Monday 28 November 2022

NEHL Aykley Heads 2022 Race Report


CHRISTMAS shopping was put on the back-burner as hundreds of athletes descended on Aykley Heads for the fourth instalment of the season’s Start Fitness North East Harrier League. Despite a cold wind throughout the day conditions were near perfect though one section of the undulating course cut up substantially as the day’s action unfolded. Once again, the fixture was superbly organised by the joint efforts of the Derwentside, Elvet Striders and Durham City clubs who have to be commended on hosting an excellent day’s sport for young and not so young competitors which numbered well over 1,000 once again.


Kent-based Durham University student Isabel Lloyd cut out the early pace but after leading until midway through the second and final circuit she was eventually hauled in by Durham City’s Alice Crane who had set off two minutes 25 seconds behind. Crane, who also led the field home in the fixture at Druridge Bay, came home a clear winner by 36 seconds with Lloyd settling for second place ahead of new North Shields Poly recruit Vicky Gibbs. 

Crane, meanwhile, not only picked up her second first-place medal but her actual time of 26:05 was the fastest overall, second quickest was Morpeth’s Catriona MacDonald, who worked her way through the 400-plus strong field from a 5:15 handicap to finish in ninth place (actual time 26:34) one place and 10 seconds ahead of her Morpeth team-mate Jane Hodgson who had also started from the fast pack. 

Relatively new club Prudhoe Plodders, were once again well represented and it is congratulations to Abi Stanforth and Debbie Shears who finished at the rear of the field but kept going and were rewarded with a sub- one hour finish on one of the toughest courses on the HL circuit.

In the team contest Tyne Bridge came out on top in Division One ahead of Morpeth and North Shields Poly while South Shields edged out Durham City by just one point to claim victory in Division Two with Washington closing in in third place. In Division Three Blaydon led the way home ahead of Sunderland Strollers and Crook.


Durham City’s Marcus Shantry led throughout the extended six-mile contest crossing the line with over two minutes to spare. At the completion of the first of three laps the former Windsor, Slough, Eton and Hounslow athlete, had an advantage of around 30 seconds over Jarrow and Hebburn’s Joshua McKenny who had a similar cushion over third-placed William Kennedy (Durham University).

Behind Birtley teenager Chris Perkins was making headway from the medium pack (2:35 handicap) and was up to 21st place. 

A strong fast pack was led by Morpeth’s Carl Avery who had weaved his way through into the top 200 from a 5:15 penalty. Shantry continued to cut out a lone furrow at the head of affairs and going into the final lap had extended his lead over McKenny as Perkins moved through to eighth with Avery now in 21st place. 

Shantry was in no danger as he cut through the tailenders and scored a superb victory as McKenny held on to second place with Perkins (eighth fastest overall) putting in another excellent run over the country to claim the bronze award ahead of Kennedy. 

Avery, the 2018 Northern XC champion, showed that kind of form as he came home in sixth place in what was his first cross-country outing of the season as he posted the day’s fastest time of 32:55. Second quickest on the course was Bristol and West’s Jarlath McKenna with Kieran Walker (NE Project) next best.

In the team stakes, Morpeth were clear winners with Robert Balmbra (7th) scoring for the Northumbrians in his reappearance for the club after an absence of four years. Sunderland finished in second place ahead of Birtley as Durham City came out on top in Division Two ahead of Houghton and Saltwell. Durham University headed the Division Three rankings ahead of Tynedale and NE Project.


Local student Amy Whelan took full advantage of a generous handicap to lead throughout the extended three-mile contest and deprive Durham City’s Charlotte Dillon a fourth consecutive victory. Whelan (u20) was given a 2:50 start over Dillon (u17) and at the line still had close to a minute advantage at the finish. 

Dillon won the opening fixture at Wrekenton running from the slow pack; she followed that up with a successful run at Druridge Bay from the medium pack before winning again at Lambton running from the fast pack. However, the Durham University fell running specialist was at home on the testing hills of Aykley Heads and as well as victory was also rewarded by posting the fourth fastest under-20 time of the day. 

