IT’S always a concern that, after checking things over time-and-time again, that things will go without a hitch when the occasion comes around. So, for Chris Lines, it was fingers crossed that everything would go smoothly when the North Eastern Counties Cross-Country Championships returned to Sedgefield after an absence of six years
In 2015 the course at Hardwick East Park competitors had to battle against a huge snow storm, something those who took part that day still talk about it. However, this time round the weather stayed kind for the majority of the day’s nine-race programme, though the senior women, contesting the last event, faced heavy rain at times.
Lines, actually took part in the championships in 2015 and came home in 128th place and, despite a few minor teething troubles on the day, which were quickly sorted, he took his place on the starting line this time round and showed he has not lost any of his fitness by coming home in 132nd position which was the icing on the cake for the local championships organiser.
After his 12k stint I managed to catch up with Lines who, despite his efforts up hill and down dale, had enough breath in his lungs to say: “I felt things had gone well during the early races so I thought everything was in safe hands for me to line up in the senior race and, with all the pressure off, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. “That, of course, would not have been at all possible if it had not been for the superb support me and my team of volunteers received which resulted in a determined effort that Sedgefield Harriers could deliver an event worthy of a county championship. “A lot of preparation by a host of people meant that the day went very smoothly and was a thoroughly enjoyable experience for me! I have to say a massive thanks to all of our volunteers. We had scores of Sedgefield Harriers, members of other local organisations and many more individuals who helped out which I’m truly grateful for.
“When we were first approached by the North Eastern Counties to host the championships once more we were delighted to accept and I think we have repaid the Association’s trust in full. A lot of hard work goes into putting on a championship, but at the end of the day, it’s been all worthwhile and I’m hoping that all the competitors, our volunteers and all the officials enjoyed being part of the day.”
Further photographs of the event by Stuart Whitman
Senior Men (12k)
Calum Johnson was overlooked when the GB&NI team for the European Cross-Country Championships was announced so the Gateshead athlete turned his attentions to the county championships at Sedgefield. Having finished runner-up on two occasions – second to Jack Martin in Redcar in 2017 and silver medallist behind Carl Avery in Alnwick in 2019 –Johnson was determined to make it third time lucky and to prove a point to the UK selectors.
With four testing circuits ahead of him Johnson set out his stall from the off and in no time was quickly ahead of his 300 rivals, so much so by the completion of the first lap he had 80metres daylight between himself and Morpeth’s Finn Brodie, who was 20 metres ahead of the next group which included fellow Morpeth pair Sam Hancox and Alex Brown, Kieran Walker (North East Project), Greg Jayasuriya (Middlesbrough and Cleveland), Adrian Bailes (Birtley) and Liam Aldridge (Billingham Marsh House).
By the half-way point Johnson had extended his advantage to around 200m with Brodie, one of the region’s most improved athletes, pulling away from his chasers as the group behind was now down to just two, Hancox and Walker. Going into the final lap with many of the tailenders watching in awe as they were passed by the fleet-footed Johnson, who had extended his lead even further as he kept up a relentless momentum which saw him come home to a huge round of applause from the knowledgeable spectators lining the finishing straight. It was a high-standard exhibition of cross-country running which produced the biggest winning margin seen for many a year and a run, which surely would have helped the National team to finish in a podium position rather than finishing fifth in Dublin! Brodie hung on to claim the silver medal from the fast-finishing Walker – the Teesside club’s first county cross-country medallist - with Brown the pick of the rest to finish ahead of Jayasuriya and Hancox. Morpeth showed their strength in depth once again by taking the team award comfortably with their six counters finishing inside the top 17 while Gateshead finished in second place ahead of Tyne Bridge.
Senior Women (8k)
The senior women’s race brought the curtain down on a successful championships and, like the men’s contest, it was a gun to tape victory for Morpeth’s Catriona MacDonald.
The Northumbrian was having her second outing in the county championships having finished third on her debut at Alnwick in 2019 behind Sonia Samuels and Phillippa Stone. This time round there was no stopping MacDonald, who has been in fine form all winter for after the first short lap, she was already clear of her rivals with a group of around five trailing about 50 metres adrift. After negotiating the first of two circuits of the course proper MacDonald had already increased her advantage and barring an accident looked to be assured of her first title.Battling behind for the minor honours were Durham City’s Emma Bramley who came into the championships in good form having won the NEHL fixture at Aykley Heads, Amy Fuller (Elswick), Alex Sneddon (Jarrow and Hebburn), former championship silver medallist Jane
Hodgson (Morpeth), Chloe Price (Birtley) Jesmond Joggers’ Molly Pace and Jarrow and Hebburn’s Melissa Turner. Macdonald sensed the victory was in her grasp as she completed the final incline well aware that there was no danger and eventually came home 44 seconds ahead of Bramley with a smiling Fuller crossing the line to complete the podium places.
The medallists were followed across the line by Sneddon, Hodgson, Pace and Price.Jarrow and Hebburn, with Georgia Campbell (12th) and Stepth Pattinson (18th), backing up Sneddon and eighth-placed Turner, not only defended the team title but added a little history to the championships by being the first club to win the senior women’s championship four times in a row, a feat not likely to be repeated in a long time.
