THE spectacular backdrop of Alnwick Castle and its rolling pastures, bathed in early spring sunshine, proved to be the perfect setting for Saturday’s fifth and penultimate Start Fitness-sponsored North Eastern Harrier League event, writes George Patterson.
Over 800 enthusiastic runners descended on the venue for a nine-event programme, which saw some superb results achieved by athletes from Morpeth Harriers.
The club enjoyed two superb team wins from their youngest male competitors, and their Senior Men also competed well, to finish second on the day to Sunderland Harriers, which clearly maintained their season-long interest at the head of the Division One league table, with one meeting to go.
The most notable talking point in the Senior Men’s performances was that of Junior Men’s athlete Phillip Caldwell, who certainly took full advantage of his slow pack start by establishing an early lead, which he superbly held, until being caught in the later stages by Sunderland Harrier Weynay Ghebresilasie.
The Northern champion was easily the fastest man on the course by all of 83 seconds, as he stole away for victory in his second Harrier League appearance.
Caldwell meanwhile battled on to take a well-deserved second-place medal on the day, and led Morpeth Harriers home to second team place, with added support from English National Cross Country gold team medallist Graeme Taylor (eighth) (fourth fastest) (Fast Pack), Ross Floyd (12th) (sixth fastest) (Fast Pack), Alistair MacDonald (22nd) (Slow Pack), a truly brilliant run from Sam Hancox (34th) (Medium Pack), and Fergus Bates (35th) (Slow Pack).
Not far adrift of the counters and having an excellent run was Michael Thomsen, who finished 41st from the Medium Pack.
In all it was an excellent turnout on the day by the Morpeth Harriers Senior Men, who including the aforementioned mustered a total of 13 athletes.
Other performances came from Mike Winter (71st) (Medium Pack), Ed Hillier (102nd) (Slow Pack), Jim Alder (122nd) (Slow Pack), Gordon Dixon (173rd) (Slow Pack), newcomer Mark Snowball (217th) (Slow Pack), and Richard Kirby (247th) (Slow Pack).
Morpeth Harriers’ two younger age group team victories came from their U13 and U15 Boys, who in doing so further cemented their placing at the head of the respective Harrier League Grand Prix standings.
The U13 Boys were led home by Cameron Dick, who in his first outing revelled in the part muddy surface to finish in fourth place from the Slow Pack.
Unfortunately he finished just three seconds adrift of a Harrier League individual medal.
An emphatic team victory for Morpeth was duly sealed, with Kieran Hedley producing a superb fastest on the day from the Fast Pack to place fifth, and an excellent Adam Shewry finishing seventh, from the Slow Pack.
Other good performances came from Alex Cunningham (27th) (Fast Pack), Phillip Kirby (37th) (Fast Pack), Josh Burton (39th) (Fast Pack), and Robbie Elder (44th) (Slow Pack).
Running from the Slow Pack, Morpeth Harrier Euan Jones produced an excellent run to finish seventh and led the clubs U15 Boys home to team victory, with excellent scoring support coming from Ryan Green (eighth) (fifth fastest) (Fast Pack), and Jacob Hopkins (14th) (10th fastest) (Fast Pack).
Other Morpeth Harriers performers in this age group were Jarod Lewis (16th) (Fast Pack), and Sam Williams (19th) (Fast Pack).
In a very tight team race, Morpeth Harriers U17 Men finished fourth on the day behind Tynedale Harriers, Blackhill Bounders, and hosts Alnwick Harriers.
Running an excellent second fastest of the day, Phillip Winkler came through from the Fast Pack to finish in eighth place, and only 31 seconds adrift of the fastest man Isaac Dunn of Blackhill.
Second placed Morpeth Harrier was Elliot Kelly. He was fifth-fastest overall, when he placed 13th from the Fast Pack.
Joe Elder closed the Morpeth Harriers U17 Men’s team count when finishing 22nd from the Slow Pack.
In the combined U17 and Under 20 Womens event, Morpeth Harrier Alison Brown produced an excellent run to finish fifth from the Fast Pack, and was a superb fourth fastest in the event.
Ailsa Jones led Morpeth Harriers U13 Girls home to fifth team place when she finished eleventh from the Slow Pack.
Running the eighth-fastest time of the day, Lizzie Rank was second counter when finishing 18th from the Fast Pack.
Kate Seymour closed the scoring count when finishing 36th from the Fast Pack.
Morpeth Harriers Senior Women finished as eighth in Division Two in their two-lap event.
They were led home by a very much in form Emma Holt, who was fourth fastest overall on the day when she came through to finish a superb 17th from the Fast Pack.
Further supporting runs came from Gemma Floyd (55th) (Fast Pack), and Claire Bruce (127th) (Slow Pack).
The non-scoring mixed gender U11s event, which is classed as a development event, saw a total of 60 runners toe the starting line.
Among them were eight athletes in Morpeth Harriers colours.
It gave the club an opportunity to give some of their aspiring youngsters a rare taste of competition.
The 1k course for the U11s had been modified to include a steep climb, which also involved a steep downhill.
One young man who certainly revelled was Daniel Dixon, son of the clubs long serving veteran Gordon, was first home for the club in sixth place, finishing two places ahead of club mate Adam Kirby.
Three places behind Adam came Ross Charlton, also clearly enjoying his first taste of action.
Next home for the club was Rhiannon Hedley, (younger sister of Kieran), who is gaining more experience with each outing.
She finished 15th, and was fourth girl finisher.
One place behind Rhiannon was another Morpeth debutant in Bobby Stone.
Other Morpeth Harriers finishers were Brandon Thompson (42nd), Joshua Williams (43rd), Matthew Bell (49th), and Faye Archibold (56th) (19thGirl).
Morpeth Harriers sprint coach Eddie Hedley was very praiseworthy of his young charges who took part in the latest meeting of the Gateshead Indoor Standards Series, held at Gateshead College.
Five personal bests were created, and in many cases some of the clubs athletes were competing a year young in their age group.
In the U15 Girls 60m three personal bests were set by Morpeth’s Lauren Eadington (9.11s) (fourth), Shannon Docherty (9.19s) (fifth), and Grace Tighe (9.77s) (sixth).
After running 8.74s for sixth in round one of the U17 Womens 60m, Morpeth’s Kirsty Lang, returned to action a little later to record a new personal best of 8.72s that earned her fifth place.
Although she went out after round one, her club colleague Megan Deakin also clocked a personal best of 8.92s in the same age group.
Kirsty also cleared 1.40m in the high jump. Two other Morpeth Harriers also competed at the meeting.
They were Jarod Lewis, who finished sixth in the U15 Boys 60m in 8.71s, and also cleared 1.40m for sixth in the high jump. His coach and fellow Morpeth Harrier Craig Pickup had a solo victory in the Senior Men’s shot, with a best of 8.99m.