North East Cross-Country action got underway for 2018, when the fourth Start Fitness Harrier League
took place at an extremely wet and muddy Herrington Country Park,
near Penshaw, Co Durham on Saturday 6th January 2018.
Heavy overnight rain had certainly taken its toll, and although it had ceased by the time proceedings got underway, it was not long before most of the course had developed into a quagmire of wet mud,
which made conditions most testing for competitors in the ten-event programme.
As usual, athletes from Morpeth Harriers were well to the fore in some of the hotly contested events,
especially on the Male side of the club, where on the day performances,
which included two team victories, at the end of affairs,
saw the club lead all of the Male gender age groups cumulatively after four meetings,
an achievement that has been rarely surpassed.
Morpeth’s on the day team wins came from their Under 17 Men and Under 15 Boys squads,
and in addition, two third team placings were achieved by both their Senior Men’s and Under 13 Boys squads.
On the Female side, only their Senior Women mounted a team challenge, finishing seventh on the day in Division 1, which cumulatively still leaves them top of the Division by six points,
in front of their closest opposition Tyne Bridge Harriers.
There were also a number of good individual performances within the ranks.
One such performance was Euan Duffin, who is quietly developing into a very talented athlete,
however he is also a very talented footballer, and is therefore having difficulty devoting his time to both sports.
However, on Saturday, because of match cancellations he had made himself available,
and he rose to the challenge well by finishing second in the Under 15 Boys event from the Slow Pack,
and led his club to team victory, with extra valued team support coming from Alex Porteous,
who was returning to the sport after a lengthy lay-off.
Porteous, also running from the Slow Pack, finished in eleventh place,
with the Morpeth winning team count being closed by Tom Balsdon,
who finished in fifteenth place from the Fast Pack.
Other Morpeth Under 15 Boy performances came from Dylan Davies (21st) (Fast Pack), Ben Walker (32nd) (Fast Pack), Jack Findlayson (47th) (Slow Pack), and Jonny Kidd (50th) (Fast Pack),
who is struggling with troublesome injuries at the present time.
Finishing fourth from the Fast Pack, Taylor Glover led the Morpeth Under 17 Men home to team victory,
with added team support coming from Daniel Melling (7th) (Fast Pack), and Matthew Waterfield (8th) (Fast Pack).
These factors clearly underline the strength in depth in the squad, with them being left with the bare three to count.
North Eastern Counties Cross Country medallists Rory Leonard and Daniel Dixon were both unavailable.
In Leonard’s case he was competing in a highly competitive UK Cross Challenge event in Antrim, Ireland,
where he finished an excellent second in the combined Under 17/Under 20 Men’s event,
only a mere five seconds adrift of race winner Jamie Battle of Ireland, who was an Under 20 athlete.
Leonard was leading Under 17 Man, finishing six places and thirty-five seconds ahead
of his nearest age group challenger Cian McPhillips, also of Ireland.
Dixon was absent however, having fallen victim to illness over the Christmas period.
Back to the action at Herrington, where Morpeth’s Senior Men finished third on the day in Division 1,
behind winners Sunderland Harriers, and second placed Tyne Bridge Harriers,
who pose the biggest threat to Morpeth’s Championship ambitions,
being only two points adrift with only the two fixtures at Thornley and Alnwick remaining.
A full-blooded effort from the club over these fixtures is definitely required,
if championship success is to be achieved.
On Saturday, Morpeth were led home by Lewis Timmins, who has returned to the club, following a
short spell with Gosforth Harriers, who were his first club before his previous transfer to Morpeth.
Running from the Fast Pack, Timmins determinately made his way through to finish eleventh, posting the second fastest time of the day, only bettered by Sunderland Harrier Oliver James,
son of former Morpeth Man, Albert, who is currently Sunderland’s Men’s Team Manager.
James, back on holiday leave from his American University, won from the Slow Pack
from Jarrow & Hebburn’s Graeme Taylor, by a margin of 94 seconds.
Taylor is also a former Morpeth runner, having returned to his previous club during 2017.
