In the closest finish in the history of the event, Box Hill failed by just 13 seconds to pull off an unexpected victory in the “Coliban Water” Harcourt to Bendigo relay.
After being informed last week that the last changeover had been moved, extending the sixth leg and shortening the last leg, we arrived at Harcourt on Saturday to be informed that, due to construction on the aqueduct, the course had been further changed. Leg 4 had been extended and leg 5 had been extended slightly and changed from an overall downhill to an overall uphill leg.
Due to unforseen circumstances (i.e. our first runner was had not yet arrived!) Dale Bickham was informed just 15 minutes before the start that he would be running the first leg. Dale nonchalantly jogged over to his car and got his racing flats. He warmed up for a few more minutes changed his shoes and lined up at the start. The preparation seemed to work as Dale ran his best race of the winter. Dale worked hard all the way to the top of the hill to hand over to Graeme Olden in third place, 1min 20sec behind the leader Mark Boxer of Geelong and 49 seconds behind Julian Cook of Glenhuntly (who for comparison ran 19:45 at Sandown, a minute faster than Dale ran there). Dale was, in fact, the 4th fastest runner for the day over that first leg, including all the division 1 and 2 teams.
Graeme set off after the leaders and the competition soon became a two horse race as both he and David Eadie of Glenhuntly passed the Geelong runner. Graeme continued to run strongly over the toughest terrain and with his rival in his sights worked on closing the gap. Running brilliantly up and down the hill Graeme outran Eadie by 40 seconds to finish his leg less than 10 seconds in arrears. Graeme ran almost a minute quicker than he did for this same leg last year and was the second fastest runner for the day behind Greg Lyons of APS.
Marcus Tierney set off after Linton Gloster, but Gloster started quickly and pulled away in the first couple of kilometres, building up a lead of almost thirty seconds. Marcus stuck to his task, however, and the lead held steady for most of the 9.4 km. A strong finish saw the Box Hill runner cut into the Glenhuntly lead to hand over to Scott Jackson just 22 seconds behind. Marcus had run the second fastest time for the day, just 13 seconds slower than Gloster and 25 seconds faster than Michelson or Perrott. Trevor Vincent was heard to mention “you guys are making it interesting”…it was to get a lot more interesting!
Scott Jackson started chasing his Glenhuntly rival, Andrew Almond, and quickly closed the gap, catching him before halfway. Hearing the heavy laboured breathing of his opponent, Scott decided not to hang around and shot past him, quickly building up a big lead and run easily the fastest time for his leg on the day. The quality of Scott’s run can be measured by comparing this run to the Sandown relays. That day Almond had run the same time as Scott, this day (over the same distance) Scott outran him by a minute , to finish the fourth leg with Box Hill in the lead by 38 seconds over Glenhuntly.
After some injuries earlier in the winter, Tom Waters was unsure of his level of fitness, but any concerns were unfounded as he ran strongly over the 7.4km of undulating roads. Tom started conservatively and his opponent, Richard Maguire-White appeared to be slowly making up some ground. When Tom saw Trevor Vincent’s car at the side of the road with the worried occupant looking at his stopwatch, Tom decided he would put in a surge and ran past strongly. The Glenhuntly manager made the mistake of driving along and stopping every 500 metres or so, so Tom kept on surging! He started to pull away and by the time he reached the next changeover he had built the lead up to 63 seconds, running the fastest time of the day for his leg.
Sam Hassett took off in the lead. Sam made a return to form in the national junior cross country championship, but Glenhuntly thought their runner, Peter Hulbert (who ran 19:05 at Sandown this year and finished 14th at Bundoora) would be able to run him down over the 8 km journey. They were wrong. Our opponents made up a bare 9 seconds as Sam ran strongly over the bitumen and the gravel to record the second fastest time of the day and hand over to our final runner with a good lead of 54 seconds.
Kynan Dawes had the unenviable task of running up one tree hill and trying to hold off Nick Harrison. Kynan ran strongly up the hill and although Harrison had closed the size of the gap, Kynan still led at the top of the hill. On the down hill section the Glenhuntly runner finally went past, but Kynan was able to hang on. Despite Kynan running the fourth fastest time for the day, on a small steep rise with just a mile to go Harrison surged and pulled away. Kynan did not give up. He chased hard and actually made up a little ground in the final 600 metres but Glenhuntly crossed the line first in 2 hours 51 minutes 41 seconds, thirteen seconds ahead of the Box Hill team in 2:51:54 , with Geelong a distant third in 2:57:19.
Overall this was a great team effort, there was not one runner who could be disappointed with their performance on the day. Hopefully next years race can be as exciting as this one….with a different result, of course!