There are not many events where lesser lights can compete side by side with internationals. The NORTH OF ENGLAND 6/4 road relays is one exception. With an unrestricted qualifying entry and no upper age limits the championships attracts club teams from all over the region and a great diversity of ages would turn out.With just 6 male runners and 4 female runners required per team mustering support from members is a far easier task than the spring 12/6 relay events but when team managers try to turn out "B" "C" and even "D" teams the problems are still enormous. Once they have their runners, they then have to decide the best team to out them in, say "A" or "B", and then the best order to run them in. A largely thankless task.
Important because, for the top teams every second counts as they will battle for a top 25 place which opens the door for entry into the English 6/4 relay championships at Sutton Park.
The task of mustering teams is made easier nowadays with email as opposed to spending time and money on the 'phone. But of course the phone has to be answered and a decision to run or not given. Some people apparently don't answer emails and the team manager is left with a big question mark against the name on the list.
How was I to react if this was a possibility again? Pre knowledge that I was in an incomplete team yet again
would certainly take the edge off my run and so it was not with a great feeling of enthusiasm that I made the solo 60 mile journey through to Cheshire from Yorkshire.
But the journey proved very easy with the motorways; the venue being only minutes off the M62 with a massive car park adjacent to the race route. The colourway line of the clubs' tents were already assembled. The junior events were already in full swing. Eager parents and coaches cheered from behind the barriers at the changeover point and immediately my level of enthusiasm rose.
Locating the green and red Sale Harriers tent, chief DAVE RODGERS was very busy checking off reporting athletes, time running out in which to decide on who was running in his 4 entered teams and the running order. Being one of the earliest to arrive I was firmly told I would be on the "D" team on leg 4. Sorted.
I would now know when to eat. I would know when to warm up. I would even have time to take a few photos. Plenty of time. I took my chip envelope and returned to the car to put my race number on and have half a sandwich.
When I returned to the tent before starting my planned 3 mile warm up there was a sense of panic in the air; with minutes to go to the start we were still some runners short. Another shuffle of the team . Off came the chip off my shoe. Off came the number of my vest. I would not be on leg 4 I would now be on leg 2. By the time I had changed the chip the gun for the off went. I would be on next!
So no time to recce the course. No time for the planned 3 miler. Just time for a mile or so loosener.
Some token strides and token stretching; but at least there would be other runners to compete against at this stage rather than later.
Over 90 teams were in front as SALE vets captain JERRY SMITH handed over and I ran shoulder to shoulder with a Stockport lady who fell back after a minute or so. I thought I would just have to concentrate on pulling back any slowing runners in front. Not quite....
What I hadn't anticipated was being overwhelmed by young guns from the leading teams , swallowing me up and surging past on the narrow paths of the circuit. I was able to share the road with Liverpool's 13;37 5K runner JONNY MELLOR for a split second as he caught and flashed by to record the fastest leg time of the day 17:18. NIALL BROOKS, a 1:47 800 metre runner, running on our "A" had no time for a chat as he sped on by. He said later he'd had "a bad day at the office". (19.07)
I think I persevered quite well despite being overwhelmed by the young pups and handed over to our 3rd leg "D" runner BRIAN BRADSHAW in much the same position. But of course in this championship event in which 446 runners ran at under 38 10K pace my humble 25:27 was only good enough for only 554th of the 595 who participated.
But at least I had a good workout at race pace and enjoyed being cheered by so many old "rivals" and contemporaries ....... watching from the sidelines.
JAMES BAILEY had given Sale a great start run 7th on leg 1 for our"A" team (18.11) but with an understrength team they drifted back to 17th place. Our "B" failed to qualify for the National 6 stage finishing just 54th. Our "C", completely different I suspect from the original line up was 82nd of the 93 complete teams being brought home by team manager Dave himself: His penultimate act of a very long and harrowing day. His final action taking the club tent down, of course.
Unfortunately, as Brian Bradshaw finished no one took over! For the 3rd consecutive time I had been a part of an incomplete team!
MORPETH ladies won gold from Stockport and Leigh with the MORPETH men narrowly failing to complete a north east double as LEEDS CITY won by 9 seconds.
Thanks to Tony Croft of Blackpool for the photo. I did limit my speed to below 30 m.p.h. !
So that was that. A good old fashioned Saturday afternoon of competitive athletics enjoyed by runners from 12 to over 60. The more able seniors will follow tradition with a long Sunday run but for me a leisurely 5 mile will be more than enough to once more bring the week's total to 40.