A SEXTET of Bury AC athletes set off for Sutton Park on Sunday to represent the club at the National Road Relay Championships.

Bury qualified at the Northern Championships and would meet the other country’s leading clubs from the South, East, West and Wales in a real test of fitness against Britain’s elite road competitors. 

Sutton Park is an iconic race venue and its history is a veritable who’s who of British distance runners.

The venue and the course remain the same year on year, so the Bury runners would be following in many famous footsteps.

A glance down the list of the previous fastest leg runners reveals two world-record holders and five London Marathon winners, such is the quality of the opposition.

The course is a challenging four-mile loop around the beautiful 2,400-acre Sutton Park with several strength-sapping hills and fast, flat sections around the lakes.

Undaunted Ben Coop was the lead-off runner for Bury in a field of 79 clubs.

With the quality of the field, the early pace was fast and unrelenting.

It is impossible not to be carried along with this and Coop equipped himself well, handing over in 32nd place to Josh Birmingham having covered the distance in 18mins 17secs.

Birmingham is in a fine vein of form and he demonstrated this as he battled valiantly against the quality on his leg to record a time of 19:06 and only conceded one place.

Luke Harreld set off next with a stack of runners breathing down his neck.

Again, he fought tooth and nail and his 20:13 was a good run, but the hills took their toll and the group behind worked past him.

Club captain Byron Edwards, with the recent Berlin marathon still making his legs heavy, set off in 48th on the fourth leg and recorded a creditable 19:57 to hand over to Jack Griffiths in 51st place.

Griffiths was happy to duck under 22 minutes by 11 seconds on a tough course, completing a well-judged leg.

Paul Johnston took the glory leg and again kept 22 minutes off the time sheet by one second. He ensured Bury finished in the top three-quarters of the field, coming in 57th but ahead of 22 of the country's best distance running clubs.

The team representing Bury at national level could leave Birmingham with heads held high. Their collective time was nearly three minutes faster than the club’s 2018 result and they were 12 places further up the field.

The local club’s involvement did not stop there, either, as Bury were also fielded four officials – one on the management committee, one in charge of results and two race officials – plus two loyal spectators; a very good all-round team effort.

This week the cross-country season gets under way with the first of the four Red Rose Cross Country League fixtures at Leigh Sports Village.