High-flying Harriers grab another medal

THE last-minute loss of Ian Hudspith, due to illness, meant that Morpeth Harriers’ Senior Men’s Road and Cross Country team manager David Swinburne was forced into making a very early morning call on Saturday to Mick Thomsen, writes George Patterson.

He needed warning in order to make the required three-hour journey from his Morpeth home to Sutton Park, Sutton Coldfield, to line up as a late replacement in the English National 12 Stage Road Relays, where the squad had hoped to pick up more medals, to add to their impressive winter tally.

Although National medals eventually eluded them, the club could be well satisfied with the set of silver North of England medals, when their ninth overall position also saw them finish as runners-up behind Leeds City in the integrated regional championships following their cancellation at Blackpool last month because of icy conditions.

As regional champions, Leeds City had also finished a very worthy second nationally behind southerners Belgrave Harriers.

In addition to Hudspith, Morpeth were also missing Richard Morrell (work commitments), Peter Newton (persistent foot injury), and Nick McCormick, who, although was meant to be competing in an international event in Ireland, had also pulled out of that with an injury.

Alongside Thomsen in the Morpeth Harriers line-up as replacements for Morrell, Newton and McCormick, were Thomas Straughan, Neil Wilkinson, and U20 athlete Jonnie Nisbet, who was also having his first ever run at this level.

Matthew Nicholson finished 24th for Morpeth on the 5.38mile long first leg, clocking a time of 27m26s.

Jonnie Nisbet’s impressive 15m30s on the 2.9-mile short second leg saw him gain a further four places.

Nick Swinburn’s excellent 26m51s on the long third leg saw Morpeth rise to 112th place and just under a minute adrift of medals.

Swinburn’s clocking was also fifth fastest of the leg.

Although he lost three places, Thomas Straughan’s fourth leg clocking of 16m02s still left Morpeth within close contention of the leaders.

Michael Dawson, who had switched to a longer leg in the last-minute changes, slipped to 18th place with his clocking of 28m32s on leg five.

Fortunes were revived for Morpeth, however, on Graeme Taylor’s excellent sixth leg, when he clocked the seventh fastest time of 15m22s, to rise back up to 12th place.

So halfway was reached and Morpeth Harriers’ Senior Men were now three minutes adrift of a medal placing nationally and third from the North of England.

Jonny Taylor’s excellent seventh leg, which saw him clock the second fastest of the leg of 26m03s, eventually fastest long stage from the north and third fastest overall, got the squad up to seventh spot and back to two minutes adrift of national medals.

Seventh place was retained throughout the next two legs by Neil Wilkinson (15m59s) and Lewis Timmins (27m47s).

With three legs remaining, Morpeth Harriers were now in second place regionally, behind Leeds City, and two places and just over a minute ahead of third-placed Salford Harriers.

Tenth leg saw late replacement Thomsen join the fray and he competed well to come home in eighth spot, having lost very little time with his clocking of 16m49s.

Ross Floyd on the penultimate 11th leg, managed to fend off the chasing Salford with his clocking of 28m34s, seeing him home in ninth spot.

Silver regional medals for Morpeth were fully confirmed and well deserved when Ryan Stephenson’s excellent final leg of 15m02s, fourth fastest of the leg, saw him extend the margin over third-placed Salford to 35 seconds.

So another set of medals came the way of Morpeth to add to an excellent season’s tally and the individual fastest long-stage medal gained by Jonny Taylor was an added bonus.

The only other Senior Men’s finishers from the North East were Gateshead Harriers, with a final placing of 31st and seventh regionally.

LAURA Weightman’s excellent second equal fastest clocking of 15m48s was the inspiration behind a good Morpeth Harriers Senior Women’s performance at the English National six-stage Road Relay Championships, held at Sutton Park, Sutton Coldfield, on Saturday.

Weightman’s 2.9-mile run also gave her the title of fastest North of England runner in the incorporated regional championship, which eventually saw Morpeth Harriers finish 12th and sixth regionally.

She grabbed the lead overall on the second leg after first-leg runner Ashley Gibson had the club in fifth place with her clocking of 16m36s.

Morpeth’s third-leg runner Emma Holt put up a tremendous fight to stay in contention with her clocking of 18m14s, however, pressure around her, firstly from Aldershot’s Steph Twell, then Leeds City’s Susan Partridge saw her slip to third place.

Sarah Graham held onto third place on fourth leg with her clocking of 18m37s.

Unfortunately, faster runners around her saw Kate Chapman slip to 11th on the penultimate fifth leg with her clocking of 20m38s.

Lorna MacDonald clocked a respectable 19m35s on the final leg to come home to a final placing of 12th and sixth from the North of England, with the title going to reigning champions Rotherham Harriers.