(Report by Bill McGuirk)

Blackburn Harriers pulled out all the stops as competitors from near
and far travelled once again to Witton Park for the Northern
Athletics Cross-Country Championships. The championships were
back at the excellent venue after an absence of seven years and
while the course lay out is always a stern test this time round the
muddy sections were not for the faint hearted which proved to be a
real test for the fast and not so fast participants.
The 10-race programme may have unfolded under grey skies and
threatening rain but there were many bright moments throughout
the six hours of competition one of which saw two of NA’s leading
admin team, Arwel Williams, who was event manager on the day,
and chairman Tony Wood, take time away from the action to partake
in enjoying an ice cream!

SENIOR MEN (11.5k)
The final event of the day got underway with three well cut-up
circuits facing the reduced field in comparison to previous years.
Once the initial charge settled down a group of six or seven quickly
showed their intentions by creating daylight ahead of their rivals.
Prominent in the early stages included Matlock’s Daniel Howarth,
Salford pair Joe Steward and David Barratt, Morpeth’s Carl Avery,
Blackburn’s Daniel Bebbington and Hallamshire’s Cameron Bell with
Nigel Martin (Sale) a few metres behind as the gaps quickly opened
up. Going into the second circuit Avery, the 2018 Northern
champion, and Steward, whose pedigree includes a silver medal in
the 2020 National and an appearance in the World Mountain and
Trail Running Championships in Thailand last year, had broken away
and were looking comfortable despite the severity of the course. The
duo continued to run shoulder-to shoulder with neither athlete
prepared to give an inch over the ensuing kilometres, their
competitiveness being urged on by all those on the sidelines. Going
into the final lap it looked certain, baring a mishap, that the major
honours would go to one or the other as the chase for third place
was also boiling up. First Avery would have a go at gaining an
advantage but Steward would have none of it before he would up
the tempo on the inclines to get rid of his shadow. However, it
wasn’t until entering the final 800 metres or so that a decisive and
winning break occurred as Steward managed to pull away to break
the tape with shouts of joy as Avery, after giving his all, eased across
the line nine seconds adrift. It was a delighted Steward, surrounded
by well wishers, that I managed to catch up with after stepping down
off the podium who expressed his satisfaction after his success. “At
last,” he reflected. “I’m absolutely buzzing after that. What a great
race and Carl helped hugely in making that. He was quicker than me
on the flat and downhill sections but I felt I had the edge when it
came to the uphill sections and that’s the way it worked out. I’m
absolutely delighted to have won my first Northern title, it means so
much to me.” Avery, meanwhile, admitted he just ran out of steam
at a critical point of the race. “It was a cracking race and while, I’m a
tad disappointed not to have won, in the end Joe deserved his
victory. I tried to get away a few times on the last lap but just
couldn’t shake him off and in the end he was just too good on the
day. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed it and it was great to have lots of
support along the way.” Bell, who finished fourth in the Yorkshire
Championships earlier in the month, proved the pick of the rest as he
came home 33 seconds behind Avery to complete the one-two-three
with Graham Rush moving through to finish just outside the medals
ahead of Barratt, Haworth, and Chorlton Runners’ Gavin Tomlinson.
Rush, however had the distinction of leading Leeds City to their first
team title since 2014 with Ed Bovington (11th), Linton Taylor (12th),
Gavin Chalmers (20th), Matthew Grieve (22nd) and Joshua Woodcock-
Shaw (24th) backing up the fourth-placer.

While the men’s race was a close affair the women’s race was the
exact opposite as Hallamshire’s Philippa Williams took control from
the off and was never headed as she cut out a lone furrow as team-
mate Lauren McNeill, Leeds City’s Jemima Elgood and Sophie Tarver
(Wirral) headed the chasing pack. At the completion of the first of
three small circuits the Yorkshire champion was leading by around 30
metres. The advantage had increased to around 100 metres going
into the final lap with Middlesbrough’s Philippa Stone now in the mix
for a minor award. Despite victory already in her sights Williams kept
on pushing to come home 41 seconds clear as Stone, the North East
champion, came through from fourth to second to claim the silver
medal. Ambleside’s Scout Atkin also found a bit extra in holding off
McNeil to complete the podium places. Leeds City, who won the
team title five times in a row from 2017 to 2020 but relinquished
their crown last year to Vale Royal, bounced back in fine style to
regain the trophy thanks to Elgood (5th), Georgia Malir (7th), Eleanor
Curran (8th) and Alice Leake (15th) giving the Yorkshire quartet 35
points with Hallamshire totalling 45 points for second place and Vale
Royal 89 points for the bronze awards.

UNDER-20 MEN (7.4k)
Home supporters were in full voice as Blackburn’s Matthew
Ramsden stormed home to a popular victory to earn his second
Northern title this year having won the indoor 3,000m championship
two weeks earlier. Contesting three small laps Ramsden was always
in the vanguard position as the race unfolded. In the early stages
Ramsden and Jenson Connell (Leeds City) ran together with Ewen
Wheelwright (Salford), Finlay Proffitt (Trafford), Finlay Grant
(Chesterfield), Jake Wilson (Vale Royal) and Rotherham’s Sam Gibson
amongst the chasing group. And it was the local boy who proved the
strongest in the closing stages having got away from Connell after
surging up the final hill. Ramsden, who finished seventh in last year’s
championship in Pontefract, said after the race: “I felt strong
throughout and pushed hard up the final hill and kept going all the
way to the finish.” Despite being pushed back into second place
Connell confessed he was more than happy with his run. Following
the leading duo home came Chesterfield pair Grant and Tom
Spencer, the former comfortably holding off his team-mate by 12
seconds to claim the bronze award. Wheelwright, Wilson and Gibson
all finished within two seconds of each other in fourth, fifth and sixth
place. In a tight team contest Wheelwright led Salford to victory by
just two points over Wirral with Vale Royal claiming the bronze

