Although no medals were won, a very good 4th place team finish by the club’s Under 15 boys and Carl Avery’s tremendous individual placing of 5th were the stand-out results from Saturday’s attritional English Cross Country Championships in the Midlands.
Held once again in the picturesque grounds of Wollaton Hall in Nottingham, a venue last used in 2017,
conditions were among the worst in living memory with the recent adverse weather having reduced several sections of the course to a sea of mud and creating real headaches for the organisers, not least with car parking for the thousands of competitors and spectators. It is to the credit of all concerned that the event went as smoothly as it did, although entry to and from the car park was a real problem.
The day’s proceedings for Morpeth got off to a promising start in the second of the day’s ten races which saw the club’s Under 15 boys in action. Headed once again by Joe Dixon, who finished in 20th place, there were supporting runs by Ryan Davies, not too far behind in 36th, Liam Roche, 92nd, and Will De Vere Owen, 115th.
The team finished in a highly creditable 4th place behind three teams all from the South: winners South London Harriers, Tonbridge AC and Windsor, Slough and Eton. Ryan Davies was also the first – but sadly not the last – to go face down in the mud for the day.
Abi Leiper was the club’s sole competitor in the matching U/15 girls, coming in home
in a strong 44th position out of some 390 finishers, and still able to muster a smile at the end.
Robyn Bennett was in a similar position in the later
Junior Women’s race, coming home just outside the top 50 in 52nd place.
Ryan’s older brother Dylan ran in the U/17 race, and suffered the same fate as his younger brother - as indeed
did first finisher for the club, Rowan Bennett. Currently on a run of fine form, Bennett had one of the club’s
stand-out runs of the day to come in 16th, just over 30 seconds out of medal contention.
With Dylan Davies 82nd and Dylan Gooding 125th, the team were unfortunate
in not having a 4th scoring counter to back up their hard work.
It was a similar story in the Junior Men’s, but here the absence of a 4th counter cost the team even more severely. Won by the impressive Zakariya Mohammed of Southampton AC, Ross Charlton battled his way through water and mud that was by now almost waist high in certain stretches of the course to come home in 30th place.
He was followed up by Kieran Hedley, 46th, and Dan Melling, 62nd. With the bronze medal won by a team count of 242 points, the total of 138 points these three accrued meant an almost certain medal of some description was missed out on.
In the Senior Women’s race that preceded the Senior Men’s, Northern Champion Jess Judd lost out
to Anna Moller by a 20 second margin. Leeds City once again retained the team trophy.
Final race of the day, the Senior Men’s, saw the biggest field of nearly 2000 runners - and the worst conditions - on a course which had by now cut up so badly that it was in places somewhere between a bad Glastonbury Festival and a World War One trench.
With an early group of Gateshead’s Calum Johnson, East Cheshire’s Joe Steward, Leeds’s Linton Taylor and Morpeth’s Carl Avery establishing itself at the front, it was clear that the winner would come once again from the North of England, with the conditions, similar to the Northern, very much to the liking of Johnson.
Half way through the race Johnson and Steward had got away from the chasers,
with Avery battling to get up into a medal position some seconds back.
It was Johnson who made the decisive break on the last lap, winning in a time 43 minutes 36 seconds,
the first Gateshead Harrier to win the race since Brendan Foster in 1977.
Steward was 2nd some 23 seconds back, with Taylor in 3rd.
Behind them, Avery had dropped back one place to 5th ( 44:33),
just behind Southend triathlete Adam Hickey,
Avery’s third top ten National Cross Country finish in as many years.
Next home for Morpeth was Phil Winkler, 157th in 49:10
with Liam Roarty impressing his coach, a watching Jim Alder, in 215th (50:17).
Battling through the mud for fourth and fifth counters were Ali Douglass, 251st in 50:57
and Andy Lawrence, 318th in 52:02.
Unfortunately, young Alex Brown, who had been inside the top 200 for the first couple of laps,
was very disappointed to have to withdraw, admitting that he wouldn’t have put himself on the start line,
following illness, for any other race.
