Two team silvers and a fifth place finish were the highlights for Morpeth Harriers of the Northern Athletics Autumn Road Relay Championships which took place on Saturday afternoon at Redcar and hosted by New Marske Harriers.
Drawing big-name teams from all over the North of England, the event was perhaps the most high-profile of its kind since the easing of lockdown, having been cancelled altogether in 2020, and the standard of competition was fierce with clubs from the North East well represented.
An out and back course along the flat Coast Road to the South of the town, closed to traffic, allied to some balmy conditions, made for some fast times and good spectating.
First in action for Morpeth were the girls Under 13 team, competing in an event of this nature for the first time. Emma Tomlinson on leg 1 ran the club’s fastest time of 13 minutes 2 seconds for the 3.1 kilometre course, with Molly Roche on leg 2 finishing in 13:24 and Charlotte Marshall bringing the team home in 14:20 in fourteenth place, with a strong Liverpool AC winning and their B team also finishing in third.
Next up over the same distance were the U/15 boys who were also up against some tough opposition from the other side of the country with teams from Wirral AC, Liverpool Harriers and AC and Blackburn.
It was City of York, however, who produced the fastest leg of the day on leg 1 with a clocking of 10:07 by Will Keens. Morpeth’s Oli Calvert came back in 5th place with 10:17, the 6th fastest time of the day, and Oliver Tomlinson got the team up to 2nd with 10:40 on leg 2, with Wirral AC now in the lead.
Joe Close for Morpeth had a real go on the last leg, but the gap to the Wirral athlete was just too big, and the team settled for an excellent silver medal with an overall clocking of 31:33, some thirty seconds behind the leader.
The Under 17 Men’s race, ran over a slightly longer distance of 3700m, was keenly anticipated with the club entering two complete teams of athletes who have enjoyed considerable success locally for a number of seasons and were hopeful of picking up medals.
Will de Vere Owen, winner of last weekend’s Junior GNR on the Quayside, came back in 11:13 for 5th place on leg 1, but only some 11 seconds behind early leaders Gateshead Harriers for whom Josh Blevins ran the day’s fastest time of 11:02.
Joe Dixon on leg 2 ran 11:27 and moved the club to 2nd place, again behind Wirral AC for whom Will Strickley ran the day’s 3rd fastest time.
On last leg Bertie Marr found the lead had by now gone out to thirty seconds and he had to settle, like the U/15s, for silver with a clocking of 11:53, the team finishing nearly 50 seconds behind an impressive Merseyside outfit. Morpeth’s team will take some comfort however in that they are at the bottom end of their age group and can return for another go in the same category next year.
The Morpeth B team of Liam Roche (11:46), Matt Walton (12:01) and Ryan Davies (11:59) also gave a highly respectable account of themselves, finishing in 7th place overall but, ironically, just behind the B team of Wirral! James Tilley also ran the 1st leg for an incomplete Morpeth C team in 12:12.
The day’s biggest field was in the Senior Men’s race, contested over six legs and a distance of just over 6kms and, as expected, the day’s stiffest opposition came from the usual suspects, Leeds City AC, Salford Harriers and AC, Blackburn Harriers and AC and Lincoln Wellington AC.
In his first team outing since his transfer from Tyne Bridge Harriers, Finn Brodie got Morpeth off to a flying start with a clocking of 17:44 for 4th place behind early leaders Keighley and AC and handed on to Ali Douglas.
Drafted in to the A team at less than 24 hours notice, and after completing a punishing run in the GNR the previous weekend, it was a tough battle for an understandably later disappointed Douglas, most of whose running over the Summer had been focussed on shorter distances on the track. Battling gutsily back along the Coast Road, his time of 19:30 saw the team slip out of the top ten.
George Lowry, however, set about the task of reeling in the athletes ahead of him purposefully on leg 3, and his clocking of 17:56 saw the club claw back no less than eleven places and move up to 6th, with Leeds City, Salford and Blackburn occupying the first three places.
In his first ever Northern Relays, University of Lancaster student Matty Briggs kept the pressure on with a fine run of 18:22 to move up a further place to 5th, with Salford now in the lead.
Phil Winkler’s run of 18:49 meant the team slipping back to 7th but on last leg Alex Brown had a real go, recording the team’s fastest time of the day (17:36) and getting the team to within 20 seconds of a medal in 5th place, the club’s final overall time being 1 hour 49 minutes and 39 seconds.
The club did also had the satisfaction of being first team home from the North East, ahead of rivals Tyne Bridge (11th), Gateshead (18th) and Sunderland (23rd).
Ahead of Brown, Leeds City proved to be dominant winners with an overall time of 1:46:55 – in fact, so dominant did they prove on the day that their B team was 7th and their C team 21st.
Salford Harriers finished in 2nd place, well over a minute behind, but an impressive final leg by 2012 Olympian and former Morpeth Harrier Nick McCormick for Blackburn Harriers saw the North West outfit pip Hallamshire Harriers Sheffield for the Bronze medal.
Fastest leg of the day was run by Richard Allen of Leeds City (17:24) with Brown’s 17:36 an impressive 5th fastest, and the 40 year old McCormick showing his class with the 7th fastest.
Morpeth’s B team also had a very respectable afternoon’s work, coming home 5th B team in 26th place in 2:00:19 but ahead of the A teams of many other clubs. John Butters ran 19:15 on leg 1; Liam Roarty 20:32 on leg 2; Tom Innes 19:57 on leg 3; 20-year-old Connor Marshall 19:31 on leg 4 to take the team inside the top thirty; Jordan Scott 20:52 on leg 5; and Mark Snowball 20:12 on the final leg.
The Senior Women’s race started some five minutes behind the Men’s but was run over the same course over four legs with nearly fifty teams competing.
This was Morpeth’s Women’s team’s first time at the event for several years and, with a couple of the team still on the way back from injury, the key objective was to get the team out to compete at this level.
Cat Macdonald came home in 14th place on leg 1 (21:30) with Leeds City’s Jennifer Walsh setting the 2nd fastest time of the day in 20:28 to take an early lead.
In her first event of this size Lizzie Rank ran 25:25 with the team now in 22nd, and Lindsey Quinn kept the team in the same position with 24:39, both runners probably a month away from full race fitness. Michelle Thompson managed to get the team into the top 20 with final leg of 24:03 for a total time of 1:35:37.
The event was won by Salford Harriers with a cumulative clocking of 1:24:52 with Rotherham Harriers in 2nd and Hallamshire 3rd. An experienced Jarrow and Hebburn AC team were first home for the NE in 7th place.