Boasting an average of only 19 years of age, Morpeth Harriers four-man team of young tyros confidently saw off all competition to win the Elswick Relays on Good Friday by a margin of over a minute - and in doing so did their bit to disprove that ‘you never win anything with kids’.
The Good Friday Relays, hosted by the North East’s oldest running club Elswick Harriers, are a traditional herald of Spring for the running community and are now comfortably settled into a spot on the banks of the River Tyne at Newburn. This year’s weather, however, seemed to belong more to a Winter reluctant to let loose its grip and in places the 2.2-mile course was more akin to a cross-country fixture.
With a long list of more experienced Senior runners absent from injury or unavailability, Morpeth Harriers team manager Dave Swinburne had chosen to put his faith in the youngsters available to him – and they certainly responded to his trust in style.
17-year-old Kieran Hedley got proceedings off on the 1st leg and, after a hard-fought tussle with a leading group of some six or seven other athletes, emerged to finish in a time of 10 minutes 36 seconds in a narrow 2nd place. His time proved to be the second fastest of the day, meaning he agonisingly missed out on the Alex Burns trophy (awarded in honour of Elswick’s great Olympian who took part in the 1932 and 1936 Olympics) by the narrowest of margins of one second to another youngster, Alex Brown of Houghton Harriers (10m 35s).
Making his Senior debut for the club, 16-year-old KEVI student Daniel Dixon on leg 2 moved the club up to 1st place with a clocking of 10m 49s. The Mike Harris coached, and hugely talented tri-athlete has his eyes set on the Youth Olympics to be held in Buenos Aires in October, and his confidence and ability was apparent for all to see as he showed he was in no way overawed by the challenge of running against older and more experienced athletes.
Dixon handed over to Sam Hancox who, having just turned 23, was now the veteran of the team, and Hancox put further distance between himself and the competition, running 10m 51s in a composed and steady performance.
It was left to 19-year-old James Young to bring the baton home, and this he did in a time of 10m 37s having never looked under threat, with the team’s overall clocking of 42m 53s meaning they had finished a minute and fourteen seconds ahead of the next placed club, Tyne Bridge Harriers, with Houghton Harriers in third.
Morpeth’s B team of Alistair Douglas, Ross Charlton, Tom Innes and Mark Snowball – with an average age only a few years greater than their clubmates – finished in a commendable 8th place, ahead of the A teams of many other clubs.
Douglas clocked 11m 28s on 1st leg and handed onto Dixon’s fellow KEVI student Ross Charlton on 2nd leg, and again the confidence of youth prevailed, with Charlton’s clocking of 11m 6s the team’s fastest. Ever willing Tom Innes ran leg 3 in 11m 39s with a renascent Mark Snowball completing the team’s count in 11m 48s for an overall clocking of 46m 1s.
There was further success for the club and another team gold in the Male Over 40 Veteran competition run at the same time as the Senior race, a victory made all the sweeter by its coming as a result of defeating Sunderland Harriers Veterans who had triumphed at the Signals Relays only a few weeks ago.
After Graeme Thorpe had got the club off to a very solid start with 12 minutes dead, Rob Hancox (Sam’s father and an Over 50 veteran) battled his hardest on leg 2 (12m 32s) to give the last two runners a fighting chance of overhauling both Sunderland and North Shields Poly who were by then in second and first places.
However, another imperious run by a man currently in very fine form, John Butters (11m 14s) moved the club up to 1st place and Fergus Bates (11m 50s) was able to stay ahead of the competition with the team finishing in 47m 36s for a much-enjoyed team victory.
Morpeth fielded two further Veterans teams. The B team of Neil McAnany (13m 6s), Phil Walker (12m 43s),
Alistair Macdonald (12m 57s) and Paul Waterston (13m 8s) finished in a highly respectable 8th place in the
Veteran competition, ahead of the A teams of many clubs – not bad for a team all whose runners were all over 50.
The C team of Paul Brown (13m 30s), Andy Leeson (13m 33s), Peter Scaife (15m 15s)
and Mike Winter (13m 58s) meanwhile finished as 23rd veteran team.
