Morpeth Harriers were one of only two Northern clubs who secured Team Gold Medals at the annual English Cross-Country Association National Cross-Country Relays, once again sponsored by Sportswear firm Saucony,
which were held for the thirtieth successive occasion at Berry Hill Park, Mansfield on Saturday 3rd November 2018.
It was also the 33rd occasion in all, with the first ever event having been held in 1985 at Crystal Palace,
when races were confined to Youths, Juniors and Seniors in Male gender only.
Now the event has a ten-race programme that includes Female athletes.
On Saturday disappointingly, Morpeth Harriers had no Females in action,
with most of their younger athlete absentees being brought about by the half term holiday.
However, there were some successes in the Male events, with the major highlight
being the Gold Team Medals secured by the clubs Junior Men.
It also brought a first National medal to Alex Brown, a summer signing from Houghton Harriers,
who eventually fought his way through a crowded first leg field to finish an excellent eleventh,
and only twenty-six seconds adrift of early leaders Birchfield.
He was only fourteen seconds adrift of early Bronze medal placers, and fellow North East club Middlesbrough AC.
Brown handed over to Morpeth’s second leg runner Taylor Glover,
who very quickly set about making ground on those in front of him.
His run took him up into eighth place, however only a few seconds adrift of the fifth, sixth, and seventh placers.
These were quickly devoured by final leg runner Rory Leonard, however the Morpeth man certainly had his work cut out for him ahead of him, as Birchfield and fellow Northerners Liverpool AC had kept up their race long battle for supremacy.
As the field emerged from the wooded area at the top of the course, the position had changed somewhat however, as Tonbridge’s 2017 Under 17 National Cross-Country Champion James Puxty had grabbed the lead, and Leonard, and Cambridge & Coleridge’s Tom Keen were seen to be chasing strongly.
Leonard however was not to be denied, and the Morpeth man certainly got something else out of himself, as he literally ripped past Puxty as if he wasn’t there, to claim a ten second margin victory for his club,
and a handsome set of Gold Medals.
With Keen bearing down on him at a fast rate of knots, Puxty just managed
to claim Silver for Tonbridge by two seconds, with Keen having to settle for the Bronze.
Whilst Loughborough Students came through late to take fourth place, early leaders Birchfield and Liverpool AC had slipped back to sixth, and fifth places respectively.
As Brown celebrated his first National medal, it was a second piece of glory for Leonard and Glover, who had been Bronze medal team members in Morpeth’s Under 17 Men’s team twelve months previous.
The clubs second best performers on the day were the entirely new guard in this years Under 17 Men’s three-man squad, who were never far away from the leaders as they finished in eighteenth place.
Despite first leg runner Tom Balsdon, like Brown in the Junior Men’s event, experiencing traffic problems, he still worked his way through to finish 25th, only a mere thirty-five seconds adrift of early leaders Rossendale.
It was also Balsdon’ s first experience of National Cross-Country Relays, so the run was very creditable indeed.
He handed over to Ross Charlton on second leg, who produced a superb performance
that saw his club climb a further twelve places.
Final leg runner Rowan Bennett, also making his National Relay debut, gave his all,
however finished in eighteenth place, unfortunately being passed by North East
rivals Houghton Harriers and Middlesbrough AC, who finished 14th and 15th respectively.
They were eighth from the North of England, in an event dominated by the South,
which was won by London Marathon winner Mike Gratton’s old club, Invicta of Kent.
Unfortunately, the squad were lacking a couple of their more experienced members due to
holidays and other competitions, otherwise they may have seen themselves closer to the medals.
Morpeth’s Under 15 Boys were just over a minute adrift of a medal place
in their three-stage event, when they finished in 20th place.
Although they were perhaps a little way behind in the first leg melee,
courtesy of Ben Waterfield finishing 56th, second leg runner Euan Duffin galloped
round the course, posting one of the legs fastest times, to take them up a mammoth thirty-nine places.
Dylan Davies battled his way round on the final leg, unfortunately surrendering a mere three places,
which also unfortunately included North East rivals Gateshead,
who beat them by two places and a mere three seconds on a very competitive run in.
Morpeth were however fifth from the North of England.
An excellent Under 13 Boys performance, saw them progress all the way throughout,
to finish in 24th place, courtesy of Joseph Hudspith, Bertie Marr, and Ryan Davies.
They were easily the top regional finishers, and, they were eighth from the North of England.
In a very competitive Senior Men’s four stage relay, which was won by fellow Northerners Leeds City,
from Aldershot and Farnham, and Birchfield, Morpeth Harriers finished 26th,
just around five minutes adrift of the leaders.
Whilst they were sixth from the North of England if you include the eleventh finishing Leeds City B team,
they maintained their prowess as the highest finishing North East club, ahead of 32nd placed Tyne Bridge Harriers, who were fractionally just under a minute adrift.
Representing Morpeth were George Lowry, Carl Avery, Joe Armstrong, and James Young.
Times in the Senior Men’s event were slightly hindered by a strong wind that had emerged later in the day,
which mainly affected the more open stretches of the course.
Conditions otherwise were very firm underfoot, little or no trace of mud, which prompted some competitors to make a late choice of a different length of spike to that which is generally used for Cross Country purpose.