Chris Graham sends this report from the weekend’s championships.
The success of TBH at the national 6 stage road relays begins back on 21st September when 2 teams of 6 runners competed in the Northern Championships at Blackpool. Our ‘A team’ consisting of Kevin Jeffress, Sparrow Morley, Shaun Brown, Darryl Davison, Jack Neeson and Keith Smith qualified in 23rd place for the finals a month later. Particularly fine runs from Shaun and Jack guaranteed that TBH would be competing with the big boys in Sutton Coldfield come October 12th and their contribution to the team should not go unmentioned.
Fast forward to a dark and dingy October morning with Captain Hilton standing in Byker Baths car park waiting for the troops to arrive. Our chariot was a big red mini bus and chauffer Kev ‘the walking road atlas’ Cheetham. With a four hour drive ahead we were in trusty hands of Kev’s Tom-tom which was sat boxed up and inert on the passenger seat beside him. Present were Darryl Davison, Marc Fenwick, Tony Carter, with John Hurse and myself acting as roadies for the day. The plan was to get over to the A19 and collect Sparrow, Keith Smith and Kev Jeffress from random lay-by’s in south Tyneside then blaze down the M1 to hopefully arrive in time for a decent warm up.
The journey was far from uneventful with weak bladders and betting slips providing most of the entertainment, but I shall not divulge any more information than that, for what happens on the mini bus, stays on the mini bus.
Upon arriving at Sutton Park we were greeted with a throng of tents and flags representing a who’s who of national club running. The women’s event was just drawing to a close and we had 45 minutes till the men were due to set off. Time for resident roadies to spring into action and in no time TBH had hoisted our flag and claimed a section of turf as our own. The numbers were collected and fastened to vests as the runners set off for a short warm up. The onerous task of running the first leg was placed on the shoulders of Kev Jeffress, having performed the same role at the northern championships with great aplomb we were in superb hands.
The start was an incredible sight; John, Kev C and I positioned ourselves 200m down the road and watched as the competitors tore off towards us at breakneck speed. In no time at all they had flew past in a blur of bright colours leaving a scent of deep heat wafting in their wake. John and I decided to watch the runners coming in on the final bend where we would be able to keep track of what position TBH were placed as the drama unfolded.
Kev J completed the first leg covering the 5.9km loop in a blistering 19.17 and achieving the joint fastest time of the day in TBH colours. Next up was Sparrow who held 70th position overall just creeping through above the 20 minute mark. Next up was Darryl who came in looking strong having taken 3 scalps on his way through. But in comparison to those teams around us we had 3 really strong runners to bring us home. Representing the Vets of the club, the legend Keith Smith bombed around effortlessly in 19.57 holding position to hand over to the pocket dynamo Tony ‘the linguist’ Carter. Earlier in the day Tony had intimated his concern that he may not have sufficient speed in his legs having focussed on high millage for his upcoming marathon. Rest assured he overtook 6 teams to hand over to Marc Fenwick in 61st place, our highest of the day so far. It was time for the burners to be lit and Marc finished the final leg as strongly as Kev had started almost 2 hours before bringing TBH home in 59th position. Fine performances gentlemen, both individually and as a team you have done your club proud. Each runner came through at the end having given their utmost leaving nothing in the tank absolutely burying themselves on the course. Chapeau.
But the excitement of the day was not just limited to how TBH performed. Seeing other North-eastern clubs achieving fantastic results was just as rewarding as TBH’s success. Morpeth’s A-team was having a great ding dong battle within the top ten. There was only roughly a minute or two separating teams five through to thirteen with places changing every leg. Their penultimate runner came home in a group battling for positions five through to nine only for Ian Hudspith to blast around finishing the 4th overall. At the front end of the field Sale were having a great battle with Bristol, Tipton, Central AC and Stockport, however they looked uncatchable after the third leg having pulled away to what appeared to be an unassailable lead. The surprise package came in the shape of Belgrave Harriers who having finished 35th on the first leg produced an astonishingly strong final set of splits to motor through the field to finish second overall pushing Morpeth out of the medals.
Afterwards all the Tynebridge Warriors piled back onto the minibus where without disclosing too much, a good time was had by all. It would be impossible to pick a man of the match as everyone contributed fine runs including Shaun and Jack in Blackpool so that honour will go to Kev Cheetham for driving us down and making sure we all got back safe and sound, he even declined a cup of tea being bought for him as thanks. Tony claimed that everyone in the club should buy him a drink for his contribution to the day and I would have to agree.
Looking ahead to next year, the club has now featured in this national competition two consecutive seasons, could we target not just one team qualifying but two teams in the men’s field and representation in the women’s competition? Considering how the club is progressing and the standards are improving month on month the next year could bring even bigger successes for TBH. Our next challenge on the road is on the 5th April for the National 12 Stage Road Relays back at Sutton Coldfield and with our strength in depth growing each week with all our new recruits let’s see what we can produce.