ERRA Men’s 12 Stage Road Relay, Sutton Park, 8 April 2017

Calendar’s Climax a Fight to the End

A satisfied squad savours a job well done. Standing L-R, Alan Black [the last man to carry our colours across the winning line at the London to Brighton, in 1963), reserve Simon Haileselase who’s still wondering when he gets to run; Charlie Dickinson, Nick Bundle, Ed Auden, Matt Welsh, Arne Dumez, Dan Wallis & James Kelly. Crouching: Bill Laws, Paskar Owor & Will Cockerell. Photo by Sophie Harris

After a consistent season Belgrave returned to Sutton Park for the first time in two years, after missing a couple of 6-Stages and last year’s 12 Stage, as we’ve been rebuilding and unable to complete our teams.

We only just managed to here as about half the squad made big sacrifices, shuffled appointments and travelled grim distance.  For us to end up less than a minute off 4th English club is a magnificent effort by the lads.  Did I overreach a tad putting the team together?  Perhaps.  Was it worth it?  Very much so.  We owe this race a debt of gratitude and it’s one that is steeped in Bels folklore and has contributed so much to our legacy, our burgeoning seriousness in the 1920s, which in turn led to our ownership of Belgrave Hall and our reputation of a club that adores and contributes to the wonderful sport of road running.

The Lion and the Dynamo 

To the start then on a glorious day, and the first challenge was to get Paskar round without a blow-up.  Sutton Park ruthlessly sniffs out interrupted build-ups, and Paskar’s lost vast swathes of time to a bad injury.  So to get round in sub 27 in the top dozen was a good start.

The look of a man who ran a marathon 6 days ago – in 2:24! Andrius did fabulously to hold it all together and give up just a few seconds a mile to his exhaustion. Pic by SGH

Stage 2 is alluring for the company, but be careful what you wish for!  Matt Welsh was under siege as speedsters played Space Invaders all around, but his time was fine, and it left Andrius with them all lined up.  This was our second major worry of the day, as our courageous Lithuanian dynamo, just 6 days off a terrific 3rd at the Manchester Marathon, ran 28 flat, a mere 20-30 seconds off optimum.  As a veteran of some 25 marathons, all I can say is, ‘ouch!’  Three places nibbled to 18th, as many clubs were going well.

Gus digs deep and JK deeper

Outgoing skipper Gus Upton missed a major family function to be here, and our thanks also go to fiancee Dani, who found herself like Dorothy in Munchkinland in a mysterious place and so not what was in her diary.  Like Paskar, Gus has spent months on the sidelines but he had a water-tight run, just 11 seconds off two years ago when he caught a flyer.  Nearly a mile up ahead, the mother-of-all-front-loads by Cardiff had the mother-of-all-implosions in the post.

And the look of a man who’s been “all in” for the last 27 minutes of his life. If ever a relay leg was done on memory and guts this was it. But the limpet clung on. Well done James! Pic by SGH

After that tough opening quartet, we now hoped for a miracle as we embraced the return to the squad of a multiple Sutton Park champion over both 6 and 12 stage.  Welcome back James Kelly!  With our team right on a knife-edge, we spied a way to strengthen if James could detour a visit to the ancestral home in Oxshott, from the Big Apple, via Sutton Park.  Oh, and it’d have to be a Friday arrival as the Yanks ‘don’t really do’ days off.  The jetlag was always going to be harsh, but such a warrior is hard to resist and this was the bravest of James’ many runs for us.  If he “died a thousand deaths” at the brutal Sunderland National cross of 2013, this was far worse, as everything had cramped up by a mile.  Would he even get round at all?  That he only lost a minute for his trouble was an inspiring effort of mind over matter, and we were still “in the game.”

Debut from Arne and Phil’s huge gamble

And straight on to yet another challenge, as multiple drop-outs led to 4th reserve Arne Dumez, willingly giving the nod.  This course takes years of hard training to get to grips with, so Arne can be very satisfied with his opening salvo.  One of six men in the team to advance us up the order, and a time right where we would expect in relation to his three amigos, Nick, Matt and Ed.

