HEAVY rain which fell on Friday afternoon, and continued throughout the night, made conditions tough and testing for athletes competing at the annual Northern Athletics Cross Country Championships on Saturday, writes George Patterson.
They were held for the second year in succession at Knowsley Safari Park, near Prescott, Liverpool.
The 2013 contest had also been run in difficult circumstances, by contrast, with heavy overnight snow being the hazard.
One year on, Morpeth Harriers Senior Men again achieved team medals, however, on this occasion, they went one better, by taking silver to replace the bronze that they had won previously. Again they finished behind a very dominant Leeds City, who were winning the title for a record 11th time.
Morpeth’s silver medals rounded off an excellent day for the North East Counties, details of which we will refer to later in this report.
Leading the Morpeth Harriers Senior Men home was Nick Swinburn, who produced an excellent run to finish fourth and was very unfortunate not to pick up an individual medal as a result of his brave and tenacious run.
Swinburn had always been prominent at the front of the 600-plus field of finishers and did have a slight lead ahead of Dan Garbutt of Durham City, the North East Champion, and North East silver medallist Jack Martin of Stockport, at the end of the first of three gruelling laps of the 12k contest.
At this stage, former Northern Champion Andi Jones, formerly with Salford, now running for Stockport, was also lying a close fourth.
It was these four who dictated matters at the front throughout the ensuing contest and it was Garbutt who eventually emerged as champion to add to his North East title.
Jones eventually moved through to take the silver medal ahead of his clubmate Martin, and Swinburn was left to take fourth place, only losing out for individual bronze by a mere six seconds.
However, while all this was happening at the very front of the field, Swinburn’s determined Morpeth Harriers colleagues were very much fighting for a set of team medals by way of consolation.
Although Leeds City took the gold team medals on the day, Morpeth took silver ahead of Salford.
Matthew Nicholson and Peter Newton provided very strong supporting efforts by finishing excellently in sixth and seventh places, with only three seconds dividing them.
Further superb team support came from former Northern U17 Men’s Champion Lewis Timmins, who finished in 23rd place, and was followed home, in excellent style, by Ross Floyd (33rd) and Andrew Lawrence (55th) to complete the scoring tally.
Morpeth Harriers Men’s Road and Cross Country team manager David Swinburne, while very praiseworthy of his squad’s efforts to claim team medals once again, was also very quick to heap praise on the performances of those athletes who were non-scorers on the day.
None more so than Thomas Straughan, who had run solidly throughout and finished an excellent 82nd.
Other excellent runs were produced by Paul Waterston (218th), Geoff Whitman (271st), in his very first Northern Championship, and finally Rob Hancox, who battled hard to finish in 342nd place.
With all of these efforts added to the possibility of Jonny Taylor, Richard Morrell, Ryan Stephenson and Nick McCormick linking up at next month’s National Championships in Nottingham, retention of the club’s National title that they won for the first time on a snowbound Herrington Country Park course last February, looks more than a distinct possibility.
While there were no further medal winners from Morpeth Harriers, there were some excellent individual runs from some of the other age group athletes.
Elliot Kelly produced a solid run to lead their U17 Men home to 11th team place. Finishing in 61st place in a strong field, he was also fourth home from the region.
He would probably have wished for a better placing, but was pleased to get round in the testing conditions.
Fifth home from the North East and three places behind him was his Morpeth Harriers clubmate Adam Weightman, who also ran a strong and committed race throughout.
Third home for Morpeth was Ryan Green, who finished 76th, and completing the scoring tally was North East champion Nathan Cox, who on this occasion was somewhat distressed to finish 97th, following a leg injury sustained in the early stages of their two 5.8k event.
However, he bravely continued determinedly throughout to ensure that Morpeth Harriers completed as a team count and his team-mates awaited to greet him in the finish area to give him a consolatory welcome.
An excellent 14th place was achieved by Morpeth Harrier Emma Holt in the two-lap Senior Women’s 8k event and she was also second home from the region behind Durham City’s Rosie Smith, who won an individual silver medal.
Holt also led her club home to 12th team place, with further good supporting runs coming from Lorna MacDonald (82nd), Kate Chapman (123rd) and Lesley Chapman (177th).
Unfortunately, Morpeth Harriers U13 Boys were forced to reckon without the valued services of Joe Dowd, who developed a late illness and Will Sibson with an ankle injury for their one-lap 3k event.
Under such circumstances, the club did extremely well to finish in 14th team place.
They were led home by Alex Cunningham, who despite feeling ill just before the gun, produced an excellent individual run to finish in 61st place overall and was easily in the top half of a very competitive field.
He was also running at a time when there was a prevailing gusty wind, which had emerged to further blight the tricky proceedings, so his efforts were very praiseworthy under such circumstances.
Equally so for his club colleagues Matthew Waterfield (83rd), Cameron Dick (100th) and Daniel Dixon (117th), who all gave excellent team support.
Superb runs by Alison Brown (30th) and Charlotte Jewell (32nd) saw them finish well to the fore in a very competitive U17 Women’s 5.3k event, which was the first event of the 10-race programme. Their performances also saw them emerge as fourth and fifth from the North East.
In the Junior Men’s 8k event, Morpeth Harrier Sam Hancox ran with a great deal of determination to finish very prominently in 47th place.
