UKA Fell Relays: Mercia reign on home ground, as HBT take ladies
Mercia Fell Runners had a grand day out in the Shropshire countryside yesterday, as their men’s team took a superb win in the UKA Fell Relay Championships. Their women also turned in a great performance to take silver in the ladies’ champs, pipped by top Scots HBT…
Having tried on many occasions to win the ‘fell relays’ the boys in yellow managed to get a crack-squad out at Church Stretton, for a team packed with internationals. Whilst in the women’s race Hunters Bog Trotters made the long journey south very worthwhile as Rosie Smith anchored them to gold, less than minute up on Mercia’s ladies.
The day was always going to be poignant after the terrible news from one week earlier, where Darren Holloway sadly passed away at the Ian Hodgson relays. One minutes silence at the race start was a fitting tribute to a man who will be sorely missed. But in the true spirit of the sport, racing went ahead as planned.
As many said this is what Darren would have wanted and the day’s fantastic racing proved a fitting tribute to the Pennine Fell Runner.
First out of the blocks as the race got underway was Howgill’s Carl Bell, ripping round leg one with the fastest time (35:44), 25 seconds up on DPFR’s Rob Little, with Mercia’s lead-off man Paul Jones in 6th.
Defending champions Dark Peak weren’t going to give up their crown easily, though without 2011 anchor-man Lloyd Taggart in their midst the others would have seen this an opportunity to overhaul the Dark Peak crew – especially Borrowdale perhaps, who had convincingly won the Ian Hodgson Mountain Relays one week earlier.
After Pudsey’s Rob Hope and Darren Kay roasted the rest time-wise with a superb 1:08:58 on leg 2, it was Dark Peak’s Rhys Findlay-Robinson and Oli Johnson running a strong 1:10:30 for third fastest who just about led from the P&B boys as they passed over to Neil Northrop and Pete Hodges for leg 3.
Still, the race looked wide open, as eventual winners Mercia moved up to 4th, and as Tim Davies and Steve Cale handed over to Andy Davies and GB orienteering international Graham Gristwood, things would prove decisive over the next hour.
Mercia’s Andy Davies brings it all alive with his view on proceedings:
“We set out in 4th, quickly closed the gap on Borrowdale just in front. We then slowly reeled Dark Peak and P&B going on to CP2. We had overtaken both when we turned right up the hill, but we carried on up the gully and came out on the road approx 30 secs in front.
“To be honest we were delighted to be winning after only checkpoint 2 and Graham and I really pushed on and possibly got 1 minute up on the 3 chasing teams behind who all seemed to be together at this time.
“By time we hit checkpoint 5 though it became clear that CP 5 wasn’t there, so me and GG were looking around! The 3 teams caught us up and we all agreed that it wasn’t there, so we pushed on to the finish and came in approx 15 seconds ahead, finding out later the CP marshals hadn’t got there yet (as we were 15 mins up on the est time).
“It was a bit touch and go, but we knew when we handed over to SB (Simon Bailey), that we were in good hands being the current English champion.”
As Davies and Gristwood returned to the handover with a narrow lead over Dark Peak, Pudsey and Borrowdale, and with one of the speediest fell runners Simon Bailey on leg 4, things obviously looked good for Mercia.
With Borrowdale fast-man Morgan Donnelly chasing him Bailey couldn’t let up, but delivered the goods and the title, winning by 50 seconds and clocking the days fastest time (32:35) on the last leg. Borrowdale took the silver with an excellent 33:03 from Donnelly, with 2011 champions Dark Peak and Stuart Bond (35:28) taking the bronze, a couple of minutes down on the Cumbrians.
Pudsey and Bramley finished fourth with John Heneghan (37:12) anchoring them in. Special mention to the Calder Valley ‘vets’ here, as they not only easily won the over 40 prize, but also finished a brilliant fifth overall on the day.
Speaking for the Mercia team and the club as a whole, Davies concluded:
“It was a great team effort which finally all came together right on the day. It means so much, not just only to our team, but the whole of Mercia as we have been waiting to do it soo long!
“A great team effort like I say and dedication, as GG and his girlfriend Fanni came over from Sweden just to do it. A massive well done to the women too finishing a strong 2nd, they’ve really come on in the last year and it’s really put Mercia firmly on the map!
“To get it on home turf too makes it especially special. A big well done to the organisers, especially Pauline Richards as everything ran like clockwork (as expected)”.
In the ladies race HBT took the title back to Scotland, after finishing second in 2011, and they rightly reminded this editor of that fact when we omitted them initially from the ‘pre-race favourites’ overview!
With leg one having been convincingly taken by Holmfirth’s GB international Katie Walshaw, and Calder Valley’s Holly Page and Helen Fines the fastest on leg two, it appears the Dark Peak ladies took control of the race overall on leg two and going into leg 3, after Helen Elmore and Judith Jepson ran an excellent 1:26:31 on that second stage.
However, as HBT and Mercia released their big guns in Tessa Hill and Sarah O’Neil (HBT) and Fanni Gyurko and Anna Bartlett (Mercia) on the third stage, things were to change dramatically.
A three-minute lead for Dark Peak going into that third sector turned into a tremendous three-way battle as the final leg loomed, with Hill and O’Neil tuning in swift 1:13:12 and the Mercia duo flying round in a super 1:10:11, versus Rachel Elder and Kirsty Bryan-Jones 1:16:13 for Dark Peak on leg 3.
This resulted in all three teams coming into transition for the final leg within a minute of each other, with Dark Peak holding on to a slender 8 second lead over HBT.
The final leg proved decisive, as HBT’s Rosie Smith held her nerve running 42:25 and overcoming Dark Peak’s Liz Batt (45:13) to take gold. Both were beaten on time by Mercia’s Mel Price who recorded the fastest ladies’ leg with 42:16, and that was enough to push Mercia into the silver medal spot too, with Dark Peak taking the bronze.
Few would argue that the ladies and mens battles were a spectacle for this great sport, something of which Daz H would have been very proud.