A small but merry (and very enthusiastic and talented!) squad of NSP young athletes travelled to Sutton Park, Sutton Coldfield to compete at the ERRA National Road Relay Championships on October 6th.

The plan was to swamp Sutton Park with numerous teams throughout the age groups and show the rest of the country what a force we now are. However, the Championship clashed with the Druridge Bay Harrier League so it was decided to take two teams only, our Under 15 boys and Under 15 girls. As it happened, the Harrier League was postponed but by the time this happened it was too late to change arrangements.

Three weeks prior, at the North of England Road Relay Championships at Manchester, the teams finished a magnificent 2nd in the U15 boy’s Championships (Zak Old, Oliver Douglass and Josh Blevins) with the U15 girls also finishing on the podium in 3rd place with Ellie Van Der Merwe, Katie Joslyn and Holly Waugh. It was only right that we gave these amazing athletes the chance to go up against the best in the Country a few weeks later.

So off we went, a squad of thirteen – six athletes, together with six accompanying parents and one very nervous coach (!).


Athletes and support team relax the night before the Championships

Two years ago, as Under 13s, the boys finished 29th and the girls finished 39th. It was a tough day but the athletes gained valuable experience and huge thanks must go to Vaughan Hemy who pushed for young athletes teams at those Championships. They gained valuable experience, they knew how things worked, they knew the level of competition that was facing them and they knew what they had to do. Expectations and predictions beforehand were varied from the support team but the general consensus was that if we could get both of our teams in the top 10 that would be a massive achievement. A huge improvement from 2017, could we really progress that much??

First of was the U15 boys Championships which would be over 3 x 3.9km. The running order of our lads was changed from the Northern Championships. Leading off was our English Schools 1500m Champion and England International Josh Blevins. At Manchester Josh ran the anchor leg and was chasing athletes down, this time we decided it would be a good idea to get as far up the field as possible and as early as possible by having Josh as lead off runner, then try to stay there!

A lot has been said about Josh, how talented he is and how successful he has been this year. However, we must never forget that he is still only 15 years old, he still gets incredibly nervous before big races and it would be unwise to put any pressure on his shoulders. Looking calm and relaxed, starting sensibly and controlling the 1st leg Josh, came home in 1st place to hand over to Zak Old with a 2 second lead.

Zak is more known for his track exploits, having ran 2.02 for 800m at 14 years old and finishing 5th at the English Schools Athletics Championships, also over 800m. His strength is improving all of the time and he hung on valiantly to keep us in with a shout of a medal. We were hoping for a top 10 spot but when Zak came home in 4th place, could we dare to dream of a medal??

Zak Old in 4th place going into the final leg

Oliver Douglass ran the anchor leg and despite some confusion at the handover (which the organisers and Officials later took full responsibility for), Oliver not only consolidated the top 10 position but pushed the team into the bronze medal place. Oliver does not often get the praise he deserves – such is the strength of our squad at the moment his performances can sometimes go under the radar. However, this run, plus his Northern performance as well, was instrumental in helping us achieve medals.

National bronze for the lads. L-R Josh Blevins, Zak Old, Oliver Douglass

Possibly one of the most memorable sights of the weekend was James Blevins getting all over the course enthusiastically encouraging athletes while trying to keep other parents updated by text at the same time, think Benny Hill and John Cleese……it was great to see the passion.

There was double celebration at the presentation when it was announced that the fastest time of the day went to Josh. An individual gold medal and a team bronze at a National Championships…….not a bad day’s work.

Josh Blevins achieved the fastest time of the day

The U15 girls have been the surprise package this season. On top of the amazing bronze medal performance at the Northerns at Manchester, they dominated the first North East Harrier League at Wrekenton, as well as having 3 runners in the top 10 in the Junior Great North Run in September. They are a tight knit team and work very well together. As much as this race was still about experience, it would be interesting to see how they fared against England’s best.

Also over 3 x 3.9km, Ellie Van Der Merwe led the team off. Ellie is sometimes better known for her triathlon exploits, where she is one of the most promising competitors in the UK. What people may not realise though is what a fine runner she is!! On an intense, very competitive 1st leg, Ellie held her own and battled to a stunning 6th place. We stood there shocked (in a good way) as Ellie battled against some of the best and never gave an inch. Small in stature but the heart the size of a lion, it was a brilliant run.

 Ellie Van Der Merwe brings the team home in 6th after the first leg

Ellie handed over to Katie Joslyn who gave everything to consolidate the team’s position in the top 10. Katie was the youngest in the team, still being a bottom year in the U15 age group. To be honest, she would have been one of the youngest in the entire Championship! This did not intimidate her though as she battled hard against the best. It seems like Katie is a stalwart of NSP, having been a member for 4 years despite being only 13. She hung in well and set up everything for the last leg, finishing in 12th place.

It was up to Holly Waugh to see how close to the top 10 the girls could finish. Those that know Holly will know how tough and determined she is. Not only did she break into the top 10 but she brought the team home in 7th place. Amazingly the team finished just 90s or so from the medal positions.

Spirits were high after the two Championship races. Watching the young athletes congratulate each other, receive their medals, mix with other rivals from different clubs around the country and make new friends, laugh, joke and be happy confirmed to me why I do this coaching thing. Hard work, commitment and discipline are rewarded with success and it was incredibly heartwarming to see our NSP athletes amongst the best in England and feeling great about themselves. What more could we want as a squad and as a club.

Proud to be part of it. L-R: Ellie, Holly, Katie, Zak, Oliver, Josh and coach Lee Morgan

Huge thanks must go to the support team (Gary, Bev, Stacey, James, Jason and Alan) who’s encouragement and words of advice were invaluable. As we all know, it’s not just about the races, it’s about the preparation – keeping the athletes calm and composed, making sure they had everything, making sure they warmed up properly etc. It was a team effort and these Championships showed what can happen when everyone works well together.

It wasn’t just about the two teams on the day though, every athlete in the group who has played their part in this success must be congratulated. Also, a massive thanks for the continued support of Charlotte Penfold who is getting more and more involved with the development of these athletes and even at this early stage the results are showing.

Get in there!!

Up the Poly

Lee Morgan