Tuesday 18 February 2020

NECAA Royal Signals Relays Report


FOR once the weatherman was a bit off course with his threat of Storm Dennis hitting the region which was a huge blessing to over 700 competitors who ventured to Hetton Country Park for the annual Signals North Eastern Counties Road Relay Championships.

There was a hint of rain and a strong wind throughout proceedings but on the whole athletes were just happy to be back in competitive mode after a two-week interlude due to fixtures being cancelled.

And it was Morpeth and Gateshead who were celebrating at the end of the day after running out victorious to claim the men’s and women’s senior titles respectively while North Shields Poly claimed the Masters title.

RACE 1 - SNR W, W35+ & M50

First up was the four-stage women’s and over-50 men’s contest with close on 100 runners on the start line for the first leg of two winding circuits of the park.

At the first changeover it was Gateshead’s women’s team who led thanks to  a superb 12min 25sec stint by  Chloe Wellings who had a six-second cushion over Crook’s Peter Clough with Keith Smith (Tyne Bridge) four seconds back in third place. North Shields Poly’s Greg Penn was a further 14 seconds adrift in fourth place. Elswick (Amy Fuller) were second women’s team and Morpeth (Robyn Bennett) were in third place.

On stage two Gillian Manford kept Gateshead in the lead in the women’s contest with Morpeth (Rachelle Falloon) recording the same time as the leader of 12:51. Elswick (Hannah Tumia) were now back in third position with Tyne Bridge (Mairi Clancy) fourth ahead of Darlington who made a forward move thanks to Louise Talman.

Tyne Bridge moved into the lead in the men’s contest thanks to Dave Moir’s 13:05 but Sunderland were just four seconds adrift thanks to the fastest stage time of 12:34 by Michael Thompson. North Shields Poly (Gary Robson) were now back in third place a further five seconds adrift of the Wearsiders.

On the penultimate stage the men’s lead changed again as North Shields Poly’s star performer, Guy Bracken, in clocking the fastest time of the day of 11:49, moved the coast outfit into pole position and in doing so he was the only athlete to dip under 12 minutes throughout the contest. Tyne Bridge were now in second place over a minute behind the leaders after Richard Tailford’s 13:06 leg with Sunderland (Darren Fletcher) in third spot and Elswick (Jason Old) a close up third.  

In the women’s section Gateshead continued to lead thanks to Jane Giles’ leg of 14:26. Morpeth shaved three seconds off the leader’s advantage due to Michelle Thompson with Elswick (Suzannah Fielding) in third place going into the final leg. Darlington were in fourth position but being closed down rapidly by North Shields Poly.

Winding down her preparation for the Tokyo Marathon Aly Dixon (Sunderland Strollers) was impressive in posting the fastest overall women’s time of the day of 12:06.

The Poly had over a minute advantage going into the final stage but despite a huge effort by club captain Vaughan Hemy he was overtaken midway through the second lap by Steve Cairns (Tyne Bridge) who had overturned the deficit into a winning run by over 30 seconds. Elswick, thanks to Mark Turnbull’s effort of 13:06, came home in third place 10 seconds ahead of Sunderland with the Wearsider’s second quartet pushing them all the way to the finish to claim fifth spot. 

Teenager Ines Curran didn’t sit back as she extended Gateshead’s lead to over a minute in the women’s event over Morpeth (Jane Hodgson) with Darlington making it into a medal position for the first time thanks to Bernadette Caygill with North Shields Poly finishing fourth and Elswick fifth.

It had been a gripping contest lasting just under an hour. However, there was still a matter of presenting the awards and, lo and behold, it was found that the winning men’s team, Tyne Bridge, were to be disqualified due to a technicality concerning the eligibility of one of their athletes which, naturally, came as a huge disappointment to not only the club’s four runners, but to everyone connected with the club. So the winning medals went to North Shields Poly, with Elswick moving into second place and Sunderland up into third.

Senior Women
Gold - Gateshead. Wellings (u20), Manford (35), Giles (50), Curran (u17)
Silver - Morpeth.  Bennett (u20), Falloon, Thompson (35), Hodgson (35)
Bronze - Darlington. Plaschkes, Talman (35), Pickworth (35), Caygill (40)

Masters Women (35+)
Gold - North Shields Poly. McManus (40), Maley (40), Thew (45), Coleman (40)
Silver - Crook.  Teesdale (35), Beckett (35), Farquhar (50), Raine (35)
Bronze - Sunderland Strollers.  Elliot (60), Valentine (65), Dixon (40), Ball (35)

Masters Men (50+)
Gold - North Shields Poly. Penn (55), Robson (50), Bracken (55), Hemy (50)
Silver - Elswick.  Hardy (50), Connelly (50), Old (50), Turnbull (50)
Bronze - Sunderland Harriers. Field (50), Thompson (50), Fletcher (50), Blenkinsop (50) 


Sunderland were the defending champions after breaking the Morpeth stranglehold on the event last year when the six-stage championship was held in mid-summer. However, both teams were not at full strength which gave other cubs the chance of taking a scalp or two.

