The North East Harrier League (NEHL) did their usual outstanding job of organising a great series of races for the 2019/20 season.

There was even a new course at the Lambton Estate to look forward to. Unfortunately, the winter contained enough rainy weather to flood several courses and car parks. The league did their best efforts to rearrange races, but the season was eventually ended by the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite all of the hurdles that nature could throw at us, there was some great racing in the League races and up-and-down the country in the Championships.

The season kicked off with the League meeting at Wrekenton on 28 th September. The remnants of summer had kept the ground nice and hard, and the course was perfect for fast racing. Too fast, as it proved for me when I pulled up in the first lap with a hamstring injury. That will teach me for trying to keep up with the whippets in the fast pack. Back to the more successful runners who managed to finish their races.

Mel’s U11s had a great day, with 17 runners finishing! The other age groups continued their impressive development. There were fantastic runs, including athletes running from the fast packs and promotions. Zac Brannon took home the early honours with a victory in the U13 boys race. Not to be outdone, Katherine Davis also led from the front in the senior women’s race. Well done Zac and Katherine! The women topped the League after race one, with all the counters finishing in the top 20.

A flooded car park meant that Druridge Bay was the first race to fall foul to the rain this season, so there was a gap in racing in October.

Not to be put off by a little rain, a merry band of travellers set off for the National XC relays in Mansfield in November. My injury kept me at home again, but Benjamin Maley reported a wet and cold course. Nevertheless, several teams in different age groups closed out some fantastic places.

We returned with gusto to Aykley Heads in November for the second League meet. The course is well known for its challenging and muddy nature, and it didn’t disappoint. I was still not racing, but at least it meant that I could enjoy watching the runners get muddier and muddier as they completed the laps. The course left its mark on more than one runner. The honours went to Hannah Atkinson this time with her victory in the U13 girls race. There were more fantastic performances in the junior races, with several top 10 finishes and a great turnout in wet and muddy conditions.

December saw a break in the League season and the Championship races kicked off with the Northeasterns at Alnwick. I wasn’t able to attend this one, but I was informed that the course was tweaked to give it a little more ‘bite’. Zac took the individual bronze in the U13 boys race. Benjamin Maley and Adam Feenan joined Zac to lift the team bronze. In the U13 races, both Josh Blevins and Ellie Van Der Merwe gained silver.

Holly Waugh and Katie Joslyn joined Ellie to lift the team silver trophy. Vaughan Hemy continued his rejuvenation as he beat off the competition to be the first Poly home in the senior men’s race and lift the club senior men’s XC Jubilee Shield. Alison Smith, the new women’s XC captain signalled her intent, coming in first for the club to become the senior women’s XC Jubilee Shield holder.

Temple Park gave us a chance to burn off some Christmas calories at the Sherman Cup and Davison Shield races. Huw Parry then led the Poly at the Birtley (AKA Cathedral) relays in January. This is an event that we’ve done really well at in the past. Maybe it’s the change of venue and the loss of the cricket club’s famous bacon buttys that has put us off, but we’ll have to get more attending next year, COVID-19 willing.


The Masters XC Championship was close to home this year at East Cramlington Nature Reserve. Becky Coleman was 9th overall and took the silver award in the V40 race. A short distance behind saw debut runner Ruth Oldham in 16th place overall and 16 secs shy of a personal medal in her age group.

Margaret Povey debuted in her category. Sisters, Noreen Rees and Alison Cummings, took silver and bronze in their respective races. Heather Gould made a remarkable return to racing after a nasty injury and rounded off the V55-64 overall team prize with the sisters. Chris Waite, Dave Stainthorpe, Paul Luzanycia, Barry Young, Steve Nicholson and Dave Morris completed the men’s line-up; and several were just shy of personal medals.

Bedale hosted the Northern Championships in January, but work kept me in Newcastle. From the looks of the results, the standard was high and the times were close. There were some great races across the age groups. A top 50 – let alone a top 10 finish – in those races puts you in very good company.

The blue riband National XC Championship was at Wollaton Park in Nottingham this year. Heavy rain had left the course ‘hellish at best’ as Benjamin Maley reported. Despite this, the Poly runners registered some of the best results that we’ve had at the National in recent years. I have trouble breaking into the top 500 in this high-class event, so kudos to Josh Blevins (9 th ), Charles McManus (255 th ), Jocelyn Black (221 st ), Ryan Eden (201 st ), Ben Scantlebury (92 nd ), Benjamin Maley (216 th ), Olly Hayes (277 th ), Jonathan Maley (292 nd ), Matthew Maley 294 th ), Holly Waugh (78 th ), Katie Joslyn (154 th ), Carla Maley (270 th ), Louise Hayes (321 st ), Michelle Thompson (456 th  ), David Green (118 th ), Sean Maley (760 th  ), Darren Suleman (1139 th ), Graham Hall (1341 st ) and Barry Young (1397 th ). I really hope that we can beat COVID-19 and get back to mass race starts, as the start line of this race is one of the best moments in athletics every year. It’s a chance for all runners of any ability to literally rub shoulders
with the best athletes in the country.

