Yep, this is genuinely a modern day tale of David and Goliath…set in the unlikely surroundings of Sutton Park in a leafy suburb of the vast metropolis that is Birmingham. Yes, that’s right, I called Birmingham a metropolis. But then again Birmingham is my home town so I might be a little biased. Anyway, back to our story. Our tale is one of intrigue, mystery, and heroes. Well, maybe a little intrigue, but certainly no mystery, and as for heroes, I’ll leave that to you to decide! It began a month ago when my running club competed at the Midland Road Relays and, to our surprise, managed to secure qualification to the National Road Relays.
So it was on Saturday 5th April in the year of our Lord 2014 that 12 brave souls from Knowle and Dorridge Running Club ventured into the unknown….well, we returned to Sutton Park. On arrival I think most of the team felt a little out of their depth. We stood in the park surrounded by some of the biggest and best running clubs in the Country, some with a long and rich tradition, of producing world-class athletes. The difference between our small club and the ‘big boys’ was highlighted when we looked in envy at the ‘entourage’ of the bigger clubs, including tents the size of a big top, rows of flags, and lean athletes clad head to toe in sponsored club gear. But that’s just running bling and we came to race!
It was certainly an eye opener though. And our eyes opened wider as we heard the announcer inform us over the PA system that the race would include 3 Olympians and a European Champion. After hearing this we certainly did not expect to be competing at the front of the field! In fact our main ambition for the day was to not be last….although this was a distinct possibility.
The race set off at an incredible speed at midday and the front runners continued at a frightening pace for the following 3 hours 50 minutes with the top athletes covering the 2.6 mile short leg in under 13 minutes and the 5.08 leg in under 26 minutes! The race includes 6 long and 6 short legs over a challenging hilly course and covers a total of 46 miles.
We started by sending off our fastest runner, Joe Read, on the first leg. Secretly I was hoping this would inspire the rest of the team to great things. And it did. Almost without exception everyone who had competed a the Midland Road Relays posted a faster time. The 3 newbies drafted in to replace unavailable club members (how dare they be unavailable!) also all put in great performances.
Joe came home on the first leg in 27 minutes 40 seconds in 48th place, handing over to Andy Connors who battled bravely against some speedy second leg runners. Typically clubs put their fastest runners on the first few and last few laps, so Andy was up against some talented athletes. Pete Grime took the third leg in 57th place and we pretty much held this place over the next 9 legs, overall gaining one place before my leg.
I ran the 9th leg and immediately regretted the hard training schedule I’d stuck to during the week. I felt sluggish going up the first ‘killer’ hill and worried that I was going to let the team down. Going up the hill my legs felt heavy and I worried that the hard weeks training was catching up with me. I rallied a little after the hill and settled in for the long and lonely drag past the Jamboree Stone towards the turnaround point at Streetly Gate. I knew my pace faded during this part of the race in the Midlands and was determined not to let that happen again.
Thankfully I found myself closing down on our closest rivals on the day which inspired me to push on to make up the place. I caught the runner shortly after the turnaround and surged past hoping to break his resolve. He held on briefly but soon fell behind as I pushed on relentlessly. Returning to the Jamboree Stone and making the left turn for home I started to really push the pace, relaxing on the downhill section, then trying to drag every last bit of strength out of my failing legs as I passed Keepers Pond.
One last effort and the finish was in sight. I tried to muster a sprint up the hill to respond to the encouraging cheers of my club mates but I’m pretty sure no acceleration was forthcoming. Crossing the finish line I threw myself to the floor gasping for air. I knew I’d given it everything, but on tired legs, was sure I was slower than the Midlands. I was surprised when, the following day, I discovered I has run nearly 50 seconds quicker.
We managed to gain a further 3 places over the remaining few legs to finish a respectable 53rd overall in a time of 4 hours 36 minutes and 40 seconds, just 6 seconds behind locals Royal Sutton Coldfield Athletics Club. So just 6 seconds separated us after over 46 miles of racing, which is was basically a photo finish! Don’t believe me? Check out the results here. The winners, Leeds City Athletics Club, finished in an amazing 3 hours 50 minutes 41 seconds retaining the title they won in 2013.
I doubt any of us would have believed that, just over 3 years after the club was set up, we’d be competing at the National Road Relays. It was a fantastic and addictive experience – we definitely want to come back next year. This is a testament to just how far we’ve come as a club and, hopefully, can be a springboard for us to go on to even bigger and better things in the future.
So sadly David didn’t fell Goliath….this time.