It was certainly a good day for the North East at the annual UK Inter Counties Cross Country Championships, which were held for the first time ever, at Prestwold Hall, near Loughborough, on Saturday.
This event, not only marked what was effectively the end of the domestic Cross Country season, it also served as the final stepping stone for athletes with burgeoning ambitions for selection to the UK teams, which will be representing the country at the forthcoming World Cross Country Championships, in Uganda at the end of March.
It also served as the culmination of the prestigious UK Cross Challenge Series, with certain leading athletes set to reap rich rewards for their respective age group performances.
One such athlete who will definitely be on that plane to Uganda will be Morpeth Harrier Scott Beattie, who ran superbly to finish a very close second to Yorkshire’s Jonathan Shields, who is also a close friend, in the opening event of the day, the U20 Men’s 8k, run over two testing circuits of the new course.
Beattie took the silver medal, two seconds behind a much-relieved winner Shields, with Luke Prior just holding off Stevens for the bronze medal
Whilst Beattie was joyous in his individual performance, the region narrowly missed out on bronze team medals, finishing fourth behind Scotland East, Yorkshire, and Kent.
Another Harrier in action in this event was Jake Masterman, who was fifth home for the region in 105th place.
A superb team performance saw the region’s Senior Men take the six-man title in their 12k event for the seventh time in succession. .
Leading the squad home was Jonny Taylor, who was well up with the race leaders on the first of three circuits.
Taylor for his part finished ninth, a placing which also gave him second place in the UK Challenge listings, behind race winner Andy Vernon of Aldershot.
Second home for the North East was Taylor’s Morpeth club colleague, Carl Avery, who ran superbly to finish tenth and only three seconds adrift.
Nick Swinburn made it a Morpeth 1,2, 3 at the helm of North East team affairs when finishing in 22nd place, just six seconds and one place ahead of the regions fourth counter, Phil Wylie of Cheltenham.
Another superb winning performance on the day came from the regions U20 Women’s squad in their two lap 6k event.
Although well adrift of the scoring four, Morpeth’sAbby Sheldon, who was drafted in as a late replacement, could feel well pleased with her overall placing of 140th in the 180 plus strong field.
The region won by 50 points from Greater Manchester, with Yorkshire close behind in third place, in what was a North dominated affair.
North East U15 Boys champion Daniel Dixon was second counter for the region in their third placed two lap 4.5k event.
Dixon certainly put a disappointing run in the English National Cross Country Championships in Nottingham two weeks previously, as he finished an excellent 18th.
The North East were only a mere four points adrift of silver team medallists Yorkshire, however, Kent certainly were a dominant force in team affairs.
Another big field assembled for the one lap U13 Boys 3k event, which was the second event of the day.
The field included Morpeth’s Ben Walker and Dylan Davies, who were outside the scoring counts for a fifth placed team in 116th and 122nd place respectively.
No fewer than four Morpeth Harriers lined up in the U17 Men’s two lap 6k event.
First of the Morpeth contingent was Rory Leonard, who had missed the National Championships in Nottingham due to illness.
Leonard very bravely rose to the challenge, and was well up with the leaders in the early exchanges, who included North East Champion Josh Cowperthwaite of Middlesbrough, who eventually led the North-East squad home to sixth team place, by finishing sixth overall.
Meanwhile Leonard drifted back to 45th place, but remained as second counter.
The other Morpeth Harriers performances in the North-East squad came from Taylor Glover (81st), Liam Marsh (101st), and Matthew Waterfield (156th).
Unfortunately, a late injury sustained in warm up, plus a heavy cold ruled Morpeth Harrier Emma Holt out of the Senior Women’s two lap 8k event.
Nevertheless, the NE squad rallied to finish an excellent fourth, being led home by former Morpeth Harrier Ashley Gibson, now running for Tonbridge, who finished 18th in the 261-strong field.
The scoring count was completed by Jane Hodgson, who had been called in as a late replacement for her club colleague Josie Cram, who had pulled out earlier in the week with a knee injury. Hodgson finished in 80th place.
Ahead of the North East in the Senior Women’s team race were winners Surrey, followed by Scotland East, with bronze going to Hampshire.
Morpeth’s Holly Peck finished 49th in the U15 Girls championship, and was third counter in a North-East squad which finished as ninth team.