AFD win both men and women’s English Road Running National Relay event with Jack Rowe matching Mo Farah on all-time list

Aldershot completed a senior men’s and women’s double in good conditions on October 9, with no wind and an overcast sky, but the young athletes’ races in the morning saw unseasonably warm conditions that caught some youngsters out.

It was the first win for the AFD men since 2014 and their balanced team slashed 40 seconds from the 2009 previous best set by Newham & Essex Beagles. How much of that was due to improving shoe technology was a topic of speculation, but Jack Rowe’s solo anchor leg run saw him match Mo Farah’s equal third best ever for the 5847m circuit.

Meanwhile, times were not so spectacular among the women as Aldershot notched up their 12th win in the past 14 races and Tonbridge’s Nicole Taylor’s race only ranked 17th best, since the distance was first used in Sutton Park back in 1990.

Despite both Cardiff and Swansea winning men’s and women’s titles in recent years, the English Road Running Association decided against awarding medals and race slots to the Celtic nations as they have their own championships. They did agree, however, that the spring men’s 12 and women’s six stage events will be recognised as UK championships.

Qualification for the men was restricted to the top 25 teams in the area events, with southern clubs’ participation based on form in 2018, 2019 and in the hastily arranged Milton Keynes relays when the southern event was cancelled at short notice.

Men’s race – Aldershot and Rowe well ahead of the rest

Birchfield won the Midland event over the same course but never really looked like coming out on top. Northern winners Leeds got to within 34 seconds of Aldershot on the penultimate lap but Birchfield left their fastest men too much to do in the second half of the race and wound up an isolated fourth, despite Omar Ahmed’s third best of the day of 16:47.

Derby’s Hugo Milner ran the same time on an opening stage that saw the rest of the top ten within 10 seconds of each other, although 13 seconds off the lead. Milner is the fifth best UK 10km runner this year with 28:47, and was battling with the leading group at the Great Manchester run for much of the race so, although it seemed a surprise to some, his time set a benchmark for the rest of the race.

Linton Taylor was third for Leeds but Aldershot were back in eighth, although only four seconds shy of third.

Times were slower on the second leg but AFD’s Ricky Harvie followed Shaftesbury Barnet’s Jake Shelley through to the top two spots as steeplechaser Dan Jarvis moved up fully 20 places to third, for Bedford & County, with the fastest stage time of 16:53.

Neither were aware however that Jarvis was closing fast to within three seconds.

There were no fireworks on the third leg but Ben Bradley took the eventual winners to the front with the fastest split of 17:14, after a stage long battle with Shaftesbury’s Dylan Evans that was only resolved after the final corner.

The winning men’s team (Mark Shearman)

It was still close on leg four as Adam Clarke and Liam Dee battled things out, neck and neck, before Clarke eked out six more seconds, for Aldershot, with a third best stage time of 17:03, after they came around the last corner together. The best times came behind as sub-28 10,000m performer Emile Cairess brought Leeds back in to the frame with the quickest leg time of 16:46 while Birchfield finally stirred thanks to Kadar Omar’s 16:58, that gained eight places to eighth.

Ellis Cross then kept Aldershot ahead on the penultimate stage, but times were perhaps the slowest of the afternoon as Jack Goodwin was best in taking Bedford up a slot to fourth, with a stage quickest 17:14.

Cross said: “I thought I would start sensibly then push on at the top of the hill.”

That was enough to increase his club’s lead to 34 seconds. Will Richardson’s 17:17 was too late for Birchfield, as they were still back in seventh.

Rowe then completed the job but was as surprised as anybody by his 16:33. Only previous course specialist Chris Davies (16:25 in 2003) and Andrew Butchart (16:29 in 2016) have bettered that time in more than thirty years.

Talking of his form, Rowe said: “I’m in a good place.”

Former Aldershot runner Richard Allen ensured silver for Leeds ahead of Shaftesbury, as Omar Ahmed’s 16:47 came too late to help Birchfield to any higher than fourth.

Women’s race – Aldershot first and second

Over the past decade it has been only Aldershot, Cardiff and Swansea who have won the women’s four-stage crown but with the Welsh clubs denied a chance of competing here as they have their own championship, along with the Scots, It was left to Aldershot to again carry the English flag and they did.

With an even more balanced team than their men, they only took the lead on the final stage thanks to their best runner Lilly Coward, but who was only tenth fastest overall. Aldershot also crossed the line second with their B team who followed their A squad through the field after lowly starts.

The opening women’s 4315 metre stage was steady at the start, especially after the initial loop before they hit the main hill but, in the van were Vale Royal’s Tessa McCormick, Reading’s Lauren Church and Lincoln’s Abbie Donnelly. Tucked in behind as they turned the corner was Midland fastest Bryony Gunn and Tonbridge’s Nicole Taylor.

Lilly Coward crosses the line (Mark Shearman)

Going up the long hill, it was Taylor who went to the front before coming home in 13:56, a time that was to stand up as the best for the rest of the race. Donnelly was eight seconds down with Sale’s Sophie Wood third.

Taylor, who is a modest trainer with just about 60 miles a week and a couple of faster sessions, said: “I was just being more sensible and I was really happy with that, as it wasn’t too fast, then I started making a gap at the ice cream van.”

