It was a cold, damp, dreary morning over Sherborne way as the yellow and blue army made the trip up to the northerly reaches of Dorset for the Blackmore Vale Half Marathon.
The wind was up as well and it was already looking like it was going to be a tough day out on the road for those hardy souls who had been brave enough to take it on.
In truth, the course at Blackmore Vale is tough enough on its own, without the inclement weather to go with it. The hills are relentless and some of them are pretty steep as well.
The race is famed for its incredibly testing final mile as well when the athletes have to make their way up a very long incline that is also sharp in gradient, forcing them dig deep into the energy reserves, if they have any left by that point!!
After being edged out by Egdon Heath Harriers in the Men’s First Division at the Junction Broadstone Quarter Marathon the BAC boys had it all to do to redress the balance in the second league fixture.
The Bournemouth AC women had picked up a resounding victory in the first race of the season so they had every reason to be optimistic about their prospects of a serious title challenge.
The Blackmore Vale Half Marathon was one of the only two Dorset Road Race League fixtures that actually went ahead in 2020 before covid stopped play so it wasn’t so long ago that BAC had participated in a meaningful encounter there.
That day the BAC men pipped Egdon Heath Harriers to the post to pick up the league victory in thrilling fashion, with Steve Way coming out of nowhere on the final hill to take fifth scoring spot and seal the team win.
In fact, Bournemouth AC have an illustrious history of successes in the Blackmore Vale Half Marathon. In 2019 Steve Way and Toby Chapman finished first and second and in 2018 it was the same but vice versa, with Toby Chapman coming out on top.
Steve Way also won it in 2017 and Toby Chapman led out a BAC one-two with Jon Sharkey in 2016. Steve also claimed victory in 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012 and 2010 as well in an impressive show of dominance over the years.
This year was always going to prove a tough task in getting a competitive team together though and the yellow and blue army were thin on the ground. Rich Brawn, Sam Jackson and Luke Jackson were all signed up and Ant Clark was also on the list, as was the great man himself Steve Way.
Steve was insisting he wasn’t going to race it though and his original intention was run with his friend Holly Rush. It turned out though that Holly was ill and wasn’t able to run in the end which left Steve unsure of how to approach the race.
Was he going to jog round and just enjoy the run, or could he look to rediscover some of that old magic that made him a household name amongst the running fraternity?
Stu Nicholas had also stepped in and signed up late on, bolstering the squad further and giving them at least a chance of a competitive challenge in the league.
For the BAC ladies, it was down to experienced old hats Heather Khoshnevis and Helen Ambrosen to fly the flag. Unfortunately they didn’t have a third wheel though which meant they wouldn’t have a full team for the road race league.
That was disappointing after they’d done so well to win at Broadstone but all was not lost as it’s the best 7 out of the 12 league fixtures that count towards the club’s overall score.
A further blow to the yellow and blue ranks was to come when Ant Clark had to pull out. He was mourning the loss of a beloved family pet. There were still five men out there to score for the team though, provided they all made it round.
That elevated Luke Jackson into a scoring position and meant that there was even more pressure on those who were running to put in the best performance that they could and try to place as high up as possible.
Both the man who finished second and the man who came in third in the 2020 race were back in action, with Ben Renshaw of Bridport Runners hoping to go one better this time round and Johnny Suttle of Bristol & West also looking to contend for top spot.
A man in fine form, Lewis Clarke of Lonely Goat was also in the mix along a few Twemlow Track Club all-stars in defending champion Lee Dempster, former BAC man Jez Bragg and Steven Rigby.
The Egdon Heath Harriers men were also out in force again and were looking to put BAC to the sword for the second time. They had Bruce Campbell, Graham Sherwin and Martyn Bell amongst other high quality athletes.
To start off with it was Stu Nicholas who was leading the charge from a BAC perspective and he was closest yellow and blue vest to the front of the field.
Rich Brawn was a bit further back and he’d soon been overtaken by a group of five Egdon Heath Harriers so it was already looking like BAC were up against it. All Rich could do was try to keep pace with Bruce Campbell was the fifth member of the Egdon train.
On the third mile a couple of runners caught Rich up and he looked over his shoulder to see that one of them was Steve Way. They then ran together for the next mile or so, overtaking Bruce Campbell as they worked their way up the field.
When they hit the climb on the fifth mile, Steve began to push on and set about chasing down others ahead. It was clear that he was feeling good and had decided to stretch his legs a bit.
Rich was finding the relentless hills tough to contend with and he got overtaken by a group that included a couple of Poole Runners and Bruce Campbell. At one point he was joined by his BAC teammate Sam Jackson as well but since they’d reached a flat section, Rich was able to turn the screw and find his rhythm again. He then set about trying to make headway on the group in front.
At the front of the field, Ben Renshaw and Johnny Suttle both managed to improve on their 2020 times but it was Johnny who would deprive Ben of the victory, forcing him to settle for second place again.
Johnny’s winning time was 1:13:04, with Ben arriving half a minute later to record a time of 1:13:35.
Of course, neither of their clubs are in the Dorset Road Race League so top league points went to the third placed man and that was Jez Bragg, who had another impressive run to get to the line in 1:15:39. He was followed by Twemlow Track Club teammate Lee Dempster who is gradually beginning to recapture his form after being side-lined for quite some time with an injury.
Lee completed the course in 1:16:03 and he was followed by Lewis Clarke of Lonely Goat who got round in 1:16:32. Steven Rigby made it a Twemlow Track Club one, two, three as far as the league goes, finishing in 1:16:49.
Since Twemlow are currently in the Second Division, Adam Davies of Egdon Heath Harriers was the first points scorer in Division One when he crossed the line in 7th place, registering a time of 1:17:38.
