It was deja-vu as we met at the East End Pool at 7am for the second time in two weeks. On this occasion we were heading to the National Road Relays at Sutton Park near Birmingham. Tyne Bridge Harriers had two teams entered, the men, who had needed to qualify two weeks earlier, and the U15 boys.

The boys race consists of three runners each completing one lap of a 3.88km circuit. Whereas the men’s race consists of 6 runners each competing a 5.848 km circuit.

Our trip was uneventful until we arrived at the very busy entrance to the car park when we realised we’d need to decamp and finish our journey on foot if we were to make it in time. Having collected the race numbers it dawned on us how hot it was, the cool air of the 7am start being replaced with a humid and muggy feel.

As it’s a championship race runners need to wear numbers on their front and back – always something that makes it feel that bit more special! After a quick warm up Freddie was first to the holding pen. The spectators retreated a little way down the road to watch the stampede. It transpired that the start was a bit more like the nervy situation you used to see at the Grand National with horses rearing up and straining to get going. When the starter’s gun eventually fired the energy was overflowing and arms and elbows went flying. There was a collision near the front of the group and one poor runner fell and had the rest of the field hurdle him before picking himself up to get going. Freddie avoided the worst of it but still had his race number torn from his back!

As a spectator there is then a long wait, wondering how the race is unfolding, oblivious to the surges and sprints that are taking place somewhere out on the course. The commentator provides some sense of who is in the lead but there’s scant information and it isn’t until the lead bicycle appears that it becomes clear how the race is unfolding.

The lead boy crossed the line in 12:11 with Freddie just 28 seconds behind in 12th place. It’s difficult to convey the standard at this level but these are the fastest runners in the country in their age group and if they’d maintained this pace the lead boy would have done a 5k/parkrun in 15:40 and Freddie in 16:17 mins.

Jake Parker took up the second leg and disappeared down the opening hill with an opening charge and the field in hot pursuit. Jake returned from his leg in a time of 15:09 and handed over to Henry Pickett on the final leg. Henry ran his leg in 15:19 and brought the team home in 52nd place out of a field of 73 teams. Not only was this the first team TBH have ever fielded at the National Road Relays but it was the only U15 boy’s team from the North East.

The boys could then sit back and relax and watch the men’s and women’s races. I don’t have much to report from these as I had to squeeze in a long run in preparation for my own race in a few weeks time, New York Marathon!

By the time I returned, the final leg runners were heading out. Not surprisingly, given this is a national race, there are elite level runners mixing it up with club runners. Jo Pavey, Commonwealth medallist and former European 10,000m champion was setting off for her cool down run as Stewart McSweyn, a current elite runner and Paris 2024 hopeful, was heading out for Belgrave Harriers.

The TBH men’s team came in 59th place out of 70 teams and included Zak Kettle and Leodhais Macpherson who both came through the junior ranks.



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