In 2014 we were awarded the honour of hosting the NECAA Cross Country Championships. Hosted on 12 December 2015, they were memorable for many reasons.
When Sedgefield Harriers were awarded the opportunity of hosting the North Eastern Counties Athletic Association Cross Country Championships late in 2014, chair Ean Parsons immediately set to planning for all eventualities. One year later, in some of the worst conditions many of the runners were able to remember, that planning paid off as a field of 964 finishers were able to enjoy a day that would linger long in the memory.
The NECAA Championships are always a special occasion but somehow the weather made it all the more special. Fields full of human flesh struggling against everything that nature could throw at it, watched over by brave and hardy volunteers. All the colour, noise and fury of competition corralled from chaos to calm by frostbitten officials.
The early signs were encouraging as the promised rain failed to make an early appearance, but it would later prove that the broken promises of the Met Office work both ways. With the tent village still growing, the U13 boys were sent off in light drizzle at 11am under the gun of local MP Phill Wilson. Eleven near-freezing minutes later, Henry Johnson of Houghton Harriers was first over the finish line.
The U13 girls were next, the mercury slowly dropping on a spirited display by winner Holly Peck of Morpeth Harriers. Jess Hall brought home Sedgefield Harriers’ first top ten placing of the day, finishing in eighth place.
By the time the U15s were treading through the mud, the freezing rain had turned to driving sleet, depositing cold sludge on the heads of the gritty competitors. Gosforth Harriers’ Rhian Purves won the girls race and Josh Cowperthwaite of Middlesbrough AC took the boys title. Rebecca Hall and Ryan Watson finished well as the highest placed athletes for the host club.
The U17/20 women were running in actual snow and by now, the pool of water at the top of the course was growing from a pond to a small lake. The encouraging cheers of Ladies of the Lake Diane Baines and Judith Porter were mentioned repeatedly by finishers. Philippa Stone of Middlesbrough AC took this one, with Sam Glaister just edging Abie Hearmon as the first Sedgefield Harrier home.
The NECAA Championships had been held in Sedgefield once previously, in 1955 on the nearby racecourse. On that day there was a carpet of snow on the ground. Sixty years later, the snowfall created a carpet of its own East Park. Much praise was received for the marshalls standing in the freezing snow, and it was fully deserved, but the competitors were fully exposed to the freezing conditions. Taking in four laps of the undulating course with the mud now squelching to knee height in places and the standing water turning to a frosty slush, the record 410 finishers in the senior men’s race resembled by turn snow leopards and grimacing foot soldiers.
Patrick Martin, formerly of Sunderland took first place in a Stockport Harriers vest, followed by Carl Avery and Peter Newton of Morpeth. Sedgefield’s first finisher was James Oldfield.
With the ground churned up even further by 820 pounding feet, the women set off in still worsening conditions. Whipped by wind and stung by snow, Rosie Smith came in first for Durham City Harriers, beating Morpeth’s Laura Weightman into second place ahead of Aly Dixon of Sunderland Strollers who commented: “Massive big thank you to all officials and volunteers at today’s North Eastern Cross Country Champs. By far the worst conditions I’ve ever raced in.” Tracy Henderson was the first Sedgefield Harrier home, less than a minute ahead of Jane Spink.
With the light plotting its departure, the U17 men’s race brought the running to a close with Scott Beattie of Morpeth Harriers taking the title.
Next came the take down with everything and everyone that had arrived over the preceding days and hours taking flight, sodden and cold and looking to the promise of warmth and shelter. The heroes of Teesside Volunteer Emergency Services went above and beyond to help stranded vehicles off the field and out of the cricket club car park. Ray Carmichael and his tractor had proved invaluable all day, moving tents over the field, rescuing vehicles from car park and field, and picking up the course poles at the end. Special mention must also go to the 1st Sedgefield Scout group who performed heroics in putting up and taking down the refreshments and information tents.
And then it was all over.
Then chair Philip Houghton and then outgoing chair/race director Ean Parsons offered their thanks to the following:
Teesside Volunteer Emergency Services
Our esteemed guests, Phil Wilson MP, Mayor Gloria Wills and Councillors Rachel Lumsden and John Robinson.
Special thanks also to our many volunteers on the day:
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