Monday 18 March 2019

Cross Country News by Bill McGuirk - English Schools


JUST as they did a week earlier India Pentland and Sam Charlton produced another impressive performance to add to their portfolio by winning the English Schools' Cross-Country senior titles at a wet and windy Temple Newsham, Leeds.

And while the talented North East duo, representing Durham and Northumberland respectively, claimed the major honours the region's celebrations didn't end there as Josh Blevins (Northumberland) and Durham's Chris Perkins ran themselves into an international call-up for next weekend's Schools' Cross-Country international in Dublin.

Dublin bound: Josh Blevins and Christopher Perkins

However, all eyes were on Pentland and Charlton, the recently crowned Inter-Counties champions, who were back in action just seven days after their tough exertions at Loughborough .

Pentland was the first of the two in action, lining up over 4,100 meters which was the penultimate event on the programme and with the 'undulating' course cutting up badly it was to prove a real test of stamina. The Darlington athlete got off to a blistering start and was immediately in view in the leading group as the field settled down. In the blink of an eye three athletes broke away before the midway point quickly opening up a significant gap over the rest of their 300-plus rivals. Berkshire's Georgia Hayes and Kate O'Neil of Essex, together with Pentland, pulled away with every stride with Pentland content to sit in behind the duo though two or three times during the second half of the contest it seemed that the Durham athlete was beginning to struggle slightly as she slipped a few metres adrift.

It may have been tiredness from the week before but, while there was daylight appearing, Pentland determinedly stuck to the task before summoning a huge effort to gain control and ease into lead going into the final 600 metres, a lead she wasn't going to relinquish once in front. Despite being chased all the way to the line it was Pentland who broke the tape winning in the end by a handsome four seconds.

It was a superb achievement by the David Lowes-advised athlete who said a few moments after taking her place on the podium: "There were times during the race when I didn't think I was going to win, it was really tough. I don't know where I found the strength in the closing stages!"

Despite having the winner, Durham finished 11th team while Northumberland, who had Rhian Purves as first counter in 21st position, finished 23rd.

The senior boys 6,700 metres brought the curtain down on proceedings being set on their way just as Pentland stepped down from the podium and once more the North East had high hopes of success with a lot of people tipping Monkseaton High School student Sam Charlton being the one to beat and while his current form clearly backed that up, he was facing rivals a year older.

However, now brimming with confidence Charlton was quickly into his stride settling into the leading group after the initial cavalry charge from the starting pens. The 300 athletes faced one small lap and two large circuits covering 6,700 metres. It wasn't until mid-way through the first of the long laps that things began to speed up with another fancied athlete, Cambridgeshire's Thomas Keen, hitting the front on one of the numerous inclines. The injection of pace saw the leading group - Charlton covered every move - break up and approaching the elbow to go out into the country for the final time it was Keen, Charlton and Hampshire's Lachlan Wellington who had pulled away marginally from their rivals.

 However, with so much at stake, the trio stepped off the gas allowing the chasing pack to close them down. Charlton, realising that there were too many athletes around for comfort, decided to hit the front for the first time with just over a kilometre to go pushing hard up another hill which had his rivals struggling. With the tough climbs out of the way the Wallsend Harrier - coached by Paddy Dinsmore - kept up the pressure to celebrate in his usual customary way approaching the finishing line nine seconds clear of Middlesex pair David Stone, the South of England champion, and Jem O'Flaherty as Wellington and Keen paid dearly for their early efforts to come home in fifth and ninth place respectively.

Charlton, who was naturally overwhelmed with his latest success, admitted he was ready for a break after an unbeatable campaign which saw him lift the North East Counties XC title back in December at Wrekenton; the Northern XC Championship at Pontefract in January, the National XC Championship at Leeds in February and prior to his latest success, the Inter-Counties XC Championship at Loughborough earlier in the month, his successes having cross-country buffs searching the record books to see if that has ever been achieved before.

"I had an easy week, just ticking over really after the Inter-Counties,'' said Charlton. "Naturally, I went into the race with a lot of confidence but was cagey that tiredness could be a major factor as the race unfolded. However, that didn't happen and the longer the race went, surprisingly, the more relaxed I felt and it was just a case of waiting patiently before making a move to the front. It's been a huge roller-coaster season and I've learnt a lot competing against the best cross-country runners in the country and I have to thank everyone at Wallsend, their support has been amazing throughout, Paddy has guided me all the way and I'm ever grateful for that and of course my parents, my grandparents who braved the horrendous weather today to cheer me on, I'm so thankful for everything. Now, I'm having a couple of weeks off before building up for the track season and if I do just half as well in the summer than I'll be more than happy!''

