A relay race over 24 miles normally doesn’t usually have a tight finish but those who bothered to get out of bed first thing Sunday morning certainly enjoyed one of those.
It was cut and thrust all the way as the teams set off from Gun Bay, East End at 6am. Over 200 runners entered in teams of six, each person running four miles to the finish at George Hicks Playing Field.
The two expected principals lived up to expectations with UBS taking an early lead over Beauty and the Beast before being overhauled. At one point Beauty and the Beast were almost five minutes ahead but a typical speedy run by Scott Brittain for UBS on the fifth leg cut that to 18 seconds as he handed over to Tom Stephens at the final baton exchange at the start of South Sound, near Grand Harbour. Brittain ran his leg in 21 mins 32 secs, an average of 5 mins 23 secs per mile.
Beth Schreader had just received from JP Hanekom and she sped off hoping to preserve the short lead. She had beaten Stephens before in road races.
But it wasn’t to be. He passed her near the rugby club and maintained his pace to finish over a minute ahead. The UBS team consisted of Samuel Muchingi, Neal Coleman, Simon Phillips, Jason Windsor, Brittain and Stephens. They came in after 2 hours 29 minutes and 23 seconds. Beauty and the Beast finished in 2hrs 30mins and 30secs. Hy-Tech Plus Three, coached by Kenrick Williams, were third in 2hrs 42mins 26secs.
Schreader and her team-mates Mike McDonald, TJ Oliver, Marius Acker, Russ Coleman and Hanekom ran a great race but Brittain’s phenomenal run made the difference.
A relieved Stephens panted: ‘I wasn’t really sure I would catch Beth, I was pretty nervous. She’s beaten me before and I’ve beaten her too so I had no real idea. When I overtook her weird things were going through my head. I tried to just forget about her and hold my own pace and concentrate on my own race. I didn’t look behind once, I was too scared.’
Stephens admitted he was the team’s slowest and as the fifth leg is considered slightly longer insisted Brittain ran it. ‘Scotty was amazing,’ Stephens added. ‘Without him we were shot. We wouldn’t have had a chance in hell. If we all stay around we should win it again next year. That’s if Beauty and the Beast are not too strong. They won it last year and hoped for a repeat but their star runner Dave Walker was off island. That could have tipped the balance in their favour.’
Schreader admitted: ‘I didn’t really think my lead was enough because I’ve run against Tom quite a bit and I know that on short distances he usually has me. I’ve beaten him a couple of times but there’s been extenuating circumstances.’
So where does her team get their name from? ‘Well isn’t that obvious?’ she laughed. ‘Guess who the beauty is? There’s five guys and me!’
Acker was philosophical. ‘I’m happy, everybody gave their best and it was a competitive race,’ he said. ‘Last year we won by 10 minutes, this year we lost by only 67 seconds. UBS were winning after the first and second legs and then on the third leg Russell took the lead and on the fourth leg I increased the lead and on the fifth leg Scott made up about four and a half minutes on our guy. So when Beth started she was marginally ahead and they won a good race. We’re the first mixed team. They don’t have a girl on theirs so we’ve got a morale victory there.’
The Beasts are real sports fanatics. McDonald insisted on running the second leg so that he could play roller hockey immediately after, Stephens sandwiched his run between 20/20 cricket matches and Acker went swimming that afternoon.