Glorious Sunshine, and relatively dry conditions in most parts, was certainly welcomed
by athletes competing at the British Athletics Inter Counties Cross Country Championships,
on Saturday 12th March, which were being held at Cofton Park,
near Birmingham for the seventh consecutive occasion.
This was in contrast to conditions experienced throughout a good proportion of the
six month long Cross Country campaign, and provided a fitting finale to National events,
and also the UK Cross Challenge series, which saw athletes
also competing for added lucrative honours in the various age groups.
Despite some late drop outs, including Morpeth Harriers Ross Floyd
and Peter Newton, because of work commitments,
the North East Counties Senior Men’s squad still managed
to win the Inter Counties Team title for a record sixth consecutive time.
The last time North East had produced an individual winner in the
Senior Men’s event, was in 2006, also at Nottingham,
when Shaftesbury Barnet’s Dominic Bannister had triumphed.
On Saturday however, the region produced an excellent team victory,
winning both the six man and nine man sections by having all of their squad inside the top 100.
The North East winning margin in the six to count was 161,
with Scotland East claiming second place, fifty five points ahead of third placed Middlesex.
Leading the North East home was Morpeth’s Jonny Taylor, who after close battling over
the first two laps of the three lap 12k course with eventual winner Dewi Griffiths of West Wales,
and Essex’s Adam Hickey, comprising a total of nine steep climbs, eventually was forced to settle
for third place, even after trying to ease away from them as early as the first lap.
Second and third counters for the region were Cheltenham’s Phil Wylie (8th)
and Gateshead’s Callum Johnson (11th).
Morpeth Harrier Carl Avery, who had battled closely with Wylie over the first two laps,
where he had been in the Top 10, eventually finished 14th, and was the regions fourth to score.
The winning North East count was completed by Middlesbrough & Cleveland’s
Greg Jayasuriya (19th), and Durham City’s Dan Jenkin (23rd).
Completing the nine man scoring count were Morpeth’s Lewis Timmins,
who battled hard throughout, only to slip back to 51st in the later stages,
Robert Balmbra, also of Morpeth, who marked an excellent Inter Counties debut
as a late replacement for Morpeth club colleague Floyd,
by producing a solid performance to finish 57th, and Wallsend Harrier Harry Coates,
also an Inter Counties debutant, as replacement for Newton,
who did well to finish in 86th place in a total finishing Senior Men’s field of 260.
It was also an excellent day for the North East Counties Senior Women,
who although were dominated in team affairs by Yorkshire,
still managed to finish as second team, with Surrey a little further adrift in third place.
Winning her first ever Inter Counties title, Shildon’s Kate Avery,
the Double European Silver medallist, led the region home.
Avery won by fourteen seconds from Stockport’s Elle Vernon,
with Hampshire’s Louise Small a further forty one seconds adrift in third place.
The last time Avery had won at Cofton Park, was as an Under 13,
when she had won the National title in 2005.
Second counter for the region was Rosie Smith,
who had originally withdrawn from the squad because of work commitments,
however when those circumstances changed, to the delight
of Team Manager Lynn Cooper (formerly Harding), she had made herself available.
Smith ran an excellent race in the circumstances, finishing seventh overall.
Third and fourth counters were Birchfield’s former Wallsend Harrier Danielle Hodgkinson
and Morpeth’s Emma Holt, who both ran in close contention throughout
on the two and a half lap 8k course, to finish in 32nd and 33rd places respectively.
Closing the North East scoring counts were Gateshead’s Mary Ferrier
and Alison Dargie of Tyne Bridge Harriers, who both competed well,
to finish in 64th and 66th places in the 248 strong finishing field.
Other North East athletes competing in the Senior Women’s 8k event
were Jarrow & Hebburn’s Georgia Campbell and Morpeth’s Josie Cram,
who finished in 147th and 181st places respectively.
Another excellent result from the North East Women, was that of the Under 20 age group,
who also finished as second team in their one and a half lap 6k event.
They very nearly clinched Gold, only eighteen points adrift of Scotland West.
Sophie Burnett of Birtley AC finishing 24th led the squad home,
with further scoring counts coming from Jacqueline Penn of North Shields Poly (29th),
Birtley’s Amber Leigh (34th), and Durham City’s Laura Lee (35th).