Unfortunately, a late withdrawal rendered Morpeth Harriers U15 Boys’ squad without a fourth scoring member for their 4k event.
Nevertheless Kieran Hedley, who had an excellent run in 2013 on the same course, when he was still an U13, did well once again to finish in 61st place in a strong field of 173 finishers.
Considering Hedley had missed most of the early winter events, including the North Eastern Championships, with a painful heel injury, this was a truly excellent effort, which also saw him emerge as seventh from a North East club, and this as a first year U15 Boy, was no mean achievement.
Second home from the club was Jacob Hopkins, who struggled a little in the conditions to finish in 108th position.
Eleven places behind him was Adam Shewry, who continues to improve, and his effort as a first year U15 Boy prompts praise.
The event that was run in possibly the worst conditions of the day was the U15 Girls’ 4k, where Morpeth Harriers had two athletes facing the starter.
Both of them ran competitively and the first to show was Abby Sheldon, who, running in her first Northern Cross Country, finished in 92nd place.
Despite losing a shoe, in what was becoming increasingly heavy ground, Lizzie Rank bravely continued to finish in 98th place.
The Northern Championships proved to be a splendid day for the North East, where apart from Morpeth Harriers’ silver team medal victory, both individual and team achievements by athletes from Birtley AC, Durham City, Gateshead Harriers, Jarrow & Hebburn and Middlesbrough AC (Mandale) are to be applauded.
Finally, many thanks to all officials at Northern Athletics and the Merseyside clubs and to the Knowsley Safari Park, whose combined efforts, and goodwill, helped produce an excellent Championships, despite the difficulties experienced due to the prevailing wintry conditions.
RECENT heavy rainfall made conditions very testing for athletes competing at the Northumberland Schools Cross Country Championships, held at Temple Park Leisure Centre at South Shields on Tuesday, January 21.
Nevertheless, there were some outstanding performances of note, including some from the ranks of Morpeth Harriers.
Best of these came from North Eastern Cross Country Champion Nathan Cox (North Northumberland), who made easy work of winning the Intermediate Boys contest.
Cox won with almost a minute to spare over his Morpeth Harriers club colleague Ryan Green (East Northumberland), who, despite losing out to Cox, could feel quite pleased with his effort, considering some recent injury niggles that had hindered his preparation.
Morpeth Harriers narrowly missed out on a one, two, three result in the Intermediate Boys, when Adam Weightman (North Northumberland), just lost out to Newcastle’s Fergus Robinson for third place.
Other Intermediate Boys results from Morpeth Harriers came from Jarod Lewis (North Northumberland, 10th), Jacob Hopkins (East, 16th), Sam Foster-Beattie (East, 48th) and Sam Williams (East, 58th).
Kieran Hedley (North), who has missed such a great deal of training and competition recently, can take a great deal of pride, pleasure and relief from his excellent performance in finishing second in the Junior Boys’ event.
He was always going to be up against the odds with Tynedale’s Max Pearson at the helm of affairs, however, he battled well to lose out for victory by only 19 seconds.
Another Morpeth Harrier to perform well in this age group was Joe Dowd (East), who came through well to finish in eighth place.
Other Morpeth Harriers competing in the Junior Boys’ event were Adam Shewry (East, 16th), Alex Cunningham (East, 27th), Cameron Dick (East, 28th),Josh Burton (East, 31st) Matthew Waterfield (East, 32nd) Will Kelly (North Tyneside, 42nd), Tom Hizzett (East, 56th) and A Patten (East, 62nd).
North Northumberland’s Alison Brown produced an excellent run to finish third in the Senior Girls’ event.
She was the first of a trio of Morpeth Harriers, with Beth Woolley (East) and Alice Kelly (East) finishing in eighth and eleventh places respectively.
In the Intermediate Girls event, held on the same course and at the same time as the Senior Girls’ race, Morpeth Harrier Charlotte Jewell (East) performed well to finish sixth, as did fellow clubmates Amber Cormack (East), Abby Sheldon (North) and Louise Brett (East), who placed 12th, 13th and 15th respectively.
Another Morpeth Harrier competing in the Intermediate Girls’ event was Lauren Eadington, who finished in 25th place.
Ross Charlton was the leading Morpeth Harrier in the Minor Boys’ event.
Representing East Northumberland, he finished in an excellent eighth place.
Not far behind him in 14th place was his Morpeth Harriers clubmate Daniel Dixon, who also represented East Northumberland.
Other Morpeth Harriers in action in the Minor Boys’ event were Mark Booth (East, 21st) and Joe Briddon (East, 58th).
Kate Seymour and Lizzie Rank, both representing East Northumberland, finished 12th and 15th respectively in the Junior Girls’ event.
Other Morpeth Harriers to finish in this event were Ailsa Jones (East, 31st), Jessica Young-Rogers (East, 48th), Hannah Priest (East, 54th), Ellie Fenwick Kidd (East, 63rd), and Maddie Lake (East, 65th).
In the Minor Girls’ event, Eire Marshall (East) was the club’s leading finisher. She placed 15th and not far behind her in 19th place was Monet Wendt (East).
To complete the Morpeth Harriers tally, Josie Rigg (East), finished in 33rd place.