Megan Davies took Sale ahead on the second leg, as Lincoln stayed second but the two Aldershot teams were gaining nine and 12 places respectively.

However, the biggest jump up the field was Hannah Irwin of Cambridge & Coleridge who advanced a massive 35 slots, albeit to 19th, with the fastest stage time of 14:03, a time that ended up the second best of the afternoon.

Then it was Lincoln’s turn in front as Sophie Wallace posted the fastest stage time of 14:49.

The winning women’s relay team (Mark Shearman)

Now aged 30, Wallace is new to running but admitted to being an England football international when she was 19. “I have only been racing for 18 months, after I set myself a target of a sub-40-minute 10km on a treadmill. I did 39:39.”

Behind it was multi-gold team medalist here Louise Small who brought the Aldershot A team into the frame ahead of Tonbridge as their B squad advanced to sixth.

With the fastest stage time of 14:31, Coward anchored for the many time champions who finished a minute clear of their B team. Niamh Brown took them up to second across the line but they were denied team medals as the rule is only one per club. This let in Lincoln for silver as surprise packet Reading saw Anna Boniface anchor but the women’s standard overall was not vintage.

Young athletes: honours shared in the age groups

Six different clubs took the honours in increasingly warm conditions after the early morning mist had cleared. This left some runners struggling but less so than the numerous fallers who rushed headlong down the starting straight. There were no serious injuries, just damaged egos.

Wirral won the under-17 men’s event from Cambridge & Coleridge after never being out of the frame throughout. But it was Shaftesbury Barnet’s Henry Dover who set the benchmark for the race with an opening stage ‘win’ in 11:42 for the 3.88km lap, a time that was to stand as the best of the race.

He said: “Josh Blevins (for Gateshead) went off fast but we pulled him back.” The 15-year-old added that he was second in the Mini London Marathon.

His club soon fell away to let George Keen through for C&C, with a race second best effort of 11:47. “I went from sitting in then overtook the leader after the hill, as I wanted to take my time, then I knew I was safe in first,” said Keen.

TJ Jones moved Wirral up one to second but well clear of Ben Peck who advanced St Edmunds pacers up 15 slots to third with 11:50.

Then William Strickley completed the job for Wirral, with the race’s second-best time of 11:44, as Cambridge and St Edmunds took the minor medals. “I took the lead on the dog leg by the Stone,” said Strickley.

Vale Royal won the under-15 girls race here two years ago when the event was last held and they duly moved up to take the under-17 event after a steady start.

It had been Kettering’s Alice Bates and Cambridge’s Ellie Loosley who battled throughout their opener and, after rounding the last corner together, it was Bates who prevailed by a tick in 13:17 as their times stood up as the best of the race.

Holly Weedall loves this lap and duly took Vale Royal into the lead mid race with a 13:22 split for their 3.88km circuit, after gaining six places to finish ahead of Shaftesbury’s Ruby Vinton. “I took the lead at half-way,” said Weedall, who was fastest U15 two years ago.

Grace Roberts then completed the job with a race third best 13:20. “It’s a team effort and I didn’t want to get overtaken,” said Roberts.

Home favourites Birchfield took the under-15 boys race after a narrow victory over Surrey-based club Holland Sports and Vale Royal, just five seconds separating the top three.

Gianleo Stubbs – who took victory at the Mini London Marathon last week – had taken the opening leg for Shaftesbury with a run-away ‘win’ in a race second best time of 12:11.

His club then fell away as Oliver Cresswell moved up from fourth to take the lead for the eventual winners on lap two, but was pushed by Morpeth’s Oliver Tomlinson.

Then it was a battle royal between Birchfield’s Ash Burgess and Holland’s Joseph Hunt on the third and final leg, with the former narrowly prevailing.

A flourish by the Birchfield lad got his team home by five seconds and their times of 12:27 and 12:28 were the third and fourth best of the day.

They only belatedly discovered that they were both being hunted down by Vale Royal’s Robert Price whose 12:07 secured third place but less than a tick down on Hunt’s second spot.

Wreake & Soar Valley led the opening 3.88km under-15 girls race after leg one through Shaikira King, who makes a habit of ‘winning’ opening stages in a race best time. It was the same here too and the first year staged a lap long battle with Stockport’s Freya Murdoch before prevailing in 13:06. “I only pulled away from Freya [Murdoch] in the last 600m,” said King.

Her club lost the lead to Rotherham’s Caitlin McCloy mid-race but English National under-13 cross-country champion Zoe Gilbody was having none of that on the final leg and regained the advantage with a second-best equalling time of 13:11.

First away on the day had been the under-13 boys and it was Wolverhampton & Bilston who came good, primarily thanks to their mid-race runner Fred Jones who moved up nine places to the lead with a race second best effort of 12:47.

Bohdi Finn Shields managed to hold on to the finish as Windsor’s Jake Mayburgh had an heroic last lap in moving up from 15th spot, to second, with easily the best time of the race at 12:16.

The under-13 girls’ champions Liverpool led throughout and did so over all stages from their B team. It was their first leg runners Holly Cross and Erin Fay with times of 14:08 and 14:27 who were fastest overall.

Cross took team and individual gold while but due to the one medal per club rule Fay was left with nothing,  as third placed Rotherham were awarded silver.

A well beaten Blackheath & Bromley took the third placed medals.

Detailed leading results are in our AW Clubhouse section here

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