AN excellent all-round team performance on Saturday saw Morpeth Harriers’ Senior Men achieve bronze medals at the English National 12 Stage Road Relays, writes George Patterson.
And they came within a whisker of winning the event in Birmingham’s Sutton Park to achieve one of their still-to-be-realised ambitions.
Despite a tremendous fight to the finish, they lost out on the Gold medals in the dying stages and ended up in third place for the fourth time. The top three clubs finished within a 30-second span of each other.
For once, Morpeth Harriers had all their big guns to call upon, apart from Lewis Timmins who is still studying in America, and Team Manager Dave Swinburne was left with the difficult task of having to decide who to leave out.
It was Mongolian international Serod Batochir who lined up for the club on the first Long (5.38mile) leg, making his debut in the Championship.
He was in no mood for sightseeing however, and it wasn’t long before he set about the task in hand.
He came home to the finish line in second place in a time of 26m08s and only one second behind Holmfirth, who were led home by triathlete Mark Buckingham. Batochir’s time was eventually to emerge as the fifth fastest overall long leg time of the day.
On second leg for Morpeth Harriers, over the shorter (2.99mile) distance was Ross Floyd.
He continued his tremendous form of late to arrive at the finish line in third place with a personal time of 15m12s, which eventually came out as 64th equal fastest short stage clocking of the day.
This kept the club very much within striking distance of Holmfirth, who had still managed to maintain their lead, and new second placed club Shaftesbury.
Spain-based Chris Sampson headed out on the long leg three for Morpeth after answering his club’s call.
He battled hard throughout against tough opposition and despite falling back to sixth with his individual clocking of 27m45s, he had still left his club within a minute of serious medal challenges when he passed over to a determined Ian Harding on the short stage leg four.
Harding had a superb run to bring his club very much back into contention as he got round in an excellent 14m50s, which was sixth fastest of the leg.
This saw Morpeth Harriers in fourth place, 43 seconds behind the now leaders Belgrave but only ten and five seconds behind second and third placed clubs Shaftesbury and Cardiff respectively.
It was now time for another of Morpeth Harriers’ big guns to enter the fray and the long fifth leg proved to be no obstacle to Jonny Taylor as he gently moved his club into second place with a time of 26m32s, only 33 seconds adrift of Belgrave.
Taylor’s time was third fastest of the leg and 11th equal fastest on the day.
On Leg Six for Morpeth Harriers was Swinburne, who succeeded in taking his club to the halfway point of the competition still holding a medal position.
He finished in third place in 15m33s behind Belgrave, who had still managed to maintain their lead, and now 2010 winners Newham and Essex Beagles had come into the picture to take second place.
Nick Swinburn had tough opposition around him and dug in very well.
Although he was eventually passed in the run in by Tipton and Notts, he held on desperately to fend off the close race for fifth place with Birchfield with his individual clocking of 27m19s, which proved to be the sixth fastest of the leg and 57th fastest long stage of the day.
His run certainly proved to be fully worthwhile because having kept a 40 second margin intact behind Belgrave, this paved the way nicely for the international talents of Nick McCormick to do his job on the short leg eight.
McCormick did this with much aplomb to put Morpeth Harriers into the lead for the first time on the day, with a superb margin of 43 seconds over second placed Newham and Essex Beagles, with Tipton now in third place.
His time of 13m49s was easily the fastest short stage time of the day and only ten seconds outside his best on the course, which he set in 2007 and still ranks as the fifth fastest ever.
This left the previous week’s Blyth 10k winner Peter Newton with the task of trying to hold on to the lead as he went out on the long stage nine.
Newton did his level best as he got round in the fifth fastest of the leg of 27m14s, and he was only beaten to the finish line in the penultimate stages by Tipton’s international Phil Nichols.
With the leading margin now at 29 seconds, Morpeth’s Michael Dawson went out on the short leg ten for Morpeth.
He did manage to hold on to second place, however at the end of his 15m24s effort, Tipton had managed to increase their lead to 63 seconds and Midlands champions Birchfield was literally breathing down their neck in third place.
But the club fielded another trump card in Ian Hudspith on leg 11. He relentlessly chased Tipton’s Ian Williams, whilst Birchfield’s Biniam Ande and Newham’s Mark Warmby waged war behind him as they endeavoured to close the gap.
Hudspith eventually passed Williams to regain a Morpeth lead, albeit slender, as he clocked what was to be the fastest time of the leg of 26m25s, which was also recorded as the tenth fastest long stage time of the day.
So it was all set for a fast and furious final leg as Morpeth’s Matt Nicholson went head to head with Tipton’s Ian Rawlinson, with Newham’s James Shane, Notts AC’s Chris McGurk, and Birchfield’s Ben Sharman in hot pursuit for any medal possibility.
Nicholson’s battle with Rawlinson was relentless and it was only when the leg was three-quarters complete that the Tipton man began to edge clear.
It was on the final long climb that Nicholson lost his battle for gold, however despite his excellent 14m51s he also could not hold off the final flourish of Newham’s Shane, who literally stole silver medal placing on the run-in.
Nicholson’s clocking was his club’s third fastest short stage time of the day, was fifth fastest of the leg and was thoroughly deserving of medals, albeit bronze once again.
At the presentation, Morpeth Harriers received their bronze team medals resplendent in brand new labelled tracksuit tops courtesy of sponsor Terry Lonergan of Fastrax, and The Complete Runner Sports Outfitters, from Ilkley in Yorkshire, and Nelson in Lancashire, who had come on board following the club’s victory in the Northern Championship.
The club also received a trophy as being first Northern club to finish, ahead of Leeds City (7th), and Derby (16th). On the individual front, McCormick received a gold medal for his fastest short stage time of the day.
Disappointingly, only one team from the region made the start line in the accompanying Women’s 6 Stage Championship.
That was Morpeth Harriers, who unfortunately only managed to field three runners on the day.
Had they been able to field a full squad they also could have featured very close to a medal winning effort, as firstly Sarah Wilkinson came home in eighth place with her excellent clocking of 16m53s.
This was followed on second leg with a superb second fastest effort of the leg by Maxine Czarneka of 17m11s, who climbed six places to put Morpeth in second place.
The Morpeth squad were very much still towards the front of the field when they ran out of runners, as Sarah Graham finished a good fourth on third leg with her clocking of 18m49s.
l Morpeth Harriers’ recent recruit Melissa Turner opened up her account in her new club’s colours by comfortably winning the Women’s race at the New Marske Spring Coast Road 5k on Wednesday, April 6.
She clocked 17m18s when finishing ninth overall and was 2mins 12secs ahead of her closest female rival, Nicola Kent of Loftus AC.
Turner’s time ranks 11th in the current UK listings for the distance.