Sunday 10 February 2019

Cross Country News by Bill McGuirk - NEHL Thornley


HURRICANE Eric just failed to make an appearance but over 1,000 hardy souls did manage to take up the challenge of tackling the region's toughest cross-country course.

After a mud-bath of a venue was forecast it was surprisingly better than expected as the Start Fitness North Eastern Harrier League action returned after a mid-term break for the penultimate fixture of the season.  Thornley Hall Farm was the 'attraction' for the fourth time of asking and while the tough inclines have always brought outbursts of objectives, many of them unprintable, the hardy North East cross-country enthusiasts still returned in their hundreds for another go.

While the junior age group entries were slightly down on previous fixtures at the County Durham location, there was a record turnout of senior men which shows the appetite club athletes' have for a formidable contest.

The senior men's race was the final event on the 10-race programme which was over a 10k distance covering three undulating circuits which included a number of 'slightly' muddy patches.

Once again it was the Division One leaders Morpeth Harriers who had much to celebrate after new recruit Adam Pratt led them home to a comfortable team victory leaving them uncatchable at the head of the table with only the Alnwick Pastures fixture to come early next month.
Adam Pratt
It was Pratt's Morpeth team-mate Phil Winkler who led at the completion of the first circuit having a 50-metre lead with North Shields Poly's David Green a similar distance back in third place with the trio enjoying a two-and-a-half and five-minutes start respectively over the medium and fast pack.

The lead changed midway through the second lap as Pratt, having his first outing in Morpeth's colours since leaving Tynedale Harriers, took over in first place with Winkler relegated into second spot and Green continuing to occupy third place.

All the while the near 500-strong field was concerting up with Marc Fenwick (Tyne Bridge Harriers) moving through menacingly from the mediums and Bristol and West visitor Jarlath McKenna and Jordan Middlesmist (Wallsend Harriers) cutting back their five-minute handicap with every stride.  However, Pratt had no difficulty in keeping his rivals at bay as he came home to a comfortable victory in 35min 21sec, a time which equated to the ninth fastest time of the day.

Winkler came home 35 seconds behind to claim the silver medal with Green taking the third-place honours around a minute further back.  Fenwick just missed out on medal spot finishing in fourth place after recording the fifth fastest time of the day with best figures going to McKenna who moved through superbly to finish fifth with an actual time of 33:01.  Middlemist, meanwhile, with arguably his best-ever performance, finished two places behind McKenna (33:43) and ahead of Inter-Counties representatives Dan Jenkin (Durham City Harriers) and Conrad Franks (Gateshead Harriers).

While the Division One title looks to be in safe hands with Morpeth the battle at the other end of the table could not be tighter with Wallsend, Gosforth and Jarrow and Hebburn on 39, 41 and 42 points respectively battling to finish clear of the two relegation places.
North Shields Poly are home and dry at the top of Division Two after another victory, their fourth of the campaign, with the second promotion spot going to either Birtley, Blaydon or South Shields while four clubs are battling to stave off relegation, Alnwick have 38 points, Sedgefield (40), Low Fell (41) and Saltwell (42).

Crook and Ponteland Runners are already promoted to Division Two for next season.
The senior women's contest over a distance of 6.6k saw 296 finishers which was just a handfull short of the record 302 finishers in 2017 which shows that even our hardy women relish a challenge.
Stephanie Lawrie
Guest runner Stephanie Lawrie of the Victoria Park Glasgow club led throughout the two laps to win by exactly two minutes from Claremont's Hannah Mainprize with Durham City's Amy Etherington, back in action after a lean couple of years, finishing third.
It was Lawrie's, a Newcastle-based doctor, second North East outing having finished fifth in the Davison Shield fixture at Temple Park earlier in the year.

Despite a runaway victory, Lawrie's winning time of 27:42 was only the fourth fastest of the day with county representatives Emma Holt (Morpeth), Danielle Smyth (Heaton) and Catriona MacDonald all posting quicker times from a handicap of four minutes.

Once again Holt, who managed to reel in all her rivals over the same course 12 months ago, posted the fastest time of 25:36 after cutting through the field to finish in fifth place and was quickly followed home one place behind by Smythe (25:42) with MacDonald crossing the line in eighth position in an actual time of 26:35.

Fifth fastest on the on the course was 'super vet' Jane Giles (Gateshead) who finished 11th overall in 27:43.