Despite Charlton's victory, Northumberland just missed out on a team medal finishing in fourth place from the 38 counties who closed in. Ross Charlton (29th) and Daniel Melling (4nd) were Northumberland's next scorers as Durham finished in 37th place with Ben Horsfield leading them home in 108th position.

The junior and intermediate age group races had much more at stake with a top-eight finish guaranteeing a place in the English Schools' team for this coming weekend's Schools' International Cross-Country Championships which are being held in Santry Park, Dublin.
And it's a delight to report that the North East will have two athletes on the plane for Ireland after superb performances in the junior boys two-lap 4,100 metres contest. 

It was Durham's Chris Perkins who set out his stall from the gun taking an early lead with Lewis Sullivan (Sussex) and Northumberland's Josh Blevins in attendance as the trio quickly opened up a gap over their 300-plus rivals. At one stage Blevins eased into the lead before it was Sullivan's turn to take up the role of leader. Sullivan's injection of pace immediately caught out Perkins (Birtley) and it was Blevins (North Shields Poly) who was on Sullivan's shoulder going into the final kilometre. However, it was the Suffolk runner who proved the strongest going into the final stages as Blevins, having arguably his finest race ever, hanging on gamely for a superb silver medal to finish just nine seconds adrift of the new champion. Perkins, meanwhile, looked as though he had picked up an injury as he slipped back down the field to finish in sixth place thankfully though, to add his name to the England team for Dublin. Hopefully Perkins will be fully fit for the trip as it's not every year you get the opportunity to don an England vest!

Behind Blevins Will Collinson and Tom Slane had their own private battle to be Northumberland's second counter with the former prevailing finishing 30th two places ahead of his team-mate as the county finished in 11th position out of the 45 counties who closed in.

While Blevins and Perkins did more than enough to make the international match, spare a thought for Northumberland's Ines Curran who lined up in the intermediate girls 3,710 metres contest. Despite being up to seventh at one stage the Gateshead Harrier eventually slipped back to finish in 11th place. However, it was later learned that England were going to take 10 athletes so it was by a matter of just one second that she missed out on automatic selection! Being named as reserve is scant reward for another superb cross-country performance by the teenager. Durham got the better of their local rivals on this occasion finishing in eighth place with both Emily Chong and Amy Leonard finishing inside the top 50 in 38th and 45th positions respectively.

Durham also got the better of Northumberland in the intermediate boys 5,220 metres contest finishing 18th, two places ahead. Will Bellamy was first home for Durham in 30th postion while Tom Balsdon was Northumberland's leading finisher in 38th place.
In the junior girls 3,710 metres championship Durham's Katie Francis (Durham) and Millicent Breeze (Northumberland) did the region proud finishing in 19th and 23rd place respectively with Francis just 12 seconds away from a top-10 place. Durham, who also had Erin Keeler-Clarke (44th) and Lucy Scothern (53rd), finished in ninth place while Northumberland were 20th with Abigail Leiper their second counter after Breeze in 69th place.

Both Durham and  Northumberland didn't return home empty handed with Durham picking up the Sidney Rose Trophy while Northumberland received the Group D Trophy.

Photos : Adrian Royle & Dave Woodhead

Sunday 17 March 2019

Start Fitness NEHL Presentation 2019

Hi Folks, The presentation of trophies for the 2018-19 Season will take place at Start Fitness Newcastle - Camber Coffee, on the 11th of April 5:30 for 6pm.

33-35 Market St, Newcastle upon Tyne NE1 6JE

Many congratulations to the season's winners!

Please let us know if you cannot attend

U13 Boys
Bronze - Ryan Davies, Morpeth 3994
Silver - Brandon Pye, Houghton 3997
Gold - Tom Slane, Blackhill 4000

U13 Girls
Bronze - Alice Lewis, Gosforth 3993
Bronze - Freya Gibson, Durham City 3993
Silver - Charlotte Dillon, Durham City 3996
Gold - Freya Clarkson, Chester-le-St 3998

U15 Boys
Bronze - Josh Blevins, North Shields Poly 3995
Silver - Charlie Daley, Tynedale 3996
Gold - Christopher Perkins, Birtley 4000

U15 Girls
Bronze - Emily Chong, Chester-le-St 3993
Silver - Millie Breese, Alnwick 3994
Gold - Ines Curran, Gateshead 3999

U17 Boys
Bronze - Josh Fiddaman, Blyth 3990
Silver - Will Bellamy, Houghton 3995
Gold - Daniel Melling, Morpeth 3996

