HAVING qualified for the National Road Relays Championships for the first time this century, the Bury AC senior men’s team made the journey to Sutton Park in Birmingham to compete in the event last Saturday.

The venue has witnessed performances by some of the best British distance runners in the history of the sport and the Bury athletes were under no illusions about the quality of the opposition they would be facing.

Sadly the team was missing some of the strongest members with Oliver Makinson, Marcus Dey, Jim Ardin and Dave Cullen unavailable for selection.

Ben Coop led off on the first stage and despite being hampered by a niggling injury, he covered the 5.9k course in an impressive 19mins 33secs to hand over to Luke Harreld in 69th position.

Harreld ran strongly to move the team up two places to 67th with a stage time of 20:18.

Men’s team captain Byron Edwards took the third stage, covering it in 20:42 but having to concede a place despite enjoying the form of his life.

Ever-improving youngster Josh Birmingham took the fourth stage and his 20:26 effort saw him claw back one place.

Newcomer Jon Evans ran the penultimate stage, clocking a solid 20:44 and moving the team up to 66th before Paul Johnston ran the final stage, recording 22:21 and having to concede two places to see Bury finish in 68th place.

While Bury may not have been challenging for medals, the experience has been a positive one for the team and as the squad continues to develop under the watchful eye of endurance coach Dave Cole, the performance sets a benchmark for future years.

Coop and Harreld had a busy weekend as both competed in the Rochdale Half Marathon the following day.

Coop defended his title, winning the race in 1:13:25 with Harreld fifth in 1:17:38.

Other Bury finishers included Colin Smith (1:43:08), Irfan Qureshi (1:45.:02), Andy Sayers (1:55:05) and Melissa Thompson (2:02:25).

Next week sees the start of the cross-country season with the first of the four Red Rose Cross Country League fixtures at Leigh Sports Village.

Bury has 96 athletes entered across the age groups from under-11s to senior athletes.