ELEGANT Wollaton Hall, with its picturesque surrounding parkland in Nottingham, provided an excellent backdrop for the annual English National Cross-Country Championships, once again sponsored by Saucony, on Saturday, writes George Patterson.
Over 7,500 enthusiastic runners from all over England descended on the venue, which had previously been used for the Inter Counties Championships, but never a National as it’s affectionately known.
The local Corporation, with the added expertise of Notts AC official Mick Robinson, had designed a new course, which largely gained the approval of those who were participating in the 10-event programme.
Apart from a couple of areas which had turned boggy, the ground was in remarkably good condition. However, in the later stages, the heavy areas became very apparent and several participants either fell in deep mud or lost shoes during action.
Nevertheless, the fresh areas that were found were largely appreciated by the masses.
Morpeth Harriers were defending the Senior Men’s title that they won in slightly more difficult snowy and sludgy conditions at Herrington Country Park, in Sunderland, 12 months previously. However, their hopes were dealt an early blow with leading runner Jonny Taylor having to drop out at the 11th hour with illness, which was also a blow to the runner himself, after establishing a superb run of form from some top quality international events since early January.
With Taylor out, it was a tremendous mountain to climb in order to retain the title and, disappointingly, those hopes were further dented when other leading Morpeth participants Richard Morrell, Peter Newton, and Matt Nicholson were all forced out during the action in their 12k event.
With Morrell and Newton, it had been illness in the week leading up to the championships and Nicholson had fallen foul to a troublesome hamstring injury that he had sustained during the Northern Championships last month.
However, on the plus side, Morpeth were led home superbly by a very strong and very much true-to-form run by Nick Swinburn, who once again found himself unlucky to miss out on an individual medal, by all of a mere nine seconds.
Swinburn finished fourth, after always being in the leading group over the tough three-lap circuit and only lost out owing to the strength of those at close quarters to him, notably winner Steve Vernon of Stockport Harriers, who is also Swinburn’s England mountain running colleague as well as his GB team captain, Southern and British University Champion Richard Goodman, of Shaftesbury Barnet, and young Andy Hayes, of Hallamshire.
Morpeth Harriers eventually emerged as sixth Senior Men’s team and also second from the North of England, behind their fierce rivals Leeds City, who also found Bedford and County and event hosts Notts AC too good for them on the day.
Swinburn was well supported in the team effort by Lewis Timmins, fresh from a warm-weather stint in Portugal with his coach Lindsey Dunn, who ran strongly throughout to finish in 34th place.
Ade Whitwam, in his first National Cross Country for Morpeth, also supported well by finishing in 53rd place.
Nathan Shrubb (83rd) and Ross Floyd (91st) ran strongly and closely throughout to finish as Morpeth’s fourth and fifth counters.
The club’s scoring count was completed by Ian Harding, who now looks to have regained some of his better form. Harding finished in 112th place.
A great deal of praise is to be given to the runs of those who also turned out to face the challenge for Morpeth Harriers on the day, although who were non-scorers.
Andrew Lawrence, who despite taking a tumble during the proceedings, battled on to remain in the top end of the 1,600-plus field and finished in 180th place.
Thomas Straughan, always Mr Reliable, who ran well throughout to finish in 231st place, was closely followed home in 233rd place by John Butters, who indeed had one of the club’s best runs of the day.
Fergus Bates (360th), Geoff Whitman (701st) and Rob Hancox (713th) also produced excellent creditable performances, by each of them ensuring that they stayed in the top half of a strong field.
After being the early pacesetter in the Senior Women’s two-lap 8k Championship, Morpeth Harrier Ashley Gibson settled for a very creditable 13th place, finishing just a minute adrift of the individual medals, which were claimed by Gemma Steel (Charnwood), Steph Twell (Aldershot and Farnham) and her club colleague Lily Partridge, who just managed to outpace the first Northerner Katie Brough of Vale Royal.
Gibson was the fourth-placed athlete from a Northern club.
Morpeth Harriers emerged as 27th Senior Women’s team and sixth from the north, with further team support to Gibson coming from Emma Holt (42nd), Kate Chapman (329th) and Gwenda Cavill (379th).
In addition to the scorers, Lesley Chapman competed and finished in 480th place. 708 finishers competed in the Senior Women’s event.
Morpeth Harriers’ only other team performance came from their very-much-below-strength U13 Boys’ squad, who battled bravely through their 3k one-lap event to finish as 38th team.
Lacking Joe Dowd, Will Sibson and Cameron Dick, they were always going to be up against the odds in the team battle, and it was the oldest of their squad Alex Cunningham who was first home for them, finishing in 230th place.
Ross Charlton can feel well pleased that he finished the event, in comparison to his Northern Championship experience, where he had failed to finish following the loss of a shoe.
This time round, Charlton did well and finished only five seconds adrift of Cunningham in 241st place.
Third counter for Morpeth in this age group was young Wilf Campbell, who finished 305th.
Nursing a painful injury, Matthew Waterfield battled through to finish in 367th place to complete the Morpeth scoring tally.
