Seven sets of team medals (three gold, two silver, two bronze), and eight individual medals (one gold, five silver, two bronze), very much summed up the excellent performances by Morpeth Harriers’ athletes at the 109th running of the annual North Eastern Cross-Country Championships, held for the first time, on Newcastle’s Town Moor on Saturday, and superbly hosted by one of the region’s newest running clubs Tyne Bridge Harriers, writes George Patterson.
The venue certainly provided a most spectacular backdrop to a most excellent day of competition, which included a nine-race programme, with the longer races of a 4k lap, incorporating the tough hilly areas near to the Cow Hill roundabout, which by the later stages were proving most tricky, having transformed into a muddy slime from the earlier effects of an overnight frost.
Athletes most affected by those conditions were the Senior Men, who covered no less than three laps, spanning a distance of 12k.
Despite the testing surface, Morpeth Harrier Jonny Taylor cast aside any disappointments in not qualifying for the European Cross Country Championships, also held over the weekend in Bulgaria, by winning the Senior Men’s Championship, and also leading his club to a very handsome set of team gold medals into the bargain.
It didn’t come easily for Taylor, however, as he was very much forced to battle for his win by clubmate Nick Swinburn, who ran a superb race to finish second and only five seconds adrift.
Morpeth clearly showed their dominance, when Lewis Timmins held off the toughest of challenges from 2013 champion Dan Garbutt to claim a well-earned bronze, in what could easily be described as one of the club’s runs of the day.
Another Morpeth Harrier to perform well was Nathan Shrubb, who finished a superb fifth, but unfortunately was a non-counter for the team due to residential requirements.
However, Morpeth still had enough good scoring counts to take the team title, with Carl Avery (eighth), Ross Floyd (ninth), and Ian Harding (14th), all superbly adding to the efforts of Taylor, Swinburn and Timmins.
Not far behind Harding, and also producing an excellent run throughout was Thomas Straughan, who came home in 17th place. The event had a total of 355 finishers that also included Rob Hancox, and Mark Crosby of Morpeth Harriers, who finished in 86thand 266th places respectively.
Another excellent team win for Morpeth Harriers came from their U17 Men, in their 5.6k Championship, as they were excellently led home by Scott Beattie, who claimed an individual silver medal, just losing out for gold in the later stages to Middlesbrough Mandale’s Nathan Baker, by a margin of six seconds.
Further superb team support came from Nathan Cox, who finished fourth, only losing out for individual bronze to Crook’s Markhim Lonsdale by five seconds, and an excellent 10th place achieved by Adam Gibbs. Other Morpeth Harriers U17 Men’s performances came from James Young (15th), Jacob Hopkins (20th), Jack Armstrong (26th), and Adam Weightman (32nd).
Morpeth Harriers’ most surprising, yet most delightful, team win of the day, came in the very first event, the U13 Boys’ 3k.
The club very nearly saw another individual gold medal here from Daniel Dixon. Daniel only just missed out by four seconds to Blyth’s Josh Fiddaman, and no doubt had his watching father Gordon, also a Morpeth Harrier of long standing, hoarse with excitement as he supported from the sidelines.
Dixon was superbly supported in the well-achieved team victory by Ross Charlton (fifth), and Thomas Cunningham (19th). There was a total of 66 finishers that also included excellent runs by Morpeth’s Daniel Melling (21st) and Lewis Eke (25th).
Another Morpeth Harriers candidate for run of the day was Elliot Kelly, who performed superbly throughout the U20 Men’s two-lap 8k Championship, to finish in third place, and to win his first North Eastern Cross-Country individual medal, despite having competed for his club since being an U15 athlete.
Elliot ran so well that he was only 20 seconds adrift of the more experienced gold medal-winner Barry Maskell of Gateshead Harriers, and a mere 10 seconds adrift of silver medal-winner Jordan Bell, of Blackhill Bounders.
His effort was justly rewarded by his medal, and a guaranteed place in the regions Inter County squad for Birmingham in March.
Another two Morpeth Harriers who have worked hard in this age group are Phillip Winkler and Sam Hancox, who were justly rewarded when their respective placings of 11th and 14th saw their club take silver team medals behind winners Gateshead.
Morpeth Harriers’ U15 Boys very nearly secured silver team medals in their 4k event, however, despite having the same points total as second-placed Middlesbrough Mandale, they narrowly missed out in a countback situation.
Having his first run as an eligible athlete for Morpeth Harriers, Taylor Glover (formerly with Blyth) led the squad home in fourth place, just missing out for an individual bronze by eight seconds.
Further excellent team support came from Kieran Hedley (fifth), and Joe Dowd (20th). Other Morpeth performances in the 64-strong field of finishers came from Adam Shewry (26th), Alex Cunningham (27th), Matthew Waterfield (41st), Jamie Duguid (46th), and Cameron Dick (51st).
These achievements meant that Morpeth Harriers had won team medals in all five of the male events, and they had done enough to win the overall trophy in that light.
Despite only winning team medals in two of the four female contests on offer, Morpeth Harriers have most likely won the overall trophy in that category.
It was individual efforts that certainly caught the eye in the Morpeth female events, and none more so than Emma Holt in the Senior Women’s 8k and Holly Peck in the U13 Girls’ 3k Championships.
Rosie Smith, of Durham City Harriers, clearly ran away from the rest in the Senior Women’s two-lap event, however, tracking her carefully throughout, and well away from others was Morpeth Harrier Emma Holt, who won individual silver, and led her club to team bronze medals, with superb supporting runs coming from Josie Cram (ninth), and Vicky Gibbs (21st).
Other good performances in the 179 finishers came from Jane Briggs (75th), Carol Parry (106th), in her first championship, and Susan Smith (123rd).
Very unlucky not to secure team medals were Morpeth Harriers’ U13 Girls, who finished as fourth team behind Darlington, Houghton and Gateshead Harriers.
An individual medallist, however, was Holly Peck, who only just lost out for gold to Gateshead’s Grace Varley by a mere five seconds, and held off immense pressure from the promising India Pentland of Darlington, who was a further four seconds adrift in third place.
Further excellent runs in the event came from Rhiannon Hedley (16th), Lily Heaton (21st), and Nicole Teasdale (36th) in a total of 59 finishers.
Silver team medals were won by Morpeth Harriers’ combined U17/U20 Women’s team in their 5.6k event.
They were led home by Emma James, who finished 11th in her very first championship.
Further team support came from Charlotte Jewell and Alison Brown, who finished in 19th and 20th places respectively, followed by Abby Sheldon and Louise Brett, who were 27th and 28th respectively.
Lizzie Rank finished 25th in a 50-strong field of contestants in the U15 Girls’ 4k event. However, she was the lone Morpeth Harrier taking part, making it the only event of nine where the club failed to finish as a scoring team.
It is also very likely that as a result of Morpeth Harriers having won the two overall trophies, they will also secure the overall competition trophy. The club will also have a good number of athletes who will figure largely in selector’s minds for the Inter Counties in March as a result of the day’s performances.
The wins by Morpeth in the Senior and U17 Men’s events saw the club retain its hold on the respective Championship trophies.