It was an excellent day for the region, and for Morpeth Harriers athletes Rory Leonard and Carl Avery, as they each respectively won gold and bronze individual medals at the English National Cross-Country Championships.
The event was held within the splendour of Harewood House, ancestral home of the Lascelles family, near Leeds, on Saturday.
Thankfully the glorious sunshine, that broke through following early morning fog, made the occasion even more memorable as a spectacle, and equally well worthy of the extremely hard work put in by the organising team, led by Northern Athletics official Steve Gaines, himself a former Morpeth man.
In that, there would be no one more pleased than Gaines, when the day eventually ended, however, his day would certainly be most brightened by the very sight of Rory Leonard coming home to clinch the approximately 8.9k Championship, run by the Junior Men.
It was very much a case of “The Lion Returns to Harewood,” as this was very much the scene of where Leonard took the first of four titles in just over a year, having won the Northern Under 17 event in January 2018, followed a few weeks later by an Under 17 Inter Counties title at Loughborough, and last month he took the Northern Under 20 Men’s title at Pontefract.
On Saturday, it was only natural that Leonard would be one of the likely favourites for victory, however being a first year Junior, and up against rivals a good year older than himself, he would certainly have to work his socks off to make it more of a reality.
He certainly did that in abundance, and it wasn’t until the final downhill that he felt confident of victory.
On the final climb, Leonard managed to kick away from his chasing rivals, from where he continued his way to the finish line, and the loudest of cheers, as he became the first Morpeth Harrier for all of twenty four years to capture an English Cross Country National individual title, the last being Carley Wilson in 1995 at Luton, where she won the Under 13 Girls event.
Prior to that, there had only been two other Morpeth National Cross-Country title holders, and they were also both Under 13 Girls, they were firstly Angie Foster in Birmingham in 1989, and Lyndsey Bradley, again in Luton, but on a different course in 1993.
Second finisher, and eleven seconds adrift of Leonard was his Northern rival Nathan Dunn of Preston, who took individual silver, with Shaftesbury’s Jeremy Dempsey a further four seconds adrift in third place taking the bronze medal.
Unfortunately, Morpeth Harriers only just missed out on team medals in the Junior Men’s event, finishing in fourth place overall, nine points adrift of third placed Reading AC, with Tonbridge winning from Cambridge and Coleridge by a margin of twenty-three points.
This was despite excellent supporting runs by Kieran Hedley (43rd), Alex Brown (50th), and Matthew Briggs (74th), in a finishing field of 201 runners, which meant that they had finished as first Northern club, ahead of Preston who were sixth, who were the Northern Champions at Pontefract.
Long term injury victim Taylor Glover is obviously a big miss to the success of this age group.
In the Senior Men’s 12k event, despite giving his all, Morpeth’s Carl Avery eventually succumbed to the front running tactics of Southern and Northern Champions Mahamed Mahamed of Southampton, and Emile Cairess of Leeds City.
Avery, who also just lost out to Cairess in last month’s Northern Championship at Pontefract, was still determined to add another gold medal to the one that he had won on the very same course just over twelve months previous in the 2018 Northern Championship, so much so, that he again went to the front in the final quarter as they battled the more hillier stretches of the tough demanding circuit.
It was only on the final downhill that Avery began to wilt slightly, and Mahamed and Cairess made their respective moves to steal clear.
At the finish line, Mahamed took the Gold by a mere second, adding to the Junior title that he won in London in 2018.
Meanwhile Avery hung on for the Bronze medal, 29 seconds adrift, just holding off a fast finishing John Millar of Ipswich.
Unfortunately, on the first of the two gruelling Senior Men’s laps, Morpeth lost the services of Thomas Straughan, who was forced out with a leg strain, and later in the event, they also lost Jordan Scott, who had been well to the fore in the field of 2006 finishers.
With this happening, the club had to look back to 131st place for their next supporting counter in the form of Andrew Lawrence.
The club could only finish as 18th team behind winners Leeds City, second placed Tonbridge, and third placed Bristol and West, with further scoring counts coming from Adam Pratt (259th), Alistair Douglass (302nd), Phillip Winkler (317th), and Tom Innes (461st).
They were sixth from the North however, and retained their mantle as first from the region, ahead of Tyne Bridge Harriers, who were twenty second overall, and Gateshead Harriers, who were 29th.
Other Morpeth Harriers finishers in the Senior Men’s event were Mark Snowball (476th), David Nicholson (1053rd), and Steve Haswell (1258th).
The Under 17 Men’s 6k event, was won by Wallsend’s Sam Charlton, who won by nine seconds from Aldershot’s Will Barnicoat, with Shaftesbury’s Henry McLuckie just hanging on to take the bronze medal, after being an early pace-setter over the two medium laps.
Morpeth did well to finish as tenth team here, behind winners Invicta of Kent, with Charnwood and Tonbridge taking the minor team medals.
Nevertheless, Morpeth were second from the North to Trafford AC, who were one place and 24 points ahead of them.
Finishing in 52nd place, Daniel Melling led the Morpeth squad home, just one place, and a mere second ahead of club colleague Rowan Bennett, with Tom Balsdon (104th), and Lewis Eke (163rd), completing the Morpeth scoring tally.
Lewis, who has been putting a great deal of effort into his training without competing, did extremely well in the 272 strong field of finishers.
Morpeth’s only other finishing team were their Under 13 Boys, who finished 20th in their 3k event behind winners South London Harriers.
Their first finisher in the 408 strong field was Ryan Davies, who finished in 60th place overall. Other Morpeth scoring finishers were Bertie Marr (104th), Joe Dixon (183rd), and Joseph Hudspith (212th).
The club were seventh from the North, and first from the region.
Holly Peck was Morpeth’s sole representative in the Under 17 Women’s 5k Championship, finishing in thirty second place, and was tenth from the North, however, was second from the region behind Darlington’s India Pentland, who ran extremely well to collect an individual silver medal behind Border Harrier Olivia Mason, who just won by a two second margin.
In the Junior Women’s 6k event, Morpeth’s two representatives Robyn Bennett and Gracie Hufton finished in 40th and 96th places respectively in a finishing field of 129.
A field of 1034 finishers took part in the Senior Women’s 8k event, where Morpeth’s Emma Holt finished 55th, and was twenty third from the North, and third from the region.
Morpeth Harriers had three athletes competing in the Under 15 Boys 4k event.
They were led home by Ben Walker, who finished in 100th place, followed by Dylan Davies and Sam Tait, who were 136th and 291st respectively.
Finishing off the Morpeth Harriers performances in the English National Cross-Country Championships, Rebecca Bradley was 216th in the Under 15 Girls 4k event.
There was some disappointment in the Morpeth camp however by the lack of commitment shown to these championships, shown by some of their more Senior age groups, especially with the event being held closer to home.