In the Senior and Veteran Women’s competition there was further success for the club, although Morpeth were a little unfortunate to come up against an international athlete working her way back to full fitness in the shape of Gateshead’s Stacey Smith. Smith ran away from the rest of the field at the start of the three-to-count relay,
and finished with far and away the fastest time of the day, 11 minutes and 22 seconds.
She was followed home by Morpeth’s Emma Holt who has had a very busy Winter racing mostly off road,
but whose time of 12m 6s still proved to be the second fastest of the day. On leg 2 Lorna Macdonald (13m 28s) kept the club in second place and it was left to Jane Hodgson (12m 24s) to complete the team’s placing.
Hodgson can count herself most unfortunate in that her time would have been credited as the fastest female Veteran’s time by some margin had she been running in a Veteran team,
the honour going instead to Carly Maley of NSP (13m 19s).
Morpeth’s Veteran A team of Helen King (13m 59s), Gwenda Cavill (14m 45s) and Lindsay Turnbull (15m 11s) finished as 6th Veteran team and just ahead of the Senior B team of Kay Errington (15m 21s), Jane Kirby (15 38s) and Gemma Floyd (13m 20s), 13th Senior team.
The Veteran B team of Sue Smith (15m 58s), Margaret Macdonald (18 2s) – determinedly completing the family turn out – and Pam Woodcock (17m 47s) finished as 30th Veteran team but an honourable mention should be made of Woodcock, who ran despite injury to ensure a complete team.
Earlier in the day Juniors from clubs all over the North East had raced over the course in open races.
At the time of writing, full results are not available, but it has been confirmed that the Under 15 boys team
of Tom Balsdon, Dylan Davies and Andrew Hudspith did win their competition,
with further support coming from Jonny Kidd and Alex Porteous.
Several England athletes competing in the forthcoming Commonwealth Games in Australia’s Gold Coast, took part in the Queensland International Track Classic Meeting, held on Wednesday 28th March 2018.
Amongst them was Morpeth’s Laura Weightman, who won the Women’s 1500m in a seasons best 4m05.9s.
She won by nearly a second from Poole’s Mellissa Courtney,
with Dundee’s Eilish McColgan finishing third in 4m08.70s.
In the Commonwealth Games itself, which commences on the 4th of April, and ends on the 15th,
Weightman will be stepping up to 5000m for the first time at International level,
and her current form suggests that she will be contesting for another Commonwealth medal,
to add to the 1500m Silver that she won in Glasgow in 2014.
A total of 42 athletes took part in Morpeth Harriers Annual Sprints Trials meeting,
held at the Morpeth Athletics Track at KEVI School, on the evening of Monday 26th March 2018.
Organised by Club Coach Dave Thomas, also the Female Young Athletes Team Manager,
and aided by the presence of some of the regions UK Officials, some competitors enjoyed
their first taste of track and field competition, with proper Starting, Timing and Measuring in operation.
Thankfully it was an excellent night in terms of weather, evening sunshine,
although a definite chill had descended as proceedings ended shortly before 8pm,
having gotten underway at 6.45pm.
First events on track were for 100m, where a total of 39 took part, (25 Girls and 14 Boys).
Tackling the 100m for the first time was Under 11 Girl Saveena Mullin, who posted a time of 17.1s.
Another tackling the distance for the first time was Under 11 Boy Ethan Campbell,
who clocked 20.6s, he also posted a time of 43.9s in the 200m.
Amongst the older age group performances there were a few personal bests,
which hopefully will reflect in forthcoming league action, which gets underway in a few weeks’ time.
Fastest Under 13 Girl was Olivia Gent, who clocked 15.3s in the 100m, and 32.5s in the 200m.
William Owen proved to be fastest Under 13 Boy in the 100m (15.0s),
and fastest Under 13 Boy in the 200m was Harry Jackson (31.1s).
In the Under 15 Girls events, Ellie Longstaff posted the fastest times in the 100m (13.5s)
and 200m (28.7s), just outsprinting Alice Geoghegan (28.8s).
Mia Belton produced what was judged to be the best performance of the night,
setting new figures of 45.6s in the Under 15 Girls 300m.
In the Under 15 Boys events, Jack Lackenby proved to be the best performer,
clocking 13.5s in the 100m, and 27.6s in the 200m.