It had been a terribly hard 2 hours 13 minutes for us, but these six lads can be really proud of handing over to an exceptional second half-dozen with “the gift of life”.  No-one was giving up on anything, except maybe on Swansea who were going quietly berserk.  But straight into another crisis!  A disconsolate Phil Wicks warned on Thursday that he had a big knee problem.  Suddenly the TM’s over-reaching had bitten him, hard. Should we tell JK to abort the Red-eye?  But Chas Dickinson wrote in urging me not to pull the plug – the experience was so crucial and one other pointed out, “well the ship’s long sailed for what I cancelled this for anyway”.  A smash and grab raid to Nick Goolab’s coach in Font Romeu was swiftly swatted away… even dear old Sharpy had got the wrong weekend and couldn’t help on his gammy foot.  It was a case of ‘the band played on as the ship went down…’

Come Friday morning and Phil got through a tough 25 minutes in discomfort but he gave the green light – the Bels were back!  He then had a marvellous run as the knee tightened up at half way and he waited with gritted teeth for the tendon to go ping.  Mercifully it didn’t and this was one of those awesome efforts to add to the Belgrave annals, and we all hope no lasting damage done.

Soothing runs from Alex and Craig

Finally, we could all take a quarter of an hour off from the stress as we found someone without ‘baggage’.  You won’t get fireworks from Alex Miller who stood guarding Buckingham Palace for years without flinching, you’ll just get relentless monomania – and we love him for it, as he held firm in 16th.  The final third of the race was going to be one long pedal-to-the-metal chase; so we needed this brief semblance of sanity.

Day Tripper Craig Ruddy only took eight trains for this one, which is a shame as we award a towelling claret headband to those who take 10 trains for a single fixture.  Deep into his VLM build up, with legs full of miles and a hard fought 3rd last week at the Scottish 10m Champs, Craig kicked off our run for home in fine style.  Four bodies into the sack, and up ahead half-a-dozen guys were looking a bit fidgety.

The big final push

Could our new incoming skipper Ed Auden be separated from outgoing skipper Gus?  No!  The leading lights of their respective training groups on either side of Clapham had a spot-on tie, with Salford gobbled.  After a sterling two years of support from GU, I know I’ll get more of the same from EA.

Kiwi marathoner Dan Wallis was referred to us last year by our life member Gary Staines, when Dan set up camp in South Wimbledon.  It was harsh of me to fling him on the toughest of legs on his SP debut; but in backgammon parlance, “put your checkers where they belong.”  Clubs were hardly running out of men either with Dan having Jonny Mellor smashing it up ahead and Andy Maud as the Messerschmitt at this rear.  But showing immaculate form and pacing, Dan reeled in four men, with Kent and Lincoln now feeling the heat too.  A wonderful debut, and another tie – this time with Phil for our fastest long stage.

Dan was in the frying pan and no mistake. But a tactic of ‘see man, chase man’ worked well. Photo by Tony Payne

We closed out with a clinical run from Nick Bundle who nicked the times of Matt and Alex and only had to bow to Tonbridge’s talented Molloy, but gained on Kent who had a super team out, which meant that four clubs all concertinaed on 4:23.  So there it was:  8th British, 7th English, hats off to Swansea’s stunning team, and well done to English champions Bristol who were the fastest ever round this course on that amazing day in 1980.  Liverpool surprised, as did Lincoln; always nice to see the ‘lesser’ clubs having a blinder.

Here ends a rewarding season, except for the VLM where there will be Bels interest a plenty.  A summary goes:

Surrey 6 stage:                                    2nd
Southern 6 stage:                               24th
Surrey League:                                    1st  Div 2, promoted to Div 1
Southern cross relay:                          3rd
Reigate Priory relay:                           2nd
South of the Thames Team 5m:          1st
South of the Thames Champs:            3rd
Surrey cross champs:                         3rd
Southern cross:                                   8th
National cross:                                    27th
Southern 12 stage:                              6th
National 12 stage:                               8th

Extremely consistent and battling stuff, and there’s no reason not to advance these numbers in the 2017-18 campaign.

1 Swansea 4:15:06; 2 Bristol & W 4:19:55; 3 Liverpool 4:20:51; 4 Notts AC 4:21:29; 5 Lincoln W 4:23:07; 6 Tonbridge 4:23:23; 7 Kent AC 4:23:26; 8 Belgrave H 4:23:57; 9 Highgate 4:25:02; 10 Cardiff 4:25:29.  67 teams started, 61 finished.

P Owor (12) 26:57; M Welsh (21) 16:45; A Jaksevicius (18) 28:00; G Upton (18) 16:21; J Kelly (20) 28:38; A Dumez (19) 17:09; P Wicks (16) 26:25; A Miller (16) 16:48; C Ruddy (12) 27:25; E Auden (11) 16:21; D Wallis (7) 26:25; N Bundle (8) 16:43.

Fastest long:  D Griffiths (Swans) 25:10; A Yee (Ken) 25:37; J Mellor (Liv) 25:47.

Fastest short:  D Musson (Notts) 14:46; T Marshall (Cardiff) 15:01; J Hay (AFD) 15:09.

 

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