Multi-talented selector-captain-runner-baker-reporter SAM WHALLEY tells the inside story of Roadrunners’ relay teams’ big day out in the capital…
THE SEAA (or southern) road relays are a huge event in the Reading Roadrunners calendar these days. For many years they were held at Aldershot, with the women’s race on a Saturday, and the men’s on a Sunday.
In recent years they have mostly been held at Crystal Palace (one year at Bedford Aerodrome was not popular), and we have grown from a minibus to a coach. We are grateful to the club for funding this for us; it’s so good for team spirit to be able to travel together, and takes some of the stress out of the day.
This year, I had enough interest to put together two senior teams and one vet 40 team for the women. I hadn’t noticed that this year, for the first time, they would also be accepting women’s teams in the vet 50 category – a breakthrough and another step towards equality. Whatever next — vet 60?
Mark Worringham acted as team captain for the men again, and was inundated with runners wanting to be part of the squad. He entered three senior teams and one vet 50 team, with himself and Seb Briggs being speedy enough to run as vet 40s in the seniors A team.
The rules with this and similar events are such that you can enter a certain number of runners per team, and no one may run who has not been entered on the original list. This allows for a bit of shifting around if there are any last-minute injuries, and while no athlete can run more than one leg in one age category, a vet runner could run a leg in both a senior and a vet team, if necessary. Fortunately, there were no on-the-day changes needed this year, for either the men or women, and no one was asked to double up and run two legs. Relief all round.
Arriving at around midday, we had enough time to use the delightful facilities, do a bit of shopping — coffee and event hoodies were the order of the day — check out the course, including the infamous steep-then-gradual hill, a changed finish from last year, and, for the men, an extra 0.7k loop around a car park, per lap.
It was also a good idea to watch the junior races, to check out how the handovers worked.
Officials at such events have been doing their thing for years, and can be a bit shouty if you get it wrong. To the relief of our first-timers, there was no baton involved; you were just told to go once your incoming runner had crossed the chip mat.
For Mark and me, there was also the task of collecting race numbers and chips and completing the team declarations, which involves writing down exactly who will be running which leg for which team. It’s no small job.
The women were off first, at 1.30pm. There were some nerves in the camp, with a few feeling more than a little intimidated. It’s fair to say that the best of the best run in events like this, including GB marathoner, Tracy Barlow, and local parkrun course record holders, Naomi Mitchell and Jess Gibbon.
Added to that the crop tops and skimpy shorts (OK, pants), and confidence can be knocked, especially considering where we were all at in our race schedules and general health.
I had run a marathon the week before, Sarah Dooley and Liz Johnson were a week away from their marathon, Mel had not long returned from a long period out with injury, Claire Woodhouse had had her second baby only six months ago, Gemma Buley, Aga Faulkner and Sally were nursing niggles, and Claire Seymour and Magda were at the end of colds. Apart from that, I think everyone was raring to go.
Both senior and vet teams run together, so it was Gemma Buley, Aga Faulkner and Sarah who were tasked with getting the A, B and vet teams, respectively, off to a good start. They did not disappoint, running fantastic times of 17:25, 21:39 and 19:01 for the 4.8k.
They handed over to Laura Peatey, Sally Carpenter and Magda Bennett, who again ran brilliantly, with 18:53, 22:23 and 19:57.
On the third leg were Mel Shaw, Claire Woodhouse and Claire Seymour, who handed over the metaphorical baton in 18:55, 23:01 and 22:52.
Waiting in the start pen with Liz Johnson and Claire Raynor, it was wonderful to hear Liz declare “She’s quick” as Mel ran in, looking strong. Having missed last year’s race due to injury, Mel’s journey must be one of the comeback stories of the year.
Liz herself has gone from strength to strength since taking up running only a couple of years ago. Feeling somewhat daunted by her escalation to the A team, she did herself and the team proud, bringing them home in 20:44 (her personal target had been 22 minutes), which gave them an overall finishing position of 32nd out of 55 complete teams. Fantastic!
Claire Raynor, who had also been watching her son Mattie race, was next off for the vets, with unfortunate timing that meant she was caught up quite quickly in the entire first leg of the men’s race, which started moments after she had set off.
