Bumper turn-out for Morpeth Road Race

THE Morpeth to Newcastle Road Race attracted one of the biggest turn outs in the event's history and the course record was nearly shattered as well.

Winner David Norman of Altrincham admitted afterwards that he could have done it if he hadn't been so cautious over the opening few miles.

Sunday's race, sponsored by PES Associates of Newcastle, drew the usual field of 'die hards' as well as fun runners for Britain's oldest half marathon arguably the oldest in the world.

The sponsors' input of 15,000 has ensured the 'Morpeth's' future for some time, and despite the change of date from the traditional New Year's day start enthusiasm has not waned.

About 50 runners in the 800-plus field took part for the named charities of PES Associates The Chernobyl Continuity Project and the Northern Counties School, Jesmond, which acted as a base for the finish of the event. Among them was PES Associates Chief Executive Brian Burnie, who finished 571st in 113m23s.

The icy cold conditions overnight gave the organisers one or two anxious moments but by the time the athletes reached the start line on the Telford Bridge the frost had abated.

They were set on their way by the Mayor of Castle Morpeth, Coun Alan Taylor, and Mike Parr, of Radio Newcastle.

As the runners sped up the hill out of Morpeth pre-race favourites Carl Thackery of Hallamshire Harriers and David Norman of Altrincham were prominently placed in the leading pack.

It was Thackery's first attempt at the 'Morpeth'. He is the eighth best UK half marathon runner with a time of 64m28s.

Norman had his second run in the event, having accompanied his brother Andrew in 2001 when he placed second to Morpeth's Mark Hudspith. Norman is currently 15th in the UK Half Marathon rankings with a best of 65m24s.

Also among the leading group of 20 as they headed out of Morpeth were the two pre-race favourites for the Ladies title Andrea Green of Dartford Harriers and local hope Claire Smallwood of Jarrow and Hebburn, both tackling the event for the first time.

Green is currently ranked 11th in the UK for the distance with a best of 75m53s.

Smallwood figures in the UK 10k rankings at 35th with 34m52s and in the 5k rankings at 24th with 16m50s, so for her it was a real test of stamina.

As the runners approached the Sun Inn it had become evident that Thackery had put in his first efforts to get away from the rest of the field, and only Norman had responded.

The pair now had about 30 metres between themselves and a chasing group that included Carnegie's Peter Morrison, Sunderland's Dave Robertson, Grant McLean, from Wellington in New Zealand, Paul Besford of Gateshead, John Moore of Heaton Harriers, Ieuan Ellis, Elswick's Welsh International, Paul Johnson of Morpeth Harriers and Steve Murdoch of Border Harriers.

Only Morrison seemed to be showing any signs of trying to maintain any contact with Thackery and Norman as they reached the first Mile just outside County Hall in 5m33s. The climb up to Clifton saw Morrison drift back a little and Thackery and Norman continued to work together with neither giving way.

Two miles was reached in 11m03s, which meant that the second mile was clocked in a slightly faster 5m30s.

Morrison in third place was being hotly pursued by Robertson of Sunderland and Morpeth's Paul Johnson had despatched himself from the chasing group in pursuit of Robertson.

Thackery and Norman continued relentlessly towards Stannington at a hurried pace. They reached three miles in 16m01s having clocked the fastest mile so far of 4m58s.

The pair continued at this pace throughout the next mile to reach Stannington in 21m00s.

The pace was telling but neither man was prepared to give way and five miles was reached in 26m19s, a slightly more sober mile of 5m19s achieved.

They were heading for a part of the course that has been known to destroy the hopes of some of the best, the notorious Blagdon Bank.

Jim Alder once destroyed the hopes of the great Derek Ibbotson here, and likewise the Morpeth maestro also once saw his own hopes dashed by the visiting hardman of Coventry Godiva, Dick Taylor.

Thackery was the first of the leading pair to attempt to put some daylight between them, but Norman was not prepared to be dropped.

So when the top of Blagdon Bank was reached Norman briefly went to the front as Thackery regained breath and some composure.

Six miles were reached in 31m46s, which meant that despite the heavy climb the pair had clocked a good 5m27s.

And 10k was reached in 34m05s which was just over a minute down on 2002 but very respectable considering the slight breeze from the South.

Conditions were absolutely perfect otherwise and another reasonably fast mile of 5m19s saw Thackery and Norman reach the Holiday Inn in 37m05s.

Both men tore around the Seaton Burn roundabout and they reached the eight mile point in 42m14s having ran a breathtaking mile in 5m09s.

It was at this point that the first signs of fatigue started to show, and it was Thackery who suffered most. Just before the Moor House corner at Seaton Burn Norman showed a burst of pace and Thackery failed to cover it.

Norman headed up the bank towards the Travellers Rest at Wideopen completely on his own leaving Thackery to face the final four mile or so on his own.

The nine mile marker was reached by Norman in 46m58s, which meant that he had just ran the fastest mile of the race in 4m44s.

Thackery said later that it was that effort which finally destroyed any hopes that he had of winning.

Norman continued on his way home, only pausing to give the occasional over the shoulder glance to assure himself of his hopes of victory in the 88th Morpeth to Newcastle race.

He reached the Gosforth Park Hotel in 52m02s with Norman having administered another punishing mile of 5m04s.

He produced yet another good mile of 4m54s to reach 11 miles in 56m56s which was only 38 seconds adrift of the 2002 time set by Dominic Bannister.

Gosforth High Street saw Norman reach 12miles in 62m26s having covered the climb within that mile to the Regent Centre.

Now Norman definitely scented victory as he approached Newcastle's Town Moor and he sped on to cross the finish line to a tremendous welcome in 67m48s.

Norman later confessed to being disappointed not to have broken the course record. He blamed a cautious start.

Thackery had obviously found the last four miles hard and was glad to come home in second place in 71m19s and was first Veteran man to finish.

Exactly one minute behind Thackery came Sunderland's Dave Robertson to take third place having won his own personal Veteran battle with Morpeth Harrier Paul Johnson, who settled for fourth place in 72m54s.

This ensured Johnson would pick up the Jim Alder Trophy as first Morpeth Harrier to finish. Three out of the first four places in the race went to Veteran Men, a feat never achieved before in the history of the event.

Fifth place went to Peter Morrison of Carnegie who clocked 73m59s. McLean of New Zealand placed sixth in 74m20s while seventh went to Gateshead Harrier Paul Besford who clocked 74m57s.

Eighth place saw Heaton's John Moore finish in 75m04s to come home as the first runner from a club from the City of Newcastle, just one place ahead of Elswick's Ieuan Ellis who clocked 75m33s.

Tenth went to Dartford's Andrea Green who clocked 75m36s, and she will go down as the first lady ever to finish in the top ten of the race.

Andrea is the girlfriend of Morpeth's Ian Hudspith, so will have recieved some very sound advice before the start. Second lady was Claire Smallwood of Jarrow and Hebburn, who ran a very creditable 81m44s to place 39th overall.

Third woman home was Elswick's Judith Nutt who placed 71st overall in 85m30s and led her club to the ladies' team title with very able support coming from Andrea Banner (134th) 89m57s and Yvonne Swinhoe (