Conditions were gusty and remarkably chilled for a mid-July afternoon. Nothing to scare our men and women – they’d seen it all before! This time we were facing hosts Bournemouth, Reading and Medway and Maidstone who were all just above us in the league table and had also realised they were going to have to get themselves in gear to avoid dropping down a division next year. This was not a fight we couldn’t win, but with the Intercounty champions stealing some of our biggest names away, a streak of unfortunate injuries and holidays our team sheet was lacking some of its usual suspects. However, we had the pleasure of welcoming several promising new recruits to our ranks – and what a debut they had!
Both the men and women were missing bodies for the short hurdle races, but the ever-useful Helen Brown put herself forward for the first event of the day – the 400mH. While admittedly not her primary event, she saved us from a big, fat 0 point scorecard and for that we are grateful.
As midday rolled around, Fiona Maddocks and Sian Harry prepared for a hell of a race in the 800m. Sian, 400m runner that she is, separated herself from the pack with a Reading athlete within the first lap while Fi played a more sensible, experienced game several meters back. Her tactics paid off as she pipped Sian in the home straight to claim second place in the A race with a 2:25.7. Sian still claimed the win in the B race with a 2:26.3 clocking, so points galore!
It was great to see former Road and Cross-Country captain and newlywed Ed Auden back in a pair of spikes. He was overjoyed to ditch the flat cap and pin on an A scorer number for the 800m race alongside B scorer Rob Norville who was just about to start his gruelling, heroic efforts to cover our major gaps in attendance. A very fast first lap hit the boys very hard and left them flapping in the wind over the second 400m round. Ed clocked 2:06.8 at the line while Rob got himself back to the stables with that typical “I’m drowning in lactic” grimace carved on his face – still claimed a 2:20.3 which was worth a bronze in the B race. .
Ed swapped his E bib for an EE for the 400m race where he was backing up the very fast Miles Kershaw. While he admitted he was not in ‘peak shape’, Miles still put himself square in the mix to run a more-than-respectable 55.9. Not very far behind, Ed pulled every face in the book to get himself over the line in 58.7. Unfortunately, in a fast race both of our lads came last, so we had to settle for two points. Our speedy Belles for this event appeared in the form of Sian Harry and Laura Suggitt. Those two are usually a winning combination, but had little more success than the boys in this case – Laura came third in the A race with a 61.4 while Sian had to settle for last in 67.2, which says a lot about the standard of competition!
Sam Ige and Pierre Walker teamed up for both the 100m and 200m events, driving themselves down the home straight in what could easily be called the Belgrave performance of the day. Sam took the gold in both events in 11.0 and 21.9 with Pierre hot on his heels in 11.6 and 23.0. Great running, guys! Those were valuable points indeed. Rachel Basford and Emma Watkins had less luck, sadly. The A race saw Rachel come last in 14.1 while Emma ran 14.4 for last in the B race. Another valiant effort that did not manifest on the scoreboard…
The distance events kicked off with the women’s 5000m which featured triathlete Rachel Brown – still pulling stitches out of her arm from a nasty bike crash in Leeds – and new signing Tasha in the B race. Rachel had worked out exactly what she needed to run every lap to finish in 18:30, but decided to race the leader for the first half of the race anyways. Just made her silver place in 18:29 all the more impressive, to be honest – especially for her first track race in two and a half years! Tasha Tennant ground out her own race in ‘no man’s land’ and scored maximum points in the B race. Who doesn’t love a talented new signee? Fun fact: Tasha was exactly 3mins behind Rachel and ran 21:29. We like to think they had some proper tactical chatting done on the start line to pull that one off.
For the men it was a 3000m this time around. Impeccable metronome that he is, Matt Welsh ran 3:02/km the whole way around to come home in 9:09.4 in third just behind very strong runners from Maidstone and Bournemouth. He stepped off the track and immediately went into King’s Park for some additional interval work, by the way… In the B race, Arne Dumez swallowed his pride and ground his way through a particularly gnarly off-day to also come in third.
Then came the 1500m. We were delighted to see Emma Howsham’s usual smiley demeanour grace our ranks once again, backed up by sprinter Sian Harry who was operating well beyond her distance and blocking yet another critical point leak. At the front of the race Emma fiercely battled with her new Reading-based training partner Anna Boniface for a huge PB of 4:48.7! This is another ideal candidate for the performance of the day award. We can’t say it didn’t hurt like all hell, but for Emma this was one of the days that make all the hard work worth it.
The men fielded Stephen Gardner and – oh, there he is again – Rob Norville. In only his third attempt at the event, Steve valiantly stuck to the leaders and ran a close-to-suicidal first lap. No biggy. He wised up and kept some powder dry to storm the final 300m towards his own PB of 4:18.6. Rob did what he could, but some seriously brutal events earlier in the day practically ground the spring out of his feet. What a guy! Despite their strong runs, both men came fourth in their respective races which meant our search for points continued…
New recruit Jasper Taylor stepped up for the men’s 3000m steeplechase and put up a hell of a fight. A natural hurdler, he took to the water jump like a fish in… well, water! Maidstone’s 3000m champion, Tewelde, also laced up the steeple spikes and taunted Jasper for 5 laps until he eventually put in a decisive gap with 1000m to go. That doesn’t change the fact Jasper ran a very impressive 9:58 to take silver, which meant we got vital points in an event where we usually haemorrhage them, so thank you, Jasper! Thanks also to Helen who braved the water pit once again to plug yet another hole in the team sheet. Great work!
The relays were, as usual, the climactic conclusion to an exhausting day and a last-ditch attempt to claw back some points. In the 4x100m, our A team of Sam, Miles, Pierre and new recruit Camille Aragon took second place in 44.7! Camille had also won the non-scoring 100m and 200m races in 11.7 and 23.8 so we’re very keen to see what he can pull out of the bag for us next time. For the women it was much tougher going. The total time of 53.9 was not enough to get third place so Rachel, Laura, Belgrave debutant Amy Mat and Emma only scored the single point.
The triple jump and long jump featured one of the new sign-ups. Matt King took to the air and landed very far in the sand. I’m told this is what a good jumper does (I’m a distance runner, I don’t know these things)? A 5.83m LJ was enough to get him a third place in the A competition, but a 12.59m TJ got him silver. A great debut from Matt, and hopefully much more to come! He was accompanied by Miles in the LJ who managed to salvage another point for us.
The Rachel/Emma duo returned for the jumps. While Emma took the A string in the LJ, Rachel took the lead for the high jump, the pole vault, the TJ, the shot put, the discus, the javelin and the hammer! She lives abroad now so she doesn’t often grace us with her presence, but when she does she makes it well worth our while! Once again, Helen was more than happy to put herself forward for some throwing and also made valuable contributions in the shot put and discus events. Emma took the B bib in the javelin and came second with a 15.32m throw!
On the men’s side, Ali Prenn was the main staple our throwing squad alongside Pierre, who joined him for B string shot put, and Pete for the discus. Unfortunately, Bournemouth, Reading and Medway had brought some seriously though throwers with them so our lads found it very difficult to find a spot on the podium, bringing back minimal points to the stands. We were also lacking bodies in the HJ and the pole vault which meant zero points for us there, which cost us dearly.
We ended the day in fourth position with only 108.5 points behind third place Reading who went home with 171. Things are looking very tense for next year indeed… But our next match is on home turf in Battersea, let’s bring the troops and hit it hard! We can still bring this home.