It was a record-breaking start to the NEHL cross country season at Shibdon Pond, Blaydon, on Saturday, with an incredible 1300 runners turning out from across the North East! Tynedale Harriers were well represented in almost all age groups, with 35 juniors and 25 seniors lining up for the first race of the season.
Tynedale’s U17 and U15 boys’ teams had the most successful day, with impressive wins for both teams in strong fields. In the U17 boys’ race, Tynedale fielded an exceptionally strong team of 10 runners, accounting for almost a quarter of the total field! The three counters for Tynedale finished in 5th, 6th and 7th positions, thanks to tremendous runs from Fergus Robinson, Dominic Kilsby (both unfazed by being in a new age category) and Sean Wylie (in his first Harrier League outing). All will be promoted to the fast pack in future races, as will Jamie Adams who finished close behind in 10th place.
For the U15s, Max Pearson and Christopher Jackson, running from the slow pack in their first race in this higher age group, were the first two counters. Max was overall winner, and Christopher finished in 5th place. They will both be promoted to the fast pack for future races. Christopher’s older brother, Matthew Jackson, running from the fast pack, flew around the course to produce the fastest run overall in the age group. He finished in 13th place. Jaycee Shotton has only just recently joined Harriers and looks like he’ll be a useful addition to the team. He ran very strongly in his first Harrier League race, finishing in 27th place.
The Under 13 boys all ran well, earning 2nd place team overall. Aidan Pinkney was first home for Tynedale in 7th place, earning him promotion to the fast pack in future. Gabriel Morley (19th) was second counter and Ben Dykins (starting fast pack and finishing in 26th) was third, just ahead of Charles Down (also fast pack) in 29th. Ben and Charles’ times were the fastest and joint-second fastest on the day – great running. Harley Towart and Jo Green were both due to make their debuts for the U13 boys but were caught out when the start time was brought forward. Harley elected to run with the fast pack – had he run with the slow he would have been well up in the field and challenging Ben for the third counter place.
Four girls represented Tynedale in the U15 age group, all of whom were racing for the first time in this higher age group. Elena Bluck was first counter for the local club in 18th place, followed by Freya Murphy (29th) and Ellie Barr (32nd). Sophie Speed finished just after in 35th place. They finished 7th team. In the U13 girls’ race, it was Keeley French who raced home in 4th place to be first counter for Tynedale. She earned herself promotion to the fast pack. Poppy Goldsmith (21st) and Sarah Jackson (28th) were the other counters. Freya Barr finished 30 seconds later to complete the Tynedale team, helping them finish in 3rd place overall. It was exciting to see such a large number of young runners competing in the mixed U11s’ race with 7 of the 134 entrants from Tynedale Local girl Ava Taperell was first girl home and 13th overall.
With numbers continuing to grow in the senior races, it was decided at the NEHL AGM that it made sense to change the long-standing order of races and hold the women’s race before the men’s. For the first time at Blaydon, the women had the advantage of a course that was far less churned up than usual! A bumper field of 309 women took full advantage of the change. At around 3 miles, the 2-lap course was significantly shorter than most of the NEHL courses and provided a relatively unchallenging start to the season, which was welcomed in particular by those who were new to the delights of cross country!
For the first time ever, the number of women turning out for Tynedale exceeded the number of men! 13 local women turned out to race, with several new faces to cross country, which was particularly encouraging. Maria Armstrong continues to run very strongly and finished in 12th place overall in a time of 20:36. Rachel Vincent (38th) and Charlie Pinkney (47th) were the other counters for Tynedale. On such a short course, Tynedale’s runners in the medium and fast packs had little chance to move through the field, with their fastest runner, Joanne Lee, finishing in 120th place. The women’s race was won by a guest runner, Isabella Murray in 19:33, with Louise Rodgers of Tyne Bridge Harriers as first North East club runner in 2nd place in 20:02. In the team competition, Tynedale finished in 4th place in Division One.
Members of Tynedale’s senior men’s team were pleased to be starting the season back in Division One, after being promoted back up at the end of last season. It was to be a cramped start for them though, with a record 575 runners competing over the 3-lap (4.5mile) course.
The Blaydon course has plenty of narrow sections which, combined with the huge numbers running and relatively short distance, made it extremely difficult for runners from the faster packs to find the gaps to move through the field. The sheer number of runners also created a challenge for the officials at the end, as crowds in the finish funnels backed up over the finish line so the timekeepers couldn’t record accurate times for many of the athletes. Luckily, finish positions allowed the team positions to be calculated.
Tynedale’s Jonny Currie, in his first race as a senior, showed the older runners how it should be done, by sprinting home in 27:05, in 15th place, earning himself promotion to the medium pack in the process. Phil Jameson (126th), Adam Pratt (141st), Chris Baber (149th), Paul Hutchinson (171st) and Lea Stephenson (186th) were the other 5 counters for Tynedale. The men’s race was won by Adrian Whitwam of Morpeth Harriers in 24:54. Tynedale’s men’s team finished in 8th place in Division 1, just above the bottom two relegation spots.
The next NEHL fixture will be at Jarrow on November 24th, where hopefully the course will not be entirely under water as it seemed to be last year!
Full results from Blaydon on Harrier league website
Great photos from Alan on Flickr