Ten complete HHH teams contested the national road relays at the home of British road relay running, Sutton Park, from U13s to SM/SW. The Club had teams in all age groups other than U17M. Whereas the southern event reverted to a miserable venue near Bedford, due to booking clashes at Rushmoor Arena, the national championships continued at their rightful home. As always, there was high quality running throughout the age groups headlined by some stellar individual performances.
For those looking for inspiration, look no further than Andrew Butchart’s overall fastest leg in the SM’s race (16.29 vs what I believe to be the all time lead, 16.25 by Chris Davies). Following his 6th place in the Olympic 5000m, it was great to see an athlete of this standing bless this event with his presence. For further inspiration I would commend the article on him in this week’s AW. At a time when many of our so called top end MD athletes see no role for regular road and cross country racing in their schedule because they somehow believe it will impact negatively on their track form, he has a refreshing outlook (replicated by a new breed which includes Callum Hawkins, Dewi Griffiths –who ran 16.49-and others who are following an approach that was adopted by most of our successful MD athletes, Ovett, Coe, Foster, Cram, Farah etc). Far from thinking that anything off the track will detract from their form, these athletes believed that regular racing through the winter actually improves rather than detracts from their summer ambition.
Pride of place of the HHH teams goes to the U13 boys, who provided a demonstration of relay running that will secure their place in the history of this event. It was a classic team performance. Competing at this level requires strength throughout the team of three, with no weak link in view of the quality of the opposition. Having secured a third place at the southern road relays, the team were nicely under the radar as possible contenders for the big prize. Benjamin Harrison led off with an excellent first leg, running 13.50 and within 21 seconds of the ‘winner’ of the first leg, finishing 11th. One of the Club’s greatest ever relay leg performances on the national stage was about to be witnessed on leg two. One mile into the leg, the UK’s lead U13 800m and 1500m runner (5th and 4th on the UK all time rankings respectively), Jaden Kennedy, had incredibly taken all ahead of him as he opened up a 30m lead.
By jamboree stones (so named in commemoration of the 1957 World Scott Jamboree, where Lady Baden-Powell gave the closing address), at which point the runners turn to a long downhill stretch, smoke could be seen from afar as Jaden burnt up the tarmac with his blistering pace. The lead grew inexorably so that by the end Jacob Harrison took over with a 35 seconds advantage, Jaden having run what proved to be the fastest leg of the day, 13.02. Going out on the 3.8km leg in the lead takes a cool head and a lot of nerve. Jacob produced a superb display of front running that defied his years. Opening the gap to 42 seconds after one mile over second place, he was then 48 seconds ahead with 1km to go. A fast moving AFD athlete was coming through the field, but this was too little too late as Jacob charged through to the finish for an historic win. In so doing, Jacob ran a brilliant 13.22, the third fastest overall time.
I cannot overstate what a superb team performance this was by the three boys. Some may be tempted, in view of the 46 second margin of victory, to conclude that the opposition was not strong. This is certainly not the case with the stellar AFD and Tonbridge teams finishing second and third. Instead, three of our athletes who rarely miss training sessions reaped the rewards of their efforts. Last year the three, Benjamin, Jaden and Jacob, ran 14.37, 13.41 and 14.24 respectively, this year than ran 13.50, 13.02 and 13.22!
There were many other outstanding performances amongst the HHH young athletes. Our U17W squad is brimming with talent. We have a staggering nine athletes who have achieved English schools standard performances or better on the track, augmented by recent additions (see my other article in Common Runner). In an age group where many clubs struggle to turn out teams, it was a great sight to see two HHH U17W teams on the start line, both with realistic aspirations to finish in the top ten. Eimear Griffin produced the outstanding run of the day, ‘winning’ the opening leg with 13.48, which ended up being the fourth fastest leg of the day. She was followed by Ella Newton, 14.13, HHH’s second quickest U17W athlete and 13th quickest overall, who finished 7th. Early season races are a headache for team managers trying to select their best teams, especially where so many athletes are of a high standard, as is the case with our U17W. In this case our B team finished ahead of our A team. Katie Balme and Olivia Stillman (making her HHH debut) both ran extremely well on leg two, albeit the published times do not reflect their actual performances. Our teams were still in contention for medals, as AFD and Liverpool battled it out in front. Alex Brown, pretty much an ever present over the years in our team successes and our most decorated MD athlete in terms of regional and national medals, who also brilliantly combines road, cross country and track running at the very highest level (ES 1500m silver medallist in 2016), consolidated the A team’s performance in third place running 14.24. Zoe Tompkins, 14.38, produced her best road relay leg for the Club yet to ensure the B team finished a superb 5th. Well done to the U17W squad, this really bodes well for a great 16/17 season.
The next highest finishers were the U13G’s team, who placed 7th. Eva Holland replicated Benjamin’s 11th place in the U13B, with 15.06, an excellent run which set up Maisie Collis. Storming through the field in the way Jaden had done, Maisie ran a superbly paced leg, gradually picking those ahead of her off as she moved the team through to 2nd place running 14.31, 7th fastest of the day. Layla Wilkinson ran the final leg, and although not in her peak form that saw her run so well during the summer, she nevertheless turned out for the team and brought them home in 7th place. There was good back up from the B team, who finished 25th.
The U15G’s race was a very high standard. Eight girls ran sub 14 minutes compared to five in the U17W’s race. The HHH team acquitted themselves well, finishing 20th place. Clarissa Nicholls finished 46th on the tough first leg, 15.44, and was followed by 800m ES contestant, Lulu King, who improved a massive 25 places running 15.06. Lily Newton completed the team, running 14.43. In the B team, which finished an excellent 33rd position, there was a standout performance from Sophia Dicarlo who gained 12 places, with 15.35.
Finally, in the U15B, the team finished 37th, with Jacob Alley running the quickest of the Club’s runners, 13.55.
As always, a massive thank you to our team managers, coaches and officials who give up so much of their time (for free) to support our great Club. We continue to be one of the powerhouses in terms of young athletes’ distance running, and long may that continue.
Keith Newton 9th October 2016