Wednesday 13 December 2023

NECAA XC Championships 2023


OVER 800 hardy souls supported the 117th North Eastern Counties Cross-Country Championships hosted by Sunderland Harriers at Temple Park, South Shields. While the weather was miserable throughout the day, especially for the young athletes’ contests, those who ploughed their way through ankle-deep mud and sometimes even deeper on a course not for the faint-hearted, will remember their exploits for many a year to come and can only now reflect and say proudly: ‘I ran the North Eastern’s in 2023 when conditions were horrendous.’


SENIOR MEN (11.9k)

With eight events already completed the course was now like a quagmire in places and while the driving rain had ceased conditions underfoot were at best slippery and worst gruesome. However, it didn’t deter the 250 or so starters setting off with utmost enthusiasm. 

The contestants quickly settled and, with the field already well strung out by the completion of the first of three circuits a bunch of five or six had already taken up the charge with in-form Chris Coulson (Houghton) prominent at the head of affairs despite making his debut in the senior age group. Also in the group were his Houghton team-mate Cameron Allan, Morpeth pair William Cork and Sam Hancox, Blyth’s Ellis Hetherington, Sunderland’s Liam Taylor and Middlesbrough and Cleveland’s Greg Jayasuriya. 

Tail-enders were beginning to be lapped as the leaders entered the final lap and the leading group was now down to three Allan, who last ran the championships in 2019 at Alnwick when he finished in fifth place, and the Morpeth duo with Coulson digging deep to hang on 10 metres or adrift. 

Allan, whose only other NE Championship encounter was as an under-13 in 2012 where he finished 13th at Hartlepool, decided it was time to push on and while Cork and Hancox tried desperately to stay in touch Allan managed to pull away and win comfortably by 41 seconds. Cork won the Morpeth bragging rights to hold off Hancox to claim second place by just one second. Coulson can be pleased with his fourth place after just moving up from the junior ranks while Hetherington, in fifth, produced arguably his best-ever run though he maybe argue the fact for 16 years ago he finished sixth and ahead of Allan in the under-13 Championship at Hartlepool! 

It was pleasing to see former GB junior international Josh Cowperthwaite back in action and finishing 10th after being sidelined for sometime. With Connor Marshall (11th), Tom Balsdon (15th) Robert Balmbra (16th) and Peter Smallcombe (23rd) backing up Cork and Hancox it was another resounding team victory for Morpeth. Sunderland finished in second place and Gateshead third followed by Tyne Bridge, Darlington and North Shields Poly.



Philippa Stone certainly likes the Temple Park course for she had no difficulty in retaining her title she won 12 months ago though the conditions were slightly better on that occasion. The Middlesbrough Mandale athlete set out her stall from the off and quickly opened up a good lead as dusk was rapidly approaching. Morpeth’s Catrriona MacDonald was a lonesome second going into the final lap of two with Durham City’s Louise Mitchell in third followed by Shona Haston (Gateshead), Molly Pace (North Shields Poly), Anna Pigford (Houghton), Wallsend’s Jenny Berry and Durham City’s Nicole Burlinson. 

On the run for home, Stone extended her advantage to cross the line over a minute-and-a-half clear of MacDonald who had to be content with another silver medal to add to her gold she won at Sedgefield in 2021 and bronze she won at Alnwick a year earlier. Haston moved through into third place to receive the bronze award after overtaking Mitchell who just missed out on a medal in fourth. Pace finished fifth, followed by Burlinson, Berry and Pigford. Good packing by Jessica Eaton (9th)’ Hannah Stewart (10th) Kathryn Stevenson (11th) and 15th-placed Alison Dargie saw Tyne Bridge claim team victory ahead of Durham City and Morpeth with Jesmond Joggers a close-up fourth ahead of North Shields Poly and South Shields.


Gateshead’s Josh Blevins, who just missed out on a place in the GB&NI team for the European XC Championships, retained his title comfortably and topping the podium for the third year running having won the under-17 title at Sedgefield in 2021. At the line Blevins, now based in Leeds, came home 38 seconds clear of Morpeth’s Joe Dixon with Luke Davis (Weston Tempo) a further 12 seconds adrift in third place. Morpeth, with four athletes in the first seven were easy winners of the team title with Liam Roche (5th), Ethan Phillips (6th) and seventh-placed Bertie Marr backing up Dixon. Durham City finished in second place led home by 15th-placed Joshua Wraith.


UNDER-17/20 WOMEN (5k)

Houghton’s Charlotte Dillon had no difficulty in retaining her under-17 title after coming home in first place in the combined age group. It was Dillon’s third championship win in a row having also won the under-15 title at Sedgefield in 2021. 

