20/04/2010: Are we right to feel deflated…?

17th April -National Long Road Relays, Sutton Coldfield

There was no doubt that, having gone down to Sutton Park with high hopes of coming back with a medal and placing the B team higher than ever before, the overall result of the Men’s 12-Stage -5th and best-equalling 22nd –  meant that people left with a decided feeling of disappointment.  However, in retrospect, The Scribe asks if some of us are not getting over-fuelled with high expectations after the recent years of success, and are in danger of undervaluing performances that other clubs – and previous generations of Leeds City members – would have been over the moon with.  Looked at objectively, this season’s performances were one of the Club’s better years; the A team was higher-placed and faster than last year, the fifth and sixth fastest individual legs ever were run, the B team was (admittedly only by a matter of nine seconds) the fastest the Club has ever turned out, and while the Women was a bit slower than last year (most clubs in both races were!) they were three places higher up and there was one superlative individual performance.

As per recent tradition, a report follows for each team.

Men’s A – 5th, 4.13.58

Already weakened by Simon Deakin’s calf injury, the team was further damaged (and possibly put out of medal contention – by Alan Buckley going down with a bug two days before the event and having to drop out.  In the circumstances collective wisdom dictated that the theoretically weaker links should be launched early, and the stronger legs should then attempt to pull through.  It says something when your ‘weak link’ on the long legs, Chris Birchall, finished well inside the first 100 in the National; and if he was quite a way back in 23rd place (27.23) this has to be read against the well-known ‘front-load factor’ – six of the clubs in front of him would finish behind the B team!  It was a competent performance, giving a good platform which the second ‘weak link’ – ha, ha! – exploited in no uncertain fashion; Mike Burrett, so often ‘Mister Reliable’ in previous relays, produced undoubtedly his best short leg ever (and he’s done a few) to pull back five and crack fifteen minutes for the first time (14.57) in putting up the Club’s fastest short ‘un of the day.  Somebody at least could go home happy.

The drop-outs meant that two of the Under-20s had to be used on long legs, and however good they are that’s always a risk. James Wilkinson, on 3, made quite a lot of ground, pulling back a further five places and giving the other lads a good chasing target, but he’d probably be the first to admit that his 27.14 was a bit disappointing, particularly if it’s put against some of the Seniors he’s recently run against.  Perhaps, consciously or otherwise, he was a bit tentative at facing the lonely expanses of the ‘panhandle.’  Given the more familiar Under-20 territory of a short lg, Mike Salter followed on with one of his better runs on the road; 15.20 was well up to form, he made another two places, and perhaps more important kept the gap on the lead down to around two minutes.

There followed the short but lively period of Leeds City fireworks, and not unsurprisingly it was launched by Dave Webb.  It wasn’t quite his fastest-ever time round the long leg, but at 26.04 it was only three seconds short, and only three runners all afternoon went any faster.  Just like two years ago, a lot of the ‘damage’ was done out of sight in the far country beyond the Jubilee Stone, and by the finish he had closed the gap on the lead to just over a minute.  This leftJoe Townsend with a bit of responsibility, but these days he can safely be left with it; he lost a bit of ground to Newham in the lead, but pulled back Shettleston and Tipton with a very sound 15.03, only seconds shy of his excellent 2008 effort and a timely run at the right place in the race.  In fat the gap to Tipton was only eight seconds – and James Walsh was left to chase Phil Hinch, who had beaten him by a bare second in the Inter-Counties.  That was all the motivation he needed to pull out  every stop, give Mike Baxter more grey hairs about his impetuosity, but turn in his best-ever run on the course; rather than the 26.50ish efforts he’s produced in previous years, he hauled Hinch in within half a mile, went past him and positively refused to let him get ahead again – and the result was 26.16, sixth-best ever Leeds City time, and a brief flurry into second place.

It was ‘if only’ time, though.  Martin Hilton had been called in for Leg 8, in spite of being short of fitness and under treatment for that foot, and though he gave it everything he could put out and hung on to fourth with 15.33 the gaps began to open on this leg – and behind Aldershot began to close.  The real place it fell apart, though, was on Leg 9, but it would be grossly unfair to throw too many brickbats at Carl Smith.  Called in very late to do a long leg at the age of twenty, he found himself thrown in against the likes of Moumin Geele and Phil Nicholls, and simply got blown away to the extent that when the Aldershot lad came up to his shoulder by the Jubilee Stone on the way back he just couldn’t find a response.  27.57 probably doesn’t represent his potential form, but in those circumstances it has to be asked whether anyone else would who could have been put in would have done substantially better.  There was over 3½ minutes to the leaders and nearly 1½ to third, and with three to go that would be hard to pull back.

