The completion of the recent Tokyo Olympics brings to mind the extraordinary events following the so-called ‘Austerity Games’ of 1948 when black American sprinter and three times Olympic medallist Barney Ewell came to our town to take part in the Morpeth Olympics.
Ewell was a triple medallist at the post war London Games, but even that success was not without controversy. He believed he had won the 100m ahead of teammate Harrison Dillard, but was distressed to find the victory given, in the absence of a photo finish camera, to Dillard instead.
He was second once again in a close 200m and even the Gold he won in the 4 x 100m relay was subject to an original disqualification - Ewell’s exchange with Lorenzo Wright being ruled out of the zone but the decision later overruled on appeal.
Born into poverty in Pennsylvania, Ewell’s life was one long battle against the odds – indeed it seems incredible no film has been made of it. In the days of strict no professionalism in sport, he was stripped of his amateur status after the Olympics – for accepting gifts from fans, of all things.
Shortly after this that Ewell came to the UK to race in the local handicap sprints that took place in the North East and Scotland and were then so much part of village shows and fetes, and which provided rich opportunities for betting.
He turned up at Morpeth in 1950, and the black and white photos of the day show huge crowds to watch him taking part in the celebrated Morpeth Olympics, then held at the site of what is now Morpeth RUFC. Indeed, a young Jim Alder MBE recalls seeing him training for the event with reps along Mitford Road to the top of Dogger Bank past where Alder was then living.
Working his way through the heats, Ewell made it through to the final of the 110 yards – but with a massive 10-yard handicap to overcome against those off scratch. Perhaps unsurprisingly given his talent, this he managed in some style with the accompanying photo showing his victorious dip for the line. He would go on to compete in a number of similar races in Scotland, and also in Australia and New Zealand.
Some run, some man.
Many of you reading this piece will be familiar with the ‘BGR’ but for those who haven’t heard about
it, It’s a fell running challenge in the Lake District, starting and finishing at Keswick Moot Hall, 42
Peaks, 66 miles and 27,000’ of climbing inside 24 hours.........BIG DAY OUT!!
What you might be surprised to know is that 8 members or former members of Morpeth Harriers
are members of the ‘Bob Graham Club’ having completed the challenge and received their much
coveted membership certificates at the Club’s annual presentation dinner which is a right good night
out.......if you can remember what one of them was?!
Richard Kirby wrote a really good blog for the Harriers website about the attractions of Off Road,
Trail and Fell running and when I got my latest edition of the Fellrunner magazine it became
apparent that a lot of people had put their energies into taking on challenges like the BGR during last
year as an antidote to missing racing.
So maybe this might inspire you?
The list of Morpeth Harriers completers are:
August 1998 Bob Sewell (Membership No 1103) & Shaun Scott (1102)
July 1999 Gordon Dixon (1135)
May 2000 Kevin Bray (1141)
May 2005 George McDougal (1251)
July 2005 Mike Jeffrey (1274)
July 2010 Allon Welsh (1594)
May 2019 John Butters (2277)
Taking on the BGR has increased in popularity since the publication of ‘Feet in the Clouds’ by the
journalist Richard Askwith published in 2001 – it’s a great read about his attempt to ‘do’ the BGR
but sets the context within the history of Fell Running. It’s humorous but informative and really
educates you about the heroes, both male and female, of the sport.
Back when Bob and Shaun finished in 1998 there were 38 other completers that year. In 2019 there
were 122 plus John Butters (and I bet none were quicker than John)!
So, what that say’s to me is, that, with the right preparation and knowledge, the BGR is achievable.
Maybe not at John’s level but definitely at mine - took me 23hrs 29mins – but you know what – the
only time that matters is 23.59!
You need to enjoy the off road stuff and you have to be prepared to get out on the hill’s and put the
time and miles in. If you’re my standard you need to stack the odds in your favour so that means
getting over there, learning the route, realising that you CAN hit the split times and keep it going.
You need to be accompanied by a pacer (s), on each leg to carry spare kit and food and drink and they
play a vital role in keeping you going! Obviously, they need to know what the BGR is all about and
what your aspirations are time and schedule wise.
You need to be a bit selfish too – especially in terms of the weather – it’s the ‘odd’s in your favour
thing! George McDougal will readily admit that if he hadn’t delayed for 24 hours to let bad weather
pass through he would never have got round! AND do you know what? People don’t mind that
because they want you to do it!
Doing the training and gaining the ‘knowledge’ is all part of the experience.
What do you get in return? A day your will never, ever forget!
I’ve been involved in 20 BGR’s since 1998, not all successful, but everyone a memorable experience
for all sorts of reasons!
