WHAT is it about the Harrier League that, on a truly miserable day and against all expectations, over 1,300 competitors lined up to tackle the Aykley Heads course, noted as one of the more testing on the cross-country circuit.
Admittedly, young and old athletes have been denied the chance of racing over the country recently due to the previous two fixtures being postponed due parking problems but the heavy rain, which only relented slightly when it was time for the senior women and men's contest's, certainly didn't deter athletes making the trek to the Durham venue which, in itself, was a way of showing thanks to hosts Derwentside AC, Elvet Striders and Durham City Harriers who, together with a number of harrier league officials, were out at first light marking out the course and making sure everything was in place for a great, 'enjoyable' day's sport.
With the tented village taking shape hours before the first race and marshalls out in position the gloom was still in evidence as the starting team called up the under-11s for the opening event of the day and it showed what a hardy bunch of youngsters we currently have in the region as the 120 or so eagerly set off on their way.
Four hours later the murkiness was still in evidence as the last competitor in the senior men's event made his way across the finishing line which was the signal for the band of volunteers to leave their posts and set about the task of dismantling the course, a task not always appreciated by many who take part so, a small gesture of thanks goes to all those who had an input, either small or large, in giving so many runners the chance of a cross-country outing after so many barren weeks,
Under 11s - Try Cross Country
THE sport may be competing against football but 72 boys took their chance over a difficult one-kilometre course when the weather was at it's worst. It was Gateshead's Harry Garrett who took the major honours - he was third at Wrekenton in September - winning by seven seconds from Birtley's Noah Williamson with North Shields Poly's Max Cummings completing the one-two-three. Competitors represented 27 of the region's athletics clubs while West Jesmond School once again were among the line-up.
|U11 Boys winner Harry Garrett|
DURHAM City's Grace Carter went one better this time round after finishing runner-up at Wrekenton. Grace had to work hard for her victory though as she came home just one second clear of Gosforth's Millie Moat. Derwent Valley Trail Runners, another of the region's new club's, had lots to celebrate when Niamh Phillipson came home in third place to claim the bronze award just ahead of Houghton's Holly Robison.
|U11 Girls winner Grace Carter|
GATESHEAD have unearthed a new hero in Theo Dragoi who not only took the honours by winning the contest by over a minute his winning time of 14:21 proved to be the overall best of the day. Alnwick's Liam McDonough claimed the silver medal with William Roberts (Durham City) completing the medallists. North Shields Poly's Zac Brannon, who was giving 1:40 start to the winner worked his way through the 50-strong field to finish in fifth place in a time 10 seconds adrift of the winner. Third fastest on the course was Dragoi's Gateshead team-mate Matthew Das five seconds behind Brannon in sixth position.
North Shields Poly came out on top on the day just as they did in the opening fixture at Wrekenton though Gateshead could well have pipped them if their third counter hadn't been disqualified. The Poly have a four-point lead over Alnwick at the top of the table with Durham City a further three points in arrears in third place.
|U13 Boys winner Theo Dragoi|
IN THE closest finish of the day North Shields Poly's Hannah Atkinson was deemed the winner over Jarrow and Hebburn's Hannah McIntosh with both athletes recording the same time of 16:32. Over 60 competitors faced the starter in what proved to be the most competitive on the nine-race programme. Third place went to Catherine Atkinson (North Shields Poly) while Durham City's Charlotte Dillon worked her way through to finish fourth from a 1:40 penalty to record the day's fastest time. Second quickest on the course was Gateshead's Annabel Milburn with Blaydon's Ellie Fellows next best.
Elswick Harriers set the pace in the league table with a five-point cushion over Jarrow and Hebburn with Gateshead and Gosforth a further point adrift while North Shields Poly, who came out on top on the day move up the table to seventh after finishing in 13th place on the opening day of the season.
|192 Catherine Atkinson, with winner 195 twin sister Hannah hot on her heels|
|U13 Girls 1,2,3 Hannah Atkinson, Hannah McIntosh, and Catherine Atkinson|
GOSFORTH'S Ethan Bond claimed victory over an extended two-mile contest pulling away midway to win by nine seconds in 13:49. Durham City's Sam Terry denied the Newcastle club of a one-two as he just got the verdict over Reece Slater with the judges giving the Durham City athlete the verdict though both athletes were given the same time. Fastest on the course was Birtley's Chris Perkins who, from a 1:40 handicap worked his way through to finish in sixth position with an actual time of 12:42. Blaydon's Will Collinson was second fastest (13:10) and Bertie Marr (Morpeth) third best with 13:25.
