The regional road relays have been and gone. Promises of stronger sides to come will be put to the test as team managers remain tight-lipped on the likelihood of their team’s success.
Probable race winners always prove too tricky to nail down, the composition unknown until the final sheets are handed in.
There are always a few, though, some established, others less so, carrying that much sought-after momentum ready to sparkle on the national stage.
Lincoln Wellington undoubtedly fit that bill.
Momentum has been motoring along over the last 18 months for the sleeping giant. The team’s golden success at the Northerns last month was the strongest indication yet of their awakening ambition.
Bound together by a friendship that stretches beyond the track, the squad of sub-14.45 5k runners has got itself together and stand on the verge of national success.
‘We’re all mates, so we all enjoy training together,’ says Shane Robinson, the glue sticking it all together on leg three at Sport City three weeks ago.
‘Strength really has come in numbers, and the momentum has come through consistency. It’s easy to train and put in the miles when you’re doing it with like-minded lads.’
In a sport often characterised by its individuality, a sense of friendship and togetherness is the key – if often elusive – ingredient to relay success.
‘I think the recent success has been down to the fact that we all train together week in, week out,’ says elder statesman of the piece, Aaron Scott.
‘After rejoining Lincoln 18 months ago [from Notts AC], the focus has been on getting everyone in shape to win national team medals.
‘Matt Bowser and myself have always been ultra-competitive in wanting to beat each other, and now we regularly have groups of 10 runners on a club night being able to run times on reps that, in the past, only Bowser and I could hit.’
This potent mix of camaraderie and quality has certainly been the secret behind Highgate’s recent success. Tonbridge’s too, though theirs has been years in the planning.
Ultimately, success on the relay-front seems to boil down to having the right sort of runners all coming together in the right place, at the right time.
This year’s South of England winners, Highgate, and 2015 national victors, Tonbridge, will challenge again this Saturday. So too, no doubt, last year’s all-Welsh top-two, Cardiff and Swansea – with danger man Dewi in hot form.
‘The belief we all have is growing each day,’ says Shane. ‘There are plenty of strong clubs and it’ll be a great race to watch.
‘We may all run really well – and come sixth. But, as long as we do our best, we all know we’re good enough to challenge.’
As ever, it’ll all come down to on whose shoulder the hand of Lady Luck is lying on the day.
But under the ‘great training schedule’ set by coach to most of the group, Mark Baddeley, the big jumps in performance by some, including James Straw and Joe Wilkinson, have pushed others on to new heights.
The fact that it’s all achieved in an environment more back slapping than back biting makes the national road relays the ideal place to turn ambition, competitiveness and pristine preparation into peak medal-winning performance.
The Lincoln Track Club website has played its part too. Driven by marketing professional, Aaron, the site is more than a traditional runner’s blog of run-of-the-mill race diaries and training plans.
Regular race reports plus Strava miles clocked and number of Nero visits have created a narrative around the team that is refreshingly outside the club-running norm.
‘At the moment, as individuals, we’re not outstanding,’ admits Shane. ‘But, as a team, our consistency must be one of the best in the country.
‘Winning national medals might be out of reach for most of us as individuals – but performing as a team with your mates makes the effort much more worthwhile.’
Words by Chris Rainsford
Image from Lincoln Track Club