Boasting an average of only 19 years of age, Morpeth Harriers four-man team of young tyros confidently saw off all competition to win the Elswick Relays on Good Friday by a margin of over a minute - and in doing so did their bit to disprove that ‘you never win anything with kids’.
The Good Friday Relays, hosted by the North East’s oldest running club Elswick Harriers, are a traditional herald of Spring for the running community and are now comfortably settled into a spot on the banks of the River Tyne at Newburn. This year’s weather, however, seemed to belong more to a Winter reluctant to let loose its grip and in places the 2.2-mile course was more akin to a cross-country fixture.
With a long list of more experienced Senior runners absent from injury or unavailability, Morpeth Harriers team manager Dave Swinburne had chosen to put his faith in the youngsters available to him – and they certainly responded to his trust in style.
17-year-old Kieran Hedley got proceedings off on the 1st leg and, after a hard-fought tussle with a leading group of some six or seven other athletes, emerged to finish in a time of 10 minutes 36 seconds in a narrow 2nd place. His time proved to be the second fastest of the day, meaning he agonisingly missed out on the Alex Burns trophy (awarded in honour of Elswick’s great Olympian who took part in the 1932 and 1936 Olympics) by the narrowest of margins of one second to another youngster, Alex Brown of Houghton Harriers (10m 35s).
Making his Senior debut for the club, 16-year-old KEVI student Daniel Dixon on leg 2 moved the club up to 1st place with a clocking of 10m 49s. The Mike Harris coached, and hugely talented tri-athlete has his eyes set on the Youth Olympics to be held in Buenos Aires in October, and his confidence and ability was apparent for all to see as he showed he was in no way overawed by the challenge of running against older and more experienced athletes.
Dixon handed over to Sam Hancox who, having just turned 23, was now the veteran of the team, and Hancox put further distance between himself and the competition, running 10m 51s in a composed and steady performance.
It was left to 19-year-old James Young to bring the baton home, and this he did in a time of 10m 37s having never looked under threat, with the team’s overall clocking of 42m 53s meaning they had finished a minute and fourteen seconds ahead of the next placed club, Tyne Bridge Harriers, with Houghton Harriers in third.
Morpeth’s B team of Alistair Douglas, Ross Charlton, Tom Innes and Mark Snowball – with an average age only a few years greater than their clubmates – finished in a commendable 8th place, ahead of the A teams of many other clubs.
Douglas clocked 11m 28s on 1st leg and handed onto Dixon’s fellow KEVI student Ross Charlton on 2nd leg, and again the confidence of youth prevailed, with Charlton’s clocking of 11m 6s the team’s fastest. Ever willing Tom Innes ran leg 3 in 11m 39s with a renascent Mark Snowball completing the team’s count in 11m 48s for an overall clocking of 46m 1s.
There was further success for the club and another team gold in the Male Over 40 Veteran competition run at the same time as the Senior race, a victory made all the sweeter by its coming as a result of defeating Sunderland Harriers Veterans who had triumphed at the Signals Relays only a few weeks ago.
After Graeme Thorpe had got the club off to a very solid start with 12 minutes dead, Rob Hancox (Sam’s father and an Over 50 veteran) battled his hardest on leg 2 (12m 32s) to give the last two runners a fighting chance of overhauling both Sunderland and North Shields Poly who were by then in second and first places.
However, another imperious run by a man currently in very fine form, John Butters (11m 14s) moved the club up to 1st place and Fergus Bates (11m 50s) was able to stay ahead of the competition with the team finishing in 47m 36s for a much-enjoyed team victory.
Morpeth fielded two further Veterans teams. The B team of Neil McAnany (13m 6s), Phil Walker (12m 43s),
Alistair Macdonald (12m 57s) and Paul Waterston (13m 8s) finished in a highly respectable 8th place in the
Veteran competition, ahead of the A teams of many clubs – not bad for a team all whose runners were all over 50.
The C team of Paul Brown (13m 30s), Andy Leeson (13m 33s), Peter Scaife (15m 15s)
and Mike Winter (13m 58s) meanwhile finished as 23rd veteran team.
In the Senior and Veteran Women’s competition there was further success for the club, although Morpeth were a little unfortunate to come up against an international athlete working her way back to full fitness in the shape of Gateshead’s Stacey Smith. Smith ran away from the rest of the field at the start of the three-to-count relay,
and finished with far and away the fastest time of the day, 11 minutes and 22 seconds.
She was followed home by Morpeth’s Emma Holt who has had a very busy Winter racing mostly off road,
but whose time of 12m 6s still proved to be the second fastest of the day. On leg 2 Lorna Macdonald (13m 28s) kept the club in second place and it was left to Jane Hodgson (12m 24s) to complete the team’s placing.
Hodgson can count herself most unfortunate in that her time would have been credited as the fastest female Veteran’s time by some margin had she been running in a Veteran team,
the honour going instead to Carly Maley of NSP (13m 19s).
Morpeth’s Veteran A team of Helen King (13m 59s), Gwenda Cavill (14m 45s) and Lindsay Turnbull (15m 11s) finished as 6th Veteran team and just ahead of the Senior B team of Kay Errington (15m 21s), Jane Kirby (15 38s) and Gemma Floyd (13m 20s), 13th Senior team.
The Veteran B team of Sue Smith (15m 58s), Margaret Macdonald (18 2s) – determinedly completing the family turn out – and Pam Woodcock (17m 47s) finished as 30th Veteran team but an honourable mention should be made of Woodcock, who ran despite injury to ensure a complete team.
Earlier in the day Juniors from clubs all over the North East had raced over the course in open races.
At the time of writing, full results are not available, but it has been confirmed that the Under 15 boys team
of Tom Balsdon, Dylan Davies and Andrew Hudspith did win their competition,
with further support coming from Jonny Kidd and Alex Porteous.