26/01/2010: A curious sort of a successful day

How is success defined?  If success consists of putting out strong and challenging teams across the whole age and gender range, as Leeds City A.C. has on occasion done in the past, then Saturday’s effort on an exceedingly sticky and difficult Witton Park was quite patchy.  Of the ten races contested Leeds City put nobody out in three of them, only a single individual in two more and a turn-out short of a team in a sixth; in only four of them did a full counting team show up in blue and amber.  (This, incidentally, exactly paralleled last year’s turn-out.)   However, if success consists of bringing home the hardware in the form of trophies and medals, this was a very successful day’s competition, because every one of the four teams which did turn out took a medal home, and there were a couple of individual medals as well.  Moreover a post-war record for the Championships was set as the Senior Men took their eighth consecutive title.  The Scribe invites his readers to draw their own conclusions.

SENIOR MEN – NOW THE GUYS STAND ALONE!

Perhaps the most notable thing about the Seniors’ eighth successive Northern title is that nobody on the counting team reckoned that they ran particularly well!  The team was short-handed for a start, with Dave Webb pursuing possible Commonwealth Marathon selection and James Walsh opting to run the Midland (as ex-champion he’s entitled), and the cause wasn’t helped when Simon Deakin, who just never looked like the Smooth Machine he can, came out early in the race.  However, even without these and other injured bodies the lads still placed twelve runners in the first hundred; and apart from Salford, with ten, only two others managed to put six therein.

The Witton Park course, already notorious for its Saucer, has now acquired a Teaspoon to go with it, which puts an additional vicious hill into the second half of the long lap; and the Seniors were sent round it on their short laps as well.  It was no surprise when Darran Bilton was the first Club man round the flat first half, pursued closely by Alan Buckley; it was more of a surprise that when they hit the hills and gunge he stuck with Bucko and the pair hung into the first ten of a classy field.  Martin Hilton was well up early on, but then there was an alarming gap to the thirties before Adam Osborne and Mike Burrett came through.   At this stage Oliver Ziff was a somewhat unlikely sixth man, but not too far behind, though outside the first fifty by a margin, were a gaggle of well-known pullers-through in Martin Gostling, Chris Birchall and the evergreen Martin Roscoe, with Alex Davy in reasonably close attendance.

Alan and Darran kept their places for the next two laps as the six in front began to scatter under defending champion Steve Vernon’s relentless front-running, but on the second lap Martin H. suffered an alarming ‘wobble’ which saw him slip back into the late twenties.  Adam and Mike, however, were sticking doggedly to the task and doing a solid job for a pair one of whom probably thought the course a bit flat and the other would rather have been on tarmac.  Chris had by now started to work his way up, with the other two Martins following a little more slowly at first, and it was a bonus that though the other lads went past him Ollie showed no signs of flagging.  Meanwhile the other Old Faithful, Greg Hull, was making a move into the top 100 on the course of his youth, and an unfamiliar, tall figure in a Leeds City vest not too far behind Greg turned out to be a runner not seen in action for the best part of three years – Dave McQuarrie.  With Gavin Chatterton and the Fixby Indestrucitble, Martin Farran, lurking not too far outside 100th the Club had fourteen up with six in challenging positions, and while several clubs had two, three or four up close nobody had those numbers.

The other characteristic of Blackburn was, however, emerging by the end of lap three – the leaders, and even most of the first 100, were having to battle their way through a stream of lapped men.  This could have had an effect on the finish if matters had been closer, as Darran was involved is some shenanigans in the last half-mile; first as he attempted to pass a lapped runner in the extremely muddy gateway back on to the park he was pushed aside and fell, and then failed to hear the indistinct instructions of a marshal at the turn into the finish and might have missed it altogether if Brian Hilton hadn’t sent him back.  As a result he finished four places further back than justified in 14th, while Alan held his 7th and at one point looked as though he might just have got to Ben Fish.   Martin H. had worked back up to 17th, Adam and Mike grafted all the way for 26th and 29th respectively, and Chris was closing on them to the last in 34th.  If you want to be critical you might note, as Greg did, that 127 points was by five the highest winning score of the eight; but if you look back four or five years you’ll find the Scribe extolling in Clubnews magnificent victories by 20 or 25 points.  This year’s victory margin – 102!!

