MORPETH Harriers came agonisingly close to winning two sets of bronze Championship team medals at Saturday’s Northern Athletics 12 and Six-Stage Road Relays, held at a windy Heaton Park in Manchester, writes George Patterson.
While the club’s Senior Men triumphed, unfortunately their Senior Women just lost out on a podium place by the slender margin of 23 seconds.
Boosted by the fastest Short Stage time, 14m16s, (over a distance of 2.8miles), run by the very-much-in-form Nick McCormick, they were always among the leading clubs.
They eventually finished in a total time of 4h27m31s, just under two minutes adrift of second-placed Stockport Harriers, who were also boosted by the fastest Long Stage (4.9mile), being run by National Cross Country Champion Steve Vernon, who clocked 27m20s.
Leeds City were the winners, thus regaining their title in 4h22m29s.
Morpeth Harriers’ day began well, when first leg runner Lewis Timmins came home in a very prominent sixth place in 27m54s.
Timmins was also the club’s fastest Long Stage performer of the day.
Second-leg runner Ross Floyd got the club up into third place with his excellent time of 15m30s, which proved to be the sixth fastest of the leg.
In his first Northern Relay, Carl Avery, although he surrendered two places on the long third leg, still kept the club in close contention of the medal placings with his personal clocking of 30m28s.
On the short fourth leg, Michael Dawson slipped back to sixth place as he clocked 16m46s.
However, fortunes were revived somewhat on the long fifth leg, when Matthew Nicholson moved Morpeth a little closer to the medals with his clocking of 28m37s, which proved to be the fifth fastest of the leg.
The short sixth leg run saw Thomas Straughan have what was easily Morpeth Harriers’ run of the day.
Not only did Straughan get them back into medal contention as he climbed two places to third, he also clocked the sixth fastest time of the leg with 16m10s, and the club’s fourth fastest short stage of the day.
Morpeth now had the veteran talents of Ian Hudspith on the long leg seven to take them into the second half of the contest.
Hudspith gave his all as he got round in the leg’s fourth fastest time of 28m21s and he only lost out in the closing stages to Salford’s Carl Hardman, who was in the process of clocking the leg’s fastest time of 28m04s.
Eighth leg saw Nick McCormick enter the fray and he gave his absolute all in the chase of second-placed Stockport Harriers after quickly passing his Salford rival.
In easily clocking the fastest short-stage time of the day with 14m16s, by the end of the leg he had Morpeth back up to third, but now only 15 seconds adrift of Stockport; however Leeds City were now a further 2m20s ahead in pursuit of regaining their title.
Unfortunately, Morpeth Harriers’ ninth-leg runner Ade Whitwam, in his first Northern Relay appearance, had Stockport’s in-form Andi Jones to contend with.
As Jones ran one of the day’s fastest times of 27m38s, Whitwam’s time of 29m10s, the leg’s fourth fastest, was not quite good enough to get on level terms; however, he had managed to put sufficient daylight between himself and fourth-placed Salford and fifth-placed Sale Harriers.
The tenth leg saw Morpeth’s Andy Lawrence hold third place, as he clocked the leg’s seventh fastest time of 16m18s.
It was now a very clear case for Morpeth Harriers to hold on to their well-earned bronze medal placing and they did so courtesy of Peter Newton’s 11th leg clocking of 28m29s, a superb fourth fastest of the leg, and Ian Harding’s 12th and final glory leg of 15m32s, an excellent run, which proved to be the second fastest of the leg.
So a good job was done and Morpeth Harriers Road and Cross Country team manager David Swinburne could reflect happily on his squad’s workmanlike performance, which brought well-deserved medals on the day, and, in addition, he felt totally encouraged about potential performances at the forthcoming National Championships, with stronger athletes still to be called upon.
Other prominent North East performances in the Senior Men’s relay came from Gateshead Harriers (12th), Tyne Bridge Harriers (15th) and Sunderland Harriers (18th).
Along with Morpeth Harriers, these three also qualified for the National Championships, to be held at Sutton Park, Sutton Coldfield, at the beginning of April.
Other North East competing clubs, however, outside the first 25 qualifiers were Durham City, Jarrow & Hebburn and Hartlepool Burn Road, who finished 35th, 36th and 43rd respectively.
Gateshead Harriers B team finished 47th.
Morpeth Harrier Neil Gunstone ran for an incomplete B-team, and clocked 32m31s, to place 49th out of 73 finishers on the first leg.
The Women’s six-stage relay, with laps of 2.8 miles, saw Lindsay Turnbull on Stage One.
Lindsay ran steadily as she came home in 37th place, in 20m37s, just over three minutes adrift of early leaders Leeds City.