Lots of information on the BGR Club website here:
The Bob Graham 24 Hour Club
Completers are asked to write an account of their experience and I have raided my archives and dug
out the stories from the Morpeth Harriers who have taken on the challenge – some of them before
the advent of digital photography! Unfortunately I haven’t got reports for Shaun or George.
If you’re interested in knowing more then contact me, Gordon or John and we will be more than
happy to try and help! I could fancy some days out in the Lakes.........??!!
We put the questions to 18-year-old Ross Charlton, Morpeth Harrier turned Modern Pentathlete, who is from Morpeth, where he attended KEVI, and is currently studying at Bath University
How did you get into running?
Well, I had started playing tennis, cricket and football but grew up being aware of the heritage of Morpeth Harriers with likes of Jim Alder, Don Speight & the Hudspiths. I'd just turned ten and thought I’d pop along to the clubhouse one Monday night and see how it went. That was mid-2012 and I’d say it’s gone pretty well so far!
Can you share some early experiences?
I always enjoyed training and after a modest start, gradually my results started to improve.
My first ‘big race’ was the Northern Schools Cross Country in February 2014. As I got to the Northumberland tent I was a bag of nerves. Didn’t think that I’d be able to run - I was so bad. Suddenly a couple of older and more experienced lads from Morpeth Harriers, Kieran Hedley and Joe Dowd saw the state I was in and got a hold of me. “Don’t worry, we’ve all been there, you just come and warm up with us, we’ll get you to the start line, once that gun goes you’ll be fine!” They were right and I’ve never forgotten what they did for me that day.
Then there was the Junior Great North Run in the September of that same year. In those days you were given an RFID chip to attach to your laces for electronic timing. Disaster struck, I hadn’t put mine in my kit bag and there wasn’t enough time to go home to get it. My Dad said: “They hand-time the podium finishers so you know what you have to do.” That focused the mind I can tell you and I came third. They actually hand time the first ten finishers but Dad has never admitted that he knew that!
Who are your athletics heroes?
I’ve always respected all athletes without ever having that many specific heroes. However, I do get very excited cheering on my teammates and lads that I’ve competed against. It’s been fantastic to see former training partners like Matty Waterfield, Dan Dixon and Rory Leonard do great things on National and International Stages. Further afield my so-called ‘brother’ Sam Charlton from Wallsend has done the North East proud as did the Durham lads, Henry Johnson, Dan Joyce and Will Bellamy who all ran in the Senior UK Championships 800m last year.
But I think that the real heroes are our coaches, who turn out come rain or shine to direct training and support us at events; and there’s the folks who set up the courses, the officials etc because without all of them, we’d have no events to show what we can do.
What do you consider to be your best performances for the Harriers?
Best team performance as a Morpeth Harrier would have to be winning the Northern Cross Country Team Award in 2019 with Dan Melling, Rowan Bennett and Tom Balsdon. We just got pipped for a medal at Sutton Park in the National Road Relays a few months earlier and that would be a close second. Also, the banter in the car on the way home from Birmingham made that trip a classic!!
Best Individual would be my 3000m run at Stretford in September 2020. I worked hard through the summer without being able to compete much because of Covid 19 but my 3000m time of 8.38, which was the 18th fastest time in the UK Under 20 category when I’d only just turned eighteen, helped make up for it.
What has been your biggest disappointment so far?
That’s an easy one, I was robbed of the chance to revise for weeks and sit my A Levels because of Covid 19. I was gutted I tell ya! (answer followed by prolonged laughter).
Can you give us a couple of funny stories from your junior athletics career?
I’ll start with the 2016 North East Cross Country Championship at Aykley Heads. I was running in the Under 15 race and came into the home straight in third place. My Dad could see behind me was one of my best mates, Henry Johnson from Houghton Harriers, coming up like a steam train. Dad went apoplectic warning me. As Henry went past me, Dad let out an expletive. I won’t repeat it but go listen for yourself, it’s still on YouTube: His site is John Charlton, just click on the Video tab and scroll back to 2016. It reminds me a bit of the Kevin Keegan outburst when he ‘lost it’ and that race has a lot more views than any of the others he recorded!
The other one would be English Schools Cross Country 2019 at Temple Newsam. I have a mate called Will Tighe, known as ‘Billy Whizz’, who ran for Derbyshire Schools. He has a girlfriend who lives not far from where we sometimes train - at the Rising Sun Country Park, Wallsend. Anyway, because Will was coming up to see her, I’d arranged a lift for him on the Northumberland Schools bus. However, whilst we had a short warm down and got on the bus, unbeknownst to us Will elected to go for a long warm down with his team-mates from Derbyshire. He was nowhere to be found. Time was getting on so reluctantly we had to accept that we’d have to leave him. The bus was pulling out of the grounds of Temple Newsam, when Dan Melling screamed, “That’s him. He’s coming!” In the distance Will was literally like Billy Whizz in the Beano, sprinting after us. We were killing ourselves laughing but happily the bus driver pulled over and he made it. After running a long, hard cross-country in the mud, we all agreed that Will’s burst of pace was the most impressive athletics performance of the day!
