Two team bronze medals and three top ten individual finishes were the headline results for Morpeth Harriers at the North of England Cross Country Championships on Saturday 25th January 2020.
Held for the first time in the rural setting of the Camp Hill Estate in Bedale, North Yorkshire, although the various courses through the surrounding woods lacked any real hills they did more than make up for it with several sections of strength-sucking, ankle-deep mud.
Robyn Bennett’s 9th place finish in the Junior Women’s event 6.2 kilometre race was an early highlight. Finishing in a time of 23 minutes 42 seconds, Bennett was only 30 seconds off a medal with another well-judged and gutsy performance. Border Harrier Olivia Mason was a convincing winner overall.
Younger brother Rowan was able to go one better shortly afterwards in the Under 17 competition, not only finishing in 7th place but leading the U/17 team to a fine bronze medal behind winners Vale Royal AC and local rivals Houghton Harriers
Bennett was supported by Dylan Gooding in 35th, Dylan Davies in 51st and Tom Balsdon 57th,
all delighted to pick up a team bronze.
There was a matching medal in the U/15 boys. This time it was Joe Dixon, just outside the top ten in 11th position, who was first home, with supporting runs courtesy of Dylan’s younger brother Ryan (15th),
Sam Tate (46th) and Liam Roche (64th).
Missing out on a medal but also running well were William Owen (73rd), Matt Walton (93rd) and Bertie Marr (111th), with Marr determined to finish despite still feeling the adverse effects of an injury sustained at Temple Park two weeks ago. With all but two of this squad able to run in the same age group next year,
the future certainly looks bright for them as a group.
Clubs from the North West, Wirral AC and Sale Harriers, had a close fought race for 1st and 2nd,
with Wirral just edging it.
The club’s Junior Men’s squad were unfortunate in narrowly missing out on a 3rd medal, finishing in 4th place behind Preston Harriers, Chesterfield AC and Vale Royal. Ironically, had there been three and not four to count in this age category, the team would have picked up a silver medal.
Kieran Hedley, who has looked stronger with every race run over the last month, was back first for the club in 18th with Taylor Glover and Dan Melling 27th and 28th. Connor Marshall was also 63rd and Alex Cunningham 68th.
With two or three strong runners hopefully back for the National Cross Country in three weeks time,
the prospects for the squad as a whole also look promising.
Six other Morpeth Juniors raced, although these were disappointingly in incomplete teams.
Abi Leiper had a good run to finish in 33rd in the 4.3k U/15 girls race with Olivia Carruthers finishing 148th.
First club run of the day had been Holly Peck, already a veteran of these championships,
who ran with Kate Gaffing in the U/17 Women. Holly was 44th and Kate 84th in an exciting race
where the first three were only separated by some 12 seconds, with Sale’s Lara Crawford 1st home.
In the two 3k U/13 races, Morpeth’s sole representatives were Holly’s younger sister Kiera and Oliver Tomlinson, both taking part in their first ever Northerns and both at the bottom end of their age categories.
Kiera placed 166th and Oliver 58th.
With most of the club’s Juniors having run competitively at Temple Park on the preceding Tuesday in the North East Schools’ Championships, all those who turned out only a matter of days later in some tough conditions deserve great credit.
Longest and final race of the day was the Senior Men’s 12.3k over three laps and through several sections that would have been a challenge to walk, let alone run, through.
An early group of four that featured last year’s champion, Morpeth’s Carl Avery, along with Joe Steward of East Cheshire Harriers, Linton Taylor of Leeds City and Gateshead’s Calum Johnson, quickly formed at the front and it was clear that the medals would be between these four, with the lead changing hands several times.
It was only on the last lap that Johnson - who Avery had beaten convincingly at Alnwick before Christmas, but who was perhaps finding the conditions more to his liking - finally made the decisive move. He pulled away to win by a margin of some 16 seconds from Steward and Taylor, with Avery (who had struggled with a virus in the week before the race) left in perhaps the worst position to finish of 4th.
Some seven other Morpeth men ran. Next home were Adam Pratt and Phil Winkler who both ran very consistent races to finish in 60th and 64th.
Liam Roarty, in his first major championships for the club, was in 100th place. The club’s final two counters were Ali Douglas (134th) and Tom Innes (164th), both of whom ran with clenched teeth for the last lap knowing they were team counters.
Two veterans also finished for the club with very respectable runs: both O/50 Lee Bennett (216th) and 0/65 Dave Nicholson (370th) left many younger men behind them.
The team finished in a very creditable 7th place despite the absence of a significant number of male athletes, but would have surely been close to the medals with a bigger turn-out – a lesson for the National perhaps.
The team race was a close one between teams from the North West, with Sale and Salford Harriers finishing in 1st and 2nd, and Leeds City perhaps surprisingly only 3rd. Morpeth were again leading NE club with Tyne Bridge just making the top ten and Gateshead 14th.
In the women’s race which had immediately preceded the men’s, Jess Judd again showed herself to be a class act as she ran away from last year’s winner and ex-Morpeth Harrier Mhairi Maclennan, now with Preston,
who finished 3rd and Sale’s Georgia Taylor-Brown.
Unsurprisingly, Leeds City dominated the team race with Sale and Ribble Valley 2nd and 3rd.
All photos courtesy of Adrian Royle