ERRA National 6 and 4 Stage Road Relays - Birmingham



Swansea Harriers' women's team won the UK National four-stage road relay at Sutton Coldfield recently, becoming the first non-English club to take the title.

Pre-race speculation was unanimous that holders Aldershot Farnham and District, with their battery of GB stars, would record a fifth straight win with Bristol AC and Birchfield Harriers the most likely challengers.

Swansea, medallists for the last five years in the April six-stage relays which suits their strength in depth, had other ideas, however.

They had in previous years struggled to make an impact in the four-stage event, but were confident that this year their close to full-strength team had medal potential.

Their strategy of putting Commonwealth Games 10,000-metre runner Ellie Kirk on the first leg worked perfectly. She and training partner Elle Vernon (Stockport) soon broke away from the rest of the 90-strong field and raced neck and neck over the undulating course of just under 5k before Vernon inched clear in the last 100 metres to come home first in 14 minutes 11 seconds, with Kirk just two seconds behind.

These remained the two fastest times of the day.

Kate Roberts took Swansea almost immediately into the lead as Stockport fell back, but she was chased down in the last mile, eventually handing over second having clocked 15 minutes 22 seconds.

Caryl Jones, gradually returning to fitness after two years of injury misery as she attempts to recapture the form that won her GB vests in the world half-marathon and European cross-country championships, ran a battling third stage in 15 minutes, which left Andrea Whitcombe just two seconds down on Bristol at the start of the final stage.

It may be 15 years since Whitcombe represented Britain in the Sydney Olympics and even longer since she won a Commonwealth Games silver medal at 5000m, but she has lost not of her competitive instinct and precious little of her speed.

The 44-year-old mother of two broke away from Bristol's Imogen Ainsworth after around a mile with a sustained burst that put the outcome beyond doubt.

She eventually crossed the line 37 seconds in front having run a brilliant 14.38, the 10th fastest time of the day.

Team captain Whitcombe said: "I was worried at the takeover because I'm certainly not super fit and I didn't know how good the Bristol girl was.

"When we got to the top of the first big hill I decided not to risk leaving it late and pushed on to see what effect it had.

"I soon realised she had dropped away and then it was just a question of concentrating as hard as possible right to the finish.

"It was a great win for the girls and well deserved having come so close so often in the six-stage.

"For some reason we always seem to be overlooked in the various pre-race previews and rarely get a mention. I don't think we'll be overlooked next year!"

Result: 1. Swansea Harriers 59 minutes 14 seconds, 2. Bristol and West AC 59.51, 3. Vale Royal 60.03.

Report via the South Wales Evening Post. Read more:


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