Aldershot Farnham & District proved too strong for the opposition by claiming victory in the National 6-stage road relay championships in Birmingham on Saturday (5th April). European Junior Cross Country Champion Emelia Gorecka ran the event’s fastest time as she anchored the Hampshire club to their fifth consecutive National six-stage road-relay title. The only leg the club did not lead was the first, although Amy Griffiths turned out to be the eighth fastest of the whole race. The English Schools cross country champion finished twenty seconds behind Laura Whittle of Royal Sutton Coldfield, an athlete who has placed 38th in the senior race at the World cross country championships.
It was Louise Small who took AFD into the lead, completing her stint nineteen seconds before Susan Partridge brought Leeds City to the changeover in second. AFD then proceeded to increase that advantage during every leg over Swansea Harriers who moved into their silver-medal position on the third with Caryl Jones (tenth in the 2012 World half marathon). Six seconds quicker than the former Welsh cross-country champion, Jess Andrews brought AFD to halfway 31 seconds clear.
The current Welsh champion, Andrea Whitcombe, lost eighteen seconds to Lily Partridge and the lead was nearly one and a half minutes when Georgie Bruinvels handed over to Gorecka. It was nearly two and a half by the time the European junior champion (both on the country and on the track at 3000 metres) crossed the line and there was a slightly larger gap between Swansea and Bristol & West who claimed the bronze medals on the last leg. Gorecka was 12 seconds quicker than the next best on the day, Laura Weightman of Morpeth Harriers, a 1500 metres finalist at the London Olympics.
In the men’s race, despite being Southern Champions AFD were not considered likely contenders for the top 3 having lost Olympian Chris Thompson and Jonny Hay from their team. However, AFD surprised many by claiming the bronze medal. They held the lead at the halfway point, thanks to Josh Grace who had taken over in second after legs by Aaron Harris, Jack Rowe, Chris Rooke, Richard Allen and Steve Connor. Tom Wade was overtaken by James Wilkinson, silver medallist in the under-23s’ race at the 2011 European cross country champs, who gave Leeds a lead they never lost. Morpeth became silver medallists despite the efforts of Jack Wyllie, Ian Bailey, Neil Phillips, Elliot Robinson and Jamie Ashton on AFD’s behalf.
It was a fantastic performance by a predominantly young team with some older experienced runners.