With athletics cancelled, it was time to get creative, and get creative we did. Racing the Virtual National Road Relays, as well as holding our own AGM in a brand new format, we made the most of the hand we were dealt as a club.
Virtual National Road Relays Start
Virtual racing was not a term many had encountered before the month of April, but after it there were few who hadn't. The Virtual National Road Relays was the brainchild of a few visionaries, and our very own Jonny Currie was one of them. Here we have his take on what it took to put together the athletics event of the summer.
The whole event was borne out of a Twitter thread after the lockdown announcement. A couple of clubs from London had trialled a mini virtual head-to-head race to replace their normal rivalry at the Southern Road Relays, which sparked the idea for the main protagonists of the national road relays to do the same.
Bedford sent an open challenge to Tonbridge on Twitter, and a few other teams who were geared up to challenge for the title expressed their interest. BUAC alum James McCrae offered his services as an impartial logistics manager, and asked me to help out. Initially we’d just planned to run it with a handful of teams and an Excel spreadsheet, but since the whole race planning discussion was publicly visible on the internet then more and more teams wanted to get involved.
We realised a spreadsheet wouldn’t cut it, with so many runners wanting to compete, and OpenTrack had been developing a virtual racing results system for the mini London comps that had run before, so offered to host the entries and results on their site. The capacity for 800 entries filled up within 2 days - it seemed word had spread through the country and with no other races on the cards and a potentially indefinite lockdown period, this novel virtual race had grabbed everyone’s attention.
I heard stories about how previously dead club group chats were suddenly alive and kicking, and athletes who’d lost touch with each other were reaching out again and coming together from across the globe to compete as a team. The community spirit was what really helped the event take off, and gave everyone the feel-good factor that had been taken away with all the cancellations.
After some reworking of the virtual racing system we managed to reopen the entries and capped out at nearly 5,500 athletes, including a couple of a Olympians and several dozen GB internationals. Clubs started to donate the money they’d put aside for travel expenditures and entry fees to charity, and in the end we raised over £10,000 for the NHS.
It was a lot of hard work, and there were a fair few hiccups along the way (to be expected organising a brand new format of racing on such a scale at such short notice), but the event was a great success and spawned a whole wave of virtual races across the summer. It was a pleasure to be involved and watch the whole thing take off and see everyone come together in these tough times to bring out something positive.
The OpenTrack page for the Relays can be found here.
The JustGiving page for the Relays can be found here.
AW XC Merit Rankings Published
With the cross season most certainly done and dusted, AW released top 20 merit rankings for the U20 season that was, and with three men and five women making the rankings for the club, BUAC were incredibly well-represented.
Highest placed for the men was Tomer Tarragano. The Brighton & Hove athlete was ranked seventh, after a number of strong showings in stacked fields. Top ten finishes at every important race were highlighted by ninth at the National and fifth at Inter-Counties, as well as a strong third place representing England overseas at Rotselaar, with the only blemish on the scoresheet an off day at the Milton Keynes Cross Challenge.
Tom Keen's win at Stirling was a key factor in his ranking of fourteenth, based on a very short cross season of only four races. Keen backed up a fourteenth place finish at the Liverpool Cross Challenge in finishing ninth at Inter Counties, and his strong leg at the English Cross Country Association relays secured his position. Running 9:10 for the 3K distance, the performance was highly impressive, coming in just behind the likes of Inter Counties champion Matthew Stonier of Invicta East Kent and St Mary's BUCS B champion Joe Wigfield.
Ollie Newman was the final BUAC athlete on the list of 20. A 12th place finish at the national accompanied fifth places at both the BUCS B race and the Rotselaar CrossCup, the latter representing the England team. The final effort of his cross season was a seventh at Inter Counties, running well and winning team gold alongside the aforementioned Keen.
Joe Hudson was listed as an honourable mention, just missing out on the list, but praised for his top 10 finish at the National.
On the women's side, Saskia Millard was the best-placed BUAC athlete, sitting in second behind St Mary's athlete Izzy Fry. The Herne Hill athlete had an unbeaten cross season at home, her outstanding eleventh place at the European U20s as part of British team gold the only time she failed to reach an individual podium. Taking victories in the Liverpool and Cardiff Cross Challenge races, and producing a strong 8:47 leg at the ECCA relays, the lack of a race after the new year could have been the only thing preventing the European 3000 fifth-placer from sitting at the top of the merit rankings.
Next athlete for BUAC was Amelia Quirk, in fourth place. Former number one from the 2019 merit rankings, and victor in both her 2020 cross races, becoming Southern and back-to-back English champion, the 2019 BUCS Cross silver medallist would undoubtedly have been higher if not for two DNFs, one at BUCS, and one at the Cardiff Cross Challenge.