And that certainly was evident on the opening leg when Houghton teenager Henry Johnson came home in pole position in 10:34, a time which was to prove to be the fastest overall of the day. Sunderland were in second place through Liam Taylor who was the only other athlete to dip under 11 minutes (10:55) on the opening stage. 

Darlington (Livia Ionita) were third, followed by Morpeth (Kieran Hedley) were in fourth place followed by North Shields Poly (David Green). Morpeth moved into the lead on stage two through Taylor Glover where they had an eight-seconds lead over Houghton (Lee Dover) with Gateshead (Conrad Franks) now in third place two seconds further adrift. Sunderland were fourth, followed by North Shields Poly and New Marske whose Lewis Gamble-Thompson posted the fastest stage time of 10:53. 

Morpeth continued to lead by the half-way point after Dan Melling’s stint as past-winners Gateshead moved into second place after David Race’s leading stage time of 11:13. Houghton (Jonny Evans) were now in third place followed by Sunderland (Michal Barker) and Darlington (Daniel Bowyer).

It was still the Northumbrians in charge as Rowan Bennett brought them to the penultimate changeover. They were 23 seconds clear of second-placed Gateshead (Ethan McGlen) with Houghton still in third place (Sam Gibson). Sunderland (Steve Rankin) were just two seconds back in fourth position followed by New Marske whose Dean Newton posted the fastest stage time of 10:58. Sam Hancox has been off the scene for a number of weeks through injury but he returned to form to extend Morpeth’s lead on leg five by posting the fastest stage time of 11:04 as Charlie Daley retained Gateshead’s second spot though 47 seconds back. 

The battle for the medals was certainly hotting up with Houghton (Chris Coulson) still in third place albeit just three seconds ahead of Nathan Reed representing the defending champions.

Adam Pratt, who had competed in Armagh less than 48 hours earlier was given the honour of contesting the glory leg for Morpeth and though a wee bit weary he still managed to bring the Northmbrians home to a comfortable victory by over a minute.

The battle for the minor awards could not have been closer as Michael Wilson (Sunderland) and Houghton’s Will Bellamy were eye-balls out coming down the finishing straight and it was the blue-vested Wilson who just got his nose in front on the line with the timekeepers unable to split them. Three seconds had separated the pair when they set off and it was Wilson’s 10:43, the second fastest overall, that managed to get the verdict in the end. 

Gateshead, who had drafted in Steve Medd at the 11th hour, finished a comfortable fourth just 15 seconds off a podium place. New Marske were next home in fifth position followed by North Shields Poly , Elvet Striders, Darlington, Gosforth and Durham City while it was good to see new outfit Tees AC making their debut in the event and will be pleased with their 13th finish.

Senior Men
Gold - Morpeth.  Hedley (u20), Glover (u20), Melling (u20), Bennett (u17), Hancox, Pratt
Silver - Sunderland Harriers.  Taylor, Gunn, Barker (35), Rankin (35), Reed, Wilson
Bronze - Houghton. Johnson (u17), Dover, Evans, Gibson (u17), Coulson (u17), Bellemy (u17)

Masters Men (40+)
Gold - Tynebridge.  Van der Land (40), Turnbull (40), Wright (45), Kelso (40), Pickett (40), Stocksdale (40)
Silver - Sunderland Harriers - McMahon (40), Borrowdale (40), Blakey (45), Lavy (40), Gordon (45), Pullan (40)
Bronze - North Shields Poly.  Hindmarch (40), Stirland (45), Hall (40), Richardson (40), Phillips (40), Hanley (40)

*THANKS go to Houghton Harriers for hosting the event once again and especially to Peter Dodsworth for his tireless input leading up to the event and also on the day, without his support – and, of course, the tea ladies - we wouldn’t have a road relay championship to be proud of. Also to the volunteer officials who do their bit week-in week-out, again a huge word of thanks and finally, to all the clubs who supported the event, well done!

Bill McGuirk
NEHL Reporter

Photos - David Aspin & Karen Harland

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