Cross country action returned to the athletics calendar at the weekend, albeit in a
much changed form, at Thornley Hall Farm, just South of Peterlee on Saturday with
the North East Counties Athletics Association Junior Relays.
Held under very strict England Athletics competition guidance which banned
spectators other than one attending parent per athlete and kept athletes in isolation
while warning against, for example ‘fist bumps’, the relays were very much a labour
of love for NECAA cross-country secretary Archie Jenkins who had worked tirelessly
to get the event on for several weeks.
‘We realised from day one that there would be lots of restrictions put in place for the
fixture to go ahead so we knew we had to meet the criteria 100 per cent and more,’ he
commented. ‘It was paramount to have social distance in place. Our athletes have
been void of cross-country competition since March so by giving them the chance to
compete in what was a new event, I hope they all appreciated how much went into
making it happen.’
He also remarked ruefully on it being ‘a tough baptism for many of the youngsters but
then cross-country running is tough sport’, and the reports from those present and the
photographic evidence more than back up his words, if anything an understatement.
Always a tough venue at the best of times, while the biggest hills had been taken out
in preparing the 3 kilometre circuit over which teams of four ran, weeks of rain had
left conditions a veritable quagmire under foot with large pools of standing water
while more on the day rain left competitors sodden from head to foot.
For Morpeth, the outstanding performances of the day came once again from their
very strong Under 15 boys, who were led to a dominant team victory by Ryan Davies
who ran the fastest U/15 time of the day on leg 1 (11 minutes 2 seconds) to put the
team in a lead they never lost. Joe Dixon on leg 2 ran the day’s second fastest time
(11m 8s) and Bertie Marr closed the win with an easy clocking of 11m 45s. They
were chased home however by their own club colleagues, with the B team of Joe
Close (12m 51s), Will de Vere Owen (11m 12s) and Liam Roche (12m 12s) in a
strong second place, with de Vere Owen having at least the satisfaction of running the
day’s third fastest time. For this group of athletes, the lack of opportunities for team
action this year is a huge loss, as they would undoubtedly have been in contention at
both Northern and National level, sadly another unfortunate consequence of Covid 19.
Morpeth’s other medallists on the day were their Under 17 boys who put in a manful
performance against on the day favourites Gateshead Harriers whose 1st and 2nd teams
came home ahead of them. Joe Anderson (11m 32s), James Tilley (12m 17s) and Matt
Walton (12m 8s) were only three seconds behind Gateshead’s B, however, and with
only club’s A teams being allowed to medal, did at least have the satisfaction of
bringing home silver medals. Running for an incomplete Darlington Harriers team,
Adam Russell clocked what proved to be the overall fastest run of the day of 10
minutes 50 seconds.
Morpeth’s U/13 boys were unfortunate in missing out on a medal by less than thirty
seconds. In a race won by North Shields Polytechnic Harriers in an overall time of
38m 55s, the Morpeth team of Conner Phillips (15m 20s), Oliver Calvert (13m 48s)
and Oliver Tomlinson (12m 15s) finished in a cumulative time of 41m 23s behind
teams from Gateshead and Houghton Harriers. Oliver Tomlinson, now thankfully
recovered from a nasty concussion accident some weeks ago, ran the day’s third
fastest time, however.
Best of the Morpeth’s Girls Teams were their U/15s, who finished in 5 th place in a
time of 44m 26s. Tabitha Robson ran their fastest time of 14m 26s, with Caitlin
Flanagan (15m 13s) on leg 2 and Kate Kennedy (14m 47s) anchoring the team in a
competition won again by Gateshead Harriers.
The club’s U/13 girls, two of whom were competing in an event of this kind for the
first time, placed 8th overall in 50m 13s with Charlotte Marshall on leg 1 (17m 9s),
Amelia Hamlin on leg 2 (16m 28s) and Emma Tomlinson on leg 3 (16m 36s). NSP
were overall winners with Elswick Harriers second.
Archie Jenkins meanwhile won’t be letting the mud settle under his feet as he has
already set the wheels in motion for a Senior and Masters event at the same venue in
early January - so for Morpeth’s older athletes, it’s time to dig out and clean the
spikes at last and keep fingers crossed that the event will go ahead.