Chris had to come through on the last lap – who was leading the chasing B-team??  Who else but the Living Legend Doscoe, whose 43rd would still have comfortably secured the win; indeed the Club would still have beaten Salford counting Doscoe and Martin G in 49th as well, and Martin reckons his run was affected by the joys (?) of recent fatherhood (James, by the way, about four weeks ago – he put in his first appearance with Alex on the day).  The bonus of the day was Ollie’s 53rd place; he’s never been short on battling spirit, and it showed on Saturday.   Greg was highly satisfied with 71st, Alex D. in 91st ran one of his best Senior races (not much left of the ‘Little Tich’ image of his boyhood days), and for Dave Mac to duck into the first hundred was another unexpected boost.  405 points would have been good enough for 6th, and a C team of Gavin (107). Martin F. (121), Leon Foster (who said “Don’t rely on me” before the start and then in 149th showed the Club can), Chris Needham (230), Pete Kidd (just popping over from Bolton to pace 308th) and the very Veteran but never less than competitive John Mace (or John MacE, according to the programme) in 463rd finished in the top half of the field in 24th.  Rob Gatenby and Andy Whitley kept each other close company in 497th and 504th.

The question is being asked, just how long can the Leeds City run go on?  It has to be admitted that the team could be said to be getting a bit elderly; after all Chris is the youngest at just turned thirty, and only three of the first twelve are in their early twenties.  However, they don’t seem to be slowing too much just yet, and as those who read on will discover, Phil Townsend’s comment after the race – “well, of course, there aren’t the Juniors coming through these days!!” – could be said to be somewhat ironic.

UNDER-20 MEN – YOU LOT NEVER MANAGED THIS ONE

If the Seniors want to crow about their eighth title, the Under-20s could claim their bit of history on Saturday.  Admittedly it’s a bit easier to do what they did in the age-group which in both genders customarily produces the smallest fields, admittedly it’s an advantage to turn out over ten per cent of the total field, and admittedly only three clubs actually closed in four Juniors; but nonetheless for the first time ever Leeds City placed the first two teams in a Championship event.  To add to the flavour the Club also produced the individual champion.

There was a Leeds City presence from the off, and James Wilkinson was part of it from the point when a leading bunch of five began to detach themselves from the rest; and as Carl Smith was one of the other four the presence looked pretty solid after half a lap.  The chasing group included Joe Townsend, a possibly over-ambitious (some said) Dale Worton, and Spike Williams making his first major turn-out in over a year, with Mike Salter and Geoff Belcher in pretty close support and Danny Davis and Will Plastow a little further back.  The team race already looked a formality, but the individual race was anything but; all the leading group had known form, and whoever won it would have put in a good day’s work.

Half-way round the second short lap, however, it suddenly became plain who was putting it in, as Wilko chose to assert himself: in short order he’s levered himself a twenty-yard gap, and as the final long lap progressed it just widened and widened.  James came round the hills on the long circuit looking like all good champions – he made it look a great deal easier than it probably felt.  Carl, already of course a County champion this year, ran a well-controlled race, settling in fourth on the second lap and holding tenaciously to it all the way thereafter.  Behind him there were two excellent runs; Spike (9) showed that rumours of him going like the old Spike in training were well founded, and Dale (12), far from doing the anticipated wilt, ran grittily and purposefully to shake off a challenge from Joe, who pursued him closely for most of the way but ran out of legs a bit on the last descent and wound up 19th.  For a supposed ‘track-fairy’ Mike Salter (22) showed an excellent capacity for ploughing through the heavy stuff, while Geoff (25) was a shade disappointed to be seventh counter but had a positive run, to find himself having to hold off a fast-finishing Danny, who simply got better as the race went on and wound up right behind him.  Out of even the second count – but not far out of it in 31st – Will again showed the capacity to battle that’s become obvious in the League races before Christmas.

There are two points to make about this team.  First, there is clearly the possibility of coming close, at the very least, to a national victory in five weeks’ time, though even in this age-group where strong teams are thin on the ground  it doesn’t do to start premature calculations over unemerged poultry.  The second is that most of this team will be Seniors next year – so how long can the run go on???

UNDER-17 MEN – BROUGHT HOME BY THE FOURTH MAN

It takes four to win a team race (unless you’re a Senior man when it takes six), and it’s no good having the best three in the business if there isn’t a fourth to round it off.  There have been several cases in Leeds City’s history where medals and even titles have been secured by the ‘unsung hero’ down the field, possibly most famously in the 1970s when Graham Hartney, finishing about a minute behind the next man, secured a Northern Under-20 Silver in last place.   There were two such instances on Saturday, and the Under-17s Silver medals which got the Club’s day off to an excellent start was the first of them.

The story of the Under-17s season has been the formidable trio of Gordon Benson, Mike Wood and Elliot Todd being right up in the leading group of races, and Robert Torch, Alex Hart and Jamie Higgins some distance behind scrapping for the fourth place when one’s been needed.  If there was to be any Championship success the first three had to finish as close to the front as possible and one of the others had to have a good day.  On Saturday the cause wasn’t helped before the start; the treacly going wasn’t going to suit the more track-based Jamie, hard though he’s worked at improving his country performance, Alex had been off-colour at the end of December and might not have fully recovered, and Rob was out of the equation altogether with a stress fracture taking time to heal.

