Tuesday, 12 February 2013

British Athletics League

Last week I heard that Belgrave Harriers have pulled out of the British Athletics League (BAL). That must’ve been a hard decision for the hierarchy of Belgrave to make, as I know how important the success achieved by Belgrave, in the BAL, has been in the club’s recent history. But it’s a clear indication of one of the problems that Belgrave, and probably other clubs, have to deal with, a lack of volunteers. At one point, when I was Belgrave through and through, I considered that it might be something I’d like to do, managing the BAL team, but my departure from Belgrave knocked that idea on the head.

When I joined Belgrave, 1989 we were just starting to build a reputation in the top division of BAL, having joined it in 1987, following four successive promotions from Division 4 to the Premier Division (three as champions). Of course in those days they were known as BAL 1-5, or was it 1-4?. At the time I was in awe of the British League guys, I was only just breaking into the Southern League B team and had no idea that one day I would make it to the big league.

I got my big break in 1992, I had run 15:16 for 5k the previous year, though I wasn’t in that shape this year and was concentrating on the 1500m. But with Paul Evans running his Barcelona Olympic qualification race, over 10000m, the weds before a match in Edinburgh, he wasn’t going to be available. So I was the next man available. I was excited to be asked, Arthur, my coach, didn’t want me to run, feeling I wasn’t ready, but I thought I might not get another chance. So whilst I upset my girlfriend of the time, who had just finished studying and was looking forward to spending some quality time with me, I was getting ready to travel the length of the country for the BAL Div 1 5000m. We travelled up by coach and stayed overnight in Newcastle, I was sharing a room with Jim Estell on this occasion, which made sense as he was the other 5000m runner. The next morning we travelled up to Edinburgh on the bus. I didn’t really have any time to see Edinburgh, but at the time I was too focussed on my race to be interested in sight seeing, wish I’d known what I know now, probably would have made a weekend of it and appeased the girlfriend, but then that might have changed everything.

It wasn’t a dream start, Jim Estell was 8th and last in the A string in 15:22.58 but my slower time of 15:32.06 was good enough for 5th in the B string. The match was won by Harringey, we were 2nd, Birchfield 3rd, Thames Valley 4th, Shaftesbury Barnet 5th, Caledon Park (any of my Edinburgh friends know anything about them?) 6th, Wolverhampton & Bilston 7th and Old Gaytonians 8th. Despite this little setback we won the league that year.

Belgrave won the league a further 10 times before times changed and they dropped down a division. My appearances were sporadic, either I wasn’t available or, when I was, somebody better was selected. But I had some good times and shared rooms with some great athletes.   

In 1993 I made two appearances, both in the 5000m, the first at Birmingham, where we had a better time than my previous event. Kassa Tadessa won the A string and I was 3rd in the B string, setting a new 5000m pb, 14:53.5. Again we were 2nd on the day, to Haringey, with Birchfield 3rd, Shaftesbury 4th, Thames Valley 5th, Newham & Essex Beagels 6th, Woodford Green 7th and Edinburgh Southern 8th. The second one was again at Edinburgh, by now I’d suffered a minor injury and wasn’t in the same shape so only ran 15:12.85 for 6th place in the B string, Kassa again won the A string with 14:24.02. This time we were 3rd, behind winners Haringey and 2nd placed Thames Valley Newham & Essex were 4th, Birchfield 5th, Shaftesbury Barnet 6th, Woodford green 7th and Edinburgh Southern, surprisingly, in last place.

1994 I again made two appearances. I was really trying to focus on my 1500m this year, trying to get below 4 minutes. On 29 June I achieved my goal, competing for Surrey against the Army and Hampshire, 3:58.4. A few days later in the British League match at the Linford Christie Stadium, I improved that to 3:56.83 as I came 6th in the A string 1500m (who would’ve thought I would make the A string 1500m in the premier league). Again we were 2nd, behind Thames Valley, Shaftesbury were 3rd, Birchfield 4th, Haringey 5th, Newham & Essex 6th, Sale 7th and Crawley 8th. Later at Crawley I was 2nd in the 5000m B string, 15:01.91, (my current club mate Paul Simons finished a few seconds ahead of me to win the B string), Kassa was 2nd in the A string. I don’t recall the team positions on this occasion.

In 1995 I only ran in one match, at Birmingham. Again it was the 5000m and I was 4th in the B string, 15:08.32. Daren Mead was 2nd in the A string. Again, perhaps I was some kind of omen, we were 2nd, to Thames Valley, Shaftesbury Barnet were 3rd, Haringey were 4th, Woodford Green 5th, Birchfield 6th, Blackheath 7th and Newham & Essex 8th.

1996 was a strange year, early in the year I was training really well and I’d run well in my first two road races of the year, the Belgrave relay and the South of England 12 stage. So I was looking forward to my first run out in the BAL. This was the first time I’d done the first event of the year, this year it was based in Liverpool. Once again I was partnering Kassa, though this time I’d been given the A string numbers (this caused confusion with the announcer and also during a conversation with the man that always seems to pop up in my races, Paul Simons. There was an added incentive to this race as Jon Jeffrey told me that whoever finished first, out of me or Kassa, would represent Belgrave in the European Champion Clubs Cup in Istanbul. I’m not sure if it was this, the strong wind or the large chicken dinner I ate the night before, but something went very wrong that day. I was hoping to get dragged along for a pb (would have to be under 14:35), instead I struggled and only managed 15:09.3 for 6th in the A string, but Kassa struggled too, only managing 15:25.2 for 6th in the B string. Not sure where Paul finished but I’m sure he beat me that day. Once again we finished 2nd, behind Sale, Birchfield were 3rd, Thames Valley 4th, Cardiff 5th, Shaftesbury 6th, Liverpool 7th and Haringey 8th. So I was off to Istanbul, though now I was downgraded to travelling reserve.

