Keith Gerrard Retains National Title
On Saturday 23rd February, Beagles’ Keith Gerrardretained his senior men’s title in the mud and freezing cold of Herrington Country Park, near Sunderland. In doing so, Keith joined an illustrious list of runners to retain “the national” - including greats of British distance running like Gordon Pirie, Basil Heatley, Mel Batty and Richard Nerurkar. It was the crowning point for Beagles of an eventful and unforgettable weekend.
The long trip north deterred many Southern clubs - our Met League rivals from Heathside, Serpentine, Woodford Green, Highgate, Hillingdon, ESM all made the journey but the Essex clubs were mostly absent. Travel arrangements were mixed:
· The main party set off from Stratford by minibus at 5.45pm on Friday, enduring a lengthy journey north via hold-ups on the M11 before checking in at Scotch Corner about midnight.
· Keith Gerrard travelled from Albuquerque, arriving at Heathrow on Thursday morning before speeding north with gaffer Smith late on Friday morning.
· Others checked into a variety of locations along the A1 on Friday night, whilst Mitchy travelled by train on Saturday morning.
· Best of all, Kairn Stone returned from honeymoon in Venice arriving at Gatwick at 7.30pm on Friday. Which was where the fun and games started, as he discovered his car keys were still in Venice. Worse, his kit was all in the back of his car. With help from his wife and his dad, he still caught an early morning to Newcastle Airport. Gaffer Smith then drove with George Choat through driving snow to collect him, before purchasing a pair of spikes on the course.
Snow had started falling in County Durham about 11.30pm on Friday, and by early morning about two inches had fallen. With few athletes in the early races, most of our senior men preferred to stay wrapped up in nearby cars. Michael Oku-Ampofo placed 212th in the Under 15 boy’s race, Amazigh Laoudi was 218th in the Under 17’s, and then David Kail (still with a knee problem) was 123rd in the Junior men’s race. The weather was relatively benign during the early races, but the course was becoming churned up, as snow turned to slush and then to mud. This wasn’t the mud that we saw at Parliament Hill the previous week (heavy and bottomless) but it was wet, slippery, and with a consistency varying from treacle to porridge -best described as gloop. Then a cold easterly wind kicked up, and as the runners squelched around in the mud near the start, their toes and feet felt like blocks of ice.
Our men’s team was strong, but Frank Baddick and Rory Chesser had both succumbed to viruses, and realistically we were looking at top eight with possible bronze medals, but Keith was quietly determined and prepared to defend his title won 12 months previously in super conditions at Parliament Hill.
The race was a cracker. An early lead group of five included Keith, but was reduced to three by the start of the last lap. Regular Met league winner Neilson Hall had sensibly conserved his energy at the end of the previous week’s Southern and was contesting the lead with our old friend Steve Vernon (Stockport) and Keith. Hall was first to drop off and then Keith opened a ten metres gap which he desperately retained despite the best efforts of Vernon who was heading for his seventh successive top three placing. It was cracking head to head battle and Vernon lost nothing in defeat - he’d given absolutely everything, But Keith Gerrard somehow managed to tough it out for a three seconds victory - his winning time of 41:21 was over three minutes slower than when the National was last held at Sunderland - a measure of the arduous conditions. Behind Vernon were Hall (Bedford) and Shaun Dixon (Highgate) - both regular Met Leaguers. As the finishers streamed towards the finishing funnel, it became clear that a handful of clubs were very strong and our medal hopes had been extinguished / frozen, but the team had battled manfully:
22nd Gavin Smith - our debutant had arrived from Kenya 10 days previously and immediately showed his class. A very good runner.
48th Dave Mitchinson - in hard training for a March ultra, he battled brilliantly in the gloom.
62nd Olly Laws - has been in good form since Christmas and remains a class act.
69th Kairn Stone - a Beagle for 17 years and went out of his way to be in Sunderland. He bemoaned a “bad seven or eight minutes”.
125th Niall Sheehan - a great addition this winter, Niall gained 40 places over the second half of the race but has been missed from the scores, despite being registered with UKA.
171st Eliot Buckner - youngest man in the team and stuck to his guns throughout.
228th Wayne Bell - had hoped for top 200, but this was a very good run from a reliable and committed runner.
565th George Choat - has quickly established himself as indispensable to the team with his humour and positive outlook. His first National and was just below halfway – there were 1085 finishers.
The team finished 6th according to the results with 327 points. Morpeth were surprise winners to the delight of stalwart Jim Alder, with Leeds City 2nd and Tipton 3rd. All three teams scored under 200 - surely unprecedented in the modern era. Behind them Southern Champions Bedford were in 4th, followed by Notts and Kent. Click here for results
· Then to the after race fun and games. It became clear that most runners were suffering horribly. Caked in mud, wet and very, very cold, they were unable to remove timing chips or change into warmer clothes. Mitchy got his spikes off and left them on the field before dashing back to the gaffer’s car, as he was colder than at any time since Ashton Court, Bristol, in 2002. Eliot cuddled a cup of tea to try to get his hands warm. Realising the problem, Wayne shot off to buy teas and coffees, whilst Olly’s girlfriend Lisa was immensely helpful and resourceful. There were some pitiful sights, and one of the worst affected was Keith who was clearly at the onset of hypothermia. Likewise, Niall was in a bad way - brave men who had battled hard but now needed dry clothes, warmth and a shower - none of which were to be found in Sunderland last Saturday.
· The team didn't leave the course until 90 minutes after the race as Niall and others received first aid. Fortunately, Segrid was on hand with the minibus, and Tony Shiret was there to drive Keith south. Thanks also to David Kail, who stayed with Niall and Keith whilst we fetched the transport.
· Final stop was Scotch Corner again where Keith was booked into a hotel- a pale, mud splattered figure that caused the hotel receptionist to recoil in horror - but the guy was as good as gold and let Keith in - thank you man on the desk at the Travelodge at Scotch Corner.
- Report by Team Manager, Bob Smith
Click here for link to report on London Athletics website