SEAA Men’s 12 Stage road relay, Gravesend, 25 March 2017

666 for Devilish Bels

 

For the third year in a row we’ve landed on a painful 6th at the Southern 12 when we’d hoped for more.  But the TM is sanguine for three reasons:

  • It all adds value to our incredible sequence between 1999-2010 when we were never out the medals and won it 7 times.
  • The standard of the opposition has risen considerably, which is great for the sport. Although our squads were pretty awesome for those above years, we did not meet too much by way of resistance.  In 1999 we had plenty of sub-par runs, and one guy got lost and started walking.  Our result?  2nd.  In 2006 there were genuine concerns the race was dying, and Alan’s opening notes were rather sombre as he acknowledged the day had been a damp squib.  I penned an article in around 2009 saying to bring the race down to 10 stages to give a few more clubs a chance of closing in respectably.  So for there to be at least a dozen strong squads out here, gives any fan of the relays reason for cheer.
  • This was a young squad, which is still rebuilding brick by brick. It’s really only Paskar who’s “raging against the dying of the light” [and what a rage it is!].  But overall the average age is under 30, which for an endurance team is fine.

So with all that said, we can be quietly proud of a very determined dozen who fought for every second and place, which had to call up two “shrubs” at the 11th hour, who are a year or two off readiness for such a frying pan, but they will be, and this is priceless experience.

To the start then, and a visibly exhausted Andrius did what he could to handle the fast early pace.  By half-way round he was only 10 seconds in areas, but then back-to-back half-marathons said, “hello, remember us?” and it was hang on for dear life time.

With Guildford’s evergreen Sanderson pushing the pace [see what I did there?], poor Andrius looks like a man coming up Birdcage Walk in the marathon. Back-to-back half-marathons at average late-69 pace will do that to a man. Hang in there lad, only 90% of your stage to go.

The ever reliable Nick Bundle then eased us up a spot with a typically smooth run; and then it was another very painful long stage tour, this time for the gracious Nick Buckle.  We ached to give him a short stage on which to run amok, but the loss of marathon man James Williams meant we had to raid one of our up and coming stars.  Nick was under the weather too, but typical of him said nothing on the day – a TMs dream – and despite the slog only a single pip lost.

With Roy Maddams capitulating some 16 hours before the gun, poor old Alex Mills, deep into marathon training and gearing up for the Kingston 16, was summoned, and he unhesitatingly gave the nod.  With heavy legs he was up against a flurry of 15-minute 5k men – and better.  He dug so deep and just a single position leaked again.

Right, what could a still short of his best Paskar come up with?  Very isolated, he ground out a time just 1 second shy of AJ, but without the company.  What an effort – their differential was 4:29 at the National.

The skipper came next and despite a rotten season of injury, Gus maintained his imperious record of always running our quickest short stage in three seasons of 12 stages.  It appeared our fears of Tonbridge were well founded, but what surprised us was how well everyone else was going too.  We were 3:06 off the medals.

Enter the fearless one, Nick Goolab, who entertained so royally with that brilliant 3k the other day and roaring past a slightly bemused Mo Farah [albeit running a bit further].  Nick ran wonderfully in heavy traffic.  Every time I saw him he either had a normal runner, a lapped runner, a normal woman, a lapped woman or someone warming up in his way.  But his time was just 10 seconds off last year’s which was set in far more benign conditions.

Up to 6th now and another talented youngster brought in at very late notice was Ted Oldman.  He excelled at the recent Surrey League to be just 3:22 off Wicksy, but this was an ask too much.  Although Ted won’t like his time, he presence is to be celebrated as he’s been lost to the sport for much of the last 18 months before realising “I’ve got unfinished goals to achieve before I call it a day.”  To our pleasure he’s back, and there’s no reason why he can’t have a fine career.

Ed Auden is such a gutsy runner, and his 6:40 first lap, in a frantic attempt to make up lost ground will have cost him and been dash painful to boot.  But after a 2nd lap of ‘taking stock’ he rallied really well for a time to worry AJ and PO.