As the years went on my best ones were behind me, younger better runners were coming into the team and I was no longer a part of the BAL squad. But surprisingly I got one final call up, in 2004. I went to Copthall for one last hurrah. I can’t find any results for this match so don’t know if Paul was there, who finished where, except that I know I was 7th (presumably B string) with a time of 15:30.63. And that was it for me, the next year I had departed Belgrave. So my own experiences of BAL were nothing to shout about, though I did set two pbs, more noticeable was the fact Belgrave didn’t seem to win a match when I was in the team, though we did often win the league.

During my time at Belgrave, Herne Hill Harriers were in lower divisions of the BAL, but since I switched allegiance Herne Hill have risen though the leagues and are now in the Premiership, so good luck to them this season. I never got to run for Herne Hill in the BAL, I think I was getting close when I was running well, at 45, but there were always younger better athletes around.

Edinburgh AC were also in the BAL at the time I was there, but they appear to have drifted out now. I was once asked to run for them, but had to point out I was 1st claim Herne Hill and therefore ineligible.

Salford Harriers don’t do track and field leagues, which suits me fine, I’m far too old to be worrying about teenagers lapping me in a 1500m.

This weekend I doubled up races again, well it seemed to work a few weeks ago. Sadly, this week it was a disaster. On Sunday it was the last of the Manchester Area Cross Country League races. I was in with a chance of 2nd place overall in the M45s, but I’d hurt my Achilles at the Alsager 5, the previous week. I’d hardly trained all week and with having lost fitness over the previous two weeks, because of my back, I wasn’t in the shape to do something spectacular. I was of the belief that Dave Lockett, Malcolm Fowler and Ian Wetherall would all turn up and were all capable of beating me, particularly in my less than fit state. But I wanted to do the race anyway, for the Masters team, I figured there would be at least 6 Salford seniors better than me and thereby negating my need to score for that team, after all we were in with a good chance of winning the league, surely we’d turn out in force. As the weekend approached my Achilles was recovering, but I thought I needed to test it out before Sunday, so I ran the Congleton parkrun on Saturday. There was a bunch of youngsters who shot off at the start, 3 of them running under 17 minutes, with my lack of training I just couldn’t live with that pace, on the day, so I ran a solitary 5th in 17:37. Not too bad I thought, I had imagined I would be slower than 18 minutes.

After the event my Achilles stiffened up, still it wasn’t as bad as after Alsager. I debated all night and the next morning as to whether I should risk it in Stockport but I figured the soft surface might be ok and, although I don’t like doing it, I could always drop out if necessary. When I arrived I bumped in Graham MacNeil, the overall M50 winner, I told him that I thought I was likely to finish 5th overall in the M45 section and he told me that you had to take part in 4 races so Malcolm, Ian and Dave couldn’t beat me. I knew the next person was a good few points away from me so all I had to do was run round, though if I ran too slowly I would surely lose out. I made the decision to give it a go.

It was a real struggle to get going, I limped over the start and before the 1st corner I was swamped and must’ve been back in the 100s somewhere. I was passing people from then on, even if I was holding back and taking the more uneven parts carefully. Half a lap in and I passed Mark Seed, my rival for 1st Salford M45. It took me the rest of the lap to catch Stan Owen, who’s considerably older than me. After that I was starting to pick people off 1 by 1. I wasn’t able to really push, I knew the limits on my Achilles but I was feeling ok and knew I’d finish, my concern was how many M45s were ahead of me. Coming down the steep hill, with hidden blocks of concrete, for the last time I snapped my heel back too far, ouch that didn’t just hurt, that really hurt, I needed to slow down. There was a bunch of runners I was catching, including an M45 runner, but now I had to let them go. I thought about dropping out but I’d come so far, it was only half lap to go but I was running in pain, could I make it to the end? I did, just, but I had to let a load of youngsters sprint me in. In the end I finished in 53rd position, about 20-25 places and 2 minutes down on where I would normally finish, but I’d done enough, I was 5th M45 and therefore finished the series 2nd to Wilmslow’s Rob Downs. I actually went over to congratulate Rob, but he was too quickly away and I wasn’t going to run after him. Sadly I was also 4th scorer for Salford, which means we forfeited our chance of winning the league title.
a cautious start, at the back of the field

Since Sunday I’ve barely been able to walk, but it’s now Tuesday and I can see improvement. It’ll be a while before I run again, think of it as a holiday, without the sun.
It’s a shame as Saturday sees the end of the SE Lancs League, where I’m in joint 1st place for M45s, I had a chance to win that outright. I’m also currently lying in 2nd place in the Salford Masters championship, but only 1 point behind Dave Lockett, so if I could beat Dave (probably only if he didn’t turn up) that would create an interesting scenario. However I accept my fate and will move on to the next challenge.       


Written by Roger Alsop

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