A chilly wind, laced with intermittent squally showers, hampered runners competing in the ECCA National Cross Country Relay Championships, held for the 26th time at Mansfield’s Berry Hill Park on Saturday, writes George Patterson.
The event was once again sponsored by Saucony, the Sportswear company, who also have an association with the event for nearly as long as the venue.
Morpeth Harriers also have a long association with it, their Senior Men having won their title more than any other competing club and they have also claimed minor medals on several occasions.
On Saturday, they had teams competing once again in the Senior Men’s 4x5k competition, three from that age group actually made the start line.
In addition to the Senior Men, they also had teams competing in the U17 Men’s 3x3k competition, the U15 and U13 Boys’ 3x2k competition and, unfortunately, a poor turnout on the female side of the club saw them field only a single athlete in the Senior Women’s 3x3k competition.
Nevertheless, it was the Morpeth Harriers Senior Men who took centre-stage, and despite missing five of their key athletes, the club’s A team still managed to perform well against top-class opposition.
On first leg, Ryan Stephenson had the squad in a very healthy 25th place with his clocking of 16m21.15s.
Following that, Lewis Timmins performed excellently to claw back 13 places to finish 12th with his clocking of 16m07.10s, the club’s fastest clocking of the day.
Morpeth Harriers could not have asked more of third and fourth-leg runners Matt Nicholson and championship debutant Ade Whitwam, as they successfully battled to hold on to their placings over the final two lap legs.
Nicholson clocked 16m38.45s, while Whitwam clearly showed his appetite for the bigger contest as he got round in 16m43.15s.
Finishing 12th also saw them as fifth from the North of England.
A great deal of praise could also be levelled at the Morpeth Harriers Senior Men’s B and C-team performances, as they did well to finish 36th and 76th respectively in a starting field of 184 teams on the course.
The Morpeth B team finished as sixth B-team, with Nathan Shrubb (16m57.65s), Michael Dawson (17m32.95s), Mark McLeod (17m25.85s) and Andrew Lawrence (17m26.35s) all performing positively.
Morpeth Harriers C-team were third C-team behind Notts AC and Leeds City, with Thomas Straughan producing their fastest time on second leg with 17m55.90s, which clearly showed that he is returning to better form.
Straughan also clawed back 24 places as a result of his effort.
Other Morpeth C-team clockings came from Mick Thomsen (18m32.15s), Philip Caldwell (18m22.05s) and Paul Waterston, who is only just returning to competitive action following a four-month injury lay-off (19m47.30s).
Missing five key athletes meant that Morpeth Harriers’ Senior Men were very much up against the odds at this level of competition, however the team management are very pleased at the way that the remaining athletes responded to achieve a most positive result on the day and that a few of those athletes had seen some improvement from recent performances, which bodes well with forthcoming major competitions very much on the horizon.
Also on the plus front, arguably one of the best Morpeth Harriers performers on the day on an individual basis was Ashley Gibson.
Ashley turned out as the only member of an incomplete Senior Women’s squad and could take personal delight in the fact that she clocked the seventh fastest time over the one-lap 3k circuit, when she came home in fifth place on the first leg in 10m09.85s.
Unfortunately, she had no one to share her delight with, as the club could not manage to field a team in the Senior Women’s event.
It was indeed a poor show from the club in the female competition as they also failed to turn out teams in the remaining four age groups.
However, there was a good Morpeth Harriers turn-out in the other male competitions, with squads contesting the U17 Men’s, U13 and U15 Boys’ competitions.
The best result for Morpeth in the younger age groups came from the U17 Men, who, following a steady start, came through to finish 26th.
Ryan Green had them in 48th place on first leg, as he completed the 3k course in 10m07.70s.
Nathan Cox ran strongly on second leg to claw back 23 places with his clocking of 9m52.35s.
Elliot Kelly did very well in coping with damage limitation on the final leg, as he got round in 10m14.75s to finish 26th.
With Kieran Hedley still out injured, Morpeth Harriers called upon Adam Shewry for first-time championship duty for their U15 Boys’ squad and he did not let them down as he came home 68th in 8m01.75 over the 2k circuit.
The earlier legs of Jacob Hopkins (7m20.10s) and Euan Jones (7m47.75s) had paved the way for Shewry to battle for a respectable result.
Most unfortunate on the day were Morpeth Harriers’ three brave U13 Boys, who ended up in 63rd place.
Making his championship debut, first-leg runner Will Sibson had the squad in 50th place.
Unfortunately, in the noisy melee of the change-over area, second-leg runner Cameron Dick had failed to spot that his illustrious team-mate Sibson had indeed finished and ended up by losing around a minute in time and a number of places before he set off in pursuit.
Dick eventually returned on his leg, posting a time of 9m32.30s, having lost around 26 places.
This factor did not daunt final-leg runner Alex Cunningham, however, as he sought to claw back vital places, as he managed to get round in 8m00.80s.
Cunningham did managed to gain back 13 places, to finish 63rd.