Although no medals were won, a very good 4th place team finish by the club’s Under 15 boys and Carl Avery’s tremendous individual placing of 5th were the stand-out results from Saturday’s attritional English Cross Country Championships in the Midlands.
Held once again in the picturesque grounds of Wollaton Hall in Nottingham, a venue last used in 2017,
conditions were among the worst in living memory with the recent adverse weather having reduced several sections of the course to a sea of mud and creating real headaches for the organisers, not least with car parking for the thousands of competitors and spectators. It is to the credit of all concerned that the event went as smoothly as it did, although entry to and from the car park was a real problem.
The day’s proceedings for Morpeth got off to a promising start in the second of the day’s ten races which saw the club’s Under 15 boys in action. Headed once again by Joe Dixon, who finished in 20th place, there were supporting runs by Ryan Davies, not too far behind in 36th, Liam Roche, 92nd, and Will De Vere Owen, 115th.
The team finished in a highly creditable 4th place behind three teams all from the South: winners South London Harriers, Tonbridge AC and Windsor, Slough and Eton. Ryan Davies was also the first – but sadly not the last – to go face down in the mud for the day.
Abi Leiper was the club’s sole competitor in the matching U/15 girls, coming in home
in a strong 44th position out of some 390 finishers, and still able to muster a smile at the end.
Robyn Bennett was in a similar position in the later
Junior Women’s race, coming home just outside the top 50 in 52nd place.
Ryan’s older brother Dylan ran in the U/17 race, and suffered the same fate as his younger brother - as indeed
did first finisher for the club, Rowan Bennett. Currently on a run of fine form, Bennett had one of the club’s
stand-out runs of the day to come in 16th, just over 30 seconds out of medal contention.
With Dylan Davies 82nd and Dylan Gooding 125th, the team were unfortunate
in not having a 4th scoring counter to back up their hard work.
It was a similar story in the Junior Men’s, but here the absence of a 4th counter cost the team even more severely. Won by the impressive Zakariya Mohammed of Southampton AC, Ross Charlton battled his way through water and mud that was by now almost waist high in certain stretches of the course to come home in 30th place.
He was followed up by Kieran Hedley, 46th, and Dan Melling, 62nd. With the bronze medal won by a team count of 242 points, the total of 138 points these three accrued meant an almost certain medal of some description was missed out on.
In the Senior Women’s race that preceded the Senior Men’s, Northern Champion Jess Judd lost out
to Anna Moller by a 20 second margin. Leeds City once again retained the team trophy.
Final race of the day, the Senior Men’s, saw the biggest field of nearly 2000 runners - and the worst conditions - on a course which had by now cut up so badly that it was in places somewhere between a bad Glastonbury Festival and a World War One trench.
With an early group of Gateshead’s Calum Johnson, East Cheshire’s Joe Steward, Leeds’s Linton Taylor and Morpeth’s Carl Avery establishing itself at the front, it was clear that the winner would come once again from the North of England, with the conditions, similar to the Northern, very much to the liking of Johnson.
Half way through the race Johnson and Steward had got away from the chasers,
with Avery battling to get up into a medal position some seconds back.
It was Johnson who made the decisive break on the last lap, winning in a time 43 minutes 36 seconds,
the first Gateshead Harrier to win the race since Brendan Foster in 1977.
Steward was 2nd some 23 seconds back, with Taylor in 3rd.
Behind them, Avery had dropped back one place to 5th ( 44:33),
just behind Southend triathlete Adam Hickey,
Avery’s third top ten National Cross Country finish in as many years.
Next home for Morpeth was Phil Winkler, 157th in 49:10
with Liam Roarty impressing his coach, a watching Jim Alder, in 215th (50:17).
Battling through the mud for fourth and fifth counters were Ali Douglass, 251st in 50:57
and Andy Lawrence, 318th in 52:02.
Unfortunately, young Alex Brown, who had been inside the top 200 for the first couple of laps,
was very disappointed to have to withdraw, admitting that he wouldn’t have put himself on the start line,
following illness, for any other race.
That meant it was down to Over 45 veteran Jason Dawson to complete the scoring count,
and in his first ever National, this he was thankfully able to do, finishing in 945th place.
The loss of Brown inevitably had an adverse effect on the team’s overall placing,
with the club back in 26th place, although still first North East team.
Tonbridge AC won back the team title they had lost to Leeds City last year,
with Bristol and West 3rd.
Morpeth fielded athletes in only six of the ten races in total. Of these, there were only two complete teams,
with two incomplete teams being short of only one runner to make a scoring count.
There were no runners in the U/13 girls or boys, the U/17 girls,
or the Senior Women. In total, some 19 runners took part: 17 male, 2 female.
It remains a paradox and a source of great frustration that, while the club continues
to perform very creditably at a regional level, when it comes to many high profile
Northern and National events, levels of participation are significantly down
and below what might be expected of a club like ours.
If the club is to achieve the successes on some of these bigger stages which, on paper,
it might well be capable of, much greater levels of commitment from club members,
Junior and Senior, Male and Female, within are required.