The annual cross country relays held at Lord Lawson of Beamish Academy in Birtley on Sunday morning were again a happy hunting ground for Morpeth Harriers, with the club retaining the Senior Men’s trophy they won last year and finishing second in the Senior Women’s.
With the competition incorporating once the North East Masters Athletics Association relays,
there were also team medals in the Over 55 and Over 45 men’s races.
Formerly held for many years in more scenic surroundings by the River Wear in Durham, the past three years had seen an uneasy compromise when the event moved to Maiden Castle Sports Centre with the course not really fulfilling the challenges of a traditional cross country.
Now hosted by Birtley AC, the new course manages to include many of the more challenging features of cross country including numerous tight bends and four lung-bursting short hill climbs over each leg, with each runner completing two laps of the one mile circuit.
Perhaps the most exciting of the day’s three races was the final Senior Men’s,
which saw a very close competition between teams from Morpeth and Tyne Bridge.
Joe Armstrong had got the club’s B team off to a flying start with what proved to be the 2nd fastest time of the day, 9 minutes 55 seconds, giving the team an early lead over a chasing group of runners from Tyne Bridge, Sunderland, Gateshead Harriers and the club’s own A team, for whom Taylor Glover ran 10:14.
On the second leg, Kieran Hedley, steadily working his way back to full competitive fitness, ran a measured leg of 10:16 to keep the B team in the lead. Behind him, however, the chasing group had been whittled down to Tyne Bridge and Morpeth A, with Ross Floyd, another athlete on the way back, running a fine 10:06, the day’s 4th fastest time, narrowing the gap.
It was certainly a baptism of fire then for Morpeth’s latest recruit, Liam Roarty in his first real outing for the club, as he went out on last leg for the B team.
Watched by his appreciative and ever vocal coach Jim Alder, Roarty stuck gamely to his task as the gap behind him progressively got narrower with Carl Smith for Tyne Bridge straining every sinew to catch him.
This was helpful for Morpeth’s A team runner, Alex Brown, who had stuck to Smith like glue and,
when Roarty was finally caught just before the start of the second lap, Brown was able to then push on
and establish a lead over Smith, who clearly lacked full race fitness.
Brown’s final clocking of 9:47 proved to be the fastest time of the day, with Brown and Armstrong the only athletes to break the 10 minute barrier. In the event, the margin of victory over Tyne Bridge was some 15 seconds.
Roarty, meanwhile, had done well to hang on for an excellent 3rd place team finish.
The NEMAA Men’s Masters relays (for teams of three in ten year age categories) had got proceedings underway, with the night’s bitter cold slowly giving way to a still and bright morning.
Won by Gateshead Harriers A team, headed once again by the redoubtable Conrad Franks, who also ran the fastest Masters time of the day (10 minutes 19 seconds), Morpeth’s Over 45 A team of Jamie Johnson (12:11), Jason Dawson (12:23) and Lee Bennett (11:41) picked up a bronze medal behind Birtley AC and Tynedale and were 13th overall. Bennett’s time was the 4th fastest Over 50 run of the day and Johnson’s the 5th Over 45.
The O/45 B team finished in 23rd place overall and 6th in their category with the runs
of Paul Brown (13:31), Phil Walker (12:17) and Paul Waterston (12:58).
The Over 55 Men’s team were once again victorious for the third year running in their category,
claiming a team gold thanks to the efforts of Tim Miley (12:32), Paul Bellingham (13:18) and Neil Macanany (12:57). Miley’s was the 5th fastest O/55 and Bellingham’s the 3rd fastest O/60.
Leading Over 65 Dave Nicholson was unfortunate not to have a team in his category around him, meanwhile, but did have the consolation of running the fastest category time of the day (12:31). With Bill Tilley (13:39) and Andrew Dippie (14:19), both competing in their first Masters Relays, the B team finished in 36th place.
Second race of the day was the Senior and Veteran Women’s race, and an early lead was taken by Elswick with fastest leg of the day by Amy Fuller (11:47). She was chased all the way by Morpeth’s young Robyn Bennett in 2nd place after leg 1 with a clocking of 12:05, the 5th fastest of the day.
Lindsay Quinn (13:13) soon took the lead for Morpeth on leg 2, but she was hunted down by one of two young Birtley AC runners who put the host club into pole position at the end of the leg
It was down to O/35 veteran Jane Hodgson to try and reel her in on the last leg, as she had done successfully last year. Despite clocking the day’s 2nd fastest time of the day (11:51), the gap was just too great however and the team had to settle for a commendable silver.
The club’s veteran women’s team of Sue Smith (15:34), Frances Naylor (17:54) and Jill Bennett (16:01) placed 44th and 8th O/45 team in a masters competition won by Gateshead Harriers, who were also 6th overall.
A special mention should be made of Fran Naylor, however, who was first on the scene when a male veteran collapsed near the start of the day’s first race with a heart attack. Administering CPR and supported by others, she was able to help keep the Derwent Valley runner alive. He was later taken to the Freeman Hospital by Air Ambulance and is hopefully on the way to recovery.
Extraordinarily, Fran then ran her own leg in the next race.
This was truly a heroic effort which the club is proud to salute: well done Fran!