Winning his first North Eastern Counties Cross Country Championships title within sight of the scenic backdrop of Alnwick Castle, Morpeth Harrier Carl Avery led the club’s Senior Men to a comprehensive team victory on a blustery Saturday afternoon (14th December), their 8th win in a row since 2012.
A challenging, multi-terrain course over the Duke of Northumberland’s land at Alnwick Pastures - where the first ever European Cross Country Championships had been held in 1994 - saw Morpeth claim three out of a possible nine team victories and one further second place, while individually there were also four bronze medals to go alongside Avery’s gold.
The club’s first team gold came courtesy of their Under 15 boys, most of whom had run the previous weekend in the English Schools Cross Country Cup. Led home by Joe Dixon in 3rd place, there were supporting counts courtesy of Bertie Marr in 7th and Ryan Davies in 9th.There was also strong support from Liam Roche in 18th, Matt Walton in 19th and Will Devere Owen in 21st in an age group that is rapidly establishing itself as one of the strongest in the club.
The second gold was won by the Under 20 men with Joe’s older brother Daniel again picking up an individual bronze for the family. A high quality two lap race saw Sam Charlton, winner of the U/17 race at the English National Cross Country Championships at Harewood House in February, take an early lead with Dixon determinedly hanging on a few seconds back. However, Charlie McMillan of Gateshead Harriers came from some way back to overhaul both on the second lap, and he finished with a convincing 28 second margin over Charlton. With Dixon only a few seconds behind Charlton,
Morpeth’s next counter was pentathlete Ross Charlton in 4th, and when Dan Melling came in not far after in 7th,
the team title was secure. There were further supporting runs from Alex Cunningham in 13th
and Connor Marshall in 18th.
The Under 17 Mens team lost out to a strong Houghton Harriers team but still won a decent silver medal, with Tom Balsdon first home in 6th place, Rowan Bennett 7th, Dylan Gooding 9th and Ben Waterfield 20th.
There were also complete teams and more than respectable performances from the club’s Under 15 girls
and Under17/Under 20 Junior Women. Abi Leiper finished 5th in the U/15 girls with support coming from Zara Naughton, 22nd in her first ever championship race, and Sophia Cunningham, 33rd. The team finished 6th.
The U17/20 Women were unfortunate in that Robyn Bennett, who would probably have been their leading counter, had been laid low all week by the same virus that has afflicted so many in the North East this Winter, and though she deserves credit for even making the start line, she had to drop out after the first lap.
This left Holly Peck as the team’s first counter in 9th, with Rhiannon Hedley in 17th, Kirsty Duffin 26th
and Kate Gaffin 33rd. The team were unlucky then to narrowly lose out for a bronze to Blaydon Harriers,
and had to settle for 4th spot.
Kiera Peck was Morpeth’s sole representative in the U/13 girls, finishing in 56th place,
and Oliver Tomlinson the same in the U/13 boys, coming home in 11th.
First event of the day had been the Under 11 Boys non championship race, and the club got off to a good start,
with Rob Walton coming 2nd, Daniel Scott 10th, Sam Davies 13th, and Irwin Wilby 38th.
The three lap, Senior Men’s race was a homecoming of sorts for both Carl Avery and Phil Winkler, with both former Duchess High School pupils competing over ground they had run on with the school when younger men - as had, of course, their Duchess High colleague and two time Olympian Laura Weightman,
sadly unable to run on the day due to illness.
Avery established an early lead on the first lap and looked in imperious form. He was never thereafter seriously challenged, his nearest rival Callum Johnson of Gateshead finishing some 12 seconds back.
There was, however, another terrific run by young teammate Alex Brown, who picked up an individual bronze and showed the tremendous improvements he continues to make under the coaching of Lindsey Dunn.
Brown stuck to his task in a determined fashion and overhauled last year’s winner,
Greg Jayasuriya of Middlesbrough, in the last lap.
Adam Pratt was third counter in 12th place, with Phil Winkler in close order in 14th and Ali Douglass 17th,
all good runs. The team count was completed by Richard Johnson, another athlete who has made remarkable progress this year under the guidance of coach Chris Waugh, in 32nd.
Last year’s 6th counter Tom Innes just missed out on a medal this year, finishing 36th. Andy Hebden was 58th, Shaun Land made the top 100 when coming in 96th, and veteran Dave Nicholson was 160th.
The team finished with a resounding final margin of victory, and this despite some notable absences.
Some 271 finished the race.
In the Senior Women’s race, won convincingly by North East exile Sonia Samuels, now competing for Sale Harriers, Cat Macdonald had another fine run to pick up an individual bronze behind Phillippa Stone of Middlesbrough AC.
Jane Hodgson, still trying to run off an injury and heavily strapped, came home behind her in 4th and Michelle Thompson had a good run to finish in 36th. Some 175 finished.
Disappointingly however, the absence of a fourth team counter meant these three missed out on an excellent chance to pick up a team medal, with Jarrow and Hebburn winning gold ahead of Tyne Bridge
and Jesmond Joggers.