by Peter Scaife
April’s easing of lockdown saw Senior and Masters athletes back into some eagerly-awaited competitive action at the NECAA Championship Relays held at Thornley Farm, Peterlee on Saturday.
Giving a respectable account of themselves, Morpeth medalled in three out of the five competitions, with bronzes in both the Senior Men’s and Women’s events and an outstanding gold for the male Under 20s, although the most noticeable feature of the day were the smiles worn by so many athletes just happy to be back in business.
Meticulously organised by Archie Jenkins and the NECAA team under EA Covid-secure guidance, spectators were kept at a distance although there was still a decent view of the opening and finishing straights, with bright sunshine for much of the day and even the sight of the first swallow of spring.
The course itself was a 3k loop for all with an ascent after the first kilometre, although the biggest challenge many runners reported was the tussocky and uneven ground which had dried out completely over the last month making the choice of shoe difficult.
First up was the Masters Women race, won by NSP in a time of 38:32 with Elvet Striders in second and Elswick Harriers in third. Alison Dargie of Tyne Bridge ran the day’s fastest leg of 12:14.
Morpeth’s team was headed by Claire Calverley with a leg of 14:02, with credit to Jill Bennett (16:29) and Shuna Rank (15:30) for stepping into the breach at short notice to make sure the club had a full team out.
Sunderland Harriers headed the Masters Men with a finishing time of 31:33, Michael Barker running the fastest leg of the day with 10:09, with Darlington Harriers in second and Elvet Striders again third.
Morpeth’s A was led out by Andrew Hebden in 10:58, with Will Clark running the team’s fastest time of 10:50 and a not fully fit Lee Bennett not quite able to get into a medal position (11:04). The team finished a decent fifth.
The B team of 0/65 Dave Nicholson (12:30), Eric Adams (12:09) and Ed Hillier (11:54) came in in 20th position overall out of some 37 teams but also enjoyed the chance to stretch their legs again.
The club’s first medal came in the day’s third event, the Senior Women’s race with the three Macdonald sisters, Lorna, Lindsey and Cat, representing the club’s A team.
Fighting off raging toothache and turning an ankle no less than four times, Lorna gamely made it back at a hobble on leg 1 in 12: 53. Lindsey got the club back into contention quickly on the next leg, coming home in fourth place (12: 36) but it was down to youngest sister Cat (12:06) to move the club into a medal position. Early leaders Elswick Harriers, for whom a flying Amy Fuller clocked the day’s fastest leg of 10:55 on leg 1, and second place Gateshead were by then too far ahead sadly to make further headway.
A strong Women’s B team was hit by Robyn Bennett’s adverse reaction to vaccination late on Friday, but credit to Lizzie Rank and Tayla Murdy for still turning out. In her first race in a Morpeth vest for over six years and her first ever as a Senior, Lizzie showed herself in no way overawed on the first leg, coming back in eighth place with a time of 12:36, with Tayla clocking 13:42. Had Robyn not been struck down, the team would certainly have made top ten, something which bodes well for Senior Women’s outfits in the future.
The four-stage Senior Men’s Relay turned out to be a battle between Gateshead and Sunderland Harriers, with the intervention of National Cross Country Champion Calum Johnson (who had also run in the men’s race in Wigan) on leg 3 proving decisive in Gateshead’s final victory. Johnson was the only athlete running under nine minutes in fact on the day (8:54), with Gateshead’s overall time of 38:40 some fifteen seconds ahead of Sunderland.
Jordan Scott (9:54) ran Morpeth’s fastest time of the day on leg 1 to put the club into fourth position behind Gateshead, Sunderland and Tyne Bridge, a place maintained by second leg runner Andy Lawrence (10:20). It was Adam Pratt (10.03) who got ahead of Tyne Bridge to move the club into third, with Ali Douglas on leg 4 (9:56) comfortably keeping them there for a final time of 40:13.
It was a good outing also by a B team of Mark Snowball (11:01), Shaun Land (11:30), Ricky Stafford (11:28) and Liam Roarty (10:04), with Land and Stafford getting their first taste of Senior Relays. The team finished in a strong sixth place.
Highlight of the day for the club was perhaps the form shown by Matthew Briggs, Rowan Bennett and Ross Charlton in winning the Under 20 Men’s race.
Lancaster University student Briggs was already out of sight after leg 1 with a tremendous clocking of 9 minutes 47 seconds and after Rowan Bennett had maintained the lead (10:36), Bath University pentathlete Ross Charlton brought the team home with a very impressive 9:38 for the last leg. Charlton’s time was actually the third fastest clocked over the distance by any athlete all afternoon and shows the excellent progress he continues to make, with Briggs running the day’s eighth fastest overall also.
Congratulations are also due to Connor Marshall, running in an incomplete B team, who also had a very strong run with a first leg clocking of 10:16.
A great day out by all then, but perhaps the sport itself was the overall winner, with huge thanks going out to the organisers and all the officials and marshals, who included our own Kevin Bray and Gavin Bayne.
Onwards and upwards.