Leeds City and Thames Valley Harriers take the crown at 2024 ERRA Road Relays

Displaying the perfect combination of planning, team spirit, fitness and plenty of good old-fashioned determination given the ferocious winds, Thames Valley Harriers women and Leeds City’s men emerged victorious at this year’s 6 and 12-Stage Road Relay Championships. 

As it has done since 1967, the event is the grand finale to the spring road racing season. To take part, the top 25 clubs from each area qualify to race in Sutton Park, a classic venue that has produced sensational performances over the years from World Record holders, Olympians to, more importantly, solid efforts from club runners. True, the course has been altered slightly in those years, but it’s still possible to compare your run to rivals long since retired and calculate your fitness for the upcoming summer season.

Former 5000m world record holder Dave Moorcroft’s (Coach: John Anderson, Club: Coventry) 24:27 for the long leg in 1982 is every bit as inspiring for competitors today as it was back then. And then of course there’s Steph Twell’s (Mick Woods, AFD) amazing 15:15 in 2009 in the women’s race which has been part of the programme for close to a quarter of a century now.  

And it’s the race’s heritage and prestige along with its timing in the calendar that makes it so special. While Thames Valley and Leeds both included international athletes in their runaway victories, it’s their clubmates who provide the key ingredients for success. Without them, those super-fast individual legs would be irrelevant.  

Matthew Grieve (Andrew Henderson, Leeds) summed it all up brilliantly seconds after anchoring Leeds to a three-and-half minute win.

Leeds victory

"The boys did all the hard work before me. I just had to stay upright in the wind and not fall over. I just had to run hard. It’s been a brilliant day for the club and a brilliant day for the teams," he said, congratulating the women’s team on their silver medals. 

Teammate Phil Sesemann (Andrew Henderson, Leeds), a member of Team GB’s Olympic marathon team later this summer in Paris suggested it might have been Matthew’s “greatest day of his life”, although potentially Matthew’s new wife of just one week might have disagreed. Nonetheless, it was a great day for everybody involved. Sesemann scorched to a 25:27 long leg, easily good enough for fastest on the day and worth so much more given Storm Kathleen’s strong winds which brought down the odd tree on the wooded course. Good form for the 2:08:02 marathon runner. 

"And who’d have thought that my holiday last week in Fuerteventura would prove so handy," said John Beattie (Leeds) after his solid 15:28 ninth leg.

John Beattie

That particular island in the Canaries isn’t known as the windy island for nothing. Wind speeds of more than 30mph are not uncommon but as Beatie discovered, Storm Kathleen’s 70mph+ were a little more testing on this occasion. 

Beattie, now the M35 age category, illustrates just how important this race is for runners up and down the country. He was also celebrating his 20th year of running the 12-Stage. “Why not,” he laughed after a great run. “I’ve got plenty of time to watch football or play golf instead so while I can be handy for the team, I might as well race.” 

It’s that team spirit that Leeds demonstrated superb all day, easing across the line in eighth place after leg one before hitting the front after leg five thanks to a 26:30 from M40 man Graham Rush (Leeds). From there, it was a case of maintaining that intensity. 

Thames Valley were equally dominant, as Yvie Lock (TVH) led home the field after the first leg with the day’s fastest long leg of 29:36. And that was it in terms of the lead as Katie Olding (David Wilkinson, TVH) also produced the leg’s fastest clocking (and second fastest of the day) to stretch the lead even more. Indeed, by leg five the lead was such that Kosana Weir (David Wilkinson, TVH) felt so comfortable she reported afterwards that the wind wasn’t even that bad! Not a line heard too often on what was a decidedly testing day.

"I felt good and started conservatively," she said. "I haven’t raced since October, but we had such a good lead I knew I could judge my effort. And yes, I didn’t think that wind was that bad as a result," she laughed. 

Club spirit 

While the chase for gold medals and the national title is always thrilling, that’s not what makes the relay so special for everyone attending. This is a race all about taking part where everybody competing has equal importance. 

"I love the relays and have been coming here in one form or another for more than 40 years now," said Birmingham Running and Triathlon Club’s (BRAT) Richard Carney. Now a team manager, but once a runner, he says, "as distance runners it’s the only race of the year you get to run as a team. If one goes down the whole lot go down and that makes it so exciting. It has such an amazing heritage."

And it’s that enthusiasm that has rubbed off on teammates like Tesfay Teweled (BRAT). “This is my first relay (he ran the ninth in leg in 28:44) but I knew I had to run as the club is always talking about it. I love the idea of helping the team and that everybody is as important as the next runner,” he said.  

Tesfay Teweled

It’s a sentiment shared by Worcester AC’s team manager and coach, Christina Boxer. Boxer, who was fourth in the Seoul Olympics 1500m and a sub 2min 800m runner at her peak says: “club athletics changed the way I lived my life. You cannot underestimate how important it is for everybody involved. And now I love putting something back. Clubs like Worcester are so important.” 

She also confirmed just how important the heritage associated with an event like this can be. She coaches partly to keep her own coach’s legacy alive. She owes her success, she says, to Ron Stonehouse, who in turn coached Mick Woods and helped so many of today’s top Aldershot athletes emerge, not least the course record holder Steph Twell. 

And that’s just one small snapshot of what for any athletics aficionado is a real treat. One of GB’s Olympic team selectors is on hand to check out current form. Blasts from the past Ian Stewart (Birchfield), the 1970 Commonwealth 5000m champion is watching with 2:09:54 marathon man back in 1989 Tony Milovsorov (Tipton). Five times masters’ world champion Claire Elms (Kent, W60) jogs by warming up for her leg and countless other superstars both current and past soak up the action.  

Young Athlete races

The event also hosts four young athletes’ races which are slowly growing in popularity. Tom Webb (Wells City Harriers) got things going with a swift 15:30 in the U17 men’s race, but top honours had to go to Olivia Forrest (Paul Forrest, Brentwood Beagles) who can claim to be number one in Britain currently. She took the U15 girls' race in 17:45, close to a minute clear of her nearest rival.

Olivia Forrest

Sarah Barrett (Lawrence Wade, City of Norwich) won the U17 women’s in a similar time of 17:41 while Samuel Collins (John Skevington, Wreake and Soare Valley) was the U15 boys’ winner in 16:30. It’s early days for this event, but it is slowly growing in significance and popularity.

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