On to the individual performances and the best of these belonged to Charlotte Jewell, who ran well despite the odd muddy experience, to come home in 79th place out of 211 finishers in the U17 Women’s 5k event, that was superbly won by fellow North Easterner Lydia Turner of Birtley, who, in addition, led her club to very first national team title.
Jewell can also take some pleasure from the fact that she was also eighth from the North East region.
Another good Morpeth Harriers performance came from Elliot Kelly, who finished a good 91st out of 272 finishers in the U17 Mens 6k Championship. Kelly was also fourth from the North East.
Not so fortunate, however, was his Morpeth club colleague Phillip Winkler, who, after taking a tumble in the mud on the now fast-deteriorating heavy sections of the course, struggled to make up lost ground on what had been an excellent placing and bravely battled through to finish in 148th place.
Morpeth Harriers’ sole competitor in the Junior Men’s 10k Championship Sam Hancox, battled resolutely throughout his race, to finish in a very creditable 105th place in a top-class event won by Reading AC International Jonathan Davies, who just out-sprinted Birchfield’s former Sunderland Harrier and former Northern Champion Weynay Ghebresillasie to the finish line.
In her very first National, Morpeth Harrier Abby Sheldon braved the mud in her U15 Girls’ 4k Championship to finish in a very creditable 165th place out of 355 finishers.
After a very strong start, Morpeth’s Adam Shewry finished in 277th place in the U15 Boys’ 4.5k Championship.
Thankfully, in contrast to recent weeks, apart from strong windy moments, runners endured near-ideal cross-country conditions, with sunny intervals throughout and, believe it or not, ‘not a single drop of rain to be seen’.
NICK McCormick is back in winning form and the Morpeth Harriers International performed exceptionally against top-class opposition in the Armagh International 5k Road Race on Thursday, February 20.
He won by a second from Derby’s Richard Weir in a time of 14m11.9s in what was a very tight finish.
McCormick also led England to an impressive team victory over Wales and Poland in the incorporated International competition.
There was a total field of 88 finishers and McCormick’s good form has come at a time when he will be well needed by his club in the forthcoming Northern and National 12 Stage Road Relay Championships.
YOUNG sprinter Sean O’Hara was undoubtedly the club’s star performer at the second day of the North Eastern Counties AA Indoor Championships, held at the Gateshead College facility over Saturday, February 15, and Sunday 16.
The U15 Morpeth Harrier showed true class when running two personal bests to achieve a gold medal victory in the 60m.
Firstly, he set new figures in winning his heat, the second of two, in a time of 7.69s, and then went on to win his final in an improved time of an excellent 7.57s.
His coach Eddie Hedley, speaking afterwards, said that he was absolutely delighted with Sean’s achievement, especially competing from a very small work-base preparation.
He predicted good things to come from Sean in the forthcoming summer track campaign, and praised his work-rate in training.
Hedley also went on to praise the performances of his other protégés Jack Hepple, Hannah Brown and Beth Laidler, who also achieved well in the competition.
Running in a B final of the U20 Women’s 60m, Laidler, still only 16, was competing against girls nearly three years older, and to finish second with a personal best of 8.53s was a fine achievement.
Hepple and Brown both won medals on the day, which also brought delight to Hedley.
Still only 19, Hepple took silver in the Senior 60m, also setting new figures of 7.13s in both his heat and final, running against more senior opposition. Hepple had earlier won his heat, clocking the same time.
Having only become 13 on Christmas Day, Brown was one of the youngest on view, however, she achieved an excellent bronze against older girls in the U15 60m hurdles in a new personal best of 10.36s and this was after finishing second in her heat in 10.55s.
Brown also finished fifth in her final of the flat 60m in 8.84s, this was after producing excellent new figures of 8.70s to finish second in the heats.
Morpeth Harriers North Eastern outdoor sprint champion Elaine Telford produced a seasons best of 8.26s to make the final of the Senior Women’s 60m.
She posted a slightly slower 8.32s in the final, however, she missed out on medals, placing fourth.
Despite producing a season’s best of 9.05s, Naomi Arkle went out in the heats of the U15 Girls’ 60m.
In the Over 35 Men’s 60m final, Morpeth Harrier Wayne Gedge finished fifth in 8.36s.
On the Saturday in the Field Events, Morpeth Harrier Elliot Moore achieved new figures of 10.01m, when finishing sixth in the U17 Men’s shot putt.
RUNNING a time of 60m11s, which put him in 12th place overall, Phil Walker led a trio of Morpeth Harriers to a set of gold medals in the Netherhall 10-Mile Road Race in Maryport, Cumbria, on Sunday, February 23, that incorporated the British Masters Chanpionships.
Accompanying Walker in the achievement were Paul Waterston and Mick Thomsen, who were 14th and 15th respectively in 61m32s and 62m11s.
Walker and Waterston were also fourth and fifth in the Over 45 male category, while Thomsen representing Scottish Vets, was third in the younger Over 35 male category.