A lonely Matt Welsh toiled manfully. Photo by Steve Wicks

Matt Welsh had a juicy early leg to savour at around 10:30pm on Friday night, but a casual check of his email found him shunted to the boondocks.  He never saw anyone all day and a great last 4 months of training weren’t properly reflected.  But we needed one of our top guns on such a difficult leg, and he has become just that.

Despite medals still being 3 minutes away, Phil Wicks was not out for a jolly.  He’s such a thrilling runner.  In cricket terms he’s a Pietersen.  In golf, a McIlroy… boy, does this guy like to go for his shots!  Gus was overheard describing his first 200 yards:  “well Phil’s off, and he was sub 4-minute miling.”  No exaggeration!  The first lap came in a shade over 6 minutes.  Crazy?  Hey, you have to try something.  Faffing around with “ones and two’s” to keep the cricket analogy going, was no good – it was boundaries, sixes in fact – that were required.  His assault cost him fastest of the day, but his run was still just 2 seconds off Andy Maud and Nick, [the day’s fastest], which is a phenomenal effort.

A classic anchoring role from ACM, our 2nd best shorty. Photo by Steve Wicks

Previous leaders Bedford were now in Alex Miller’s way and were dispatched quickly, but Kent and AFD had each other to play with for the entire tour, whilst Alex pressed his nose against the glass from 130 yards back.  It’s a shame because he’d have had great fun if he’d been with them, as he ran our 2nd fastest short stage, and was just itching for a fight.

So, no regrets, we gave what we had on the day.  Remember, Aldershot thrashed us by nearly quarter of an hour for their win at the SEAA 6 stage back in September and now the difference is only 34 seconds over twice as far.  Good progress.  And in the end only 1:31 off Highgate in bronze – well, the loss of Maddams and Williams alone was 3:20; so no cause for panic.

With men to come in for the National, our season’s not quite over yet.  Many thanks to all our supporters, including Chris Upton, the extremely fluffy Ryan Wicks, Emily, Steve & Christine Wicks, all the Belles and our fab four of Chas, Don, Bill Laws and Alan Black.

1 Tonbridge 3:23:05; 2 Serpentine 3:24;22; 3 Highgate 3:26:18; 4 AFD 3:27:15; 5 Kent 3:27:18; 6 Belgrave H 3:27:49.  53 teams started, 41 finished.

A Jaksevicius (13) 20:24; N Bundle (12) 14:01; N Buckle (13) 21:17; A Mills (14) 15:18; P Owor (11) 20:25; G Upton (10) 13:51; N Goolab (6) 19:07; T Oldman (9) 15:35; E Auden (9) 20:47; M Welsh (8) 14:01; P Wicks (7) 19:09; A Miller (6) 13:54.

B Team:  S Mills (49) 24:46; W Cockerell (46) 16:44.

Fastest legs.  Short:  L Lloyd (HHH) 12:57.  Long:  N Goolab & A Maud (Highgate) 19:07; 3 P Wicks 19:09.

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And on the subject of us and Aldershot, check out the medals table at this one since 1962.  [We’ll update this back to the race’s start, a decade earlier, during the week.]

Gold Silver Bronze Tot
Belgrave H 13 5 5 23
Aldershot 11 9 4 24
Shaftesbury 8 4 2 14
Thames Valley 4 7 1 12
Blackheath 4 1 1 6
Newham 3 3 3 9
Portsmouth 2 2 1 5
Windsor SE&H 2 1 2 5
Hercules W 2 1 3
Boxhill 2 3 5
Bedford 1 2 3 6
Invicta AC 1 2 2 5
Luton 1 1 1 3
Tonbridge 1 1
Highgate 3 4 7
Southampton 3 3
Reading 2 1 3
Woodford 1 3 4
Haringey 1 2 3
Kent 1 1 2
London Irish 1 1 2
Basildon 1 1 2
Serpentine 1 1
Exeter 1 1
Brighton & H 4 4
Chelmsford 2 2
Cambridge H 2 2
Mitcham 2 2
Elliot AC 1 1
Camb & Col 1 1
Ealing H 1 1
Surrey AC 1 1
Walton AC 1 1