Under-20 Men (8k)
Middlesbrough’s Max Creasey was always in the driving seat as he took control in the early stages where he was tracked by Morpeth’s Daniel Dixon at the end of the first short lap. Following a short distance behind were Houghton’s Chris Coulson and Morpeth duo Joseph Anderson and Daniel Melling.Entering the final circuit Creasey had opened up a 50m advantage over Dixon as Coulson had moved ahead of Anderson. The positions remained the same over the final 3k with Creasey crossing the line 32 seconds clear of Dixon with Coulson claiming the third podium place ahead of Anderson. In the team stakes Morpeth were comfortable winners ahead of Durham City and Sunderland
Combined Under-17/20 Women (5k)
Contesting the lower age group Morpeth’s Millie Breese led the encouraging sized-field home after leading throughout the contest. The former Alnwick athlete was tracked in the early stages by under-20 athletes Ines Curran (Gateshead), Chester-le-Street’s Emily Chong and Houghton pair Eva Hardie and Anna Pigford with under-17s Jessica Milburn (Gateshead) and Birtley’s Katie Francis not far adrift. By the finish Breeze, in recording 19min 19secs, had 21 seconds in hand over Curran, who claimed the under-20 gold medal ahead of Chong and Hardie while Milburn and Francis headed for the podium behind Breese in the under-17 section.
Under-17 Men (6k)
Gateshead’s Josh Blevins and Morpeth’s Joe Dixon were quickly into their stride as they immediately pulled away from their rivals on the opening circuit while being followed by Brandon Pye (Houghton), Morpeth duo William De Vere Owen and Bertie Marr, Joseph West (Middlesbrough) and Tom Slane of Blackhill. The long-striding Blevins began to pull away midway through the final lap as Dixon began to tire which gave the chasers a chance to close the gap. Blevins eventually came home in 19:02 as Pye moved into silver medal position ahead of De Vere Owen who completed the one-two-three with Dixon slipping back to fourth. With Marr finishing in seventh place to back up De Vere Owen and Dixon, Morpeth were easy team winners finishing ahead of Gateshead and Sunderland with eighth-placed Adam Hughes leading the Wearsiders’ to the bronze awards.
Under-15 Girls (4k)
With two short circuits to encounter, Darlington’s Zara Jones and Charlotte Dillon (Durham City) were locked together at the completion of the first lap and were followed by Eden Creasey (Middlesbrough), Gosforth’s Annie Hutchinson and Poppy Old (Elswick). Midway through the final lap Dillon, one of the country’s leading young athletes over 3,000m, pulled away from her rival to come home in 16:32, 22 seconds ahead of Jones with Creasey the best of the chasing group to earn the bronze award. In the chase for team gold Darlington edged home with 21 points, followed by Elswick on 25 and Gosforth on 26.
Under-15 Boys (4k)
In the closest finish of the day Morpeth’s Oliver Calvert got up just before the line to pip Middlesbrough’s Ethan Marron with the timekeepers’ rewarding both athletes with the same time of 15:32 as Ben Sproats (North Shields Poly) chased the duo home just two seconds further adrift. Calvert, backed up by Oliver Tomlinson (5th) and Joseph Close (12th) won another team title for Morpeth with Middlesbrough second and North Shields Poly third.
Under-13 Girls (3k)
North Shields Poly’s Katy Otterson continued her winning start to the season with a hard-earned victory after Middlesbrough’s Sophie Quinn pushed her all the way. At the line Otterson finished just six seconds ahead of Quinn as Birtley’s Nell Graham, having her first race in the under-13 category after a successful under-11 campaign, claimed the bronze award. Thanks to Graham, her twin sister Kitty, who finished fifth and sixth-placed Niamh Phillipson, Birtley won the team race by just one point ahead of North Shields Poly with Morpeth finishing in third place.
Under-13 Boys (3k)
Middlesbrough’s Charlie Jones came out on top by six seconds with Dawitt Asmelash finishing runner-up to give TS Harriers their first-ever county cross-country medal. North Shields Poly’s Adam Feenan finished one second behind Asmelash to complete the one-two-three. Feenan, however, was rewarded with a Poly gold team medal after being backed up by Aidan Turner (4th) and Oscar Makepeace (6th). Darlington finished in second place with Birtley in third.
Under-11 Boys (One Mile)
The non-championship ‘Try Cross-Country’ for the younger age group once again proved popular with around 80 youngsters taking part. The boys’ contest was a success for Noah Penfold who came home 12 seconds clear of James Throup (Allerton) with Darlington’s Ollie Curran crossing the line just ahead of Allerton’s Jack Raw with both boys being credited with the same time.
Under-11 Girls (One Mile)
It was a Birtley one-two in the girls’ event with victory going to Olivia Murphy who had seven seconds in hand over team-mate Poppie Phillipson with Gateshead’s Emma Blackburn finishing in third place ahead of another Birtley runner, Izzy Hall.
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.