Harriers bag triple medal haul at relays

THREE sets of team medals were won by Morpeth Harriers at the annual Royal Signals Road Relays on Saturday, writes George Patterson.

They form the North Eastern Counties Championships and were held at a very rain-soaked Hetton Lyons Park, in Hetton-le-Hole, County Durham.

Despite the aforementioned rain, which had seriously affected parts of the course, the event reported a record entry.

Morpeth Harriers took silver medals in both the Senior Women’s and Over 40 Veteran Men’s sections, and bronze medals in the Senior Men’s event.

Having seen the lead change no less than three times in front of them, Morpeth Harriers Senior Men battled all the way in their six-stage relay to eventually take bronze medals, only losing out to New Marske by 33 seconds for silver, with Gateshead Harriers regaining the winner’s title by a margin of 34 seconds.

Running a third fastest overall time of 10m47s for the two-lap 2.2mile course, Nick Swinburn very much got the squad into the frame, following the earlier legs of Carl Avery (11m32s), Michael Dawson (11m46s) and Thomas Straughan (11m41s), which had left them in close contention with the leaders.

Ian Harding held on to third place throughout the penultimate fifth leg with his clocking of 11m09s and, although Ross Floyd produced an excellent 11m15s on the final leg, he couldn’t quite manage to get on terms with the front two.

Morpeth Harriers Senior Men’s B team, which consisted of three U17 Men, two U20 Men and one Senior Man managed to clinch an excellent 10th place among some stern opposition.

Fastest in this team was Elliot Kelly, who clocked 11m55s on first leg, as he came home in 12th place.

Although they slipped back to 15th place on the legs of Ryan Green (12m43s) and Phillip Winkler (12m19s), fortunes were restored by excellent runs by Sam Hancox (12m09s), and John Butters (12m04s), which saw the squad rise back up to 10th.

Phillip Caldwell held onto this placing throughout his final leg clocking of 12m32s.

An excellent, and perhaps surprising, silver-medal-winning performance was achieved by Morpeth Harriers Over 40 Veteran Men in their six-stage relay.

Fergus Bates had the squad well placed on leg one, when he got round the 2.2 miles in 12m07s.

Phil Walker (12m38s), Paul Waterston (12m37s), Geoff Whitman (13m10s), Jim Alder (14m00s) and Rob Hancox (13m18s) battled throughout to ensure that the squad were always in the frame for silver medals, with Crook very much bearing down their neck in bronze-medal placing.

Meanwhile, Elswick Harriers took the gold medal spot.

Fresh from her warm weather training in Kenya, Laura Weightman looked every inch the class act, as she easily clocked the fastest time of the day, 11m22s for the 2.2mile distance, run over two equal laps, which took her club into a second-leg lead in the Senior Women’s four-stage race.

She had taken over in 14th place, following U17 athlete Alison Brown’s first-leg clocking of 14m39s.

Brown was having her first ever outing in a Senior Women’s A team for a championship and can be fully excused for possibly feeling a little daunted. However, creditably, she had left Weightman with plenty of opposition in close reach to chase down and the 2012 Olympic Women’s 1500m finalist certainly did what was required to gain an excellent lead over Northern Cross Country bronze medallists Jarrow and Hebburn, with early leaders Durham City, courtesy of international Rosie Smith (12m16s, third fastest of the day), now back in third place, with eventual winners Birtley close behind in fourth place.

Third leg saw Jane Hodgson enter the fray and she performed brilliantly to hold onto a lead that was fast being closed down by both Jarrow and Hebburn and Birtley.

Hodgson got round in 13m25s, which put the Morpeth Women’s team 23 seconds ahead of Jarrow and Hebburn, and a further 19 seconds ahead of Birtley going into the final leg, run by their team manager Sarah Wilkinson, who is also very much on the way back following injury.

Sarah ran courageously throughout her leg, to hold off the now-very-close attentions of her younger rival Lydia Turner of Birtley, who were very much sensing their first-yet North Eastern Championship victory.

Wilkinson was only caught in the final quarter of a mile and unluckily only lost out on gold by 10 seconds, with her individual clocking of 12m59s.

Turner had to produce the second fastest time of the day, 12m07s, to catch Wilkinson to earn Birtley their title.

Jarrow and Hebburn held out for the bronze medals.

The Morpeth Harriers’ Women’s B-team performed well to finish eighth.

Their fastest time of 14m14s was recorded by U17 athlete Charlotte Jewell, who ran well on third leg.

Jewell was experiencing a Senior Championship for the very first time, as was Abby Sheldon, who clocked 15m24s on the second leg.

Lorna MacDonald had the squad in 11th place on the first leg, with a clocking of 14m20s, and fourth-leg runner Kate Chapman secured their final placing with a clocking of 15m19s.

Morpeth Harriers Veteran Women’s team finished sixth, courtesy of Lindsey Turnbull (14m46s), Shuna Rank (15m54s), Lesley Chapman (16m36s) and Claire Walker (17m30s).

NO less than four young athletes from Morpeth Harriers came under the judge’s microscope as their prospective choices for the Benfield Motor Group Athlete of the Month award for January 2014.

The award was eventually given to U17 athlete Alison Brown, who was the club’s best finisher at the Northern Athletics Cross Country Championships, held at Knowsley Safari Park on Merseyside.

Alison’s run also fully justified her call-up to the North East squad for the forthcoming Inter Counties Cross Country Championships in Birmingham.

It means a very busy competitive period for the Berwick based youngster, as also during January, she competed well in the Northumberland Schools Cross Country Championships, which eventually led her to be included in Northumberland’s squad for the All England Schools Cross Country Championships to be held at Castle Donnington, Leicestershire, also in March.

Alison now joins Ryan Green (July 2013), Sean O’Hara (August 2013), Amber Cormack (September 2013), Nathan Cox (October 2013), Will Sibson (November 2013) and Joe Dowd (December 2013) on the list of candidates in line for a more lucrative award as part of the Benfield Motor Group sponsorship later in the year.