U17&20 Women
Bronze - Eva Hardie, Houghton 3993
Silver - Rhian Purves, Gosforth 3996
Gold - Holly Peck, Morpeth 4000

Senior Men
Bronze - Conrad Franks, Gateshead 3987
Silver - Dan Jenkin, Durham City 3988
Gold - Adrian Bailes, Birtley 3994

Senior Women
Bronze - Fiona Brannan, Elvet 3986
Silver - Danielle Smythe, Heaton 3993
Gold - Emma Holt, Morpeth 3998

Masters Men
Bronze - Al Johnson, Gosforth 3990
Silver - Carl Chapman, Crook 3996
Gold - Darren Purvis, Birtley 3998

Masters Women
Bronze - Jane Giles, Gatehsead 3989
Silver - Gemma Bradley, Saltwell 3994
Gold - Alice Smith, Sunderland Harriers 3998

Winning Teams

U13 Girls - Durham City
U13 Boys - Morpeth Harriers
U15 Girls - Birtley AC
U15 Boys - Morpeth Harriers
U17&20 Women - Morpeth Harriers
U17 Boys - Morpeth Harriers

Senior Women
Division 1 - Gateshead Harriers
Division 2 - Gosforth Harriers
Division 3 - Wallsend Harriers

Senior Men
Division 1 - Morpeth Harriers
Division 2 - North Shields Poly
Division 3 - Ponteland Runners

Tuesday 12 March 2019

Cross County News by Bill McGuirk - INTERCOUNTIES


WHAT a day the North East had at a wind-swept Inter-Counties Cross-Country Championships held under the backdrop of Prestwold Hall, Loughborough where it seemed the region's athletes were constantly being called to make their way to the presentation area.

The 10-race programme opened with the under-20 men's event run over a distance of 8,000m with the undulating course mainly mud-free, a huge contrast to when the championships were held at the same venue the previous year.

Included in the North East team, which was depleted through injury and illness, was newly-crowned National XC champion Rory Leonard (Morpeth) so, with the race being used as a Trial for the forthcoming World XC Championships in Denmark, a huge weight was on his young shoulders despite having lifted the under-17 title on the same course 12 months previously.

With strong winds blowing across the downs it wasn't surprising that no one wanted to take up the running which resulted in a huge bunch of athletes still in contention at the completion of the first of two laps and while Leornard was sensibly content to abide his time team-mate Josh Cowperthwaite (Middlesbrough Mandale) was battling away just to keep in touch at the rear of the group. Going up the steepest climb on the course for a second time South of England champion Zakariya Mahamed made the first significant move which saw the group break up slightly though Leonard was still in a good position a few metres behind however, despite the momentum increase Cowperthwaite didn't give any more ground on the uphill stretch.

After hitting the brow of the hill there were still a dozen athletes together with Cowperthwaite languishing in 15th place. The fast downhill section eventually saw the group begin to split significantly and by the base of the hill the leading group had been reduced to three with Leonard amongst them and Cowperthwaite moving up into 11th place around 80 metres adrift as the field disappeared out of view into a wooded section of the course. Things changed dramatically when the athletes came back into view as Wrexham's Matt Willis had opened up a huge lead with Leonard and Mahamed next to appear, amazingly, just a few metres ahead of Cowperthwaite, what a huge surprise that was to everyone lining the course, where did he find that improvement from!

Willis was now well clear and on his way to victory but, after a 7k slog, the battle for the minor placings was really hotting up with just a few metres separating the trio of Leonard, Mahamed and Cowperthwaite - Josh got onto Rory's shoulder at one point - going into the final 400 metres. And to the delight of all the North East supporters who had travelled to the East Midlands, it was the gold vests of Leornard, who finished bloodied and bruised after being spiked, and Cowperthwaite who would step onto the podium to not only to receive their silver and bronze medals respectively but also claim the two remaining automatic places in the GB team for the World Cross-Country Championships at the end of the month.

Leonard and Cowperthaite were quickly called back to the presentation area when it was announced that the North East team had finished runners-up behind Yorkshire with just 10 points separating the two Northern Counties in the four-to-score contest. Backing up the new World cross-country representatives were Morpeth's Kieran Hedley, who finished in a superb 23rd place just over a minute behind Cowperthaite, and Middlesbrough Mandale's Ben Bergstrand, who finished in 46th position. A special mention here goes to Blyth's Joe Wren who answered team manager Stewy Bell's call at the 11th-hour and, in his first-ever county call-up, backed up the medal-winning quartet by finishing 161st.

