12 stage road relays match reports

Part A – Midlands 12 stage road relays 2022

It has been 3 full years since we have competed in the 12 Stage relays. The venue was the same, Sutton park, some of names were the same as the previous years, but the team overall was transformed. Lockdown has by and large been very kind to the club. A few names who seem to have been involved with the club for ages were experiencing it for the first time. Read on to find out how the seniors men's team got on. Spoiler alert – we did quite well!

The format for the Midland 12 stage relays is; 12 legs, the first 4 are long (circa 5.4 miles) and then 8 short (circa 3.1 miles or 5k). The course loops around Sutton park and has a fair amount of elevation gain, so any times are very specific to this course. Pair that elevation with the relay aspect and what that means is after the first few legs, the majority of the runners will only see a handful of other runners on the same leg as them – essentially a time trial.

The Midlands has some very large very strong clubs; Bristol and West, Western Tempo, Birchfield Harriers, Notts AC and a few others. The opening leg tends to be a loaded affair and it is a chance for one runner from each team to get a good race.

Swindon put their strongest runner on leg 1, in the shape of Simon Byrne. Simon has hit some big times over the last year, and has had a consistent winter, so we knew he was in shape. The gun went and the field went thundering off. Around a mile in, Simon was sat around 8th, still in contact with the lead group. Top work, if he can bring us home in the top 10, that's an amazing start. Word came over the tannoy at the half way point – Simon was leading……We all thought it was an error and someone must've miscounted or missed a group. Oh no, when we caught sight of the lead bike, Simon was 2nd by 5 yards, chasing hard…..less than 800m to go. Rounding the final corner the gap was reduced, Simon kicked and just managed to claim the win, putting Harriers first over the line by a second or so.

During the kafuffle of Simon taking it to the big clubs, Ben Lines was getting ready for Leg 2. Ben seems to have been with the club for a long time, yet this was his first 12 stage outing, and what a baptism...Ben was (rightly) swearing at Simon as he set off, how dare he put us in P1 for Ben to attempt to hold off some sub 30 minute 10k guys chasing him down! Mr Lines ran a valiant leg to pass over the baton to young Isaac Mould, in 8th place. Well done Ben, that was the hardest leg of the day for the black and white harriers after Simon put us well out of position! Ben retired to the tent to shout at Simon's face. They enjoyed a beer together and complimented each other runs – that is what we do.

Isaac is a talented youngster, talking the third leg long. The field was broken up a bit and that long leg out and back section must've been mentally very tough. Isaac came back home to a raucous Harriers contingent and set Courtenay Chessell on his way on the last of the long legs.

We are not sure Chez saw anyone on his leg, but with his quality, we knew he would run hard for the club. He did just that (whilst obviously wearing his go pro). The club's official videographer looked focussed as he crested the final hill of the gruelling long leg, he had thrown everything he had at the course today. Isaac McAdam was waiting on the start line for the first of the short legs.

Isaac, a fine athlete with beautiful hair, had been nursing a niggle around the knee for a few days prior to racing. But, that didn't stop him from putting himself into the hurt locker and getting the job done. It should be noted that Isaac ran in sunglasses so that nobody could see the pain in his eyes, the things you do for your club. Isaac completed his leg in 11th position. We finished 9th here in our last outing in 2019, and really wanted to trump that in 2022. The quality and consistency throughout the team would hopefully start to shine through.

Ethan Pierce was next up, and having endured a full XC season, he must have been looking forward to running on the road again. Ethan, without his compliment of cheerleaders, picked up a place and came home to hand over to Matt Woodward (affectionately known as Woody) for leg 7.

Woody is another who has blossomed since lockdown. He has gone from the kind of guy who pours beer over his head at the finish line of a national event, to one that pushes the boundaries of what we thought he could do and is forever hunting for PBs. We all suspected Woody would run a fast leg, but he went a lot quicker than we thought possible on this course. Picking up 2 places and closing the gap on the team in front, he set Omer Homer on his way.

You know Omer, the guy who never stops running. If you have ever driven down Queens Drive, he is the guy always running along there, usually with a hat on, churning out 100+ miles a week in the winter. Omer's strong legs carried him along to hold position and claw back further time on the clubs in front. Most gaps in the field were now measured in minutes rather than seconds, so on some legs, all you can hope for is to run a bit quicker than those around you.

Our noble leader and tactical mastermind Simon Dill, complete with 1.34 lungs, post covid infection was toeing the line for the first 12 Stage leg since 2014. Off he went, into the distance to a solo run. Collapsing over the line, he set off Max Harrison–Tosatto.

