, was an incredible recovery. Their total combined time was 1 hour 52 minutes and 25 seconds.
The winning club in the SEAA Road Relays were Shaftesbury Barnet Harriers who completed all six legs in a time of 1:47:22. Five out of their six men got round in under 18 minutes putting them all in the top five of whichever leg they ran. Their other team member was Henry Dover who registered a time of 18:25 which was still 7th best for his leg.
They had Tom Butler who was third fastest man on leg one, in 17:42. Dylan Evans was the quickest man on leg five in 17:50 and Jamie Dee was the fastest out of anyone on the anchor leg in 17:31.
Cambridge and Coleridge were 2nd in a total cumulative time of 1:48:22. They had Jack Gray who was the fastest man on leg three in 17:29 and Jonathan Escalante-Phillips who was 2nd fastest on leg six in 17:39. They were the only two who were under 18 minutes though. All their men were under 18:36 though.
That mean Aldershot, Farnham & District had to settle for third place in their own back yard this time round after emerging victorious in last year’s event that they hosted. Highgate Harriers were 4th, Tonbridge AC 5th and Hercules Wimbledon 6th. Incredibly, Hercules Wimbledon’s B team finished 8th, demonstrating a strength in depth that could make them a real threat in the 12 stage.
Kent AC’s B team actually finished ahead of their A team and they were one place ahead of Poole AC, with their A team finishing just behind, courtesy of William Robjohn’s outstanding run and fast finish.
The Bournemouth AC men packed their stuff up and headed back to the south coast in the hired minivan driven by Rich Nelson. They stopped off at the services on the way for a some noodles or a KFC to replenish any lost calories.
Stu Nicholas was back in action the following day in the Black Hill Run 10k which was part of the Purbeck Trail Series. Adam Corbin and Rich Brawn were competing at the Cardiff Half Marathon the following weekend and Stu was competing in the Solent Half Marathon, along with Szymon Chojnacki.
With the Round the Lakes 10k taking place the following day and the Gold Hill 10k a couple of weeks after, the races were coming thick and fast for the Bournemouth AC squad and they were going to need all hands on deck to record the results they desired to get them off the bottom in the Dorset Road Race League and stay at the top of their division in the Hampshire League.
The cross country season was also starting up again with the first Wessex League fixture taking place at Canford Heath and the Hampshire League opener just around the corner. It’s an exciting time to be a Bournemouth AC runner.