There was a strong showing by the eight teams of Morpeth Harriers
who made the short journey down the A1 to Wideopen on Wednesday evening (24th June)
to take part in the 6th annual Weetslade Relays, hosted by Claremont Road Runners.
While the event is relatively new to the North East athletics calendar,
its unusual format, with teams of three consisting of a male, a female
and a veteran (who may be male or female),
makes it an interesting and increasingly attractive option
for club runners of all abilities,
and this was again reflected in the 97 teams who took part.
Based at Lockey Park, the headquarters of Wideopen F.C., the largely off road course consists of one complete circuit
of the Weetslade Country Park,
a distance of some 2.5 miles in total.
Morpeth’s A team of veteran Neil Wilkinson,
Emma Holt and Tom Straughan, holders from last year,
faced stiff competition once again from two times previous winners Elswick Harriers,
Jarrow and Hebburn and the ever well represented Tyne Bridge Harriers -
but also a strong Morpeth B team of Sam Hancox, veteran Vicki Gibbs and Chris Smith.
It was a young and jubilant Sam Hancox who struck the first blow
when he led home on the first leg in a time of 13 minutes and 2 seconds,
with Tyne Bridge in second place and Jarrow and Hebburn in second.
Neil Wilkinson, meanwhile, still working his way back to full race fitness this year,
brought the A team home in 14m 10s, the 5th fastest veteran male time of the night.
Everything was to change on the second leg, however,
when a very much in form Justina Heslop
of Elswick Harriers received the baton.
She simply flew round the course in a stunning time of 13m 41s
(a time better than most male competitors) and put her club,
only in seventh place after leg 1,
into what proved to be an unassailable lead.
At the end of this leg, however,
Tyne Bridge had also moved up to second place
as a result of the efforts of Alison Dargie (14m 54s),
but Morpeth B were clinging onto 3rd thanks
to a typically gutsy run by Vicki Gibbs,
whose 15m 37s was also the 3rd fastest female
veteran time of the night behind Heslop and Dargie.
Morpeth A, meanwhile, had moved steadily up the rankings on this leg,
thanks to another strong run by Emma Holt. Her time of 14m 52s
saw her clock the fastest senior female time of the night,
and the second fastest overall behind Heslop.
It was all down to the last leg, and while the first place seemed to have gone,
it was clearly going to be a very close battle for the remaining top ten places.
Overtaking the second placed Tyne Bridge Harrier,
Chris Smith anchored the B team confidently
to a runner-up spot in a time of 12m 56s,
only some 26 seconds behind a nervous Elswick Harriers (41m 9s).
On anchor for the A team, Tom Straughan had a manful battle
with Andy Burn of Jarrow and Hebburn,
who he had defeated to win last year.
This time, he couldn’t quite hold him off,
although he did have the satisfaction
of beating Smith’s time by 2 seconds,
the A team finishing 5th overall in 41m 56s.
Burn’s time of 12m 39s was awarded the fastest time of the night,
and Burn, Straughan and Smith were the only athletes to clock under 13 minutes.
Not far behind the A and B teams were Morpeth’s C team of Matthew Boyle (14m),
Jo Carruthers (15m 38s) and Tony Lewis (also 14m).
Their finishing time of 43m 38s saw them also gain a top ten finish,
a very impressive 7th in fact, with Carruthers running
the second fastest senior female time behind Holt,
and Lewis the second fastest male veteran time.
With three teams in the top ten the night was already a success,
and this was added to when the club’s D team of Rob Hancox (14m 28s),
Alison Brown (17m 2s) and Mick Thomsen (14m 14s) recorded 45m 44s
(a time ahead of that of some club’s A teams) to finish in 13th place.
When the E team of Paul Brown (15m 28s), Jane Briggs (17m 20s)
and Tim Miley (15m 10s) had finished in 29th place,
Morpeth had in fact provided five of the first thirty teams.
It was left to the club’s final three teams
to wrap up an enjoyable and productive night,
with the F team of Mick Skeldon (15m 10s), Carol Parry (19m 17s)
and Mike Winter (15m 56s) finishing in 41st place (50m 23s);
the G team of Jim Alder (16m 37s), Sue Smith (19m 38s)
and Andrew Richardson (16m 35s) 55th in 52m 50s;
and the H team of Mike Steven (16m 46s),
Charlotte Woodcock (23m 29s)
and Paul Bellingham (56sm 49s) 78th in 56m 49s.
Special mention must be made of Pam’s daughter Charlotte,
whose fund raising efforts have been detailed on these pages
and who is currently training for an Ironman Triathlon,
but who nevertheless gamely debutised at the
last minute for an unexpected drop out
and so enabled a complete team to finish.
Thanks from all at the club to her.