Northern 12 Stage Road Relay Championship, Sefton Park

What a week! I said that I would drive the team mini bus to Liverpool, and on Monday when I checked the availability for the school mini bus I found that someone else had it for the weekend. After considering the options we decided to hire a self drive and I was again driving. Jon Pearse handed over the team manger paper work and the 12 likely runners plus a couple of reserves. By Friday afternoon I had made contact either directly or indirectly with 11 everyone seemed to want to run a short leg – but there was only six short (2.8mile) legs available plus six longs (4.9mile) ones. It made sense to me to put the faster runners into the longer legs so I pencilled in a running order.

This would be the first time since 1997 the club had competed in the championship (not a debut as reported elsewhere). A top ten finish looked to be a realistic target!

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At about 9pm Friday I got the message that Richard Morrell was not running – a few frantic phone calls and text messages and Clive Thornton was re routed from Albert Park to Sefton Park and we were back to having a full team! As we were climbing up toward Saddleworth Moor, the guys at back of the bus texted Naz the team so that he could register and get the numbers (it looked nothing like that I had suggested, but Hey!– What do I know?)

We establish a pitch and went back to get the tent from the bus – we had just nicely managed to get the tent up, with the club flag gently tugging in the breeze and Bang! They were off! Mark Shaw was leading off on the open (long) leg. I grabbed my camera and wandered over to the point that would be the end of the first of Mark’s two laps and waited for the leaders to come through. Suddenly a pack of about ten appeared and there was Mark – hanging on to the back of the group. As they went off on the second lap the group broke up but Mark still managed to hold onto 9th place to hand over to Andy Wiles who ran the second fastest short leg of the day to pull us up into second place! Andy handed over to Lewis Moses for the third (long) leg. At this stage I started to jog round course in the reverse direct – when I got the café – I spotted Sarah Jackson so stopped to chat – she had run the first leg for the Liverpool Harriers ladies B team – when she asked about the team I said that we would probably be in the lead when they come passed us but we would struggle to finish in the top ten. A couple of minutes later Lewis appeared and he was indeed leading! I jogged to the far end of the course and when I saw Lewis he wasn’t looking so comfortable – the lack of hard training since the world indoors was beginning to tell, and before the end of his leg he had surrendered the lead to Stockport. Elliott Jackson took over and by the time he had got to where I was at the lake, he had regained the lead, but back in third place the Salford runner was going particularly well. As they completed the route round the lake, Elliott still held the lead but the Salford runner was bearing down – Elliott dug deep and held on to be the only New Marske Harrier to hand over in the lead! Andy Pearson who had recently re joined us for just this sort of occasion had complained that he had lost his “old man of team” tag when Clive was called up, stood on the start line and was going to set off in the lead. No pressure then? Unsurprisingly Andy was soon passed – but it was all about holding on to the best position we could, and Andy handed over to Clive “old man of the team” Thornton in sixth. By now the gaps had really opened up – the women’s race which was over just six short legs was about finished and teams were not just getting lapped on their legs but could be a full leg behind! This meant that you could be getting passed by a runner that was actually on different leg and technically was still behind you! So maximum concentration on your own running was required – Clive handed over to Shaun in 8th – the only member of the team that ran in for New Marske back in ’97 who maintained the 8th position handing over to relatively new-to-running Paul Cleasby, who ten days earlier didn’t know what a 12 stage relay was, and had to be assured that there was no baton to drop! And whilst he dropped to 11th he won his private competition with Clive by running his leg 1 second quicker. Adam Blowers’ hamstrings felt tight so he started off steadily but finished strongly (opposite to how he would normally run) and only dropped a couple of places. Alan Piggford returning from a recent injury despite running joint 9th fastest on leg 10 actually dropped another place. By now we really didn’t know what position we were in but we did know that Naz picked up two places – by now the first 4 teams had finished as Dom Shaw set off on his first competitive run for over a year – and ran really strongly to pick up a place for we thought at the time was 10th but turned out to be 11th. I am sure he was pleased although he said he was gutted later to find out that Elliott had run 1 second faster that him.

This was a fantastic achievement – the big clubs like Sale, Leeds and Gateshead manage to field B teams – Liverpool who won, beat us into 10th with their B team! The team that I had picked would likely have finished 9th, possibly even 8th. All this was without Ricky Stevenson, Russ Best and Richard Morrell. Next year we will be able to call on the likes of Tom Danby, Jim Bulman and Wayne Parker for the event that is likely to be held in the North East – who knows where we could finish!!

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