It had been a good number of years since Bournemouth AC had managed to get a team together for the South of England Road Relays but after a very successful outing in of the England Athletics Virtual Road Relay competitions, there had been some talk around the camp about entering the event for real.

The BAC squad managed a 31st place finish in the National 12 Stage Road Relays of 2020 which were done on a virtual basis over a 5k distance. Then even more impressively, a mixed team of four men and four women finished 6th in the Virtual 5 Mile Road Relays which took place in January 2021.

Those events really seemed to galvanise the road runners group and got their juices flowing for more future competitive action. That then in turn inspired them to try and get a team put in for the 12 Stage SEAA Road Relays in Milton Keynes.

With quite a small pool of runners to choose from in comparison to other bigger clubs, it can prove difficult for BAC to get the numbers in for events like this. But what they lack in quantity, they tend to make up for in quality.

Team captain Rich Nelson wasn’t able to make it on the day but Rich Brawn stepped in to help get a team organised and give those who were able to make it a platform to run in a prestigious event.

With recent revelation Elliott Robertson managing to secure a minibus to transport the squad to the venue, it was only a matter of getting 12 names down on the sheet and submitting it to the organisation.

Rob McTaggart and Harry Smith had already registered their interest which meant they would have at least a couple of runners capable of mixing it with the very best of them.

Rich then set about recruiting some more troops to bolster the squad. In the end he managed to get 11 men together to make the journey which left just one vacancy. Tag had stated that he didn’t mind doing two legs though if it came down to it so the entry was put in and it was game on!!

Eight of the runners jumped on the bus, with Harry, Sanjai Sharma and Szymon Chojnacki meeting up with the team at the athletics track. When they arrived though, the BAC squad soon realised they were a touch unprepared.

It was quite a chilly day and most of the other clubs had brought their tents with them to pitch up in the middle of the track. Rich hadn’t really thought of that and the BAC team were left unsheltered and out in the cold.

They soon warmed up though once the proceedings got underway and it was Rob McTaggart who stepped up to go in the first leg. The routes were alternating 8.66km and 4.99km legs so Tag was taking on the longer leg first.

Tag comes round for his second lap

Tag stepped up to open proceedings for the BAC team

Showing some scintillating form of late, Tag had recorded a couple of sub 70 minute half marathons as well as breaking a long standing 5k road PB. Plus he had been hitting the high miles in preparation for the Wrexham Elite Marathon.

Getting round in a terrific time of 27:32, Tag was 20th fastest of the 49 who set off. Even though his average pace for the run was 5:09, there were still numerous runners who were able to go quicker in that first leg, underlining the quality of the opposition that BAC were up against.

Sanjai Sharma in the SEAA Road Relays

Sanjai Sharma was on the second leg

Tag then handed over to Sanjai to take over the second leg. Sanjai had had a decent block of training behind him for the Manchester Marathon which was on the following weekend and had recorded a decent sub 1:30 half marathon at Paddock Wood in Kent.

Sanjai gave it everything he had and managed to manoeuvre round the 5k route in 20:11 before passing the baton onto Harry Smith. Harry was another man in form and he’d recorded the fast parkrun in the country on one Saturday in January when he blasted round Poole park in 14:48.

Sanjai heads down the track in the SEAA Road Relays

It served as a good sharpener for Sanjai ahead of the Manchester Marathon

Clawing his way through 6 places to drive the team back up the rankings, Harry put in an excellent display, finishing in 27:39. That was 16th fastest of the third leg. Then it was over to Barry Dolman for the fourth leg.

Barry had a superb run to get round in 17:51 which was 32nd quickest before handing over to Rich Brawn for the fifth leg. That was when things began to go wrong for the team.

Harry Smith in the SEAA Road Relays

Harry Smith was extremely impressive, gaining several places on the third leg

Rich suffers from lactose intolerance but had eaten a protein bar on the way to the event and it had left his stomach in a bad way. On top of that, the course was very chaotic by then, with people roaming about everywhere and the race signs were all in kilometres which confused him further.

He could immediately tell it wasn’t going to be a good run and he was going to have difficulty finding his way. After a couple of miles he got to a turning point where there were two ways to go.

Unsure of which path to take, he shouted to the marshal to state he was going onto his second lap. The marshal thought he meant had done his second lap though and directed him back towards the stadium.

He soon realised as he saw the track on his left that he had gone the wrong way and should have gone straight onto the second lap. It was too late by then though so he followed the route back onto the track.

Rich Brawn at the SEAA Road Relays

Rich Brawn had a disastrous leg in which he ended up doing the wrong distance

That left the team having done a short leg when they were supposed to have done a long one. To rectify the mistake, they decided that Elliott would run a longer leg, instead of doing a shorter leg when his turn came.

Completing the 5k in 18 minutes, Rich then handed over to Dan Trickett who had to run to get over to the start since he hadn’t been expecting Rich to appear quite so soon.

Dan had been out injured for a while so hadn’t done much competitive running but he still gave it an almighty effort to get round his 5k leg in 18:06, which was 32nd fastest on the leg.

