STRATFORD Athletic Club produced some of their best overall finishes in recent memory at the Midland Counties Road Relay Championships at Sutton Park on a day when severe weather conditions made running extremely difficult at times.
The men’s 12-stage race comprises four legs of roughly 5.4 miles followed by eight legs of about 3.2 miles. The women’s six-stage race has two legs of 5.4 miles and four legs of 3.2 miles.
However, when faced with blizzards, minus temperatures and gale-force winds, the distance is irrelevant – the race is going to hurt regardless.
Stratford’s men finished 28th – some 16 places higher and 14 minutes quicker than last year – while the women’s team placed 21st. The last time the women’s team finished higher was back in 2012.
In-form Josh Newman led off the men’s team with a storming run on the first long leg. He completed the stage in 29:51 and got the team into a top 20 position as he produced Stratford’s best opening leg at this event for eight years.
“It’s always a tough course at Sutton Park and the blustery and cold conditions only made it harder,” said Newman. “Having struggled with a cough for the past couple of weeks, I didn’t know what to expect but I was pretty pleased with my race.
“It took me a while to get going but I hit my target of finishing the leg in the top 20 and completing it within 30 minutes.”
Club stalwart Tim Hutchinson put in a solid 33:28 leg for the next long stage before handing over to relay debutants Drew Sambridge and Ollie Senior.
Sambridge managed 34:27 for his stage while Senior clocked 31:40 – making up a couple of places in the process after the team had slipped a few positions.
Kieran Tursner kicked off the first of the short legs with a strong 19:50 run – more than a minute quicker than his performance at this event last year. He handed over to Jon Mulkeen, who maintained the team’s 31st-placed position with a 20:57 effort.
Rob Minton then blitzed an 18:26 clocking on the seventh leg – the 13th-fastest of that particular stage – to move the team into 30th. Teenager Fergus Allison followed with another sub-19-minute effort on leg eight, putting Stratford into 28th place.
Peter Sugden – with a 21:38 split – held on to the team’s overall position. Martyn Helliker (21:22), Alan Dwyer (22:26) and Ben Twyman (23:29) brought the team home in a combined time of 4:56:23.
Stratford initially finished in 29th place before being moved up one position to 28th following another team’s disqualification. The race was won by Bristol & West in 4:02:05.
Like the men’s squad, Stratford’s women’s team got off to a strong start and a top-20 placing. Sheila Lammas clocked 36:29 for the first long stage to hand over to Sarah Vernon in 20th place.
Vernon put in a 27:13 effort for the short stage on leg two as the team briefly slipped to a still respectable 26th place. Hannah Osbourne moved the team up to 23rd after covering the second long stage in 40:33.
Rebecca Pridham (25:42) and Bryony Segger (25:57) maintained Stratford’s position over the course of the next two stages before Suzie Graham made up a couple of positions on the sixth and final stage.
Her 25:29 clocking was the fastest split of the club’s short stages and moved Stratford from 23rd to 21st.
“Our blend of experienced road relay runners and debutants created a fun and friendly atmosphere,” said team manager Danny Tolhurst.
“This seemed to breed confidence out on the course and helped both teams record very pleasing results. It was a delight to see such strong, confident performances from each athlete.
“From the first leg to the last, everyone applied themselves superbly in less than ideal conditions.”
Report compiled by Jon Mulkeen.