A week later, the Harrier League returned with another visit to Alnwick and I was able to pull my spikes on again for the first time since September. This time I had learnt my lesson – I am not as fast as any of the guys in the fast pack. I just let them run off and took up my position as the last runner on the course. I settled in and just tried to run my own race. That’s the thing about XC, no matter what speed you run, or what pack you run with, it’s all about running your own race.

Despite some great efforts, the senior teams were drifting down the league tables. It was looking pretty terminal for the men, with other clubs needing to do us favours in the final race. The women had their destiny in their own hands…

Before we could return to the Harrier League, there were the junior Birtley relays to be contested. What a series of races! All the age groups did amazingly well, with gold medals for the U11 A & U13
boys, silver medals for the U11 girls, bronze for the U11 B boys and narrowly missing out on the medals for the U13 girls. Check out those medals!

Two weeks later, we convened at the Lambton Estate for the rearranged fixture there. By now we were aware of COVID-19 in the UK. Around 1000 people had tested positive for the virus and 11 people had sadly died. The guidance at the time was that sports gatherings could go ahead. I suggested that people arrived ready to race, only used the tent to store bags, and to minimise close contacts with people. What a race though, congratulations to the League for creating another fantastic course at a very picturesque venue. Michelle Thomson had recovered from her injury and led the charge for the women’s team as they sealed their place in division 1 for another season.

Unfortunately, despite gallant efforts the men couldn’t save themselves. Later that day, the Government moved to the ‘delay phase’ of the outbreak. Racing was cancelled and for many of us this was the last competitive race of the year. At least we still have the division 2 trophy in the clubhouse from our promotion last year. I will try to get it to Birtley (this year’s division 2 champions) when possible, and hopefully we’ll get our hands on it again in March next year.

The remaining fixture of the League at Druridge Bay was cancelled and the final positions were declared. Congratulations to the U13 boys who won by 5 clear points. With the exception of Alnwick, they were completely dominant in their league.

Fantastic, a great bunch of lads who I’m sure will enjoy many more races together. The U13 girls were sixth, which maybe doesn’t tell the whole story. They got off to a bit of a slow start at Wrekenton, but in the rest of the season they had the form to be challenging for the podium. So, it looks good for onward development.

The U15 boys were tenth. It must be something about Wrekenton, as all the other races went really well for them as well. The U15 girls take home the bronze in their league. A great performance, as several runners were racing from the fast pack. It is great to see the U17/20 divisions being contested by Rhys Eden, Ryan Durrant, Kirsty Nash and Cara Blight. The senior women got off to a blistering start, topping their league after Wrekenton. After that they faltered a little, but still finished comfortably in Division 1.

The senior men unfortunately were in and out of the relegation zone all season, ultimately returning to division 2 after a year in the top flight. What can we do to transform ourselves from a yoyo club like West Brom to winning team like Leicester City? There is at least one fox in the coaching set up at the Poly, so with a bit of luck his influence might wear off on us and we’ll have our championship season. The odds must be better than 5000/1!

We also award the Poly XC Harrier League plaque to the runners with the best races across the season. Congratulations to Richard Hanley and Helen Heaney who were the most consistent and successful this year. Stephen Nicholson and Alison Smith were close on their heels in second place, with Chris Gibbs and Michelle Thomson in third place. The Harrier League operates a system where the faster runners start with a time delay after the slower runners, so the club plaque is available to runners of all abilities. Consistency and commitment are what XC is all about. Every runner potentially helps the club in relation to the other clubs in the league, so it truly is a team event, whether you finish as a counter in the A team or not.

Well done to all the athletes who ran cross country this year and congratulations to the trophy winners. Thank you to the coaches, captains, travel organisers and everyone who supported their athletes this year. Also, thanks go to the organisers, officials, timekeepers, first aiders and results recorders at the NECAA, NEMAA, Northern Athletics, England Athletics and especially the NEHL.

A special mention for Jenny Simpson, who is stepping down as the womens’ captain. Jenny has done a great job, and is the reason that we have the results for the Poly championship. Up the Poly!