Best ever senior women’s team performance for HHH at National Road Relays

More than any of the big events on the calendar, these relays depend on strength in depth to secure podium finishes. Teams cannot prosper with one or two moments of brilliance, as they must consistently bang out top quality performances to achieve that elusive medal. Leeds City AC consolidated the city’s position as the top hub for distance running in the country with their first place in the women’s race, by almost three minutes, and 4th in the men’s race. Winning the latter for the first time, by just under 90 seconds, were Tonbridge AC. Congratulations to Mark Hookway for the execution of a long term plan to build from the bottom up and create an all-conquering senior squad.

And yet this day will be remembered first and foremost for the brilliance of one individual. Charging around leg 7 Alex Yee entered the pantheon of greats, the sub 25 minute club. The classic long leg, with its hills and out and back, lends itself to those with wise heads and plenty of miles in the tank. It is rarely conquered by one so young, but it his is very fearlessness that is so refreshing in our sport. Having witnessed past greats, Foster, Moorcroft and many others of the generation produce world beating performances against the very best athletes, there has emerged a prevailing view that British runners cannot compete with the best African athletes. Athletes from other nations, USA, Canada etc are starting to challenge this convention, and Alex will surely do so should he at some point focus on athletics. Others in the 24.50 to 25 minute club include such athletes as Steve Jones, Julian Goater and Paul Evans, with 10000m PBs of 27.39, 27.34 and 27.47 respectively. This was unquestionably, one of the great distance performances by a British U23 athlete of the past twenty years, it was a privilege to witness.

The Club’s women dominated proceedings from a red and black perspective. We all knew that Georgie Grgec has much talent and pace, but could she deliver on the testing long leg? Setting off with the lead group of 12 in the charge up the first hill, Georgie looked very much at home. As the group split Georgie managed to work with others to ensure she did not become isolated, and finished with a flurry overtaking two athletes in the final 200m. Her 30.15 leg brought her in 4th and ultimately the 6th fastest long leg of the day, and a ‘club record’. Fiona De Mauny used all of her experience in a highly pressured situation to keep the Club very much in contention, for both national and southern medals at this point. Losing just one place, Fiona closed in 5th running 18.55, the fastest red and black women’s short leg of the day. Helena Corbin, struggling with a calf injury, did well to keep the team in the top 10, with a 19.58 split. Welcome back to Stacey Ward, who was using the long leg as a warm up for next week’s London Marathon. Although isolated in terms of other women runners, Stacey ran an excellent solo leg to record 30.47. When combined with Georgie’s time, the two of them were only ‘beaten’ by three other long leg pairings. Kate Brown, who had herself been struggling with illness, made a welcome debut for the SW team, and held 9th place running 21.37. Katie Kedward completed the team, running a strong 20.04, to finish 11th overall, just 15 seconds off 9th place.

Such is the strength of women’s distance running in the south of England, our team was 5th southern finisher in the regional championships. However, this event more than any other demonstrated that we can be very competitive on the national as well as regional stage. There is plenty of scope for us to strengthen our short legs as those who raced get fitter and others come into contention, including our U20s, and U17s who migrate into the senior ranks, not to mention our star Commonwealth Games performer. Never before have we had such exciting times in the Club in terms of women’s middle distance running. We have seen Tonbridge, Lincoln Wellington and Cambridge and Coleridge amongst others challenge the established pecking order, why not Herne Hill Harriers?

Our men fared less well overall but it was great to have a team, once again, at this classic event. Despite being on the other side of the world, Geoff was able to muster a 12 who gallantly toed the line, finishing 35th of the 63 complete teams. Andrew Warburton was our one runner under 29 minutes, 28.59 (he must have dipped!), with three further runners going sub 29.30, Nick Bester 29.15, Simon Coombes 29.27 and Jeff Cunningham 29.25. Andrew Grigg 30.07 and Jack Brotchie 30.33 rounded off the long legs. Sam Knight produced the best short leg, 17.43, despite being a late addition to the team, with four runners in the 18.30 to 19 minute range, Jack Dickenson, Deron Fagan, Keith Newton and Dan Hallam, whilst Eric Dol was just outside 20 minutes.

From a personal point of view I am rather hoping that this might be my last outing, age 55, in this prestigious event, as we have plenty of other younger and fitter guys who did not make the trip. I was relieved to complete the short leg in a faster time than my long leg pb (26.44 from 27 years ago!), but will willingly pass the baton onto others who are much better equipped for this event. As always, it was great to see those who are aiming for big marathon performances next week turning out for their clubs, Aaron Scott, John Gilbert, Tracy Barlow to name just a few, and thanks so much for all of our athletes who did compete for making it such an enjoyable and easy to manage (on the day for me) occasion.

Keith Newton