Leaden skies and a grey sea offered a forbidding welcome to the 184 runners who took part in the 59th running of the annual Blyth Sands Race on Sunday afternoon.
High tides had meant the race being moved from its traditional 11am start to 1pm, but even at that time there was little firm sand on which runners could gain good purchase, and many competitors reckoned post-race that the conditions under foot were among the worst in the last decade – little firm sand, many troublesome stones of all sizes and a lot of rivulets and pools to negotiate.
‘The course is always the same but never the same,’ as one runner aptly commented later.
The race did see, however, one of the closest finishes in recent times, as Over 55 veteran Chris Morley, of North Shields Polytechnic, with a five-minute handicap off scratch, came through the field to pip two-times winner and Over 70 vet Mark McNally, of Elswick Harriers, in the finishing funnel.
McNally, who as an Over 70 had a generous 11 minutes, was hugely disappointed to be beaten in this fashion and later admitted he had had no idea he was being hunted down, looking as he was for a hat-trick of wins. He had indeed held what looked like a commanding and insurmountable lead, having turned round at Seaton Sluice.
In third place was a runner who had travelled a long way: Jarlath Mckenna, of Bristol and West, who, as a senior male, also recorded the day’s fastest time, 30 minutes 16 seconds. First woman home was O/45 Jeannie Brady, of Tynedale, and ninth overall in 39m 56s.
There were seven Morpeth Harriers taking part in total. Neil McAnany was first home for the club, 19th overall and fourth O/55 in what is currently a very tough category. He was followed home by Richard Johnson, eighth fastest on the day and 26th overall, and Gary Hall, 37th and third O/45.
Paul Bellingham and Peter Scaife, both O/55 vets, were 44th and 47th respectively, and O/60 Richard Sill 52nd. Archie Jenkins, a stalwart and past winner who never misses the race, completed Morpeth’s competitors in 111th.
Morley’s triumph as race winner was somewhat dampened later by his disqualification from the team event for failing to wear a club vest.
This meant Heaton Harriers were awarded the team prize, with Tyne Bridge Harriers in second and North Shields Polytechnic demoted to third.
In last week’s Morpeth Herald, we reported on the disappointment of Morpeth Harrier Rory Leonard, in that he was forced to pull out of the U20 Men’s race in the UK Challenge in Liverpool, which also meant that he had possibly scuppered his chances of making the Great Britain team that is competing this coming weekend in Tilburg, in the Netherlands, in the European Cross Country Championships.
However, following events in Liverpool, fortunes for Leonard have somewhat changed, in that the GB selectors saw fit to eventually include him in their final squad, based on his excellent performances recently in Cardiff and Spain, where he ran very closely to team leader Jake Heyward, of Cardiff.
Providing Leonard could prove his fitness before Monday gone, the selectors would be quite happy to still include him.
Following two very stringent fitness tests given to him by his coach, a delighted Leonard has been found fit to travel and compete, and will now line up in Tilburg this Sunday, in the U20 Men’s event.
Four athletes from Morpeth Harriers, currently under the very watchful eye of coach Dave Thomas, competed in the opening Northern Athletics indoor fixture, held at Sheffield Arena on Saturday.
In her first outing over 60m hurdles as an U17, Amy Lott can feel very pleased with herself, as she won her heat in a time of 9.18s, which pushes her straight up to equal 37th in the UK for her new age group, and she was also fourth fastest overall over the two heats.
Lott also competed in the 60m sprint, finishing sixth in her heat, posting a time of 8.60s.
Including Lott, all four Morpeth Harriers performed excellently, each achieving good placings in the UK rankings as a direct result of their achievements.
Lott’s younger sister Hannah also rose to the occasion well, by winning the U13 Girls 60m hurdles in a new personal best time of 10.51s, a time which sees her ranked currently as 28th in the UK. Hannah also was sixth fastest in her age group in the 60m sprint, where she posted a time of 9.29s.
Mia Belton finished as eighth fastest in the Under 15 Girls 60m sprint in a time of 8.48s.
In the same age group, club colleague Alice Geoghegan finished as 12th fastest, posting a time of 8.65s. Geoghegan rounded off a superb day’s work, when finishing as third fastest in the 60m hurdles, achieving a new personal best time of 9.61s, which sees her rise to 37th in the UK rankings.
For Thomas, it was pleasing to see all four of his charges performing well and each achieving times that sit well in the national rankings, and he has high hopes for each of them as the season progresses.
He was particularly pleased for the younger Lott, who entered the Power of 10 rankings for the very first time, a remarkable achievement for one so young and only beginning the first rung in terms of the competition arena.
Posting a finishing time of 14m51s, Morpeth Harrier Carl Avery finished second to Leeds City athlete John Ashcroft in Saturday’s Croft 5k, held close to Darlington on the racing circuit. Ashcroft posted a finishing time of 14m42s.
Other prominent Morpeth finishers were George Lowry (fourth) 14m52s, Joe Armstrong (sixth) 15m10s, Andrew Lawrence (11th) 16m09s, and Ross Floyd (12th) 16m25s, and Richard Morrell (19th) 17m34s.
Morpeth’s other finisher was Archie Jenkins, who was 107th in 25m53s, who was third Over 60 Man.
Two hundred and twenty two finishers took part in Sunday’s annual Angus Tait Memorial Hexham Hobble Multi Terrain Race, run over one of the toughest courses of its kind on Hexham Common, starting and finishing in Allendale and organised by Allen Valley Runners.
Among those finishers were five runners from Morpeth Harriers.
First home from the club was Emma Holt, who finished in 20th place and was first Woman home in 77m05s.
Four places behind her and posting a time of 78m36s was Mark Snowball, who is very much in the early stages of a comeback after several weeks of illness.
Next home from the club was Paul Banks, who was two places behind Mark in 26th spot, posting a time of 78m41s, and was seventh Over 40 Man.
Les Cavill finished 124th, posting a time of 95m52s, and he was sixth Over 60 Vet Man.
Completing the Morpeth contingent was Gwenda Cavill, wife of Les, who finished 139th overall, and was third Over 50 Woman in 99m00s.
Running enthusiasts have an early opportunity to blow away their Christmas cobwebs by taking part in the annual Morpeth New Year’s Day Road Race, which on this occasion is being sponsored for the first time by Newcastle-based Heartscan.
They offer first class heart-screening throughout the region and already have strong connections with both individuals and professional sports clubs.
Pre-race entry is now available, courtesy of www.racenumber.co.uk, and this facility is open until midnight on Thursday, December 27, at rates of £7 for club runners and £9for non-club runners.
Race numbers to be picked up on the day from Race HQ at Morpeth Rugby Club, where on-the-day late entry is also available from 11.30am till 12.30pm, at an extra charge of £10 and £12 respectively.
Entrants must be at least 17 years of age on the day, and late entries will also still be eligible for prizes.
The first 200 finishers will each receive a Happy New Year Greeting, laced with a commemorative water bottle to mark the occasion.
Race action gets under way from the bottom of Dogger Bank on Mitford Road in Morpeth at 1pm.
Runners will follow a course through and along to Mitford, on to Mitford Steads, and returning to Morpeth via the Whalton Road, turning at the Golf Club corner, down past the Sun Inn to Mafeking roundabout, into Carlisle Park, and along the Promenade, to the finish line on the Stanners.
Further event details, and late arrangements nearer the time, will be found on the Morpeth Harriers website on www.morpethharriers.com