On a blustery Sunday morning (13th January 2019), the new venue for the annual Cathedral Relays, Lord Lawson School at Birtley, proved to be a most propitious one for Morpeth Harriers as the club’s athletes left with four team golds, two silvers and one bronze, as well as four individual fastest leg times.
Traditionally hosted by Durham Harriers and settled for a number of years at Maiden Castle Sports Centre,
this year’s event looked likely not to happen, however, till Birtley AC stepped in to fill the gap left by struggling hosts in December. In the event, the new course – two laps of approximately 3000 metres in total and taking in two sharp ascents and descents on each lap – was felt by many to be a better cross country challenge, even if the strong winds made for uncomfortable spectating.
Morpeth’s veteran men got proceedings off to an early start, with five teams competing in an event dominated as expected by a strong Sunderland Harriers. Sunderland had the first teams home in Over 35 and Over 45 categories, their O/35s team’s clocking of 31 minutes and 25 seconds the fastest of the day.
However, Morpeth’s 0/45s were not far behind with their 33m 32s the 4th fastest.
They were unlucky to find a slightly stronger Sunderland team in the same category who beat them by a margin of only 12 seconds, however. Lee Bennett’s 11m 2s was Morpeth’s fastest and agonisingly only one second
off Tim Field of Sunderland’s fastest 0/50 time.
The club fared better in the Over 55 category, with Dave Nicholson, currently in fine form over the country,
clocking the fastest Over 60 time of the day ((11m 59s) on leg 1. He was supported by Paul Bellingham
and Neil McAnany, who anchored the team to what was in the end a comfortable win over nearest rivals Low Fell.
Missing a number of leading lights, the club’s Over 35 fielded O/50 Steve Haswell and O/45 Jamie Johnson,
with O/40 Tony Lewis back in action on leg 3, but still finished a very respectable 11th place overall in 36m 18s.
Jim Alder, Paul Brown and Paul Waterston shrugged aside injuries and lack of race form, meanwhile,
to make up an Over 45s B team and finish in 33rd place.
An incomplete Over 55 B team also saw a return to action for Chris Waugh.
The veteran men’s competition was followed by the combined women’s senior and veteran races,
and Morpeth’s women certainly picked up where they had left off in last week’s Davison Shield,
winning both competitions outright.
A late withdrawal saw a game Robyn Bennett, there ostensibly to support her parents,
act as a more than adequate stand-in as she came home in 2nd place at the end of leg 1.
Another gutsy run by Lorna Macdonald on leg 2 kept the club in touch with leaders Gateshead Harriers,
and it was left to Jane Hodgson, returning to her best form, to reel in the three athletes ahead of her.
This she did in some style with the team finishing in an overall 1st place in a time of 35m 12s,
some 30 seconds ahead of nearest rivals. Hodgson also recorded the fastest Over 35 time of the day and,
indeed, the 2nd fastest women’s time overall.
The club’s B team of Alison Brown, Jane Briggs and Gracie Hufton also achieved a top ten finish,
their time of 38m 29s putting them in 9th place; special mention should be made of Jane Briggs
who as an over 50 veteran ran the second leg.
Not far behind, Morpeth’s Veteran women had another impressive victory,
their time of 36m 1s in fact putting them in 3rd place overall on the day.
On leg 1 Morag Stead ran the fastest O/45 time of the day and she was ably supported
by Helen King and Gemma Floyd.
Loudest cheer of the day was undoubtedly for Morpeth’s O/45 women, however, the team of Jill Bennett,
Fran Naylor and Sue Smith finishing in 45m 38s for a bronze medal in their category.
This also meant that the Bennett family went home with a full set of medals!
Morpeth’s E team of Pam Woodcock, Margaret Macdonald and Claire Hiscox
also finished, in 52nd place, with Woodcock later given the fastest 0/65 time of the day.
The Senior Men’s race saw Morpeth athletes finish in 1st, 2nd and 8th team places
and bodes well for bigger challenges over the next few weeks.
First leg runners Sam Charlton of Wallsend and Chris Parr of Jarrow took an early lead,
but youngster Alex Brown proved he was in no way overawed by the competition around him
as he led off for the A team and kept the club in contention with a very sensible and measured run.
With George Lowry able to reel in both teams ahead of him on leg 2, it was left to Carl Avery to anchor the team
to what was in the end quite a comfortable victory in a time of 27m 59s,
Avery’s clocking of 9m the fastest time of the day.
Behind the A team there was an exciting tussle for 2nd place between Morpeth’s B string of Jordan Scott,
Ross Floyd and Tom Straughan and teams from Tyne Bridge and Gateshead.
In the event, Morpeth’s men proved too strong for both clubs, with Straughan
able not just to hold off James Dunce of Tyne Bridge behind him but also to take time out of him.
The team’s final clocking was 28m 46s.
Not far behind, Morpeth’s C team of Ali Douglas, Dean Lonsdale (of whom special mention should be made for stepping in at short notice last week) and Karl Taylor finished a highly respectable 8th (30m 39s)
and ahead of the A teams of most clubs.
Report by Peter Scaife