Birtley Cross-Country Relays, 15th January 2023

The first relay of the year is now firmly established at the Lord Lawson of Beamish Academy in Birtley, having moved from Durham a few years ago. The organisers, Birtkey AC, really make the most of the school grounds with twists and turns and a couple of short hills on each lap. The enclosed space makes it very spectator friendly and means there is a lot of support for the runners. It also incorporates the NE Masters XC Relay Championships.

The chill wind that greeted us, though itself nothing like the gales overnight, dropped and conditions were fairly good for running. The course was muddier than I had seen it before, though nothing like Temple Park for the Sherman Cup the weekend before.

It is fair to say that this was not the biggest, or strongest, squad that Claremont has ever put out! In the masters men’s race, our single team qualified for the oldest age category – over 65. Bill and Kenny are a tad older that that too, so it made a change for me to be the youngster in the team. Both of our septuagenarians have had heart and injury problems, and I should probably have still been resting after straining my groin last weekend (I have a lovely bruise!), so we fully expected to finish last.

Ken set off and soon fell behind the speed merchants that you get on the first leg of relay races, but he is nothing if not determined, and maintained a steady pace up and down the short, but steep hills. I took over and tried to make up some ground but still handed over to Bill in last place. Bill, who was worried that he wouldn’t manage the distance, did more than manage it – he caught and passed a Birtkey straggler. So 32nd out of 33 teams, and, admittedly low, expectations exceeded!

Although there are separate senior and veteran races for men, it is a combined race for the women. Our single team was a mix of ages – Gill called it the 2,4,6 team with the numbers being the first digit of their ages. Again, their expectations were low – Lena is still not back to her best, it was Susan’s first ever relay and Gill is never very confident! The girls ran in age order with Lena first out of the traps. Again, she had to watch the speed merchants disappear into the distance, but had a good battle with a Birtley and a Washington runner on the first lap before pulling ahead of them on the second. Poor Susan had left her top on to keep warm until she could see Lena nearing the end when she handed it to Gill. Luckily Gill noticed the lack of a number on Susan’s vest – she had forgotten to pin it on! After a quick sprint back to base and a frantic emptying of pockets to find the number, she was allowed to start carrying the number in her hand! Unfortunately she lost a few seconds, so her time was really better than that shown. Susan carried it all the way despite Gill throwing safety pins at her half-way round! Gill brought the team home, and enjoyed a fantastic sprint to the line which didn’t quite catch the lass from Washington (Gill would like to point out that she was giving her 30 years!). Like the men, the ladies were 32nd out of 33 teams – and were quite happy with that.

It was a very good event, well organised and enjoyable as ever. It is such a shame that it isn’t as well attended as other relays. This seems to be because it clashes with the Brass Monkey half-marathon in York, which is a very popular race for North East runners, including a sizeable Claremont contingent.

Masters Men
32Kenny McCormick
Tom Tinsley
Bill Milbourne
32Lena Webster-Costella
Susan Parker
Gill Milne
Tom Tinsley -