Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken
Alastair Aitken's
Interviews and

Mens National 12 Stage Relay (April 2016)

Highgate Harriers won the Men’s National 12 Stage road relay Championship, on Saturday April 16th, which was a surprise to most, considering the history of the event that was first started ‘Officially’ in 1967. Highgate’s highest position was seventh over all those years. The last time Highgate Harriers actually had a major National Championship club team victory was in 1905, when they won the National cross country championships. As the Press Secretary of Highgate Harriers, since the middle 1960’s, was running round the course encouraging, he said about the win “It doesn’t come much better than this.”
There were bursts of sunshine and one very quick hailstorm in the day but one would say the conditions were very cool but, good for running in.

Stage 1
The first leg is always a very fast one, as everyone of the 66 club starters belted down the first slope and up the first climb in Sutton Park and, so the leader on the first lap lived up to his name successfully, Graham Rush of Cheltenham & Gloucester came in first in 26:08, the second fastest time of the day. Highgate’s runner Peter Chambers was finishing well in 8th place (26:31) a handy position for the club as, they were well in contact.

Stage 2
Alex Coomber of Cardiff AC took his club from 7th place on the 1st stage to 1st position, on the first short stage. On that first short stage, Highgate’s, popular Eritrean, Robel Bahelbi, had a good run coming in 5th in 15:59.

Stage 3
One of the favourites to win was Bristol & West and, they came in heavily here with Jarlath McKenna taking his club from 3rd to 1st in 26:57. Aldershot & Farnham with a big reputation for doing well, made a play on that leg, moving up to 4th from 7th with Jack Rowe doing 26:41 but Highgate Harrier, Chris Rainsford, was not far away in 5th place in 26:55.

Stage 4
On that Stage Aldershot’s solid team continued to show. On the fourth short leg Mathew Arnold managed to take them into the lead in 15:47. It was on that leg London Olympian, Ross Murray, once again at Sutton Park, ran the fastest short leg of 15:14 to take Gateshead from 31 to 23 (He certainly would have been worthy of running in Gateshead’s fabulous team with Brendan Foster in the old days!). It was on that leg Highgate Harriers’ Brahma Pochee, half brother to the team Manager Ben Pochee, moved Highgate up a notch to 4th place in 16:19.

Stage 5
Things were beginning to hot up on that short stage, as Steve Mitchell of Bristol & West took his team back into the lead in 26:42. However, Danny Russell, had taken Highgate Harriers into the frame for the first time, running 26:36 in second place. Danny had recently finished sixth in the British Elite Triathlon, which was a European trial event and, in 2014 was part of the team when Highgate obtained silver medals in the 2014 six stage again, something they had never done since obtaining medals in 1905 too!.

Stage 6
Ben Robinson kept Bristol & West in the lead with a 16:06 on the short stage and Ben Noad, although not quite what he was when he was 43rd once in the World cross country Championships some years ago, dug really deep with his vast experience, to keep Highgate in 2nd place in 16:02.

Stage 7
Gus Cockle put Aldershot & Farnham back in the lead, coming through from 3rd with a time of 26:20 with Shaun Dixon having the class to keep Highgate in second place with 26:42. On that leg was the Welsh International Dewi Griffiths, doing the fastest time of the day for a long stage adding to his brilliant win in the Inter-Counties/Cross Challenge earlier in the year. Griffiths moved Swansea from 11th to 5th in 25:28.

Stage 8
Joe Morwood kept Aldershot ahead, with a handy time of 15:51 with Peter Hawkings coming in for Highgate, as a first reserve, till the day. He did quite well enough for ‘The Gate’ with a time of 16:05. Things were really beginning to move in Aldershot’s direction, as their team looked solid enough at that stage.

Stage 9
Ellis Cross kept Aldershot in the lead with 26:53 on that long leg and Peter Lagrice had taken Bristol & West into 2nd place in 26:55 with Rob Wilson, the Highgate Harriers cross-country Captain, keeping Highgate in the frame in 27:38 when coming in third.

Stage 10
Ian Bailey, a strong performer on the country for Aldershot, led with a time of 16:08, however; a London University runner from UCL, Victor Mound of Highgate Harriers did an even faster time of 15:40, taking his club into second place. Certainly at that stage Aldershot must have thought they would still win, as they had a reasonable lead with a sub-4 minute miler on the last leg to come. (Adam Clarke 3:40:29 at Solihull BMC meeting 22/8/15)

Stage 11
An interesting development took place and, although Aldershot had about a 42 seconds lead Highgate’s tall, Andy Maud, set off in pursuit and overhauled the leader after 2 miles and then went well clear, in the third fastest time of the day (26:12). Elliott Robinson ran 27:58 for Aldershot & Farnham behind him and then came Owain Jones of Bristol & West in 27:26.

Stage 12
Only Highgate Harriers knew, at Sutton Park, that Murray Strain was suffering from a strained hamstring so, Ben Pochee, changed him from a long leg to the last short leg for safety.
Although Aldershot’s sub 4 minute miler Adam Clarke, ran a 15:37, it was highly unlikely he would catch a man of Murray Strain’s calibre who ran 15:51 but had taken over with a good advantage from Maud.

Highgate’s Team Manager, Ben Pochee said about Highgate Harriers success
"A collective team spirit and most of the runners train together". Something that does not happen in many clubs these days.
"All club athletes want to win the iconic 12 Stage, but I’d say for our team this year it truly mattered, more than a collective spirit, our winning squad is made up friends who largely train together and many of whom are also involved within the club helping it prosper. So I am proud we not only have growing depth of running talent pushing everyone on, but we now also have a depth of emotional connection with the club that helps everyone find that 1% more from their performance".

First 8 teams
1 Highgate Harriers 4:16:30
2 Aldershot Farnham & District 4:17:11
3 Bristol and West AC 4:18:08
4 Liverpool Harriers 4:19:50
5 Tonbridge AC 4:20:21
6 Swansea 4:21:13
7 Notts AC 4:21:22
8 Morpeth 4:22:28

Alastair Aitken

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