AFTER following in Morpeth's footsteps for the past four years Sunderland Harriers eventually toppled the Northumbrians thanks to an all-round team effort to claim the Signals Six-Stage Road Relay Championship.
The event eventually went ahead after long-term negotiations with Sunderland City Council and, while less than half of the teams turned out which faced the starter last year, it didn't take anything away from the Sunderland Harriers' sextet. At the first changeover it was Houghton (Cameron Allan) leading thanks to the second fastest overall time of the day of 10min 47sec. Birtley (Adrian Bailes) were in second place just ahead of Sunderland (Michael Wilson) with Ali Bailey (Gateshead) in fourth place followed by Tyne Bridge (Tom Charlton). Defending champions Morpeth were back in sixth spot after Rowan Bennett's 11:11 stint.
Things changed dramatically on stage two with Morpeth moving quickly through the field to take up pole position thanks to former Sunderland man Joe Armstrong's effort of 10:43 which proved to be the fastest of the day. Sunderland also had a forward jump with Liam Taylor moving the Wearsiders into second place, 10 seconds adrift of the Northumbrians. Morpeth (Tom Innes) still had the upper hand at the half-way point though Sunderland (Michael Barker) had cut the deficit by three seconds. Morpeth's advantage widened further on leg four thanks to Ross Floyd who added another 11 seconds of daylight over the chasing Andrew Powell (Sunderland).
Sunderland moved into the lead for the first time on leg five thanks to an impressive 11:27 by Craig Gunn which left Morpeth (Jordan Scott) 11 seconds in arrears before handing over to Kieran Hedley to contest the glory leg. The assumption around the changeover area was that Hedley's younger legs would reel in Sunderland's Steve Rankin. And that certainly looked a possibility after the pair completed the first of their two circuits round Hetton Country Park. However, it was the Sunderland man who proved the stronger on the second circuit and managed to pull away from his rivals to bring his team home 21 seconds ahead.
While Morpeth may not have been at full strength those that turned out were in determined mood to hang onto the trophy but the all-round team effort by Sunderland proved to be worthy champions on the day.
The battle for the bronze medals could not have been tighter with Tyne Bridge (John Hurse) setting off on the final stage in third place followed by Houghton (Will Bellamy) and Gateshead (Stephen Asquith). However, it was Bellamy who proved the quickest of the trio to bring Houghton home in third place.
LEADING RESULTS: 1 Sunderland 1:08.10; 2 Morpeth 1:08.31; 3 Houghton 1:10.20; 4 Gateshead 1:10.43; 5 Tyne Bridge 1:11.19; 6 Darlington 1:12.11. FASTEST LEGS: 1 J Armstrong (Morp) 10:43; 2 C Allan (Hough) 10:47; 3 A Bailes (Birt) 10:55; 4 M Wilson (Sund) 10:56; 5 T Charlton (TyneBr) 10:57; 6 A Bailey (Gates) 10:59.
MASTERS - MEN 40-50 - SIX STAGE RELAY
This event was held in conjunction with the seniors and once again it was Sunderland Harriers who topped the podium which wasn't surprising as the three fastest athletes on show were all members of the winning team. Chris Jackson immediately had the Wearsiders in pole position on the opening stage with a time of 11min 57sec. From then on they were never headed with Kevin Jeffress adding to their advantage with the fastest time of the day of 11:50 on stage two .Steve McMahon (12:01), Martin Blenkinsop (13:10), Graeme Pullan (13:27) and Steven Gordon (13:07) completed the gold medal winning sextet.
Morpeth once again had to settle for second place with Lee Bennett their quickest (12:25). Jarrow and Hebburn were next to cross the line with Nick Atkinson their best on the day clocking 13:06.
LEADING RESULTS: 1 Sunderland 1:15.32; 2 Morpeth 1:18.27; 3 Jarrow and Hebburn 1:22.09; 4 Sunderland B 1:24.28; 5 Crook 1:28.06; 6 Blyth 1:28.25. FASTEST LEGS: 1 K Jeffress (Sund) 11:50; 2 C Jackson (Sund) 11:57; 3 S McMahon (Sund) 12:01; 4 C Chapman (Crook) 12:02; 5 L Bennett (Morp) 12:25; 6 T Lewis (Morp) 12:36.
SENIOR WOMEN FOUR-STAGE CHAMPIONSHIP
Morpeth may have had to settle for second best in the men's championship but they made up for it by winning an exciting women's four-stage contest though they left it until the final leg before moving into first place.
