When they made the journey to Milton Keynes for the South of England Road Relays the Bournemouth AC XI were grateful just to get a team together in all honesty. They weren’t expecting it to be the beginning of a two part quest that would ultimately lead to them competing in the National Road Relay Championships at Sutton Park near Birmingham.
After finishing up in 28th position in the SEAA 12 Stage competition though, the club learned soon after that they had qualified for the Nationals which was to be held two weeks later.
That didn’t give them an abundance of time to prepare but it was a golden opportunity to compete in a well reputed tournament and bring the club back to the upper echelon of road running in this country. It was one they simply had to go for.
Recent revelation Elliott Robertson was back in Wakefield on that weekend so he wasn’t able to drive the minibus up there this time round but he was still able to meet the team over there and compete.
Fortunately regular team captain Rich Nelson was back in the fold this time round and he managed to arrange the hiring of another minibus to take the squad up to Sutton Coldfield, provided they could get the numbers.
Most of those who turned out in the Southern Road Relays were keen to compete again so that meant they already had the nucleus of a team still in tact. It was only really Adam Corbin, Sanjai Sharma and Szymon Chojnacki who couldn’t make it from the previous line up.
Adam was unable to get out of work, Sanjai had ran the Manchester Marathon the weekend before and Szymon had a pain in his kidneys. That meant some alternative names would have to be drafted in.
The real Paddy McCalister was able to make this time round and he was joined by Stu Glenister and Theo Weaver. Ben Collins’ transfer to BAC as first claim had now officially gone through as well so he could run under his own name this time and the squad was also bolstered by the inclusion of red hot track and cross country sensation Ollie James.
Ollie was one of the stand out performers for the club last year, winning the Welsh Junior Championhip 2000m steeple chase and finishing 5th in the 3000m at that same event. He then went on to represent Wales against teams from the other home nations at Manchester International where he finished 3rd in the 3000m steeple chase.
This year he’d run impressively in the Southern Cross Country Championships as well as the South West Inter County and the UK Inter Counties where he represented Dorset.
He’d also been unlucky at the Welsh National Championships for cross country where he finished 5th in a field where the first four got picked to run for the Welsh national team.
At the relays though he’d be facing off against the cream of the crop from the most elite clubs in England. The top three clubs from the Welsh National Road Relays and the Scottish National Road Relays also got an invite as well to bolster the quality of the field even more.
It was set to be a spectacular showdown for all concerned with all the top teams from the Southern one there, along with all of those from the Midlands and the North of England as well.
Harry Smith was also going to be meeting the team at Sutton Park as it wasn’t quite as far for him to go since he lives in Salisbury anyway. The rest of the team boarded the minibus early doors and set off on their long trek up to the Midlands.
When they arrived the only had 20 minutes to finalise the team sheet and ensure the right names were on the right legs so Rich Nelson and Rich Brawn went off to find the race organisers.
They’d put Ollie James down to run the last long leg and with Szymon out of the frame, that meant Rich Brawn would get the opportunity to do a longer leg, giving him the chance to redeem himself after the SEAA Road Relays fiasco where he went the wrong way and ended up doing the 5km route instead of the 8.66km one.
This time he decided it would be a good idea to fully scope the course out himself so he knew exactly where he was going. Setting of with Stu Glenister and Theo Weaver, they began to jog along the route to get a feel for what they were up against.
In comparison to the route at Milton Keynes, the one at Sutton Park wasn’t flat. It was actually fairly undulating, featuring some inclines that went on for quite long stretches. It didn’t look like a course that it was going to be easy to run quick on.
Rob McTaggart had his baseball cap and fake moustache on standby but since they had managed to assemble a full quota of 12 this time, he only needed to run one leg. It made sense for that to be the first leg as well, since Tag isn’t afraid to mix it with very best out there.
The actual distance for the long leg was supposed to be 5.38 miles but there were some sections of the course where the GPS connection got lost, resulting in some slightly different distances being registered on Strava on some occasions.
On the weekend in between the two road relay events Tag had won the Bournemouth Bay Half Marathon in a 1 hour 13 minutes, even though, for him it was just a marathon paced training run which he did as part of a 23 mile session.
Losing a couple of places on the home straight, Tag completed his leg in a time of 27:51. That put him 38th quickest out of the 64 runners who started for their respective teams.
