The New Zealand Road Relay Champs took place in Feilding on October 3rd, once again hosted by Feilding Moa. We had three Owai teams competing, a Senior Mens Team, M35-49s and a young M50s team, a number of whom were new to the age group. The course headed North West out from Manfield Park through the rolling Manawatu countryside to Halcombe, then a loop further to the north, back to Halcombe and finally wound its way back to the finish in Manfield Park. The weather was fine with a typically strong norwesterly which added to the challenge for a number of the laps.
In a year disrupted by COVID where Aucklanders had not been able to compete at the Cross Country Nationals or the Rotorua Marathon just a week before, it was touch and go as to whether we would be able to travel… and a huge relief when we got the all clear. The goal this year was medals.
M50s Men of Steel
The Owairaka M50s were expecting to be in the medals at the 2020 NZRR in Feilding with a strong line up of Peter Kenny, Daniel Coates, Troy Harold, Tim Morrison, Simon Aspden, Tim Mitchell and Bazyl Piotrowski to challenge the other teams. The main challengers would be Wellington Scottish, WHAC, DGRS and Lake City. Surprisingly, there was no Hamilton Hawks on the starting line. They were just pipped by Scottish last year.
Leg 1 started with Peter Kenny taking the baton from the Fielding township out onto the 7 person 67.48k course loop.
Leg 1 is an undulating leg with a sharp rise at the finish to maximize the hurt factor. Scottish and DGRS had some of their stronger runners on the 9.4k leg and were a minute or so ahead at the baton change at Mt Biggs. Pete had us off to a decent start sitting in 3rd spot at the change over to the formidable Dan Coates to start leg 2, a 10.1k undulating course with the fast descent into Halcombe township.
Dan quickly made up time on the DGRS runner and passed him without much complaint putting us into 2nd place. The Scottish runner, Peter Stevens was holding his own though on the longest leg and managed to maintain a margin at the leg 3 change over.
Troy Harold, making his debut in an Owai singlet has been running really well all season and we knew he would go alright after he offered to take the leg 3 hill leg. At this stage Scottish Harriers were just 2m 04s ahead and running arguably their strongest runner, Grant Maclean, who has been running some incredibly quick times this season. No matter, as Troy put 36secs on Grant to pull us back to within 90secs at the end of the tough leg 3 lap. Troy ran 36.09 on the 9.78k hill leg, winning the leg and we were right back in it.
Next up was Tim Morrison who has been running well and was hopeful of making up some time on the Scottish runner, Todd Stevens. The mostly flat and slightly undulating leg 4 was well suited and the yellow singlet of the Scottish runner was not far in the distance and appearing to get closer. Giving it everything into the finish and winning the leg, we picked up another 24secs to be only a minute back.
Leg 5 is a net downhill leg but with a tricky first 3 k’s on the gravel and then a sharp 300m climb. Simon Aspden started well on the 5th leg looking strong not far behind the Scottish runner as we passed the runners in the team van. Simon had a good solid leg considering the lack of race conditioning and kept us within 2 minutes of the lead.
Tim Mitchell took the baton out onto leg 6 a tough hilly leg chasing the Scottish runner James Turner who has been in good form. Running strongly Tim won this leg by a close margin - keeping the gap close. So down to the final leg with Scottish ahead and DGRS well behind us in 3rd.
Bazyl has been injured most of the season which has limited his running in the months building up to relays. But as they say anything can happen all he had to do was run down Michael Wray, a former world age group XC champion and NZ age group representative. Okay that didn’t happen but he ran a very solid last leg given the inability to prepare due to injury and we were happy with the silver for now. Finishing with a NZRR silver medal and being in the hunt for the gold right to the end is a fantastic feeling and achievement to be enjoyed, well done the M50 Team.
M35-49s Owairaka Living the Dream
A late change to the age groups from 40-49 to 35-49 and predictable injuries caused a few selection issues but we set off for Feilding with the strongest line up in the 5 years we’ve been competing - Julian Ng, Nick Moore, Simon Mace, Keith Burrows, Adam Gallagher (whose dad ran in a number of successful Owai relay teams) Adam Berry (in his first season with Owai, but a veteran of about 13 road relays for a number of clubs) and Paul White (an awesome miler and all round athlete) - all in sub 35 minute 10km form … or faster. Again, the main opposition was likely to be the 2019 champions Wellington Scottish, WHAC can never be written off. Lake City were tagged as possible dark horses and New Brighton are always there or thereabouts.