Following Dillon home in third place was Emma White, a welcome medallist for the South Shields Tri club. Second quickest under-17 on the course behind Dillon came Gateshead’s Jessica Milburn followed by Elswick’s Imogen Bungay while the quickest under-20 was Houghton’s Anna Pigford followed by Millie Breese (Morpeth) and Tynedale’s Jess Sails. In the team stakes Durham City edged out their University neighbours by just four points with Gosforth a further four points back in third place.


In the closest contest of the day Morpeth’s William De Vere-Owen got the verdict by just one second over Darlington’s Alex Boyer as both athletes defied a handicap of 2:50 to get the better of early leaders Callum Aktar (Gosforth) and Durham City’s Aiden Wilkinson who eventually finished in third and fourth place respectively. Third quickest on the course was Blackhill’s Tom Slane who came home in fifth position. Once again, a strong Morpeth squad claimed the team honours ahead of Tyne Bridge and Durham City.


Houghton’s Freya Stockley was the early leader with a comfortable cushion before being overtaken close to the finish by Darlington’s Zara Jones who worked her way into the lead from a 1:40 handicap. Morpeth’s Megan Portrac completed the one-two-three holding off the fast-finishing Ania Stobbart (Tynedale) who was rewarded with the second fastest time with Blyth’s Lauren Creaby next best. Stobbart led Tynedale to team victory finishing ahead of Alnwick and North Shields Poly.


Morpeth’s Oliver Calvert repeated his Lambton performance with another impressive victory from the fast pack. 

Birtley’s Callum Bailey led for most of the contest but Calvert, from a 1:40 handicap, managed to reel in the leader well before the finish. Calvert’s Morpeth team-mate Oliver Tomlinson, also running from the fast pack, finished in third place to claim the second quickest time ahead of North Shields Poly’s Daniel Watson. Once again Morpeth headed the team scores ahead of Durham City and North Shields Poly.


After their success at Lambton, Kitty and Nell Graham had no problems repeating their one-two despite lining up from the fast pack. 

The Birtley twins eventually caught early leader Grace Clewes (Chester-le-Street) close to home with Nell taking the gold medal two seconds ahead of her sister. Clewes had to settle for third place but did well to hold off the rest of the fast pack athletes especially another member of the Birtley National Cross-Country Relay champions, Niamh Phillipson. Birtley were convincing winners of the team section finishing ahead of Gateshead and Darlington.


Early leaders Dominic Kelso (Elswick) and Blaydon’s Dan Finlay were eventually caught by Noah Williamson (NE Project) just short of the finish line. 

Williamson, who also won the previous fixture at Lambton, again defied a 1:40 handicap to finish strongly and go on and win by 14 seconds with Kelso finishing runner-up six seconds ahead of Finlay. Second quickest on the course was Darlington’s Rowan Steel with North Shields Poly’s James Sturman next best. Blaydon came out on top in the team section finishing 14 points clear of Sunderland with Blyth finishing in third spot just ahead of North Shields Poly.


The ‘Try Cross-Country’ competition continues to be popular especially for Birtley duo Poppy Phillipson and Izzy Hall. The youngsters have now filled the top two places in all four harrier league fixtures this campaign with Hall winning by 12 seconds on this occasion. Phoenix Flyers’ Isla Coker once again finished in third place after finishing in the same position at Druridge Bay.


North Shields Poly’s Noah Penfold continues his unbeaten run having claimed victories at Wrekenton and Lambton. On this occasion he won by four seconds with Gateshead’s Peter Davies, having his first HL outing, finishing in second place two seconds clear of Darlington’s Ollie Curran.

**Thanks once again go to the host clubs Derwentside, Durham City and Elvet Striders, to all the enthusiastic marshalls, to the first aid team and all the technical officials for without their input the league would not be the success it is. The league takes a break until the turn of the year but the next cross-country event is the NE County Championships at Temple Park, South Shields on December 10 when we look forward to another great day’s sport.

Aykley Heads volunteers


Photos - Stuart Whitman Photography

Full Results -

No comments:

Post a Comment