National 6 & 12 Stage Road Relays, 14/4/12

It’s been a memorable season for the harriers, with another national cross title for the men, the women emerging as a genuine force to be reckoned with and several medals and near-misses in relay competitions. How do you top all that? A bit like this……

 

It’s a measure of the improvement in the women’s squad this year that they were disappointed to only finish 5th in the Northern relays. This time the team was boosted by the addition of Susan Partridge, a fit-again Claire Duck and, in her last relay for Leeds, Sarah Peterson. Emily Birchall was handed the daunting task of running first leg and she was well up to the task, running 17:39 to finish just 20s outside the top 10 and firmly in contact with a whole host of teams. Her time might have been the team’s slowest but it was good enough for 49th fastest on the day. She handed over to Charlotte Wills, clearly relishing the chance to chase down the string of runners ahead. She ran 17:27 (41st on the day), moving up to 11th, and setting up Susan Partridge for a big run. Susan has been in great shape this year (and it’ll be exciting to watch her next week in the London Marathon) and she flew round Sutton Park; her 16:02 was the joint 4th fastest of the day and moved Leeds up to 4th, within touching distance of the medals. Sarah Peterson has had an up-and-down season but her marathon training is obviously paying dividends as she pulled out one of the runs of the day, her 17:19 (34th fastest) maintaining 4th place. By now Aldershot were clear leaders and Swansea were starting to pull away in 2nd, but 3rd placed Bristol and West were in sight. Time for another big run, and that task fell to Katie Parry, 3rd fastest at the Northern Relays 2 weeks ago. She ran a brilliant 16:57, 20th fastest of the day (and 3rd by a Northern runner again!) and in the process moved us past Bristol and into 3rd! Fortunately, the task of holding onto a medal spot fell to Claire Duck, in great shape all season and an experienced relay runner now. She ran 17:18, Bristol couldn’t make any serious in-roads and the bronze medals were won by over 30s! A very strong AFD team set a new course record whilst Swansea held onto 2nd. This was just reward for the hard work put in by the whole squad this season and made up for the disappointment of missing out on medals last year by just 8s. Incidentally, the quality of this year’s performance can be seen the fact this time was nearly 5 minutes quicker than last year’s and, as far as I can tell, a new Leeds City record!

 

Leeds were just 1 runner short of a B team, but those who did run performed admirably. Kirsteen Young ran a solid 18:09 on first leg, before Sophie Lovell, afflicted with an injury problem, ran 22:39 to finish in 33rd. The next 3 runners gained 4 places each, Jennie Guard running 18:48, Jess Nixon 19:16 and Rachel Dyson 19:05 for 25th place at the end of leg 5, at which point they were 3rd B team and 7th Northern team, further testament to the strength in depth of this squad.

 

The men’s cross-country season saw disappointment in Northern competition followed by national success, and so it proved again. A stronger team than the one that under-performed at the Northern Relays took to Sutton Park, led off by James Smith. We all know what Smithy can do on his day and here he had one of the runs of his life, running 26:26 to come home in 5th place (=9th fastest of the day, right up there with some of Britain’s best road runners). Mike Burrett took over and, despite losing 6 places, ran a solid leg to give James Walsh a fighting chance on leg 3. There’s nothing Walshy likes better than having a line of runners to chase down and he had a stormer, moving up to 2nd with a time of 26:14, =5th fastest of the day. Things were to get even better as Michael Salter swept into the lead on leg 4, running the team’s 2nd fastest short leg with 15:06 and starting thoughts of a 3rd victory. It’s a tough task setting off in the lead, especially when other teams are lined up behind you, and Matt Clough, on leg 5, dropped 3 places with a 28:03 clocking, a time he is capable of bettering by some distance on a good day, and perhaps the team’s only under-par leg of the day. Dale Worton maintained 4th with a time of 15:20, before handing over to James Wilkinson, who moved straight back up to 2nd, running an excellent 26:14, 8th fastest of the day (and when you have 3 in the top 10 long legs, it’s going to take a good team to beat you!). Next up was debutant Steve Lisgo, a regular at Tuesday sessions but making his first appearance in blue and yellow. He ran 15:17, our 3rd fastest short leg and will no doubt prove to be a valuable addition to the squad. Simon Deakin was disappointed with his run at the Northerns but made up for it here, running 26:47, one of the top 30 times of the day and maintaining Leeds’ grip on 2nd, ahead of Birchfield. Carl Smith then ran the fastest Leeds short leg of the day (30th fastest overall) with a 14:50 to open up a good lead on the chasing Birchfield and Notts teams. Alan Buckley may not be in his best form but he used all his experience to keep Leeds over a minute clear of 3rd on leg 11, running 27:46, before Michael Williams took over for the final leg, running 15:42 to bring Leeds home in 2nd, nearly 3 minutes behind a very impressive performance from Tipton and a minute ahead of Notts. This was quite a turnaround from 2 weeks ago with the other Northern teams failing to impress, our closest northern challengers being Liverpool in 10th. The time may only have been our 4th fastest ever, but this was a day when winds on the long out-and-back section (out to what Leon Foster termed “the gates of death”!) slowed all the runners. Once again, the medals were just reward for a season of hard work across the squad and also from team manager Simon Deakin, who has had to contend with organising teams on top of his racing, and who here got the team selection and leg orders pretty much spot on.

 

There was also a B team, led off by Leon Foster, suffering from an intense racing schedule at the Isle of Man festival the week before and running 30:25 for 59th place. The next few legs saw an upward charge, with Danny Davis running 15:25 to show he could have held his own in the A team, moving up to 52nd. Alex Davy gained a further 6 places with a time of 29:11. Elliot Todd moved up to 42nd with a 15:51 clocking before the team yo-yoed for a bit, starting with Pete Branney slipping 2 places with 30:07. Gavin Chatterton, entering his marathon taper, picked these up again and more, his 15:57 moving the team up to 37th. Chris Needham lost 6 with 31:51 on leg 7, then Sam Bucknall almost equalled Gav’s time with 15:59 to move back up to 39th. Ben Dyson slipped 1 with 31:13 before Chris Wright showed he is coming into form with an A-team-worthy 15:25 to move up to 37th. Mark Bryant gained a further place with 31:24 on leg 11 before Aaron Lowery moved up a further 2 on the anchor leg, running 17:14 to finish 34th. This actually placed us 2nd B team, behind Notts in 30th, and 10th Northern team.