Sunday 3 December 2023

NEHL Aykley Heads - The final hurray


AFTER the postponement of the Start Fitness Harrier League fixture at Lambton competitors couldn’t wait to don their spikes for a final time at Aykley Heads despite it being one of the toughest courses on the North East Harrier League circuit. Once again hosted superbly by the Derwentside, Durham City and Elvet Striders’ clubs it proved to be a true test of character for young and old and the crisp Autumn day did help considerably to keep athletes on the move.



With victories already under his belt in the previous two fixtures at Wrekenton and Druridge Bay it was no surprise that North Shields Poly’s Noah Penfold knocked up another success this time coming home 15 seconds clear of Alnwick’s Finlay Waugh with Zach Harrison (Prudhoe Plodders) a further seven seconds adrift in third place to give his club it’s first ever a ‘Try Cross-Country’ award. Sixty competitors finished with representatives from 24 of the region’s clubs.


Once again Ada Penfold made it a family double with an even more convincing victory coming home 21 seconds clear of Gosforth’s Ruby Colins who finished nine seconds ahead of Sedgefield’s Jess Davis. It was pleasing to see a representative from Corbridge Middle School among the 59 finishers and hopefully she will not be put off by the severity of the conditions and will be on the start line in future events.


For the majority of the contest it looked as though Rodrigo Ribeiro would claim victory thanks to his 1min 40secs start over the fast pack as the Derwentside athlete took an early lead from the gun. However, after hitting the brow of the hill with around 600 metres to go Morrpeth’s Ewan Line, running from the fast pack, managed to overhaul the leader to claim victory by eight seconds. Tynedale’s Wilfred Pugh, also worked his way through the 61-strong field to finish in third place two seconds adrift of Ribeiro. Third quickest on the course was Elswick’s Dominic Kelso. Morpeth came out on top in the league stakes with Elswick second and Blaydon third.



It was good to see a Phoenix Flyers athlete crossing the line in first place as Evie Kleiser took advantage of her 1:40 start to hold off Birtley’s in-form Poppie Phillipson who had worked he way through the 55-strong field to finish second with the day’s fastest time. 

Ella Harwood (Tyne Bridge) claimed the bronze medal with Izzy Hall (Birtley) and Emilia Waugh (Alnwick) the second and third quickest respectively, Birtley came out on top in the team event with Elswick edging out Newcastle rivals Gosforth by one point to claim second spot.



Sunderland’s William Young led from gun to tape to take full advantage of his 1:20 handicap and break the tape 14 seconds ahead of Gateshead’s Alfie Cook who found the handicap just too great as he crossed the line in second place eight seconds ahead of Jake Parker (Tyne Bridge) with Magnus (Tynedale) and fifth-placed Arthur Di Lullo, also Tynedale, posting the second and third quickest times respectively behind Cook. Tyne Bridge won the team race with Low Fell second and Tynedale third.


North Shields Poly’s Maeve Taggart was a clear winner by 15 seconds with Gateshead’s Emily Collinwood finishing runner-up as the duo took advantage of their 1:20 start. Durham City’s Grace Carter just failed to overhaul the Gateshead athlete to finish in third position from the fast pack in the 32-strong field to post the quickest time of the day. Team-mate Evie Hall was second quickest and Darlington’s Matilda Owens third. Durham City held off North Shields Poly by two points to claim team victory with Elswick in third place.



The 3:10 handicap proved to be too much for the fast pack as the medal positions were all filled by slow pack athletes. Victory wen to Crook’s Rory Hart who crossed the line in 18:28, nearly a minute clear of Tynedale’s Joe Elsob (19:32) with North Shields Poly’s Matthew Maley completing the one-two-three a further eight seconds back in third spot. 

North Shields Poly’s Daniel Watson was quickest on the course working his way through the 33 starters to finish in sixth place closely followed by Blaydon’s Maximus Murray who was second quickest and Alnwick’s Liam McDonough who was third best one place further back. North Shields Poly were comfortable winners of the team race followed by Birtley and Morpeth.