The last three legs were left to the Great Untried and the Antiques Roadshow, and at least they held the place.  Leg 10 saw another splash from the deep end asAli Mauizbin was promoted from the B team for his first effort at this high level in this country, and he got stuck in to do a workmanlike job with 15.25 to hold the gaps both in front and behind to manageable levels.  He’s still adjusting, but there’s potential there.  On 11 Darran Bilton might have been forgiven for cruising a bit the week before London, but he doesn’t do that kind of thing; with a chance of closing on one of Aldershot’s weaker links the East Riding Bounder put on his usual show of determination and pulled the place back with a worthwhile 27.00 clocking.  The only snag was that it left Martin Roscoe within striking distance of the much younger and very fast Ben Moreau – and for once in his long career Doscoe was ‘blown away,’ and it showed.  He needed inspiration to run a really good one, and that  early blow seemed to deprive him of it; his own assessment of his 15.46 performance was ‘rubbish,’ but Moreau was the only one to get ahead of him.

At the end of the race Phil Townsend’s assessment of the performance was fair; “the twelve lads we put out did the best they could.”  Perhaps with one of the missing pair in there the team could have been in the medals – but they weren’t, and that’s that.  It’s no bad thing to stress the more positive side; they beat the likes of Bristol, Belgrave and Birchfield, were nine minutes ahead of a below-strength Bedford (sorry to mention it, lads, after your compliments on our post-national social event!), and the nearest Northern challengers were respectively Altrincham (11 minutes behind), Sale and  Morpeth (around 12 minutes down with weakened teams) and Salford and Hallamshire (about 17 minutes adrift).  It may not have been outstanding, but don’t let’s start calling that sort of effort a disaster.

Men’s B – 22nd, 4.30.35

Perhaps it wasn’t quiet as ‘awesome’ as Greg Hull had hoped, but if the second twelve lads could have found just over another minute between them they could have been second Yorkshire team home – that’s exactly how far they were behind Hallamshire!  Moreover they were the first B team to finish, an outcome which didn’t appear likely when Aldershot came in a minute in front of Oliver Ziff on the first leg and then put out a lad who ran two seconds faster than Mike Burrett!  Not that Ollie’s effort was a poor one; on the contrary, he ran substantially faster than last year (29.04), and yet again gave the team a sound platform to work from.  They went back a couple of places on the second leg, but as Danny Davis was making his debut at about twelve hours’ notice it wasn’t really surprising, and 16.08 was actually quite a good performance under the circumstances.  He’ll be better for the experience.

At this point Aldershot B were about three minutes ahead, and James Smith didn’t make any inroads into that lead, actually dropping five seconds with 28.58, but the important feature of the run was that it looked much less of a ‘shadow of his former self’ than even a month back.  James has had a torrid time with injuries of late, but things seem to be starting to come together again; and if he didn’t gain on Aldershot he certainly did on a lot of others, gaining six places.  Once again there was a slight setback as Ben Dyson dropped one (16.52), but  that paled into insignificance as in front Holmfirth dropped TWENTY-SEVEN!  (There are certain suggestions as to why; interested parties are invited to study the result-sheets.)  By the time Martin Gostling had finished on Leg 5, after running the fastest B-team long ‘un in 27.55 in spite of the toils of injury and fatherhood (he was observed earlier in the day in attendance on the offspring) the gap on Aldershot had opened to 3½ minutes, and looked uncatchable.

The tipping-point looked to have come on Leg 6, as James Lavin had an excellent run, clocking 15.41 and pulling back half a minute; it’s hard to recall, seeing him in action these days, that he has the unenviable record of the Club’s slowest time round a short leg.  It widened slightly again on the next leg, as their lad was slightly quicker than Mark Bryant’s 30.28, the important thing by now was that both James and Mark had been moving places; the team was lying 28th and the gap was down to eight.  The position remained stable, though the gap grew a little wider, on Leg 8, on which Alex Davy ran 16.08 – a very similar time to last year – having been given a short one; The Scribe begs leave to wonder whether in view of Manchester he might have been risked on a long (but having made major messes of selection himself in the past is aware that it’s a matter of opinion.)

By Leg 9 it really was looking impossible that Leeds could lead the B teams home; in spite of turning out Adam Osborne, and in spite of him running a solid 28.57 to move up another three places, Aldershot extended the lead by another half-minute and were almost five minutes in front.  So what happened?  Out on to the road stepped a slightly chubby Welshman, and the whole scenario changed as Elliot Cole for the second time this year stormed round in the B team’s fastest short leg – 15.36.  he’s not an impressive sight in action, but the results certainly are – in this case a gain of a minute and a half on Aldershot, who for the first time were showing signs of having shot their bolt.  What was needed now was a captain’s innings – and it came!  Greg Hull’s last two Twelve-Stages have been eminently forgettable, but this one was a lot more like the Old (or Young) Greg as he hauled back a flagging Aldershot to the tune of over two minutes with a more than merely handy 29.05.  There were still 79 seconds to find – but Aldershot were putting out a 55-year-old and Leeds City had Geoff Belcher!   He ran 15.46, a steady rather than an outstanding run, but then he’s another who’s had injury problems; and he came home 17 seconds clear.

