SUNDERLAND Harrier Brian Rushworth triumphed for a remarkable 18th time to take the 22nd North East Vending Penshaw Hill race title in a dramatic event last night.
The 49-year-old Penshaw kingpin must have thought that his chances of adding to his superb winning record were greatly reduced when the 2008 winner Nick Swinburn turned up as a late entry.
While the Morpeth Harrier has shown indifferent form of late following a three-month training spell at altitude in Kenya, he is an international fell runner and an athlete of some standing when in form.
Swinburn set off the way I’m sure he intended to finish by taking the prime award for the first athlete to reach the monument first on the opening lap.
But then, after turning the corners of the monument, he darted down the hill, in true fell runner style, heading back to the start. He had gone off course. It was only the shouts of spectators that had told him he was going the wrong way that halted him. The 24-year-old put the brakes on and made a swift turnaround to retrace his steps to get back on the right course.
When the athletes emerged for the start of the first of two laps on the middle path of Penshaw Hill, it was the familiar running style of Rushworth that was now in the lead. Swinburn was back in fifth and going at some pace in a valiant attempt to close the unforgiving 18 seconds gap of his rival.
Rushworth was now looking to be on his way to another superb victory, but Swinburn was not finished yet. He was up into second place and launching a last gasp effort to chase Rushworth up to the top of the hill to the finish, taking yards out of his lead. At the end only three seconds covered the pair.
An exhausted Rushworth said: “I didn’t realise I was in the lead until well into the race. I never saw Nick go off course. When I realised I was leading I knew the pressure was on to maintain the gap. Towards the end I was shattered and going up that last hill I was on my knees. I’m just delighted to have won this race again.’’
Swinburn offered no excuses for the first person in the 22 year history of the race to go off course. He said: “I must have had a brainstorm to make a mistake like that. It was my fault.’’
In third place was 20-year-old Nathan Reed who shadowed Rushworth for most of the race until fatigue set in. Tim Field in fifth bounced back to form to take the veterans’ award in fifth.
Sunderland Harrier Michelle Holt won the women’s title for the fourth time, finishing 17th overall in 20.01. Jarrow and Hebburn’s Angela Hunter was second (20.55) and Saltwell Harrier Melanie Haughan was third (22.48).
Results: 1 Brian Rushworth V45 (Sun Harr) 16.54, 2 Nick Swinburn (Morpeth) 16.57, 3 Nathan Reed (Sun Harr) 17.20, 4 Craig Isherwood (Sun Harr) 17.38, 5 Tim Field V45 (Sun Harr), 6 Michael Barker (Sun Harr) 18.21. 7 Nial McArdle (Sun Stroll) 18.28, 8 Paul Merrison V50 (Sun Harr) 18.45, 9 Steve Rankin (Sun Stroll) 18.47, 10 Paul Redman V45 (Sun Harr) 19.01, 11 Alan Hodgson V40 (Sun Harr) 19.07, 12 Roger Sillito (Low Fell) 19.24, 13 Jim Thompson (Saltwell) 19.27, 14 Tim Bateson V40 (Sun Stroll) 19.39, 15 Jason Waite (Sun Harr) 19.42, 16 Chris Kennedy (Saltwell) 19.53, 17 Michelle Holt (Sun Harr) 20.01, 18 Darren Bradshaw (Unatt) 20.02, 19 John Tollitt (Tyne Bridge) 20.16, 20 Bill Bowman V45 (Sun Stroll).