Morpeth Harriers Senior Men unfortunately just missed out by a mere four points
in their quest to retain their English Cross Country National team title,
won at Castle Donnington twelve months ago,
at the annual Championships, held at Wollaton Park in Nottingham,
on Saturday 25th February 2017, and once again sponsored by Saucony
who have been associated with the event for slightly more than a decade,
and possibly one of the longest running sponsorship links with sport entirely.
The club were also hoping to win the title for the third time, having first won it on local soil,
or snow, fair to speak, at Herrington Country Park, near Sunderland in 2013,
a year before the last time these championships were held in Nottingham.
Unfortunately, this time round, the squad were forced to go into battle without Nick Swinburn,
a bitter blow, who had withdrawn at the last-minute with a form of food poisoning,
rendering the North-East Silver medallist unable to travel.
Some remaining members of the Morpeth Senior Men’s team could well remember the mud-bath of 2013,
and on Saturday they were certainly not to be disappointed again, as parts of their 12k four lap course
very much resembled an absolute quagmire, following on from the previous nine races of ten.
First to sample those testing conditions quite literally was Morpeth Harriers leading finisher Jonny Taylor,
who at the end of his run, very much resembled a creature from the “Black Lagoon,” taking a tumble as early
as the first short lap, which meant him having to complete the final three laps of one medium, one large,
and one extra-large distances, spewing out chunks of mud in the process of making his way to an
excellent finishing place of eighth, and only around twenty plus seconds adrift of an individual medal.
Taylor is certainly to be warmly commended for his individual tenacity
in overcoming such difficult circumstances, as he led his club to a Silver medal
placing, losing out to first time winners Tonbridge AC by those mere four points.
Despite just losing out on another set of Gold medals, the Morpeth squad were still
in celebratory mood afterwards, as their counting six, including Taylor went up to
receive their hard-earned Silver medals from legendary British Olympian Basil Heatley,
the current President of the English Cross Country Association.
Joining a mud splattered Taylor on the podium were North East Bronze medallist Carl Avery,
who ran superbly to finish 18th, Peter Newton, Northern Bronze medallist,
who was thirteen seconds adrift of Avery in 25th place, Army Champion Ady Whitwam,
who finished seventh in the Yorkshire Championships ran a good steady race to finish 69th,
and Ian Harding and Ross Floyd, who finished four seconds apart respectively
in 86th and 87th places to complete the clubs scoring six.
In finishing second Morpeth Harriers were also the first club from the North,
and in addition to their scorer’s individual medals, they also shared in receiving
the Frank Christmas Memorial Trophy, which they retained from 2016.
The club also saw another seven good performers outside their scoring six, in Robert Balmbra (123rd),
Andrew Lawrence (148th), Thomas Straughan (167th), Sam Hancox (183rd), Mark Snowball (426th),
Rob Hancox (688th), and Steve Haswell (1045th).
Just under 1800 competitors completed the Senior Men’s 12k event.
Because of illness and injury, only Emma Holt featured in the hotly contested
Senior Women’s 8k Championship for Morpeth, run over two large laps.
The event had an outstanding yet surprising winner in Jessica Judd of Chelmsford,
who took victory over Aldershot’s Louise Small by a margin of three seconds,
with 2016 Silver medallist Claire Duck of Leeds City taking the Bronze.
For her part, Holt ran courageously to finish an excellent 24th, two places down on 2016,
however, over a minute faster over the same distance,
and sixth from the North, and first from the North East.
The Senior Women’s event had 788 finishers.
North Eastern Counties Bronze Medallist Holly Peck was also a lone
Morpeth runner in the Under 15 Girls 4k Championship, run over two small laps.
Peck ran superbly throughout against tough opposition, and she came through well
to finish 29th in a field of 426 finishers, and was second from the North East
behind Darlington’s regional Silver medallist India Pentland,
who finished 12th, and Peck was also thirteenth from the North,
behind race winner Olivia Mason of Border Harriers,
who won with an eleven second margin.
Morpeth Harriers Under 17 Men had hoped to collect a set of team medals in their two lap 6k event.
However, they were dealt a heavy blow by the late withdrawal of leading light Rory Leonard,
who had unfortunately gone down with an untimely chest infection,
added to this they had also lost Alex Cunningham through illness.
Despite these disappointments however, those who were able to line up and face the starter,
got on with the job in hand to ensure a very respectable seventh team placing,
and second from the North, behind fifth placed Sheffield and Dearne.
Morpeth’s leading finisher in this event was Kieran Hedley, who clearly
showed that he is returning to some better form,
following a tricky period of illness and injury worries.
Hedley finished a well accomplished 54th in a total field of just over 300,
and only four places and five seconds ahead of club colleague
Taylor Glover, the North-East Silver medallist.
The pair were also second and third regionally behind Middlesbrough’s Josh Cowperthwaite,
who finished just adrift of an individual medal in fourth place,
and fourteenth and sixteenth respectively from the North of England.
Completing the Morpeth Harriers scoring count were Joe Ramshaw and Matthew Waterfield,
who finished in 92nd and 95th places respectively.
Another Morpeth Harrier competing in the Under 17 Men’s event was Liam Marsh,
who despite feeling a little jaded, got around to finish in 171st place.
Only two Morpeth Harriers managed to make the start line in the
Under 15 Boys 4.5k Championship, run over one large lap.
Daniel Melling ran well to finish 76th in the field of 378 finishers,
however North East Champion Daniel Dixon, despite feeling unwell
in the days leading up to the event, bravely ran, but will be disappointed
that he could only muster sufficient strength to finish in 80th place,
when a more prominent placing would have been more desirable.
With a busy competitive period looming ahead of him, which includes the
Inter Counties Championships, English Schools, and a possibility of a place
in the Junior Men’s squad for the World Cross Country Championships,
scheduled to be held in Kampala, Uganda, in Africa on 26th March,
Morpeth Harriers Northern Champion Scott Beattie chose not to line up in his three lap 10k Championship.
As a result of this, only Phillip Winkler and Jake Masterman faced the starter.
212 finishers took part in this event, and Winkler got around to finish 95th,
whilst Masterman, (minus a shoe lost on the first lap),
bravely continued to eventually finish in 155th place.
Three Morpeth Harriers lined up in the Under 13 Boys 3k event, run over two laps,
one being extra small, the other being small.
There were a total of 459 finishers, and all three performed well.
First from the club was Ben Walker, who picked his way well through
the crowded field to finish a very respectable 112th.
Not far behind him in 128th place, and only three seconds adrift
of him was his diminutive club colleague Dylan Davies.
Ben Waterfield, younger brother of Matthew,
can also feel well pleased in his efforts to finish 332nd.
In the Under 13 Girls event, run over the same distance and course,
Morpeth’s Rhiannon Hedley finished 120th in a finishing field of 467.
Last but certainly not least competitively, Morpeth’s Gracie Hufton tested the
fresh conditions well in the first event of the day, when she placed 147th out of 252
finishers in the two lap Under 17 Women’s Championship,
and encountered the early muddy experiences with much determination and vigour.
Many thanks goes to the English Cross Country Association and their band of helpers,
including Nottingham City Council for the provision of the venue, Course Marshals from local clubs,
such as Notts AC, Redhill Road Runners, Long Eaton Running Club, Mansfield Harriers & AC,
Southwell Running Club, Newark Running Club, Worksop Harriers, Erewash Valley Running Club,
and Shelton Striders, without whose help on the day, and in the stormy days
leading up to the event, its success would not have been possible.