Following the cancellation of the National Road Relays, Reading Roadrunners have been competing in the inaugural ‘virtual’ competition which replaced them… with stunning results! Here’s the inside story of our success, told by ladies captain SAM WHALLEY and the fastest Roadrunner in the event, JACK GREGORY. First here’s Sam’s report…
With race calendars empty, 20 female Roadrunners jumped at the chance to pull on their green vests and represent the club in the Virtual National Road Relays. The wearing of club kit was not even a requirement for this race, but it just felt right, and certainly helped get the adrenalin flowing for what was essentially a 5k time-trial.
The beauty of this race, while being pretty tough to run solo, was its convenience, with no choice but to run loops or an out-and-back from your own front door, including warming up and down, of course. Routes were carefully plotted in advance, taking into account the negative elevation limit of 30ft.
We also thought about the most suitable time of day, the number of road crossings, and any potential obstacles — wheelbarrows, toddlers, barriers — to try to ensure our best performance. In hindsight, some might have chosen differently, and some did indeed have another go, before uploading their fastest attempt. I don’t think anyone had bargained for this week’s sub-tropical weather either.
Still on her way back from injury, Gemma Buley led the women’s team home in a great time of 19:21, just ahead of Carrie Hoskins, in 19:39 (fourth FV50). Just missing out on a sub-20 were Nikki Gray, in 20:01, and Katherine Sargeant, in 20:05 (seventh FV50). With Sarah Dooley in 20:16, and Jane Copland in 20:46, this put the women in 31st place in the six-stage competition, with a combined time of 2:00:08. Apart from Gemma, all of these were also FV35 scorers, and just needed Mel Shaw’s 21:18 to achieve an excellent fifth place out of 47 complete vet teams — amazing — with a combined time of 2:02:05.
Making up the remainder of the women’s 12-stage team were Chloe Lloyd, with a huge PB of 21:42, Julie Rainbow, in 21:58 (ninth FV55), Swinda Falkena, in 22:17, Liz Johnson, in 22:45, and Claire Woodhouse, in a post-baby PB of 23:29.
The 12-stage team was an incredible 13th, in a combined time of 4:13:37. Well done!
Once the results were in, an FV50 category was added, with four to score. Had we had one more runner in this age category, I think the club could have won! Our three FV50s ran a combined time of 1:01:42, with the winning team of four coming in at 1:36:25. Someone please check my maths!
Another great thing about this race was that there was no limit to numbers. Just run, and the fastest 12 would be counted.
So, also running like they had stolen something were Caroline Jackson, 23:31, Claire Raynor, 23:33, Claire Seymour, matching her track 5000m PB, in 23:53, Angela Burley, 23:58, Sam Whalley, 24:17, Liz Ganpatsingh, just days after her three-day Paris Marathon, in 24:48, Alex Bennell, 25:44, and Katie Gumbrell, in 27:48.
Well done to everyone who represented the club and put in 100 per cent effort. It was so nice to hear about your experiences, pre-race nerves, and near-vomit finishes. That’s what it’s all about. I hope you enjoyed being part of the virtual team, and, who knows, maybe we will take an actual team to the Nationals next year?
And here’s the in-depth report from hugely enthusiastic speed merchant Jack:
The National 12 and six-stage Road Relays are a staple of the UK racing season, providing a competitive transition from cross-country to marathon/road (and track), while also truly showing which club can boast the most depth of distance talent.
Personally, it is an event I have been trying to compete in for years both in my time with our rivals (Reading AC) and more recently since I made the jump to Reading Roadrunners (more controversial than Spurs to Arsenal).
It does though involve some considerable organisation from team captains and also having 12/6 runners available to help you qualify at the Southerns, and then represent at the National at Sutton Park in Birmingham. This is far easier said than done as it does often clash with popular road races and seems to be a common time to get injured.
Having seen the success of the club in the Southern 6/4 stage in September, Jamie Smith, Mark Worringham and myself on the men’s side, and Sam Whalley on the ladies, had been pushing for our first appearance in the event.
This was sorted, with almost two full teams registered on both sides, ready to head up to Milton Keynes. Unfortunately, as with every other event, it fell victim to Covid-19; leaving us rather disappointed.
Talk had begun a few weeks back on various forums and groups of the organsiation of a virtual event. Fortunately our sport has many great characters and volunteers and the Virtual National Road Relays were created by the small team at Opentrack, who have done an outstanding job at short notice with almost seven times the amount of entries they were expecting.
Jamie and Sam quickly went to work in drumming up interest among the members and the regulars quickly made themselves available. What I have been particularly happy about though is members who maybe don’t always feel “quick” enough or have not competed in club team events before getting involved. It has paid dividends as we have seen a number of “PBs” (very unofficial) from top to bottom.
The brief for the race was very simple: run a 5k as fast as possible, while following all social distancing guidelines, and then upload to Strava and the Opentrack website. This obviously means some will take liberties here and we all know the slight limitations of GPS; but did mean everyone could access safely and close to their homes, while providing a fairly accurate 5k time.
