12 Stage Relays (10/04/2018)

Tony Phillips writes...

The National Road Relay takes place this weekend on Saturday, 14th April. The event has a long and varied history. It started in the 1930's as the London to Brighton National Road Relay, though the first relays were actually from Mitcham to Brighton In 1951 it became the London to Brighton, starting outside the Houses of Parliament and finishing on Brighton seafront, including eleven stages, that were increased to 12 in 1954, and stayed in that form until 1966 when the relay was stopped because of increasing volumes of traffic. Qualification was through the Manchester to Blackpool Road Relay for the top 20 clubs in the Midlands and North, the first two teams from the North and Midlands were invited to the National London to Brighton Relay. Tipton Harriers took part in both these relays, that created great excitement, with coaches following the relays. The Manchester to Blackpool was run over eleven stages, starting at Belle Vue, Manchester, and finishing outside the Town Hall, Blackpool. Both relays were followed by teas at the Corn Exchange, Brighton, and the Winter Gardens, Blackpool, when trophies and medals were presented. They were enjoyable experiences, with overnight stays in London and Blackpool. The Sunday mornings at Blackpool were early training runs along the beaches! The Manchester to Blackpool Road Relay went the same way as the London to Brighton: it was ended by increasing traffic in 1966. The National Road Relay was continued from 1967 to 1969 at venues in Derby and Leicester.In 1970 it found its present home in Sutton Park. Both the London to Brighton and Manchester to Blackpool relays attracted the top distance runners in the country, and this tradition continued at Sutton Park, which has seen some epic races involving the top clubs and distance runners the country has produced. The early National Road Relays were dominated by South London Harriers, Thames Valley Harriers and Derby and County, then Coventry Godiva Harriers in the 1960's The early years of the Manchester-Blackpool were won by Birchfield Harriers in the 1930's, the first event was in 1932 won by Salford Harriers. Sheffield United Harriers controlled the 1950's , Derby and County the late 1950's into the 1960's, when Coventry Godiva Harriers became the leading club. Since the National Road Relay relocated to Sutton Park in 1970 Tipton Harriers have been the most successful club, winning 15 titles, runners up on 9 occasions, and collecting bronze medals in 6 races, 30 medal winning events since 1970. The last winning team was in 2012 There are a few club members still around who took part in the London and Manchester relays.

Three weeks ago Tipton finished fourth in the Midland Road Relay after a hard running team effort, following Bristol and West AC the winners, Birchfield H., and Cheltenham and County Harriers, who finished 43 secs. ahead of Tipton The weather was severe, with biting winds across the course, and temperatures of -7C windchlll factor, the worst conditions for a Midland Road Relay that long serving experienced officials could remember; it put your writer in bed the next day for two weeks! Hence the late account.

Joe Smith gave the club a great start by finishing third in 27m 36 secs.This was the first of four long stages of 5.38 miles. Young Gareth Griffiths ran strongly to retain third place in 27.32, third fastest on the leg, Peter Brookes also ran the third fastest leg 3 in 27.55, and was followed by Stuart Hawkes who retained third sport with an outstanding run of 27.28 the second fastest on the stage and 6th fastest time of the day, to keep Tipton in third position and in touch with the leaders after the completion of the long stages. Eight short stages followed of 3.165 miles, and Ian Williams took the first to keep the third team place, in a third fastest time 16.25, and Richard Carpenter ran 16.51, sixth fastest on the stage but last a place to fourth. The team retained that position for the rest of the race, with good solid performances from Martin Williams 16.29, second fastest on the leg, Shaun Barnsley, returning to some of his better form in 17.10, Richard White ran a fourth fastest on the stage to record 16.48, and Harvey Maguire recorded 17.11 for fourth fastest, followed by Karl Welbourne, a 16,54 time, fifth fastest, and the last stage saw Phil Wilson run an outstanding leg of 16.12, second fastest on the stage gaining 56 secs on Cheltenham and 43 secs. from third place overall. The 'B' team finished 13th to qualify for the National, one of only a few clubs to have two teams competing in the event. Luke Vine returned to form after his layoff with a stage 10 time of 17.46 and sixth fastest; good to see him competing again. Adam Soley ran well on 5th stage to record 17.38 and James Jefferson on the 7th leg ran 1747, both gaining two places. The 'C' team finished 33rd out of 44 teams that completed the relay.

With a full team, and that little bit extra from each of member of the team, the club could make a significant improvement on last year's position of 23rd.