Jamie Taylor-Caldwell & Chris Hepworth report from a successful day at Milton Keynes:
An impressive team performance from the senior men at the Southern 12 Stage Road Relays saw them qualify for the Nationals for the first time since 2015.
The 12 stage road relays are the ultimate test of a club’s strength in depth, with the top 12 athletes from each team battling for around 4 hours on alternate long (approx. 8k) and short (approx. 5k) legs.
This was the fourth time that the Southern 12 Stage Road Relays was staged at Stantonbury Stadium in Milton Keynes, and the standard this year was far higher than ever before, with all course records smashed. This makes it even more impressive that our men’s team held their own and secured a 27th place finish, but crucially were the 25th A team (behind Highgate and Kent B teams) which was the final automatic qualifying position for Nationals in Birmingham on 6th April.
Mo Hashi, the club’s lead XC runner throughout the winter, naturally took on the first leg and ran a club course record of 24:27. It was a tactical start and Mo found himself settled nicely in the lead pack feeling relaxed through halfway, before the race opened up. His finish of 19th was the first time ESM have found themselves in the top 20 after the first leg. Mukhtar Farah, coming back from injury and illness over the past few seasons, wasn’t happy with his run on the second leg (18:02) but crucially he kept the team in the mix in 28th place.
Anthony Haynes was competing for ESM for the first time in 10 years. Now an elite level triathlete, he ran four seconds faster than Mo, in a time of 24:23, meaning the club course record lasted less than an hour. Reece Asik, a new addition to the team this winter and training partner of Mukhtar, fortunately had his wits about him when sent the wrong way by an official, and ran the team’s second fastest short leg with 17:51. TVH were not so lucky as their fastest runner was sent round for an additional third lap on his long leg!
Oliver Way had made his 10k debut the day before, his time of 31:55 putting him no.4 in the 2019 U20 rankings. He backed that up with another good performance of 25:37, putting the team into 25th. Next up was Akira Anzai-Jackson, by far the most improved member of the team this year. Less than 18 months ago he hadn’t broken 20 minutes for 5k, and yet he ran a time of 17:55 on a hilly 5.05km course, a performance that has earned him selection for a long leg in the Nationals team.
At the halfway point, ESM were in 25th place, which Ben Waterman maintained, running 26:26 on his long leg debut. Mark Kencroft, who had stepped in as a reserve, held his own running 18:19, which suggests he is back close to his best and we may see another sub 18 performance from him soon. Chris Hepworth, now co-team manager, has had a very good season on the roads, running under 16 minutes for 5k for the first time, and backed this up with his fastest time on this course, 25:49.
Rob Brown, another late reserve, dashed to the race having played the organ in the morning and produced a typically dogged performance of 19:05, handing over in 28th. An injury-plagued last 12 months for co-team manager Jamie T-C, meant he was just hoping to get round in one piece and so he was happy to have a solid run with 25:56. Nick Steel started in 28th place, (26th A team) and needed to make one overtake to get the team that qualifying spot. And that’s exactly what he did, running the team’s fastest short leg, 17:50, moving past Woodford Green, to send ESM to the Nationals for the first time in four years.
This is an ever-improving team, with a lot of potential, especially considering the juniors available for selection over the next few years. Nationals represents an opportunity to learn where ESM stands against the best clubs in the country and what we need to do to become one of them!
Long leg (7664m): 1 Mohamed Hashi 24:27 (19); 3 Anthony Haynes 24:23 (23); 5 Oliver Way 25:37 (25); 7 Ben Waterman 26:26 (25); 9 Chris Hepworth 25:49 (26); 11 Jamie Taylor-Caldwell 25:56 (28)
Short leg (5053m): 2 Mukhtar Farah 18:02 (28); 4 Reece Asik 17:51 (26); 6 Akira Anzai-Jackson 17:55 (25); 8 Mark Kencroft 18:19 (27); 10 Robert Brown 19:05 (28); 12 Nick Steel 17:50 (27)
Editor’s note: Only four of the 2015 squad ran again this year: Ben, Chris, Jamie & Mo.
Total team time: 4:21:40