From unknown to unstoppable - link to RunJumpThrow

The crowd was still buzzing when the under-13 boys were called up by the starter for their 3k event which had over 300 competitors on the start line and it was Houghton's Brandon Pye who had the honour of being first NE athlete home in 26th place, albeit just one position ahead of Tom Slane (Blackhill Bounders) with the duo being credited with the same time of 12min 38secs. Ryan Davies (Morpeth) was the next scorer in 30th place, two seconds adrift of Pye and Slane as Gosforth's Ethan Bond completed the scoring quartet in 89th spot to close in the team in fifth place. The county's none-scorers were: 108th Nathaniel Henderson (Tynedale); 117th Sam Terry (Durham City); 242nd Alex Bowyer (Darlington).

The senior women were next up and they faced a journey of 10k for the very first time as the championships followed the IAAF ruling of the men and women should contest the same distance. And it was Shildon's double European XC Championship silver medalist Kate Avery who proved the star performer as far as the county is concerned. Avery was always in contention, together with Morpeth's Mhairi MacLennon who was running for Scotland East District, in the leading group and it wasn't until the final kilometre that the duo dropped away as Jenny Nesbitt (Worcestershire) and Jess Piasecki (Gtr Manchester) upped the pace in the final uphill section. MacLennon, the Northern champion, and Avery were shoulder-to-shoulder battling for the final podium place and it was the Scotland athlete who proved the stronger in the closing stages with her determination bringing her to within one second of Piasecki at the line. Avery, meanwhile, finished a comfortable fourth to lead the North East to a superb third place in the team contest behind Yorkshire and Essex.
Twelve months earlier Josh Blevins (North Shields Poly) finished runner-up in the under-13 championship and though he was one of the youngest after moving up into the under-15 contest he still showed excellent form to be first NE finisher in 16th place over the 4k course just over 30 seconds adrift of a podium place. Tynedale's Charlie Daley did ever so well to be second counter after not arriving at the hotel until 3am after his father's car had a blow out on the motorway. Thankfully, a sleepless night didn't effect Daley's run too much as he finished in 37th place out of a field of over 300, Darlington's Adam Russell was the county's next scorer in 44th place with Gateshead's Ethan McGlen completing the four-to-score team contest in 51st place which left the NE finishing just short of a medal spot in fifth place. Middlesbrough Mandale's Max Creasey, Gateshead's David Race, North Shields Poly's Oliver Douglas and Ben Walker (Morpeth) also competed finishing 63rd, 147th, 215th and 269th respectively.

Avery was backed up superbly by Heaton's Danielle Smythe in 42nd place; Gosforth's Helen Warburton was 50th, former Gosforth athlete Rachel Lundgren, now running for Hallamshire, was 56th; followed by Morpeth pair Emma Holt and Catriona MacDonald, the pair completing the scoring six in 59th and 109th places respectively. Completing the NE squad were county debutantes Hannah Wood (Low Fell) and Brigid Dennehy (Gateshead) who crossed the line in 109th and 113th places respectively with Sunderland's Alice Smith finishing 181st.

picture by Peter Lundgren

Next up was the under-17 women's contest over 5k and it proved to be a resounding success for Darlington's India Pentland after finishing runner-up in the National at Leeds two weeks earlier. Pentland, who finished in bronze medal position last year, was in control throughout before making a move to the front in the closing stages to pull away from her main rival, South of England champion Tia Wilson who had also finished behind her in fourth place in the National. Despite losing her footing in the finishing straight, Pentland had opened up a significant gap which she stretched to 12 seconds at the line to claim a magnificent victory. Afterwards, a happy Pentland, who originally told team manager Lynn Cooper that she was concentrating on the English Schools' XC Championships - which take place this weekend in Leeds - and would give the Inter-Counties a miss, said: "I'm so happy to have won. I wanted it so much today after finishing second in the National.''

Morpeth's Holly Peck, another first year at under-17, was the next NE counter in 25th place with Houghton pair Anna Pigford (65th) and Lydia James (67th) completing the scoring quartet with the team again finishing in fifth place with a total of 158 points, just eight points more than bronze medallists Berkshire. The NE team was completed with Houghton's Eva Hardie, who was 76th; Gateshead's Chloe Wellings (93rd); Darlington's Catherine Roberts (97th) and Gosforth's Rebecca Wren who finished 167th.

The under-20 women's championship opened the second half of the day's proceedings and it was Gosforth's Rhian Purves who led the region's charge finishing in 20th place. New Marske's Eli Barnbrook was the next county's scorer crossing the line in 46th place. Sunderland's Sarah Knight and Jarrow and Hebburn's Emily Jones completed the scoring quartet in 59th and 101st places respectively. Sunderland's Eve Quinn, Morpeth's Gracie Hufton and Sunderland's Hayley Dobinson were also in action finishing 112th, 124th and 144th respectively. 