It was around 20 seconds slower than the time he recorded in the Milton Keynes one but that was expected given the difference in course trajectory. At an average pace of 5:11, it was still a very impressive display from Tag.
He passed the baton onto Dan Trickett was on duty for the second leg. It was Dan who had suffered the unfortunate incident with the raisons at Milton Keynes where he overdosed on them to soon before running his leg and was promptly reunited with them afterwards.
This time he decided to lay off the raisons and it seemed to work for him. Completing his 5k in an excellent time of 17:42, it was then over to Harry to take up the third leg.
Harry had put in a storming performance in the Southern Road Relays at Milton Keynes, gaining six places for the team and ending up 16th quickest on that leg. Now he had to try to repeat those heroics again.
Since then he’d won the Salisbury 10 mile race in a brilliant new PB of 53:14 and he was in a real purple patch. The hills on the Sutton Park course actually helped him as well since the tougher the course, the more he comes into his own.
It was a really strong run from Harry and he ended up gaining ten places for team, boosting them from 44th to 34th and completing his leg in a stunning time of 27:26. With an average pace of 5:10, that was actually quicker than what he produced in Milton Keynes, on a course that was significantly harder.
It was over to Theo Weaver to pick up the reigns for the fourth leg. Theo was one of the younger members of the squad but had earnt his call up to the senior team after some excellent parkrun performances of late. He also competed in the South West Inter County Cross Country Championships, the Southern Championships and the National Cross Country Championships, proving he’s not afraid to pit his wits against the best out there.
Completing the 5k route in 20:57, Theo then passed the baton over to Elliott Robertson for the fifth leg.
Elliott was another one who had played a starring role in the Southern Road Relays before going on to perform some heroics the following weekend. He won the Bournemouth Bay Run 10k, producing a run that did justice to how strong he’d been in training since joining BAC. His time of 33:54 gave him a 14 second margin of victory over his nearest rival in that one.
At Milton Keynes he’d soared round the 8.66km course in 28:42, even though he was actually originally down to do the 5k. That changed after Rich came back having only done the short route when he was meant to have done the long route.
This time Elliott knew he was doing the longer route and he ran very well again to get round in exactly 29 minutes. That was an average pace of 5:24, which was quick given the elevation that was involved. He gained three places for the team, moving them from 45th to 42nd.
After that it was Stu Glenister’s turn to set out for his 5k leg. Stu had successfully completed the Bournemouth Bay Run Half Marathon the previous weekend in 1 hour 35 minutes so he knew he was good to go again after injuries had been hampering his running over recent months.
Getting round in 21:13, Stu then handed over to Rich Brawn for the seventh leg. Despite putting in some very good marathon training sessions and long runs, Rich had been struggling a bit to find his top speed over short distances.
After his disastrous run at Milton Keynes, he was determined to put in a good performance this time round. But he was still finding it tough to get a good pace going with the inclines and a nagging headwind in places.
He lost a place quite soon after setting off which put the team down to 52nd place and he spent the rest of the race trying to claw some places back. His watch appeared to lose GPS just before the turning point though so it actually cut out some of the distance he had covered before reconnected. That meant that at one stage his pace dropped to over 9 minutes per mile, even though he was going flat out!!
In the end he managed to take two places back to put the team back into 50th place before passing the baton onto Robin Copestick.
Robin ran his 5k leg in Milton Keynes in 19:23 which gave him a good barometer of what sort of time he might be able to produce at Sutton Park. Completing his run in 19:43, he was 20 seconds down on his previous time, which kind of tallies up with most peoples’ results who had done the same distance in each of them. He also gained one place for the team, putting them up to 49th.
It was then over to Ben Collins for the ninth leg. He’d had a very good run at Milton Keynes, completing the long leg in 30:17 and he delivered once again at Sutton Park, blazing round the course in a time of 30:46. That kept Bournemouth AC in 49th place and it was then time for Paddy McCalister to take centre stage.
Paddy had taken part in the 10k race at the Bournemouth Bay Run the previous weekend where he’d been shooting for a sub 40 and he very nearly managed it as well. Getting to the line in 40:06 though, he just missed out and he was cursing Gordon’s zigzag afterwards for that.
