Final year Lancaster University student Matthew Briggs signed off his own cross country season in fine style the previous weekend by winning the final race in the Mid Lancs XC League at Towneley Park in Burnley and in so doing took the overall Senior Men’s title.
With a commanding lead at the top of the individual table, he also led his university team-mates to the team title.
Always a talent as a youngster, Matthew is now under the guidance of Jim Alder, who has encouraged him both to up his mileage and to take advantage of every opportunity available to compete.
And the approach certainly seems to be paying off, with last weekend’s win to add to his recent victory in the Sherman Cup at South Shields and a fine placing of 86th in his first ever National Cross Country last month.
It was a very long way to travel for competitors from the North East who journeyed to Hop Farm, Paddock Wood in Kent on Saturday to take part in the annual English Schools Cross Country Championships. Northumberland’s best performers included their Intermediate Boys, Junior Boys and Senior Girls, who all had Morpeth Harriers amongst their ranks.
Best performers were the Intermediate Boys whose fourth placed squad were led home by Blackhill’s Tom Slane, who finished twentieth in a strong field, his best performance for some time.
Morpeth Harriers had three athletes amongst the other counters in Will Devere-Owen (22nd, 2nd Counter), Bertie Marr (51st, 4th Counter), and Ryan Davies (88th, 5th Counter) with the squad only twenty-seven points adrift of third placed Hampshire. First team place went to Sussex, with hosts Kent finishing second.
However, had unfortunate Joe Dixon not suffered a recurrence of a foot injury which had put him out of the previous week’s Inter Counties the team would probably have medalled. He suffered it during the first half mile of Saturday’s race, an injury that has been diagnosed as a stress fracture of the second metatarsal - which will almost certainly keep him out of action for a number of weeks.
Good individual runs by Morpeth pairing Ollie Calvert and Ollie Tomlinson in finishing 12th and 16th respectively saw them lead Northumberland’s Junior Boys home to fifth team place, with the event won by Hampshire.
Northumberland’s Senior Girls finished sixth behind winners Surrey. They were led home by Millie Breese, who again produced an excellent run to finish twelfth overall and round off a super cross-country season.
Fellow Morpeth Harrier Abi Leiper also got amongst the scoring counts, finishing as sixth home in 159th place.
The county’s Senior Boys finished as fourteenth team behind hosts Kent, with three Morpeth Harriers contributing to their scoring count. The squad were led home by Gateshead’s Josh Blevins, who finished eleventh overall with an excellent run.
Good support also came from Morpeth trio Joe Anderson (124th) (3rd Counter), Matthew Walton (144th) (5th Counter), and James Tilley (148th) (6th Counter), who also sadly finished with a foot injury that may see a period of inactivity.
The club’s other Northumberland entrant was Tabitha Robson, who was unfortunately outside the counters in the Intermediate Girls event, finishing 253rd, with the team finishing in 18th team place.
A sizeable field of some 89 runners set out on a breezy, cloudy and somewhat chilly morning with 5 miles and 1300ft of ascent ahead of them to compete in the Brough Law Fell Race on Sunday. Conditions underfoot were very good considering the recent weather.
Will Robson of Northumberland Fell Runners was first over the line in 38 minutes 25 seconds, 30 secs ahead of second place Craig Jones of Tyne Bridge Harriers with Russel Walsh (39:26) of Cheviot Trail Runners in third place.
In the women’s race Alison Dargie (46:02) of Tyne Bridge Harriers was first to cross the line ahead of Katherine Davis (49:14) of North Shields Poly and Lily Robson (49:21) of Wallsend Harriers.
Category winners were: M40 John Butters NFR (41:35); M50 Lee Bennett NFR (43:37); M60 Tim McCall Norham (48:16); M70 Peter Reed NFR (1:02:42); W40 Alison Dargie TBH (46:02); W50 Katherine Davis NSP (49:14); W60 Kim Taylor NFR (57:12)
There were impressive runs from Morpeth Harriers youngsters Matthew Walton who finished 8th (41:27) and James Tilley 10th (42:23). Other NFR/Morpeth Harriers were: Lee Bennett 13th (43:37); James Johnson 23rd (46:56); Richard Kirby 43rd (52:03); Gwenda Cavill 74th (1:01:32); Jill Bennett 77th (1:03:04); Claire Calverley 84th (01:06:00).