That meant it was down to Over 45 veteran Jason Dawson to complete the scoring count,
and in his first ever National, this he was thankfully able to do, finishing in 945th place.
The loss of Brown inevitably had an adverse effect on the team’s overall placing,
with the club back in 26th place, although still first North East team.
Tonbridge AC won back the team title they had lost to Leeds City last year,
with Bristol and West 3rd.
Morpeth fielded athletes in only six of the ten races in total. Of these, there were only two complete teams,
with two incomplete teams being short of only one runner to make a scoring count.
There were no runners in the U/13 girls or boys, the U/17 girls,
or the Senior Women. In total, some 19 runners took part: 17 male, 2 female.
It remains a paradox and a source of great frustration that, while the club continues
to perform very creditably at a regional level, when it comes to many high profile
Northern and National events, levels of participation are significantly down
and below what might be expected of a club like ours.
If the club is to achieve the successes on some of these bigger stages which, on paper,
it might well be capable of, much greater levels of commitment from club members,
Junior and Senior, Male and Female, within are required.
While some Morpeth Harriers were engaging themselves with the slimy mud, grit and earth,
of major Cross-Country events, others sought the warmer sanctuary of high-profile Indoor events,
taking place in Sheffield and Glasgow.
On Sunday 23rd February in Sheffield, Amy Lott ran the fastest opening heat qualifying time of 8.80s
in the Under 17 Women’s 60m Hurdles, which shaved a fraction off her personal best of 8.81s,
which she had recorded when winning the Scottish title recently.
This took her into a later run Semi Final, in which she placed third in a blanket finish, recording a time of 8.86s.
In the hotly contested final, she recorded an identical time, which unfortunately was only good for fifth place,
with a great deal of hungry opposition just getting in ahead of her.
Amy’s younger sister Hannah competed in the Under 15 Girls 60m Hurdles,
unfortunately going out in the heats after hitting the first hurdle in her effort.
She finished seventh in her heat, posting a time of 10.25s.
On Saturday 22nd February 2020 in Glasgow, Morpeth Harrier Rory Leonard took part
in the 3000m at the British Athletics Indoor Championships, instead of defending his Junior Men’s title
at a wet and muddy Wollaton Park in Nottingham, at the English National Cross-Country Championships.
It is debatable whether Leonard made the correct choice, in that he was well off a very much up tempo pace throughout, against stiff opposition, finishing at the rear end of a ten man field,
led home by Reading’s Jonathan Davies, who posted a winning time of 8m07.96s.
Meanwhile Leonard finished in 8m34.89s, recognising that from the off he was up against more experienced older opposition, who were intent on extinguishing his young threat by upping the pace before the race was a quarter old.
Another athlete with a Morpeth Harriers connection in action in Glasgow,
was North East Champion Shot Putter Craig Charlton.
The RAF Serviceman did well to finish an excellent fourth to City of York
International Scott Lincoln, who made a winning Putt of 19.49m.
Delight for Charlton was that he produced a new personal best of 15.63m,
taking 9cm off his old figures.
Morpeth Harriers Senior Men won back the Royal Signals Relays trophy they had lost last year while their Senior Women were second in the North East Counties Road Relays Championships held at Hetton Lyons Country Park on a blustery Saturday afternoon.(15th February)
With none of the administrative haggling that had delayed the running of last year’s race to the Autumn,
the event was once again restored to its traditional early season spot in the timetable with the
main worry being the threat of the impending Storm Dennis from the West.
The opening race of the day incorporated both the Women’s and Men Over 50 Championships
and was run over four legs of the traditional 2.2 mile, undulating circuit of the lake.
An outstanding run by Gateshead Harrier teenager Chloe Wellings, who clocked the fastest women’s time of the day (12 minutes 25 seconds) put the outfit from South of the Tyne into an early lead on leg 1 which they never relinquished, although Robyn Bennett brought Morpeth Harriers home in 2nd place (13:03).
On leg 2, Rachelle Falloon ran an identical time to the Gateshead athlete (12:51),
although Michelle Thompson took a few seconds back on leg 3 with her clocking of 14:23.
