Highgate Harriers win prestigious National 12-Stage Road Relay Championships
Murray Strain defied just that – a strain – as Highgate Harriers won a national team event for the first time in more than a century.
There is no-one with a memory long enough to remember the last time Harriers enjoyed a triumph of this magnitude at the National Cross Country Championships of 1905.
However, they have that winning feeling again after Strain ran through the pain of a hamstring niggle to anchor Highgate to victory in the National 12-Stage Road Relay Championships at Sutton Park in Birmingham on Saturday.
Harriers overcame the Southern, Northern, Midland and Welsh champions plus some of the best clubs from north of the border in a 66-team relay with 12 stages, – six long and six short run alternately.
Strain’s injury concerns meant Harriers had to rejig their running order, moving him to the shorter anchor leg as a precaution for the event – first run in 1967 and in which Highgate had previously never finished higher than seventh.
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However, his 11 team-mates managed to put him into the lead going into that final stint and he held on for Harriers’ place in the record books.
Team manager Ben Pochee said: “All club athletes want to win the iconic 12-Stage, but for our team this year it truly mattered. Our squad is made up of friends who largely train together, many of whom are also involved within the club.
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“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 one per cent more from their performance.”
Pete Chambers got Harriers’ historic day under way by running them into a strong eighth position in a very competitive first leg.
Robel Bahelbi then broke 16 minutes in moving the team up to fifth, a position held by Chris Rainsford on leg three.
Brahma Pochee put them in sight of a podium finish when improving by another spot in the next short leg, before Danny Russell’s time of 26 minutes 36 seconds on stint five moved Harriers into second place.
Ben Noad, Shaun Dixon and Peter Hawkings kept the dream alive by holding second through stages six to eight and, although Robert Wilson lost one spot, a medal was still in sight ahead of leg 10.
Victor Pound took the baton and eased Highgate back into second place, although Andy Maud faced a 40-second gap to leaders Aldershot.
But he made light of the chase, catching the leader by the two-mile mark and pulling out a sizeable advantage before handing over to Strain for the finale.
Strain knew sub four-minute miler Adam Clarke was in pursuit but held his form superbly to bring Harriers home 45 seconds clear of Aldershot & Farnham in a time of 4:16:30, with Bristol & West AC almost a minute further back in third.
The Harriers did not have a team in the National Six-Stage women’s relay, but Hannah Viner and Ashley Scott-Wilson ran quick long and short stints respectively as individual competitors.