It was a cavalry charge when the under-13 girls 3k contest got underway and it was Blackhill's Hannah Bowyer who led the region's challenge finishing in a respectable 54th place out of the 307 finishers. Second counter for the NE was Middlesbrough Mandale's Zoe Hill in 57th place with team-mate Emma McNeil next home in 65th position. Durham City's Freya Gibson completed the scoring four in 81st spot to give the team a total of 257 points to finish in 12th place from the 40 teams who finished. Durham City's Charlotte Dillon finished 83rd; Eden Creasey and Isobel Herbert (both Middlesbrough Mandale)were 87th and 97th respectively with Gosforth's Alice Lewis finishing well inside halfway in 118th place.

Photo by Anna Lewis

The under-17 men's championship got underway three hours after the opening event and it was worth waiting for especially if you were a North East supporter. Unbeknown to many observers Sam Charlton (Wallsend) only decided to take his place on the start line two days before the race due to picking up a heavy cold. However, the decision to take his chance proved a worthy decision as he stormed home to a six-second victory and relegate Scottish champion Hamish Armitt into the runners-up spot. 

Due to the strong winds, Charlton, who often takes up front-running duties, decided to sit in the leading bunch on this occasion until taking the lead when it mattered with the finish line in sight. The Scottish athlete had made a decisive bid for glory going into the second of two circuits and at one stage it looked as though his bravery would pay off as he opened up a significant lead of around 30 metres at the brow of the final steep climb. And, it was Charlton who decided to give chase pulling along another half-dozen of his rivals. On the fast decent Armitt was still at the head of affairs but it was Yorkshire's Joshua Dickinson and Mohamed Ali (Middlesex) who were closest with Charlton appearing to feel the effects of his effort in chasing the leader down. 

With just over a mile to go the leaders went out of view but when they returned Charlton was just metres behind Armitt and Dickinson with Ali slipping out of contention. "Yes, it may have been the effects of the cold I had earlier in the week but when we were down to three I knew then that I was in with a chance of a medal and no way was Josh going to get the better of me for I beat him in both the Northern and National Championships. I think the determination at that point in the race gave me the confidence to take my chance and go for it on the final short incline before the home straight. I have to say I was on my knees, it was tougher than the National, and the finish line could not come quick enough. It was a lovely feeling though breaking the finishing tape after having doubts midway during the race.''

Charlton, who donned his favourite black t-shirt under his race vest - aka Mike McLeod - came home in his customary manner with a Shearer-like arm celebration to warm applause especially from family and friends who had made the trip to support him. Gateshead's Charlie McMillan, after a cautious start, worked his way through the field to finish in an excellent 24th place in what is arguably his best performance of the winter, Middlesbrough's Archie Lowe, in his first year at under-17 level, was next NE counter in 33rd spot with Houghton's Henry Johnson completing the scoring quartet in 38th place to give the team a total of 97 points just seven points adrift of third-placed Yorkshire. Morpeth duo Ross Charlton and Daniel Dixon finished 40th and 46th respectively with Middlesbrough's Jack Creasey finishing 71st and Houghton's Will Bellamy 78th.

The under-15 girls 4k championship was the penultimate event on the programme and it proved hugely profitable for the North East. Led by ninth-placed Ines Curran, the team came out on top in the four-to-score contest relegating Scotland West into second place by one point with the Scotland East team completing the one-two-three. Curran ran a superb race and was up to sixth place at one point as the 300-plus field wound it's way around the undulating countryside. Despite dropping a couple of places in the closing stages Curran finished just 29 seconds outside an individual podium position. Helping the NE claim first team were Houghton's Amy Leonard, who was 25th, Katie Francis (Birtley) who was 29th and 42nd-placed Emily Chong of Chester-le-Street. It was a superb team performance ably backed up by the other four members Millie Breeze (Alnwick) who finished 63rd, Chester-le-Street's Lucy Scothern (112th), Blaydon's Cecelia Reid (115th) and Middlesbrough's Lois Creasey who finished 162nd.

Katie Francis - Photo by Tom Millmore

U15 Gold winning team - Photo by Tom Millmore

Katie Francis - Photo by Tom Millmore

What a great season Carl Avery has had and after picking up a silver medal in the Northern and a bronze medal in the National the Morpeth athlete gave his all to finish in seventh place in the senior men's 10k event, the final race on the programme. Avery was always in contention until the final stages when the gaps eventually appeared ahead of him. Nevertheless, at the line he was only 27 seconds away from making another appearance on the podium. It was a real gutsy performance which augurs well with international call-ups certainly on the horizon. The NE has a great tradition in the senior men's race having won the team race on many occasions. However, it wasn't to be this time round and the county had to be content with sixth place in the six-to-score event and third place in the nine-to-score listings.

