North East Cross-Country action got underway for 2018, when the fourth Start Fitness Harrier League took place at an extremely wet and muddy Herrington Country Park, near Penshaw, County Durham on Saturday.
Heavy overnight rain had certainly taken its toll, and although it had ceased by the time proceedings got underway, it was not long before most of the course had developed into a quagmire of wet mud, which made conditions most testing for competitors in the ten-event programme.
As usual, athletes from Morpeth Harriers were well to the fore in some of the hotly contested events, especially on the male side of the club, where on the day performances, which included two team victories, at the end of affairs, saw the club lead all of the male gender age groups cumulatively after four meetings, an achievement that has been rarely surpassed.
Morpeth’s on the day team wins came from their U17 Men and U15 Boys squads, and in addition, two third team placings were achieved by both their Senior Men’s and Under 13 Boys squads.
On the female side, only their Senior Women mounted a team challenge, finishing seventh on the day in Division 1, which cumulatively still leaves them top of the Division by six points, in front of their closest opposition Tyne Bridge Harriers. There were also a number of good individual performances within the ranks.
One such performance was Euan Duffin, who is quietly developing into a very talented athlete, however he is also a very talented footballer, and is therefore having difficulty devoting his time to both sports.
However, on Saturday, because of match cancellations he had made himself available, and he rose to the challenge well by finishing second in the U15 Boys event from the Slow Pack, and led his club to team victory, with extra valued team support coming from Alex Porteous, who was returning to the sport after a lengthy lay-off.
Porteous, also running from the Slow Pack, finished in 11th place, with the Morpeth winning team count being closed by Tom Balsdon, who finished in 15th place from the Fast Pack.
Other Morpeth U15 Boy performances came from Dylan Davies (21st) (Fast Pack), Ben Walker (32nd) (Fast Pack), Jack Findlayson (47th) (Slow Pack), and Jonny Kidd (50th) (Fast Pack), who is struggling with troublesome injuries at the present time.
Finishing fourth from the Fast Pack, Taylor Glover led the Morpeth U17 Men home to team victory, with added team support coming from Daniel Melling (7th) (Fast Pack), and Matthew Waterfield (8th) (Fast Pack).
North Eastern Counties Cross Country medallists Rory Leonard and Daniel Dixon were both unavailable.
In Leonard’s case he was competing in a highly competitive UK Cross Challenge event in Antrim, Ireland, where he finished an excellent second in the combined U17/U20 Men’s event, only a mere five seconds adrift of race winner Jamie Battle of Ireland, who was an Under 20 athlete.
Leonard was leading U17 man, finishing six places and 35 seconds ahead of his nearest age group challenger Cian McPhillips, also of Ireland.
Dixon was absent however, having fallen victim to illness over the Christmas period.
Back to the action at Herrington, where Morpeth’s Senior Men finished third on the day in Division 1, behind winners Sunderland Harriers, and second placed Tyne Bridge Harriers, who pose the biggest threat to Morpeth’s Championship ambitions, being only two points adrift with only the two fixtures at Thornley and Alnwick remaining.
On Saturday, Morpeth were led home by Lewis Timmins, who has returned to the club, following a short spell with Gosforth Harriers, who were his first club before his previous transfer to Morpeth.
Running from the Fast Pack, Timmins determinately made his way through to finish 11th, posting the second fastest time of the day, only bettered by Sunderland Harrier Oliver James, son of former Morpeth man, Albert.
James, back on holiday leave from his American University, won from the Slow Pack from Jarrow & Hebburn’s Graeme Taylor, by a margin of 94 seconds.
Meanwhile, Timmins’s excellent performance was well supported in Morpeth team affairs by Sam Hancox (13th) (Fast Pack), Kieran Hedley (14th) (Fast Pack), Jordan Scott (22nd) (Fast Pack), Rob Hancox (49th) (Slow Pack), and Tim Miley (105th) (Medium Pack).
The clubs’ other performer Richard Castledine also did well to finish 152nd from the Fast Pack, in a total finishing field of 483 hardy competitors, who were now tramping through ankle deep mud of monstrous proportions, typical genuine Cross-Country stuff.
Posting the fifth fastest overall time, Sam Tate led Morpeth Harriers U13 Boys home to third team place.