There were thirteen team and individual medals won by Morpeth Harriers on Saturday at the North Eastern Counties Athletics Association Championships, the final major fixture for 2021.
Held on a rolling grassland course between Hardwick Park and Sedgefield Cricket Club, conditions deteriorated as the day went on with a gusty wind that later included rain - although both officials and competitors were very grateful that the weather was at least better than the blizzard of 2015’s white-out.
It was a day of rich pickings for Morpeth, with the medal haul including four team Golds, two team Silvers and one team Bronze, and individually three Golds, two Silvers and one Bronze.
As ever, early proceedings included the non-Championship Under 11 races, with this time Sophie Pledger in 8th and Anna Archibald in 20th enjoying the experience for the first time.
Morpeth’s first medals came in the Under 13 Girls race over 3k, with a team Bronze thanks to the close packing of Emma Tomlinson (15th in 12:38), Molly Roche (16th in 12:49) and Megan Potrac (17th in 12:51). The three counters were backed up by Iris Dungait (21st in 13:22) and Charlotte Marshall (22nd in 13:25).
Daniel Scott was Morpeth’s sole representative in the U/13 Boys, 27th in 12:21, with NSP picking up the team prize.
Tabby Robson similarly flew the flag for the club on her own in the 4k U/15s race, despite being under the weather, and was 22nd in 19:54, with Darlington Harriers and AC taking the team victory.
The club’s first individual medal came thanks to one of the runs of the day by Oliver Calvert in the U/15 Boys. Having led for much of the race, Calvert found himself back in 3rd as the run-in approached, but somehow found a finishing spurt to get ahead of his two rivals. Winning in 15:32, the 2nd place runner was in fact credited with the same time.
Oliver was backed up by Oli Tomlinson, 5th in 16:01, and Joe Close, 12th in 16:35, with the winning team count of 18 putting the team well ahead of nearest rivals Middlesbrough Mandale AC on 25. Elliot Mavir was also 30th in 18:00.
The Under 17 Boys team, several of whom had also medalled at the English Schools Cross Country Cup in Newquay the previous weekend, were, perhaps unsurprisingly, comprehensive winners once again. A high quality 6k race won by Josh Blevins of NSP ahead of Houghton’s Brandon Pye, saw Will De Vere-Owen collect an individual Bronze (19:24), with Joe Dixon not far behind in 4th (19:34) and Bertie Marr making up the team count in 7th (19:56) for 1st place. With Ryan Davies in 12th (20:29), Matty Walton 14th (20:37) and James Tilley 18th (21:43), the next three runners would in fact have collected a team Bronze had rules permitted.
The combined Under 17/Under 20 Women’s 5k race saw triathlete Millie Breese, who has been in fantastic form this Autumn, win the club’s second individual Gold, with another outstanding run to finish ahead of older athletes in a time of 19:19.
Fellow U/17 Caitlin Flanagan was 11th in 22:10, although sadly Abi Leiper was a victim of the driving rain and wind.
With Olivia Katory 5th in the U/20s in 20:43 and Kate Gaffing 9th (22:41), the team combined team count was frustratingly just behind that of Gateshead Harriers who won Gold.
There was a team Gold in the next race for the Under 20 Men’s team, however, with Team GB triathlete Dan Dixon (27:19) leading the way for much of the 8k race and only beaten by a high-class run by Middlesbrough’s Max Creasey.
Dixon was backed up by Joe Anderson in 4th (28:13) and Dan Melling in 5th (28:17) for an emphatic team win.
Biggest field of the day was for the Senior Men’s four lap race over 12k, with nearly 400 finishing.
In an event that Morpeth have dominated for the past decade, and in which the club had both individual and team winners on the last occasion the event was staged at Alnwick in 2019, it was once again blue and white vests that were to the fore.
The race itself was won by a sensational run from Gateshead’s Calum Johnson, whose gun-to-tape victory in 36:14 saw him win by an extraordinary margin of nearly two minutes, and suggests he will again be a very hard act to beat in the National Cross Country at Parliament Hill Fields, London, in February.
Behind Johnson, Morpeth’s Finn Brodie, enjoying fine form also at the moment, got ahead of the chasing pack to come home in Silver medal position in 38:00 with Kieran Walker of NE Project 3rd (38:06).
Behind Brodie, there was a procession of Morpeth vests in the top 20. Alex Brown just missed out on the medals despite finishing like a steam train, coming in 4th in 38:27. Sam Hancox was delighted with a 6th place finish (38:38) and Matty Briggs, in his first Senior Championships, was 8th in 39:19.
With four in the top ten, a team Gold was always likely, and young Connor Marshall, like Briggs new to the event but also in great form, helped cement the win with 17th place (41:18) with Tom Innes 17th and final counter in 41:28.
Not far behind these six were Liam Roarty, having a great run in 19th (41:50) and Andy Lawrence, 20th in 41:53. Sadly, cross country stalwart Jordan Scott had to abandon after two laps when he was in 5th counter position.
Four club vets also turned out and ran well: John Butters (71st in 45:11) and Anthony Janetta (74th in 45:22) comfortably made the top 100, with O/50 Jason Dawson 125th in 48:29 and, remarkably, 0/75 Paul Bentley 286th in 1:13:40.
The team count of 52 trounced all the nearest rivals, with Gateshead Harriers a distant 2nd on 162 points and Tyne Bridge 3rd on 175.
Last event of the day, held under darkening skies and worsening conditions, was the Senior Women’s race over 8k, and witnessed another of the club performances of the day with an imperious run from Cat Macdonald.
Like Johnson in impressive form over the last few months, Macdonald showed a clean pair of heels to all those behind her, winning in 30:15 with second placed runner Emma Bramley of Durham completing in 30:59 and Amy Fuller of Elswick in 3rd.
There was a very pleasing Silver medal for the team also, with veterans Jane Hodgson and Gemma Floyd coming home in 5th (31:45) and 20th (34:32). The team count was completed by Lindsey Quinn, 31st in 35:32, with the club losing out to Gold medallists Jarrow and Hebburn AC by 57 to 42 points with Elswick in 3rd (for whom Judith Nutt picked up the family’s third medal of the day).
Sisters Sarah and Becky Lawson backed up the team count with Sarah 49th in 37:38 and Becky 101st in 42:06.
The day was rounded off with the club being awarded the Middlesborough and Cleveland Harriers Centenary Trophy for the most successful Overall Club on the day.