A very successful race then, with a big thanks to the volunteers for making it all possible, and who in the process also raised funds for the Northumberland National Park Mountain Rescue Team and for the Great North Air Ambulance service.
Saturday’s UK Athletics CAU Inter Counties Cross Country Championships, which also incorporated the final of the British Athletics Cross Challenge, was once again held at Prestwold Hall, the Grade 1 listed Stately Home near Loughborough in Leicester, seat of the Packe Family for over 360 years.
The Championships have been held at the venue since 2017, however on Saturday organisers decided to run the course in the opposite direction to previous years, which according to some competitors made it slightly tougher than anticipated, a difficulty made worse by heavy overnight rain which made the course a little muddier.
As usual a large contingent of athletes and supporters from the North East made the lengthy journey down the M1 for the event, although the region’s Team Managers Stewy Bell (Men), and Lynn Cooper (Women) were forced to make several squad changes at the last minute due to a large number of late withdrawals.
Nevertheless those who did fly the region’s flag on the day did their level best to achieve a number of honours.
Highlight of the day for the North East came in the very last event, when Gateshead Harrier Callum Johnson took the Senior Men’s title to add to the regional title that he won in December at Sedgefield.
He did it after overhauling Hampshire and Southampton’s Zak Mahamed on the final lap, to win by a margin of twenty-one seconds.
Amongst the North East athletes who competed on a well-represented day for the club, were nine members of Morpeth Harriers.
Best individual placing was that of North East Champion Millie Breese, who finished twentieth in the Under 17 Women’s race and led the region home to seventh team place.
Next best Morpeth individual was from the Senior Women’s section, where North East Champion Catriona MacDonald finished twenty eighth, and as second counter for a fifth placed North East Senior Women’s team. The team was led home by third placed Kate Avery of Shildon, who took an individual Bronze medal, the best regional individual Female performance on the day.
The Senior Women’s event was actually won by former Morpeth Harrier Mhairi MacLennan, who is also the recently crowned Scottish Champion. Mhairi won by an eight second margin from Reading and Berkshire’s Jessica Gibbon.
One of the finest individual performers on the day from Morpeth Harriers was William Devere-Owen, who finished forty sixth in the Under 17 Men’s event and helped the region to a set of Team Bronze medals by being their third counter. The region were led home by Houghton’s Brandon Pye, who narrowly missed an individual medal when finishing fourth.
Outside the scoring count however was Morpeth’s Bertie Marr, who was seventh finisher in 111th place, having suffered a fall during the event.
Joe Dixon had also been scheduled to line up in the Under 17 Men’s event for the North East, however he was forced out by a late foot injury, a bitter blow to the squad.
The North East’s Under 15 Boys squad finished eleventh in their event, with North East Champion Ollie Calvert and Morpeth club colleague, another Ollie, Ollie Tomlinson, both managing to be amongst the scoring counts in 51st, and 59th places respectively, and as second and third from the region. Just missing being amongst the counters was Joseph Close, who finished in 95th place.
Sam Hancox of Morpeth was a late call up for the region’s Senior Men’s team, who were triumphantly led home by Callum Johnson, but unfortunately, the team could not repeat their previous habit of winning on this occasion.
They finished fifth, but Hancox was outside the scoring six in 86th place, only missing being a counter by ten seconds.
Unfortunately, the club’s Joe Anderson developed a bout of sickness in the morning and found it a big struggle to complete his run in the opening Under 20 Men’s event, where the North East squad finished in seventh team place. He still managed to complete, however, finishing in 151st place.
The North East did manage to secure Silver team medals in the Under 13 Boys event, however, as well as Bronze team medals in the Under 15 Girls and Under 20 Women, although unfortunately, no Morpeth Harriers participated in these three age group scores.
With the track and field season almost upon us, details have now been released of the fixtures for this summer's North East Grand Prix series.
The programme of six meetings gets underway on Wednesday 20 April. All of them will take place at Monkton Stadium in Jarrow.
The season opener will be followed by further fixtures - all on Wednesday evenings - on 18 May, 8 June, 29 June, 20 July, and 10 August.
In all meetings, track events will commence at 6.30pm, with field events starting at 7pm.
Entries for the opening meeting on 20 April will open from 7pm on 2 April and close on 13 April.
Entry is available online only at www.necaa.info
More details are available in the event programme and league rules.