Road Relay success at two different “area championship” events

HHH winning M40 team at Aldershot
HHH winning U15 girls team at Crystal Palace
HHH silver medal U17 men at Crystal Palace

Herne Hill Harriers competed at two different road relays on Saturday, claiming team gold medals in one of the youngest age group races and in one of the oldest categories.

Frustration among a large number of leading clubs with the organisation of recent area championships led to a bizarre situation of two events taking place in the area on the same day, around 40 miles apart.

The ‘alternative’ Aldershot Road Relays were conceived by a collection of clubs and organised at the Rushmoor Arena, while the official South of England Road Relay Championships were held at Crystal Palace.

The breakaway Aldershot fixture proved to be bigger and generally more popular with the athletes as the fields in all age groups were considerably larger than the depleted official meeting. The latter saw only five complete teams of three runners each in the U17 women’s relay and a largest race turnout of only 13 full senior men’s teams of six – in stark contrast to the thriving Aldershot races which had 28 full U17 women’s teams and 66 complete senior men’s teams, with a similar differential between the two events throughout the categories.

Herne Hill’s youngsters took advantage of the more local venue and brought home a good collection of area championship medals. Team gold medals were won by the U15 girls, along with a third placed B team in this race, while the U13 boys and U17 men took silver.

The U15 girls gold medal stars were Orla Carroll (11:55), Sophie Jack (11:36) and Orla Wright (11:29) for the 3x3km relay starting and finishing on the historic stadium track. Wright won a second gold medal for recording the fastest individual time in the race. The B team, who placed third overall, were Lucy Wright (12:07), Lily-Rose Brown (12:11) and India Blakey (11:51).

The U13 boys’ silver medal quartet comprised Herbert Clark (12:25), Thomas Clerkin (12:04), Zacchaeus Kelman (12:09) and Caspian Holmes (10:26). Holmes also claimed the individual fastest time and gold medal.

The U17 men had a close battle with South London Harriers. Their leg was 4.5km with Robin Bebbington (16:18), Keeran Sriskandarajah (16:12), Harry Bell (16:31) and Mori Alimi (16:05) producing a strong challenge.

Florence Mills (12:14), Sophie Wright (13:40) and Sofia Mendes (13:14) were the bronze medal U13 girls team around the 3km loop.

The U15 boys team of Archy Atkinson (10:35), Fred Hake (10:58), Warren Wilson (10:53) and Alex Wilson (10;40) and the U17 women – Vivi Marshall (12:32), Grace O’Hanlon (12:33) and Eva O’Hanlon (12:42) – both placed fourth in their races.

Further south at the Aldershot event around a 6km relay leg comprising two undulating laps of 3km each, the Herne Hill M40 team of Simon Coombes (20:31), Jeff Cunningham (19:55), Raj Paranandi (20:26) and Ben Paviour (20:45) were emphatic winners.

Racing in among the senior men, they led their age group all the way throughout, up against stronger opposition than the Crystal Palace results suggest they could have faced there. Cunningham ran the fastest individual time within the M40 race. The triumph was all the more remarkable given that the other three team members are all over 45, Coombes is 50 and Paviour will also be that age in November.

The seniors enjoyed their competition in by far the strongest of the two alternatives at Aldershot. They were still good enough to receive an invitation to the National Road Relays in Sutton Coldfield in early October when the Crystal Palace event would have given them a much easier route to automatic qualification.

Their 23rd position, 17th of the men’s A teams, was achieved despite a couple of late withdrawals. Lewis Laylee (18:40) and Dan Shaw (19:06) started the team strongly, with Oliver Walker (20:07) next before a very good Harriers team debut for Sam Bramwell (19:01) on the fourth leg. Joe Elliott (20:23) and then Ross Brown, promoted from the B team on the morning of the race, closed the team out with 20:20.

The women’s A team placed 14th of 44 full teams with Julia Wedmore (22:05) backing up her recent PB form with another excellent race on first leg. Wedmore’s 14th place was held onto thanks to Sarah Grover (23:02), Natasha Lodge (24:38) and an excellent Gaby Reynolds (21:51) on the anchor leg. Reynolds, 40, showed a few younger women a clean pair of heels with a time that was faster than any of those in the separate W40 team category.

Jenny Nandi’s fast time of 23:12 opening the B team indicated that she is more than ready to be in the A team at this level, with good runs from Charlotte Kenyon (25:09), 17-year-old Kaitlin Hewitt (24:02) and Eliza Cottington (25:09) ensuring that the B team finished 25th. The men’s B team placed 54th, Ryan Willmott clocking 19:54 on the first leg. The M55 masters team were fifth, Keith Newton their fastest man (23:31).

Further afield, John Kettle represented an England M45 team in a home international incorporated in the Bristol 10km road race on Sunday morning, placing in the top 20 overall and second among his age group in 33:15 racing in national team colours.

Francis Marsh recorded 34:39 on Saturday at the Bangor 10km road race which incorporated the Northern Ireland and Ulster Championship. Marsh was 32nd overall and first M55, his time only a few seconds outside his fastest for this year and consolidating his position as fifth ranked in his age group in the UK in 2022.

Herne Hill athletes of all age groups up to senior men and women will now contest the National Championship fixture in the Midlands on Saturday 8th October when thankfully there are no split divisions which do the sport no favours and without a fully justified challenge to the established order as seen in the South of England.

Geoff Jerwood