Masterful display from Morpeth at British Relays

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With a final margin of over two minutes, a new course record and the three fastest times of the day, Morpeth Harriers’ veteran men were comprehensive winners at the British Masters Relays on Saturday.

The annual competition, held in the traditional bucolic setting of Sutton Park to the North of Birmingham, sees the country’s leading veterans (now referred to as masters) compete in ten year age categories over legs of three miles, with teams of either six (35 to 45-year-olds), four (45 to 55), or three (55 to 65, 65 and over).

Chris Smith got proceedings off for the six stage Over 35 team, and in a head to head battle with Birchfield Harriers, quickly showed that he was now clearly back to his best as he got the better of his rival on the run-in to post a time of 15 minutes and 5 seconds and take an early lead in the race.

Smith handed on to Michael Morris, who now had Birchfield’s second leg runner in close attention. With Morris’s training this year focussed on a forthcoming Ironman Triathlon, as well as a recent bout of bronchitis to contend with, this was a tough challenge, and though Morpeth dropped to second place at the end of the leg, his posting of 16m 6s was still good enough to keep the club firmly in contention, and may even in a way have done Peter Newton, on third leg, a favour by giving him something to chase.

This Newton did with a gusto that showed he, too, is now very much a man on form, having put last year’s injuries well behind him, and he soon reeled in Birchfield’s third leg runner to re-establish Morpeth’s lead. He went on to post the fastest leg time of the day (14m 31s), and in so doing, put the club into a position which was never to be seriously challenged.

On leg 4 John Butters, who had chosen to represent the club ahead of taking the opportunity to gain a North East counties’ vest in the Inter-Counties fell race championships at Snowdonia that same day, ran a very sensible and controlled leg of 16m 6s to comfortably maintain Morpeth’s margin, and then handed on to leading national veteran Ian Hudspith.

Hudspith has represented the club through thick and thin in these relays and, indeed, still holds the course record here. Once again he showed he was in dominant form, tearing round the course, despite the absence of any challenger to push him, and in the process posting the day’s second fastest leg time of 14m 40s.

At this point Morpeth had a commanding lead of over two minutes from their nearest rivals and it was up to final leg runner Ade Whitwam to bring the team home, and this he did emphatically, with a final leg clocking of 15m 27s, just outside the top ten fastest times of the day.

Morpeth finished in an overall time of 1 hour 31m 55s, a new course record, and were over two minutes clear of Ron Hill Camburslang in second place (1:34:06), with last year’s winners Thames Hare and Hounds in third (1:34:30). The legs of Newton, Hudspith and Smith were later declared the three fastest of the day.

Morpeth also fielded a B team for the first time in this competition. Making their debuts on legs 1 and 2, both Mark Cockburn (16m 56s, 26th position) and Steven Patterson (17m 7s, 23rd) had extremely creditable runs. Behind them, Peter Scaife (19m 44s, 26th) and Jim Alder (also 19m 44s, 30th), both eligible for older categories, did their best to plug the holes left by late unavailability, and Mick Thomsen took the fifth leg for a sadly incomplete team.

His posting of 17m 6s saw the team up to 26th position at this point.