The highlight of Saturday’s English National Cross Country Championships, held at London’s Parliament Hill Fields, for Morpeth Harriers was an excellent bronze medal won by Nick Swinburn in the Senior Men’s 12k event, writes George Patterson.
It was also the first medal won individually by a Senior athlete from the club at the event since Ian Hudspith had finished second to Coventry’s Glynn Tromans at Stowe in 2000.
Swinburn, fourth in last year’s championships at Nottingham, went one better this time, as he battled against the tough going on the mother of all courses, which, by the end of the afternoon, had turned into a muddy morass.
The Morpeth Harriers’ Senior Men’s team, led by Swinburn, eventually finished a creditable fifth in the Saucony-sponsored event, and almost certainly would have secured team bronze, had Richard Morrell not had both of his spikes sucked off by the course’s infamous mud that had by now reached quagmire proportions.
Other members of the Morpeth scoring six were Carl Avery, who despite the mud looked completely at home on such conditions and had probably one of his best performances for the club in placing 25th in a top-class field; and Lewis Timmins, who ran a very sensible race throughout by starting steadily, eventually to battle his way through to a well-earned 33rd place.
Two places adrift of Timmins was Ady Whitwam, who, by right, thoroughly deserved his place in the scoring six, and is obviously on top form, having recently won the Army Cross Country Championships at Sandhurst by just over a minute from his closest rival, Nathan Shrubb, who by comparison struggled somewhat in the mud. However, sheer determination saw him finish 140th in the 2,005-strong field of finishers.
Closing the Morpeth Harriers scoring count was Thomas Straughan, who coped very well throughout to finish 248th and two places ahead of club colleague Andrew Lawrence, who can find himself unfortunate to be just outside of his club’s scoring six, considering his sterling effort.
Completing the Morpeth Harriers nine-to-score team result, where the club finished a slightly lowlier 11th were Rob Hancox (637th) and Geoff Whitman (801st).
In going back to the more official six-to-score situation, Morpeth Harriers Senior Men can also take pleasure that they were second from the North of England.
When interviewed later, Swinburn, while clearly delighted by his individual medal win, also felt that he still had more to offer, as he had eased off slightly thinking that the younger winner of the event, Charlie Hulson of Sale Harriers, had taken off too early and would come back to him, which unfortunately he didn’t.
One place and eight seconds in front of Swinburn, for the second year running, was Hallamshire’s Andy Heyes, who also went one better than he had done at Nottingham, by taking the silver medal.
Several Morpeth Harriers were competing in their very first National and one such was Taylor Glover, who ran a superb race in the Under 15 Boys’ 4.5k event.
Glover was always running at close quarters to his Morpeth Harriers club colleague Kieran Hedley, who had just missed out on an individual medal in the recent Northern Championships at Pontefract, and his determination took him past Hedley in the final strides to come home as his club’s first counter in 28th place.
Hedley was only a second adrift in 29th place.
The pair were ninth and tenth from the North of England, and third and fourth from the North East respectively, behind Middlesbrough’s Josh Cowperthwaite, and New Marske’s Reece Curtis.
Morpeth Harriers Under 15 Boys’ team finished as 14th team and were third from the North of England, with further team support to Glover and Hedley coming from Adam Shewry (170th) and Connor Marshall (230th), also competing in a National for the first time and producing an excellent run.
Other Morpeth Harrier action in the Under 15 Boys’ event came from Alex Cunningham (291st), Jamie Duguid (350th) and Matthew Waterfield (354th).
The Under 15 Boys’ event had a total of 371 finishers.
Another first time National runner was Scott Beattie, who was certainly one of Morpeth Harriers’ best young performers on the day, when he battled the heavy terrain to finish in a superb 16th place overall in the Under 17 Men’s 6k Championship.
He was second from the North East behind Middlesbrough’s Nathan Baker and eighth from the North of England in a total field of 280 finishers.
Another superb Morpeth Harriers performer on the day was confirmed mudlark Emma Holt, who, as the club’s lone Senior Woman in action in their 8k Championship, battled well against classy opposition when finishing 27th, in a total finishing field of 865.
Morpeth Harriers’ youngest Girl age-group performers, the Under 13 Girls, can take great pride in that, despite not finishing as a team, all of them finished in the top half of a total field of 433. Despite their weight and size, they seemed to bounce through ever-increasing sea of mud in their 3k event, which was the fifth event on the 10-race programme.
They were led home by North East silver medallist Holly Peck, who performed excellently on the National stage to finish 44th, as second from the North East and 11th from the North of England.
Next from the club came Rhiannon Hedley, who was 167th, and not far behind her was Lily Heaton, who was 192nd.
Both Hedley and Heaton were also competing in their first National and, despite the atrocious conditions, seemed to revel in the muddy occasion.
Just as industrious were Morpeth Harriers band of brave Under 13 Boys, who, despite being short of a fourth counting athlete, battled throughout their 3k Championship, to all claim respectable placings.
First home from the club was Ross Charlton, who, despite his diminutive figure, still gave his all when cutting his way through the endless sea of mud to finish an excellent 77th in a 395-strong field.
Other good runs in this age group came from Thomas Cunningham (261st) and first-timer Lewis Eke (315th).
Easily the club’s furthest traveller, Alison Brown, who hails from Berwick, managed to get round the mudbath of her 6k Junior Women’s course and braved a smile as she came home 68th out of 130 finishers.
Morpeth Harriers’ two Junior Men were well up in the early stages of their 10k Championship, however, the heavy mud told as Phil Winkler and Sam Hancox eventually finished in 112th and 123rd places respectively in a field of 190.
First to face the testing conditions for Morpeth Harriers on the day was Abby Sheldon, who can feel well pleased with her placing of 158th out of a 235 field of finishers in the Under 17 Women’s 5k Championship.
The only event that Morpeth Harriers did not have athletes facing the starter was in the Under 15 Girls’ 4k Championship, however the club can feel justly proud of all those who turned out on the day to take part in the majority of the events and, considering the travelling distances for most, it was a fine achievement in turnout on a day blighted by atrocious conditions for all.
However, that is the spirit of the National, which once again had returned to its maternal home, albeit on this occasion, basking in a sea of glorious mud.
Morpeth Harriers are proud to have a UK Army Champion in their ranks.
On Wednesday, February 4, Ady Whitwam, who is stationed at Catterick Garrison, won its annual Cross Country Championships at Sandhurst.
Posting a finishing time of 30m43s, the 39-year-old won with just over a minute to spare, from Quinten Kearns of Abingdon.