Cross-country competition continued on Sunday with the annual Birtley Relays held at Lord Lawson of Beamish Academy – and it was a day of rich pickings for the club with four wins, one second and a third place for Morpeth teams, plus no less than seven fastest age category legs.
An event which always used to be held at the Durham University sports ground beside the River Wear in the most scenic of settings (if you are of a certain age and ran there, you no doubt remember the aroma of those post-race bacon sandwiches), there was a brief couple of years at Maiden Castle Sports Centre, with the current home for the event having been in place now some years.
Still run over three stages with 3000m per leg, a twisty, turny. up-and-down course on the field above the school manages to incorporate several lung-bursting short climbs although the underfoot going was thankfully a lot easier than both Lambton and Thornley Farm.
With the event incorporating once again the North East Masters’ Athletics Association XC Championships, there were also medals in ten year Masters team categories from 35 upwards plus five year individual categories, with Race One featuring Masters Men, Race Two a combined Senior/ Masters Women and Race Three Senior Men, with all runners tackling the same course.
One of the best Morpeth male veteran turnouts in a while saw the club medalling in all four age categories, with two team Golds, one Silver and one Bronze, allied to no less than four fastest individual age categories.
There was a Bronze in the O/35, with Andrew Hebden on leg 1 (11:14), David Stabler (11:52) on leg 2 and Adam Pratt (10:39) on leg 3. The team finished behind teams from overall winners Tyne Bridge and Sunderland Harriers. With David running in a blue-and-white vest for the very first time and Adam back in only his second race in as many years, this was an unexpected but well-received medal.
A strong line up in the accompanying O/45s saw two teams in action, with the A team of Lee Bennett (11:03), Jason Dawson (11:54) and John Butters (10:40) much too strong for their rivals and finishing in fact in 3rd place in the race overall. Lee’s time was the fastest O/50 of the day and JB’s the 2nd fastest O/45. The B team of Eric Adams (11:16), Richard Kirby (12:55) and Jamie Johnson (11:48) also ran strongly to place 4th fastest O/40.
The O/55s lost out for Gold to the an NSP team that featured stalwarts Greg Penn, John Baty and Vaughan Hemy, but they did have the satisfaction of seeing both Rob Hancox on leg 1 (11:27) and Neil McAnany on leg 3 (12:37) run fastest O/55 and O/60 times, with Paul Bellingham completing the line-up on leg 2 (12:40).
The biggest team margin of victory of the day was undoubtedly the O/65s, with Dave Nicholson on leg 1 (12:12, another fastest of the day), Bill Tilley (13:11) and Gavin Bayne (12:16, second fastest) trouncing their nearest rivals by well over five minutes. While Dave and Gav are used to picking up these medals – often in competition individually with each other – it was nice to see Bill joining the party and reminding his son James how it’s done!
Second race of the day, the Senior and Masters Women’s combined, featured one Senior and two veteran teams.
With a number of the club’s leading Seniors out, it was down to Lizzie Rank, Tayla Murdy and Lindsey Quinn to pick up the baton, and they didn’t disappoint with a pleasing third place. Lizzie ran 12:47 on leg 1, Tayla, in her first race for a number of months, recording 13:47 and Lindsey anchoring the team on leg 3 in 12:20 for an overall time of 38:54. Home club Birtley Harriers were 1st home in 36:08 with Sunderland Harriers in 2nd in 37:44.
Another stand-out performance was by the Women’s Over 35 Masters, who actually finished in 3rd place overall on the day (37:53) and also recorded the fastest Masters time of the day as well as the fastest individual leg.
Helen King, in only her second race back, ran a very sensible 1st leg, working through much of the field on the second lap, with 12:57 and passed on to Julie Vermaas. Like Dave Stabler in her first ever Masters event, she too had a fine run with a time of 12:46 and passed on to Gemma Floyd.
Following a team Silver at the NECAA XC at Sedgefield in December and a great run in the mud of Thornley the previous week, Gemma was having her third cross country outing of the Winter and showed again that she is very much at home off-road, steadily picking off runners in front of her to record the day’s fastest Masters time and anchoring the team to a richly deserved Team Gold as well as picking up her own fastest leg time.
Morpeth’s Over 55 Women also had a good run, with Pam Woodcock clocking the day’s fastest O/70 time on leg 1 (16:53), Margaret Macdonald on leg 2 (17:11) and Sue Smith on leg 3 (15:15). The three were actually awarded a team Bronze at the presentation, although a later checking of results suggests they were actually, unfortunately, in 4th place.
Final race of the day featured the smallest field and the day’s fastest times but an exciting clash between Morpeth and Birtley.
With teenager Chris Perkins getting the home team off to a flying start in 9:10 (2nd fastest time of the day) and leaving other clubs trailing in his wake, initial signs were ominous for holders Morpeth, but Connor Marshall stuck very purposefully to the pursuit, getting away from the rest of the chasing group and reducing what had been a 40 second lead on lap one down to just over 20 seconds by the changeover.
That was more than enough of a carrot for Sam Hancox, who set about reeling in the unfortunate Birtley athlete ahead of him. Catching him before the end of the 1st lap, he went on to establish himself a lead of over 20 seconds, before Carl Avery took over to anchor the team home.
Although his only competitive outing had been at Valencia the previous week over 10k on the roads, Carl showed again what a class athlete he is especially over the country, with the day’s fastest clocking of 9:06 for a combined time of 28:21, the margin of victory over Birtley in 2nd, anchored by Adrian Bailes, over a minute by the end with Sunderland in 3rd.
An excellent morning’s work by all concerned then, and with both the Sherman Cup/Davison Shield and the Signals Relays in February – both of which require both Senior and Veteran athletes of course – also hopefully a portent of further success in the late winter and early spring. Congratulations to all concerned.
Images below courtesy of Stuart Whitman