In the final fixture of the winter season, Chichester had one of their best day’s competition ever in the Sussex Road Relay Championships at Christ’s Hospital School in Horsham.
The club came away with a fine haul of team and individual medals and were almost alone among Sussex clubs in being able to field teams in all 11 age groups from under-13s through to seniors and veterans.
In more than four hours of competition, the 60-athlete squad surpassed the expectations of the club’s team managers in every single race.
In terms of sheer excitement, the final event was one which Chichester’s men’s squad will remember for a long time. They were without their top two on current form, Harry Leleu on duathlon duty for GB and Jo Corbett running the following day to record 2hr 26min in the Manchester marathon to come third out of 13,000 competitors.
However the club’s strength in depth came to the rescue with the emphasis on youth with half the six-man A team under 20 and only one over 25.
The lead-off leg was run by the youngest member of the team, under-17 Liam Dunne, who repaid the faith of his manager with a 10.03 clocking for the two-mile lap, which proved the fastest by any under-17 on the day.
Student Will Boutwood kept the club inside the top ten in a very fast race at the front with ten minutes exactly, Chichester’s fastest leg of the day.
Consistent times by under-20 Leo Stallard and seniors Houston and Tom le Lievre saw the club move into the top six with just the final runner to go.
Ben Collins set off in pursuit and steadily closed the gap, soon overtaking Crawley and Lewes to move fourth with only the Hastings athlete between Chichester and a medal.
Halfway round the circuit the gap had closed to less than 15 seconds and Collins was still closing. The two moved into sight of the finish with Chichester within touching distance of Hastings.
Collins made his move and surged past to open up a 20m gap which his rival was unable to close and strode away to the finish among cheering crowds and one of the best team performances by the young Chichester squad.
Not far behind was the club’s B team with an average age of just 20, with the six runners separated by just one minute with a team of Joe Godwood, under-17 James Gardham, Conrad Meagher, newcomer Will Grace and two under-20s, Ollie Shergold and Brodie Keates.
Two of the club’s graduates from the beginners’ group, Matt Fentrell and Paul Ford, showed promise in an incomplete C team.
The women’s A and B team had a youthful lookwith an average age of just 20. Student Alice Wright gave the A team a fine start with an 11.56 clocking, the fifth fastest senior of the day, putting Chichester well inside the top ten.
Under-17 Maggie King made her way up through the field to fifth on leg two with 12.27, fourth fastest in her age group, to hand over on the final leg to under-20 Alice Cox-Rusbridge, who powered round in 12.08, the best time by an under-20. But Chichester agonisingly having to settle for fourth, a mere 15 seconds outside the medals.
Sophie Wright and Jenny Jakeman ran well for the B team with Alice Wright having her second run of the day to bring them home in an unofficial 11th place.
Veteran men and women
There were two great silver medal-winning performances from Chichester’s strong squad of veterans with the over-50 women and over-40 men both on fine form.
Jane Harrop gave the women a fine start by leading on the opening leg, Helen Dean maintained the pressure with the fastest over-60 time of the day, 13.41, a full minute faster than anyone else in her age group.
Nadia Anderson had a brave run on the final leg but was not able to hold off a fast-finishing Arena 80 athlete in having to settle for second. The margin of just 14 seconds was the smallest for the dominant Brighton-based club in the past decade.
Kim Nelson, Nicky Stallard and over-60 Sue Baker ran well for the B team for ninth place. The same position was gained by the club’s over-40 team of Emma Wickens, Vicky Balandis and vet-50 Amanda Godfrey, while the B team of Elaine Cruttenden, Clare Snow and Wickens brought the B team home in 14th.
One of the unexpected medals of the day came in the men’s over-40 race with Jon Peters giving them a great start with 10.38, the fourth fastest of the day. Solid running from Justin Eggins, Jason Snow and Keith Akerman saw them keep all the rest at bay apart from a fast Brighton & Hove quartet, gaining them team silver by nearly a minute.
In the over-50 race Jon Edgar had the fastest Chichester time of 12.11 to lead Paul Stallard and Tim Brown to tenth place while the B team of Wim Amir, Jeremy Harrison and Peter Anderson finished 17th.
Another fast opening lap 12.58 saw Richard Miles lead the over-60s on lap one with Tony Cooley and Andy Harrop putting in good runs to give the team a top-five finish.
Under-13s and under-15s
Chichester were delighted to come away with two fifth places, one fourth and a very unexpected silver team medal including a new club record.
The under-13 boys surpassed expectations with Hal Edgar running a well-judged opening lap to put the club in touch with the leaders. Harvey McGuiness soon scythed his way through the pack on leg two to hand over to Josh Dunne in the lead after a 6.01 leg, the second fastest of the day.
Dunne, drafted in as a reserve, was still leading at the halfway stage of the final lap with a fast-finishing Lewes athlete closing fast but still way ahead of the rest. In the event a course record run from Lewes deprived Chichester of their win but they had ample consolation in recording the second fastest time in the event’s history and a new club record, with reserve Josh Eaton running well in the B team.
The under-13 girls’ race was just as keenly fought with Chichester’s A team the youngest seen at this event with all three girls still in primary school.
Lillie Hellyer, Florence Ingram and Laila Hellyer did themselves and the club proud to finish a fine fifth place and with all three girls available to run in the same age group for two more years, the future of the squad looks very promising.
There were good runs from the B team of Isabelle Isitt, Grace Eminson and Marcie Faggetter while Millie Isiit ran well for the C team.
Both under-15 teams achieved a top-five placing with Olivia Toms, Nicole Boltwood and Amelia Bromell fourth in the girls’ race while the trio of Joe McLarnon, Archie Sadler and Gabryel White were a close fifth in the boys’ race with Bradley Holder an able reserve in the B team.
Corporate Challenge series winners
There are new names on the roll of honour for this year’s Corporate Challenge series.
Hampshire-based training group MD Solent scooped the top two in both the men’s and women’s categories with Jonathan White leading team-mate Sam Charig in the men’s race, while unbeaten Cassie Thorp held off Katie Hopkins to emerge as top woman.
Bronze medals were won by Worthing’s Jack Woods for the men and Chichester’s promising under-17 Maggie King in the ladies.
The main team corporate award is again Hampshire-bound for the ever consistent Dstl Porstdown squad, with Bosham Primary Staff team worthy winners of the women’s award under the guidance of Polly Neville.
Full results of the senior and inter-schools categories can be found on the Chichester Runners website.