Seven of the best lock horns in vintage battle
In a very high quality race we saw the rarest of things: the top seven clubs in the South all running super hot at the same time. Consider the evidence of 21 minutes separating the top 7 at the start of the decade, to just 6 minutes now. Concertina time indeed. To defeat HW after their amazing Surrey league campaign was good, and to fell the National 12 stage champions Tonbridge excellent. But Ken Pike’s Kent are always strong and then it was the three juggernauts: Bedford’s Tony Forrest is a fabled TM and his squad have been superb for 20 years now, and it’s a decade since I wrote an AW feature on him called ‘Forrest of Medals’. We know all about Highgate, who have had a dazzling sequence of wins all over the land since 2015; and AFD, led by my compadre Mike Boucher, remain something of a phenomenon. All the medallists broke the old course record. Up against it then!
We had managed to assemble a ‘mini dreamteam’ but a peak under the carpet saw some quite serious issues. There was no Auden, Welsh or Upton, relay experts all, and although we’d managed to shoehorn the legendary Phil Wicks into the side, a short stage was all that could be risked due to lack of running and calf issues – bit of a blow that. And then late on Saturday – disaster! Andrius had showed up to the course that afternoon, due to a slip of the pen by Paskar in an email a week earlier, saying “see you Saturday”. I immediately corrected it, but AJ thought it was an attempt at humour by me. He needs to learn: my jokes are no laughing matter. Andrius returned to London in a minor fury, fired off an email cancelling us due to work, and blasted an amazing 22 miler in 2:07. Oofff. I went round to his house on bended knee as he returned from that little scamper, and to his eternal credit he gave the nod. We were alive again.
To the race then and a merry tribe of 11 souls rode the rails up on a glorious, still day. Andy Fyfe took on the tough task of opening leg and was tripping the light fantastique as the pack did a 3:12 opening K. This he could do. Next up was a 2:55. This he couldn’t! The next 17 minutes were a case of hang in there and he did just that with a fine time and solid 20th.
Tinos looked a little ‘leggy’ after a really tough time at the Athens Half last weekend, but a spot was nibbled up the board to set up dubutant Ben MacCronan who reeled off a complete doozy. 9 spots were devoured, he loved every minute and set off to eagerly chomp a 25K warmdown with a London marathon in Bels colours to come. We were back in the race then, and after the ‘cracker from Craka’ we savoured Steve Gardner’s best run of his Belgrave career, who was horrendously crocked in the autumn and here he was running 2nd fastest of the stage and taking us into the top 6. Superb stuff.
Paskar had trouble everywhere he looked. Dave Morgan and Freddie Slemeck flying up ahead and a riotous 22:50 from Shaftesbury’s Kieran Clements to rip past. Finally, Slemeck blew a gasket, so PO was ‘level par’ for the round; losing a few seconds when he briefly veered off course.
To take us to half-way, yet another man who is on the comeback trail, Arne Dumez, with just three weeks running under his belt. Duffed up by London 2012 Olympic semi-finalist Ross Murray, Arne leaked just that single spot and although disappointed with his time he will certainly reach the next level if he can remain injury-free.
In your LIFE!…
When I reflect upon Nick Goolab’s leg, the words of sportscaster Verne Lundquist spring to mind when he called Tiger Woods’ impossible chip shot to all but seal the 2005 Masters: “Here it comes…Oh, my goodness!…OH, WOW!! IN YOUR LIFE, have you seen anything like that?” And we have to ask at the Southern 12 stage – have we? It was Thompsonesque, Cullenesque, and of course, Wicksesque. In 2000 an 18-year-old Thommo blasted to the day’s fastest by 18 seconds and then 14 years later improved on that margin to 31 seconds. Keith Cullen dominated for three straight years between 2004-06, and Wicksy won by 35 seconds in 2007 for the biggest long stage win of the Century, and then two years later reduced Cullen’s record on the old course. On this course, Nick’s 22:19 out-trumps Thommo’s 22:35 record in 2014. Wow indeed.
And don’t think for one moment such brilliance comes easily. Nick [pictured, top] has struggled with the harsh realities of our sport as much as the next man. So many let downs, false starts, comebacks and the like. He got assaulted by the Sutton Park long stage in 2011 and walked off to what many feared was an early retirement. There was the tough day at the 2015 Bupa London 10k which again made him ask the dark questions, and as recently as November there was that nightmare Surrey League – 45th – which not only triggered the onset of hypothermia but again the question, “what the hell am I doing?” Well, we trust that this answers those questions, as he thrilled us all to smash the race wide open to take us into the medals. Up ahead though, Highgate looked dangerous and Bedford deadly.
Step forward Brad Courtney–Pinn with a really nice run, which pushed Stevie G close and only narrowly gave way to Kent; whilst stubbornly remaining ahead of AFD – just! If Paskar’s leg was a tad violent, the poor skipper Nick Buckle’s was a total bloodbath. Going off 50 yards down on Chris Greenwood meant he could never quite get a tow, and from behind he had the great Johnny Hay, about to launch AFD’s superb run to the title. Welcome to hell. A true captain’s innings though and probably the toughest relay run he’ll ever do.
Ledg takes one for the team
Down to 5th then, which would probably be our lot, but it was wonderful to see Wicksy charging round – not nearly fit, but still by some way our best short, and we all hope that he can get on top of his calf issues. Over to poor old AJ, his problems described above, and legs that were screaming all the way round. The flub probably cost him 30 seconds, and then, as is his hallmark it was straight through the finish line, out of the stadium, and keep on going to the station a few miles a way. Run Forrest, run.
It was a lonely tour for Alex Miller who will happily make way for younger, faster men, just as soon as they make themselves known! Meanwhile though Le metronome had things become more interesting late on as Tonbridge had finally woken up, and had been tearing the place up for the last half hour, but they left it too late for this one, and our 21 minute deficit to them at the National 12 stage – which they won – has been dealt with.
A big thanks to our reserve Alex Mills for loyally standing by throughout the week, and even coming into the team briefly on Saturday night. And of course to Charlie Dickinson for putting up the tent single-handed and supporting us all, whilst dealing with seemingly dozens of Belles. Charlie’s Angels are multiplying – fast!
Tomorrow… is another day
To the future then, and the signs are good that we’ll be a force in the South for a while yet. There’s great spirit amongst the lads and several on the sidelines who will be back. What with Terry’s juniors starting to feed through, and many of the squad clearly having 30+ seconds to improve, there’s reason to hope for lots of exciting battles to come.
|Leg||Runner||Leg time||Race pos||Cumulative time|
|8||Newham & Essex Beagles||04:07:05|
|9||Cambridge & Coleridge||04:07:49|
|10||Blackheath & Bromley||04:09:11|
53 teams started, 44 finished.
Fastest long leg
|1||Nick Goolab||Belgrave Harriers||22:19|
|3||Kieran Clements||Shaftesbury Barnet||22:50|
|6||Will Fuller||Blackheath & Bromley||23:15|
|8||Jake Shelley||Shaftesbury Barnet||23:17|
|9||Owen Hind||Kent AC||23:18|
|10||Abdishakur Nage Abdulle||Hillingdon||23:18|
|18||Ben MacCronan||Belgrave Harriers||23:46|
Fastest short leg
|2||Jonathon Roberts||Southampton AC||15:18|
|5||Christian Van Eitzen||Newham & Essex Beagles||15:23|
|8||Lewis Mills||Blackheath & Bromley||15:31|
|10||Phil Wicks||Belgrave Harriers||15:33|
|36||Steve Gardner||Belgrave Harriers||15:57|