Tuesday 22 February 2022

NECAA Royal Signals Relays Report


Morpeth Harrier's Laura Weightman

THE only storm visible at Hetton Lyons Country Park was that of fleet-footed Olympian Laura Weightman who scorched round the 2.2-mile of the North Eastern Counties Road Relay Championship in a new course record time of 11:01 minutes which was 21 seconds quicker than she posted back in 2014.

With such an important year ahead for the Morpeth athlete it was good to see she still manages to fit in local events whenever possible and, by all accounts the Signals is usually penciled in at the dawn of a new year.

The first of two relays on the programme were the combined senior women, masters’ over-50 and masters’ women 4x2.2-mile event and it was New Marske, thanks to Martin Murray, whose 12:02 at the end of the day, was the quickest overall, led at the first changeover followed by North Shields Poly, Sedgefield and Tyne Bridge.

Martin Murray, New Marske

New Marske continued to lead as the contest entered the third stage with the Poly still in second place with Morpeth now third, Elswick fourth and Houghton fifth.

By the final changeover Morpeth had surged to the head of affairs with a big lead thanks to super vet Guy Bracken while just six seconds separated North Shields Poly, New Marske and Elswick in the chase for the minor awards.

Guy Bracken

At the conclusion it was Morpeth who claimed their second title of the day as Elswick came through to claim second place six seconds ahead of New Marske with the Poly just missing out despite a brave effort by club stalwart Vaughan Hemy.

Meanwhile, in the women’s section, Elswick teenager Imogen Bungay – whose 12:22 was the second fastest female after Weightman – led at the first changeover then came veteran woman and course record holder Olympian Aly Dixon. North Shields Poly were in second place ahead of Gateshead and Jarrow and Hebburn in the senior women’s contest while North Shields Poly and New Marske were behind Sunderland Strollers in the veteran women.

Aly Dixon and Imogen Bungay battle it out

On stage two North Shields Poly moved into the lead – thanks to Holly Waugh who was the quickest of their quartet - followed by Elswick and Morpeth while North Shields Poly edged into the lead ahead of Elswick and Sunderland Strollers in the vet women.

The fireworks began immediately on leg three when Weightman took over the running for Morpeth and she quickly overhauled the athletes ahead showing a superb turn of foot which augurs well for the task ahead in a quest for major championship selection.

After her two-lap stint the Northumbrian had turned a 47-seconds deficit into a minute and 31 seconds advantage before handing over to Millie Breese to run the glory leg.

Morpeth's Millie Breese

The leading positions remained the same in the run to the finish with Morpeth claiming victory in 51:11, the Poly finished runners-up in 52:39 with a delighted Elswick claiming the bronze awards. 

And that wasn’t the end of the celebrations for the Newcastle club for, after playing catch up behind North Shields Poly for the first three stages, a superb run by former English Schools’ cross-country champion Justina Heslop, saw the West Enders hit the front in the closing stages of the vet women’s event to cross the line with a four-seconds cushion ahead of the Poly’s Katherine Davis. The Strollers completed the one-two-three a further 22 seconds behind.

It was an exciting finale to a great competition which had over 100 teams overall competing with Weightman, who was delighted with her run, commenting: “I felt good and it’s always nice to be able to do this race and be part of the Morpeth team for the opportunity doesn’t often come about. My immediate plans are to have a couple of more road races before moving on to track training before the summer championships.”

Morpeth's winning ladies team, from George Patterson


THE blue-vested Morpeth sextet had the bit between their teeth even before their event got underway after they watched Laura Weightman produce an eye-catching performance in the opening event, so much so the Northumbrians were never headed throughout the six-stage contest after George Lowry brought them to the first changeover in pole position and at the end of the day Sam Hancox, George Rudman, Finn Brodie, Alex Brown, who was quickest overall, and Carl Avery celebrated victory after just over an hours running to break their own course record by over a minute and with their second string finishing in fourth place it shows how strong endurance wise the club is at present.

George Lowery & Josh Blevins

Teenager Josh Blevins had Gateshead in second place at the first changeover with the Poly’s David Green third just ahead of Sunderland’s Scott Armstrong.

On leg two Morpeth continued to lead (Hancox) with Sunderland moving into second place as Birtley, thanks to the stages’ second fastest time by Chris Perkins – New Marske’s Lewis Gamble-Thompson was quickest - moved into third ahead of Tyne Bridge and Gateshead.

Sam Hancox

Morpeth extended their advantage at the half-way point after Rudman was quickest on leg three with Gateshead moving back into second ahead of Birtley, Tyne Bridge, Morpeth B and Sunderland.

The Morpeth lead widened even further on stage four thanks to Brodie as Gateshead just held onto second place with Sunderland a close up third ahead of Morpeth B and Birtley.

Any doubts of a Morpeth victory were blown away on the penultimate stage as Brown took over the running and not only did he extend the lead even further to over two minutes his clocking of 10:28 was the overall best of the day. Sunderland, thanks to Steve Jackson, were now in second place ahead of Morpeth B with Birtley and Gateshead racing together just behind.

Now near full fitness Avery had the honour of taking over for the glory leg for Morpeth and he brought the team home just over three minutes clear of Sunderland who held off the fast-finishing Adrian Bailes (Birtley) to claim the silver medals. Morpeth B team finished in fourth place ahead of Gateshead, Tyne Bridge, North Shields Poly, New Marske, Elswick, Blackhill.

**THE North Eastern Counties AA is indebted to Houghton Harriers for once again hosting the Signals Relays and to Peter and Maureen Dodsworth especially who took on most of the hard work prior to and on the day in making sure the Championships were a huge success.

Also a big thank you to all the officials – we wish Phil Lancaster a speedy recovery after having an accident which resulted in a gashed leg just before action began - especially David Daniels for taking the entries and supplying the results. It was a great day’s sport with nearly 900 competitors taking part so well done to you all.

**THE next relay on the local calendar sees action change terrain when the NE Counties once again host their Cross-Country Relay Championships at Thornley Hall Farm on March 19.

This fixture, with the first event at 11am, is for Men and Women Masters and Senior Men and Women and Under-20 Men with a planned programme for junior teams at the same venue on April 2.

The Masters and Under-20 Relay is 3x3k while the Senior Men contest 4x3k. Clubs can enter A and B teams with entries for the senior relays closing on Wednesday, March 9.

Report by Bill McGuirk

Photos: www.stuartwhitman.co.uk

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