As he powered up a hill midway into the eighth and final 11.59km lap of Saturday's New Zealand Road Relay Championships, Phil Costley peered into the distance at a spot on the rolling country roads of Upper Moutere.
Costley, the 42-year-old Athletics Nelson competitor who owns 31 New Zealand titles, had started 2 minutes 40 seconds behind in the masters men's race. Though the gap seemed insurmountable, Costley continued his pursuit of the runaway Wellington Scottish runner and not just for himself.
“There were seven other guys who had busted their guts to get me that close, and I didn't want to let them down,” Costley said.
The chase continued, and the spot on the horizon grew bigger and bigger until Costley drew even with Scottish's Todd Stevens as they approached the entrance gate of the Moutere Hills Community Centre. Costley swept past on the grassy homestretch and held on to win by 15 metres.
He completed the dramatic comeback with the team's winning time of 4 hours 17 minutes 3 seconds. Their first lead did not come until the final 200m.
John Kennedy, Ian Thomas, Jon Linyard, Stu Cottam, Graeme Taylor, Neil Whittaker and Peter Versey held positions from second to fourth on laps that ranged from 6.51km to 9.29km. Nelson were third on the final exchange to Costley, who quickly moved into second but was never running for second.
“I went out like a bull out of a gate and made up time on the first hill," Costley said. “The course was so hilly and winding that I couldn't see the leader until about halfway through my lap.”
Although he closed, Costley had his doubts.
“The closer I got, the more I kept thinking, ‘I'm not gonna do it, I'm not gonna do it'," Costley said. “But my leg speed was allowing me to gain on the downhills.
“With 600m to go [Stevens] started to struggle and he looked back kind of tentatively.”
Costley knew he had him - and a national title with a special meaning.
“Winning another national title doesn't mean that much to me," Costley said. “But for these guys, it might be the only national title they will ever win.”
Athletics Nelson also came from behind to win the first-ever men's 60 and over race, and Ian Morrison became the first New Zealand Road Relays race organiser to win a gold medal in his event.
The race lead was traded back and forth on the five-lap, 39.49km course with Nelson's Chris Bolter, Barry Dewar, Derek Shaw and Hugh Neill putting Nelson in second place and leaving Morrison a minute deficit to Wellington Scottish.
Morrison, who won several national titles on Nelson's 50s teams, reeled in the Scottish runner and extended his team's winning margin to 1min 24sec on his 6.2km leg with a final team time of 2:51.11.
The key, said Morrison, is to “run your own race, settle into a rhythm, and hope like hell the guy comes back to you”.
The joy for Nelson's 40s and 60s teams was contrasted by the heartbreak of their 50s team. The team of Ian Courtenay, Tim Cross, Greg Lautenslager, Bill Revell, Patrick Meffan, Murray Hart and Dave Dixon mounted an eight-minute lead over the heavily favoured defending champion Auckland University for anchorman Cliff Bowman. The finish looked to be a crowning moment for Bowman, who captured New Zealand 50s titles in cross-country in August and road race last month, and he ran brilliantly for the first 6km. But suddenly, Bowman felt a pull in his glutes and stopped.
“I could have jogged to the finish line and still won, but I couldn't even walk," Bowman said.
While team-mates helped Bowman to the team van, Meffan took over and ran for the finish line. Under the rules, a team-mate who already has run a lap can complete the final lap of a fallen runner. But the team accrues a seven-minute penalty.
Nelson lost a minute in attending to Bowman and setting off Meffan, who had arrived home from London on Friday and had run the 9.12km fifth leg.
Meffan crossed the finish line in 4:44.49, almost four minutes ahead of Auckland University's Gavin Stevens. But the penalty dropped Nelson to third place. Lake City finished second in 4:50.26.
Athletics Nelson finished second in the overall club competition, with teams combining their top three finishes for the lowest score. Scottish, which won the senior men's title and the masters women's title, defeated Nelson by one point.
Nelson's senior women's team of Klaartje Van Schie, Elina Ussher, Sara Dietz, Mandy Russ, Britta Martin, Fleur Lattimore, Chelsea Beaton and Paula Canning contended for the lead halfway into their race before finishing fourth in 4:50.05. Hamilton Hawks, trailing Nelson on the seventh leg, rallied to win in 4:41.05.
Nelson's defending champion junior women's team of Brittany Stewart, Jess Martin, Claire Erasmus, Sami Jordan and Michelle Schurmann claimed the bronze medal in 3:01.41 in the 39.49km race won by Auckland City in 2:41.30.
Nelson junior men's team of Mike Lowe, Allister Meffan, Josh Barry, Thomas Andersen and Cam Murdoch finished sixth in 2:21.12. Wellington Harriers won in 2:13.50.
Nelson's TBW team of Wendy Healey, Peter Hague, Ross Mitchell and Roger Denton won the racewalking event, and New Brighton Olympic won the composite social grade.
- © Fairfax NZ News