THERE was evidence of spring in the air when hundreds of athletes descended on Parliament Hill Fields, Hampstead Heath, in London on Saturday for the 125th renewal of the English National Cross Country Championships, writes George Patterson.
It was the 12th occasion that the Championships had been held at the iconic venue, which has now become known as its ancestral home.
The event began in 1876, when only a handful of Senior Male athletes took part.
It has now developed into a 10-event programme, covering competitors from U13 upwards and of both genders.
In contrast to 2011, when conditions at Alton Towers, Staffordshire, were much less favourable, and nearly became abandoned, the course at Parliament Hills was in good raceable condition for all.
Against what has become a most well-known backdrop, as seen on many TV films and documentaries, runners were to get a fleeting glance of the wonderful view of the London architectural skyline from the infamous Kite Hill, the highest point on the course – only those who could allow the time to take it in.
Most were there for the competition, of course, and none more so than Morpeth Harriers’ best individual performer on the day Jonnie Nisbet.
Jonnie finished 21st in the U17 Men’s one small lap and one long lap 6k event in a time of 20m24s, which saw him as first home for the region, just one place ahead of North East Champion Wayne Parker, whom he passed in a close run to the finish line.
Nisbet was also fourth home from the North of England, and was ahead of two Northern minor medallists in Fergus Roberts of Richmond and Zetland (28th) and Tom Bains of Hallamshire (31st).
Morpeth Harriers were represented in five of the 10 events on offer, however, could only complete as a team in the Senior Men’s 12k, for reasons to be explained further on in this report.
They finished as first from the region in 11th team place behind a dominant Leeds City, who retained the title that they had won in the swamp-like conditions at Alton Towers 12 months previously, and were also third from the North of England behind Stockport.
The Morpeth Senior Men’s squad were led home by Jonny Taylor, who, after being among the front-runners in the early stages, gradually went off the hectic pace to finish ninth.
Second home was Matt Nicholson, who ran solidly to finish 35th, but finished needing medical attention for apparent breathing difficulties.
Two places behind him was Lewis Timmins, who by his own admission had a disappointing run. Fourth counter was Sam Forester, who had jetted in from Germany especially for the event.
Sam can feel well pleased with his efforts to finish 118th, however had been battling for a top-100 placing.
Next home for Morpeth Harriers was Andrew Lawrence, who on relatively home turf, being based in London, did well to finish in 210th.
Andrew has a good individual record on Parliament Hill, having been a Morpeth Harriers team medallist at the venue for their U17 and U20 Men’s teams at previous Championships.
Completing the Morpeth Harriers team score was Ben Harrison in 278th place, just three places and one second ahead of club colleague Neil Gunstone.
Other Morpeth Harriers Senior Men’s performances came from Paul Waterston and Mike Hegarty, who finished in 601st and 618th places respectively in a field of 1,688 Senior Men’s competitors.
Other North East clubs to finish among the teams in the Senior Men’s event were: South Shields (71st), Saltwell (88th), Low Fell (95th) and Aurora (125th).
The most disappointing result of the day for Morpeth Harriers undoubtedly came in the U15 Boys’ 4.5k event, where Ryan Green (hamstring pull) was forced out in the early stages and, although he responded to medical assistance and was later able to walk around to support colleagues in subsequent events, he now faces a race to be fit in time for the English Schools Cross Country Championships, at Ilton, Somerset in three weeks’ time, where he is one of Northumberland’s leading hopes.
Despite the loss of Green, his Morpeth Harriers U15 Boys’ colleagues carried on to achieve good individual efforts.
North East Champion Phil Winkler led them home in 37th place and was first from the region, as well as being sixth from the North of England.
Elliot Kelly again produced an excellent run to finish 60th, and was second from the region, as well as being 10th from the North of England.
Third home was Jared Lewis, who, when finishing 161st in a total field of 366 finishers, really excelled and, in addition, was sixth from the region.
It was thought by Morpeth Harriers’ team bosses that if Green had finished in his usual place, the club would have achieved sixth team place and would have made them the club’s best team performers on the day, as well as second from the North of England.
One Morpeth Harrier who certainly benefitted from being cheered on by her clubmates was Alison Brown, who, in finishing 98th, made it into the top 100 of a 342-strong field in the U15 Girls’ 4k event.
Jacob Hopkins maintained a great deal of pride with his performance in the U13 Boys’ 3k event, where he finished in an excellent 66th place and was third finisher from the region behind Gateshead Harrier Markhim Lonsdale, who finished in silver medal place on the day, only losing out on gold by a mere four seconds.
Hopkins’ Morpeth Harriers club colleague Euan Jones also ran well to finish 252nd in a 373-strong field of finishers.
Unfortunately, on a negative note, Alison Brown was Morpeth Harriers’ only female competitor on the day, a factor that must be judged by coaches at the club.
l ON Sunday, Eoin Everard of Morpeth Harriers won the bronze medal in the final of the Men’s 1500m at the BUSA Indoor Championships in Sheffield.
The Northumbria University student, coached by Lindsay Dunn clocked a time of 3m50s, after winning his heat on the Saturday in 4m04.83s.
l MORPETH Harriers are pleased to announce that their Benfield Motors Athlete of the Month award for January 2012, has gone to U13 athlete Jacob Hopkins.
Jacob mainly earned his award for his truly outstanding performance at the North of England Cross Country Championships, held at Pontefract, where he finished 15th, and was Morpeth Harriers’ best-placed Young Athlete on the day and, in addition, was second overall from the region in his age group.
l A FIELD of 54 hardy competitors took part in one of Cumbria’s toughest challenges on Sunday, February 12.
The Buttermere Round, which, as indicated, is a round circuit from Keswick to Buttermere and back, which involves some very tough and undulating terrain to be encountered. Amongst the aforesaid competitors were two Morpeth Harriers.
The event was won by Altrincham’s Andy Norman in a time of 2hr12m50s and approximately 15 minutes later he was followed home by Gordon Dixon, who was first Over 50 Man in 2hr27m45s, finishing sixth overall.
Mike Winter, of Morpeth Harriers, finished 32nd in 2hr47m59s, and was ninth Over 40 Male.