In the end, the gap on leg 4 was too great for veteran Jane Hodgson (13:07) to win back against another teenage athlete, and the club settled for a strong second place and a set of greatly enjoyed silver medals.
Morpeth’s Veteran Women’s team, comprising Sue Smith (16:53), Pam Woodcock (17:45), Margaret Macdonald (19:06) and Lesley Chapman (17:57), were 17th VW team, with NSP’s Veterans clear winners in the competition.
Morpeth’s Over 50s Men’s team suffered from having lost two of its potentially fastest runners to the Over 40s during the week as injury and availability badly comprised selections, but put together a respectable 6th place performance.
Ironically, first club across the line – Tyne Bridge Harriers – were later disqualified due to last leg runner Steve Cairns being ineligible (although he has run and medalled for them here before). This meant North Shields Polytechnic’s O/50s, featuring of course World Masters Champion Guy Bracken (who clocked 11:49 here),
were awarded Gold medals, although by then a disgusted Vaughan Hemy had already sloped off in anger at his own last leg!
Morpeth’s A team of 0/65 Dave Nicholson (14:10), Paul Waterston (13:55), Alistair Macdonald (14:09)
and Neil MacAnany (14:01) clocked a total time of 56:24 behind NSP A and B, Sunderland A and B and Elswick.
Meanwhile an incomplete B team of Paul Brown (14:41),
Bill Tilley (15:13) and Paul Bellingham (15:19) also turned out.
In the Senior and Men’s O/40 six stage that followed, with so many of the club’s leading
Senior Men having run in Armagh on Thursday evening, team manager David Swinburne had no choice but to put his faith in no less than four of the club’s teenagers, and they all proved deserving of the trust placed in them,
the team winning by over a minute from their nearest rivals.
A keenly contested 1st leg saw local club Houghton Harriers take an early lead with what proved to be the fastest time of the day, 10 minutes 34 seconds, by outstanding youngster Henry Johnson. Morpeth’s Kieran Hedley hung on gamely to record 11:05 however, finishing in 4th position behind athletes from Sunderland and Darlington Harriers.
Taylor Glover ran an almost identical time of 11:06 on leg 2, and although Gateshead Harriers had moved up the field thanks to a sub 11 clocking by evergreen Conrad Franks, Morpeth took a lead of 14 seconds at the end of the leg that they were never thereafter to lose.
Dan Melling on leg 3 - the second Mike Bateman-coached athlete to figure - ran a very well-judged 11:14 that showed he was in no way overawed by the competition around him, and the club retained a 9 second lead over Gateshead Harriers at the end of the leg.
Rowan Bennett, the 4th Morpeth teenager to feature, clocked the club’s fastest time of the day (11:02),
with one of the club’s best runs, and with the margin to Gateshead having gone out to nearly 15 seconds,
victory was now very much on the cards.
It was useful for the club to be able to draw on the experience of a returning Sam Hancox on leg 5,
who showed he had missed the challenge of a good race as he ran a confident 11:04.
Behind Hancox, it was now Sunderland and Houghton locked in a tussle for the minor medals
with the gap to both having gone out to well over a minute.
Having run in Armagh less than 48 hours previously, last leg runner Adam Pratt was no doubt happy then to be able to run on cruise control, his clocking of 11:17 bringing Morpeth to a cumulative winning time of 1:06:48, a minute and 10 seconds ahead of Sunderland and Houghton Harriers in 2nd and 3rd, with Gateshead having been run out.
Meanwhile the club’s 0/40 veterans were unlucky to finish
in a respectable 4th place behind Tyne Bridge, Sunderland and NSP.
Jamie Johnson, currently in full London Marathon training, got the club off on leg 1
with a posting of 13:26 and evergreen Gavin Bayne – who had only been asked to step
down the night before and willingly obliged – ran 14:15 on leg 2.
In his first ever veteran relay for the club, Eric Adams ran 13:45 on leg 3
and Lee Bennett the club’s fastest veteran time of the day, 12:38 on leg 4.
Rob Hancox was another who willingly stepped down an age group, running 13:24 on leg 5,
and Jason Dawson finished the club’s account with 13:28 on leg 6,
the team finishing just over a minute outside the medals.