Shared endeavour rather than solo effort was the key to success as the leading athletes in the South completed an endurance challenge of 33.6km (women) and 72km (men) at Gravesend on Saturday (25 March). The event was the South of England Road Relay Championships and the leading teams fielded consistent squads of six women and twelve men to claim the medals.
Gravesend Cyclopark was taken over by 900 honed athletes who battled a biting wind and the many undulations on this smooth tarmac cycle racing circuit. The women ran four legs of 4.8km and two of 7.2km, while the men faced 12 stages that alternated these distances.
National road relay champions, Tonbridge AC, prevailed in the men's race to claim their first ever medals in this event. James West set the tone for the local favourites, using his 3:40 for 1500m speed to good effect to sprint four seconds clear of the 53 strong field on the first leg.
Bedford & County AC edged ahead by two seconds on stage three and Highgate Harriers enjoyed their moment in the spotlight at the halfway point but Tonbridge's strength in depth and intelligent tactical deployment of resources saw them return to the front on leg eight and build a yawning gap (3:23:05) over Serpentine (3:24:22) and Highgate (3:26:18).
The women’s race saw a fast final stint by Winchester to snatch victory (1:47:16) from Thames Valley Harriers (1:47:32) and Aldershot, Farnham and District (1:48:14).
Herne Hill Harriers had led at the start before TVH looked to be running away with the trophy by heading the pack from the second stage. However, Victoria Lee overturned a 44-second deficit on the final leg to bring the crowd to their feet at the finish.
The fastest short stage men's and women's times were by Lewis Lloyd (Herne Hill Harriers, 12:57) and India Lee (Winchester, 14:23) and the best long legs were run by Andy Maud (Highgate Harriers) and Nick Goolab (Belgrave Harriers), who tied at 19:07, and Naomi Taschimowitz (Shaftesbury Barnet Harriers, 22:02).
Full results at South of England Athletic Association website.