MORPETH Harriers came within 12 seconds of making it onto the Northern Athletics Start Fitness-supported Six-Stage Road Relay Championships podium which was held for the fourth time around the perimeter Sport City's Etihad Stadium, the home of Premiership champions Manchester City.
The Northumbrians, who last won the title in 2006 in Hartlepool, the last time the championships were held in the North East, had to be content with fourth place this time round behind Leeds City and Greater Manchester clubs Sale and Salford.
Sam Hancox opted to contest the first stage for Morpeth and handed over to Adam Pratt in 13th position. The North East Counties steeplechase champion slipped back to 18th on leg two after clocking 21:48 before passing onto to George Lowry who managed to move through into eighth place after recording 20min 30sec, the same time as Hancox. Junior World Championship 5,000m representative Rory Leonard took over and improved another four places (20:36) as the gaps ahead widened especially behind Leeds City whose Philip Sesemann, on the same stage as Leonard, stormed round the 6.8k course in the fastest tome of the day of 19:18. Alex Brown took over for Morpeth on the penultimate stage and though he consolidated fourth place with 20:20 it looked as though a top-three place was out of the question.
However, that didn't deter Carl Avery from having a go for he cut back the deficit with every stride which ultimately produced the fastest stage time of 19:27 - third fastest overall - and while it was much quicker than the Leeds, Sale and Salford last runners the finish line came just to soon.
With the event a qualifying competition for the National Road Relay Championships, a number of other North East clubs lined up in the North West. After Morpeth's gallant efforts, Tyne Bridge were the next local club to close in and they just missed out on a top-10 finish. Tom Charlton, with a superb 20:36 on stage two was the club's leading light as they eventually finished in 11th place. Gateshead, champions on numerous occasions in the 70s and 80s, were next to finish in 17th place with Conrad Franks, despite a short recovery after his excellent GNR, the Tynesiders' stand-out performer as he handed over in sixth position (20:09) at the first changeover.
Morpeth's second string also qualified for the 'National' after finishing in 23rd place with Philip Winkler posting the sextet's fastest time of 21:41. Tyne Bridge B team, with Connor Braithwaite their quickest (22:12), finished in 41st place; Heaton, with James McKenzie (21:43) just edging out team-mate James Meader (21:46) for their fastest time, finished 50th while Durham City - Rob Everson (22:42) their best - finished 57th; Gateshead B - Jonathan Malley (23:19) their best - were 71st; Blackhill Bounders, with Jordan Bell recording 21:01, finished 83rd while Heaton's B team just finished outside the top 100 (102nd) with Thomas Bell their best with 26:12. There were 107 teams who closed in.
The women's four-stage championship was over a slightly shorter course of 6k and it was a Yorkshire one-two with victory going to Rotherham by a margin of 10 seconds over arch rivals Leeds City as title holders Lincoln Wellington completed the podium places just three seconds adrift of the runners-up.
While it wasn't a qualifying contest for the National, the Tyne Bridge quartet of Mairi Clancy (24:58), Rebecca Parkin (25:51), Kathryn Stevenson (24:22) and Lysanne Jurriansen (27:08) finished a creditable 27th out of the 69 teams who finished.
Heaton, who had Danielle Smythe in sixth place at the completion of stage one after recording the ninth fastest overall time of the day of 21:45, finished in 35th place with Deborah Hicks (27:42), Nina Cameron (25:48) and Lisa Boyd (29:48) backing up Smythe.
YOUNG ATHLETES CHAMPIONSHIPS
WHILE there were no senior awards on the day, the region's youngsters who made the trip to Manchester made it all worthwhile with a number travelling home with medals round their necks.
