Athletics: Crunch meeting for Harrier League clubs

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Sunderland’s three Harrier League clubs go into the final cross-country fixture of the season at Prudhoe on Saturday with plenty to run for, writes Kevin Carr.

Sunderland Harriers, Sunderland Strollers and Houghton Harriers are all involved in their own battles in their respective divisions.

The Harriers will be out to maintain third spot in the first division after they let the title race slip from their grasp. They are too far behind leaders Morpeth and second club Gateshead Harriers to make up the deficit unless their rivals have a disaster.

The Strollers are in a relegation fight once again and they need to at least beat Elswick Harriers and Alnwick to secure first division survival.

Houghton look almost certain to secure promotion to the second division behind runaway leaders Tyne Bridge Harriers.

Morpeth and Gateshead have never won the first division title, while Sunderland Harriers remarkable run has hit the buffers after winning the title 24 times since 1980. Their last win coming in 2010. The Wearsiders are one of only two clubs, Wallsend being the other, that have maintained their first division status since the league was split into divisions.

Sunderland’s challenge at the Tynedale Harriers promotion on Saturday will be led by Nathan Reed, who has shrugged off illness and injury worries to take his place in the slow pack in the handicap race. The 20-year-old Hall Farm athlete will be one of the favourites for a medal in what is regarded as the toughest Harrier League course.

The league’s sponsors Start Fitness have offered a commemorative polo shirt to all athletes who have finished five of the six Harrier League races as well as being recorded in the results of the North Eastern Counties Cross-Country Championships.

Sunderland Harriers’ club grand prix leaders Alan Hodgson, Fred Judson, David Savage, Dean Phillips and Paul Redman have all got the required runs under their belt and they can all look forward to another award as well as a grand prix prize.

The Harrier League is continuing to go from strength to strength with nearly 4,000 club runners having competed in the five league fixtures so far this season. The 400-barrier for the senior men’s race was broken for the first time in the Blaydon meeting in November.

The women have also broken all records after their league was split into two divisions this season. Fields are approaching 200 and the sport of cross country running in the senior age groups is definitely on the up.

Sunderland Strollers women are lying fourth on 20 points behind top club Tynedale (9), North Shields Poly (15) and Heaton (15).

Sunderland Harriers under-15 team of Danielle Elliott, Anna Robinson, Alex Pearson and Merial Smithson, have just to turn up to win the under-15 girls’ league title.

The race HQ/registrations will be located in the buildings at Prudhoe High School.

The provisional timetable of events is: 12.15 U11s (Boys and Girls), 12.30 Boys under-13, 12.40 Girls under-13, 12.50 Boys under-15, 12.55 Girls under -15, 13.15 Senior Men, 13.50 Under-17 Men, 14.00 Senior Women & Under 17/20 Women.

The organisers have asked athletes and supporters to park in the designated car parks and not in the residential streets surrounding the school.

* Houghton Harriers had a number of successes in the Gateshead Indoor meeting.

Rachel Scott gained a double in the under-17 long jump (4.08) and 60m (9.4), Ben Mitchell won the under-15 shot 11.41 and 60m (9.9), while Owen Barrass triumphed in the under-17 shot (11.48).

Sunderland Harrier Sam McKenzie won the under-20 women’s 60m (8.2) and Logan Powell was first under-15 boy (7.5). Anthony Barnes was runner-up in the under-20s 60m (7.4).