At the annual English National Men’s 12 Stage
and Women’s 6 Stage Road Relays, held at a sunny
and very picturesque Sutton Park, in Sutton Coldfield,
on Saturday 8th April 2017, Morpeth Harriers despite two
weakened teams, still managed to finish in an excellent
thirteenth place in the Women’s 6 Stage, and took thirty first
place in the Men’s 12 Stage event.
The Women’s 6 Stage, which involved two long legs covering just under 9k in distance,
and four short legs covering 5.14k, saw Catriona Macdonald, having her first
ever outing in a National 6 Stage contest on the long opening leg.
With extremely talented athletes around her, she was not phased
as she came home 25th out of 56 starting teams, posting a time of 33m38s,
which at the time was just under 2 minutes adrift of the early medal protagonists,
Swansea, Leeds City, and Southern Champions Winchester.
Second leg saw Olympian Laura Weightman enter the fray for Morpeth,
and she was really the catalyst for what was to become an excellent Morpeth performance,
as she climbed a mammoth fourteen places to eleventh, posting what was to become
the second fastest overall short leg time of 16m44s, which was slightly headed by
Bristol’s Kate Maltby’s 16m38s, on the same leg, which put them into second place,
between new leaders Leeds City, and third placed Winchester.
Whilst a keen battle ensued over the remaining four legs for the minor placings
between Bristol, Swansea, Winchester, and briefly Cambridge & Coleridge,
Leeds City remained in front throughout, to eventually take the champions title
by an excellent margin of nearly four minutes, as they posted a total time of 2hrs12mins44secs.
Second went to Swansea (2hrs16min21secs), and third place went to Winchester (2hrs16mins35secs).
Meanwhile Morpeth, courtesy of Josie Cram (19m52s), Lorna MacDonald (Long) (35m38s),
Sarah Graham (20m45s), and debutant Mhairi MacLennan (18m22s),
continued to maintain an excellent performance throughout,
to eventually reach their final placing, which to their ultimate credit,
also saw them finish as third from the North, behind winners Leeds,
and sixth placed Rotherham Harriers, who had gone into the contest as Northern Champions.
Considering they were missing the services of Emma Holt, who has still not recovered
from her unfortunate injury sustained when warming up at last month’s
Inter Counties Cross Country Championships, and Jane Hodgson and Gemma Floyd
who were both unable to travel, this performance was quite remarkable,
and a touch more than expected, so the outcome was most pleasing for the club.
Unfortunately, injuries played a big part in Morpeth’s Senior Men fielding
a much-weakened squad for their 12 Stage Championship, with Peter Newton,
Ian Hudspith, and Nick Swinburn all missing notables,
the latter with a recently diagnosed stress fracture.
However, they did have one of their leading lights in competitive action,
in the form of Jonny Taylor, whose 26m17s over the Long first leg,
had the squad in the excellent position of fourth, and only ten to fifteen seconds
adrift of early leaders Cardiff, with Bedford and Leeds City
just ahead in second and third places respectively.
Taylor’s time was just outside the top ten Long Stage times overall.
Chris Smith lost very little ground on the Short second leg, posting a time of 16m06s.
On third leg, which was a long leg, James Taylor got around in 29m24s,
however pressure was certainly mounting around him from strong opposition as he finished 19th.
Thomas Straughan on the short fourth leg, pulled a couple of places back,
as he ran his clubs fastest short leg time of the day in 15m59s.
The next three legs run by Andrew Lawrence (29m07s),
Jake Masterman (17m34s), and Ian Harding (28m25s),
who had just completed a night shift in the Care Home
that he works at, saw the squad settled in 21st place throughout.
Sam Hancox, who has only just recovered from injury,
battled round the short eighth leg in 18m10s, to finish 23rd.
Jordan Scott (29m41s), Rob Hancox (18m35s), and Karl Taylor (29m30s),
saw the squad through to the final leg in holding 26th place.
Due to another late withdrawal, Team Manager David Swinburne was very much
forced into action himself on the final twelfth stage, to ensure that Morpeth finished
as a team following all the earlier efforts, as he completed the short leg in 20m47, to finish 31st.
This gave them a finishing position as ninth overall from the North of England,
and second from the region behind Tyne Bridge, who finished 25th.
Morpeth’s total finishing time of 4hrs 39mins35secs over the twelve legs
was around twenty minutes adrift of a medal winning spot, however to the
credit of those who rallied to Team Manager Swinburne’s call,
they performed with a great deal of credit to the cause.