In addition, due to a quirk (no pun intended) in the way age groups are calculated, the Bracknell athlete competed in either the U20 or U23/Senior categories depending on the race, placing 15th at European Cross in the higher age group, and 16th in the senior race at the Liverpool Cross Challenge. The final race to help her case was the ECCA Relays, an 8:41 for 2.5K the fastest on her leg.
Kate O'Neill was also inside the top ten for BUAC, placing ninth in large part due to the strength of her 2020 cross races.
Opening her season in the Midland League with a 1-2 finish behind Amelia, before the year was out the Havering athlete had placed tenth at the Liverpool Cross Challenge, and second at the Southern Inter-Counties race.
The impressive results were one thing that remained after 2019 morphed into 2020, and barely four days into January O'Neill was crowned the Essex XC champion, booking her ticket to Inter Counties two months later. Between the two races, she produced results in an England vest coming fourth at Elgoibar, a Havering vest winning a Southern silver, and a BUAC vest on the way to a BUCS bronze.
Seventh at the National followed those results, and O'Neill saved the best until last, coming home in third at the final Cross Challenge of the season in arguably her strongest result of the lot.
One place behind O'Neill in the rankings was an athlete with plenty of time left in the U20 age group, incoming fresher Charlotte Alexander.
Clubmate of Saskia at Herne Hill Harriers, Alexander was ranked tenth on the strength of a very short cross season of only three races. The 2019 English Schools' champion won a silver at the Cardiff Cross Challenge, a Surrey Schools' gold and a prestigious English Schools' bronze, to place her tenth.
Maisie Grice was the final BUAC athlete to make the list, placing seventeenth, and not for lack of races either.
Racing for Aldershot, Farnham and District, she opened up her season in November, at the ECCA relays. Producing a strong 8:46 for 2.5K on a competitive first leg, an impressive seventh followed at the Liverpool Cross Challenge at the end of the month. Grice rounded her 2019 off in style at the Southern Inter Counties, taking the gold ahead of Kate O'Neill.
The English U20 'chase champion followed up with an eleventh place at a Midland League fixture, and tenth at the Southern championships, before a stunning sixth place in the BUCS B race. A showing abroad at the Rotselaar CrossCup for the AFD team was the penultimate race of her season, before finishing up with an eleventh in the very strong field at the National.
Midlands U20 champion Lily Higgins was just short of making the rankings, 23rd in the BUCS B race and a 36th at the National her highlights.
2019 was a really exciting year for me. I was pleasantly surprised to finish the season ranked second on the AW XC rankings, especially as I had been unable to compete after Christmas due to injury. Liverpool was a real highlight, not only winning, but having all the support of my amazing BUAC family, and watching everyone else’s incredible performances. It was tough to stay motivated during lockdown, especially as I normally rely so much on being able to train with the great group in Birmingham. I found it helped getting into a routine, and my brother would occasionally cycle with me which was nice. The virtual 5k National Road Relays was a great idea, set up by our very own James McCrae, which also helped keep me motivated, and I was lucky enough to be part of the winning women’s team with my home club, Herne Hill. Saskia Millard
The U20 men's ranking can be found here.
The U20 women's ranking can be found here.
Virtual National Road Relays Results
After starting on the fourth, the VNRRCs (try saying that one quickly) reached their conclusion on the ninth, with over 3,800 virtual racers taking part.
Leading the BUAC contingent home was the bucket hat runner himself, associate member Mark Pearce. Placing eighteenth, he led home a stacked Shaftesbury Barnet Harriers team that had three athletes in the top 25 in a time of 14:18.
Next home was Tom Keen. Joint-fastest U20 athlete, he placed 36th in a time of 14:35, which was almost a minute faster than his official road best. Fourth U20 home was Tomer Tarragano, 44th overall and running 14:37, just a touch faster than his 14:41 parkrun that had him UK#5 U20 AT.
BUACers old and new came in joint 168th, with Callum O'Neill and Ed Blythman tied after both completing the distance in 15:16. The time was an unofficial PB for both, O'Neill edging out his 15:18 from April of 2019, and Blythman some 21 seconds faster than his 15:37 parkrun best.
Event organiser James McCrae resisted the temptation to bump himself up the results by means of artifice, placing 206th in a time of 15:24. Merely two seconds back were both Kristian Imroth & Ollie Newman in 15:26, but the gap was enough to drop them both down to joint 220th. Imroth was ninth scorer in a vastly talented Shaftesbury team that finished fifth, while such was the talent of Newman's Cambridge & Coleridge silver medal winning clubmates, that he was unable to make the team, as thirteenth-fastest in the club.