Durham University’s Kate Sutcliffe was never headed as she cut out a lone furrow thanks to the generous handicap of 1:25 and 2:50 over the medium and fast packs respectively.

Competing in the older age group the student finished in 21:53; Elswick’s Erin Bright (under-17) finished runner-up in 23:00 while Houghton’s Charlotte Dillon (under-17) defied the 2:50 handicap to claim third place and the fastest overall time of the day. Second quickest under-17 was Darlington’s Zara Jones followed by Tynedale’s Ania Stobbart. Morpeth’s Millie Breese was the quickest under-20 on the course followed by Sutcliffe and Blaydon’s Ellie Fellows. Tynedale topped the league placings followed by Elswick and Newcastle University.



Durham University student Jack Casalino took the honours after tracking early leader Morpeth’s Peter Smallcombe before edging to the front midway through the third and final circuit as the course became congested due to the huge number of competitors being lapped.

The American-born track athlete was having his first cross-country contest in this country and defied the conditions to come home 51 seconds clear of Smallcombe with Durham City’s Tom Henson completing the one-two-three a further 16 seconds adrift. The leading finishers took full advantage of a 5min 25sec start over the fast pack which saw an intriguing contest unfold behind the pacesetters. Inform NE Counties recently-crowned 10k champion Chris Coulson (Houghton) set out his stall from the gun and for the first two laps had a slight advantage of around 15 meters over Morpeth duo Lawrence McCourt and Sam Hancox. However, the Northumbrian pair managed to reel in Coulson to go on and post the two fastest times respectively with just one second separating the pair at the line with Coulson having to settle for the third best time 10 seconds adrift of McCourt.

There were 552 finishers with last man home Peter Lowe (Prudhoe Plodders) still finding the breath to thank the officials as he crossed the line. Good on you Peter! In the team stakes, Morpeth came out on top in Division One finishing ahead of Sunderland and Tyne Bridge; Tynedale led home Heaton and Jesmond Joggers in Division Two while Gosforth held off Newcastle University and Derwentside in Division Three.



Druridge Bay runner-up Louise Mitchell went one better on this occasion despite running from the medium pack and giving the slow pack a 2min 25sec start. Mitchell quickly set about winding her through the athletes ahead and she was already at the head of affairs early on the second circuit. Despite hitting the front the Durham City athlete ploughed on relentlessly and by the finish she had opened up a gap of two minutes over Durham City team-mate Alison Thompson with Carrie Collins finishing just two seconds back in third place. 

Morpeth’s Catriona MacDonald once again led the charge from the fast pack’s 2:25 handicap, working her way through the 400-strong field to finish an excellent sixth. Morpeth team-mate Jane Hodgson (9th) was next quickest on the course 17 seconds behind MacDonald with Mitchell being rewarded with the third best time two seconds slower than Hodgson. 

In the team contest Jesmond Joggers celebrated victory in Division One over Morpeth and Tyne Bridge; Elvet Striders came out on top in Division Two ahead of Sunderland and Sunderland Strollers while Crook led the way home in Division Three finishing ahead of Birtley and Blyth. The over-65 men once again lined up with the senior and masters women to cover two laps of the course and it was former Olympian Ray Smedley (Ponteland Runners) who was first home finishing just six seconds clear of Durham City’s Clifford Feathersone with Crook’s Geoff Hewitson completing the one-two-three. Durham City won the team race finishing ahead of Crook.

**ONCE again a huge thank you to the Derwentside, Durham City and Elvet Striders for hosting a superb fixture, the marshals went above and beyond to give competitors encouragement throughout the day; to Durham County Council for the use of the land and parking facilities; to the HL committee and technical officials who were at their posts until the final competitor finished and to the first aid team. It’s just a pity we can’t all return next year!


by Bill McGuirk

Photos: Stuart Whitman

Results: North Eastern Harrier League 2023/24 Sponsored by Start Fitness

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