Wednesday, 22 May 2013

British Masters Road Relays 2013

If there can be a worst time in the year to be injured, this is it for me – road relay time. Ok so the relay season is twofold, one in spring and one in autumn, but it’s the spring ones that have a special place in my heart. I’ve already had to miss the Northern and National 12 stages but hoped that I might be back in time for the Masters National event. Three weeks ago I didn’t think I would but then the physio gave me the all clear to start running again and this gave me the push I needed to try to get fit for this event. Tall order I know, but, with a bit of luck, it could be done. I had some luck, unfortunately it was bad luck. I knew I couldn’t just talk my way into a strong Salford squad, I had to prove I was up to the job, so, after an encouraging two weeks of training, I started the Congleton Parkrun last Saturday. Unfortunately I didn’t finish it, within 3 minutes I was getting pains around my Achilles and even though I slowed down I could tell it wasn’t right. I was ok to jog back to the start, I did my stretching exercises and jogged another lap. Maybe it wasn’t that bad! The next day I could hardly run, I managed 5 minutes but it was pain all the way. I took Monday off but was back running on Tuesday. Wednesday I’d set up a time trial to force my way into the Salford team, it was a 1k loop and I figured if I could run 5 in about 17 minutes it might be enough, but as soon as I started running I could tell there was no point even trying, so I didn’t and told the team I was out. Sad moment for me, but at least it got rid of the uncertainty and the team was able to focus their own efforts.  

I’m not a great one for watching, I don’t mind watching if I’ve already done my race or if mine is still to come, but I’d rather be doing than watching. However on this occasion I wanted to give my support to the Salford lads and lasses, as well as catch up with my team mates, whom I got to know well over the winter. Plus being a big event there would be lots of people I’ve come across, in my years of running, that I don’t see that often, and, as I like a good chat, it was too good an opportunity to miss. My mate Rob Tudor was making his debut for Salford so I went down with him, joining us in the car was Wilmslow’s M50 star Graham MacNeil. With two such talkative guys in the car it was difficult to get a word in edgeways but I did at least manage to pass on my course knowledge.

Arriving in plenty of time I was surprised to see the majority of the Salford guys already there. I’ll admit it felt awkward hobbling up to greet them, knowing I wouldn’t be helping them out to win a title, but I soon got over that and we chatted easily, as if the last 13 weeks had never existed.

Unfortunately for Salford I wasn’t the only one to drop out. Both Mike Deegan and Eric Williams had been late withdrawals from the M55 team and the ladies team lost so many they couldn’t get a team down, only Denise Wakefield, supporting her husband, was able to make the start line, but we still had men’s teams in all four categories, some feat, not only that but we expected them all to be challenging for medals. It wasn’t just Salford who suffered withdrawals, I was disappointed that my old club and twice winners, Herne Hill, couldn’t get a men’s squad, neither could four times winners, Bristol and West, or last year’s winners runners up, Ronhill Cambuslang. All teams which could have challenged for the championships, if they had turned out their best athletes, and who contained a number of my running friends.

The first race off was the ladies, all age groups, and the M65+ men. Arena were straight to the front in the W35, followed in by Coventry Godiva’s W45, Heanor, Charnwood and Bristol and West’s W45 teams. Bingley were the leading W55 team and Elswick the leading M65 team. There appears to have only been one W65 team, Barnet, who were guaranteed a win in their category. Lying in 10th M65 position was Salford’s Vin Murphy. Not that far behind was Denise Wakefield, but with nobody to hand onto that was the end of our ladies challenge. After two legs it was Heanor at the front, ahead of Royal Sutton Coldfield and Wilmslow, Bristol were now leading the W45, just ahead of Winchester, with Coventry slipping to third. Bingley were still clear leaders of the W55 but Oxford now led the M65. Roland Bowness had managed to move Salford up to 9th but with only one leg to go it was looking unlikely our M65’s would get into the medals. The 3rd leg saw Winchester W45 take the overall lead and thus win the W45 competition from Bristol and Coventry, The W35 still had one leg to go, Serpentine were now leading that competition, ahead of Arena, by 2 seconds, and Wilmslow. Bingley finished where they started at the front of the W55, with Barnett securing the gold in the W65. In the M65 race Oxford were clear winners from Elswick and Trentham. Sidney Sacks, Salford’s photographer brought us home in 8th position, and whilst he prepared to run and did his leg, I took over photographic responsibilities, those’ll be the blurred ones on the Salford website. The W35 ended in victory for Serpentine, who stretched clear of Arena, with Telford snatching the bronze medals.