Max is a transfer from London club Serpentine, he was part of the mass exodus from the capital during lockdowns of 2020. What an appointment this guy has been, impeccable style, a well kept beard and always smiling. He can run, too. Max ran a strong leg to put us within a few seconds of Long Eaton (nope, hadn't heard of them prior to today either). Currently placed 9th but only 4s down on them at the changeover point. Other teams were burning through resources as athletes were being hidden in the later legs.

Gary O'Brien, electing not to run with his 30+ years of silverware around his neck, had the Long Eaton runner in his sights. Gary had been put towards the back of the order as he is so experienced, it was assumed he would be doing a solo leg, as it worked out, he was one of the few with a carrot in front of him. Gary and the Long Eaton runner had a monumental battle throughout, taking it in turns to try and break each other, but neither really managing to inflict any significant time. Approaching the line, Gary found a little bit extra, and just ducked past Long Eaton to put us 8th, but only by a second or so heading into the final leg.

Luke Byrne was final leg runner, again an experienced road relay athlete was put on the anchor leg to hopefully inflict some damage as some teams would surely be running out of quality by this point. Setting off there was a lapped runner and the Long Eaton chap (who somehow got released before him even though Gary beat their guy over the line!). Luke set off in pursuit, after the initial downhill, it was clear Luke was in a different race and opened up a significant gap on Long Eaton in the first mile, looking like 8th place had been sealed. Several lapped runners were still on the course, picking them off helps break the monotony, then hang on, another last leg runner, Stoke AC……Luke could see him and was therefore catching him…..that is all he needed to know. Working hard, he passed him at around 2 miles. From there on in it is a net loss in elevation. As he approached the final few hundred meters, the rest of the club were chuffed he had broken Long Eaton, not realising he was now 7th, not 8th...a surprised Mr Lines "Flipping heck, he's seventh!" as we approached the finish line.

7th over the line, against some very strong Midlands clubs, and a 2 place improvement on the 2019 event. The headlines were Swindon Harriers were leading at one point. We do not know what Bristol and West, Birchfield and Notts management were saying when Simon came home in P1, but we suspect it was something along the lines of "Who the hell is that guy" and "Let's hope they don't have another 11 runners like that!" or perhaps "Swindon...who"?

What was the highlight? Simple, the camaraderie, it is always is. Plenty of harriers out on the course providing feedback/support, giving course data, letting you know position and if there is someone ahead who is suffering and potentially catchable.

What does this mean for the Harriers? It means we have qualified for the 12 stage National relays a fortnight later, on the same course against all English clubs who qualify.

Full Midland results are here: https://www.race-results.co.uk/results/2022/m1222.pdf.

Part B – National 12 stage road relays

A few of the team from the Midlands were not available for the national event, but no problem, with the depth in our squad, Simon Dill still had selection dilemmas. 2 new athletes came in, Chris Reade and Jack Gunning to replace Simon Byrne and Gary O'Brien. Big shoes to fill in both cases. The format is similar to the Midlands, with course lengths the same, but now 6 long and 6 short, alternating, long, short, long, short etc. The quality of the competition was much improved. Highgate, Tonbridge, AFD, Leeds, Liverpool and all the other big clubs of England. But, we are here by rights and we have a target of improving on 40th from 2019.

Ben Lines, now promoted to Leg 1 was keen to get going and see whether he could post a faster time than a fortnight before with people around him. The pace was brutal from the outset, but that racing acumen Mr Lines has been blessed with saw him cling on to a group as the leg unravelled. Looking strong throughout and picking seconds up on every mile split from his previous effort, he was right in the mix as he entered the final stages of the leg. Crossing the line and handing over in a very good 44th position, the harriers we off a great start. Mr Linesy had found 40s from the course, a fine piece of racing, Ben. Over the next ~4 hours we only needed to gain 4 places! Easy, right? Well, maybe not easy, but certainly possible.

Isaac McAdam having banked a sum total of 3 runs in a fortnight was still battling with his body and the niggle around the knee. BUT, he wanted to run, he wanted to be part of the team and knew that he can shut the pain out for up to 20 minutes. Leg 2 really is a battle to get to the front of the starting pen at the right time! Complete with arm warmers, he set off. Many runners around him, he worked well and picked up several places looking strong he finished well and handed over to Luke Byrne in 41st place.

Promoted to long leg for the nationals, Luke stepped up to the line and still had people around him. Working through the field, he ran a leg befitting of the Byrne family name, picking up 4 places, he was panting like a tired wolf as he approached the finishing line to set a youngster off on his way.

