A great day out for the Sunderland Harriers athletic team

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NORTH EAST athletes, cheered on by hundreds of spectators, enjoyed their best North of England Cross Country Championship for years at Herrington Country Park on Saturday.

The 118th championship came to Sunderland for the first time and the near 5,000 crowd enjoyed a feast of cross country running around gruelling courses under the shadows of Penshaw Monument.

With ten events on the programme, clubs from far and wide made the journey to the country park to be greeted by a frozen course. But it was not long after the first two races, that the course became a mud bath as the sun shone and melted the ice.

The North East individual medal tally came to three golds, one silver and three bronze, but surprisingly no team medals. That score easily trounced last year’s total at Blackburn when the meagre score came to a solitary bronze.

The gold medalists were Phillip Hurst (Elswick) in the under-20 men, Kate Avery (Shildon) – under-20 women and Lewis Hogg (Gateshead) – under-17 men. Birtley’s Lydia Turner won silver in the under-15 girls’ and bronze medals were awarded to Morpeth’s Laura Weightman – under-20 women, Cameron Boyek (Shildon) – under-17 men and Durham’s Rosie Smith – senior women.

Smith improved from sixth last year at Blackburn to take third place (32.05) in the senior women’s 8.2k race. She said: “That was a really tough course, but I’m very pleased with my run. I was not far off the silver medal and not too far away from the winner. Hopefully I can continue to improve next year.’’

Susan Partridge of Leeds won in 30.38 from Victoria Wilkinson Bingley (30.59). The top North East runners were 15th Carolyn Summersgill (Midds) 33.25, 16th Tracy Millmore (Chester-le-Street) 33.27, 17th Jane Mooney (Morpeth) 33.30, 18th Georgina Rutherford (Darl) 33.36 and 24th Maxine Czarnecka (Morpeth) 34.09. Sunderland Harrier Michelle Holt finished 50th in 35.46.

Sunderland Harrier Patrick Martin ran his best ever cross country race to finish fifth (40.21) and just 16 seconds away from a bronze medal in the senior 12k race. Not normally known for his cross country prowess, the 24-year-old put the doubters in their place with a great performance. He was always up there and at one stage moved into fourth place but at the finish he just did not have the speed to outkick Lincoln Wellington’s Ian Kimpton who took fourth (40.19).

Martin, 24, whose winter season has been beset with niggling injury worries, said: “I’m delighted with that. I have just completed my first three week spell of training for months. It was tough, but I felt strong.’’ His next race is the Armagh International 5k road race in Northern Ireland on Thursday Feburary 10.

The winner was Bolton’s Tom Lancashire (38.09) from Steve Vernon (Stockport) 38.22 and Andi Jones of Salford was third (40.05). Leading North East finishers were: Eighth Andrew Wiles (New Marske) 40.36, 13th Dan Garbutt 41.08, 16th Peter Newton (Morpeth) 41.19, 17th Matthew Nicholson (Morpeth) 41.24, 30th Richard Morrell (New Marske) 42.16, 33rd Ros Floyd (Morpeth) 42.27, 35th Michael Crawley (Durham) 42.30.

Sunderland finished third, other North East teams were seventh placed Durham and Morpeth in eighth. The club’s counters behind Martin were: 117th Paul Redman, 134th Jon Dobson, 184th Steven Duffy, 193rd Steven Gordon, and 382nd Len Christopher.

Sunderland also finished 13th team in the under-13 boys with Jack Robinson 77th, Ben Johnson 112th, Luke Phillips 134th and Kieran Watson 136th. The under-15s were ninth with Michael Wilson 40th, Dominic Hill 57th, Joel Jones 83rd and James Myers 102nd. Sophie Burnett was 43rd in the under-13 girls’ race and Amy Coulson was 48th under-15.