It was certainly a good day for the North East at the annual
UK Inter Counties Cross Country Championships,
which were held for the first time ever,
at Prestwold Hall, near Loughborough,
Leicestershire on Saturday 11th March 2017.
This event, not only marked what was effectively the end of the domestic Cross Country season,
it also served as the final stepping stone for athletes with burgeoning ambitions for selection to the UK teams,
which will be representing the country at the forthcoming World Cross Country Championships,
scheduled to be held in Uganda at the end of March, also it served as the culmination of the
prestigious UK Cross Challenge Series, with certain leading athletes
set to reap rich rewards for their respective age group performances.
One such athlete who will definitely be on that plane to Uganda will be Morpeth Harrier Scott Beattie,
who on Saturday ran superbly to finish a very close second to Yorkshire’s Jonathan Shields,
who is also a close friend, in the opening event of the day, the Under 20 Men’s 8k,
run over two testing circuits of the new course.
Beattie sat in the first seven or eight of 160 plus strong field over the first circuit,
and it was on the second circuit that he and Shields visibly began to draw clear of the rest,
along with Avon and Somerset’s Luke Prior and local hope Sam Stevens.
Thankfully the finish line came quickly enough for Beattie to take the Silver medal,
two seconds behind a much-relieved winner Shields,
with Prior just holding off Stevens for the Bronze medal.
Ironically only Shields, Beattie and Prior are guaranteed places on that plane to Uganda,
however Stevens may get a discretionary place, should he wish to take up the option.
Whilst Beattie was joyous in his individual performance,
the region narrowly missed out on Bronze team medals,
finishing fourth behind Scotland East, Yorkshire, and Kent.
Another Morpeth Harrier in action in this event alongside Beattie
was Jake Masterman, who was fifth home for the region in 105th place.
A superb team performance saw the regions Senior Men take the six-man title
in their 12k event for the seventh time in succession,
and the thirteenth time in all since the competition’s inception in 1926.
There was certainly dominance attached to the North-East performance,
when it was also revealed that they had won the nine to score award in addition.
Leading the squad home was Jonny Taylor of Morpeth Harriers,
who was well up with the race leaders on the first of three circuits,
that were now well churned up following the previous nine events.
Taylor for his part finished ninth, a placing which also gave him second place in the UK Challenge listings,
behind race winner Andy Vernon of Aldershot, and representing Hampshire, who finished in fourth team place,
behind the North East, second placed Surrey and third placed Middlesex.
Second home for the North East was Taylor’s Morpeth Harriers club colleague Carl Avery,
who ran superbly to finish tenth and only three seconds adrift.
Nick Swinburn made it a Morpeth Harriers 1,2, 3 at the helm of North East
team affairs when finishing in 22nd place, just six seconds and one place ahead
of the regions fourth counter Phil Wylie of Cheltenham.
Other Morpeth Harriers competing in the Senior Men’s event were Robert Balmbra and Ady Whitwam.
Balmbra, who had been called into the squad as a late replacement,
ran well to finish in 75th place, and was eighth home for the region.
Whitwam was eleven seconds adrift of Balmbra in 82nd place,
and was fourth counter in a fifth placed Yorkshire squad.
Another superb winning performance on the day came from the
regions Under 20 Women’s squad in their two lap 6k event.
Although well adrift of the scoring four, Morpeth Harrier Abby Sheldon,
who was drafted in as a late replacement, could feel well pleased
with her overall placing of 140th in the 180 plus strong field.
The region won by fifty points from Greater Manchester,
with Yorkshire close behind in third place, in what was a North dominated affair.
North East Under 15 Boys champion Daniel Dixon was second
counter for the region in their third placed two lap 4.5k event.
Dixon certainly put a disappointing run in the English National Cross Country Championships
in Nottingham two weeks previously in nearby Nottingham firmly behind him,
as he finished an excellent eighteenth place in one of the biggest fields of the day (294 finishers).
The North East were only a mere four points adrift of Silver team medallists Yorkshire,
however Kent certainly were a dominant force in team affairs.
Another big field assembled for the one lap Under 13 Boys 3k event, which was the second event of the day.
The field included Morpeth Harriers Ben Walker and Dylan Davies,
who were outside the scoring counts for a fifth placed team
in 116th and 122nd place respectively.
They were fifth and sixth home for the region.
No fewer than four Morpeth Harriers lined up in the Under 17 Men’s two
lap 6k event, which was the eighth of ten events on the programme.
First of the Morpeth contingent was Rory Leonard, who had
missed the National Championships in Nottingham due to illness.
Leonard very bravely rose to the challenge, and was well up with the leaders in the early
exchanges, who included North East Champion Josh Cowperthwaite of Middlesbrough,
who eventually led the North-East squad home to sixth team place, by finishing sixth overall.
Meanwhile Leonard drifted back to 45th place, but however remained as
second counter, perhaps feeling still a little under strength following his illness.
The other Morpeth Harriers performances in the North-East squad came from Taylor Glover (81st),
Liam Marsh (101st), and Matthew Waterfield (156th).
263 finishers took part in the Under 17 Men’s event.
Unfortunately, a late injury sustained in warm up, plus a heavy cold ruled
Morpeth Harrier Emma Holt out of the Senior Women’s two lap 8k event.
Nevertheless, the North-East squad rallied to finish an excellent fourth,
being led home by former Morpeth Harrier Ashley Gibson, now running
for Tonbridge, who finished 18th in the 261-strong finishing field.
The scoring count was completed by Jane Hodgson, who had been called in
as a late replacement for her club colleague Josie Cram,
who had pulled out earlier in the week with a knee injury.
Hodgson finished in 80th place.
Ahead of the North East in the Senior Women’s team race were winners Surrey,
followed by runners up Scotland East, with Bronze going to Hampshire.
Senior Women’s individual winner was Jessica Judd, the English National Champion,
who was running in the colours of Essex, who was thirteen seconds ahead of
Yorkshire Champion Claire Duck, with Leicester favourite Gemma Steel,
taking the Bronze, after completing the event shoe less.
Morpeth Harrier Holly Peck finished 49th in the Under 15 Girls one lap 4k Championship,
and was third counter in a North-East squad which finished as ninth team.
There were no Morpeth Harriers included in the included in the one lap
Under 13 Girls 3k event and the one lap Under 17 Women’s 5k event.
The North East did well in the former event by taking Bronze team medals, and in the latter event they were tenth.
On the day, in the overall standings over ten programmed events,
the region finished as third team, which is a tribute to the very hard work
put in by respective Team Managers Stewy Bell (Men), and Lynn Cooper (Women),
and all of their supporting selectors and officials.