Julian was the man to get the ball rolling with a fiery leg 1 from Manfield Park finishing at Mt Biggs School where he handed over to Nick in 2nd - a very respectable 1.01 down on Scottish. Nick ran the 10.1k leg 2 into a strong head wind in the same time as Geoff Ferry the Scottish runner and put a bit more of a gap to WHAC and Lake City who were in 3rd and 4th. Simon Mace took the baton in Halcombe for Leg 3. Then disaster struck. We got the van stuck in the mud and had to send Keith and the two Adams up the road in another van. Luckily Simon was focused on the job in hand and was running superbly so barely noticed when he passed us! With the help of a couple of other teams, we pushed the van out of the mud and made it to the checkpoint in time to see Simon come in - 1 minute 53 seconds quicker than last year on the same leg and only 15 seconds down on the leg winner, Stephen Day from Scottish. We were in the race and the gap to 3rd and 4th was stretching out. Keith, wearing his new Nike Alpha Flys is a pure marathon man. He runs 160km a week …. week in week out…. and was ideally suited to undulating leg 4. He quickly got to work and put more time on WHAC and the challengers. Adam Gallagher took on tricky Leg 5 - 3k of uphill gravel and then a sweeping downhill into the roaring headwind back to Halcombe where his family were waiting to cheer him in. Leg 6 was Adam Berry who set off with one of his old Pakuranga team mates racing in a senior men’s team and they supported each other superbly to the handover to Paul White who ran a really solid anchor leg (with great form) to bring us in just under the 4 hour mark, 7 minutes down on Scottish but a massive 12 and a half minutes up on Wellington Harriers. Silver medal job done. Takahe Akaroa next year to resume battle with Scottish. Nick Moore Team Captain M35-49
Owai Senior Men C Winners - Promoted to B
The Senior Men started the day in grade C and had ambitions to get around the course with several members of the team nursing injuries. The second goal was to get on the grade C podium and thirdly - what looked like a long shot given the situation - was to win grade C. The day began quickly and became the most exciting day of racing any of us can remember, below is how it all unfolded...
Leg 1 was an undulating course and David Bagot was given the honour of carrying the baton for Owai's senior men; a measured effort saw David in the mid pack early only to come into his own at the bottom of the steep section, leading a small group to the top in a superbly strong effort. We found ourselves just behind North Harbour Bays A and B squad. For Leg 2 the baton was passed to James Marsh and on a tough windy leg he powered through the longest leg to catch the North Harbour Bays B squad. At this point we did not know where we were in the race but began to believe we could secure a podium. The baton went to Dion O'Neale for leg 3 and through gritted teeth he battled arguably the toughest leg and the wind so much so he missed the incident where MM35's van was stuck and SM gave assistance. Dion fought to maintain our strong position despite injuries on both legs to show the 2020 SM captain's strength and pride to wear the colours. Leg 4 saw mostly flat terrain for Tony Plowman, however a largely unprotected course led to Tony battling the wind to secure the teams hard-earned advantage up to this point controlling SMC. James Fisher grabbed the baton for leg 5 as the course headed off-road for an up and down gravel section which rejoined the road after a short sharp climb. With a sore calf and long descent he flew into Halcombe with a greater advantage over SMC and hopes were high following a short catch up with the MM35 and MM50 teams. With only two legs left we realised that we had the SMC grade in the bag and only a horrible injury could stop James Parker on leg 6, as for all the descending on the previous leg now he had to climb. Despite the scare that injury would strike, James fought the hills and ended the leg with a 8 minute cushion over 2nd place C team. The baton was passed to the one-day Owai member from Christchurch, Jason Wilcock, who got the glory leg which descended for 9.15k back into Fielding. Looking strong throughout he helped us to finish 5 mins ahead of Caversham Harriers.
This was all before the biggest drama of the day: with hopes high and three strong performances for Owai it was deemed that SM were too quick and were promoted to B grade just before the medals could be placed around our necks. We therefore finished 7th in SMB; a mere 9 minutes off the podium and 15 minutes off first place. Given our team was riddled with injuries past and present, I feel that the performances individually and as a team were way above expectations.
Throughout the history at Owairaka there have been a number of great runners and next year at the relays we want to begin the next generation with a team of 8 runners to compete for the SMB podium in Christchurch. Please come down to the club to register your interest on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
James Marsh Senior Men Team Captain 2021
Keen to get involved next time around? Join us!