Busy weekend on the road for Morpeth Harriers

Laura Weightman in action in Sutton Park. Picture by Hudson Stoker
Laura Weightman in action in Sutton Park. Picture by Hudson Stoker

It was certainly a busy weekend of road racing action for Morpeth Harriers.

Athletes took part in the annual English National Men’s 12-Stage and Women’s 6-Stage Road Relays, held at Sutton Park, in Sutton Coldfield, near Birmingham, on Saturday, and on Sunday, on more local soil, the annual Blyth 10k.

Mhairi MacLennan in action in Sutton Park, on her debut for Morpeth Harriers. Picture by Hudson Stoker

Mhairi MacLennan in action in Sutton Park, on her debut for Morpeth Harriers. Picture by Hudson Stoker

First port of call, the relays, where despite two weakened teams, Morpeth Harriers still managed to finish in an excellent 13th place in the Women’s 6-Stage, and took 31st place in the Men’s 12-Stage event.

The Women’s 6-Stage, which involved two long legs covering just under 9k in distance, and four short legs covering 5.14k, saw Catriona Macdonald, having her first ever outing in a National 6-Stage contest on the long opening leg.

With extremely talented athletes around her, she was not phased as she came home 25th out of 56 starting teams, posting a time of 33m38s, which at the time was just under two minutes adrift of the early medal protagonists, Swansea, Leeds City and Southern Champions Winchester.

Second leg saw Olympian Laura Weightman enter the fray for Morpeth and she was really the catalyst for what was to become an excellent Morpeth performance, as she climbed a mammoth 14 places to 11th, posting what was to become the second fastest overall short-leg time of 16m44s, which was slightly headed by Bristol’s Kate Maltby’s 16m38s, on the same leg, which put them into second place, between new leaders Leeds City, and third-placed Winchester.

While a keen battle ensued over the remaining four legs for the minor placings between Bristol, Swansea, Winchester and, briefly, Cambridge & Coleridge, Leeds City remained in front throughout, eventually to take the champions title by an excellent margin of nearly four minutes, as they posted a total time of 2hrs12mins44secs.

Second went to Swansea (2hrs16mins21secs), and third place went to Winchester (2hrs16mins35secs).

Meanwhile Morpeth, courtesy of Josie Cram (19m52s), Lorna MacDonald (Long) (35m38s), Sarah Graham (20m45s) and debutant Mhairi MacLennan (18m22s), continued to maintain an excellent performance throughout, to reach their final placing, which to their ultimate credit, also saw them finish as third from the North, behind winners Leeds, and sixth-placed Rotherham Harriers, who had gone into the contest as Northern Champions.

Considering they were missing the services of Emma Holt, who has still not recovered from her unfortunate injury sustained when warming up at last month’s Inter Counties Cross Country Championships, and Jane Hodgson and Gemma Floyd who were both unable to travel, this performance was quite remarkable, and a touch more than expected, so the outcome was most pleasing for the club.

Unfortunately, injuries played a big part in Morpeth’s Senior Men fielding a much-weakened squad for their 12-Stage Championship, with Peter Newton, Ian Hudspith and Nick Swinburn all missing notables, the latter with a recently diagnosed stress fracture.

However, they did have one of their leading lights in competitive action, in the form of Jonny Taylor, whose 26m17s over the long first leg, had the squad in the excellent position of fourth, and only 10 to 15 seconds adrift of early leaders Cardiff, with Bedford and Leeds City just ahead in second and third places respectively.

Taylor’s time was just outside the top 10 long-stage times overall.

Chris Smith lost very little ground on the short second leg, posting a time of 16m06s.

On third leg, which was a long leg, James Taylor got around in 29m24s, however pressure was certainly mounting around him from strong opposition as he finished 19th.

Thomas Straughan on the short fourth leg, pulled a couple of places back, as he ran his club’s fastest short-leg time of the day in 15m59s.

The next three legs run by Andrew Lawrence (29m07s), Jake Masterman (17m34s) and Ian Harding (28m25s), who had just completed a night shift in the care home where he works, saw the squad settled in 21st place throughout.

Sam Hancox, who has only just recovered from injury, battled round the short eighth leg in 18m10s, to finish 23rd.

Jordan Scott (29m41s), Rob Hancox (18m35s) and Karl Taylor (29m30s) saw the squad through to the final leg in holding 26th place.

