With a final margin of over two minutes, a new course record and the three fastest times of the day,
Morpeth Harriers’ veteran men were comprehensive winners at the British Masters Relays on Saturday 14th May.
The annual competition, held in the traditional bucolic setting of Sutton Park to the North of Birmingham,
sees the country’s leading veterans (now referred to as Masters)
compete in ten year age categories over legs of three miles with teams
of either six (35-45 year olds), four (45-55) or three (55-65, 65 and over).
Chris Smith got proceedings off for the six stage Over 35 team,
and in a head to head battle with Birchfield Harriers,
quickly showed that he was now clearly back to his best as he got the better of his rival
on the run in to post a time of 15 minutes and 5 seconds and take an early lead in the race.
Smith handed on to Michael Morris who now had Birchfield’s second leg runner in close attention.
With Morris’s training this year focussed on a forthcoming Ironman Triathlon,
as well as a recent bout of bronchitis to contend with, this was a tough challenge,
and though Morpeth dropped to second place at the end of the leg,
his posting of 16m 6s was still good enough to keep the club firmly
in contention and may even in a way have done Peter Newton on third leg
a favour by giving him something to chase.
This Newton did with a gusto that showed he too is now very much a man on form,
having put last year’s injuries well behind him, and he soon reeled in Birchfield’s
third leg runner to re-establish Morpeth’s lead. He went on to post the fastest leg time of the day (14m 31s)
and, in so doing, put the club into a position which was never to be seriously challenged.
On leg 4 John Butters - who had chosen to represent the club ahead of taking the opportunity
to gain a North East counties vest in the Inter-Counties fell race championships at Snowdonia
that same day - ran a very sensible and controlled leg of 16m 6s to comfortably maintain
Morpeth’s margin and then handed on to leading national veteran Ian Hudspith.
Hudspith has represented the club through thick and thin in these relays and indeed still holds the course record here, and once again he showed he was in dominant form, tearing round the course despite the absence of any challenger to push him, and in the process posting the day’s second fastest leg time of 14m 40s.
At this point Morpeth had a commanding lead of over two minutes from their nearest rivals
and it was up to final leg runner Ade Whitwam to bring the team home,
and this he did emphatically with a final leg clocking of 15m 27s,
just outside the top ten fastest times of the day.
Morpeth finished in an overall time of 1 hour 31m 55s, a new course record,
and were over two minutes clear of Ron Hill Camburslang in second place (1:34:06),
with last year’s winners Thames Hare and Hounds in third (1:34:30).
The legs of Newton, Hudspith and Smith were later declared the three fastest of the day.
Morpeth also fielded a B team for the first time in this competition.
Making their debuts in on legs 1 and 2 both Mark Cockburn (16m 56s, 26th position)
and Steven Patterson (17m 7s, 23rd) had extremely creditable runs. Behind them,
Peter Scaife (19m 44s, 26th) and Jim Alder (also 19m 44s, 30th), both eligible for older categories,
did their best to plug the holes left by late unavailbility and Mick Thomsen
took the fifth leg for a sadly incomplete team.
His posting of 17m 6s saw the team up to 26th position at this point.
In all, some 41 teams took part, with 38 complete.
In the even more keenly contested Men’s Over 45s run at the same time, Morpeth fielded one team of four.
Paul Waterston led out in 17m 8s and came home in 21st place.
Mike Winter on leg 2 ran 18m 56s and finished in 28th.
Fastest time for the team was run by Fergus Bates on third,
with a strong clocking of 16m 14s, as he moved the club up to 16th.
On the last leg Rob Hancox dropped only one place,
finishing in 17m 27s with the team finishing in 1:09:45 overall.
Some 48 teams contested this category and the winning time of 1:05:14
was posted by Thames Hare and Hounds,
with North Shield Poly in third (although they had been at one time in first place).
Finally, although he was unable to run this year, the club would like to pay tribute to Phil Walker,
who for so many years had the difficult and often invidious task of getting bodies down to these championships.
This year’s victory was very much built on foundations Phil laid, as he worked tirelessly to persuade,
plead and cajole Morpeth’s vets to go down. Quite why it should be so difficult to get people to go
is a mystery to those of us who do go down: it’s usually a great day out, and while a long one,
gives runners of all abilities the chance to compete with, and watch, the best in the country.
Hopefully Phil will be there in 2017, next year’s teams will be both male and female,
and we will look to build on this year’s results.