Leonard chases all the way for second place at UK Challenge
Despite the horrendous overnight weather conditions in South Wales at the beginning of the weekend, the opening fixture of the 2018/19 UK Cross Challenge still went ahead as planned in Llandaff Fields, close to Cardiff, on Saturday.
By the time action, which included performances by three athletes from Morpeth Harriers, got under way, the torrential rain had ceased and the wind had decreased to a stiff breeze, and conditions underfoot were reportedly much better than anticipated, considering the previous 12 hours or so in surrounding areas, which had seen flooded areas of road and several fallen trees.
Best of the three performances was by Under 20 athlete Rory Leonard, who was hoping to make an enterprising start to his first season in his new age group, knowing he was going to be up against some stiff opposition, including some athletes who were a good year, or perhaps even two years, older than himself.
Nevertheless, the 2017/18 Under 17 Inter Counties Cross Country Champion was not to be deterred, and was very much at the front of affairs of his two lap 6.4k event for most of the way, sharing front running duties with other leading lights such as City of Stoke’s Connor Bentley, Chesterfield’s Alex Ediker, Cambridge & Coleridge’s Tom Keen, Milton Keynes’s Ben West, City of Portsmouth’s Lachlan Wellington, Menai’s Oliver Barbaresi and Welsh pair Elliot Lawrence, of Swansea, and local favourite Jake Heyward, of Cardiff.
By the time half-way was reached, the leading group had very much begun to break up, with only Leonard, Heyward, Barbaresi and Lawrence, along with Wellington, at the helm of things.
With 1k remainin,g Heyward made a determined surge for home, and while the group broke again, only Leonard continued to give chase to the local hope.
Heyward slightly increased his lead in the final 200m, however Leonard had not given up in the chase, and by the time the Welshman crossed the finish line to take victory in 19m56s, Leonard had cut down his margin of lead to a mere 14 seconds.
It was a superb run for the Morpeth man, and the margin to the third-placed Barbaresi had increased to 25 seconds.
Barbaresi just snatched the third place from Swansea’s Lawrence on the run-in.
Northern Senior Women’s Cross-Country Champion Mhairi MacLennan, of Morpeth Harriers, certainly gave her all in the Senior Women’s 6.4k event.
She was well to the fore in front-running affairs until the final quarter, locking competitive horns with race winner Anna Moller, of Denmark, Shildon International Kate Avery, making a competitive comeback on British soil, Aldershot’s Emily Hosker-Thornhill and Blackburn’s Jess Judd. MacLennan bravely ran to finish an excellent fifth, a mere 22 seconds adrift of Moller, who won in 21m48s, by a margin of four seconds from Avery.
In his first official outing in a UK Challenge event, Morpeth Under 17 Man Daniel Melling performed extremely well in his 5.56k event, run over two medium sized laps.
Melling certainly acquitted himself well by finishing 15th in a 46-strong field of finishers, posting a finishing time of 18m43s, which saw him finish a mere 50 seconds adrift of race winner and event favourite Mohamed Ali, of Ealing, Southall & Middlesex.
The next UK Challenge event is held at Milton Keynes on Saturday, November 10.
It was very wet and damp on the fells in Northumberland on Saturday.
However, the hills around Alwinton, and the annual show, were very much alive to the presence of several Morpeth Harriers, who were clearly dominant in their respective performances in the annual fell races.
Although wearing the colours of Northumberland Fell Runners, European mountain supremo Nick Swinburn was very much in fine form as he won the Senior Men’s event by almost two minutes from his Morpeth clubmate John Butters, posting a finishing time of 17m36s. Butters was the first Veteran Man.
Finishing in third place, and 15 seconds adrift of Butters, was another Morpeth Harrier, Matthew Briggs.
The Morpeth dominance continued when Phillip Winkler finished fourth in 20m15s.
Emma Holt made it a Senior event double victory for Morpeth, when she finished in sixth place in 21m15s, taking the Women’s event.
Next Morpeth finisher was Emma’s husband Tony, who finished eighth in 21m31s.
Morpeth’s other Senior finisher was Paul Bellingham, who placed 31st in 25m13s.
The Morpeth Harriers’ dominance clearly showed in the Junior race, which was won by Under 17 Man Daniel Dixon, who posted a finishing time of 19m17s.
Finishing in third place overall was Bertie Marr, who won the Under 13 Boys event in 21m18s.
Fourth place in the Under 13 Boys race went to Joe Dixon, younger brother of Daniel, who posted a time of 23m33s, when placing seventh overall.
Finishing in 10th place overall was Abby Leiper, of Morpeth, who was second Under 13 Girl, posting a time of 24m40s.
Other Morpeth finishers in the Junior event were James Tilley (16th) 27m39s, Toby Marr (21st) 30m37s, Max Marr (22nd) 30m37s, and Lucy Charlton (26th) 38m45s.