Teenager Joe Dixon shines in Morpeth Harriers New Year's Day event
Having made plans for a New Year’s Day event this year, Morpeth Harriers were hit at the last minute by the North East’s move into Tier 4, which took effect on the 31st December and preceded the current national lockdown.
With a New Year’s Day run very much part of the Morpeth calendar over the years, it had been hoped that a run of some kind, albeit not a traditional race, could take place under the Covid secure guidance issued by England Athletics, the governing body for the sport.
As had been tried in a number of events across the North East in the Autumn, this would have meant small groups of between four to six runners able to start at staggered intervals, ensuring a well spread out field to enable the necessary social distancing.
Event organiser Kevin Bray, who has shouldered the responsibility of the club’s own Summer 10k event as well as the old New Year’s Day race for a number of years, had carefully planned a varied course, much of it off road, which would largely have kept participants out of the town centre - but sadly the planned event had to be cancelled at short notice.
However, the fifty or so club members who had originally signed up were encouraged to give the planned route a go not en masse but either individually or in pairs over the New Year weekend, and this was enthusiastically embraced by many, despite some pretty challenging conditions underfoot as runners moved off tarmac.
With a planned start on Morpeth Common, the route took runners along the path of the old Wannie Line, past the Sun Inn and the Joiners Arms, then underneath the Telford Road Bridge and along the river into Bothal Woods, returning via the same route to finish on the Common, a distance of just under 7 miles – although a number of participants did record longer distances, presumably because of getting lost on their way!
The event was welcomed enthusiastically, especially by many of the club’s youngsters, who have assiduously kept up their training under the guidance of veteran coach Mike Bateman, with teenager Bertie Marr clocking the fastest time over the weekend of under 40 minutes. Photographic evidence later suggested however that Bertie, along with companion Will DeVereOwen, appeared to taken a short cut by St. Mary’s Church, so the fastest ‘official’ time was probably that of fellow Under 15 Joe Dixon, 42 minutes and 41 seconds.
In all some thirty two hardy souls completed the distance, a number with canine companions, and all spoke appreciatively afterwards of the opportunity just to get out and take some exercise in the current circumstances despite the efforts in getting clean afterwards.
‘Of course we fully understand and are supportive of the government’s stance, but our sport, like so many others, has been badly hit in 2020 and we just wanted to try and give our members something back at the end of the year,’ commented organiser Kevin Bray, ‘And an event of this kind is the best we could do under the circumstances.’
Sadly, with a number of local races in the North East, many of which have been established fixtures for many years such as Elswick Harriers’ Good Friday Relays and the famous Blaydon Race, already cancelled in 2021, it looks like it will continue to be some while yet before any degree of normality returns to the sport.