National Road Relay Championships, 13th April 2013

The National 12 Stage Road Relays have thrown up some great races in recent years, several of them involving Leeds City. This year was no exception, despite both men’s and women’s teams going into the event lacking several key members. It’s testament to the club’s strength in depth that we were able to be near the sharp end of both races.

 

The women got off to a flying start. Claire Duck has had a great winter but excelled herself here, coming home in 2nd place, behind the almost-inevitable winners Aldershot Farnham and District but ahead of a whole host of talent. She ran 16:25, 9th fastest of the day. She handed over to Katie Parry who, in her first race for some time, ran 17:44, losing 3 places but keeping the team in the medal-hunt. Next up was Susan Partridge, freshly back from altitude training in Colorado, who flew round the 5-ish-km lap, regaining 2nd place and running 16:19, 8th fastest of the day. Like Katie, Kirsteen Young was also running her first race for several months and, like Katie, she ran 17:44! She retained 2nd place in the process. Celia de Maria, by her own admission not in her best form, took over for leg 5, running 21:19 and bringing the team home in 9th. Jess Nixon, also a little way off her best form, retained 9th place on the final leg, running 19:22. A top 10 place is still a good performance and, on top of this, the women were also 4th in the concurrent Northern Championships, just 15s off a medal! Plenty more to come from this team!

 

The men had a potentially winning 6 stage team on the sidelines, including cross-country team medallists from this winter, James Wilkinson and James Walsh. However, the strength of the squad is such that team manager Simon Deakin still had hopes of being in the hunt for medals. James Smith led off, as he has done before, and had a solid run on what is always a fast and strong leg, running 27:23 and coming home in 23rd. He handed over to Mike Burrett, not quite in the form that saw him take 15th place in the Northern cross-country but still running well enough to gain 6 places with 15:24. Jon Wills has not enjoyed the boggy, swampy conditions of this winter’s cross-country but here on more solid ground he showed exactly what he can do, slicing through the field to come home in 8th place, running 26:45, the 21st fastest time of the day. The forward momentum was maintained by Mike Wood, running 14:52 to put us in the top 3 for the first time and running the joint 16th fastest time of the day in the process. Dave Webb took over for leg 5 and despite a sleepless night courtesy of his newborn little boy, ran a storming 26:35, the joint 14th fastest leg, moving up a place to 2nd behind Cardiff, who had opened up a sizeable lead. Jack Simpson lost a place on the next leg, running 15:37 but we were still firmly in the medal hunt. Carl Smith put the team back into 2nd with a time of 26:55 on leg 7 but behind him Belgrave were entering the medal race through their controversial Spanish signing, Lozano Alberto, running the fastest leg of the day by 20+ seconds and putting Belgrave into 4th. As at the cross-country relays, many spectators questioned whether athletes should be flown in to represent clubs they have little connection with, and the debate was no less heated here. It certainly changed the complexion of the race, especially as Belgrave’s Kris Gauson put them into the lead on the next leg, despite Nick Hooker running Leeds’ fastest short leg, 14:48, 14th fastest of the day. Phil Wicks extended their lead on leg 9, despite a fine run from Alan Buckley with 27:03 as Leeds pulled further ahead of Cardiff in 3rd. Mike Williams closed the gap and regained first place on leg 10, overhauling Belgrave veteran Will Cockerell with a time of 15:13 and handing over to Simon Deakin with a gap of mere seconds. Simon could normally be relied upon to extend this lead but unfortunately had a below-par run, the Belgrave runner pulling away to leave Joe Townsend with a mountain to climb on the last leg. He did everything he could though, roared on by a Leeds team forgetting weary legs to sprint around the course and running his heart out to reduce the 45s gap to a mere 4 before Belgrave’s Neil Speight pulled away in the final stages. The gap at the finish, after over 4 hours of racing, was just 16 seconds. Leeds did, however, win the Northern title by quite some way.

 

Meanwhile, a little further behind, the B team were attempting to go one better than the A. Alex Davy led off with a useful 29:12 for 54th before handing over to Michael Salter, who produced one of the Leeds runs of the day, clocking 14:59, a time which was not only faster than 2 of the A team but which would, had he run it whilst in the A team , have won us the race! It’s never that simple of course and unpredictable runs like this are what makes the team manager’s job such a challenge! Salty moved us up to 38th, a position maintained by Tom Edwards in 29:08 after a race-long battle with Wimbledon’s Freddie Slemeck, sometime member of the Saturday morning training group. Martin Farran, overjoyed to be back in a 12-Stage team, was far quicker than he made out he would be, running 17:22 to come in in 41st. Trevor Wilks ran a 30:22 clocking on the next leg for 43rd before Elliot Cole maintained this position by running a 16:43, cheered on by his ever-supportive coach and teammates. Fergus Meade has been training hard for the London Marathon and showed he is in great shape, moving up 7 places with a 28:11 long leg. Leon Foster gained a further place with a 16:14 short leg and Adam Osborne moved up a further 2, running a time of 28:36 on leg 9 and rejoining the lap after the out-and-back section just in time to watch close-up the battle for the lead between Spike and Belgrave, leading some easily-confused spectators to believe Leeds were 1st and 3rdSean Cotter maintained 33rd, running 16:46, as did Pete Branney with 29:45 on leg 11. Owing to a last-minute drop-out by Dale Worton, Phil Townsend had been drafted into service for the final leg and, despite threatening to run 8 minute miles and having clocked up several miles on his bike already, produced the second heroic Townsend leg of the day and was roared on by a visibly moved team (resisting the opportunity to offer some Phil-style ‘constructive criticism’) to a 20:06 time, dropping 1 place to 34th but firmly maintaining Leeds’ position as number 1 B team in Britain (and Spain). In addition, the Bs were 9th team in the Northern Championships and the 2nd best team in Yorkshire.