After over a year and a half out, North East cross country action resumed at the Harrier League fixture at Wrekenton on Saturday afternoon with well over 1300 runners taking part across the age ranges.
It certainly didn’t feel like cross country weather however, with temperatures in the high teens and the uneven ground hard under-foot hard and unyielding to those participants who still chose to wear spikes.
The traditional curtain-raiser for the day was again the keenly contested Under 11s race over a mile, where places are given on the day but not league placings for the season. There was plenty of enthusiasm on display, with over fifty in both the boys and the girls races representing twenty four of the region’s clubs.
Morpeth’s sole representative was Euan Line who, in his first Harrier League outing, was sadly misdirected when well placed and so ended up well down the field when he had been in a position to place much higher. Nicholas Surtees-Brown of Elswick recorded an impressive 6 minutes 15 seconds for the boys and Nell Graham of Birtley an even more impressive 6m 13s for the girls.
While it was disappointing post lockdown to see no Under 13 Boys in action for the club, the Under 13 girls built on their decent team performance at the Northern Road Relays last week to place third team here behind North Shields Polytechnic Harriers and Durham City.
Run over two miles as a scratch race rather than a handicap, first home for Morpeth was Emma Tomlinson, 8th in 11:04 behind race winner Katy Otterson of NSP in 9:52. Molly Roche was 12th in 11:21 and Charlotte Marshall completed the scoring count, 14th in 11:38. Iris Dungait was 25th in 13:15 and Megan Potrac 30th in 13:29 in a pleasing club turn out.
There were impressive individual and team performances in the following U/15 and U/17 boys races, although it was disappointing however to see no U/15 girls running.
Improving on team medals at Redcar last week, both age groups saw Morpeth take team wins and there were a number of individual medals won also.
A keenly contested U/15 race saw NSP’s Ben Broats win in a time of 8:43 over the two mile distance with Morpeth’s Joe Close 2nd some nine seconds behind and colleague Olly Calvert 3rd only one second behind. Emma’s brother Olly finished the scoring count, 5th in 9:01. Elliot Mavir was 10th in 9:46 and Stephen Craske 21st in 10:27. The three to count team took a narrow victory over NSP by two points.
It was a more emphatic victory in the U/17 boys race where Bertie Marr raced to victory over the two lap circuit in 17:16 with team mates Ryan Davies, now looking good again after some late Summer injury worries, 2nd in 17:24, Matt Walton 4th in 17:36, Liam Roche 5th in 18:02 and James Tilley 7th in 18:23. The margin of team victory to the next placed club, Durham City, was a resounding 29 points.
The combined U/17 girls and U/20 women’s race was won by Holly Waugh of NSP in 19:25 with Millie Breese not far behind for the club in 20:06. Kate Gaffing was 10th in 23:01 but, with Abi Leiper sadly having to drop out, the club unfortunately failed to close a scoring team.
There were over 400 women and 500 men in the day’s final two races, the women completing two full laps of the hilly circuit and the men three.
Cat Macdonald produced the fastest women’s time of the day, an impressive 28:49, when coming home in 16th from Fast Pack with a five minute handicap, and Jane Hodgson, no stranger to the course, ran the day’s 2nd fastest time of 29:11 in 21st.
The team count of four was made up by Gwenda Cavill, 76th in 31:26 and Robyn Bennett, in her first competitive outing for over two years, 116th in 32:45.
With so many runners at the front out of slow or medium packs, Morpeth’s team place was only 7th, but that situation will surely improve as faster runners are promoted. It was also good to see eleven Senior women turning out for the club with surely more to come at Druridge Bay in a fortnight.
Morpeth’s other finishers were: Lindsey Quinn, 143rd out of Fast in 33:35; Claire Calverley, 159th from Medium in 33:53; Laura Shaw, 177th from Slow in 34:32; Laura Mclean 190th from Slow in 35:06; Sarah Routledge, 199th from Slow in 35:27; Sue Smith, 226th from Slow in 36:23 and Jill Bennett, 231st from Slow in 36:30.
Over 75 veteran Paul Bentley also exercised his right to run with the women, finishing in 282nd place in 38:51.
The race was won by Blaydon’s Emily Baines in 25:14 from Slow Pack with Jess Fox of Sunderland Harriers 2nd and Elswick’s Katarina Bonner 3rd. The team race was won by Elswick with NSP 2nd and Gateshead 3rd.
Having lost the Senior Men’s title they had won for two consecutive years to Sunderland Harriers in the much disrupted and then truncated 2019/2020 season, it was important for the club’s men to get off to a good start here, and this they did with both individual and team wins for Morpeth in the final event of the day with some 17 Senior Men turning out.
Although early leader Joe Anderson dropped out after the first lap, having perhaps ‘overcooked’ it in the heat, Liam Roarty replaced him at the front, also running from Slow Pack, and was never seriously thereafter troubled, winning in a time of 32:57 with Houghton AC’s Chris Coulson 2nd in 33:40 and South Shields Harrier Mark Hodgson 3rd, both also from Slow.
Second for Morpeth was Ali Douglas (‘I’m only running because I got up too late to do a parkrun!’ - and thank goodness he did), coming 12th from Medium in 35:53, and Over 50 veteran Lee Bennett ensured his promotion once again from Slow Pack with 20th in 36:57 as third counter.
In his first ever run in a blue and white vest, George Rudman, newly transferred to the club, ran one of the day’s fastest times, 28th in 37:34 with a five minute Fast Pack handicap and was 4th counter.
Finishing 5th and 6th for the club were Anthony Jannetta, also running in his first ever NEHL fixture, 30th in 37:39, and Jordan Scott, 58th from Fast in 38:59.
The team’s final scoring count was only 65 points, well ahead of rivals Sunderland with 108 and Tyne Bridge with 119. The day’s fastest time was by Michael Hedley of Tyne Bridge with 31:57.
Alistair Macdonald did well to finish in the top 100, 85th in 39:33, and there was a return to cross country action for the first time in over a decade for Mark Davies, 130th in 40:45 (‘I should be at home with a barbecue!’ was all the words he could manage later).
Other Morpeth finishers, all from Slow Pack, were: Eric Adams, 168th in 41:41; Mike Winter, 208th in 42:36; Dave Nicholson, 250th in 44:01; Paul Brown, 259th in 44:14; Steve Johnstone, 264th in 44:20; Neil McAnany, 265th in 44:22; Paul Bellingham, 351st in 47:06; and, managing comfortably to escape the ‘lanterne rouge’, Peter Scaife, 394th in 48:51 and Andrew Dippie, 461st in 53:10. Some 511 finished.
The next fixture is on Sunday 10 October, at Druridge Bay, very much home turf for the club. For a full list of fixtures for the season see the Harrier League website.