relay :: Peter Palmers

This weekend saw the thirteenth Peter Palmer relay,the (almost!) annual junior relay with echoes of the great Scandinavian Tio Mila and Jukola relays. 34 teams took part this year with the competition returning to it's spiritual home of Sutton Park in north Birmingham and experienced some wonderful high speed racing from the dark hours of dawn until the foggy morning arrived. Two junior elite runners, Tess Hill and Ian Embrey planned some exciting head to head courses and the winner remained a mystery until almost the end of the last leg. City of Birmingham Orienteering Club were the very capable organisers, with a little help from their local friends.

First back off the first leg (a red course) in the light of the full moon was Alex Bedwell of Manchester and District, who took away the huge lead gained by the spectator control of Dan Hartmann. None of the top first legs had a clean run, but Dan missed quite badly shortly after the spectator and again at the penultimate two controls. Bedders said he had a good race, not getting in the lead until right at the end, where he broke away from a pack of four runners in an impressive sprint finish. He also said there didn't appear to be much gaffling as everyone was so close, but on comparing maps at the end it appeared there had been more than anyone realised at the time. Just behind Alex on first leg was Adam Bushnell of Staffordshire Club Walton Chasers, with Dan Hartmann of locals Harlequins only a few seconds further behind after recovering from his errors.

There was a bit of a shake up on the second red leg before the spectator control, when Rob Farrington of Harlequins pulled them up to first, closely trailed by a very strong looking Jo Halliday of locals Octavian Droobers. Despite being sick shortly after the spectator control, Jo kept running steadily, but then both her and Rob made an error by over complicating an easy path leg near the end, allowing Chris Smithard of North West club Deeside to take a commanding lead, with what I think was the fastest time on leg 2.

By now the dawn was starting to show as the runners started the third leg, a very tricky light green course which caught many out in the early stages. George Stevens of AIRE ran a very solid race, pulling Yorkshire club Airienteers into second place, four and a half minutes down on Tom Beasant, the runner from Deeside. Harlequins continued to ride high, with relatively inexperienced runner Simon O Meara bringing them into third place.

As the morning brightened the mist got heavier, leaving a spooky looking arena waiting for the arrival of the orange leg runners. Zoe Smithard of Deeside maintained their pole position, but Robert Kelly of Airienteers decreased their lead to only a minute after an almost flawless run. The competition looked like turning into a two horse race for the gold medal, but with a large pack chasing bronze consisting of Lizzie White of Harlequins in third, and runners from Octavian Droobers, Eryri of Wales, South West club SARuM and Nottinghamshire all within a minute, the excitement was mounting as the fourth leg runners handed over to their yellow runners.

It was on leg five that Airienteers began to show their true class, with a superbly confident run from W14 Florence Haines putting them five and a half minutes in the lead at the end of leg five. A huge chasing pack then finished, with Heather Hartmann bringing
Harlequins back up to second position, and Gareth Haskins of SARUM giving them a chance of a medal for the first time today. Eryri, Deeside and Octavian Droobers were breathing closely down their necks, with NOttingshire just a little off the back.

So it was all to play for on last leg, and a mark of excellent planning and high class of athletes that the final leg was such a wonderful race. Jack Wood held it together wonderfully for Airienteers, bringing an ecstatic team in four and a half minutes ahead of second place. Behind him at the spectator control, Dave Schorah of Deeside was neck and neck with Matt Halliday of Octavian Droobers. Unbeknown to Dave, his first yellow runner had mispunched, meaning his team time was taken from the finishing position of his second yellow runner, who finished 17 seconds later. He therefore had to finish 17 seconds ahead of Matt to take second place. Luckily for him this wasn't an issue, as M16 Matt faded after the spectator, having valiantly kept up with Dave, one of Great Britain's top M18s for the last few legs. Dave and Deeside took second for the third year running, with Matt bringing Octavian Droobers into third as first handicap team. Speaking to Dave after his run, he said he was a bit hesitant all the way round, but then lost five minutes due to misunderstanding a control description before the spectator. It was here that Chris Embrey of Harlequins and Matt caught him. He then had to "nail it" to the finish, which showed in him catching 90 seconds on Jack in the last 1.6km. He was a little annoyed at Deeside's hat trick of second places in his last eligible year for Peter Palmers, but added that this was better than no podium at all. Matt said he didn't see Dave much at all as he had a different gaffle from number one, until he caught him during Dave's five minute error. By the spectator he was really tired and found keeping up difficult on the last loop. He was very pleased with the final result, a personal best for Octavian Droobers in recent history.

The race was still exciting behind the top three, with M16 Peter Hodkinson of Nottinghamshire gaining time on sole girl in the leading pack Anwen Darlington, W16 of Eryri, almost catching her by the spectator. A fantastic run from Anwen meant she eventually finished a minute down on Peter, bringing Eryri into fifth place as first small clubs team. Anwen remarked afterwards that she had a perfect race - she lost the guys early on but kept her head and caught them again when they made errors. She got it right and the female dominated Eryri team were ecstatic to win the small clubs trophy.

Airienteers gave a few comments once they were announced as winners. Alistair Everett, an M18 school's orienteer had a solid first leg, bringing Aire in 11th at the back of the leading pack. "It was dark, I went fairly well until the spectator then made a mistake at 12-13, I was pleased with my run. W18 Start Squad member Victoria Stevens on leg 2 was "Quite good, I was racing Becky (Hoare) and two others, the mist made it quite difficult to see but I was pleased, with only a couple of small errors and poor route choices. Her brother George, M16, took over, and after a season of injury had a great run "It was nice, I had a pretty good race." Robert Kelly, M14 on fourth leg who brought the team into real contention said "I was good apart from number one, the paths were confusing even on an orange." Star of the day Florence Haines was reluctant to comment, suddenly finding some nerves! "I had a good run and was really pleased to bring us back first." Finally, anchorman Jack, Start Squad M18 says "I played it quite safely, and was really pleased with the team performance as a whole."

A very tired Tess Hill was very happy with the way the event had gone, and despite only having two hours sleep the event had gone almost without hitch. Congratulations to all the teams that took part, and a huge thank you to everyone involved in organising. Bring on next year!

Peter Palmer Trophy
1. Airienteers
2. Deeside
3. Octavian Droobers
4. Nottinghamshire
5. Eryri

Norwich Trophy (Small Clubs)
1. Eryri
2 Sarum
3. Pendle Forest Orienteers

Joan George trophy (Combined BOF age less than 90)
1. Octavian Droobers
2. Nottinghamshire
3. Manchester and District

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