On the day Elvet Striders won the Division One team race to shake off any signs of relegation while Gateshead, who last won the title in the 2013-14 season, finished in second place and look as though they will claim the title baring a huge mishap.


AS usual the day opened with the enthusiastic under-11 events and the testing terrain didn't deter 49 boys and 43 girls turning out.

Once again the boys, racing over a distance of a mile, was won by Zac Brannon (North Shields Poly) which kept up his unbeaten sequence having come out on top in all of the previous contests starting at Wrekenton in September followed by successes at Druridge Bay, Gosforth Park, Aykley Heads and Temple Park.

Young Zac, whose winning time was 5:30, was followed home by Morpeth's Oliver Tomlinson (5:42) with Tynedale's Jem Henderson completing in the one-two-three in 5:54.

The girls event was also over a distance of one mile with victory going to Elswick's Poppy Old whose winning time of 6:13 would have placed her 10th in the boys race.

Under 11s start
North Shields Poly had the next three finishers across the line with Catherine Atkinson claiming the silver medal (6:19), Katy Otterson finishing third (6:21) and Jocelyn Black recording the same time in fourth spot.

The under-13s and under-15s all contested one big circuit of 3.3k  with Gateshead's William Wells claiming victory in the under-13 boys contest.  William, receiving a one minute 40 seconds start ahead of the fast pack, held on well keep the chasers at bay to win by 10 seconds.

Morpeth came out top on the team stakes finishing on 22 points with Durham City second (31pts), and Gateshead third with 49.

The 1:40 penalty proved to be no handicap to the top three finishers in the under-13 girls contest who also faced one large circuit.

First across the line was Blackhill's Hanah Bowyer whose actual time was 13:50. Hannah was followed home by Durham City duo Freya Gibson and Charlotte Gibson who recorded 14:01 and 14:11 respectively.

Durham City won the team race finishing with 13 points with Chester-le-Street second on 24 and Gateshead third with 32.

The 1:40 handicap also proved no problem in the under-15 boys event with the top nine finishers all coming from the fast pack.

Birtley's Chris Perkins continued his unbeaten run to win in an actual time of 11:04 with Tynedale's Charlie Daley finishing runner-up in 11:43 and Will Collinson (Blaydon) completing the podium places in 11:59.

Durham City were comfortable winners of the team stakes finishing on 23 points with Morpeth second on 44 and Gosforth third on 48.

The first two home in the under-15 girls 3.3k contest also defied 1:40 penalty with the in-form Millie Breeze (Alnwick) first home in 13:00. Nine seconds behind came Gateshead's Ines Curran with Chester-le-Street's Eve Whitley holding off the rest of the chasing fast pack to finish in third place.

Eve had the distinction of leading Chester-le-Street to team honours after totalling 28 points with Birtley finishing second on 32 and Morpeth a further one point adrift in third place.

The Sun City Tri club were celebrating after Luke Pye came home in pole position in the under-17 men's event.

Receiving a generous 2:30 start for the 5k contest, Luke led throughout to come home in 17:14 followed six seconds later by Blaydon's Callum Trainer with Morpeth's Daniel Melling defying the handicap to work his way through to finish in 17:34 (actual 15:05).

Only two clubs managed to close in the three-to-score team contest with victory going to Blaydon with 22 points and Houghton finishing second on 50 points.

The combined under-17/20 women also raced over 5k and victory went to Morpeth's Holly Peck who defied the same 2:30 handicap to come home in first place after overhauling team-mate Kirsty Duffin and Sunderland's Grace Mackie in the closing stages of the race.  It was a fine run by the winner whose actual time of 17:16 was most impressive.

Second fastest on the course was another Morpeth athlete, Robyn Bennett, who worked her way through the field to finish in fifth place.

Again, only two clubs managed to finish a team with Morpeth coming out on top with just eight points followed by Houghton who totalled 33.

Once again grateful thanks go the accomplished Blackhill Bounders team for hosting the event and especially for erecting and then dismantling the course in the record time; to the marshalls who endured 'strong' winds throughout the afternoon and to the technical officials who helped the event run smoothly and keep to timetable and the admin and results team who once again did a superb job.

Alnwick Pastures is next up for the final fixture of the season, what a venue to bring the curtain down on what has been superb campaign and the league's administrators once again look forward to another huge turnout.

All results may be found at:

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