Durham City were clear winners on the day and now head the table by two points with Morpeth in second place and Gateshead, a further point adrift, in third spot.
|U15 Boys winner Ethan Bond|
GATESHEAD'S Jessica Milburn led throughout to claim victory despite being chased down by a number of fast pack runners. The Tynesider, with a 1:40 start crossed the line 33 seconds ahead of fast-packers Alnwick's Millie Breese and Birtley's Katie Francis who was a further 13 seconds back in third place. Elle Van Der Merwe (North Shields Poly) was third fastest on the course when finishing fourth in leading the North Tyneside outfit to their second team victory of the campaign. The Poly head Durham City by three points with Gosforth a further two points back in third place.
|2nd place u15 Girls Millie Breeze|
LONG gone are the days when you could count the number of athletes on two hands who took their chance in this section. Twenty-nine competitors faced the starter on this occasion with victory going to Tess Graham who led throughout after receiving a start of 1:25 and 2:50 over the chasing medium and fast packs. Despite claiming victory the Birtley athlete was being chased down all the way to the finish by Emily Chong (Chester-le-Street) and Morpeth's Robyn Bennett. Chong, running from the medium pack, finished 15 seconds adrift of the winner while Bennett, running from the fast pack, claimed third place with the fastest time of the day.Houghton's Anna Pigford was second quickest while Chong was third.
Birtley and Chester-le-Street are tied at the top of the league with seven points while Gateshead are in third place together with Gosforth and Elswick one point behind.
|U17 winner Tess Graham|
ETHEN McGLEN took full advantage of his 2min 50sec start to claim victory after taking up the running immediately from the gun. The Gateshead athlete, a multi-winner of the Junior Great North Run, showed he is equally at home over the country as he covered the 4.5k course in 19:30, a time which equated to the fastest time of the day. At the line he finished with a 27-seconds cushion over Morpeth's Dylan Davies with Charlie Phillips (Durham City) claiming the bronze award. Phillips' Durham City team-mate, Josua Wraith was second quickest on the course, 10 seconds slower than McGlen after working his way through to finish ninth. Morpeth's Euan Duffy was third fastest 18 seconds adrift of Wraith.
In the team stakes Gosforth, who were led home by Wesley Croome in fifth place, move above Durham City by virtue of two points while Houghton are a further point adrift in third spot.
|U17 Men's winner Ethan McGlen|
STOCKSFIELD Striders are one of the region's fledgling clubs having only been formed in 2008 however they had plenty to celebrate when Claire Davies led the 385 field home over the undulating two-lap course. It was Davies' Harrier League debut and it was a runaway winning one as she came home over a minute clear of Blaydon's Letha Whitham with Gateshead's Bethany Curran pipping Erin Gallagher (Newcastle University) for third place with both athletes being credited with the same time.
Fastest on the course was Jarrow and Hebburn's Georgia Campbell who weaved in and out of the field from a 5:15 handicap to finish an excellent eighth with an actual time of 29:57. Next quickest was Morpeth's Catriona MacDonald (30:41) and Alison Dargie (Tyne Bridge) in 30:47.
Tyne Bridge move to the top of Division One with four points followed by Morpeth on six with a trio of North Shields Poly, South Shields and title holders Gateshead on seven.
|Claire Davies takes the win in her first cross country|
|Women's winners 3rd: Bethany Curran, 1st Claire Davies, 2nd Letha Whitham|
|Fastest time recorded was by last year's Northeastern's winner: Georgia Campbell|
AS IS the norm, the senior men's contest (10k) brings the curtain down on the nine-race programme by which time the course was muddy at best and quagmire-like at it's worst. However, that didn't deter Alex Mirley skipping over the terrain to lead from start to finish leaving his 520 or so rivals in his wake. Now running in the Elvet Striders' colours after moving from Durham City, Mirley, who was having his first harrier league outing since the Alnwick fixture in 2016, eventually completed the three testing circuits in 41min 23secs.
Newcastle University's Chris Larkin, who finished in third place at the season's opening fixture at Wrekenton, was promoted this time round to the medium pack which set off 2min 35secs after the slow pack and though he managed to cut back the deficit by over a minute he had to make do with the runner's up spot on this occasion and an immediate move up into the fast pack for the next fixture at Thornley Hall Farm in February. Such was the calibre of Larkin's run his actual time of 40:12 equated to the joint fastest of the day, a time shared by Gateshead's Conrad Franks who, from a 5:15 handicap, moved through the congested field to finish in eighth place. Sunderland's Chris Jackson, running from the slow pack, crossed the line in third place while Michael Hedley (Tyne Bridge) was third fastest overall (41:14) behind Larkin and Franks.
In the chase for league honours newly-promoted Blaydon still head Division One with six points despite finishing fifth on the day while Elvet Striders, Tyne Bridge and Sunderland are locked together one point behind. Birtley head Division Two on four points with Gosforth in second place with six points followed by Alnwick on seven and Ponteland on eight. Jesmond came out on top for the second consecutive time and are two points clear of Saltwell in Division Three with Tynedale and Derwent Valley Trail locked together in third place.
|Men's winner Alex Mirley on his home course|
|2nd Place Chris Larkin records joint fastest time of the day|
|3rd place Chris Jackson|
|Gent's winners: 2nd Chris Larkin, 1st Alex Mirley, 3rd Chris Jackson|
|Joint fastest time of the day: Conrad Franks|
WELL done to everyone who competed, After walking the course early in the day I thought to myself that we may not see many competitors today. However, how wrong can you be! It was a superb turnout in all of the races which leads into the County Championships in Alnwick next month when, hopefully, the weather will be a little kinder.
Photos: Stuart Whitman Photography
Senior men - Google photos
Senior Women - Google photos