It came as a welcome distraction from all the doom and gloom surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic when news got around that England Athletics would be hosting a Virtual Road Relay Competition, pitting clubs up and down the country against each other over a five mile distance.
The premise was that any number of runners could compete for their respective clubs with the fast four men and and fastest four women counting towards the overall time for the club.
The first round was the qualifying round, where the top 50 clubs would then progress to round two where they would square off for the right to represent England in an international round against the top teams from Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
The event was always going to feature some Bournemouth AC involvement with coach Tom Craggs heading up the proceedings for England Athletics.
It was just a question of how much interest it would garner around the BAC camp, how many members would be prepared to step up to the plait and what kind of performances would they produce?
The rules stated that it had to be either and out and back, where you finish in a similar place to where you started, or a looped route with each loop over 1 kilometre in distance, which meant it couldn’t be done on the track.
That alleviated most of the ways an athlete could gain an unfair advantage, for instance by running with a following wind the whole way or on a downhill trajectory.
Having heard about his Dad’s club Chiltern Harriers looking to assemble quite a strong team for the event, Rich Brawn was keen to try to drum up some enthusiasm among his Bournemouth AC counterparts.
Hoping to get the ball rolling, he went out on the first weekend of January and put in his preliminary attempt, clocking a time of 29:17. Since he hadn’t done any speed-work over the Christmas period, he wasn’t really sure how it would go so he was delighted with that result.
Having said that though, he had been apprehensive about pushing the pace too much through fear of blowing up so he felt he still had a quicker time in him and was tempted to give it another go the weekend after.
One aspect that did help massively that weekend though was that there was very little wind. That presented athletes with a rare opportunity to reach their full potential in an out and back along the prom.
There a few notable absentees who would otherwise have been candidates for a place in the final team. That included Craig Palmer and Dave Long who are both recovering from injury.
Jasper Todd has been out of action since November and Stu Fox had busted his foot whilst out running the day after New Year’s Day. Stu Nicholas was also out of the equation as he was self isolating after contracting Covid-19.
Luckily Bournemouth AC has tremendous strength in depth at the moment and despite having some of their top names sidelined there were still plenty of others waiting in the wings for their chance to shine.
Even though he wasn’t going to run it, Craig Palmer did his bit to gee up the troops. He reached out to all the squirrels, offering to give them Corona as a prize for the top performers. The beer that is – not the virus!
The first man to step up and answer the call was Josh King and he laid down the gauntlet with a stunning display, completing his run in a sensational time of 24:40.
Using the Cowell Drive loop made famous by Grant Sheldon’s amazing 13:38 in the 5k National Road Relay Championships, Josh had put in a performance that really dropped some jaws.
It also served to inspire some of his BAC teammates and generate a good buzz around the squad, instilling some belief that perhaps they could challenge for the top placings.
It wasn’t just the BAC men who had been coaxed into getting involved either. Georgia Wood had done her bit to round up the women and assemble a competitive bunch. That would also prove crucial for the overall success of the team.
The first woman to get out and give it a go was Lisa Elmore. Lisa was keen to make her contribution to the team despite cold and foggy conditions.
Finding her rhythm quite quickly, she managed to maintain focus well throughout the run, keeping a very good consistent pace. Finishing in a time of 35:31, she had put down a very good benchmark for the rest of the ladies to aspire to.
That same afternoon, Holly Collier posted her offering as well. She hadn’t really been training at all towards the end of year due to lack of motivation and had only just started again from the turn of the year.
She could already feel her fitness starting to come back over the course of the week and most importantly, she’s rediscovered her motivation now.
With a time of 34:37, Holly was certainly a contender to be one of top four women on the team. Given the circumstances, it was a pleasing attempt from her, although some way down on what she’s capable of at her best.
Taking to the promenade and heading from Boscombe Pier to Branksome Dene Chine Beach and back, Ollie James recording a magnificent time of 27:27.
His pacing throughout the run was remarkable, clocking the first two miles at 5:28 pace and the next three at 5:30 pace, proving just how strong he’s feeling at the moment.
Also heading down to Boscombe Pier and taking a similar out and back route to Ollie, Georgia Wood and Emma Caplan had decided to run together, hoping to spur each other on.
They did just that and both recorded a terrific time, with Emma finishing in 30:53, giving her an average pace of 6:10 minutes per mile, and Georgia coming in just three seconds after at 30:56. They had given the team a massive boost with that result.
Since she usually finds virtual races much harder than normal ones, Emma was fairly satisfied with her attempt and felt it was a fair representation of her current level of fitness.
Living out in Wimborne, Helen Ambrosen was quite restricted on where she could go in order to get a flattish route. With the help of her partner Mark, she did manage to find one in the end at Gaunts Common, which is where the Wimborne 20 takes place.