Due to another late withdrawal, team manager David Swinburne was forced into action himself on the final 12th stage to ensure that Morpeth finished as a team following all the earlier efforts, as he completed the short leg in 20m47, to finish 31st.

This gave them a finishing position as ninth overall from the North of England, and second from the region behind Tyne Bridge, who finished 25th.

Morpeth’s total finishing time of 4hrs 39mins35secs over the 12 legs was around 20 minutes adrift of a medal-winning spot, however to the credit of those who rallied to Swinburne’s call, they performed with a great deal of credit to the cause.

* Ross Floyd won Sunday’s Blyth Valley 10k Road Race, sponsored by Transped and organised by local neighbours, Blyth Running Club.

Posting a finishing time of 31m55s, he also took the North-Eastern Counties Gold Medal, in the Championship, which was incorporated into the event, and it also marked Floyd’s first ever senior individual title.

After being hotly pursued by his Morpeth Harriers club colleague Thomas Straughan throughout most of the out-and-back route from Blyth Harbour to Seaton Sluice, he eventually stole away in the hot and sunny spring weather, to record a seven-second margin victory, and Straughan took a thoroughly deserved silver medal, ahead of Shettlestone’s Daniel Bradford, who was a further 10 seconds adrift.

Straughan had competed well for his club in Sutton Park less than 24 hours earlier, so this medal was thoroughly deserved.

Another Morpeth finisher who had also competed for his club in Sutton Park was Karl Taylor, who finished seventh in 33m26s.

Next home for Morpeth Harriers was James Young, who placed 17th in 34m20s, just one place and 18secs ahead of club colleague Jake Masterman, who had also run in Sutton Park the previous day.

Morpeth Harriers took the Men’s Team title, courtesy of Floyd, Straughan and Young, with Taylor ruling himself ineligible to count, for not wearing his club vest.

Other Morpeth Harriers finishers were Matthew Boyle (38th) 36m51s, Thomas Innes (41st) 36m55s, Rob Hancox (42nd) (3rd O/50 Man) 37m02s, who had also run in Sutton Park the previous day, Dave Richardson (47th) 37m21s, Richard Castledine (71st) 38m25s, Gemma Floyd (96th) (3rd O/35 Woman) 39m36s, Alex Zeller (173rd) 42m59s, Paul Bellingham (174th) (5th O/55 Man) 42m56s, James McFetrich (201st) (26th O/40 Man) 44m01s, Vicky Gibbs (218th) (9th O/35 Woman) 44m52s, Norman Clark (274th) (4th O/65 Man) 47m21s, Jilly Bell (319th) (12th O/45 Woman) 50m37s, Sue Smith (357th) (9th O/50 Woman) 53m41s, and Dave Gray (424th) (10th O/65 Man) 57m39s.

The event had a total of 545 finishers.

* He swims superbly, he cycles very proficiently, he runs like a true champion and his name is Daniel Dixon, who is also Morpeth Harriers Under 15 Boys North Eastern Cross Country Champion.

These attributes have now made Dixon No1 Youth Triathlete in England and Wales, following a very competitive Workshop/Championship run by Triathlon England, and held over two days in Loughborough, Leicestershire, on Saturday, and Sunday, April 1 and 2.

There was certainly no fooling about by Dixon as he exited the water in 4m22s, and holding second place to Rochdale’s Marcus Dey, who is already a leading light in British Triathlon.

With only a 14 second margin between Dixon and Dey going into the cycle phase on Day 2, it was up to Dixon to seize an initiative, and this he did with much aplomb, as he managed to outwit Dey, who seemed as though he wanted to ride out of all the effort being made by Dixon being slightly in front of him.

When it came to the final phase, the 2.5k run, Daniel was more the master and stole away from his rival, to post a total time over the three phases of 24m17s.

Dey had also been passed by Connor Bentley of Wrekin in Shropshire, who had a total time of 24m27s, with Dey taking third place overall in 24m32s.

Another Morpeth Harrier taking part in the competition was Under 17 athlete Alex Cunningham, who finished further down the total field of 70 finishing competitors.

Alex finished 54th, with a total time of 29m05s.

For Dixon, it was indeed a fine achievement, being No 1 in England and Wales, and being up against lads who are nearly two years older than himself.

It all bodes well for him as he goes into a quite frenetic summer schedule of triathlon competition at high level.