You are now involved in Modern Pentathlon which is a sport not widely understood in the UK despite us having considerable success in recent years. Tell us how you became aware of it and how your interest developed?
To understand the sport, we need to go back in time. The Ancient Olympics in Greece included the Pentathlon which was five disciplines that a soldier might need. I think it was Wrestling, Javelin, Discus, Long Jump and a short run. When the Modern Olympics were founded by Baron Pierre De Coubertin, for the 1912 Games he introduced the Modern Pentathlon using five disciplines which a cavalryman might need behind enemy lines. So now it’s a 200m swim, show jumping on a horse unknown to the rider, a one hit fencing competition, pistol shooting and a 3,200m run. As of the 2012 London Olympics, the run & shooting were combined into the Laser Run which is to hit 5 targets with a laser pistol at 10 metres followed by an 800m run, repeated four times.
PentathIon GB run local ‘starter’ events like the Biathlon (separate 100m swim, followed by a 1600m run). I did one at Hexham in about 2015 and from there I was invited to a National Biathlon at Crystal Palace. My Dad was very keen to see me run there because of his boyhood obsession with the ‘Golden Age’ which included Seb Coe, Steve Ovett and Steve Cram! So we made a family weekend of it in London.
Newcastle Fencing and Shooting Club learned of my involvement and invited me to a few trial sessions and I just really enjoyed it.
My Fencing & Shooting coach suggested that I entered the National Tetrathlon (no Show Jumping). I’d only been there a few weeks and I got annihilated in the fencing! Going into the Laser Run I was dead last. However, I ran and shot well and ended up with mid-table respectability. So I thought, “hang on, I can do this!”
Bath University is the blue riband university for the sport in the UK: tell us how what selection for it involved?
I’d say that Bath and Loughborough are the top sporting universities in the UK (Dan Melling and Rory Leonard would never forgive me if I suggested anything different!) Bath has certain events where it is the Centre for Excellence such as Rugby, Winter Sports and Modern Pentathlon. I’ve been on the Pentathlon Junior Talent Program for a few years now and in order to train with the best Juniors and Seniors, you need to be at Bath Uni. So my UCAS application form looked a bit odd, it only had one university on it!
Lockdown notwithstanding, what does a typical week's training look like at present?
Talk us through some of the specific requirements and skills required for each of the five elements. How hard it is to be good at every single one, and does a pentathlete just have to accept that you'll better at some than at others?
Great question! People often come at Pentathlon from different backgrounds. Some through the Pony Club and many through swimming. I’m a little unusual because I was primarily a runner. How hard is it to be good at each event? There’s no getting away from it, it’s a lot of hard work. Fortunately for me, I love all the disciplines so it’s a labour of love.
In terms of performance, yes the athlete has to accept that he/she will be better at some of the disciplines. The idea is to exploit your strengths and minimise your weaknesses. The thing that makes it interesting is points are awarded in the swim, show jumping and fencing. These then translate into a handicap for the combined laser run. So someone who is an ace swimmer and fencer would have a big head start but could be caught by someone who is a fast runner and good shot. Where you finish the Laser Run is where you finish the whole Pentathlon event.
A blog about the wonders of trail and fell running in Northumberland. Rich and Paul Banks tackled the 32-mile Short Round on 7 November and the 43-mile Long Round on 21 November.
Why hill running?
If you haven’t tried it, some of the reasons that people head to the hills range from the simplicity of life around, the supportive nature of hill running, the backdrop, the fact that there is absolutely no need to clock watch, you can fully forget social media or any work or technological pressures (or more likely an amalgamation of all of the above as it is for me).
I had in mind, prior to the latest lockdown, to try and entice some of the Morpeth Harriers to have a run up there as a social collective, in much the same way that John Butters has done for us all over the last few years up at Thrunton and Ingram. Plans were soon scuppered as Boris dictated that you could only socialise outside with one other for this latest lockdown. But from a physical and mental perspective I needed a plan B and felt the need to recce for future activities up there. (I just needed some support as I struggle somewhat without it).