Women – 10th, 1.50.09

The girls, like the men, looked a great deal stronger than the team that had turned out at Wythenshawe, and got off to a determined start with Kirsteen Young.  The usual front-loading affected the look of the race, though most of the leading teams (with winners Aldershot and Bedford the main exceptions) were up early, and Kirsteen’s 17th place was less of a reflection of her run than the time – 17.42, second-best on the team and one that on later legs would have got into the top ten.

There followed the Club’s run of the day – and no disrespect intended to Dave and James!  There are two schools of thought about racing the week before a Marathon -it’ll ruin your chances, or a good blow-out sets you up right.  Clearly Susan Partridge subscribes to the second view; at any rate she took Leg 2 by the scruff of the neck and shook it, blistering round the short leg in 16.21 – fourth best of the entire race – and ploughing through fourteen opponents to put the team in the first three for the first and only time – a superb performance.  She’s clearly running to form at the right time, certainly for Commonwealth if not European selection.

Following that could have daunted the other four girls, but didn’t seem to.  There was no way they could hope to hold so high a place, but if they gave ground they did so with manful (womanful??) resistance.  Sarah Peterson (18.45), lost four, including to the now surging Aldershot, but battled all the way; Chloe Ryall, who wouldn’t even have been considered for the team a year ago, lost two more (19.14) but did nothing to damage her growing reputation as the most improved among the Club’s women.  There was even a slight move back up on Leg 5, as Sophie Lovell (18.35) ran a battling leg to take a place as the gaps widened, but Rachael Dyson (19.32), try as hard as she did, couldn’t hold off a couple of fast-finishing teams and settled for tenth – a position which they’d have been more than happy to settle for at the start of the day, and a creditable effort all round.

PLAYIN’ IN A TRAVELLING BAND ….
(With apologies to Credence Clearwater Revival!)

A fair number of the Track & Field people of all ages and sorts seemed to be going considerable distances to compete in events, with a good degree of success to make it all worthwhile.  On the youthful side Gemma Keir headed west to Liverpool and produced a not unusual (for her) mixture of P.B.s in the Ernie Gallagher Open.  After some sizeable improvements in previous middle-distance events a big drop over 1500 might have been anticipated, and duly came; she won the Under-15 event in 5.11.1, cutting off about 17 seconds.  She also picked up the bigger Shot for the first time, and despatched it 6.09 metres – not a bad start.

The somewhat older Julien Gittens appears to have a penchant for heading south to break his own Club record for the Over-45 gents’ Triple; this time the setting was the Havering Mayesbrook Spring Open at Barking, where another seven centimetres (12.22) was added.  Julien reckons he’s “not pleased with the distance, but it’s going in the right direction.”   On the other hand, it doesn’t always have to be southwards; on April 17th he went west to the Liverpool Jumps & Throws Open and broke it again – this time with an altogether more satisfactory 12.44.

However, he didn’t head quite as far south as Matt Barton, who went back to his roots for Easter and continued to play at throwing in the Isle of Wight Spring Chucker at Ryde.  Some quite decent chucking was done as well; he set new Bests at Shot (9.51), Discus (29.67) and Hammer (23.08).  Matt’s quite modest about his throwing achievements, but Julien’s remarks also apply to his efforts – going in the right direction.

Sheep, goats, marmots and now – tailless cats!!  Wherever there’s a race surrounded by exotic livestock, there will you find Leeds City’s Harriers, and frequentlyAdam Osborne will be leading the chase.  He was certainly not far off leading the Half Manx Mountain Marathon on Easter Saturday, finishing second in 1.43.59 on a course that correspondent Chris Needham described as “very wet underfoot” – as it presumably went somewhere up Snaefell and we’d had a drop of rain in the previous few weeks that’s probably putting it mildly.  Presumably ‘Asbo’ is warming up for some continental mountain-trotting this summer; he’s got the Hill Bug with a vengeance these days, and is having plenty of success with it.  Chris himself finished 14th in 2.10.24, with Leon Foster some distance ahead (11th, 2.02.51), Jennie Guard finishing second among the female competitors (20th, 2.17.00), and Tim Crosland putting in a fairly rare appearance (he might have been posted anywhere since last seen) in 23rd place (2.19.43).

APOLOGY DEPARTMENT

The Scribe was taken to task by Matt Barton for omitting to mention that Jessica Barker, in addition to everything he did mention last time, also won the Under-13 Long Jump at Cleckheaton on March 28th.  Grovelling apologies!!

THERE WILL NOW BE A SHORT INTERVAL …..

There will be no Clubnews until early May, as The Scribe is going on a couple of short holidays to pursue his other interests – railways, walking, beer and finding his ancestors (he’s going to try to establish whether he and Geoff Belcher are actually related!)  As the next issue will cover the early weeks of the Track League season (including the daunting prospect of three home matches in different Leagues in eight days!) and is likely to be a ‘jumbo edition’ he’s going to require people to fill him in on what’s been going on.  Please send any information about members’ activities (be they ever so humble or ever so outstanding) to the usual address – lunnrun@fsmail.net.