Bad weather and challenging underfoot conditions were once again the order of the day at the weekend’s cross country fixtures in both Durham and Liverpool, in what is shaping up to be already one of the worst seasons in memory for off road running.
The continual rain certainly made for even more difficult conditions over the demanding, hilly course behind Durham Police HQ at Aykley Heads, the venue for the second North East Harrier League fixture.
On a disappointing day in many categories for the club, there were a handful of stand-out performances and some exemplary commitment shown by those who did wear the Morpeth vest.
It was a day noticeable also for some fine family turn-outs, with the husband and wife team of Pieter and Julie Vermaas both final counters for the Senior Men’s and Women’s teams respectively, all three Davies siblings turning-out to run despite being laid low all week with viruses, and no less than four members of the Macdonald family taking part.
One of the day’s best performances came from Robyn Bennett in the combined Under 20 women and Under 17 girls race. Running from fast pack and setting out in a determined fashion from the outset, Bennett posted the fastest time of the day (22 minutes 21 seconds) to finish in third place and lead the team to a good second place finish behind Birtley AC. She was supported by U/17 Holly Peck, 14th overall,
Kate Gaffing, 18th, and Kirsty Duffin, 26th.
The club’s Senior Women also put in a good performance, finishing 4th overall on the day but moving up to 2nd place in the table after two fixtures. They were lead home by Lindsey Quinn, 7th overall from slow pack,
whose progress since re-joining the club she had run for as a junior continues apace.
Sister Catriona Macdonald ran the 2nd fastest time of the day after
Jarrow’s Georgia Campbell to come home not far behind in 17th.
Veteran fell-runner Jane Briggs clearly found the course very much to her liking as she came home in 30th place, and Julie Vermaas, in only her 2nd cross country outing, made up the team count in 85th.
There were further supporting runs by Claire Calverley, 119th from medium pack, Sarah Routledge, 195th
and Catriona and Lindsay’s proud mother Margaret, 350th.
(Lorna meanwhile was swimming for the army at Sandhurst)
The club’s U/15 boys were once again the most successful year group among the junior athletes.
With Liam Roche finishing 7th, Bertie Marr 15th, Will de Vere-Owen 27th, Ryan Davies 33rd,
Matthew Walton 34th and Adam Howliston 39th, there was no shortage of numbers and
the scoring count placed them in 4th on the day but now 2nd in the overall table.
In many of the other junior age groups turnouts were disappointing, however. Abi Leiper was the club’s sole representative in the U/15, finishing in a decent 5th place and Conner Philips the only boy in the U/13s,
finishing in 33rd.
Dylan Davies had one of the club’s runs of the day to come home 2nd in the U/17
with Euan Duffin in 11th, but no final counter meant the team suffered penalty points.
There were numbers in the youngest age category, the U/11s, however, who had once again got the days action underway. Daniel Scott finished 5th, less than 20 seconds off the winner, and he was followed by Kyle Phillips (13th), Sam Davies (39th) and Toby Marr (61st).Emma Tomlinson was 18th in the matching U/11 girls race.
In contrast to the Senior Women, it was a bad day at the office for the Senior Men, with the poorest turn-out for a number of seasons. While there were a string of injuries in the days beforehand and one or two unavoidable late withdrawals that played havoc with the team, only mustering six runners from a club trying to defend a title won twice in the last two years sadly smacks of a lack of commitment to the cause.
However, the runs of all six who finished were exemplary, notably that of young Connor Marshall. Taking part in his first competitive outing since his return from hospitalisation with a serious back issue earlier in the year, Connor stuck to his task with great determination and lead the club’s count in 11th place.
Next to finish was Gary Jones, 35th from medium pack, clearly at home over the country and enjoying being back for his second spell at the club. Alistair Macdonald, another returning to competition after time out,
was third counter in 82nd place.
The biggest smile of the day was probably worn by kickboxer Ricky Stafford, however, who was able to shrug off both a fall and his first real experience of challenging cross country conditions since joining the club from Blyth, and was still smiling at the end. He admitted to actually enjoying the experience, finishing in 89th from slow pack, and Shaun Land overcame steamed up glasses to battle through to 190th.
The team’s final counter was Pieter Vermaas in 372nd, who, knowing he had to finish to make the scoring count, stuck to his task doggedly in what was only his second ever cross country race.
Fastest run of the day was by evergreen Conrad Franks with a strong Gateshead team
finishing 1st ahead of Elvet Striders, 2nd on home turf, and Tyne Bridge.
Morpeth’s team finished in 9th place in Division One and dropped to 6th place overall, although the margins to the teams ahead are not insurmountable. Clearly, however,a much better turn-out will be needed in the
remaining fixtures and perhaps the hope that the two cancelled fixtures are rearranged.