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Virtual National Road Relay winners 2020

The 'peoples relay' is won by Leeds City and Herne Hill Harriers

During this third week of Coronavirus lockdown, the first ever 'Virtual' National Road Relay Championships (VNRRC) has proved a surprisingly compelling distraction.

The England Road Running Association (ERRA) national relays were scheduled for Sutton Park, Birmingham on Saturday (4 April) but the global pandemic put paid to that and the regional qualifying relays, where only the top teams progress to the prestigious national final.

Last year, 64 men's teams of 12 finished and the champions were Leeds City. In the women's six-stage event, Leeds City achieved the first club double in the event's history, as 48 teams finished intact. It does not take much mathematical skill to calculate the usual number of competitors: just over 1,000 including some incomplete teams.

This year's VNRRC replacement had to close to entries 12 hours earlier than advertised after 5,335 competitors all but overwhelmed the free to enter system that had been hastily built. For the first time, every club in Britain could 'run' the National Road Relay. Teams included athletes living thousands of miles and several time zones apart. Organiser-in-chief, James McCrae, had expected just a few hundred entries from competition starved elite athletes!

There were clear instructions regarding the rules to ensure no breach of social-distancing requirements and some adjustments to the usual format, including extending the women's relay to 12 stages and equalising the distance for both genders – perhaps a blueprint for the future in the real world?

Early leaders in the men's relay were the 2018 champions Tonbridge AC, but the lead changed hands as faster runners from other clubs began to declare their 5K splits. Finally, class told as trophy holders Leeds City 'retained' their title in 2:57:08. Also averaging better than 15:00-per-5K leg were Cambridge & Coleridge (2:57:44), Tonbridge (2:58:35), Bedford & County (2:58:45) and Shaftesbury Barnet Harriers (2:58:45).

The women's 12-stage relay went to Herne Hill Harriers (3:37:09) by the large margin of 10:05 over Thames Hare & Hounds. Also averaging around 19:00 per leg were the double 'bronze medallists' Tonbridge (3:48:06). The more traditional six-stage winners were Herne Hill Harriers (1:43:20) from Leeds City (1:44:27) and City of Norwich (1:44:43).

The 'virtual' event included fastest overall individuals and top age-graded team performances (men and women combined – another first) and there is a wealth of stats for aficionados to pour over, including every individual Strava/Garmin segment, at Opentrack VNRR results here The fastest 5K split times recorded were 13:38 by Grant Sheldon (Cambuslang) and 16:19 by Lucy Reid (Tonbridge).

The event had raised more than £7,000 for NHS Charities Together as at 23:59 on 9 April 2020. You can make a donation to the event charity at JustGiving here

Take a bow James McCrae, of Hallamshire Harriers, and the folk at Opentrack, for keeping club athletes actively engaged and all of us so well informed and entertained during these dark days.

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