UNDER-20 WOMEN (5.9k)
The junior women opened the day’s action with Ella Greenway the
one to beat having finished runner-up the previous year. And so it
proved as the Cleethorpes athlete led the field home to win by 10
seconds with Preston’s Libby Huxley, who, on England duty in
Elgoibar earlier in month finished in second place, had to be content
with the runners-up spot once again. Harrogate’s Yorkshire
champion, Eve Whitaker, finished a comfortable third. Despite going
one better than last year Greenway confessed she wasn’t confident
going into the race and was surprised to break the tape while Huxley
said she felt strong on the hills but her biggest problem was making
sure she didn’t fall over! Vale Royal, thanks to Grace Roberts (6th),
former under-15 and under-13 champion Holly Weedall (9th) and
Isobel Ashcroft (23rd) claimed the team title with 38 points ahead of
Salford (43pts) with Sale third on 53 points.

UNDER-17 MEN (5.9k)
One of the closest contests saw Liverpool’s Liam McCay just get the
verdict by the narrowest of margins over Morpeth’s Joe Dixon after
the pair had battled it out shoulder-to-shoulder throughout. McCay,
who was fourth last year but missed out the Merseyside
Championships, said he felt strong throughout, especially on the
hills, and felt he had the edge in the run to the line though the
winning margin could not have been closer. Dixon, who finished an
excellent 10th in last year’s National at Parliament Hill, said he
enjoyed the race though he was disappointed to come so close to
winning. “I did my share at the front hoping to shake off everyone
but in the end Liam was just that bit stronger.” Only one second
separated the pair at the line as last year’s runner-up, Houghton’s
Brandon Pye, worked his way to a delighted third place six seconds
adrift after being inactive through illness during recent months. “I’ve
only had three or four decent sessions in the build up to the race. I
feel very tired now but more than happy with third.” Dixon was
quickly back on the podium this time in pole position as a strong
Morpeth quartet were runaway winners of the team race.
Backing up Dixon were William De Vere-Owen (9th), Bertie Marr
(13th) and Liam Roche (14th) for a total of 38 points. Such is the
strength of the Northumbrians at the moment they also had Ryan
Davies (19th) and Elliot Kelso (21st). Wirral (109pts) claimed the silver
awards ahead of Trafford (113pts) with Salford a close-up fourth
with 116 points.

UNDER-17 WOMEN (5.3k)
Wharfedale’s Amelie Lane and Charlotte Dillon (Durham City) quickly
imposed themselves at the head of affairs and it was the Yorkshire
bronze medallist who eventually prevailed to head the North East
champion by four seconds as City of York’s Lottie Langan, the
Yorkshire runner-up, finished strongly to complete the podium
places five seconds adrift of Dillon. Trafford, led home by sixth-
placed Sara Clough, won the team race with 83 points; Derby were
second with 95pts and Salford third with 109pts.

UNDER-15 BOYS (4.3k)
Another exciting finish was the order of the day with just four
seconds separating the medallists and it was the Cleethorpe club
who were celebrating their second success of the day after George
Wilson managed to hold on for a three-seconds victory over
Morpeth’s Oliver Calvert with Matthew Clark just one second adrift
in third place. Wilson, the Lincolnshire champion, who was fifth last
year, said it was a tough race and he only managed to gain an
advantage entering the final kilometre. Keighley and Craven, led
home by 11th placed Archie Peaker won team gold with 66 points
with Trafford second (75pts) and Rotherham third with 149 points.

UNDER-15 GIRLS (4.3k)
Rotherham celebrated a one-two as Isabella Waugh and Grace Ingoe
finished just three seconds apart after an exciting contest which saw
Merseyside champion Holly Cross claim the final podium spot.
Waugh, who was third at Pontefract last year, missed the Yorkshire
Championships through injury but showed no signs of that as she
outpaced her team-mate in the run to the line. It was no surprise
that Rotherham topped the podium for the team awards with Katie
Battle (8th) and Graihagh Turner (10th) backing up the individual gold
and silver medallists. Salford finished second and Warrington third.

UNDER-13 BOYS (3.2k)
Hallamshire’s Tom Thake, who finished runner-up in both last
season’s National and Inter-Counties, was a comfortable winner after
heading the field throughout the contest. At the line he had a 24-
second cushion over second-placed Adrian White (Trafford) with
William Delaware (Southport Waterloo) completing the one-two-
three a further eight seconds adrift. Thake was back onto the top of
the podium for a second time after leading Hallamshire to team
success with Preston finishing in second place and Blackburn third.

UNDER-13 GIRLS (3.2k)
Birtley girls have been in sparkling form throughout the winter
having won both the National and Northern Road Relay
Championships and National and Northern Cross-Country Relay
Championships so it was no surprise to see the blue vests of the
Gateshead-based club to the fore throughout the contest. On this
occasion it was Olivia Murphy who proved their best as she crossed
the line 13 seconds clear of Rotherham’s Yorkshire runner-up Maya
Schofield with the Birtley’s Kitty Graham claiming the bronze award
five seconds clear of twin sister Nell. With four to count on this
occasion the leading Birtley trio were backed up by 28th-placed
Niamh Phillipson for a winning total of 36 points. Sale (64pts)
finished runners-up with Liverpool in third place with 90 points.

**Northern Athletics appreciate once again for all the help in making
it another highly successful championships especially the input from
Blackburn Harriers and their wonderful band of marshalls without
whom the Championships would not take place.

Presentation Pictures by Eileen Ingham