He had unfortunately overdosed on raisins though before the run which meant that almost immediately after he’d finished, he was reunited with them, much to the amusement of his teammates who were watching on. They weren’t about to let him forget about it afterwards either and the teasing continued for the rest of the day and much of the journey home.

Next it was Ben Collins who took the reigns. Ben had been putting in some good hard training on the Tuesday night sessions and certainly wasn’t afraid to blast out of the blocks and lead from the front.

He went on the attack in his 8.66km run and performed admirably to negotiate the course in a time of 30:17 which made him 31st quickest of the 7th leg runners.

After that it was Robin Copestick who was next in line to try his luck. Robin hadn’t run a competitive race for over two years so he was a bit ring rusty but he had plenty of experience to fall back on in the years preceding that and had been a Bournemouth AC member since 2006.

He’d actually ran a 5k in 15:42 back in his hay day as well, although he wasn’t anywhere near that sort of shape at the current juncture. Recording a time of 19:23 for his 5k leg, it was then onto Adam Corbin for the next long leg.

Adam was another man in fine fettle at the current moment in time and he had also been really impressing in training with his speed and strength. He’d set his sights high, aiming for around 5:20 pace per mile.

It wasn’t a fully flat course though and there were some undulations which made it tricky to hit the pace he was targeting. Nevertheless, it was still a very good effort from Adam and he got round in 29:53 which put him 26th quickest of the runners who had taken up the 8th leg. That was an average page of 5:31 minutes per mile.

Because they’d still done one short leg which was meant to be a long leg, when it came round to Elliott for his turn, he knew he had to do the longer route. He didn’t mind that though and with the Bournemouth Bay 10k coming up, he thought it would give him a good indicator of what sort of pace he might be capable of over that distance.

Luckily Elliott did manage to successfully complete the two laps and recorded a marvellous time of 28:42, which put his average pace for the run at 5:20. Considering he’d relatively new to competitive running, that was a great result for Elliott and gave him plenty of reason to feel confident going into the Bournemouth Bay Run.

It also rectified the standings in terms of where Bournemouth AC were actually positioned verses the other teams in the contest. They were sitting in 30th place at that point.

Next to go, on the 11th leg, it was Szymon Chojnacki. Szymon’s enthusiasm for the event was infectious and he was chomping at the bit to get out there and show what he was made of.

Szymon had turned out for BAC in a few of the Hampshire League Cross Country fixtures before that and had showed glimpses of the potential he has. He now had to turn it and deliver on an even bigger stage though.

Before the race he had pinpointed a very precise 3.34 per kilometre average pace as his target for the run so he was very clear on his expectations. Blasting round in a time of 29:56, Szymon ran well to record an average pace of 3:31 per kilometre, which he was over the moon about.

His next race was to be the Bournemouth Bay Half Marathon as he continues to work towards his target race which is a marathon in Lodz, Poland. The team were now up to 29th place with just one more leg to go.

Rob McTaggart - SEAA Road Relays

Tag stepped up once again for the final 5k leg

Up stepped Tag again, in disguise, with his fresh new trainers and baseball cap, ready to give it one last blast. But had he left enough energy stored in the tank for one final push?

It turned out he had and managed a superb 16:12 5k to bring it home for the BAC squad. During the course of the run he’d also overtaken another runner which put the club in 28th position in the standings.

Tag brining it home for the team

Tag brings it home for the BAC boys

Considering it was quite a makeshift team and they had a number of their top runners out for various reasons, it was an excellent performance from the yellow and blue army.

Their total cumulative time was 4 hours 43 minutes and 46 seconds. The winners of the 12 Stage Road Relay were Tonbridge AC and they managed to get all 12 members through in exactly 4 hours and 10 minutes.

They were in 3rd place after the first leg despite a 25:39 from their opening runner. They then climbed up to 2nd place and remained there for the next seven legs before taking the lead on the 9th leg. They then maintained that lead until the end.

It really was an incredible show of strength from them, with all their slowest 5k runner coming in at 15:42 and their slowest long leg runner posting a 27:10. It was a great dual between them and Highgate Harriers though and in the end the difference between the two was a mere 52 seconds.

Bedford & County AC were 3rd in 4:11:58 and Hercules Wimbledon took 4th in 4:13:47. 5th place went to Cambridge & Coleridge, who were actually leading after the second leg when their runner blasted round in 14:41. Their total time was 4:14:39.

Aldershot Farnham & District had a to settle for 6th place in 4:15:27, with Southampton AC taking 7th in 4:17:39.

The following day, Rich received an email stating that Bournemouth AC had qualified for the National Road Relays in Birmingham on 9th April. That meant they a couple of weeks to get another team together and make arrangements to head up north and mix it with best clubs in the country.

This was exactly the sort of stage they wanted to be on though and it was a great opportunity for the club to test themselves at the highest level. All that remained for them to do now was to make their selections and get out there and give it their best shot.