Enjoying the opportunity to put in a real race effort, Helen had a good strong run, finishing in a time of 41:21.
Managing a good progressive effort for his run, Ian White started off at 8:20 pace for the first mile and finished up at 7:34 pace for the last mile. That led him to a finishing time of 39:54.
It was a good sign for him that things might be now moving in the right direction, although the closing of the golf courses might perhaps have something to do with that!
Next to go was a major contender for a place in the team as one of the fastest four men in the shape of Rob McTaggart. Like Josh King before him, Tag headed over to the Cowell Drive loop for his effort.
Completing his run a time of 26:10, it was certainly a result that would have pleased most athletes on the roster. Tag wasn’t overly happy with it though as he knew that he was capable of much quicker.
Some of the Northern clubs had contacted Tom to report that they were having difficulties doing their runs due snow. As a consequence, it was agreed that the deadline would be extended by a few days to give them more chance to get a run in.
That meant that Tag would have the opportunity, should he need to, to give it another go and try and post a faster time.
The first runner to record a sub-24-minute time was Phil Sesemann of Blackheath and Bromley Harriers. Unfortunately he had done his run on the track though, which left Tom with no option but to disqualify him.
It was stated very clearly in the rules though that track runs wouldn’t be permitted and also, a lap of the track does not comply with the minimum 1k distance for a loop either.
That meant Andy Coley-Maud was still in the lead with his time of 24:09, although he had run exactly 8k, which equates to slightly less than 5 miles.
It wasn’t long before news of another Bournemouth AC man to go sub-25-minutes emerged. That was none another than the mighty Rob Spencer who had posted a staggeringly quick time of 24:47.
All but one of the miles in his run were under 5 minute mile pace and it was certainly an impressive indictment of where he’s at right now. Of course, with no races around, it can be difficult for runners to know exactly what they’re capable of at the current moment in time so Rob was extremely pleased with this outcome.
That put him in 11th place, just behind Josh King at that point in the proceedings and in such a high standard field, that was quite some achievement. Of course, there was still plenty time for other runners to take to the stage though.
That boosted Bournemouth AC’s position in the standings, moving them up to 8th place and they still had some top class runners yet to submit their activities.
Starting her attempt close to Bournemouth Pier and heading along to Sandbanks and back, Tamzin Petersen had a good run to clock a time of 37:27.
Another brilliant sub-26-minute run was soon to go up on the board when Harry Smith delivered an outstanding performance to register a time of 25:29.
That catapulted him into a high position in the overall standings and was a superb outcome considering he’d been really busy at work in the week leading up to it and had plenty of Zwift intervals in his legs as well.
Harry works as a vet and he’d also somehow managed to get kicked in the knee cap by a cow that week whilst performing surgery so that didn’t exactly help his course either.
On the day though, his run went smoothly and with an average pace of 5:06 minutes per mile it demonstrated the tremendous pedigree he has and showed that a sub-32-minute 10k is undoubtedly on the cards.
Lockdown life can be awfully dull at times but Estelle Slatford has found a new way to entertain herself and that is by making run routes in the shape of animals on Strava. In fact, she did a recent one in the shape of a dolphin.
For the 5 mile relay though, she went all out and gave it everything she could. Estelle actually prefers the longer distances though and often struggles with the speed over 5k to 10k.
Completing her run in 41:05, Estelle was pleased with her time given the fact that she hasn’t done any interval or speed training of any sort for quite some time.
On his second attempt at the virtual relay, Rich Brawn was looking for some improvement on his time of 29:17 from the previous week. He did exactly the same run, in exactly the same location, with pretty much the same weather conditions as his run from the previous week.
This time he wore his new Next Percenters for the first time though. He was very excited to run in them and was confident he would see some uplift.
Managing to clock each mile slightly faster than on his previous attempt, Rich was over the moon when he stopped his watch to see that he’d registered a time of 28:47.
It was exactly 30 seconds quicker, giving him an average pace of 5:45 minutes per mile. He was very pleased to have knocked that amount of time off in the space of a week.
To really boost their position in the standings though, BAC needed another women to step up to the plait and submit a quick time. The prime candidate to do that was Helen O’Neile.
Although she possesses outstanding natural ability and always tends to train well in the Tuesday night sessions, Helen has been plagued by a long-running Achilles injury that has held her back since the beginning of last year.
It has severely limited the volume of training she’s been able to do. Despite that though, she still has plenty of speed and taking a similar out and back route along the promenade to others before her, she managed an excellent time of 30:45.
That actually took almost five minutes off the total accumulated time for the BAC team thus far and lifted them up to third place overall. It was a truly remarkable position to be in at that point.
Also putting in a decent effort, Alison Humphrey was next to add her name to the scoreboard. She ran her route over at Moors Valley and demonstrated superb consistency with her pacing, despite a slight incline towards the end.