Gateshead's Calum Johnson, having his first cross-country outing of the winter, bravely fought his way through the field after a sluggish start to finish 19th while evergreen Phil Wylie (Cheltenham) was next scorer in 30th place. County champion Greg Jayasuriya (Middlesbrough and Cleveland) was next home in 50th spot followed by Birtley's Adrien Bailes in 96th with late call-up Finn Brodie (Tyne Bridge) completing the six scorers in 101st place. The scoring six were backed up by Kieran Walker (Middlesbrough) who was 105th, Gateshead's Conrad Franks (112th) and another athlete who answered a late call, Jordan Scott (Morpeth) who was 158th.

An exceptional days sport saw the North East shine once again and it's thanks to managers Lynn Cooper and Stewy Bell, together with the selectors and the cross-country committee for making it a huge success.



Under-17 Women: India Pentland (Darlington)

Under-17 Men: Sam Charlton (Wallsend)
Under-15 Girls team: Ines Curran (Gateshead), Amy Leonard (Houghton), Katie Francis (Birtley), Emily Chong (Chester-le-Street)


Under-20 Men: Rory Leornard (Morpeth)

Under-20 Mens team: Rory Leonard, Josh Cowperthwaite (Middlesbrough Mandale), Kieran Hedley (Morpeth), Ben Bergstrand (Middlesbrough Mandale)


Under-20 Men: Josh Cowperthwaite

Senior Women team: Kate Avery (Shildon), Danielle Smyth (Heaton), Helen Warburton (Gosforth), Rachel Lundgren (Hallamshire), Emma Holt (Morpeth), Catriona MacDonald (Morpeth)


KATE AVERY, together with Mhairi MacLennan, have been named in the GB&NI senior women's team for the World Cross-Country Championships in Denmark at the end of the months and they will be joined by Rory Leonard and Josh Cowperthwaite who will line up in the junior men's championship

Photos: Adrian Royle

Sunday 3 March 2019

Cross Country News by Bill McGuirk - NEHL Alnwick


THEY turned out in their hundreds, competitors and spectators alike, to take in the superb surroundings of Alnwick Pastures, a picturesque course set out by host club Alnwick Harriers under the backdrop of the town's Alnwick Castle.

Dubbed the 'Windsor of the North', Alnwick Castle 'welcomed' William the Lion, King of Scotland on two occasions during the late 12th Century who, at the Battle of Alnwick, was captured outside the Walls.

However, it was a much warmer welcome that awaited the arrival of legions of competitors, friends and families this time round for the final fixture of the Start Fitness North Eastern Harrier League and while there was a lot at stake when William took on the might of the North the showdown was just as competitive with numerous individual and league placings to sort out after a superb cross-country season which opened back in September with Saltwell Harriers' promotion at Wrekenton.

Prudhoe Plodders U11 girls finish their first season

Once again the under-11 'Try Cross-Country' events opened the programme and the future generation of cross-country runners was there in abundance and it was pleasing to see West Jesmond Junior School having representatives on the start line in both the boys and girls contests mixing in with established club runners.

A huge line of spectators line the finishing straight encouraging their favouites on

The under-11 boys were the first to face the starter and it turned out to be another victory for North Shields Poly's Zac Brannon winning in a time of 3min 55secs. Young Zac completed a clean-sweep of victories adding to his previous six successes during the season. Morpeth's Oliver Tomlinson finished runner-up 10 seconds behind the winner with Tynedale's Jem Henderson completing the medalists a further eight second adrift.

U11 winner Zac Brannon

The under-11 girls were next in action contesting the same 1,000 metres course and again it was another unbeaten campaign for Elswick's Poppy Wilde who, like Zac, won all seven events starting at Wrekenton followed by wins at Druridge Bay, Gosforth Park, Akley Heads and Thornley Hill Farm and also the Sherman Cup fixture at Temple Park. Poppy's winning time of 4:15 at Alnwick would have placed her fourth in the boys race and she was followed home by Birtley's Daisy Graham (4:21) and North Shields Poly's Katy Otterson (4:24). The boys event attracted 57 competitors with 62 lining up in the girls contest with each and everyone being loudly encouraged all the way to the line.