Then it was on to my event. The M35, M45 and M55 races. I’d decided that I would jog around the course continuously whilst the race was on, this would give me an opportunity to cheer on the Salford lads at different points each lap, so I set off with club mate Graham Chesters, who was also supporting. Poor Graham had to keep slowing down so I could keep up with him, my Achilles not being able to cope with too fast a pace, thank goodness I’d pulled out of the race, our M45 team would have dropped back so dramatically I’d have had to hang my head in shame for years.

Early leaders in this race were Tipton, taking it seriously with Martin Williams at the front, but, showing why he keeps winning things, Leicester’s Gordon Lee brought their M45 team in 2nd, just 9 seconds behind. Aldershot and Horwich filled the medal positions for M35, with Pumlani Bangani bringing Salford home in 10th position, less than a minute behind the leaders. Dave Lockett was on 1st leg duty for the M45s, he had been right behind Pumlani in the early stages, but having been ill all week he faded a little in the 2nd half of his leg, but he’d done the job we needed, bringing us home in 5th position, with a solid team to come. Redhill and Wolverhampton & Bilston currently held the medal positions behind Leicester. A little further back our Stan Owen had the lead in the M55 competition, ahead of Cobra and Les Croupiers.
Dave and Pumlani battle it out

while Stan Owen holds the lead in the M55

Coming down the age groups Mike Hagar took over for Tipton and although he was overtaken by Aldershot, he did enough to hold onto 2nd in the M35 race. Leicester’s Rob Sheen brought them home in 3rd place, over a minute ahead of 2nd M45 team Oxford. Hallamshire now occupied the 3rd M35 position with Tynebridge doing likewise in the M45s. The Salford boys had mixed fortunes, Darren Moran had dropped back to 13th in the M35s, as other teams wielded some big guns, but Derek Crewe ran brilliantly bringing our M45 team in 4th, just behind Tynebridge. Salford’s M55 team clung onto 1st place as Phil Quibell ran a great leg, though both Dulwich and Blackheath were breathing heavy down his neck.
Darren and Derek fight for Salford supremacy

Phil Quibell still leading for Salford

Aldershot hung onto the lead after leg 3, Tad Dicker, managing to hold off a group of teams fighting for 2nd. It was another old mate and rival, Andy Weir, who got closest to Tad, bringing Thames Hare & Hounds into contention, with Tipton still in the medals, in 3rd. Leicester were now 5th but still over a minute ahead of nearest M45 rivals, Sunderland, with Dulwich now in 3rd. Billy McCartney moved our M35 team up to 11th and Paul Birkett did a grand job for the M45s holding onto that 4th position, and only 1 second down on Dulwich. Having lost Mike Deegan and Eric Williams the M55s still fought hard for a medal and at this point of the race, although we lost the lead to Blackheath, Mike Wakefield brought us in just 5 seconds behind, but not far behind Les Croupiers and Dulwich were looming large, neck and neck at the handover.
Paul and Billy still fighting it out for supremacy

Smooth looking Mike Wakefield

At halfway, for the M35s, Ben Reynolds took THH into a lead of nearly a minute. Tipton were still hanging in there with 2nd and Aldershot still had designs on a medal, in 3rd. Tony Taylor moved us through the field as we entered the top 10 for the first time, in 9th. Leicester dropped down the field a little but still led the M45s by over a minute. Now it was Salford who were holding 2nd position, as Paul Simons, former 12 stage winner, dug deep to bring us ahead of Sunderland. The M55s finished on this leg and it was Les Croupiers who took gold, Wirral came through to take the silver and Dulwich took bronze. Not too far behind was Stan Curran, originally down to run in the M65 race, he gave all he could, but was unable to hold of a couple of pairs of younger legs and finished with in 4th position.
Tony Taylor

One of Salford's best known athletes, Stan Curran gets a sandwiching.