With an average pace of 7:12 minutes per mile, Ali’s time of 36:11 represented a good, solid performance from her.
Aiming for a time of 27 minutes, which would have been around 5:25 minutes per mile pace, Jacek Cieluszecki actually ended up going a fair bit faster than that.
Performing his run on the Baiter Park loop in Poole, JC finished in a superb time of 26:21, giving him an average pace of 5:15 minutes per mile. He had exceeded his own expectations and took his place as fourth male scorer for the team.
For his first attempt, Adam Corbin clocked an excellent time of 28:45. However, he hadn’t read the rules though and didn’t realise he was meant to end up within 500 metres of where he started. Thus, he was forced to give it another go.
That served as a blessing though as this time he managed to improve on his previous attempt, completing the run in even more impressive 28:30.
Given that his best official time for a 5 mile distance was 29:19, that was quite an achievement from Adam and certainly showed that he’s progressing well, despite the lack of racing and club training that the current climate has presented.
Using the run he had posted for the British Masters Athletics Virtual 10k Challenge for South West Vets AC, Julian Oxborough also added his name to the score-sheet. In that run he went through 5 miles in a time of 56:39.
When all was said and done it was Matthew Dickinson of Clapham Chasers who came out on top. He was the only man to register a legitimate sub-24-minute effort. With an average pace of 4:47 minutes per mile, his finishing time was 23:57.
Among the noteworthy Bournemouth AC performances, Josh King finished up in a very impressive 16th place overall with his 24:40 time. Rob Spencer was 18th with his 24:47 effort.
Harry Smith took 35th place in the overall standings with his 25:29 performance. Tag didn’t end up submitting his 26:10 time in the end but if he had he would have been 65th.
Completing the scoring team for the men, JC finished up in 77th place with his time of 26:21. He was also 5th fastest M40, which was a good achievement given the level of competition.
Ollie James was 169th overall with his 27:27 time and that also put him 10th in the Male Under 17 category. Adam Corbin was 285th with his 28:30 time and Rich Brawn took 335th place with his 28:47.
Helen O’Neile was the 32nd fastest in the Senior Women’s category with her time of 30:45 and was 648th overall. Emma Caplan took 2nd place in the W45 category with her time of 30:51 so that was a fantastic result for her. She came in 668th overall.
Georgia Wood claimed 3rd place in the W40 category with her time of 30:56 and that put her 681st. Again, that was a terrific achievement by her.
Holly Collier was of course fourth scorer for the women and she was 132nd in the Senior Women’s category with her time of 34:37.
It had been a very good turnout from a Bournemouth AC perspective and the signs were certainly looking good for their prospects of challenging for the top placings in the next round.
With a total cumulative time of 3 hours 48 minutes and 26 seconds, Bournemouth AC finished up as 6th placed team in the end, which was a remarkable result given the quality of clubs they were up against.
The top team, with a total combined time of 3:41:47 was Windsor, Slough, Eton & Hounslow AC. They had Daniel Brookling who was 4th overall in a time of 24:19, along with three other men who posted times under 26 minutes. All four of their women scorers were under 31 minutes as well.
Cambridge and Coleridge were 2nd with a total combined time of 3:42:03 and they actually possessed two men who finished in the top ten with Jack Gray taking joint 4th in 24:19 and Jonathan Escalante-Phillips coming 8th in 24:21.
With all four of their women impressively finishing in under 29:40, Wirral AC were the 3rd placed team in the overall standings, registering a cumulative time of 3:42:42.
Shaftesbury Barnet had four men inside 25 minutes, including Kristian Imroth who was 7th in 24:20 and Kieran Clements who was 10th in 24:23. They were the 4th quickest team overall in a combined time of 3:45:20.
Then it was Kent AC who took 5th in a time of 3:45:49, with their line up including Anthony Johnson who was 9th overall in a time of 24:22.
A total of 127 clubs managed to get a team of four men and four women to compete but of course, it was only the top 50 who would progress into the next round.
In a way, the team placings in this round didn’t actually mean that much. It was really just about qualifying. It is in the next round where that becomes all important. The competition will surely be even fiercer then as each team vies for top spot and the honour of representing England in the international round.
Could Bournemouth AC be in with a chance of glory? Who knows? But if every member of the club brings their A-game to the table, with the talent they possess in their ranks, anything is possible.
Here are the final Bournemouth AC results from the Virtual Road Relay Qualifying Round…
Bournemouth AC – 6th place – 3:48:26
16: Josh King (24:40), 18: Rob Spencer (24:47), 35: Harry Smith (25:29), 77: Jacek Cieluszecki (26:21), 648: Helen O’Neile (30:45), 668: Emma Caplan (30:51), 681: Georgia Wood (30:56), 1257: Holly Collier (34:37)