Birtley XC Relays – 14th January 2024

by Geoff Hewitson

This annual event was traditionally held on a January Sunday morning in Durham for many years, when it was known as the Cathedral Relays. Towards the end of 2018 the long-standing host club (Durham City Harriers) pulled out of organising the event at which point Birtley AC stepped in to take it over, and moved the venue to the Lord Lawson of Beamish Academy in Birtley. It was held here for the first time in January 2019. The format has remained unchanged however – teams of three, with separate races for Senior Men, Masters Men (35+), and Ladies.
Each individual leg involves 2 laps of a twisting, turning course that includes a couple of short, steep descents and associated sapping climbs – approximately 3km (1.9 miles) per leg. After all the rain we’ve had during the autumn and winter so far, the course was as muddy as I’ve ever known it, and it was no surprise to see a fair few runners covered in mud after taking a tumble. We couldn’t have any complaints about the weather though, as it turned out to be a crisp, dry and sunny winter’s morning.
The event got underway at 10 am with the Masters Men’s race (all team members had to be aged 35+ and teams were in 10-year age category bands determined by their youngest member). Our M55 A team of Peter Clough, Wayne Pearson and Chris Auld performed brilliantly, finishing 7th overall and first M55 team by a comfortable margin. They also clocked the three fastest individual times on the day of all athletes in the M55 category.

Our B team in the same race (M55 – 64 category), made up of Phil Healey, Joe Hall and Mark Standbridge, finished 48th overall. We also fielded two teams in the M65 category. The A team of Gerry Hehir, Andy Turnell, and Geoff H finished 39th overall, and were first team in their age category. Our M65 B team of Ken Cawkwell, Percy Parkin, and Frank Best finished 50th overall and won bronze medals for finishing 3rd in their age category.


Having completed our runs, it was time to put on some warm gear and prepare for the ladies’ race (for all age categories) which went off at 11am. As a club, we’ve enjoyed considerable success in this event, and 2024 was to prove no exception. Our in-form and talented trio of Captain Lisa, Amy Etherington and Jo Raine were well up for the challenge and performed brilliantly. Lisa ran a strong first leg and handed over to Amy with the team in 9th place. It quickly became apparent that some of the rival clubs had sent out their fastest runner on leg 1, as Amy made relentless progress through the field. Except for two very strong (and youthful) squads from Birtley and Gosforth Harriers who were already well clear by the end of leg 2, Amy had brought the team up to third place. Jo set off on leg 3 with the luxury of a healthy advantage over the team in 4th and as a result never looked in any serious danger of being caught. She did manage to reduce the arrears on the second placed Gosforth Harrier, but with only 3k in which to bridge a massive gap, the chase was never likely to be a realistic one.
We were therefore able to celebrate a fantastic third place finish overall (out of 51 complete teams) and were also 3rd Senior Female team.
Amy (13:30) recorded the 9th fastest time of the entire ladies’ field, Lisa was 2nd quickest of the F35 ladies, whilst Jo was the 4th quickest F40.
The Senior Men’s race was the final event of the day, and as has been the case in recent years, attracted a small but highly select field of just 15 complete teams (plus 3 incomplete). Our representatives in this race were Sam Etherington, Peter Coser and Kieron Day, who performed really well against some of the cream of North East running to finish in 11th place.

Huge well done to everyone on your performances – you all put maximum effort into your individual legs and the mutual cheering and encouragement from fellow clubmates and our small band of supporters was brilliant (as always!). From a club point of view this is a fantastic start to 2024, and given the potential relay squads we now have at our disposal, there should be plenty more to celebrate going forward.
I’m sure I speak for everyone in expressing our appreciation to Lisa on another “masterclass of organisation” to ensure that everything went smoothly on the day.
Hopefully more members will get involved in some of the other team relay events that will be coming up in the next few months. They are great fun and the emphasis is on participation whatever your ability, so don’t be shy! Relays are also an excellent way to meet other members of the club who may not be able to attend regular training sessions and the camaraderie is fabulous – we ALL support one another.