Jack Gunning had managed to move work commitments around so he could run today. A youngster stepping up to the senior squad, Jack has raced a lot over the years so when he had a few runners up the road, he set off after them. The field was just about holding together at this point, the lead teams were minutes clear of us, but we still had some medium sized clubs around us. Jack ran a very strong leg, climbing us another 2 places. This is a Jack type of course, he likes it tough and broken, he showed his strength today with a very good leg, well done.

The youngsters kept coming as Isaac Mould was keen to improve on his long leg time from the Midlands. Picking up a place and going nearly a minute quicker than 2 weeks before, he clearly took some learnings away from this experience at the Midlands. To have 2 youngsters perform so maturely back to back is testament to the coaching setup and the individuals at the club. Folks, keep performing like that and the Harriers has a rich future ahead of it.

Max Harrison–Tosatto, now in a battle with the other club wearing black and white quarters, Pontypridd, set off after the Welsh club. He was well down on time (more than a minute) as he took the baton, but Max is a chaser. Chase, he did; catch, he did; destroy them, he did. Max caught, overtook and then put about a minute into Ponty, the black and white battle had swung in the favour of the Harriers.

Another promoted to a long leg after a very strong midlands showing was Ethan Pierce. Complete with him support crew this time, he laced up and set off. This boy is a talent, he likes road racing and has found his form this year. By now the long legs are so isolated for the out and back, it is as much a mental battle as it is a physical one. But you know in the back of your mind you are running for the team. A strong performance with no prior knowledge of the course, Ethan reminded us he is a force to be reckoned with on the roads.

Team manager and the owner of 2 fully working lungs this time, Simon Dill set off and looked like a different man, slightly hairier. A solo run, only lapped runners and a few women on the course meant Simon had to grind out this performance. His trademark elegant form still present in the closing stages, he had inflicted further time on Ponty, surely we would beat them over the 12 stages? (Simon has particular interest in thrashing Pontypridd, whenever he travels west for a road race, he regularly hears "well done Ponty", from the uninitiated, and it is fair to say he finds it mildly annoying.)

Harriers still holding firm in 34th with more quality waiting to run. Surely our squad depth would see further gains?

Courtenay Chessell, without his Go Pro attached (not allowed whilst running, as instructed by the officials at the start line!) was up, keen to improve on his time from the Midlands. A slightly less enthusiastic start from the big man which is no bad thing over the gruelling long leg. Picking up a place (overtaking our track rivals Winchester) and finding around 30s from the course, Chez had put in another sterling performance for the team.

Closing in, we had Chris Reade up next. As much as he would have wanted Wolfie with him today, he also knew he was in shape. Chris has been with the club for many years, and has turned out for relays whenever fit, so with that experience, it is hardly surprising he ran a fantastic time. When I say surprising, he said afterwards he didn't know where that came from – going a lot quicker than he had anticipated. A fine leg, Chris, and he picked up 2 places to boot.

31st position and the 100 mile king, Omer Homer, had one of the toughest challenges of the day ahead of him, the last of the long legs. No watch on his arm, so not only running solo, but without the guidance that a watch brings. This chap ran purely on feel, pushing himself to the limits and holding his effort at redline, Omer is so strong he can just do that and see out races. Clawing time back, he set Matt Woodward on his way with a few teams up the road.

Woody, who had been battling cold symptoms in the week leading up to this, had around a minute to make up on the teams around us if we were to pick up any further places... .Out there on the lanes of Sutton Park, there were very few runners indeed. He was anchor leg with good reason, if we needed any time, he could find it. Backing himself, and showing just how much he wanted it, Woody hauled in a runner from Sale Harriers and made after anyone else who was out there for the taking. Passing numerous lapped runners, Matt came home to an excited crowd. The harriers had taken 30th spot overall, a huge improvement on 40th the last time the event was held in 2019.

How was that achieved? Simple, team work, the quality and consistency we have within our ranks is our greatest asset. The athletes heading out on warms/cool downs to the out and back section of the long legs to make it slightly less daunting for whoever is on that leg, sharing beers, chocolate, and other post-race goodies. We have a few athletes who will be looking to break into the team, and several talented and hungry youngsters who will graduate to the senior ranks over the coming years, the future of the harriers is looking strong.

The track season beckons, so we say goodbye to Sutton Park for a while, but all the Harriers will be looking to bank some hot 5k times over the summer in order to get the nod when we return to Sutton Park in September for the 6 stage relays. Simon Dill has already stated that he will have a horrible job selecting teams, but let's face it, it is a good problem to have, and we all know how Mr Dill likes trawling through The Power of 10, comparing times.

If you are feeling inspired and want to get involved, please speak to any member of the club and they will point you in the right direction, or use the contact us section of the website.

Full National results are here: https://www.race-results.co.uk/results/2022/nat1222.pdf