A strong Morpeth Harriers team made the trip south to Birkenhead for the Northern 12-Stage Road Relays on Sunday 24th March 2019, inspired by justified optimism of coming away with medals. Many of the team had recently clocked personal best performances over 5 and 10km, with most having had a superb winter over the mud.
Warm spring sunshine was tempered by some strong March gusts, but such conditions proved no match for the in-form George Lowry, who placed 10th on the first long leg, posting a time of 23:55 for the 8k double lap of Birkenhead Park – after cutting it with the leaders on the first of the two laps. On second leg for Morpeth was the mercurial Joe Armstrong, who looks to be transitioning from winter to summer in fantastic form following a 14:54 PB in the recent Armagh 5k road race. Armstrong produced a strong leg, elevating Morpeth from 10th to 8th on leg two – clocking 11:52 for the 4km short leg. Leg three (the second long leg) saw Andy Lawrence – currently in full marathon training ahead of London – enter the fray. Morpeth workhorse T.E. Lawrence consolidated the work of Armstrong and Lowry, by handing over to James Young in 8th place with a clocking of 24:48. Lawrence said of his run later: ‘I don’t care what they say, child birth is nothing compared to mile 23 in the marathon’ – as he headed off for a 14-mile cool down. Animal.
A charging Young demonstrated his own stellar form, building on a recent PB of 14:41 over 5k in Armagh to hand over to Carl Avery in 7th position with a clocking of 11:38, the 9th fastest overall short leg time of the day.
Avery – ‘very much’ Morpeth’s ‘leading light’ – produced an absolute stonker of a performance to bring Morpeth home in third place on the third long leg. Avery’s clocking of 23:11 was 2nd fastest of the leg behind Leeds’ Northern XC Champion, Emile Cairess, and the 5th fastest long leg clocking overall.
Morpeth were not only into the minor medal places, but chasing down Sheffield in second place.
It was now the turn of Phil Winkler on leg six to continue the Morpeth charge,
and the Leeds-based Northumbrian showed all of his pedigree by closing the gap
on second place to a mere seven seconds with a clocking of 12:00.
Morpeth were now perfectly poised to make an assault on the medals, and had the optimum firepower on leg seven (the fourth and final long leg) to launch the barrage on Sheffield in the form of Ady Whitwam. Whitwam showed all of his military valour in chasing down Sheffield, but was overtaken at the midway point on the leg by Liverpool’s A. Rutherford. Whitwam’s clocking of 25:20 brought Morpeth in just outside of a minute behind Liverpool.
With the pendulum swinging in the opposite direction, Morpeth’s Taylor Glover (not long back from a lengthy injury lay off), clocking a creditable 12:34 for the 4km distance on leg eight. Glover said of his leg that his performance was attributable to his strong early winter fitness and inspirational videos of Chrissy Waddle at Italia ’90 – also the inspiration for his haircut. Next on for Morpeth was Adam Pratt – who signed for the club in the January transfer window. Pratt’s clocking of 12:06 brought Morpeth back in 5th, just over 20 seconds behind Salford. Alex Brown reduced the gap to 19 seconds on leg ten, producing a blistering 11:49 for the single lap short leg. After a fantastic summer last year, this bodes well for Brown who should make significant gains of 5km and 10km on the road this summer.
The ever-improving Tom Innes illustrated his senior pedigree as he showed tremendous spirit in consolidating 5th place for Morpeth Harriers on leg eleven, with his clocking of 12:42 proving to be quicker than his leg at last year’s edition of the race. Innes handed over to Jordan Scott on last leg, who managed to clock 12:38 for the final leg of the day – cracking haircut, even better anchor leg.
The team finished in an unusual tied place for 4th overall, the Liverpool Harriers final leg runner having tied up with a hamstring problem, in an overall time of 3 hours 14 minutes and 33 seconds. Race winners and National Cross Country champions Leeds City clocked 3:6: 43 to win by nearly five minutes from City of Sheffield and Dearne AC, with Salford Harriers in third place, a minute and a half ahead of Morpeth.
Collectively, Morpeth produced their highest finish in the Northern Championships since their bronze medal winning performance of 2016. Not only can the Morpeth team be well satisfied with their performance, but they can also be as optimistic heading into the National 12-stage Championships at Birmingham on Saturday, April 6th, with several of their top runners set to return. This includes the enigmatic Ian Harding, who has recently placed 1st and 2nd in a 10k and Half Marathon respectively in Lebanon over the past week. As club president, Jimmy Alder M.B.E. said of Harding after yesterday’s event: ‘
That man could be so, so good, but if there was a rocket to the moon, he would be the first name on that list.’
Report by Jordan Scott
Photos courtesy of Phil Winkler and George Young