It will come as no surprise to some of you that I asked Paul Banks. He is one of the most supportive guys who will always say yes to a run regardless of time of day, weather, terrain or distance. We had this thought – TRY and do the one of the McWilliams rounds on a good weather day. We chose to run the 32-mile route created by Glen McWilliams, the owner of the Wooler Chocolate shop! He is a stalwart of the trail and hill running scene up north and is always willing to offer advice and support. If you’ve done any running in and around North Northumberland you’re sure to recognise him from the photo below.
The route basically forms a anti-clockwise loop from Wooler town centre which circumnavigates the Schil, the Cheviot and Hedgehope hills. We were blessed with conditions being perfect for the time of year. Lots of sunshine and absolutely no wind. Paul was disadvantaged with long periods with only me to talk to! It was 3 hours in before we met the first person en-route. I continued with my usual ‘muppetry’ by calling the guy “Martin” thinking it was someone from work. Needless to say I need my eyes tested as on closer inspection it looked nothing like him! Hard work was rewarded with some stunning views en-route!
We also had Paul’s dog, the undoubted star of the Spring Lockdown Handicaps, LUCY, (4 PAWS), for company. She is probably the fittest dog in Northumberland! As we ‘happily’ toiled, she skipped around making it look so easy!
As expected, as I started to struggle towards the later stages Paul and Lucy seemed to make it increasingly look so easy. That’s when the support from others can be so important and can be the deciding factor in whether you complete a challenge such as this one. Low & behold, talking of support, there was Gary Mason waiting for us as we headed back towards Wooler. We got such a lift seeing him turn out to cheer us on!
We got around in 7 and a half hours, and on my part it was down to having nutrition left dotted around to collect, a lot of training and planning being undertaken over the months beforehand, and most importantly, with Paul’s support.
Personally speaking the realisation of what we did didn’t sink in until I got home and felt the rush of pride of what we achieved and the experiences we had shared!
A fortnight later we had the same sensation after completing the ‘Long’ McWilliams round on the 21st November. This one is 43 miles and a BIGGER circuit of the Cheviots. We set off in the dark and finished in the dark after 11 and a half hours. Another memorable day!
It is however, worth mentioning, that these are both tough routes which shouldn’t be underestimated. They are not for beginners! If you want to know more the do some research and contact any of the people named below! I’m sure there would be a few including Paul and I who would be happy to support......?!
Suggested tester runs
We are so lucky to have lots of options to get a snapshot of the Cheviots and surrounding area.
One suggestion is to try Glen McWilliams’ 5-mile weekly trail runs every Wednesday evening at 1730. Starting in Wooler town centre (even in the winter -head torches required) and heading around Humbleton hill and back. Having spoken to Glen today, he hopes to reinstate after the latest restrictions are lifted. See this Facebook page.
The Brough Law fell race in Ingram valley held in mid March is a great first fell race.It is another 5 mile run which most certainly tests and rewards you in equal measure. John Butters organises it along with his team of fellow Morpeth Harriers, Mike Steven and Mike and Jane Briggs.
If you are new to the fells and trails and fancy giving it a go then Rothbury is a great place to start with options on the Carriage Drives and the Rothbury Round circuit over Simonside and Lordenshaw. Basically take a common sense progressive view whilst starting to run in the hills if you haven’t tried it before!
Give it a go!
Safety and Equipment
It makes sense to go with other people, consider downloading ‘the what 3 words app’ and OS locate and make sure you inform family and friends of the route undertaken. In races you have to carry standard mandatory equipment including a map compass, sufficient waterproofs, nutrition, fully charged mobile phone etc. I should point out that at this time of year it should be weather dependant and that you plan for every eventuality on a long exposed run up there.
For a club that is primarily known for success on the roads, track and cross country there is actually quite a history of members competing on the fells and trails at all sorts of levels going back to the 1960’s with legends like Peter Carmichael and Jim Alder running on the fells in their prime!
In more recent times 8 members of the club have completed the Bob Graham Round culminating in John Butters amazing performance in 2019, plus members have taken part in many classic Fell Races like the Three Peaks and Ben Nevis. These are at the extreme end of things – there are absolutely loads of opportunities to take part in off road trail type events and challenges – so if this has inspired you to try something different then don’t be afraid to give it a go!
Further questions/further advice?
Speak to me, Paul, John Butters, Kev Bray, Mike Steven or Jane Briggs, what they don’t know about fell running you don’t need to know!
The best feeling is twofold for me, the first being looking across at a friend, as you’re out in the hills, and watching them consider whether to look left, right, up or down as the vista is so stunning!” Second is the friendships and shared experiences pure and simple, like me really, simple!
The official Facebook page of the McWilliams Round.
Andrew Richardson Wooler trail running with Morpeth Harriers.