Gateshead led at the first changeover thanks to Chloe Wellings' 12min 55secs stint. Morpeth (Catriona MacDonald) were second and Houghton (Eva Hardie) were next. Wallsend (Sam Brooks) were back in 10th position but by the end of the second stage they were leading thanks to Danielle Hodgkinson's fastest time of the day of 11:49. Wallsend had a lead of 20 seconds over Gateshead (Beth Curran) with Elswick back in third place a further five seconds adrift. Things changed dramatically on the penultimate stage with Gateshead moving into the lead (Jane Giles) as Wallsend's Julie Williams hung on to second place ahead of Elswick (Susannah Fielding), Houghton (Nicolle Phillips) and Morpeth (Sarah Lawson). At that point Morpeth were over two minutes adrift of the leaders. However, a timely run by Rachel Falloon on the glory leg not only made up the deficit but she brought the team home in gold medal position with the day's second fastest time of the day of 12:45. So, it was a superb triumph with Morpeth winning by the narrow margin of just five seconds as Anna Pigford brought the young Houghton quartet home in second place. Elswick (Amy Hepinstall) finished in third place, Gateshead (Lisa Atkinson) were fourth, Tyne Bridge (Rachel Gill) fourth and Wallsend (Kerry Spencer) sixth.
LEADING RESULTS: 1 Morpeth 56:51; 2 Houghton 56;56; 3 Elswick 58:05; 4 Gateshead 58:45; 5 Tyne Bridge 59:20; 6 Wallsend 59:39. FASTEST LEGS: 1 D Hodgkinson (Walls) 11:49; 2 R Falloon (Morp) 12:45; 3 C Wellings (Gates) 12:55; 4 C MacDonald (Morp) 13:01; 5 E Hardie (Hough) 13:18; 6 A Fuller (Elsw) 14:02
VETERAN WOMEN - 35+ - FOUR-STAGE RELAY
Jarrow and Hebburn (Alexis Dodd) led on the opening stage thanks to the fastest time of the day (13:45). North Shields Poly (Carla Maley) were in second place and Elswick (Catherine Lowes) in third spot. The Poly moved into the lead on stage two thanks to Becky Coleman with evergreen Heather Robinson keeping Jarrow and Hebburn in contention in second place as Hannah Marshall consolidated third place for Elswick. Alison Dixon and Michelle Thomson extended the Poly's lead to the finish where they had three minutes in hand over Jarrow and Hebburn whose quartet was completed by Masha Jobling and Vicki Thompson who took time off from ther golf exploits to complete the quartet.
Elswick, with Amy Brown and Felicity Smith completing their team, finished in third place.
LEADING RESULTS: 1 North Shields Poly 59:39; 2 Jarrow and Hebburn 1:02.46; 3 Elswick 1:03.47; 4 Crook 1:04.29; 5 Sunderland 1:04.56; 6 South Shields 1:05.06. FASTEST LEGS: 1 A Dodd (J&H) 13:45; 2 C Maley (NSP) 14:10; 3 C Lowes (Elsw) 14:17; 4= F Dembele (SthSh) and B Coleman (NSP) 14:35; 6 C Teasdale (Crook) 14:43.
MASTERS - 50+ - FOUR-STAGE RELAY
Greg Penn had North Shields Poly in the lead at the first changeover finishing ahead of Tim Field (Sunderland). However, the Wearsiders were quickly in pole position on stage two thanks to the fastest time of the day (12:06) by Michael Thompson. Sunderland, with Paul Merrison and Darren Fletcher completing their line-up, were never headed after that as North Shields Poly built on Greg Penn's good start to finish in silver medal position thanks to Gary Robson, man-of many talents Vaughan Hemy and James Thompson all putting in good shifts.One of the loudest cheers of the day came when Crook were announced to have finished in third place just eight seconds ahead of Sunderland Strollers and a further 17 seconds ahead of fifth placed Jarrow and Hebburn. Crook's quartet of Jason Bridgwater, Paul Brennan, Geoff Hewitson and Wayne Pearson celebrated with a double helping of cakes which were on offer thanks to Houghton Harriers, the host club.
LEADING RESULTS: 1 Sunderland 52:20; 2 North Shields Poly 54:16; 3 Crook 56:09; 4 Sunderland Strollers 56:17; 5 Jarrow and Hebburn 56:34; 6 Sunderland B 56:46. FASTEST LEGS: M Thompson (Sund) 12:06; 2 G Penn (NSP) 12:45; 3 G Robson (NSP) 12:56; 4 T Field (Sund) 12:57; 5 S Everett (DurC) 13:09; 6 J Duthie (Walls) 13:13.
*Grateful thanks go to Houghton Harriers for once again hosting an excellent NE Counties Signals Road Relay Championships which next year celebrates the 100th anniversary of the event.
Bill McGuirk is the North East's top athletics correspondent. NECAA Chairman and official, Bill can be found at all local athletics events supporting the sport he loves.