On the men’s side, notables include Marc Scott for Cambridge, a Nike professional who recently broke Mo Farah’s European Indoor 5000 record in 13.08. He was only third fastest (although the athlete in first has a slightly suspect time), in 13.43. To get into the top 50 times you had to run 14:43, 15 flat would get you 97th, 16 minutes 394th and 17 dead 798th!
At the front end of the men’s race there was an epic battle with the lead changing hands regularly over the last 48 hours as each of Tonbridge, Leeds, Bedford and Cambridge added rapid times to their fastest 12. It was eventually Leeds, who crept ahead of Cambridge in second with Tonbridge taking bronze. Bedford were fourth. I mention four teams as they all went under three hours total. It does not take a maths graduate to work out that these teams therefore averaged under 15 minutes per leg, Leeds getting exceptionally close to 14:45.
The Roadrunners were not put off by the competition, rising to the challenge of the top athletic distance clubs in the country. Friendly rivalry between the guys meant many ran ‘PBs’ in their efforts. As results were compiled together, the men finished a highly respectable 41st out of 118 complete A teams in a total time of 3:21:05 (for comparison, Leeds were 2:57), averaging 16:45 per leg.
Scoring legs were: Jack Gregory (15.34), Mark Worringham (15:52), Stephen Ridley (15:59), Chris Burt (16:41), Mark Apsey (16:51), Ryan Faulkner (16:52), Matthew Davies (16:53), Sibrand Rinzema (17:13), David Parton (17:16), Brendan Morris (17:16), Callum Pratt (17:19) and David McCoy (17:19)
A key feature of the team was the excellent depth. All 12 of our scorers were in the top 1000 finishers, something not common in many teams outside of the top 20. Motivation is there to bring all of those times down by just 30 seconds and suddenly we would move up 10-15 places.
Special mentions in the scoring team must go to Stephen Ridley, who dipped under 16 minutes for the first time. He should probably scrap that triathlon stuff! Also, I believe there were ‘PBs’ for Chris Burt, Matthew Davies and Callum Pratt, while also excellent efforts from Sibrand Rinzema and Brendan Morris, both coming off injury but delivering solid runs. While part of the challenge of a 12-stage relay is to get your 12 strongest runners out, it is worth noting RR were missing Rob Corney, Matt Richards and Seb Briggs, all of whom would likely have scored.
As mentioned, RR’s depth is certainly a strength and this was shown by an excellent showing by the B team, finishing ninth among B teams in 3:51:36. Lots of the guys here were knocking on the door of the A team, with sub-18 performances from Jamie Cole (17.22), Jamie Smith (17.28) and Tony Page (17.47).
Backing them up were Alex Harris (18:18), Brooke Johnson (18:51), David Clay (18:53) and Pete Jewell (18:56), who was the first Roadrunner to complete a leg, early on Saturday morning. Next up were Stuart Hyslop (18:59), Rob Thompson (20:21), David Caswell (21:13), Chris James (21:40) and finally Ben Fasham (21:48).
And if these 24 runners were not enough, there were outstanding efforts many more men. A shout-out must go to our youngest runner, Under 17 Jacob Atwal who ran an excellent 17:49 but due to age restrictions could not be slotted into our B team. Further top efforts came from Peter Cave (22:07), Clinton Montague (22:14), Chris Barkus (22:28), Alan Williamson (22:59), Stuart Wylie (23:31), Roger Ganpatsingh (24:11), Paul Monaghan (25:30) and Peter Reilly (25:41).
As well as the 12-stage race, there were the veteran six-stage competitions, categories that RR tend to perform particularly well in. This was no different with the vet men (V40 and above) 13th, counters being Worringham, Parton, Cole, Page, Harris and Jewell. The V50s were also an outstanding fifth with David Caswell adding to Parton, Harris and Jewell.
Thank you as usual to our team captains Jamie and Sam for drumming up interest and continued encouragement to get more and more RR out of their comfort zone and competing for the club. We continue to grow and improve and this can be seen in our results.
It’s great to see over 50 runners coming together during this difficult time and has been a welcome distraction alongside the many other excellent initiatives and activities going on (virtually) at the club. Well done and thank you all
Finally, following on from my above point on our continued improvement, I thought this would be a good way to sign off. There was an overall 12 stage competition including men and women based on age grading. I won’t go into details, as most will be familiar with parkrun, however I feel this is an excellent way of bringing together the overall performance standard at a club.
We averaged an exceptional 83.06 per cent across our top 12, finishing 31st out of 148 clubs. This included beating local rivals Reading AC, Windsor and Newbury and national powerhouses Belgrave and Serpentine. An incredible achievement! Below are the scorers (ordered by highest age-grade score):
Mark Worringham, David Parton, Carrie Hoskins, Jamie Cole, Jack Gregory, Pete Jewell, Stephen Ridley, Katherine Sargeant, Alex Harris, Tony Page, Julie Rainbow and Chris Burt.