Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Northern 12-stage Road Relay

For the second successive year Keswick AC has entered the Northern Athletics Road Relay Championships.  Prior to 2014, the Club had never before entered the prestigious 12-stage relay but with an increasing interest in road running, and the emergence of some real road-running talent within the Club, 2014 was a landmark as Keswick sent a team to Heaton Park in Manchester.  It was to prove an enjoyable experience and the Club put in a sound performance, finishing 28th and mixing it with some of the strongest running clubs from the North of England.  But with the top-25 clubs automatically qualifying for the National equivalent, there was a little disappointment that Keswick had narrowly missed out on making it to the illustrious English Championships.

So it was a resolute group of 12 Keswick AC runners who travelled down to Sefton Park in Liverpool determined to finish within the top-25 and guarantee a place at the National 12-stage in Birmingham.

Sefton Park was to prove an excellent venue for the 12-stage road relay.  The course designed was exclusively on paths which weaved their way around the leafy confines of the park and it was a picturesque venue for runners, marshals and spectators alike. The nature of the route made it perfect for spectators to watch the race unfold and also allowed runners to cheer on their club colleagues as they tackled their respective legs.

The format of the 12-stage saw four runners having to tackle a long leg of 4.9 miles and the remaining eight members had to do a shorter 2.4 mile leg.  Some strategy has to be employed in deciding the running order of the team; some clubs preferred to stack their stronger runners at the head of the field to establish a strong start whilst others looked to put their speed merchants towards the end with a view to making up valuable places towards the finale of the relay.

Club captain Steve Hebblethwaite had selected a strong quartet of runners to tackle the longer legs.  Marc Brown led the way on the fierce opening leg clocking an excellent time of 25:05.  Sam Stead, on the third leg, was to achieve the fastest long-leg time of the day for the Keswick runners, running a superb 24:36.  Peter George, despite feeling under the weather for most of the week, put in an excellent 27:12 for the fifth leg and Steve Hebblethwaite concluded the longer-legs with a strong 25:12 on the seventh leg.

Interspersed with these runs were shorter legs run by Patrick Malkinson (making his debut for Keswick AC), Christopher Edis, Adam Campion and Andrew Slattery.  For some of these runners, tarmac is an alien concept, as their focus is very much on fell-running.  But the performances on the day clearly demonstrated that these fell-runners possess some decent road speed as Patrick ran 13:40, Chris 13:39, Adam 14:03 and Andrew 14:05.

Keeping track of overall positions throughout the relay is a tricky business as clubs are perpetually lapping other teams and positions are continuously changing.  But with two-thirds of the race done the impression was that Keswick AC was hovering just within the top-25. 

So it was down to the final four runners to put in solid runs to cement that position and guarantee a place at the Nationals.  And they duly delivered with Ian Davies clocking 14:16, Steve Jones 14:52, Rob Wynne 14:08 and Chris Brewer 13:35 (the fastest short-leg from a Keswick AC runner).

The feeling was that this team performance was enough to secure Keswick AC a tremendous 20th position.  But there was to be a dramatic turn of events on the final leg at the head of the field as both Liverpool Harriers teams went astray on their own stamping ground.  This led to disqualification and Keswick AC was promoted to 18th place.  This was a fantastic result for such a small running club and they can now look forward to battling with the country’s elite when they travel down to Birmingham for the National 12-stage road relay.

The navigational error from Liverpool Harriers was to open the door for Leeds City Athletic Club.  The Yorkshire based club took advantage of Liverpool’s mistake and took the Northern title in a time of 3:11:10.  Taking the other podium positions were Morpeth Harriers (3:12:07) and Salford Harriers (3:12:42).

Leeds City were to make it a double victory as their ladies took victory in the equivalent women’s 6-stage.  It was to be a dominant performance as they went onto clock 1:47:20, over four minutes ahead of Stockport Harriers who finished second in 1:51:41 who were closely followed in by Rotherham Harriers (1:51:54).

No comments: