Young Harriers set pace at Easter weekend road races
Morpeth Harriers were well to the fore among the winners at the annual Elswick Harriers Good Friday Road Races, held at Newcastle's Newburn Riverside Business Park.
Despite a stiff breeze, runners’ efforts were blessed with warm early spring sunshine, which made conditions good for relatively fast times.
The club’s athletes excelled, achieving no fewer than three individual course records and two team victories, plus two second team places, on a hotly-contested day.
However, their five-year hold on the senior men’s team trophy was finally broken by Gateshead Harriers.
Gateshead were boosted by Chris Parr’s course record-breaking effort of 10m07s over the 2.2-mile course on leg three of four, which restored their earlier lead.
After a very steady first leg start by Kevin Calvert’s 10m45s, putting them in fifth place, Morpeth took a second-leg lead courtesy of Lewis Timmins’ 10m26s.
Ian Hudspith tried to maintain that lead on leg three as he got round in 10m13s, the second-fastest clocking of the day.
Third equal fastest of the day was Morpeth’s fourth and final leg runner, Carl Avery, who clocked 10m16s, only equalled by Gateshead’s final leg runner Callum Johnson, who sealed a three-second margin of victory over Morpeth at the finish line.
Morpeth Harriers proved their dominance in the senior men’s event by having their B and C teams in fourth and fifth team places.
Sam Hancox ran the fastest leg time for their B team, posting a clocking of 10m37s, the second fastest on the first leg.
Other B team performers were Karl Taylor (10m54s), Jordan Scott (11m14s) and Robert Balmbra (11m25s).
The Morpeth C team were 11 seconds adrift of the B team, courtesy of Chris Smith (10m57s), Mark Snowball (11m26s), Matt Nicholson, making a competitive comeback after almost an 18-month lay-off (11m13s), and Ian Harding (10m45s). After Elliot Kelly, making a welcome comeback following illness, got Morpeth Harriers’ senior men’s D team up to 20th place with his clocking of 11m38s, they eventually finished 23rd.
Further contributions were made by Neil Gunstone (12m52s), Steve Patterson (12m26s, and Mark Brown (12m27s), making a fleeting competitive comeback in the midst of his current coaching career with the club.
It didn’t take long for the senior women’s course record to be broken. European and Commonwealth medallist Laura Weightman soon saw to that, as with her first-leg posting of 11m08s, she was 13 seconds inside the old record, previously set by Sunderland Strollers international Alyson Dixon three years ago.
Weightman was also the only senior woman to get below 12 minutes on the course, putting her in a class apart.
Josie Cram took over for Morpeth on the second leg, and despite running hard during the first mile of her 2.2-mile leg, she was eventually caught by Birtley Athletics Club’s Tracy Millmore.
Cram battled again after being caught, and she bravely managed to keep the margin down to 11 seconds as she handed over to third and final leg runner Gemma Floyd.
Floyd also battled hard, but she couldn’t quite match the pace of the much younger Sophie Burnett, of Birtley, who went on to take the title with just over a minute to spare, as Floyd got round in a respectable 13m11s to take second place ahead of Gateshead.
Morpeth Harriers’ senior women’s B team finished seventh, courtesy of Abby Sheldon (14m25s), Catriona MacDonald (13m42s) and another athlete making a competitive comeback, Sarah Wilkinson, also the women’s team manager, with 12m45s, and who was certainly leading by example with that performance.
Morpeth Harriers also had a women’s C team competing, and they finished 22nd out of 52 teams, courtesy of Hannah Rank (14m12s), Lizzie Rank (15m05s) and Jess Swindells (15m01s).
A very strong performance by Morpeth’s veteran men saw them take the winners’ title by a 26-second margin ahead of second-placed Tyne Bridge Harriers, who made an excellent start and led throughout the first two of four 2.2-mile legs.
Fergus Bates had Morpeth well placed on leg one, coming home in third place in 11m18s, only 14 seconds adrift of the leaders.
Mick Thomsen battled hard to maintain a top-three position in the second leg, but he slipped back to fourth despite his clocking of 12m15s.
All was to change, however, on leg three as Michael Morris, yet another Morpeth Harrier making a competitive comeback, moved his club into a five-second lead with his clocking of 11m10s as he handed over to final-leg runner John Butters.
Butters, the current veteran men’s course record-holder, got round in an identical time to Morris to clinch an excellent team victory.
Morpeth Harriers’ veteran men’s B team finished in seventh place out of 47 complete teams, also including a Morpeth C team, who finished in 28th place overall.
Morpeth’s two veteran women’s squads finished in 15th and 24th places respectively in their 3 x 2.2-mile event out of 36 complete teams on the course.
Their B team was their first of the two finishers, courtesy of Jane Kirby (15m37s), Jacinta Wake (16m47s) and Shuna Rank (15m49s).
The A team squad was made up of Carol Parry (16m03s), Claire Walker (17m22s) and Susan Smith (16m48s).
Morpeth Harriers had two individual winners in the 1.6-mile events for younger age group, plus an outstanding team victory in the under-15 boys’ event.
Led by Daniel Dixon, who broke the course record when he clocked 7m56s for individual victory, team support by Taylor Glover, second in 8m10s, and Ross Charlton, fifth in 8m25s, ensured a rampant success for Morpeth.
Also prominent for the club in this event was Matthew Waterfield, who managed to finish tenth in 8m54s.
A superb individual run by Lily Heaton, of Morpeth, saw her win the under-13 girls’ event in 9m30s, breaking the old course record by a second, a time clocked by second-placed Rebecca Wren, of Gosforth Harriers.
Morpeth Harriers’ under-13 boys finished as fourth team, courtesy of Andrew Hudspith, sixth in 9m20s, an excellent club road race debut by young Alex Porteous, who finished tenth in 9m47s, and Reece Garrett, 30th finisher in 11m49s.