Nene Valley Harriers took their largest contingent of athletes in years to compete at the Southern Road Relays on the weekend, and reaped the rewards for making the long journey to Aldershot.
The annual relays held at the Rushmoor Arena in Hampshire attract hundreds of athletes from across the whole of the South of England, including elite runners who have represented their nations at this summer’s Commonwealth Games and European Championships.
The senior women were faced with the challenge of completing four legs of a 3.85km hilly, winding loop, while the men had six laps of an extended 6km loop, with the veteran men given four legs to tackle of the same distance.
The Harriers had two women’s teams entered for the first time in years, an achievement in itself, while the men had one senior team and one veteran team competing on the Sunday.
2013 World ITU U20 Triathlon champion, Charlotte Taylor, put in the performance of the weekend for the club, recording the 12th fastest time of the day out of more than 250 athletes when she came in fourth on her team’s opening relay leg, stopping the clock with a superb 13:14.
Club mates Ruth Jones and Tracy McCartney recorded exactly the same time of 14:41 on the second and third legs, with Yolanda Gratton crossing the finish line on the final leg in 15:51 to bring the team in in 18th position out of more than 60, with an overall time of 58:27, less than a minute off a top 10 placing. Gratton would surely have run even faster had she not already run 14 miles just hours earlier as part of the Great Gorilla Run event organised by her and her husband Mike’s 2:09 Events company.
Also running well was the Harriers’ second women’s team, with Chloe Pavey, Louise Blake, Melanie Tindale and Laura Grimer putting in some gutsy performances to take 50th place overall in a time of 66:48. Pavey clocked 15:43 despite having one arm in a cast on the first leg, while Blake and Tindale ran 17:01 and 17:31 on the second and third legs in their first ever road relay competition. Grimer brought the team home in 16:33, an excellent time considering she has struggled with a serious hip injury for years.
The following day saw the senior and veteran men’s teams take on some of the best in the country, with the younger athletes also finishing 50th overall out of 72 complete teams in a time of 2:09.07.
Adam Birch kicked the team off with a strong 20:41 on the first leg, handing over to Lloyd Kempson who ran just one second slower on the second leg with 20:42. Josh Reed clocked 21:18 on the third before handing over to young Oliver Bowling on the fourth, who ran a steady 21:49. St Mary’s University student Kieran Jack ran 22:29 on the fifth before Sean Beard brought the team in with an excellent 22:08.
Beard’s time was even more impressive considering he’d already run in the veteran’s race less than two hours earlier, where the four V40 Harriers finished a superb 12th overall out of 58 complete Masters teams.
Beard also anchored that team with an even faster time of 21:02, which proved to be his team’s quickest of the day. David Neal took on the first leg in 22:06, handing over to Chris Mooney, who clocked 22:15, while Lance Hemmings ran a similar time of 22:22 to set Beard up on the final leg. Beard took the team from 21st position on the first leg to 12th on the last (9th V40 team) with an overall time of 1:27.45, a fine achievement for the club stalwart.