Other North East performances came from Sunderland Harrier Jessica Fox (44th),
Morpeth pair Alison Brown and Charlotte Jewell, who ran well to finish
97th and 115th respectively, and Elvet’s Sally Hughes finished one place behind Charlotte
to complete the North East tally in a finishing field of 146.
The closest and most exciting finish of the day came in the Under17 Men’s event,
which was also run over the 6k course.
It again involved the leading finishers in the English National Cross Country Championships,
and once again Morpeth’s Scott Beattie, running for the North East,
couldn’t quite get the better of Leicestershire’s Isaac Akers.
The pair were neck and neck as the finish line beckoned, and Akers was only
able to gain a slight advantage with 10 metres remaining, to win by a two second margin.
Beattie certainly ran the race of his life, and gave all that he could to win
by sticking to his opponent like glue throughout both laps,
a true classy effort that both he and the region could be duly proud of,
and certainly pleased his watching Team Manager Stewy Bell.
Whilst Akers also rejoiced in leading his Leicester colleagues to a team victory,
the North East Counties finished sixth in a tight contest.
Beattie was well supported in the team effort by New Marske’s Hassan Ben –Tiba (19th),
Tynedale’s Max Pearson (38th), and his Morpeth club colleague Kieran Hedley (91st).
Other North East Under 17 Men’s performances came from New Marske’s Harry Allen (95th),
Middlesbrough Mandale’s Josh Allen (102nd), and Darlington’s Matthew McGuire (170th).
The single lap Under 13 Boy’s 3k event brought an excellent second team place for the North East Counties.
Leading them home was Henry Johnson of Houghton, who ran superbly to finish 6th.
Not far behind him was New Marske’s Archie Lowe, who finished an excellent 9th.
Third counter was Daniel Payne of Middlesbrough Mandale, who finished seventeenth.
Completing the North East scoring count was Gateshead’s Ethan McGlen, who was 27th.
Other North East Under 13 Boy’s performances came from Houghton’s Will Bellamy (98th),
Sunderland Harrier Connor Prior (101st), Morpeth Harrier Ben Walker,
who ran well in his very first Inter Counties to finish 116th, and Birtley’s Matthew Cleugh (159th).
In the one and a half lap Under 15 Boys 4.5k event, the
North East Counties finished in sixth team place,
and were led home by Middlesbrough Mandale’s Josh Cowperthwaite.
The North East, Northern and National Champion on this occasion finished third.
He was well supported in the team race, firstly by Morpeth’s Daniel Dixon,
who produced a superb run to finish 40th overall.
Further North East Counties team support came from
Middlesbrough Mandale’s Daniel Currie who finished 46th,
and an excellent effort from Morpeth’s Taylor Glover, who finished in 78th place.
Not far behind Taylor was his Morpeth Harriers club colleague Ross Charlton,
who had one of his better runs to finish 99th.
Other North East Counties Under 15 Boys performances came from Blyth’s Josh Fiddeman (144th),
Houghton Harrier Matthew Phillips (161st), and New Marske’s Daniel Gunn (168th).
North East Champion Holly Peck led the regions Under 13 Girls home
to fourteenth team place in their one lap 3k race.
Peck was well up with the leaders in the early stages, however struggled a little on the early hill climbs,
but still managed to finish in a well earned 25th place by battling strongly on the downhills and straights.
Second counter for the region was Gateshead’s Ines Curran, who finished 83rd.
Only two seconds adrift of Curran in 88th place was Peck’s Morpeth Harriers club-mate Lily Heaton,
who produced an excellent run in a very crowded field of 304 finishers.
Completing the North East team count was Darlington’s Megan Noble, who finished in 122nd place.
Other North East Under 13 Girls performances came from Darlington’s Emma Hart (143rd),
Houghton’s Nicole Phillips (146th), Gosforth’s Olivia Katory (157th), and Sedgefield’s Jessica Hall (230th).
The North East Counties finished eighth and ninth respectively in the Under 15 Girls 4k
and Under 20 Men’s 8k events, and seventeenth in the Under 17 Women’s 5k event,
however there were no Morpeth Harriers competing in those squads.
Unfortunately the region just lost out to Kent for the overall trophy,
by the slender margin of ten points, over the day’s ten events.