Paul Simons

Leg 5 saw THH extend their lead to nearly two minutes from Tipton. Les Croupiers were now 3rd, but only 1 second ahead of Leicester who showed they could mix it with the M35s. Another of our former 12 stage champions, Eric Crowther, showed he still remembers what it’s like to challenge for medals, moving us up to 8th place. With 1 leg to go in the M45s it looked like Leicester’s day, surely only a major disaster could take the victory from them, but the minor medals still needed to be decided. Salford were still in 2nd position, Rob Tudor making his debut, much delayed by injury, showed he was a true racer. Despite this being his first race in months he pulled further away from Sunderland to give us a gap of 46 seconds. Rob was running scared, not from the opposition, but from the grief I would have given him all the way home if he hadn’t delivered.
Eric Crowther

Rob Tudor may have only gone away with silver but he won the Salford gurning contest

Leg 6 saw the end of the M45 competition. Leicester, missing a major disaster, fully deserved their win with consistent racing, which brought them home nearly two minutes ahead of us. It’ll take some effort to steal Leicester’s crown, but it can be done, next time! Phil Leybourne, was another of our runners not long back from injury but he ran brilliantly to move Salford up into 9th position overall, and take the silver medals for the team. Over a minute back another old friend and rival, Stevie Cairns, ran one of the fastest legs of the day to move Tynebridge into the bronze position, moving their local rivals, Sunderland, into 4th. In the M35 competition there were still two legs to go. THH were drawing further away at the front, Tipton were hanging onto 2nd and Les Croupiers were still 3rd. But Salford were now in 4th position, James Williams, another long term injured athlete, ran 2nd fastest on the leg and our fastest time of the day to bring us into touching distance of a medal.
Fastest Salford Harrier, James Williams

Phil Leybourne secures silver as a balding Salford Harrier looks on

Everybody was expecting a strong finish from Highgate, last year’s winners, but it was Preston who came through to put themselves in with a chance of a medal. THH still led, by more than two and a half minutes, Les Croupiers, helped by another star of a much older age group, Martin Rees, were now in 2nd, with Preston only 20 seconds behind. Tipton were the biggest loser slipping to 4th. We were now in 5th place, Mike Grace, an exponent of making fast running look slow, ran our 3rd fastest leg of the day, to keep us in touch with the medals.    
Mike Grace, it takes a lot of practice to make running fast look this slow
The day finished with THH being crowned champions, Preston moved through into 2nd and Les Croupiers held onto the bronze medal position. For Salford it was a second 4th place of the day as Dave Hudson couldn’t quite make up the gap to the medals but moved us past Tipton.
Last Salford Harrier running, Dave Hudson
What a great day out, what a great race and, despite only picking up the one medal, I think Salford did pretty well with four teams finishing 4th, 2nd, 4th and 8th. We know we can do better, I’m looking forward to next year where I’m hoping to fight my way back into the squad and be surrounded by injury free runners so we can show what Salford has to offer. Not only in the four men’s categories but also in the women’s.
Three happy Salford Harriers and Rob Tudor collect their medals.
Clearly I’m not ready to race just yet, because of the relays I tried to accelerate my recovery and it nearly worked. It was a risk that didn’t come off, but with no other races lined up I can now get down to the business of a risk free recovery. I saw the physio today and she seems happy with the progress I’m making but told me I still have about 6 weeks to go before I should consider running fast again. That’s not music to my ears but at least it gives me hope I will one day run fast enough to make the Salford team. The good news is I can now run with clients again, not the really fast ones, but the ones who are nearly fast. And that really is good news as I’ve recently being working with a number of runners who want me to help them improve. I normally restrict the number of runners I run with, only so many miles in the legs and I need to do my own training too, but as I can’t train myself properly now’s the time to help as many other runners as I can.

Since I started blogging in 2011 I’ve covered a number of different topics, based largely on my own experiences, and, understandably, the majority have been about running. I hope, if you’ve been reading them, that you’ve enjoyed them, and picked up some useful tips. This is my 100th blog, I hope to continue, I’d like to bring you more stories of Salford’s success, though I’m getting so busy I may not be able to write them quite so frequently. One of my friends, who blogs, has been voted into the top 10 running blogs in Australia (by RunStopShop), surely an accolade worth having, so why not have a look at

Written by Roger Alsop
photos thanks to Sid

Rob may have all the chat in the car but it doesn't impress this lady.

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