Andrew Richardson, trail running together with Morpeth Harriers.
John Butters Bob Graham Round.
Tony Holt Bob Graham Round.
Footnote by Kevin Bray: The ever modest Richard asked me to peruse his blog and I noticed he hadn’t included any pictures of himself. So below are Richard and Jane, after the Lowther 13 mile Socially Distanced Trail Race in August 2020. This picture sums up another important aspect of fell and trail running!
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle*
*As related to Peter Scaife
Pausing for one brief moment in his reverie, Holmes put to one side the well-thumbed copy of ‘Athletics Weekly’ he had been perusing, and in one swift and graceful movement arose quickly, checking his card index on the dresser.
‘’I knew I was right!’’ he exclaimed in triumph. ‘’ They featured the same ‘Ten best tips to improve your 10k times’ article in May five years ago. I must get round to cancelling my subscription,’’ he complained.
Guilty briar in hand, he fell once again deep into contemplation of his current case. Though it lacked the sheer anatomy or cold-blooded evil of ‘The Speckled Band’, or indeed the extraordinary dénouement of ‘Silver Blaze’, nevertheless certain features made it one of the most perplexing he'd ever been involved in.
Deep in thought, he registered with a cavalier toss of his proud, leonine head the heavy tread of Lestrade’s footsteps on the stairs, a sound with which we had both become so familiar of late.
‘’Scotland Yard’s finest, if I am not much mistaken. I warned him about the mid-sole on that Brooks ‘The Beast’ after you, my trusty amanuensis, had purchased the same shoes last year,’’ he laughed.
“Lestrade my good man,” Holmes exclaimed as the door was flung open to take in the portly, middle-aged figure of the detective. Like myself, he was a late convert to road-running and was blowing hard from a demanding, newly installed gaslight session.
"Do come in, my fine fellow. I have been consulting the world-wide-web for the results of the Abbey Dash and you will admit, I am sure, they make most disappointing reading for our man.”
“Indeed Holmes is right”, I opined, “and yet he was more than ready for such a challenge. Lestrade here reports his regular Thursday evening attendance at the cinder track sessions, a presence noted and indeed commended by other members of his club, the Metropolitan Pedestrians.’’
Holmes smiled. “That may be. But you will be familiar, no doubt, with the saying ‘it is hard to teach an old dog new tricks’”.
Lestrade demurred. “Indeed. So you may put it down to age. But ‘The Disappointed Dasher’ had been in fine form by all accounts and had most assiduously followed Bruce Tulloh’s schedule in the copy of ‘Running over Forty’ he had been bought at Christmas three years ago and finally got round to reading.”
A sigh of exasperation was momentarily checked by the great detective. He had long since given up believing in schedules.
Looking up, he gazed longingly at the mantle on which still stood his famed ‘7% solution’, now on the IAAF list of banned substances. “I am afraid the answer may be closer to home than we dare to think, Watson. Indeed, it may even now be staring us so closely in the face that we are too close to see the terrible reality of the truth confronting us.”
This was too much for Lestrade. “Confound it Holmes! The Dasher had trained by the book. He had upped his mileage and partaken of two quality sessions a week. He had abstemiously refrained from alcohol and even forsaken human company the night before the race…” He broke off, his voice hoarse both from his own earlier exertions and his bemusement at The Dasher’s loss of form.
“Lestrade, Lestrade, my dear fellow. Calm yourself down and partake of a glass of this fine isotonic fructose tropical flavour high carbohydrate sports drink. Do you not remember my maxim?”
“Why of course Holmes! Eliminate the impossible, and whatever else remains, however improbable, must be the truth. But how does that explain our case? What on earth can be the reason for our ‘Disappointed Dasher?’
“The answer I am afraid gentlemen, is much simpler. For what then was the improbable? The Dasher was, indeed, in the form of his life. He had, as you have correctly surmised, prepared more rigorously than ever before. The times we clocked on my pocket watch were several seconds ahead of anything before recorded. It is not, as the venerable Mr. Alder is wont to joke, that ‘he started badly, then he faded’! But what if the failing was not down to the Dasher?’’
This was too much even for me, used as I was to the great detective’s circuitous explanations. ‘’ Confound it Holmes! Stop for one moment talking in riddles. It is clear that the mystery to this puzzle has long been apparent to you. Tell us what you know, and then Lestrade can go and carry out his stretches.’’
Holmes laughed heartily. ‘’Well, if you must my good friends. The failings were not those of the Dasher, who had indeed run the race of his life. They were of the measurer on his velocipede. For the course was short, and so all the times, not just of our own man The Dasher, have been scratched from the record books…"