Steve Way had managed to climb up through the field to get past all the other Egdon Heath Harriers and somehow even managed to overtake Stu Nicholas in the end to take 8th place in 1:18:12.
It was almost like he was rolling back the years the way he was cruising up the slopes. In fact, you could almost say he looked like he was enjoying himself, although he’d never admit it!!
Having set off a little exuberantly, Stu began to suffer a bit in the latter stages. He’d also worn his training shoes as opposed to his racing shoes as well and had ended up having to stop twice to tie his shoelaces!!
Given that he’d had all those issues, to still come in with a time of 1:18:43 and finish in 9th place and effectively third scorer in the division was an excellent effort.
It wasn’t long before Egdon Heath Harriers had had their first four runners in though, with Graham Sherwin taking 10th place in 1:19:13, Martyn Bell in 12th in 1:20:15 and Charlie Williams in 13th in 1:20:16.
Michael Godfrey of Wimborne AC had had a decent run and had been gradually working his way through the field like Steve was, only not quite so quickly. He made it into 11th place in the end, clocking a time of 1:19:43.
Joe Godden of Poole Runners took 14th place, crossing the line in 1:21:20.
Rich Brawn still hadn’t given up hope of catching Bruce Campbell as they neared the end and he was hoping he might be able to do it on the final climb. Once they got there though, he realised he hadn’t quite got close enough to give himself a chance of doing it.
He did manage to get past David Wood of Poole Runners on the final climb though as he had nothing left by that point and was closing in on Luke Terry of Poole AC as well.
Bruce Campbell sealed the league victory for the fixture as he was the fifth Egdon Heath Harriers man over the line when he took 15th place in 1:21:46.
Luke Terry was the first Poole AC scorer on the board, getting round in 1:21:59 before Rich Brawn came in to take 17th place in 1:22:04.
Another Egdon Heather Harriers man, Simon Arthur had also completed the course in 20th place before Sam Jackson arrived to give BAC their fourth scorer points. He finished in 1:23:10.
Poole Runners managed to get three more men in to complete their scoring team of five, as did Littledown Harriers, with Mark Packer arriving just ahead of the fifth BAC scorer, Luke Jackson.
Luke had finished in 46th place overall, recording a time of 1:29:22 and in terms of the league placings, he was 33rd.
That left an anxious wait for BAC to see whether they had finished ahead of Poole Runners for second place in the league for that fixture. It turned out they had, or would have done if Stu Nicholas had been included in the results as a Bournemouth AC runner.
Since his club wasn’t listed in the results though, BAC got put down as not having a full scoring team, so were given last place for the fixture. That should be rectified though now the race organisers have amended the results to include Stu as a Bournemouth AC runner.
Coming in as first over 60 female, Heather Khoshnevis completed the course in 1:42:44 which put her in 114th place overall. That meant she would extend her lead in the 60-64 category for the league.
Out of the women in the race, she was 21st and 16th in terms of league points. It was another good result for Heather even though, for her, the trick is getting used to running shorter distances, since she’s more used to marathons.
Taking the crown in the 65-69 category for the league, Helen Ambrosen got round in 1:59:45, which put her 172nd overall. She had also repeated that same feat at the Broadstone Quarter so extended her lead in that division.
She was 40th female in the race itself and 27th in terms of league points. Of course, with out a third female to join them, the BAC ladies were left in a difficult position when the scores were totted up at the end.
Anne-Marie Bayliss of City of Salisbury was first female in the race, recording an excellent time of 1:24:20. That put her in 26th place overall.
The second woman, Victoria Walls, wasn’t far behind, reaching the line in 1:24:38, after having been out in front for much of the race. She was 29th overall.
Gill Pearson of Running for Time took the third female spot, clocking a still impressive time of 1:25:48 which put her in 32nd place.
None of the first four females were actually running for clubs in the Dorset Road Race League so it was actually Molly Rasch of Dorset Doddlers who claimed minimum points, coming in in 49th place with a time of 1:29:39.
That put her 20 seconds ahead of Lauren Baker-Little of Poole Runners who was 2nd league points scorer and 51st in the race overall.
With a 4th place, a 6th place and a 7th place, it was Littledown Harriers who came out on top in the league for the Blackmore Vale fixture.
They were actually last at the Broadstone Quarter so it was quite a change of fortune for the women in orange.
Just as they did at Broadstone, Lytchett Manor Striders finished second which put them in a pretty good position in the league thus far.
Incredibly, even though they only had two runners, the BAC ladies still finished 5th in the fixture. That was because both Purbeck Runners and Poole AC only had one runner each, so it wasn’t actually as bad a result as it could have been for the yellow and blues.
Having won two out of two races so far, Egdon Heath Harriers were in pole position in the men’s first division, leaving the BAC men trailing in their wake.
With two second places though for south coasters, it was looking like a two-horse race for the title and was poised nicely for a grudge match till the bitter end.
The next fixture, the Lytchett 10, was going to be vitally important and Bournemouth AC desperately needed to pull something out of the bag to stop their arch rivals from running away with it.
The 2022 edition of the Blackmore Vale Half Marathon certainly wasn’t going to go down as a vintage one from a Bournemouth AC perspective, given their illustrious history at the event. However, the sight of Steve Way, an old thoroughbred, back in a yellow and blue vest, turning back the clock and galloping his way up through the field, was marvellous to see.
Who knows, perhaps it’s even given him the taste for comeback to the local road race scene. The club could certainly do with an athlete of that ilk right now to rescue their league title defence and to douse the flames of the Egdon Heath Harriers movement.