Pride of place goes to Houghton Harriers who came out on top in the under-17 men's 3x3.7k contest. Henry Johnson gave Houghton a superb base by passing over to Sam Gibson in second place after recording 11min 39sec, a time which at the end of the day was the third fastest overall. Sam (12:14) dropped back one place on leg two before passing over to Will Bellamy. Will took over two seconds adrift of Rotherham and 13 seconds behind leaders Salford. However, it quickly all changed as Will, who has been dogged with injury during the summer, immediately set about cutting back the deficit, He quickly managed to overhaul the Rotherham athlete but it wasn't until the final kilometre that he finally got his nose in front to bring Houghton home in first place 10 seconds clear of Salford and it wasn't surprising that his 11:23 was the fastest time of the day. Making it a good age-group for the region Darlington lifted the bronze medals thanks to the efforts of Daniel Boyer (11:52), John Russell (12:04) and Adam Russell who brought Darlo into a medal position for the first time with 11:48.
Houghton's B team of Chris Coulson, Luke Pye and Izaak Taylor, finished 27th while the Blackhill Bounders trio of Duncan Hughes, Etham Richards and Jordan Meikle, finished 32nd.
North Shields Poly came close to making it a winning double for the region but at the end of the day had to be content with a set of runners-up medals in the under-15 boys 3x3.4k contest.
The Poly were back in 13th spot at the first changeover after Zak Old's 11:58 stint. However, things changed dramatically after Oliver Douglass stormed through the field to sixth place on the penultimate leg. At that point the Poly were 59 seconds behind leaders Salford and 36 seconds adrift of second-placed Vale Royal but the red-white-and-blues had kept their big gun until last and or how he gave it a go, first reeling in a number of the clubs ahead until there was only one, Vale Royal. Unfortunately, while recently crowned Junior GNR champion Josh Blevins posted a superb 11:10 - third fastest overall - which was 10 seconds quicker than his main rival, it wasn't enough leaving the Poly to finish in second place 26 seconds down on the winners. Morpeth, with Joe Dixon (11:22, eighth fastest overall), Bertie Marr (12:00) and Ryan Davies (12:14) finished in fifth place.
The Poly also led the region's charge in the under-13 boys contest over the same 3.4k course with their A team of Harry Furness (13:08), Zac Brannon (12:45) and Ben Scantlebury (13:18) finishing in seventh place, three places ahead of the Darlington trio of Harry Lyons (12:40, Edward Keeley (13:25) and Louis Brett (13:28). North Shields Poly's B team, made up of the Maley brothers Benjamin, Jonathon and Matthew - is this a first? - finished 28th, one place ahead of the Houghton trio of Joseph McGinley, Ryan King and Thomas Pigford.
The under-17 women's contest was over the same distance as the men's and it was the Houghton trio of Nicole Phillips (14:22), Lydia James (15:21) and Anno Pigford (14:33) who were the region's first team home finishing in sixth place. Elswick, who were lining up for the first time, finished a more than satisfactory 10th thanks to the efforts of Suzannah Fielding (15:04), Charley Lee (16:13) and Hannah Tumia (14:58). The North Shields trio of Alexandra Berry, Kirsty Nash and Lucia Bradley, finished 23rd.
In the under-15 girls 3x3.4k contest the Poly came through from sixth to third on the final stage to claim the bronze medals. Ellie Vandermerwe had the Poly in third place at the first changeover after clocking 12:37 which was the sixth fastest of the day. Katie Joslyn slipped back to sixth on stage two (13:52) but Holly Waugh's 12:47 was good enough to bring the Poly home in third place. The Blackhill Bounders trio of Alix Walton, Molly Anderson and Hannah Bowyer just got the better of the Birtley threesome - Abigail Thwaites, Mia Openshaw and Katie Francis, who was sixth fastest overall - to finish 23rd one place ahead of Birtley.
The under-13 girls 3x3.4k contest proved to be a huge success for Elswick with the trio of Lucy Milburn (14:51), Poppy Wilde (14:06) and Poppy Old (13:47) leading the North East challenge to finish in ninth place out of a total of of 41 teams. To make it a good day all-round the Newcastle club's B team of Isabella Russell, Sophie Henderson and Erin Blight, finished in 25th place, one place behind the Darlington threesome of Toni Buckley, Savannah Tarn and Libby Hammond. Blackhill Bounders' trio of Megan Shield, Rosie Anderson and Sophie Campbell, finished 38th.
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.