Harriers sink in Towers mud bath

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SADLY, Alton Towers in Staffordshire proved to be no fairground attraction for athletes taking part in the English National Cross Country Championships on Saturday, writes George Patterson.

A heavy early morning snowfall, plus an incessant rainstorm, made conditions very difficult underfoot and in some places very near impossible.

At one stage, organisers came very close to considering abandonment, as the first two events had resulted in some accidents, causing a delay to proceedings.

After further checks, officials decided to continue on slightly shorter courses in order to try to complete the 10-race programme.

It was a disappointing day for Morpeth Harriers. As a result of several cry-offs, only eight of their athletes overall made the start line, with just seven of them finishing.

There were some positives however, in the performances of Matt Nicholson, Andrew Lawrence, Alison Brown and Jonnie Nisbet.

After a spell of warm weather training in Portugal with his coach Lindsey Dunn, Nicholson could be forgiven if he didn’t fancy the prospect of working his way round a now shortened, yet extremely muddy, Senior Men’s course.

However, he stuck to the task in hand and got round the approximately 10k circuit to finish in a very creditable 35th place.

He was second from the North East behind New Marske’s Andy Wiles, who, in turn, did well to finish 15th.

Andrew Lawrence, who had journeyed up from London beforehand, also performed well to finish 176th.

Morpeth Harriers’ third senior man home was Rob Hancox, who certainly chose the right footwear on the day to finish a very creditable 865th out of more than 1,300 runners.

With no other runners to offer, Morpeth Harriers could not muster any challenge in team affairs.

Alison Brown certainly gave her all in her first national experience as an Under 15 athlete and, although very exhausted afterwards, could feel well pleased in her efforts in finishing in 106th place.

Fellow Morpeth Harrier Sarah Wilkes also competed bravely in what was becoming a sea of mud, interspaced by lake-like areas, to finish in 214th place.

In the Under 17 Men’s event, Morpeth’s Jonnie Nisbet couldn’t quite match his best form, however he courageously soldiered on to finish in 69th place.

Sam Hancox also braved his way round to finish in 228th place.

Unfortunately, the club’s other runner in this event, Philip Caldwell, was forced to call matters to a halt after one lap when he aggravated a recent ankle problem.

l Nick McCormick, of Morpeth Harriers, may well have run himself into a place in Great Britain’s team for the European Indoor Athletics Championships, scheduled to be held in Bercy, Paris, between March 4 and 6.

He clocked yet another personal best of 3m40.69s when he finished ninth in the talent-filled Men’s 1500m at the Aviva Grand Prix meeting held in Birmingham on Saturday.

l Maxine Czarneka, of Morpeth Harriers, had an excellent run to finish 16th in the Senior Women’s event at the Scottish National Cross Country Championships, held in Falkirk on Saturday.

l Twenty four hours after winning a gold medal in Morpeth Harriers’ Over 50 Veteran Men’s squad in the North Eastern Counties Road Relay Championships, Gordon Dixon was back in very energetic athletic action when he placed eighth in a field of 57 finishers in the tough Keswick to Buttermere Round Road Race.

Dixon’s finishing time was 2hrs27m.39s, and he was second Veteran finisher overall and first in his category.

Accompanying him on the trip were fellow Harriers Mike Winter, John Butters, and Mike Steven. Winter was second in the Over 40 Veteran Men’s category when he came home in 14th place in 2hrs42m32s.

Butters was 25th in 2hrs52m19s and Steven came home in 40th place in 3hrs06m25s, and was fourth Over 50 finisher.