Things quickly changed, however, for Morpeth Harriers on the second leg, as Olympian Laura Weightman climbed a mammoth 30 places with her impressive clocking of 16m36s, which was easily the fastest of the leg, and what was eventually to emerge as the second fastest of the day, only surpassed by Eleanor Vernon’s final leg of 16m25s, which was to secure silver medals for Stockport Harriers, behind eventual winners Leigh Harriers, who were much boosted by Lauren Howarth’s final leg clocking of 16m41s, the third fastest of the day.
Morag Stead set off very confidently on third leg for Morpeth Harriers and got her club closer to the medals with her impressive 18m28s, third fastest of the leg.
Morpeth were now only 22 seconds adrift of leaders Leeds City and only 10 and two seconds respectively adrift of second-placed Holmfirth and third-placed Wakefield, as Emma Holt set off in hot pursuit on leg four.
Try as she may, Emma did all she could to get into a medal position, however, at the end of her superb third-fastest-of-the-leg run of 18m08s, she still remained in fourth place, albeit still only two seconds adrift of third, who were now early leaders Leeds City.
Wakefield had also moved into second place and the race had a new leader, in the form of Leigh Harriers, courtesy of young Dionne Allen (17m30s), which was fastest time of the leg.
Sarah Graham, on the fifth and penultimate leg for Morpeth Harriers, moved them into third place at the expense of Leeds City, who had now moved back to seventh.
While Leigh and Stockport had moved further away in first and second places, Sarah ran with a great deal of determination to fend off the close attentions of the fourth-placed Wakefield runner and finished her leg clocking the sixth fastest time of 19m13s, which saw her leave a 12-second cushion for Morpeth Harriers Sarah Wilkinson, her women’s road and cross-country team manager, now thankfully back in competitive action following a lengthy lay-off with injury.
True to form, former international Wilkinson ran superbly, but unfortunately just couldn’t match Wakefield’s younger talent Julie Briscoe for pace and ultimately just lost out for the bronze medal by 23 seconds, with her individual clocking of 17m32s.
There were no other North East clubs in the Senior Women’s event.
STRONG gusty winds affected athletes’ performances at the annual English Schools Cross Country Championships, held at Donnington Park, Leicestershire, on Saturday.
Northumberland schools were strongly represented in the six-event programme, including some athletes belonging to Morpeth Harriers.
On the individual front, one of the best Northumberland performances came in the Intermediate Boys’ event, where North East U17 Men’s Cross Country Champion Nathan Cox performed well to finish in 52nd place.
Perhaps he may have paid a slight penalty for early enthusiasm, however, Cox will certainly remain upbeat in contrast to his previous week’s Inter Counties appearance, when he finished desperately following an asthma attack during his event.
On this occasion, Cox led Northumberland to 26th team place, with one of his supporting counts coming from fellow Morpeth Harrier Ryan Green, who was third home from the county in 156th place.
Another Morpeth Harrier competing in the Intermediate Boys’ event was Adam Weightman, who has been nursing a hip injury, but did well to come home in 265th place, as eighth from the county.
Undoubtedly Northumberland schools’ best team performers were their Intermediate Girls and, in that event, Morpeth Harrier Charlotte Jewell produced an excellent run to finish 112th, the region’s fifth counter and well in the top half of a 336-strong finishing field, which thus maintained her current run of superb form.
Back to the individual front, Kieran Hedley, who has missed so much of the top-quality winter championships with injury, produced an excellent run to finish 75th in a 333-strong Junior Boys’ field and was second counter in the Northumberland squad, which finished 16th.
Morpeth Harrier Phillip Winkler was fourth home for Northumberland in the Senior Boys’ event, finishing 190th out of a 314 strong field of finishers.
Northumberland were 24th team in this event.
Finishing 162nd, Alison Brown of Morpeth Harriers was Northumberland’s second counter home in the Senior Girls’ event.
Northumberland finished 37th in this event.
Also competing was fellow Morpeth Harrier Beth Woolley, who finished 280th, and was fifth of the required scoring six.
THIS Saturday sees the final Start Fitness North Eastern Harrier League.
The final fixture was meant to be held at Prudhoe, however, because of severe parking restrictions in place at Prudhoe High School, organisers have switched the venue to Cardinal Hume School at Wrekenton, the same location as the fourth meeting, which was held a few weeks ago.
Morpeth Harriers Senior Men currently lead the league standings in Division One and are hot favourites to take the title for the second year in succession.
The club’s U13 Boys are also well placed to win a league title.
Action gets under way at 12.15pm with a Cross Country Try It event for U11 Boys and Girls.
The Harrier League proper begins at 12.25pm with the U13 Boys’ event.
Senior Women are expected to go off at 1.15pm approximately and the nine-event programme is expected to close with the Senior Men due to face the starter at 2.15pm approximately.