The third fixture of the North East Harrier League season took place within the stately grounds of Lambton Castle in Durham on Saturday afternoon, with some fifty members of Morpeth Harriers turning out across Senior and Junior races.
The venue was actually new to the Harrier League in 2020, but this Autumn’s visit was already touched with both a degree of nostalgia and some sadness: it was the last big athletics fixture regionally before the first national lockdown in March of that year, with the whole of the 2020-2021 season subsequently cancelled.
In conditions well suited for cross country, with morning rain giving way to afternoon sunshine and softer going underfoot, most athletes were complimentary about the course and the venue itself, although the range of surfaces – soft grass interspersed with occasional tarmac sections – made the choice of footwear once again difficult, and there were again the expected delays on entry with cash being taken. (This issue was flagged up to the League before the season even started…)
There were two on the day team victories for the club, although perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the day from a club point of view was the record turnout by Senior and Veteran Women.
The two team victories came courtesy of the club’s Under 13 Girls and Under 15 Boys, with both teams packing well in top ten places.
Megan Potrac was first home for the club in the U/13s in a time of 17 minutes and 18 seconds, 6th overall behind race winner Katy Otterson of North Shields Polytechnic Harriers. Iris Dungait was 7th in 17:31 and the fastest time of the day for Morpeth was run by Emma Tomlinson, one place behind in 8th, with 15:47 from Fast Pack. Charlotte Marshall was also 14th in 18:15. The team pulled off an excellent victory ahead of Durham City AC and remain in the top three in their league division.
The U/15 Boys went one better, finishing in 5th, 6th and 7th courtesy of runs by Oli Calvert (12:45), Joe Close (12:46) and Emma’s brother Oliver (12:51), all three running from Fast. These were also the three fastest times of the day, with further support coming from Dan Burrow, 19th in 15:33 and Stephen Craske, 24th in 15:46. The team finished ahead of both NSP and Birtley AC, and are firmly placed at the top of their division.
The U/17 Boys team had to settle for 2nd place for a change, however behind Durham City, although also remain top of their division. In his first outing of the year over the country, Will de Vere Owen running from Slow Pack was 2nd overall in 18:44 behind the talented Josh Blevins of Gateshead Harriers who ran a remarkable 17:52. Bertie Marr, 12th in 18:48, and Ryan Davies, 15th in 19:09, made up the Morpeth count of three, with Ralph Robson also 18th in 19:19, all three running from Fast.
Once again, however, there were disappointing turn outs in other Young Athlete categories. Daniel Scott was the only U/13 boy running, finishing in 35th place with a time of 17:38, although this was largely a reflection of a late start after getting caught in some horrendous traffic on the way in.
Tabby Robson was likewise the only U/15 girl, finishing in 17th place out of Fast pack in 14:59, with guest runner Zara Jones of Darlington AC first home in 13:53.
Abi Leiper was also the only U/17 runner out, coming home in 4th place from Medium Pack in 22:08 with Anna Pigford of Houghton Harriers recording the fastest time of 21:28. Fortunately this doesn’t seem to have the team’s chances too much harm in their division – assuming quorate teams in the next fixtures.
Most worrying of all, there were no U/11 runners in either of their races, and clearly a priority for the club needs to be getting some younger members to taste cross country action.
Turn out of the day was undoubtedly by the club’s Senior Women, with no less than twenty running, a record for the club in the league.
The team was led home by a flying Cat Macdonald, who got herself up to 5th overall despite the five minute handicap of Fast Pack and whose 27:29 was the fastest of the day for the two lap course, bettering even Danielle Hodgkinson of Wallsend, who got herself up to 2nd by virtue of running from Medium.
Macdonald was supported by two runners making their Harrier League debut as Seniors, Lizzie Rank 13th in 33:52 and Anna Wright 18th in 34:21, both of whom stormed round and looked to the manor born. The scoring count of four was completed by Julie Vermaas, showing no after effects from the previous weekend’s Liverpool Marathon, who was 47th in 35:30.
Take a deep breath for the next sixteen home in blue and white: Sarah Lawson, 90th in 34:15 in her first run from Medium Pack following promotion at Druridge; Savannah Kelly, 104th in 37:02; Linzi Quinn, 116th in 32:10 from Fast; Rebecca Lawson, 143rd (38:03) and Robyn Ferguson 144th (38:04) both making debut races for the club; Claire Calverley, 163rd from Slow (36:05); Eleanor Blackburn, 170th (38:41); Laura Shaw, 188th (39:16); Sarah Routledge, 217th (40:07); Sue Smith, 254th (41:20); Louise Dent, 267th (41:50); Mhairi Line, 279th (41:50); Janke Kirby, 309th (43:34); Clare Walker, 314th (43:47) and Margaret Macdonald, 344th (45:17), all these last from Slow Pack.
The club’s performance, with no less than five complete teams out, put the team 2nd overall behind so far runaway division leaders Elswick Harriers, but moved Morpeth firmly into contention up the table into third overall with three fixtures still to come, with Elswick Harriers and NSP no doubt looking anxiously over their shoulders at the charge.
Mention also to Over 75 veteran Paul Bentley who ran his 3rd consecutive cross country and exercised his right to run in the Women’s race, coming home 293rd in 42:54.
Last race of the day was the Senior Men’s event, with some 14 Senior Men turning out.
They were led home by Andrew Lawrence, newly promoted to Fast Pack after Druridge Bay, and coming home in 39:11 for 21st place.
In his first cross country race since, ironically, he had run here in the Spring of 2020, Tom Innes had a good run as 2nd counter in 33rd (39:54) with ever-present Jordan Scott 35th and 3rd counter(40:01) in the six to count competition.
They were backed up by club coach Eric Adams, having a great run from Slow Pack to finish in 36th (45:18) (and wearing possibly the most colourful shorts ever worn by a Morpeth Harrier), Paul Banks, 67th (46:03), also from Slow, and Connor Marshall, also newly promoted to Fast Pack, 6th counter in 68th (40:51), with Anthony Janetta close behind in 70th from Medium Pack (43:34).
Further supporting runs came from: Lee Bennett, now in Fast Pack once again but with a very impressive 42:00 for 128th place; Dave Nicholson, 243rd in 50:08; Adam Coulson, 264th in 50:50; Richard Kirby, 272nd in 51:00; Steve Johnstone, 288th in 51:25; Neil MacAnany, 321st in 52:58 and Paul Bellingham, 381st in 54:50, all these last from Slow.
Fastest run of the day over the three lap course was by Adrian Bailes of Birtley AC in 36:55, with Birtley winning the team competition. The race itself was won by Sunderland Harrier Michael Wilson from Slow Pack.
The result sees Morpeth’s Senior Men slip off the top of the table to second place after being overtaken by Tyne Bridge Harriers with Sunderland in third, but with only two points separating the teams and three tough fixtures to come, this league has every chance of going to the wire. The Men particularly need those runners yet to compete this season to make at least one fixture.
The next one is at Aykley Heads in Durham on 27 November on a course that certainly will need spikes, so put it in your diary now – especially if you are yet to run. This is also the last fixture before the North East Counties Championships at Sedgefield in December. If you are interested in taking part in this, please get signed up on the club noticeboard or notify the club via the website: it is the Championship race.
With a whopping 535 finishers in the Men’s race that bettered even the Women’s total of 438, the numbers involved go to show just how hugely popular the NEHL cross country season has become and it is good to see so many Seniors turning out and enjoying both the competition, the atmosphere and the surroundings.