Although there were a couple of late defections through illness, 115 teams from 23 schools competed at this year's annual Round the Lake Relays in Whanganui on Monday.
460 athletes ran around Virginia Lake with national class cyclist Kyle Hoskin leading each of the relay legs, completing over 32km on what was probably the coldest day in the 41-year history of the event.
Our numbers were just 12 teams less than last year. Sadly, the largest drop in numbers were from secondary schools in the Whanganui region with only hosts Whanganui Collegiate (four school teams and 24 teams from Houses) and Whanganui Girls College with one team. This was compensated for by large entries from Wellington and Taranaki.
Thankfully the rain that led to the postponement of the Airport Runway mile on Sunday and that was still with us as we set up in the morning stopped half an hour before the first race. There was even a hint of sunshine before the final race. It remained bitterly cold throughout which was certainly felt more by the officials and spectators than by the competitors.
Wellington Colleges had a successful afternoon. Wellington East Girls took three titles.
The Senior and Junior A and the Junior B competed for by Colleges' second teams. Wellington College have had an outstanding record through the history of the relays, recording more wins than any other school.
On Monday they won the Junior A and Junior B but had to settle for second behind St Patrick's Silverstream in the Year 9 race and to hosts Whanganui Collegiate in the Senior Boys race.
There was local success in the Intermediate Schools grade with Whanganui Intermediate winning the girls (Carrie Rennie, Hazel Bullot, Hanna Marshall-Ponga and Teresa Rennie) and St George's School in the boys (Oliver Jones, Theo Tripe, Samuel Hermann and Nehemiah Suia).
This was St George's first win in the boys. Huntley School were second in the boys with Westmere School taking third while in the girls St Georges were second and Huntley School third.
Whanganui Collegiate retained the Senior Boys title with the fastest time since the new course was introduced five years ago.
Andres Hernandez, who captained the New Zealand Schools Team in Australia last month, gave the team the perfect start winning the Bates Watchmaker watch for the fastest first lap in the Junior A/Senior boys race.
Hernandez has had health issues in the middle part of the season that kept him out of the Athletics New Zealand Championships at the start of August and this performance should boost his confidence for the New Zealand Road Race Championships in Auckland at the weekend.
Fellow New Zealand School representative George Lambert held that lead with Zach Bellamy increasing the advantage over the third leg. He handed over to New Zealand Schools Champion Liam Back to run the anchor leg. The Collegiate winning margin was the largest of the day (1 minute 59 seconds).
Emma Douglass (Wellington Girls College) took the Bates Watchmaker fastest girl watch in the senior girls race after a tight struggle. Douglass' team went on to take second in the Senior Girls division behind the strong Wellington East's winning Senior and Junior A teams in the combined Senior/Junior A Race.
Other Whanganui podium successes not mentioned earlier in this article came from the Whanganui Collegiate School in the Junior Girls second and third in the Senior Girls. The Harvey House team took third in the Junior B Girls grade. In the Junior Boys the Whanganui Collegiate Junior A team finished third.
The placement of the event in September straight after Tournament Week does make for logistic problems for secondary schools and the clash with the AIMS Games in Tauranga meant some intermediate schools are unable to compete.
Calendar placement is never easy, and a poll taken from schools had a number of alternatives suggested.
The consensus was however for the retention of the September date. Even the cold weather did not deter the enthusiasm of the runners, the crowded prizegiving and afternoon tea and the cheerful faces of the large numbers many of whom travelled some distance to compete makes all the work worthwhile and confirms the special nature of the event.
We look forward to the 42nd Round the Lake Relay next year in hopefully warmer weather.
I also hope for a larger local secondary school entry to share in an event that has brought so many to the city over the past 41 years.