Morpeth Harriers pulled off two sensational record-breaking team victories at the annual Elswick Harriers Good Friday Road Races, at Newburn Business Park, writes George Patterson.
Runners were blessed with virtually ideal conditions for the event, with fairly warm sunshine and very little wind to hinder the more speedy protagonists.
Most speedy of all were the squads of Senior and Veteran Men of Morpeth Harriers, who both clinched victories in their four-stage relays, and both breaking current course records and, in the case of the former, retaining the winner’s title for the fourth consecutive year.
Added to that, the club’s Senior Women finished second in their three-stage contest and their Veteran Women finished 13th in a total finishing field of 21 clubs.
Morpeth Harriers Senior Men won with 22 seconds to spare over Gateshead Harriers, with Sunderland Harriers a further 1min41secs adrift in third place.
Ryan Stephenson, still in the early stages of his competitive comeback from injury had the squad well placed in fourth on the first leg, with his clocking of 10m43s, one of the day’s 10 fastest times.
On the second leg, Nathan Shrubb took them up to second place with his clocking of 10m28s, a time which was eventually to emerge as the third fastest of the day.
Morpeth’s third-leg runner Matthew Nicholson commenced his challenge for victory only one second adrift of marginal leaders Gateshead.
Clocking what became the day’s second fastest time of 10m25s, Nicholson had no trouble in overhauling Gateshead’s Conrad Franks and, by the time he reached the changeover point to hand over to final-leg runner Lewis Timmins, he had established a lead of 32 seconds.
Despite Gateshead’s final-leg runner Chris Parr clocking the day’s fastest time of 10m19s, it still was not enough to break down Timmins’ lead, as he had clocked a fourth-equal 10m29s.
The combined efforts of Stephenson, Shrubb, Nicholson and Timmins created a new course record for Morpeth Harriers, taking around 50 seconds off their previously-set record.
Another course record victory came for Morpeth Harriers Veteran Men’s squad, who won with 1min28secs to spare over Tyne Bridge, with Sunderland Harriers a further nine seconds adrift in third place.
Morpeth Harriers Veteran Men led throughout their four-stage contest and their victory was firmly confirmed by John Butters on the final leg, where he clocked 10m59s, easily the fastest Veteran Men’s time of the day of 10m59s, 13 seconds ahead of Sunderland Harrier Brian Rushworth.
Butters was well supported in the victory by Phil Walker (11m19s), Fergus Bates (11m17s) and Mick Thomsen (11m52s).
Morpeth Harriers further confirmed their superiority in the Senior Men’s contest when their B and C-teams finished seventh and 11th respectively.
The B-team were second B-team to finish, as was their C-team, in both cases finishing behind the respective Gateshead Harriers squads.
Competing for the Morpeth Harriers B-team were Elliot Kelly (11m14s), Michael Dawson (11m31s), Carl Avery (10m50s) and Thomas Straughan (11m19s).
Adam Weightman (11m36s), Sam Hancox (11m29s), Ian Harding (10m47s) and Mark Snowball (12m43s) competed for the Morpeth Harriers C-team.
The Morpeth Harriers Veteran Men’s B-team finished 15th, and were third declared B-team, thanks to the efforts of Tony Lewis (12m10s), Paul Waterston (12m25s), Archie Jenkins (14m56s) and Rob Hancox (12m28s).
Alison Brown, finishing 15th in 13m55s, gave Morpeth Harriers Senior Women a very steady start to their three-stage relay.
Eventually, they came through to finish second, thanks to superb runs by Emma Holt (12m24s, second fastest) and Morag Stead (12m36s, fourth fastest).
They managed to overcome the early lead set by North Shields Poly’s Gina Rutherford, whose 12m28s was third fastest.
However, they were unable to get on level terms with winners Birtley AC, who were well bolstered by Lydia Turner’s final-leg clocking of 11m23s, which proved to be the fastest of the day.
The Morpeth Harriers Senior Women’s B-team finished 16th of 48 finishing clubs, courtesy of Hannah Rank (13m53s), Hannah Sheerin (14m59s) and Amber Cormack (14m51s), and were second B-team behind Gateshead Harriers.
Pam Woodcock competed for an incomplete Morpeth Harriers Senior Women’s C-team, where she clocked 16m15s and was 39th when she finished her leg.
Morpeth Harriers Veteran Women finished 13th of 21 finishing teams in their three-stage relay, courtesy of Lindsay Turnbull (14m09s), Shuna Rank (15m32s) and Claire Walker (17m09s).
