AT long last, after many years of numerous tireless efforts, Morpeth Harriers Senior Men have secured an English National Cross Country title, and they did it on relatively local soil, albeit on Wearside, writes George Patterson.
Seventeen athletes from the club ranks turned out at Herrington Country Park, in what could only be described as Arctic conditions, very similar to the North of England Championships, held at Knowsley last month, to ensure that they were to be a force to be reckoned with, and their scoring six, who included four of their bronze medallists from Knowsley, brought success by finishing in the top 60 of a 1,000 plus field of starters.
Morpeth Harriers were led home, in this the 126th running of the Senior Men’s 12k Championship, by their severely mud-splattered European Cross Country Championship team silver medallist Jonny Taylor who, having recovered his composure following a second-lap tumble when lying in the first three, along with Northern Champion Steve Vernon of Stockport and 2012 winner Keith Gerrard of Newham and Essex Beagles, finished in a superb eighth position.
It soon became apparent that Morpeth Harriers were winning the battle of the tricky conditions, as their next three finishers, Richard Morrell, Lewis Timmins, and Matthew Nicholson, came home in excellent positions of 11th, 15th and 21st respectively.
So with four home, it remained to be seen whether the next two could ensure success and indeed there was joy to be seen on the club’s team management faces when Graeme Taylor and Ryan Stephenson, who were running their first ‘national’ for the club, defied all odds to finish in 46th and 52nd places respectively.
When the results were finally announced, Morpeth Harriers had beaten fellow northerners Leeds City, the reigning champions, who were on for a hat-trick of successes, with Midlands club Tipton Harriers taking third.
Just adrift of the six counters were Nick Swinburne, Ian Hudspith and Ian Harding, who all had excellent runs to finish in 74th, 75th and 80th places respectively.
These placings also saw Morpeth Harriers at the head of the separate nine-to-count listing (non award winning), again ahead of Leeds City, but Notts AC replacing Tipton in third.
Morpeth Harriers had five more athletes who did well to place in the first 200. They were Jordan Scott (113th), Michael Dawson (150th), Ben Harrison (166th), Andrew Lawrence (170th) and Thomas Straughan (185th).
In addition to these, Paul Waterston, Michael Thomsen and Alistair MacDonald all produced excellent runs in the tricky conditions, to finish 230th, 345th and 480th respectively, which meant that the club’s Senior Men’s squad had finished entirely in the top half of a large field.
Morpeth Harriers Senior Men’s Road and Cross Country team manager David Swinburne was very upbeat afterwards about his squad’s performance, particularly the bravery of Jonny Taylor, Richard Morrell, who had undoubtedly played a star role on the day, and Ryan Stephenson, who had coped superbly in conditions not to his particular liking.
He also singled out special praise for Nick Swinburne and particularly Ian Hudspith, who both, despite not getting among the scoring six, had shown great supporting character.
David Swinburne added that the present squad could now go on as a realistic force in the quest for medals at the forthcoming Northern and National Road Relay Championships later in the next two months.
He also praised the club’s president Jim Alder and secretary Mike Bateman for their work behind the scenes as supportive mentors.
Alder was particularly thrilled to be asked to present the medals on behalf of the England Cross Country Association to his club at the presentation at the end of proceedings.
The Senior Men’s event saw Newham and Essex Beagles Keith Gerrard retain his hold on the title, with Northern champion Steve Vernon of Stockport, once again having to settle for the runners-up spot, after mounting a superb challenge throughout.
In addition to the Senior Men’s achievements, Morpeth also celebrated other good performances at the Saucony-sponsored championships.
Most notable was that of Kieran Hedley, who followed up his seventh placing at last month’s Northern Championships by finishing a superb 17th against countrywide opposition in the U13 Boys’ 3k event.
Although feeling rather shivery afterwards, Hedley clearly mastered the tricky surface that was getting steadily worse.
He was pleased to lead his club to ninth team place, with excellent support coming from Philip Kirby (100th), Alex Cunningham (102nd), and Josh Burton (119th), in a field of 205 finishers.
Another competing Morpeth Harrier in the U13 Boys event was Matthew Ingledew, who unfortunately was minus his spikes, and finished in 202nd place.
Two hundred and twenty three runners finished in the U15 Boys 4.25k event, which was run when the snow was falling at its thickest.
Morpeth Harriers were led home to 18th team place by Ryan Green, who adapted better than some to the conditions to finish in 66th place.
Green was supported in his clubs team effort by Jarod Lewis (141st), Jacob Hopkins (175th), and Sam Williams (203rd).
With the conditions not to his particular liking, Morpeth Harrier Jonnie Nisbet battled strongly to finish in the top half of the Junior Mens 10k Championship field. He came home in 71st place.
Although Morpeth could not mount a team challenge in this event, with only three runners taking part, the other two, Sam Hancox and Tom Brookes battled well to finish 102nd and 106th.
The Senior Womens 8k event saw Morpeth Harrier Emma Holt maintain her excellent form by finishing 55th, and was superbly second from the region, having mastered the difficult conditions with a great deal of determination.
Although further back in the field in 330th place, club colleague Claire Bruce battled bravely to the finish.
In the U17 Womens 5k event, which was the first on the ten race programme, runners were experiencing relatively virgin snow, which was proving to be deep in some parts of the course.
Nevertheless Morpeth Harrier Alison Brown coped well with a great deal of determination to place 58th in a total field of 150 finishers.
She was also seventh from the North East, and well ahead of some useful opposition.
Hannah Sheerin from Morpeth Harriers finished 125th.
In the U15 Girls 4.25k event, Morpeth’s Charlotte Jewell battled all the way to finish 108th in a total field of over 200 runners. She was also eighth from the region.
Another Morpeth Harriers finisher in this event was Harriet Grace, who ran a determined race to place 202nd.
In her very first “National,” Morpeth Harrier Kate Seymour ran well to finish 173rd in the U13 Girls 3k event.
Morpeth Harriers wish to thank their most loyal supporters Rob Hancox and Peter Scaife for turning out in the early morning, in what could only be described as appalling conditions, in order to erect the well required club tent, and for providing hot liquid, with the added bonus of some hot food al-fresco, a treat well appreciated by all on cold and wintry day.
Thanks also go to the organisers English Cross Country Association, and UKA Officials and volunteer course marshals and first aid for their sterling efforts to ensure the welfare and safety for all who took part in a superb event, despite the difficult conditions that prevailed throughout.