In the early stages it didn’t look to be getting a lot better.  Gordon likes to front-run, and did so on the first lap, but the current crop of Northern Under-17s is a good one, and early in the second lap he began to pay a bit for his over-boldness.  At about the same time Elliott became one of the many victims of the glutinous Witton Park mud and lost one shoe, and though he battled on gamely it wasn’t going to make like easy for him.  Mike was running a more controlled race but wasn’t quiet up with the front group, while Alex and Jamie seemed to be too far back to get in among the medals.  Lincoln Wellington already looked to have things sewn up, and Warrington and Derby were challenging.  It needed something from all the lads – and it got it.

Mike eased himself into the top ten out in the country, and came in looking a bit weary but determined in 9th place.  Gordon hung on when it got trough and then found a bit to get back among them in 11th, while Elliot, missing shoe or not, had a better race than most of his previous efforts this winter in 14th.  The front three  had done all they could – it now needed one of the back two to find a bit, and both of them were doing their utmost.  They’d both moved into the first 100 at the end of the first lap, and on the second Alex ground down several opponents who’d gone off quicker and moved through to 71st – enough to tip the scales against Warrington by a mere eight points.  Jamie backed up manfully in 90th, and had Alex not gone so well his run would have been enough to secure Bronze at least.  This was a case when both the ‘Tail-end Charlies’ produced runs worthy of the occasion and only one finished up with the medal – but they can both claim the credit for their efforts.

SENIOR WOMEN – ANOTHER MEDAL GAINED WHILE SHOE LOST

The similarities between the medal-winning efforts of the Ladies and the Under-17s are striking.  Both were better performances than anyone expected; both teams were short of their full strength; both depended on the fourth counter doing a bit more than expected; and both involved lost footwear.  If anyone had written the script no producer would have accepted it.  With Kirsteen Young and Claire Duck not available, there was still a strong trio of Susan Partridge, Emily Klee and Sarah Peterson to lead a challenge, with a reasonably solid back-up group; but the latter was severely weakened when Alison Varley arrived late, due to a misunderstanding over the starting times.  So it was going to need a good run from one of Anna Martin (much more of a track-runner), Ruth Wilcox (who’d admit to not having been considered a front-line athlete not too long ago) and Jennie Guard (on a steady but long recovery from injuries) if anything was to be brought back.

Certainly the front three did their bit, none more so than Susan.  Never quite up with the fearsome Hatti Dean (to whom opponents simply appear to be something to leave behind), she was never far off the front of the field in the early stages, but looked to have a lot to do when she left one shoe behind on the first lap, and even more as she appeared to be shedding the sock an inch at a time until it flapped disconcertingly ahead of her toes.  Meanwhile Emily was using her fell experience to tackle the rough stuff and had established herself just outside the first ten, and the rugged Sarah was around 20th and coping with the course well.   It was some way back – to around the nineties – to the other three, but it was clear that they were all setting their stalls out, and Anna in particular was going better over the heavy going than the Scribe has seen her do for some time.

The last lap was pretty nerve-jangling.  Susan, having at one point slipped back to sixth, fought her way back to third on the climbs but looked distinctly uncomfortable on the last descent; however, she clearly found it again on the flat and battled on grimly to take her personal Bronze.  At one point it looked as if Emily and Sarah, 13th and 22nd coming down the slope, might respectively gain and lose a couple; in fact they held their places comfortably to set a fine platform – if one of the other three could find a bit.  In fact it became a case of which of them could find the most, as all three had made a bit of ground; but Ruth had been leading the others throughout, and she hung on to 75th (in fact counting 74th as an anonymous Border Harrier was omitted) and take the final medal.  IN fact, when it came down to it, the Club could equally well have counted Jennie’s 82nd place or Anna’s 90th – both first-class runs under the circumstances – and still taken Bronze.  Even more intriguing, they were only six points behind Sale for second – and Alison has usually been in front of Ruth in League races.  Still, that’s the way it goes.

The last two races both make an important point for the Club.  Leeds City isn’t, and shouldn’t be, a sort of Premier League outfit that’s just about winning titles; it should be a Club, open to anybody who wants to take their athletics seriously enough to improve and contribute to its competitive efforts, and it should be as proud of the improvements of lesser members as it rightly is of its internationals and national medallists.  It’s right to praise and glory in James Wilkinson and Susan Partridge; but if the Club and its members ever fail to also take pride in contribution of the Alex Harts and Ruth Wilcoxes among its membership, then in The Scribe’s view there would be something seriously amiss.