Next up it was the turn of the under-17 men and, with the it being the final fixture it wasn't surprising that the handicap would be of no significance and though it proved though it wasn't until the final 400 metres that Daniel Dixon (Morpeth) managed to overhaul long-time leader Oliver Gabriele (Gosforth) from a two-minute penalty. At the line three seconds separated the duo with Daniel covering the 2.6-mile course in an actual time of 13:02. Houghton's Will Bellamy, also running from the fast pack, finished in third place nine seconds behind Oliver who, like Daniel, was having his first taste of harrier league action this season. 

It could not have been closer as far as the individual standings were concerned with Daniel's Morpeth team-mate eventually leading the way home winning by one point from Will with Blyth's Josh Fiddaman finishing in third place a further five points adrift. In the team stakes Morpeth came out on top for the third consecutive year heading Houghton by three points having won three of the six fixtures while, Blaydon, who won at Thornley, finished in third spot.

u17 men's fast pack

The combined under-17/20 women attracted 26 starters and also faced a distance of 2.6-mile but on this occasion the handicap proved to be no problem for Morpeth's Holly Peck, Giving away two minutes start to the slow pack and one minute to the mediums, Holly, who has lined-up in all six fixtures this season, worked her way gradually through to move into the lead with the finishing line in sight after overtaking medium pack runner Newcastle University student Erin Gallagher in the home straight. Morpeth's Robyn Bennett, also running from the fast pack closed within two seconds of the runner-up to claim the third place medal. 

Holly's win, her fourth of the season, led her to winning the overall individual award after finishing four points ahead of Gosforth's Rhian Purves with Eva Hardie (Houghton) a further three points behind in third place. Morpeth duly lifted the team title finishing seven points clear of Houghton with third-placed Gosforth just one point further behind.

Morpeth's Holly Peck

The under-15 boys contest over a distance of 2-mile saw 51 contestants and it was Morpeth's Sam Tate who took full advantage of his 1min 40sec handicap as he came home 43 seconds clear of fast pack runner Chris Perkins of Birtley with Josh Blevins (North Shields Poly), also running from the fasts, finishing third a further 11 seconds behind.

Sam Tate - Morpeth Harriers
Sam Tate - Morpeth Harriers

It was Chris's fourth harrier league outing of the season and it was his fourth leading time which saw him finish on maximum points to lift the individual title four points clear of Tynedale's Charlie Daley, winner at Gosforth Park, with Josh completing the leading one-two-three a further point behind. In the overall team positions Morpeth won the title for the fourth consecutive year finishing with 14 points seven ahead of Durham City with Gosforth finishing in third place a further eight points adrift.

The 1min 40sec handicap proved no problem for the first two finishers in the under-15 girls 2-mile contest which had 62 starters. Birtley's Elizabeth McKinnon and Gosforth's Ruby Nelson, running from the slow pack, were the early leaders but were run down in the closing stages as first Katie Francis (Birtley) and then home-base Millie Breeze, both running from the fast pack, eased past to finish in first and second places with a gap of seven seconds separating the pair at the line. Elizabeth just hung on to claim third place with the timing system giving her the same time as Ruby. 

Katie Francis, Birtley AC
Birtley's juniors

Despite missing the Alnwick fixture Gateshead's Ines Curran had enough points in hand to claim the overall individual title finishing five points clear of Mille with Chester-le-Street's Emily Chong finishing in third place just one point further behind. The team title wasn't sorted until the last fixture and it was Birtley who finally came out on top pipping North Shields Poly by five points with Morpeth finishing in third place a further three points behind.

The under-13 boys, of which there were 66 starters, also faced a 2-mile circuit and again the 1min 40sec handicap was no difficulty for the leading two finishers. North Shields Poly's Olly Hayes was a long-time leader before being overhauled by Ryan Davies (Morpeth) and Houghton's Brandon Pye. Ryan went on to win by 11 seconds with Brendon just getting the better of Olly by three seconds to claim the silver medal. 

Under 13 boys start

Ryan Davies [461]

The overall individual title however, went to Blackhill Bounders' Tom Slane who won the opening four fixtures scoring maximum points to finish three points ahead of Brandon with Ryan claiming third place. Morpeth claimed the overall team title with a clear-cut victory as winning at Alnwick was their fifth of the campaign. Durham City finished in second place with Gateshead third.

The biggest field of the day as far as the junior races were concerned came in the under-13 girls 2-mile event which saw 78 finishers with once again the first two home defying a 1min 40sec penalty. In the early stages Elswick's Isabella Russell was leading together with Lucy Hayes (Houghton), Molly Baker (Morpeth) and North Shields Poly's Madeline Surtees. However, they were overtaken by Hannah Bowyer (Blackhill) and Durham City's Freya Gibson with Hannah going on to win comfortably by 17 seconds. Freya finished runner-up with Isabella finishing a close-up third. 

