Midland 12 Stage (25/03/2017)

LIfe Member, Tony Phillips gives us his rhoughts on last weekend's Midland 12 Stage Road Relays,

The Midland Counties Road Relay Championships were held at Sutton Park on Saturday, 25th March, 2017. The Spring conditions, with clear sunny skies, warm but with a chilly breeze, and dry roads were ideal for the event. The park was very crowded with runners, supporters and the local residents out for an afternoon's walk and rest. So the environment was set for an interesting days road racing, involving a large number of Midland teams, with 58 teams completing the race.  

The relay started with four long stages each of 5.38 miles, followed by eight short legs each of 3.165 miles. The course was undulating with some testing gradients and some fast, flat stretches.  Although Tipton had one or two team runners missing, it was still a useful team that could be among the leading teams, and that proved to be the case. Stuart Hawkes gave the club a good start by finishing fifth in 27m. 54 secs., Ben Gamble took over and completed a fast run in 27m 16 secs. and third fastest on the stage, retaining fifth place. Joe Smith took up the chase in determined fashion and overtook Birchfield to improve Tipton to fourth in a time of 27m. 50 secs.  and fourth fastest on the stage.  Next was Martin Williams, still training hard to recover from injury, who had a testing run in 28 mins. 50 secs. to drop Tipton back into fifth place, where they were to remain until the end of the event. The leading teams at the end of the long stages had broken away, Bristol, Cheltenham, and Notts. challenging for the title. The short stages followed with the Tipton runners chasing Birchfield for fourth place, but not managing to close the gap, but all gave sound performances, with six finishing in the top six times on their legs.

The best performers for Tipton were Jonathan Carter, 16m. 24 secs., on the fifth stage and sixth fastest, Dean Bate 16m 45s. sixth stage and fifth, Karl Welburn 16m 48s. tenth stage sixth fastest,  Aaron Brown 16m 56s., seventh leg, Paul Hammond ran the fifth fastest on the stage, 17m 00s.  Tom Holden 17m 03s., Shaun Barnsley 17m 14s.  and Philip Wilson 17m.10s. brought Tipton home in a final placing of fifth, in the fifth fastest on the leg 17m. 10s, indicating he is gradually getting back to his best following injuries. Tipton's final time was 4 hrs. 07 mins. 10 secs. The first three teams that had dominated the relay were Bristol and West AC, who took the title from Notts.AC, with Cheltenham and County Harriers third. Tipton were never out of the first five teams indicating a good all round performance, but one that left them  chasing the leading clubs, so there is work to do!  Tipton's B team were a satisfying 19th, that may qualify them for the National Road Relay in two weeks time. Best runs for the 'B' team were from Gary Whitehouse on the opening long leg finishing 22nd in 29m 58s., and on the short legs on stage five Phil Clamp 17m 43s. James Booker stage eight in 19th place in 17. 47s., Richard Powell pulled up to 17th in 17m 32s.,  with a total finishing time of 4hrs. 30m 12s. 

The race showed some big time gaps between teams, Coventry Godiva Harriers finished in sixth position behind Tipton by some 13 minutes, for example, and some leading coaches and team managers were considering proposals to make the relay consist of all short stages to make it more competitive. Tipton will have to have some thoughts on this change. The road relay season has been one of the most exciting and interesting times of the athletics year for clubs, but it has turned into a truncated form over recent years.

In earlier years there was a full programme of road relay events after the cross  country season. in the 1950's and 1960's going into the 1970's the events included the Leicester Livingston relay, the Harborne outer circle relay, the Swindon and Blackpool relays were entered, then the great London to Brighton National Road Relay. For this the club went by coach the night before for the 10.00 start from the Houses of Parliamenft, and after the race teas were served at the Corn Exchange, Brighton, when the trophy and medals were presented by the Mayor.

The second part of the season offered the Warwicks, Coventry, Wolverhampton and Tipton Harriers road relays that set up the club for the Manchester to Blackpool Road Relay for the leading Midland and Northern clubs, twenty in all.  This was an exciting experience, with an early start from the club by coach to Manchester for the start from Belle Vue at 11.am. After eleven stages the relay finished at the Town Hall after 54 miles 288 yds. This was followed by tea at the Winter  Gardens with the trophy and medals presented, a great occasion. For those who were not exhausted from their run there was a night on the town. But runners had to be out next morning for a training run along Blackpool beach. After breakfast it was to Stanley Park for games followed by lunch and leaving by coach back to Tipton. Now that was running occasions at their best, never to ne forgotten by those who had the privilege to be part of the experience.