Meanwhile Timmins’s excellent performance was well supported in Morpeth team affairs by
Sam Hancox (13th) (Fast Pack), Kieran Hedley (14th) (Fast Pack),
Jordan Scott (22nd) (Fast Pack), Rob Hancox (49th) (Slow Pack),
and Tim Miley (105th) (Medium Pack).
The clubs’ other performer Richard Castledine also did well to finish 152nd from the Fast Pack,
in a total finishing field of 483 hardy competitors, who were now tramping through
ankle deep mud of monstrous proportions, typical genuine Cross-Country stuff.
Posting the fifth fastest overall time, Sam Tate led Morpeth Harriers Under 13 Boys home to third team place.
The ever-improving Tate, worked his way through from the Fast Pack, to finish in seventh place overall,
and was well supported in his clubs’ team count by James Tilley (19th) (Slow Pack), and Bertie Marr,
who was 23rd from the Fast Pack, posting the fifteenth equal fastest time in the finishing field of 62 competitors,
that also included Morpeth athlete Ryan Davies, who finished 27th from the Fast Pack,
and was eighteenth fastest overall.
Morpeth Harriers Senior Women finished seventh on the day in their Division 1 encounter,
however remain in front by five points from Tyne Bridge Harriers,
with Elvet Striders a further two points adrift in third place after four fixtures.
Again, as with the clubs Senior Men, it is very much a case of ensuring good turnout over the remaining two fixtures if they are to maintain Championship ambitions.
Morpeth New Years Day Road Race winner Jane Hodgson led her clubs’ scoring contingent home,
when finishing an excellent second from the Fast Pack, only losing out for victory to Saltwell Harrier Anna Martin
by a mere nine seconds, after giving Martin a 220 seconds handicap start advantage.
Hodgson was fastest on the course, holding off the close attentions
of Gosforth Harrier Helen Warburton, who finished third, fifteen seconds adrift.
Further Morpeth Senior Women’s team support came courtesy of Gemma Floyd,
recently returned from a family holiday in Australia,
who finished an excellent 18th from the Fast Pack,
and was eighth fastest in the finishing field of 331.
Closing the Morpeth scoring four were Gwenda Cavill,
also having a welcome return competitively after injury,
and Jane Briggs, who finished in 126th and 141st places
respectively from the Medium Pack.
Other Morpeth “Mud larker’s” in action were Sue Smith (160th) (Slow Pack),
Carol Parry (192nd) (Slow Pack), Lesley Chapman (199th) (Slow Pack),
and Frances Naylor (256th) (Slow Pack),
who all added to a splendid club effort on the day.
One Morpeth Harrier who certainly can not be faulted for her all-season efforts is Holly Peck,
who once again produced a top drawer run in the Under 15 Girls event.
Running from the Fast Pack, she clocked the days second fastest time, only a mere five seconds adrift of race winner Ines Curran of Gateshead Harriers, and three seconds ahead of Chester Le Street’s Emily Chong in third place, fourth place going to Houghton’s Lydia James, again from the Fast Pack, a further five seconds adrift.
Morpeth’s two athletes in the combined Under 17/Under 20 Women’s event produced superb runs,
and both mastered the increasingly testing conditions well, all things being considered.
Ella Duffield, running from the Slow Pack, maintained decent pace throughout the two laps,
to come home in fourth place overall.
Six seconds behind her was club colleague Gracie Hufton, who continued her excellent form,
as she finished a very accomplished eighth, from the Fast Pack,
posting the fourth fastest overall time in the field of 35 athletes, a classy performance indeed.
Unfortunately, Morpeth did not manage to field a third runner to mount a significant team challenge here.
Faye Archbold competed well for Morpeth in the Under 13 Girls event, when finishing 35th from the Slow Pack.
In the non-scoring Under 11 Boy’s event that opened the ten-race programme,
Oliver Tomlinson made a very impressive competitive debut in a Morpeth vest,
finishing eighth in a total field of 62, only thirty seconds adrift of the winner.
Keira Peck, younger sister of Holly, finished 29th in the Under 11 Girls event, amongst a field of 61.