However, the overall  individual title went to Chester-le-Street's Freya Clarkson, winner of the opening three fixtures, who finished two points clear of Durham City's Charlotte Dillon with Freya Gibson and Gosforth's Alice Lewis finishing on the same number of points in third position.

In the u13's team grand prix Durham won, with Gateshead and Gosforth coming in second & third.

The senior women's 4-mile event over two laps saw 439 finishers and it was a triumph for front-running Gina Howorth of Elswick who took advantage of a 5-minute handicap over the fast pack. Gina was quickly in her stride at the head of affairs followed a short distance behind by Rachel Adamson (Tyne Bridge) and the duo were never headed as they came home in first and second place, Gina eventually won by 21 seconds with Gateshead's Brigid Dennehy working her way through from the medium pack to claim third place. 

Gina Howorth, Elswick Harriers

Gina Howorth, Elswick Harriers

Fastest on the course was the in-form Danielle Smythe (Heaton) who, running from the fast pack, managed to weave through the huge field to finish in sixth position. Despite by-passing the fixture Morpeth's Emma Holt was once again crowned individual champion with Danielle, who was third last year, finishing runner-up and Elvet's Fiona Brannen completing the one-two-three.

An exciting climax to the league season saw Gateshead lift the Division One title ahead of Heaton with Sunderland & Alnwick unfortunately, relegated to Division Two for next season. Taking their place in Division One are Gosforth & Elswick while relegated to Division Three are Claremont & Crook. Moving up to Division Two are Wallsend & Washington.

As is customary, the senior men's six-mile contest was the final event on the programme and it attracted a record Alnwick entry with the rolling hills attracting 543 finishers. Blyth's Joe Woods led throughout taking full advantage of a 5-minute handicap over the fast pack and two-and-a-half minute start over the medium pack. Lee Gifford (Tyne Bridge) was in second place, a position he still occupied at the finish as David Green, running from the medium pack, managed to overtake fellow North Shields Poly team-mate Adam Smith in the closing stages to complete the podium places. 

Joseph Woods towards the end of lap 1 (photo Ben Heathcote)

Joeseph Woods on the right, with his training partner Joseph Dungworth.

Joseph Woods (lap 3) passes (lap 2) MV70 runners Barry Pascoe & Mike Gill

Fastest on the course was Birtley's Adrian Bailes who worked is way through the huge field to finish in fifth place. Adrian's run was certainly important as it moved him into pole position in the individual overall rankings where he eventually finished six points clear of Durham City's Dan Jenkin with Conrad Franks claiming the third individual spot. 

Conrad Franks & Adrian Bailes

The league affair was another Division One success for Morpeth who retained their title by finishing five points clear of Tyne Bridge with Gateshead finishing in third place while after a ding-dong encounter where three clubs were in danger of relegation it was Jarrow and Hebburn and Gosforth who face the drop after Wallsend had pulled out all the stops to get everyone out - one wit, who shall be nameless claiming they must have scanned every page of the telephone directory to get so many on the start line - which paid dividends so much so they live to fight another day in the top division. 

North Shields Poly were clear winners of Division Two and, after winning five of the six fixtures, are duly promoted. However, the fight for the second spot could not have been tighter with the final league table showing Blaydon in second place on 25 points the same number of South Shields with Birtley one point further adrift in fourth position.

It was also extremely close in the relegation dog fight with Saltwell going down together with Sedgefield as Low Fell managed to get the better of their rivals on the final day. Ponteland Runners will take their place in Division Two for the first time in their short history after topping Division Three with Crook also joining them next season.

Full results for Alnwick and the Grand Prix

Competitors will be pleased to know that they will be back at Alnwick not once but twice next winter when the club not only host a harrier league fixture but also the North Eastern Counties Cross-Country Championships, which will celebrate 25 years of the European Cross-Country Championships, the first, and the second, of which were held on a course as close to the castle as possible.

Overall, the season has been another huge success with over 8,000 competitors lining up over the seven fixtures so it's a big thank you  to everyone who has had an input. To the hosting clubs Saltwell, South Shields, Blyth, Gosforth, Derwentside, Blackhill Bounders and, of course, Alnwick, without their support there wouldn't be the best cross-country league in the country, to the league committee and all the officials and marshalls, a huge thank you and especially to every competitor, old and not so old, fast and not so fast, who make the league what it is and finally a word of thanks to Start Fitness the league sponsors for their continued backing which is greatly appreciated. 

The season may be over - there's still the presentations to come - for another year but already things are moving to sort out next season's fixtures and dates that's what this league does to keep ahead of the game!

Photos: Stuart Whitman, Steven Millen, & Darren Fairclough