Saturday was very much a Grand National day for Morpeth Harriers’ Senior Men’s road and cross country squad when for the first time in the club’s history they superbly won the much-coveted England Road Running Association National 12-Stage Road Relay title, writes George Patterson.
For more than 20 years, the Northumberland club has had progressive medal interests in the competition, having won bronze on no less than four occasions, the first of these being in 1995, and silver on two occasions, the most recent being last year, when they narrowly lost out to fellow northerners Leeds City, who have been four times winners.
The fact of missing out on so many occasions has clearly irked Morpeth Harriers, none more so than their stalwart club president Jim Alder, who was also present at a sunny and windy Sutton Park, in Sutton Coldfield near Birmingham, on Saturday to witness and share in his club’s joyous triumph.
Action began well for Morpeth on the long stage one, when Lewis Timmins, who has been in superb form throughout all of his club’s recent successes, came home in 10th place in 27m35s, only a mere 40 seconds adrift of early leaders Sale Harriers, who had National Cross Country Champion, and UK leading representative Charlie Hulson to thank for their early advantage.
The short stage two saw Ryan Stephenson lift Morpeth up by five places, and significantly closer to the medal challengers, who were now Blackheath in first place, Midland Champions Notts AC in second and Sale now back in third.
All of this changed, however, on the third stage for Morpeth Harriers, when Andy Wiles grabbed the lead, clocking the fifth fastest time of the leg of 27m34s, which effectively left his club with a 21-second cushion over newly second-placed Bedford, with Notts slipping back to third, only a further second adrift. Early leaders Sale Harriers were now back in fourth, a further 15 seconds adrift.
Although Bedford did eat slightly into the Morpeth lead on leg four, Kevin Calvert in clocking 15m57s, sixth fastest on the leg, still managed to maintain first place, albeit only by the margin of 14 seconds, with Notts a little further adrift still in third spot.
Morpeth Harriers’ fifth leg runner Carl Avery managed to further increase his club’s advantage to 21 seconds with his clocking of 27m55s. Notts had now moved back up into second, however, a very close battle had now developed for third, fourth and fifth places, with southern clubs Kent AC, Belgrave and Scottish club Central AC having a close running battle for at least one medal.
Sixth leg saw Nathan Shrubb further increase the Morpeth lead with his third-fastest-of-the-leg clocking of 15m52s, which took his club to the halfway point 50 seconds ahead of Notts, with Central now in third.
Nick Swinburn’s 27m35s on seventh leg was certainly the catalyst for a victory, as he put Morpeth into a 72-second lead over Notts and Belgrave had now leapfrogged over Central for third. Swinburn’s time was third fastest of the leg, only surpassed by Shaftsbury’s Michael Callegari, whose 26m41s was to emerge as the fastest long leg of the day, and Belgrave’s Daniel Mulhare (27m32s).
In his very first English National, Morpeth’s Chris Smith clocked the fourth fastest time of leg eight of 16m15s, which still maintained a healthy lead over Notts, with Belgrave, Central and now Northern Champions Leeds City coming into contention for the bronze medal.
On the long leg nine, Morpeth Harriers kept their lead over Notts, courtesy of Peter Newton’s excellent clocking of 27m36s, the second fastest of the leg.
Clocking the fourth fastest time of the leg of 16m03s, Army and British Masters Over 35 Cross Country champion Ady Whitwam still held a lead over Notts at the end of the 10th leg, however, the battle for the bronze medal had changed yet again, with Central AC once again gaining advantage, with Leeds City in fourth.
The top placings remained the same during the penultimate leg 11, however Morpeth Harriers, courtesy of Ian Hudspith’s excellent fastest of the leg of 27m40s, had seen his club move into an unassailable lead of 124 seconds going into the final short 12th leg.
Morpeth Harriers final-leg runner Richard Morrell, who had suffered the disappointment of having to drop out during the English National Cross Country, owing to two damaged shoes, was having no nonsense on this occasion however, and he brought Morpeth Harriers home to their very first English National 12-Stage Road Relay victory, by clocking an excellent third fastest of the leg time of 15m51s, to secure a 74-second-margin victory, despite being hotly pursued by Notts AC’s final challenger Sam Mitchell, who grabbed individual glory by clocking the day’s fastest short leg time of 15m01s.
Meanwhile, 2014 winners and Northern Champions Leeds City won the battle with Central AC to take the bronze medals.
