Two teams of vets for first time

The Morpeth Harriers veterans athletes that competed at Sutton Park.

The Morpeth Harriers veterans athletes that competed at Sutton Park.

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Morpeth Harriers’ veterans flew the flag for the North East at the British Masters Relays at the weekend and performances at the hotly-contested event more than made up for the 7.30am start and long journey down to the Midlands.

The event sees veterans compete in a number of age-related categories, and for the first time, Morpeth fielded two teams – one in the 35-45 six-man event and a second in the 45-55 four-man race.

On the hottest day of the year so far – with temperatures hovering around 23 C – there was little opportunity to draw breath as teams fought it out round the undulating 2.9-mile circuit in the traditional setting of Sutton Park on the outskirts of Birmingham.

Evergreen veteran Phil Walker, one of two athletes able to compete at the 45-plus category, but stepping down an age group, put the club on the way, his very solid start and clocking of 16m 41s leaving them in 16th place at the end of leg one.

He was followed on leg two by Fergus Bates, who moved the club up to 13th with a time of 16m 39s, and on leg three by Mick Thomsen who clocked the same time (the fastest for the club on the day), and it moved them for the first time into the top 10.

Although still returning from injury, leg-four runner Paul Waterston (another athlete like Walker able to compete in the 45-plus race) held on comfortably to ninth place in a time of 17m 10s, and he was followed on leg five by Morpeth Harriers’ Men’s captain David Swinburne, competing in the Masters event for the first time.

Not having raced since January through injury, Swinburne admitted himself to being a little ring rusty, but he showed every inch of his competitive experience in measuring his performance and, as the field became increasingly strung out, his time of 17m 36s kept the club’s ninth place.

So it was up to Tony Lewis, new to the Masters event and to competition at this level, to bring the club home and he did so with aplomb, gaining a further two places.

His time of 17m 38s for the sixth and final lap left the club with an overall finishing time of 1hr 42m 23s, some seven-and-a-half minutes behind the winners Altrincham (1h 34m 48s).

Meanwhile, in the as-hotly-contested 45-55 age category, a comparatively inexperienced Harriers team, only one of whom had competed here before, gave a good account of themselves to finish in a respectable 20th place overall.

They were put on the road by Jim Alder who, resisting the temptation to go out too hard in the mass start of leg one, came home in 28th place in a time of 18m 39s.

Steve Haswell, though new to the event, moved the club up a handful of places with his time of 18m 35s, and he was followed by the Harriers’ own brummie in exile, Rob Hancox.

Also new to the event, but not to the setting – having in fact run round the park as a schoolboy, Hancox showed the fine form he is currently enjoying with the team’s fastest clocking of the day, 17m 34s.

With the team now in the top 20, Alistair Macdonald was able to maintain position for a top-20 finish and he came home in a time of 18m 6s.

Morpeth’s seventh place in the 35-45 category was the highest for a North East team, and in addition the club was the only one from the region to field two teams.

Organiser Phil Walker, who has worked so hard for many years to get teams out for this event, said: “It was a real achievement to get two teams down and considering the sizzling temperatures, we ran pretty well.

“Seventh in one event and top 20 in the other is a major success; it’s great to get people to compete on a national stage like this, especially with so many doing it for the first time. It’s something to build on for future years, definitely.”