TORCH PASSES ON AS MERCIA THE BRIDESMAIDS AGAIN
FRA Relays (Calder Valley)
Castle Carr Estate is normally closed to the public so it was a joy and privilege to be running across these beautiful hills of South Yorkshire. From a record number of teams entered (forget how many but I believe it was a record) Mercia had two, an Open Mens and a Vets. The build up to the event was like never before, as team captain I was constantly bombarded with e-mails from Clare Kenny wanting to know any club ‘gossip’ that could be broadcast over the tannoy as we came in. I declined to answer these requests because I couldn’t think of anything. Well, I could, but I won’t go there! On to the running and I agreed to be team captain again with Andy Wright looking after the Vets. The Open team promised to be a good one, and hopes were there for that elusive first ever win but alas for the 3rd time in 4 years we had to console ourselves with 2nd. At least we’re consistent; a different team has beaten us each time. The Vets hardly disgraced themselves either with 7th Vets team (22nd overall). Here’s how we all did it.
Tim Davies on first leg has served us well in the past and so it was to be this year, his nearest challenger being Jethro Lennox of Shettleston. Each year Tim has brought us back in the lead I’ve always given myself (with partner) the task of holding onto it. Mike Bouldstridge and I just about managed it at Hayfield 2 years ago and this year I decided to pair up with talented ‘new boy’ Tom Owens. Given Tom’s recent improvement I wondered if I was being a bit brave and setting myself up for a tough time; I certainly wasn’t going to go off too hard never mind how fast Tom wanted to go! I knew I had to use my experience and not run like a scared rabbit when out in front, as is the tendency to do with the fear of being caught. I told Tom we wouldn’t start racing until up on the moor when the adrenalin rush had surpassed. It was pretty misty up there on’t moor and we were glad to be in a pair, four eyes being better than two for picking out flags. Once into the running our lead was never threatened. It was strange, I was somewhat surprised to be pulling Tom up most of the hills but hanging onto him on the downhills was not what I expected. He told me he could descend and I think I believe him now! The final section of moorland was exceptionally rough and tussocky (we were warned) and it was huge fun trying to stay on our feet. I think Tom fell over once and me about 3 times! Overall we were a good partnership and were 2nd fastest on the stage, faster than the Salford pair of Andi Jones and John Brown (which pleased me no end) and 40 seconds down on the Pudsey pair of Dan Hope and John Heneghan who forged their team into 2nd place. The Vets were sticking to their task; the two Andy’s (Wright and Yapp) moving the team through 28 places after a steady start by former Eryri star Trefor Jones, now running in Mercia colours. There were comments on how difficult it was to pass people on some of the narrow moorland tracks although I wouldn’t know – we didn’t have that luxury.
Onto the navigation leg where more than one FRA relay has been won or lost. This year was exceptionally challenging for not only was it out and out navigating but all seven checkpoints could be visited in any order. In other words more like a Score Class mountain marathon than a fell race. Perhaps this is where we’ve always gone wrong; maybe we should be the one’s following at this point of the race rather than setting off in the lead. Pete Vale and Roland Stafford (debutant first teamer) did a sterling job. So did Paul Cadman and Matthew Clewes who made 13 places despite Matthew limping round with an injured ankle. I don’t think there was much difference between our teams in terms of time. The navvy leg is contentious at the best of times and I wonder how long it will continue to form part of the British fell running relay championships. I think most people see it as pure orienteering, but then again if it weren’t then it would never be anywhere near as dramatic. Drama unfolded when (despite being local) Horwich took everyone by surprise to come back in the lead. Everyone including their 4th leg runner who wasn’t ready and cost his team precious seconds! With all due respect to Horwich it was the team who came back in 2nd who we were more worried about, the formidable Bingley combination of Ian Holmes and Rob Jebb. Admitting they had followed the Horwich lads (I don’t blame them, really I don’t) handing over a 3.5 minute lead over Mercia (narrowly behind Todmorden in 4th) to in-form Alistair Brownlee, the writing was once again on the wall. Cold-ridden Simon Bailey had the same unenviable task given to him in 2004 where no matter how well he ran it would never be enough. Getting us into 2nd was no problem for Simon who still ran faster than Alistair despite his problems, and there we were again, 2nd. The only consolation was our eternal nemesis Pudsey (to our warped delight) had stuffed up big time on the navigation. For the Vets Ed Davies anchored the team to the highest place I believe they’ve finished since the days of Dave Neill and Andy Wilton.
Something else was decided in the car travelling up to the race. Pete (Vale) and I agreed that win or ‘lose ‘ Pete would take over from me as team captain once it was over. Having done the job since 2000 I feel I’ve done a decent stint and both of us felt the time was right. It’s been fantastic, and I hope I can continue to contribute and encourage. We’ve won our own version of the British title, we’ve got more runners than any other club in the top 10 of the Senior Mens British Champs (3) does that count? Perhaps not but it certainly bodes well. Come on now, everyone get behind Pete!!
|8||Dark Peak Vets||3:56:03|
|48||Calder Valley Ladies||4:44:09|