Evergreen Morpeth veteran Walter Ryder made the long journey from his Scottish home in Wester Ross worth the many miles of travel at the weekend.
The 81 year-old took individual and team gold medals at the annual NEMAA cross country championships, held last Saturday at a snowbound Rising Sun Country Park in Wallsend.
His performance in the first race of the day was matched by that of his fellow Morpeth Harriers Gemma Floyd, first Over 35 woman, and later by John Butters, first Over 40 male.
‘Cross country should never be cancelled!’ declared NEMAA secretary and Morpeth Harrier Archie Jenkins at the later prize-giving, but conditions were certainly made all the more challenging by the numerous snowfalls that had taken place in the 24 hours beforehand. A demanding course (which already required two ascents and descents of the old Rising Sun spoil heap from different directions on each completed lap) was already covered with joyful sledging youngsters while competitors took a first look, although both races ironically took place in bright sunshine.
The first race of the day, featuring women and men over 65, saw a strong front-running performance from leading NE veteran Sharon Bulman of Old Marske, who also picked up the 0/45 medal. Not far behind her, however, was Morpeth’s Gemma Floyd, who followed last week’s team bronze at the Northern Cross Country Championships with a second place in the race itself and an 0/35 gold medal. Also picking up silverware was Helen King, ninth overall and third 0/40, although sadly Morpeth’s leading veteran Jane Hodgson had had to pull out due to injury, thus preventing a certain team prize.
Morpeth’s other medals in this first race came via a team gold in the 0/65 competition, with Archie Jenkins and Paul Bentley, who also picked up an 0/70 bronze, joining Walter on the podium. A longstanding member of Morpeth Harriers for several decades, Ryder has made the NEMAA championships an annual pilgrimage from his Scottish eyrie, and his victory in the 0/80 category was made all the sweeter by virtue of him defeating local rival Reginald Checkley of Heaton who had pipped him last year.
In the three lap, second race of the day, featuring male veterans between 35 and 64, the early pace was set by Conrad Franks of Gateshead Harriers whose front running championship performance was rewarded with a gold medal. Gateshead also picked up a team gold ahead of local lads Wallsend, running here of course in their own backyard, for whom Chris Smith, ex-Morpeth, was first home.
Not too far behind Smith, however, was Morpeth’s own John Butters, whose experience on the fells meant the easier slopes here held few fears, and he was a clear winner of the 0/40 category and fifth overall. With Andrew Hebden and Colin Archer both competing in the championships for the first time, there was an unexpected team bronze in the 0/35s, one which Archer would later declare ‘had just about made taking part worthwhile!’
Steve Haswell (0/50) and Paul Bellingham (0/55) had their own personal duel a little further down the field, with Haswell, returning to competition after some time out, winning out on the final lap.