Between 16 and 17 minutes there was a slew of athletes, with Joe Connors and Matt Clutterbuck a second apart, 16:08 and 16:09, and the latter producing a time two seconds quicker than anything he had managed previously. Jacob Pickering ran well to produce a PB for Cheltenham & County Harriers in 16:17, while Welshman Morgan James came through in 16:28. Running for his new club Tipton, Noah Armitage-Hookes slinked under the 17-minute mark with 16:57.
The first woman home for the club was Saskia Millard, her 17:10 making her the first U20 woman home, and a key scorer for the Herne Hill ladies who went on to win team gold. Ollie Johnson was eight seconds back of Saskia, and his 17:18 placed him joint 998th, creeping inside the top thousand runners.
15-minute man Charlie Davis produced a 17:23 for the much maligned Blackheath and Bromley, electing to race up 141 metres of elevation across the 5K distance. Ben McIntyre scored for Swindon Harriers, his 17:39 a touch off his usual pace. Joining Saskia on the U20 women's podium was Maisie Grice, her 17:46 the third fastest in her cohort.
I was really pleased to place 17th on Athletics Weekly’s Junior Women XC rankings - I have never positioned on these before and this was a huge breakthrough for me this season! 2019-2020 was the best cross season I had ever had and it was exciting to be competing amongst top senior athletes. During Lockdown, I was actually even more motivated to train and enjoy the sport. Although disappointed with the lack of racing opportunities, lockdown was a brilliant opportunity to work on my weaknesses, build my endurance, and try different and new things. At home I’m really fortunate to have loads of great routes to run (especially living next to the beach), where I found loads of new places to train which I never would’ve established beforehand. I really enjoyed the virtual competitions too, where I competed in the Virtual National Road Relays 5K in April. It was really good just to have something to focus on during these unprecedented times! Maisie Grice
Full results can be found here.
Men's team (12 to score) results can be found here.
Women's team (12 to score) results can be found here.
Women's team (6 to score) results can be found here.
Without the ability to congregate in a large lecture theatre and cast our ballots on very small pieces of paper to elect the BUAC committee members of the future, the AGM was going to be an interesting prospect in 2020. Cometh the hour, cometh the man, and there was no man quite like Guy Perkins. The outgoing president produced an AGM for the ages, and here we have words from the man himself on what it took to put it all together, as well as looking back on his tenure and the importance of having a committee role.
Due to the national lockdown it meant we could not hold a real life AGM. UBSport suggested having written statements from each candidate and then a voting period to elect the next crop of the BUAC committee. I thought this was not fair nor sufficient for both the BUAC electorate or prospective committee members, so I came up with the idea of having each candidate send me a video.
Through some movie maker skills, I combined the videos together (along with the Cool Runnings Videos) to make one long video featuring all the candidates. Then voting was open for a week via a UBSport google form. I then wanted to live stream the AGM to make it feel a bit more real. This required some fiddling around with streaming software and Facebook live. Finally, I was in the lounge with two computers, my phone and laptop to do the live stream. My housemates were watching in the kitchen to let me know if anything went wrong.
The winning candidate of each committee position was announced, without requiring any recounts. I then conceded to George about 3 months later and the peaceful transition of power could take place.
I thoroughly enjoyed being on committee. I liked the responsibility that came with it, as I really wanted to work with Luke and the whole committee to help the club be the best it could be. The hardest thing about the role is the time and energy involved in fulfilling the responsibilities mentioned above, as well as trying not to feel overwhelmed when you have many tasks to do, course related pressures and a track session coming up in 30 minutes. I would advise the next person to not be afraid at passing things along.
What I would say for anyone going for it is do it. Go for it. Although it has been a lot of work, I have really enjoyed my tenure. It is a very rewarding role, as you would have contributed to people having a positive experience with BUAC. You will develop many skills, speak to people from all areas of the club and work with some really great people. You will also gain a real insight into how the club is run, it looks great on a CV (and LinkedIn) and who doesn’t want to post about spin every Sunday!
After the Virtual AGM, our new committee members were as follows:
President - George Loxton
Kit & PR - Luke Okosieme
Women's Welfare Officer - Holly Bankes
Men's Welfare Officer - Noah Armitage-Hookes
Women's XC Captain - Maddie Mastro
Men's XC Captain - Charlie Davis
Women's Track Captain - Maisie Grice
Men's Track Captain - Jamie Worman
Social Secretary (Endurance) - Abby Rex
Social Secretary (Power) - Jasmine Clark