Morpeth Harriers A team won back their title at the seventh running of the annual
Weetslade Relays, held at Lockey Park in Wideopen on Wednesday 22nd June,
and in the process set a new course record.
Organised by Newcastle based Claremont Road Runners,
this event has a slightly unusual structure as teams of three must
include at least one male, one female and one veteran (in any combination),
but it has grown year by year to the extent that nearly one hundred local teams now take part.
The 2.5 mile course sets off from the headquarters of Wideopen Football Club at Lockey Park
but sees runners tackle their own ‘heartbreak hill’ in the shape of the now re-grassed Weetslade spoil heap,
now part of a flourishing nature reserve.
On a first leg which many clubs choose to place their fastest runners,
a group of four soon established itself with Morpeth Harriers Tom Straughan and Sam Hancox to the fore,
along with Marc Fenwick of Tyne Bridge and Abraham Tewelde of Saltwell.
By the final half a mile, Hancox and Tewelde had just pulled away by seconds from Fenwick
with Straughan not far behind.
As the Saltwell runner wound up the pace in the last hundred yards it looked like Hancox would have to settle for second, but the 21 year old dug deep, found an extra gear and managed to go toe to toe to the line.
In the event, neither the timekeepers nor referee could split them, and both runners were
awarded the same time of 12 minutes 29 seconds – which as it turned out was the fastest of the night.
This of course put Morpeth’s A team in second place by a matter of seconds,
but leading senior female Emma Holt set confidently about reeling in both veteran
Alison Dargie of Tyne Bridge and her own club compatriot and training partner Gemma Floyd.
By the time she reappeared on the track of the old railway workings she had taken over
half a minute out of Dargie and a minute out of veteran Floyd (15m 22s)
and established what looked like an unassailable lead in running 14m 24s.
It was left to veteran Chris Smith, a member of Morpeth’s winning team at the British Masters Relay in May
and an individual winner of the same organisation’s 5k championships the previous weekend,
to carry the baton home and this he did with some style, stretching the club’s lead further
and finishing some 44 seconds ahead of James Dunce of Tyne Bridge in second with a time of 12m 47s.
Morpeth’s B team were unlucky to have to settle for third place after final leg runner Jonny Nisbet,
competing for the club after arriving home from his second year at Dundee University,
put in a powerful leg of 12m 50s that saw him get on level terms with Dunce as they approached the run-in.
Sadly, his efforts in catching up put him at a disadvantage for the sprint finish
and the team missed out on second to Tyne Bridge by a mere 4 seconds (40m 41s).
With the club fielding in total eight full teams and 24 runners,
there were a whole string of decent runs behind the A and B teams.
The C and D teams finished in 13th and 12th places respectively after changing places several times on the night.
In his last competitive outing for the club for a while, Mick Thomsen, soon to be posted by the RAF to Germany for two years, had a good run of 14m 19s to come home ahead of C teamer Matthew Boyle (14m 58s).
Vickey Gibbs (16m 53s) got the C team back on level terms as she came in with D team runner
and A level student Alison Brown (17m 34s), and it was left to Tony Lewis for the D team
and men’s team manager David Swinburne for the C to battle it out together on the last leg.
Swinburne (14m 23s) got his nose in front twice but Lewis (14m 19s)
proved too strong on the run in and the D team triumphed by a mere 2 seconds.
Behind them were the D team of Rob Hancox (14m 31s), Jane Kirby (18m 37s)
and Tim Miley (15m 27s) in 24th place;
a scratch H team (who only accepted a last minute place with half an hour’s notice)
of Paul Waterston (15m 14s), Carol Parry (19m 46s) and Mick Skelton (16m 18s) in 40th;
and an F team of Mike Winter (16m 1s), Sue Smith (20m 5s) and Paul Bellingham (16m 14s) in 44th.
The club’s final counts came from Jim Alder (16m 14s), Cinty Wake (21m 8s) and,
in her first competitive outing of this kind, Frances Naylor (21m 4s), who finished in 81st.
A wholly satisfying evening was compounded further when, n addition to the club’s overall victory,
Morpeth were declared to have had joint fastest senior male (Sam Hancox),
fastest senior female (Emma Holt) and fastest male veteran (Chris Smith).
The A team’s combined time of 39m 53s was later confirmed as a course record. In all some 96 teams ran.
Report by Peter Scaife