Millie Breese (Morpeth), just as she did last year, followed Dillon home in second place to claim the under-20 gold medal. Crossing the line in third place was Birtley’s Katie Francis to receive the under-20 silver medal. Fourth athlete home was Darlington’s Zara Jones to claim the under-17 runner’s up award; next home was third under-17 Blaydon’s Ellie Fellows and third under-20 Jess Sails (Tynedale). 

A pleasing figure for the under-17 contest was that there were record number of 37 finishers. North Shields Poly with the trio of Poppy Old (7th), Mili Didi (14th) and Darcey Tullis (16th) won the team race ahead of Gateshead and Tynedale.


UNDER-17 MEN (6.6k)

Morpeth’s Elliot Kelso proved the strongest with a superb judgement of pace to come home 12 seconds clear of Blaydon’s Maximus Murray with Alnwick’s Liam McDonough a further eight seconds adrift in third place. North Shields Poly’s Daniel Watson was fourth and it was pleasing to see a Crook athlete come home fifth in a junior race at the NE Championships. Morpeth, with Oliver Tomlinson (6th) and Joseph Close (15th) backing up Kelso won the team race ahead of North Shields Poly.


UNDER-15 BOYS (4.5k)

Runner-up last year and under-13 champion in 2021, Dawit Asmelash (TS Harriers) added a second NE title to his name with a comfortable 18-seconds victory over New Marske’s Zander Gribbon who was chased home to claim the silver medal by Tynedale’s Magnus Riddell who was just two seconds adrift at the line with Alfie Cooke (Gateshead) unfortunate to miss out on a podium place finishing in fourth spot one second behind Riddell. Riddell, backed up by Arthur Di Lullo (5th) and Morgan Vincent (16th) led Tynedale to team victory ahead of Darlington and Tyne Bridge.


UNDER-15 GIRLS (4.5k)

It was a Houghton one-two with victory going to Holly Robison who pipped team-mate Kathryn Pye by just three seconds to claim the gold medal. It wasn’t surprising the black and gold-vested pair claimed the major honours as Robison was quickest in both Wrekenton and Druridge Bay harrier league fixtures while Pye was fastest at Thornley Hall. The pair were pushed all the way to the line by North Shields Poly’s Anna Johnson who finished just two seconds adrift of Pye with Durham City’s Grace Carter a further five seconds behind in fourth place. Despite having the first two runners home Houghton missed out on team medals as they didn’t have a third counter which left the door open for Durham City, led by Carter to take the team award ahead of Darlington and Gateshead, the Tyneside club being awarded the bronze medals on countback ahead of North Shields Poly who totalled the same number of points.


UNDER-13 BOYS (3.6k)

Middlesbrough Mandale’s Thomas McCartie, runner up in the latest North Yorks South Durham Harrier League, got the better of Elswick’s Dominic Kelso, younger brother of under-17 winner Elliot, by just six seconds with Morpeth’s Ewan Line finishing a close-up third a further three seconds behind. Darlington, led home by ninth-placed Ollie Curran, won the team race ahead of Elswick and Morpeth.


UNDER-13 GIRLS (3.6k)

Birtley’s Oliver Murphy retained her title she won last year over the same course though it was a much closer affair this time round as she only had three seconds in hand at the line over New Marske’s Gabrielle Pinder. Alnwick supporters cheered home Emilia Waugh in third place. Birtley, with Izzy Hall (5th) and Kitty Graham (7th) backing up Murphy were comfortable team winners ahead of Elswick and Gateshead with Alnwick a close up fourth.


UNDER-11 BOYS (1.6k)

As he has done this season and last North Shields Poly’s Noah Penfold led from gun to tape to knock up another success. Alnwick’s Finlay Waugh finished runner-up with Allerton’s Alfie Clarkson finishing in third position followed by Darlington’s Acer Tarn and Prudhoe Plodders’ Zach Harrison. Good to see the Prudhoe outfit now attracting quite a number of youngsters to their fold.


UNDER-11 GIRLS (1.8k)

Ada Penfold made it a family double with a 29-seconds victory over Gosforth’s Ruby Collins with Wallsend’s Isla Aiston completing the one-two-three a further nine seconds back. Good to see around ninety youngsters testing themselves out in the ‘Try Cross-Country’ contests which have been going for nearly 10 years now.


**A huge thank you to Sunderland Harriers for hosting the Championships supported by Houghton Harriers, the two clubs supplying all of the marshalls around the course; to all the technical officials who were also at their posts for close on six hours; to South Tyneside Council for the use of the land and the adjoining facilities and to the first aid teams who thankfully weren’t called upon too often despite the awful conditions. Also to Start Fitness; the NECAA sponsors; NECAA President Mick Fraser for being on hand to present the awards and to Past President and Commonwealth marathon gold medallist, Jim Alder, who proudly presented the awards to his Morpeth squad for winning the senior men’s team race once more. We return to Temple Park at the turn of the year for the Sherman Cup/Davison Shield where, hopefully, the weather will be a little kinder!




 Photos: Stuart Whitman Photography

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