The Morpeth team manager David Swinburne said afterwards that he was justly proud of all his charges on the day and that it had indeed been an exceptional day for the club. He appreciated the help and understanding that he had received before the event, especially from those who he had had to leave out, such was the pressure for places. It had been a good all-round squad effort and the rewards had been very rich indeed. He said it would be well remembered in the forthcoming years as a fine and well-deserved achievement, which was wonderful to be a part of.
Other North Eastern clubs competing in the Men’s 12-Stage Relay were Gateshead Harriers and Tyne Bridge Harriers, who finished in respective 21st and 40th places.
A total of 59 clubs finished in the Men’s event.
Another fine achievement at Sutton Park was that of the Morpeth Harriers Women’s team, who managed to come home in an excellent 14th place out of 40 finishing clubs in their 6-Stage Relay.
Weakened by the loss of Ashley Gibson and Sarah Wilkinson, they still finished a superb third from the north.
Emma Holt finished 18th on the long first leg in 33m57s and this was followed in quick succession by Vicky Gibb’s second leg clocking of 35m17s, which was also a long leg, where she finished 20th.
Laura Weightman’s 16m44s, was easily the fastest time on the short third leg and was also the fastest short-leg time of the day, and saw her club climb eight places to 12th place.
Fourth-leg runner Josie Cram held on to 12th place throughout her run of 19m37, to pass on to Morpeth Harriers’ penultimate fifth-leg runner Jo Carruthers.
Jo did gain a place to 11th with her clocking of 20m14s, to hand over to young Hannah Sheerin for the final-leg glory.
Hannah did her level best to maintain a good position and, despite dropping two places to 14th, she did well by getting around the short leg in 22m43s, against some stern and older opponents.
The Women’s event was won for the fifth time in succession by Aldershot & Farnham, with international Emilia Gorecka clocking the fastest long-leg time of 29m53s.
Second team place went to Bristol, with third place going to Swansea.
Leeds City were first from the north in fourth place overall, with Rotherham Harriers second in 10th place.
Apart from Morpeth Harriers, only one other team from the North East were in action in the Women’s event.
Gateshead Harriers finished 26th and were sixth from the north.
Less than 24 hours after competing for Morpeth Harriers in their winning Men’s team at Sutton Park in the English National 12-Stage Road Relays, Chris Smith was back in local action in the annual Transped Blyth Valley 10k Road Race.
A last-minute decision to enter the event certainly paid rich dividends for him, as he won in an excellent new personal best time of 32m15s at a cold and damp Blyth Quays.
Smith also led Morpeth Harriers to more team glory in the event, being solidly supported by Karl Taylor and Thomas Straughan, who finished close third and fourth in respective pb times of 32m27s and 32m28s.
Not far behind Straughan in fifth place was his Morpeth Harriers club colleague Sam Hancox, who also set new figures of 32m41s for the distance.
Finishing in 15th place in 34m38s, Morpeth Harrier Fergus Bates was first Over 45 Veteran Man and third Veteran Men’s finisher.
Other prominent Morpeth Harriers finishers were Matthew Boyle (28th) 35m40s, Michael Thomsen (35th, third O/40 Man) 36m02s, Mark Snowball (36th) 36m03s and Tony Lewis (41st) 36m20s.
Further Morpeth Harriers results in the event which boasted a total of 558 finishers were as follows:
Rob Hancox (45th, fifth O/45 Man) 36m30s, James Young (68th) 37m46s, Paul Banks (126th, 23rd O/40 Man) 39m42s, Jim Alder (129th, 12th O/50 Man) 39m51s, Lorna MacDonald (146th, 11th Woman) 40m19s, Peter Scaife (173rd, 16th O/50 Man) 41m25s, Tracy Kenny (288th, seventh O/35 Woman) 45m20s, Damian Foster (309th, 52nd O/40 Man) 45m59s, Norman Clark (370th, 13th O/60 Man) 48m47s, Mark Crosby (382nd, 32nd O/50 Man) 49m18s, Susan Smith (383rd) eighth O/45 Woman) 49m19s, David Gray (421st, sixth O/65 Man) 51m19s, Walter Ryder (453rd, fourth O/70 Man) 53m51s, Jane Blackett (455th, sixth O/50 Woman) 54m00s and Lesley Gemmell (479th, seventh O/50 Woman) 56m06s.
Jonny Taylor of Morpeth Harriers won Sunday’s lucrative Brighton 10k Road Race that was run in conjunction with the Brighton Marathon, and equalled his best time of 29m13s.
He finished five seconds ahead of Southern Cross Country Champion Adam Hickey of Southend, with Chris Hawkins of Kilbarchan a further three seconds adrift in third place.