The school Easter holidays certainly affected the fields in the younger age group events, with a total of 60 athletes toeing the start line in the combined U13 event and only 28 taking part in the combined U15 event.
Morpeth Harriers had eight athletes taking part and the best performance came from Abby Sheldon in the U15 Girls’ event, where she finished an excellent third in 9m58s, only a mere 13 seconds adrift of the winner Holly Matheson of Heaton Harriers. Lizzie Rank also ran well to finish seventh in 10m28s.
Next best Morpeth Harriers performers were Holly Peck, who finished eighth in the U13 Girls’ event in 10m26s, and Ross Charlton, who also finished eighth in the U13 Boys’ event in 9m26s.
Other Morpeth Harriers competitors to finish in the U13 event were Kate Seymour, who was 13th Girl in 10m50s, and Daniel Dixon, who was 27th Boy in 10m25s.
In the U15 Boys’ event, Morpeth Harriers Will Kelly and Adam Shewry ran very closely throughout to finish eighth and ninth in respective times of 9m00s and 9m03s.
While his Morpeth Harriers colleagues were achieving team glory at Elswick, Nick Swinburn came very close to achieving a superb individual victory in the Salford 10k, in Manchester.
Clocking a new personal best of 30m10s, he was only seven seconds adrift of race winner Mick Aspinall of Midlands club Tipton Harriers.
He took five seconds off his previous best, which he set in 2010 in the Swansea Bay 10k event.
Third and fourth places went to Sale Harriers pair Gavin Hill and Gareth Raven, who were given equal times of 30m14s.
Swinburn’s Morpeth Harriers club colleague Ade Whitwam finished 12th in 31m16s. The event had a total of 574 finishers.
Local MP Mary Glindon set 2,000-plus runners on their way to the finish line at St Mary’s Lighthouse in Whitley Bay, in Sunday’s annual North Tyneside 10k Road Race, which was run for the 10th occasion and once again splendidly organised by North Tyneside Council, with additional support coming from Sports Retailer Start Fitness, Tyne Met College and Northern Pure, who supplied the many bottles of drinking water required by runners at the start, en-route and at the finish.
2013 winner Ian Hudspith of Morpeth Harriers was one of the favourites in the event. However, he was thwarted in his attempts to retain his title on this occasion by some very strong opposition in the form of Carl Smith of Leeds City, formerly with Chester-le-Street.
The first two miles saw Smith and Hudspith very much locked in a head-to-head battle. However, the North East-based Leeds man very much seized his chance for victory just after the halfway point and went on to win in a strong headwind by a margin of 39 seconds in 32m07s.
Meanwhile, Hudspith hung on for second place, ahead of his Morpeth Harriers team-mate Ross Floyd, who ran solidly and alone for much of the way, to finish third in 33m38s.
Another good Morpeth Harriers performer was young Matthew Boyle, who came home in 30th place in 36m50s.
He was followed home 10 places behind by clubmate Michael Thomsen, who clocked 37m52s.
Further Morpeth Harrier performances in the event came from Sarah Graham, who was seventh Woman finisher in 129th place overall in a time of 40m36s, Paul Banks (196th) 42m14s, Jane Briggs (243rd) 43m11s, Graeme Leathard (253rd) 43m23s, David Watson (258th) 43m29s, Eric Adams (265th) 43m34s, James McFetrich (290th) 43m56s, Archie Jenkins (388th) 45m43s, Mark Crosby (448th) 46m45s, Susan Smith (700th) 50m10s, Dave Gray (872nd) 52m32s and Jane Blackett (1226th) 56m53s.
All finishing runners on the day, received a goody bag, plus a special commemorative T-shirt, celebrating the 10 years of the event, courtesy of Start Fitness.
Sunday’s Boston 5k in America saw Morpeth Harrier Nick McCormick produce a top-class performance when he set new figures of 13m45s, taking a whole 13 seconds off his previous best.
He was certainly in elite company, as race winner Dejen Gebremeskel of Ethiopia clocked 13m26 for his victory.
McCormick was the top British finisher.
Morpeth Harrier Elliot Kelly’s final appearance as an U17 Men’s athlete, saw him produce a performance that managed to clinch him the title of Benfield Athlete of the Month for March 2014.
In the Wallsend Harriers Terry O’Gara 5k event, he ran a time of 16m08s, which in turn saw him take a whole minute off his previous best for the distance, and pushed him to number two for his age group for the distance in the UK.