THEY ALSO SERVE …

Taking himself at his somewhat pontificating word, The Scribe also notes the achievements of the other finishers on Saturday – and for that matter of Luke Murray, who started the Under-15 Boys’ race although carrying an injury but probably wisely decided that the sticky Witton Park wasn’t the wisest place to push it.  Steven Eastwood and Harry Foster both had good runs, finishing well up in a strong field, and when The Scribe saw them tackling the Saucer they both seemed to be putting in a sterling effort up it.  Steven finished 19th, one behind local rival Jake Worton, and Harry not too far behind in 28th, in a race witch with just over 200 finishers was one of the biggest, outside the Senior races, of the day.  Also well up in an equally big field was Gemma Keir, who ran her usual gutsy race to place 18th in the Under-13 Girls’; and in this race the finish was so tight that if she could only have managed to go about ten seconds faster she’d have been in the top ten.  Finally, the person who made one of the longest journeys to compete finished furthest back in percentage terms of any Club member; but though Sophie Waterhouse, returning to racing after a frustrating year of injuries, came from Bangor to finish 38th and last but one in the Under-20 Women’s race, she reckoned she’d enjoyed the run and was happy to take Mao Zedong’s ‘one short step’ back to action.

“… AND THE FIRST SHALL BE MISSED!

With so many County Championships being postponed (only six in the country actually went ahead on the 9th) the Scribe wasn’t as vigilant as he might normally have been in checking round the shires – so when compiling his list of ‘firsts’ in the last edition he missed the Club’s first Senior County Champion of 2010 (Carl Smith’s pre-Christmas win in the North-East being in the Under-20 event).  That took place in the Warwickshire Championships at Leamington, where James Walsh won fairly comfortably on his home territory.   Apologies for the omission!

THE OLDIES AND THE ROADIES

It was quite a bold decision on the part of Northern Athletics to put on a M****rs’ Indoor Open Meeting at Sheffield, but as there was a reasonable entry it was probably justified.  Only two Leeds City members turned up, but both competed well; Steve Linsell wasted no time in making 2010 the 30th year out of the last 31 in which he’s cleared 1.80, in spite of declaring in mid-week that “the Achilles has been giving me gip,” and Tony Bowman, now 74 year young, produced three excellent times in the sprints – 9.25 60 in his heat (9.33 later, just to show it was no fluke), 30.53 200 and 80.07 400.  Will there be an entirely new tranche of Club records next September??   Mind you, Tony wasn’t the only remarkable septuagenarian – Bingley’s Fred Gibbs contested the 3000m the day after finishing 415th in the Senior at Witton Park!

So why mention Fred in a Leeds City Clubnews?  Well, just possibly his feat was ‘topped’ by John Mace, who may be a mere stripling of 58 but followed his exertions at Blackburn by finishing 1203rd in the Brass Monkey Half-Marathon at York the following day and managing to beat two hours on the chip timing (just, with 1.59.03!), in spite of pulling a muscle and “walking the last four miles.”  Five other Club members turned out, all doing reasonable or better runs; as to who was the most successful, in material terms it was probably Trevor Clough, whose 1.30.59 in 99th place gave him second place among the Over-50s, but in Club ranking terms Julie Barley had the honour of setting the first Club record of the year with 1.32.07, though it was only good for 7th place among the Over-45 Ladies, a particularly strong vets’ age-group, placing 335th overall.  (Being an honest lady, she’ll also point out that the Over-50 record is faster – but then, who holds it???)  Chris Corcoran had a pretty sound run, finishing 299th and 8th Over-55 with 1.30.59, and Simon Hill placed ten in front of Julie, running 1.31.55.  Finally, Sian Davies, in 561st, got under the Club Ranking standard for Ladies by about a minute with 1.39.12.

One face was missing at Sheffield – Hazel Barker was down at the Lee Valley Centre setting the second and third Club records of the year, and the day, one of which could have actually been the first depending on how early in the morning Julie raced.  Taking part in her first Indoor Pentathlon since turning 50, Hazel not only won the British M****rs’ event but put up the highest age-corrected score in the Women’s competition of 3568.  She opened by setting an inaugural 60m Hurdles time for her age-group of 10.31 before rattling off four more good marks – 1.36 High Jump, 9.61 Shot, 4.02 Long Jump and 3.15.41 800.  Steve Linsell, who supplied the information, noted that “a lot of multi-eventers gave it a miss,” in some cases like Tony B. to do the Northern meeting; however, that’s no detraction from Hazel’s effort, as the main competitor in multi-events is often yourself and hazel made a fair job of competing.