Having been ushered to the side so that the 141 men could start, I did not envy her one bit. Nevertheless she had a great run, coming in at 21:33, and ninth out of 10 complete teams — a great result!
I was the penultimate woman to set off for the final leg of the senior women’s race. Yes, I realise I am way too old to be in an under 40s team, and I had thought I would be safely on the bench as third reserve. Alas, three women having to pull out meant that I had to get my tired legs back into action and complete the team. Captain’s duty.
Watching the YouTube footage, anyone would think that I was in leg two for the men, as an entire swarm came past me at great speed. I was pleased to maintain my position, and finished in 22:35, with the team in 54th. Job done.
By this time, the men’s race was well underway, having started at 2.30pm. I hadn’t had as much opportunity to speak to the men individually, but knew that at least Matt Richards (left) and David McCoy had a marathon on the immediate horizon, Rob Corney, Lance Nortcliff and Andy Mutton had a niggle or two, and Pete Jewell was returning from illness.
There might have been other reasons for people not feeling their best, so apologies if I was not aware — it definitely didn’t show!
Seb Briggs (A), David McCoy (the younger)(B), Chris Buley (C, below) and Brian Kirsopp (vets) ran the first 6.2k leg in respective times of 18:20, 18:38, 20:27 and 21:06, setting their teams up in fantastic positions.
They handed over to Rob Corney (16:59), Ryan Faulkner (in his first team event for the club)(19:28), Ian Giggs (21:56) and Colin Cottell (22:46), who also had brilliant runs.
The third leg runners again ran really impressive times — Matt Richards (above, 17:36), Chris Lucas (19:03), Lance Nortcliff (20:04) and Pete Jewell (21:59).
By now, the lead runners were beginning to lap those further back, and things were looking pretty messy out on the course: men warming up and down, women cooling down, spectators everywhere, and park users generally in the way.
I think the lead bike had stopped doing its job by this point, but having that on the track at the start and finish of each lap did not help matters. Those actually in the race had to have their wits about them to keep up with what was going on around them.
Up for the fourth legs were another new Roadrunner, Sibrand Rinzema (18:24), Jamie Smith (19:22), Tony Page (21:18) and Tony Walker (21:53). The latter’s anchor leg brought the vet 50s home in 13th out of 20 complete teams. Well run, guys!
I don’t know when was the last time that RR had a vet 50s team at these relays, but a precedent may have been set now.
Meanwhile, the seniors continued for their remaining two legs. At the point in the YouTube film, Tonbridge coach Mark Hookway was counting runners into the stadium. He knew every vest of every club. When he saw Sibrand, in 18th, he said something along the lines of “Don’t know who these guys are.” Were the green vests suddenly a threat? They had certainly been noticed.
Leg five was run really well by Mark Worringham (18:05) and Matt Davies (19:26), but Andy Mutton (23:03) was clearly not comfortable. I hope he has been resting this week.
On the anchor leg were Jack Gregory, Chris Burt and Ollie Watts. Jack ran a storming 17:47 and brought the team across the finish line for the final time in 17th place.
This was a huge improvement on their 25th place finish of the previous year, and was set to see them qualify for the National Road Relays on October 6th. Chris and Ollie also ran well, with 19:31 and 22:37, but the latter had reported a rather lonely leg, with the race drawing to a close. The B team finished in 48th, and the C team 68th, out of 73 complete teams. Great performances all round.
The results were up as we arrived back in Reading. The A team was listed as incomplete, with both Rob’s and Matt’s times missing.
Team manager Mark set about investigating why, and reported back that, somehow, Rob had not been listed on the original electronic entry form. While this does not seem possible, even with such a problematic entry system, which is prone to crashing, the SEAA were adamant, and with no way of proving otherwise, the team had been disqualified. Devastating!
Regardless, the fantastic performances still happened, those brilliant times were still run, and it was incredible to be part of a club with enough members of that standard. What a great day! In the words of Mark Hookway, as Jack came into the finish: “These have done well… Reading Roadrunners!” And yes, they had indeed.
The SEAA six (women) and twelve (men) stage relays will take place in the spring. Get your names down now (there will be brownies).
Pictures: Claire Woodhouse, Gemma Buley, Mel Shaw