Nadine Arkle was the fastest Under 17 Woman, posting times of 13.6s and 28.1s
respectively in the 100m and 200m, and Lily Heaton posted a time of 47.2s in the 300m.
Ethan Stephenson produced the fastest time of 12.5s in the Under 17 Men’s 100m,
and Matthew E Davison was the fastest Under 17 Man in the 200m with 28.2s.
Two Under 17 Men lined up in the 400m, which Matthew Heslop won in 56.5s,
from Nat Boyden, who ran the distance for the first time, producing an excellent 57.4s.
One Senior Man was in action, where Mitchell Cryer clocked 12.7s,
and 26.4s respectively in the 100m and 200m events.
Twelve athletes took part in a Long Jump competition.
Saveena Mullin (3.01m), and Ethan Campbell (1.88m) were in the Under 11 Girls and Boys section.
Lottie Belton, younger sister of Mia, won the Under 13 Girls competition with a best of 2.61m,
and Elliot Mavir (3.23m) won the Under 13 Boys section.
The Northern Athletics Men’s 12 Stage Road Relays, held at Birkenhead Park,
on Merseyside, on Sunday 25th March 2018, saw an under-strength Morpeth Harriers squad
finish an excellent ninth, despite being missing several key athletes,
notably including Northern Cross-Country winner Carl Avery, who was on International duty in Nottingham,
plus others who were either unavailable or nursing injuries.
They finished just over seven minutes adrift of winners Lincoln Wellington, who had led at halfway, but lost their way momentarily in the second half of the contest, only to find a new lease of life over the final two legs.
With several regulars absent, Morpeth Team Manager David Swinburne was forced to call upon a unique blend of Youth and Experience, namely Father and Son Sam and Rob Hancox.
The pair were featuring together for the first time in a Morpeth Harriers Men’s 12 Stage squad,
and neither let the side down, as they ran the respective opening and final legs of the day.
In running the opening 9.9k Long Leg, Sam got around the circuit in 23m39s,
posting the clubs fastest long stage time of 23m39s, coming home in eighth place.
North East Under 20 Cross Country Champion Kieran Hedley held this position on the
short second leg (5.5k), marking his 12 Stage debut with an excellent clocking of 11m49s.
Veteran Chris Smith got the squad up to seventh on the long third leg, posting a time of 24m28s,
and on the fourth leg, another young Morpeth star James Young took them up to fourth,
posting 11m50s, one second slower than Hedley.
Unfortunately, at this point, Morpeth’s fifth leg runner Ian Harding misjudged Young’s arrival in the change-over zone, and lost around a minute on his closest rivals, being given a clocking of 25m47s, as he slipped to ninth.
This position was held over the next three legs by Phillip Winkler (12m08s),
Thomas Straughan (24m57s), and Alistair Douglass (12m39s).
Karl Taylor’s ninth leg clocking of 12m11s saw the squad pull back one more place to eighth,
and Andrew Lawrence’s tenth leg clocking of 12m32s, saw the squad climb back another place to seventh.
On his 12 Stage debut, young Tom Inness did both his club proud,
by retaining seventh place on the penultimate eleventh leg, clocking 12m55s.
Rob Hancox did his level best on the final twelfth leg as he clocked 13m45s,
however he slipped back into ninth place.
Morpeth were still the best of the five North East squads competing,
with Tyne Bridge Harriers (15th), Sunderland Harriers (18th),
Gateshead Harriers (20th), and Blackhill Bounders (40th).
Apart from Blackhill, the other three North East clubs will all line up
alongside Morpeth in the National Relays at Sutton Park in three week’s time.
In his very first appearance for England, Morpeth Harriers Northern Cross-Country Champion Carl Avery performed well, to finish forty seconds behind English National winner Adam Hickey of Southend,
when he finished second, accompanying Hickey in a superb country team triumph in the Home Countries International at Nottingham’s Wollaton Park on Saturday 24th March 2018.
Barrow and Furness athlete Peter Huck completed the England scoring trio, when he finished fourth.
In the Senior Women’s event, Morpeth’s Emma Holt finished eleventh,
and was second counter for a third placed North of England squad,
who were led home by sixth placed Natasha Hatswell of Rotherham.
Photos courtesy of Adrian Royle