The hills at Sutton Park weren’t quite as painstaking as Gordon’s zigzag though and Paddy manoeuvred his way up them rather well before finishing with a strong descent on the last mile.
His time of 19:18 was his quickest ever 5k and it was enough to keep the club in 49th place. By this time the distances between the teams were very big, so the likelihood of getting through the whole leg without overtaking anyone or being overtaken was quite high.
Ollie James was the next man to go and he was running the last long leg for the team. He found it tough running on his own the whole time but even though they were so spread out, Ollie still managed to gain three places during the course of his run.
Since they were running out of time, there was a mass start for all remaining runners to do their final legs which meant that Barry Dolman had already set off on the last leg before Ollie had got back to base.
Ollie finished in a time of 29:45 which had brought the team up to 46th place. Now it was down to Barry to close it out in style.
Barry had produced a superb run at the Southern Road Relays to conquer his 5k in 17:51 and he’d then gone on to seal a 5th place finish in the Bournemouth Bay Run 10k in a time of 37:45. That was enough to convince Rich that he could do a good job in the anchor leg and it turned out to be a good decision.
Getting round in a time of 18:21, Barry improved the team’s position by a further three places, boosting them up to 43rd in the rankings. It was a great way to close out the proceedings for BAC and the yellow and blue army finished with a total cumulative time of 4 hours 53 minutes and 4 seconds.
That wasn’t bad going considering the standard of the opposition they were up against and they certainly hadn’t disgraced themselves by any means.
The top three clubs from the Southern Road Relays – Tonbridge AC, Highgate Harriers and Bedford & County AC – were back in the game and battling it out for supremacy on the national stage. They would have to fend off stiff opposition from Northern champions Leeds City AC though if they wanted to come out on top.
Leeds’ hopes of mounting a serious challenge for the top spot took a huge dent in the first lap though when Joshua Mitchell suffered an asthma attack. That left them well down the pecking order and with a lot of catching up to do.
Bristol & West AC also made a modest start which didn’t help their cause and Tonbridge were down in 23rd place at the end of the first leg. They had seemingly gone with a tactic of saving their best men who were on the longer legs for the later stages.
Highgate Harriers were off to a blistering start with Jacob Allen putting them in pole position at the end of the first leg. They would then go on to be in the top two placings for the rest of the entire race.
Cambridge & Coleridge were first at the end of the second leg when Thomas Keen ran the quickest short stage time of the day in 15:10. They tailed off after though and Bedford had a turn at the front for the next couple of stages before Alexander Lepetre wrestled the lead back for Highgate. He ran the second quickest long leg of the day in 25:25.
Tonbridge managed to claw their way back through the field though and by the fifth leg they were back in third place. On the final long leg, James Kingston put Tonbridge into second place, knocking Bedford down to third and setting up an intriguing finale for the final 5k stage.
Within the last half a mile, Benjamin Murphy put Tonbridge into the lead for the first time in the entire race. That was enough to see them pick up the win, snatching victory away from Highgate’s grasp, right at the death.
After 4 hours and 13 minutes of racing it was incredible to get such a closely fought contest at the front and it was a very dramatic way to win it for Tonbridge. Highgate had to settle for second place which would have been devastating for them, losing out by 13 seconds.
Bedford finished third in the end, with Bristol & West taking fourth and Leeds, after that early blow, recovering well to take fifth place. If that happened though, it may well have been a different story.
Hercules Wimbledon took 6th place, with Swansea Harriers taking 7th and Southampton AC doing well to finish 8th.
The fastest long leg of the day was run by Nick Goolab of Belgrave Harriers and he ripped round the route in an astonishing time of 25:23. Harry was 101st quickest with his time of 27:26.
In the Women’s 6 Stage relay it was Salford who came out on top and they led the whole way round from start to finish. Highgate Harriers again took the runner up spot, with Basingstoke & Mid Hants taking third.
Although they weren’t challenging for the top positions, it was great the Bournemouth AC managed to get a team together for one of the most prestigious and highly regarded events in the road running calendar and that should hopefully give them the impetus to do it again in future years.
It’s always a great experience to compete with those who are at the very best of their game and there have certainly been plenty of learnings to take out it for the individuals involved and for the club as a collective. One thing is for sure and that’s that the team certainly waved the yellow and blue flag with pride in both road relay events and that represented a big step forward for the club.