Lee Valley played host to three different world record attempts in the same race last night, as a trio of British teams took on the 4×800 metre relay.

Held as a showpiece race in the middle of an open meeting, the race was a wonderful advert for masters athletics, and can be watched in full on YouTube here.

M55s steal Spanish standard

The M55 team, led out by Adrian Haines in 2:16, were targeting the youngest record in all senses, the mark of 9:00.85 only having been set by a Spanish quartet last March.

Haines hands over to Cowlishaw | Photo: James Davis

David Cowlishaw, an Altrincham athlete who boasts a senior PB of 1:53.78, put together a consistent leg of 2:16 to bring the team to half-distance.

2022 British M55 800 metres champion outdoors, Steve Atkinson, raced to the final baton change in a 2:12 split, over seven seconds faster than last summer’s gold medal-winning efforts.

Haines and Atkinson before the race | Photo: James Davis

A strong final leg from Rob McHarg, also in 2:12, ensured the first record of the evening was broken, as the Datchet Dashers man crossed the line in 8:57.37, revising the record books with a 2:14.3 average across the four legs.

All except Cowlishaw will face off this weekend at the BMAF British Indoor Championships in an event that features five of this indoor season’s top six M55s.

Speaking after the race, McHarg was delighted with the team performance. Having recently turned 59, and so in his last year as an M55, he relished the company of his three sprightly 55-year-old teammates.

He said: “I’m relieved that we managed to break the record. It was touch and go there for a while, but as a team we brought it all together.”

Teammate Cowlishaw was pleased that the quartet’s preparation had paid off: “We all had to get here fit and healthy, and no disaster to happen, not dropping the baton, not having an injury. So, it takes a lot for it to come together.”

McHarg agreed: “At our age, the biggest achievement is getting on the line uninjured.”

M60s reduce record remarkably

Next team across the line were the M60s, all of whom are due to face off at the BMAF British Indoor Championships this weekend.

Making up four of the top five in their age group prior to the race, the quartet were well fancied to improve on the world record 9:50.90, set by an American side in 2018.

Chris Ireland got the squad off to a strong start, working hard with his powerful stride to keep the M55 team in sight, before handing over to Russell Parkin for a characteristically high cadence leg.

Parkin waits for the baton | Photo: James Davis

Colin Ridley worked hard at the shorter end of his range to keep the momentum through the third leg, before handing off to Jed Turner for a 2:22 outing, close to his British leading 2:21.42.

With a time of 9:31.19, the British team took over 19 seconds off of their American counterparts, the biggest margin of the three teams.

Ridley tackles the Lee Valley banking | Photo: James Davis

M70s bring record across the pond

The eldest group to each tackle four laps were the M70s, looking to take down another American mark, set at 10:57.99 in early 2020.

John Skelton led off for the septuagenarian squad, his 2:42 putting them more than two seconds ahead of world record pace with one leg gone.

Jackson prepares for his leg | Photo: James Davis

He handed over to BMAF Chairman Peter Kennedy, who put in a solid outing with the baton before the tail end of the relay brought real star quality in the form of Midland Masters teammates Derek Jackson, holder of three British M70 records, and David Oxland, owner of another four.

Defending M70 800 metre champion indoor and out, BMAF Vice Chairman Oxland brought the side home in 10:46.37, improving the world record by over 11 seconds.

Oxland recovers after his anchor leg performance | Photo: James Davis

Jackson echoed the sentiments of the M55 team in the difficulty of assembling a relay squad, but was glad to have broken the record.

He said: “We did what we came to do. The challenge, I think, here, is to get four reasonably fit 70-year-olds at the same place at the same time, and that’s quite a challenge.”

Jackson during warm-up | Photo: James Davis

All except Jackson will compete again this weekend at the BMAF British Indoor Championships, a match-up that Kennedy is looking forward to.

He said: “[I was] driving up here for an hour longer than I wanted, and the warm-up was therefore shortened, but that didn’t affect the run. I was a steady pace, and I even mentally slowed down a bit to the finish to make sure I did the handover, so I’m good for Saturday.

“What’s better is that the other two there are not quite in good enough shape, so it’ll be a real battle on Saturday between the three of us. Dave Oxland is warning me he’s going to sit on my shoulder, which is what he did ten years ago, every single time, and beat me every time, but this time he may not find it so easy.”

Kennedy before his outing | Photo: James Davis

The BMAF British Indoor Championships will take place on February 18-19th at the EIS, Sheffield. Follow all the action on OpenTrack.

By James Davis

James is Track & Field Communications lead for BMAF, as well as an athletics official, event organiser, and sports journalist.