It took until the very last of a programme of 10 events in all, for the region to collect a set of team medals at the annual English National Cross Country Relays on Saturday, writes George Patterson.
The event was held at Berry Hill Park, Mansfield, Nottinghamshire, for the 25th consecutive year, having begun in its present form in 1989, with the earlier events from 1985 being male athletes only, and held at Crystal Palace in London.
Once again, it was sponsored by Saucony, who were supporting the event for the ninth consecutive occasion and, on the day, announced that they were also going to carry on supporting the event for a further three years.
Those team medals were achieved by the Senior Men of Morpeth Harriers, whose performance was truly excellent throughout their 4x5k event, as they were seeking to add to the six sets of gold medals that they had previously won, the last of these being back in 2005 and the first being in 1993.
On this occasion, unfortunately, they took silver medals behind fellow Northerners Stockport Harriers, courtesy of Nick Swinburn (15m03.70s), Andy Wiles (15m49.35s), Ian Hudspith (15m38.30s) and Jonny Taylor (15m02.70s), only losing out by just over 23 seconds at the finish line for a gold medal finish.
Swinburn, who eventually emerged as ninth fastest on the day, gave the squad an excellent start on the first of the four legs, finishing seventh and only a mere 14 seconds adrift of early leaders Hallamshire Harriers of Sheffield.
Andy Wiles, running his first National Cross Country event for Morpeth Harriers, following his early summer transfer from New Marske, clearly showed that he meant business on the second leg, as he rose to second place just behind Stockport’s Alex O’Gorman, who had forged a lead that was never to be loosened throughout the following legs.
Wiles had, however, established a good medal placing for Morpeth with his run and passed a good situation over to Ian Hudspith on leg three to capitalise upon.
Although the Veteran Hudspith ran his socks off to maintain his clubs status, it was Highgate’s younger man and fellow international Ben Noad who clearly applied the pressure.
Noad came to the changeover line holding a fractional advantage as he handed over to Highgate’s final leg runner Audun Nordveit, with Hudspith handing over to Morpeth’s final-leg runner Jonny Taylor.
Taylor clearly showed he meant business as he quickly restored his club’s former placing and set about chasing down Stockport’s lead.
Although he did eat into some of their lead, as he clocked what was to emerge as the day’s eighth fastest time, there was just not enough ground left to take the major prize, as former Sunderland Harrier Jack Martin seized every opportunity for victory for the Cheshire squad.
Morpeth’s Senior Men still showed they were proud of their day’s efforts at the medal awards ceremony after the event, as they warmly applauded their gold and bronze medal-winning rivals, who both in turn celebrated their efforts also.
The only dark cloud and bitter sweet irony on the Morpeth Senior Men’s day was learning that their B-team’s efforts had come to nothing on the results scale.
A recording chip mix-up had rendered them as incomplete finishers, when in fact they had finished as a complete four-man team.
This is still to be resolved, as they would certainly have finished in the top half of a field of 143 complete teams.
Running for the Morpeth B-team were Ady Whitwam (15m55.25s), Karl Taylor (17m04.04s), Ian Harding (16m32.90s) and David Swinburne (unknown time or position).
Third-leg runner Harding had lodged the squad in 28th place at the end of his run.
Morpeth Harriers’ second-best performers on the day were certainly their Senior Women, who finished in 18th place in their 3x3k event.
They finished one place and 15 seconds ahead of fellow North East rivals Jarrow and Hebburn, who had former Morpeth athlete Maxine Czarneka in their ranks.
While Jarrow and Hebburn went up and down, and back up during the event, Morpeth made steady progress on each of the legs, beginning at 24th with Emma Holt (10m32.60s), 23rd with Josie Cram (11m14.20s) and ending at their final placing with Vicky Gibbs, who in her first National Cross Country outing for the club following her summer transfer from Wallsend Harriers, clocked 11m22.45s.
Ironically, Gibb’s former Wallsend Harriers clubmate Danielle Hodgkinson was a silver medallist on the day, with her new club Birchfield Harriers from the Midlands.
Morpeth Harriers had an excellent turnout from their U15 Boys, who managed to muster two teams in all for their 3x2k event.
They finished in 28th and 73rd places respectively out of a total of 81 complete teams.
Kieran Hedley had an excellent run on the first leg for their A-team, bringing them home in 12th place in 6m29.43s.
Second-leg runner Adam Shewry also performed well, despite slipping to 19th with strong opposition around him, as he clocked 7m08.80s.
Third-leg runner Joe Dowd brought them home to their final placing with his personal clocking of 7m22.20s.
The Morpeth Harriers U15 Boys’ B-team held 77th place throughout their first two legs run by Connor Marshall (7m25.05s), Alex Cunningham (8m01.75s), with Jordan Hedgecock taking them to their final placing with his clocking of 8m08.45s.
All three of these athletes were having their very first taste of National Cross Country competition.
