NEMAA Cross Country Championships – 3rd February 2024

by Geoff Hewitson

“There is a course in Old Wallsend
They call the Rising Sun
And it’s been the ruin of many a runner
And God, I know, I’m one!”

Well OK, so it’s not quite the opening lines to the early 60’s classic “House of the Rising Sun” by the Animals, but if lead singer Eric Burden (and/or the rest of the band) had experienced Saturday’s event, he may well have been tempted to change the lyrics!

The link to the song (other than the fact that the Animals were a Newcastle band) is that the Wallsend course (situated within a large area of undulating urban countryside park) is adjacent to the Rising Sun Sports Ground. The North East Masters Cross-Country Championships have been held at this same venue on a number of previous occasions, perhaps most memorably back in 2019 when 4 – 5 inches of snow provided a “different” type of challenge. The brilliantly named Barking Dog Social Club (yes, honestly) served as race HQ, and provided ample changing and toilet facilities.

Back in 2022 when the event was last held here, a lack of rain (!) had resulted in almost dry (or ‘bone’ dry) underfoot conditions, with only one short stretch of about 50 metres of sticky mud. This time around, however, there was MUD – and lots of it. I was a bit surprised to find the course as boggy as it was after a mostly dry week, and I suppose it’s just a reflection of how wet this winter has been. Conditions for running were otherwise not too bad, although the cold wind was particularly evident on the climb to the highest and most exposed parts of the course.

Terrain-wise the course is essentially a ‘double loop’ or figure of 8 with a bit in the middle where runners going in one direction pass alongside those coming back the opposite way. It is quite undulating, with three climbs on each lap, so probably at the tough end of the spectrum in comparison with our Harrier League XC courses. The most difficult choice was that of footwear – Jo Raine and myself both went for trail shoes but in hindsight we agreed we should probably have opted for spikes. The downside of wearing spikes is that the middle of the course has a longish stretch of hard, stony path which has to be negotiated twice (out and back) on each lap.

It was a pity that we didn’t have a better turnout from the club, (no competitors in Race 2) although I accept that it’s a busy time for races etc. right now (particularly with the Northerns last weekend), and it can be difficult to fit everything in. As it was a Masters’ event, the minimum age was 35 but being an Open Championship, it wasn’t restricted only to NEMAA members. Fields are much smaller than in a Harrier League XC but the ‘Championship’ status means it tends to attract the cream of Vet XC athletes from the region and there’s no hiding place! It’s also far less busy and congested compared with most Harrier League events, and the field gets strung out pretty quickly.

Race 1 was for ladies in all age categories from 35 upwards, and male 65+ athletes. It was run over two laps of the course, a distance of approximately 3.5 miles. Race 2 featured all the remaining male age categories from 35 to 64. Three laps of the course were required this time, a distance of approximately 5.25 miles.

Our club representatives (all in Race 1) were Laura Newby-Higginbottom, Jo Raine, Amanda Taylor, Jane Henderson, and Patricia White for the ladies, plus the “evergreen” MV65 squad of myself, Andy Turnell, Gerry Hehir and Mark Standbridge. Jo was first home in 20th place with an excellent time in the conditions of 27:02. I was next home in 29th place, followed by Mark (38th) then four of our runners came in very close to one another in 42nd (Jane H), 45th (Laura), 47th (Amanda) and 48th (Andy). Gerry appeared next in 53rd place, and last but not least of our cohort, an impressive strong finish from Patricia brought her home in 67th overall.

NEMAA Championship awards were available to the first three individuals in each 5 year age group, and there were also team awards in 10 year age groups (35 – 44, 45 – 54, etc). It was a pity that Kimberley had to withdraw due to illness, as we had hoped to field a FV35 – 44 team of Laura, Jo, and Kimberley as well as a FV45 – 54 team of Amanda, Jane and Patricia (as usual with relays, a team of mixed ages has to run in the category of its youngest member).

It was more straightforward for the M65 team as we had 4 runners in the same age category. We therefore had what they term a “natural” team, with the first three finishers to count. It was nice to have the luxury of 4 runners, which provided insurance against (heaven forbid) one of our team suffering an injury or accident during the race.


So a couple of near misses for myself and Jane on the individual NEMAA medal front, but congratulations to Patricia for picking up a bronze in the F65 category. The M65 team did, however, strike gold so congratulations to my team mates. Hopefully we might pick up one or two more of these going forward – maybe we need to look more closely for races with M65 team prizes?