Morpeth Harriers put out no less than nine teams – more than any of its North East rivals, in fact – in the Norman Woodcock Relays on a blustery Saturday lunchtime in Gosforth Park.
Since 2017 a three runner mixed relay race instead of the previous five miler, the event is held in an unusual setting around the ambulance track inside the horse race circuit of Gosforth Race Course, with each runner completing a lung-bursting 1.66 mile lap, on this occasion made all the more challenging by a strong westerly wind directly into the face for the final half a mile. (Bizarrely, the park was also hosting Covid vaccination boosters and a Winter Wonderland to boot.)
Hosted by Elswick Harriers, there were some 76 teams entered on this occasion, with Morpeth the existing holders from the competition’s last staging in 2018.
Early action saw a hard fought first leg and a terrific run by Ponteland High School student Joe Anderson, who led most of the way and was only pipped over the last hundred yards by runners from Sunderland Harriers, finishing in a recorded time of 8 minutes 6 seconds.
Joe was followed home by fellow teenager Ryan Davies in 8m 24s with A team Senior Mark Snowball a few seconds behind (8:32) and B team lead off Anthony Janetta chasing him home in 8:49.
The placings changed on the second leg however, with most clubs choosing to put out their female runner on the second leg. (Although local outfit Gosforth Harriers went for a Senior Man instead, and hung their two Senior Female youngsters out to dry on the last leg).
A youthful Tynedale Harriers squad now came into the picture, with talented triathlete Jess Sails running the day’s second fastest time by a female athlete (9:00).
Sails was chased all the way by Cat Macdonald, whose 8:59 was also the fastest female run and who moved the A team back into contention. Behind Macdonald, Abi Leiper’s 9:35 also moved the B team into a strong position.
Tynedale’s Harry Courtney took the lead in the race half way through the final lap, and although he was chased hard all the way by Tom Innes, his time of 8:10 proved just good enough to stay ahead, Tynedale winning in a combined time of 25 minutes 34 seconds. Tom had to settle for second place, his 8:15 clocking meaning the A team finished some twelve seconds behind.
Behind Tom there was a tremendous performance by an in form Conor Marshall, whose 7:58 was the fastest run of the day and also moved the B team into 5th position by the end with a time of 26:22. Ironically, had Conor run for the A team, the club would have retained the trophy. (Wonder who was responsible for that decision?)
There was some compensation however with victory for the club in both the Over 40’s and Over 60’s categories.
Guy Bracken (8:41, 2nd fastest Veteran time of the day and all that only a few weeks off turning sixty), Jane Hodgson (9:26, the fastest Over 40 time of the day) and Lee Bennett (8:52) placed 7th overall in the race and were out of sight of their nearest competitors by the end, with the team’s 26:59 only a minute and a half behind the winners.
It was a little closer in the Over 60s, with Dave Nicholson (10:16), Pam Woodcock (13:12) and Neil Macanany (9:56) holding off the challenge from Elswick’s squad for a 33:24 total.
In 14th place were the club’s C team who had been led out by Joe, with Caitlin Flanagan running 10:03 and Lindsey Quinn the same time for 28:12.
Ryan’s team were 18th, with Lizzie Rank recording 10:16 and Lorna Macdonald, back in competitive relay action, in 10:17 and thankfully coming through unscathed. (28:57)
The Over 40 B team of Eric Adams (9:28, Gemma Floyd (10:13, and great to see her back competing) and Ed Hillier (10:00) were 22nd in 29:41.
35th in 32:18 were the team of Shaun Land (9:25), Sarah Lawson (10:25) and Savannah Kelley (12:28) in 32:18, with the club’s final team still in a respectable 50th place with runs by Paul Bellingham (10:36), Margaret Macdonald (13:26) and Andy Leeson (10:14) in 34:16.
The club placed no less than five of its nine teams in the top twenty, and with wins in two of the four competitions, second and fifth overall places and the day’s two fastest times by male and female runners, there was perhaps more than adequate compensation for the loss of the trophy itself. Better team management would have brought a win of course. (At least team manager Scaife could forlornly claim to have taught, in a previous life, two of the winning Tynedale team at QEHS…)