Morpeth Harriers U17 Men certainly faced up to stiff and stern opposition in their 3x3k event.
Ryan Green, having his first cross-country outing of the season clocked 10m01.45s to come home in 43rd place on leg one.
Second-leg runner Adam Weightman gained one more place on second leg as he clocked 10m22.35s.
Adam Gibbs produced an excellent 10m07.10s on the final leg to gain another nine places to a final placing of 33rd on this his national debut, following his transfer from Wallsend Harriers.
All of the Morpeth Harriers U13 Boys were also making their bow at the event in their 3x2k event and all performed well to get a final placing of 54th out of 79 complete teams.
Thomas Cunningham, younger brother of Alex, clocked an excellent 7m43s, to finish 51st on the first leg.
Sam Bradley, unfortunately, slipped back to 71st on the tough and busy second leg with his clocking of 8m47.95s.
Fortunes were revived, however, when Ross Charlton clawed back 17 places with his excellent final-leg clocking of 7m50.0s.
Morpeth Harriers U13 Girls were also all having their first taste of national cross-country competition in their 3x2k competition, and they all combined well to finish 64th in a total field of 94 complete teams.
Holly Peck gave the squad a truly superb start, when she came home with a first leg clocking of 8m06.90s and with a placing of 42nd.
Although second-leg runner Rhiannon Hedley slipped to 50th place in her first outing as an U13 Girl, she could be well pleased with her clocking of 8m49.05s.
Lily Heaton clocked 9m19.25s on the final leg.
Morpeth Harriers only failed to finish as a team in four of the 10 events on the programme and only fielded one runner in the U17 Women’s 3x2.5k event.
Amber Cormack clocked 10m00.75s, getting a first leg placing of 46th.
Sam Hancox and Ross Floyd of Morpeth Harriers were prominent finishers in two respective park runs on Saturday.
With his club unable to field an U20 Men’s team at the English National Cross Country Relays, Sam and his father Rob took the opportunity to turn out at the Coventry Park Run, when visiting family in the Midlands.
Sam enjoyed crossing the finish line in first place, posting an excellent best 5k time of 17m00s.
Meanwhile, Rob was not very far behind him in fifth place, posting a time of 18m11s.
Ross Floyd was first across the finish line at Whitley Bay, posting a time of 16m15s.
James Young was a mere seven seconds adrift of his best 5k time, when he finished seventh in 17m56s.
At Druridge Bay, Morpeth Harrier Peter Scaife achieved his best finishing position of ninth, when he clocked 20m38s.
Also taking part were fellow Morpeth Harriers Bobby Stone and Graeme Leathard, who finished 13th and 14th with respective clockings of 21m10s and 21m16s.
Sunday’s Derwentwater 10mile Road Race attracted a total field of 386 finishers, including five athletes from Morpeth Harriers.
The event was won by New Marske’s Russ Best, in a time of 52m13s.
First home from Morpeth Harriers was Thomas Straughan, who finished eighth in a time of 56m03s.
Next home from the club, in a finishing time of 58m52s was John Butters.
Paul Waterston finished 18th in 60m01s and was second Over 45 Veteran Man.
Kevin Bray was sixth in the Over 55 Veteran Men’s category, finishing 109th in 69m56s and Mike Steven completed Morpeth Harriers’ tally, when finishing 192nd in 78m13s and was 10th Over 55 Veteran Man finisher.
Morpeth Harrier Ady Whitwam finished in an excellent 30th place in the Elite Men’s race at the Bupa Great South Run, held in Portsmouth on Sunday, October 26.
A top-class field lined up for the silver jubilee running of the event, which also included European Marathon Champion Daniele Meucci of Italy, who on this occasion could only manage to finish in eighth place.
The event was won by Kenyan James Rungaro in a time of 46m31s for the 10-mile distance.
First Briton was Ross Millington of Stockport, who finished one place ahead of Meucci, who clocked 48m13s.
Meanwhile, Whitwam clocked 53m30s for his placing and he was third Over 35 Veteran Man to cross the finish line.
Two Morpeth Harriers took part in the Castles Marathon and Half-Marathon events, held at Alnwick and Bamburgh on Sunday, October 26.
The events were the latest in the Run Northumberland series and attracted fields of 74 and 216 finishers respectively.
Conditions were far from ideal, with hurricane-force winds affecting runners in the second half of the marathon especially, where runners also encountered much hillier terrain, and with the field being well strung out, there was very little shelter for runners in the more exposed sections.
One of those affected in the marathon was Lorna MacDonald, who still managed to finish in a very creditable fifth place, and was second woman home, posting a time of 3hrs26mins, which was a little way short of what she had hoped for, however, was still pleased with her finishing position, considering the prevailing tougher conditions.
In the half-marathon, her Morpeth club colleague Paul Banks finished ninth, posting a time of 92m40s.