SUNDERLAND Harriers get the cross-country season under way when they host their Start Fitness 30th annual meeting at Farringdon on Saturday.
The Wearsiders have the proud boast of staging the longest-running club open cross-country event in the North East – but it started out as a road race!
The event now takes on more significance as the city club recently reluctantly pulled out of hosting a Harrier League fixture on the same course after 42 years of participation. The course became too small for the growing number of senior men contesting Harrier League events.
It was way back in 1970 that an idea was first mooted that the Harriers should have an event on the North East fixture list by establishing their own open road race in Sunderland.
The club hit on an idea that a composite road relay with seniors and youths should be held at Grindon. Gateshead Harriers were the winners of the only two relays held before the event became an open road race over three laps taking in Grindon Lane, The Prospect, Springwell Road and up Chester Road before finishing outside Grindon Boys’ Club, Grindon Lane.
But traffic problems on the route forced the Harriers to look for a new venue and the grounds of Cherry Knowle Hospital, Ryhope, staged the club races for the next three years.
With mounting problems of traffic and police pressure at Ryhope, the club decided to move again, this time to an off road venue.
So it was in 1983 that the cross-country course at Farringdon was chosen and it has been used ever since, winning accolades as one of the best courses in the region.
The six events on the programme cater for all age groups from under-11s to veterans with the senior men’s and veterans’ four stage relay being the highlight of the afternoon proceedings.
Last year, Sunderland came close to making it a golden double when they won the veterans’ relay and finished second in the senior men’s relay over four legs of 1.8 miles.
It was new club Tyne Bridge Harriers that upset the applecart, stopping the city club in their tracks over the anchor stage. The last time the Sunderland senior team won was in 2009.
The Sunderland senior A team will be selected from Kevin Calvert, Oliver James, Nathan Reed, Craig Isherwood, Michael Barker and Steve Potts. The veterans can call upon Brian Rushworth, Jon Dobson, Paul Merrison, Paul Collins, Paul Redman and Alan Hodgson.
The race is the first one on the Harriers’ winter cross-country grand prix where Hodgson will be defending his title.
As well as the two relays there are races over approximately 1.8 miles for all the other age groups. But the under-11s compete over 1000m and this is the first race on the programme at 12.00 noon.
The relay starts at 1pm and the women’s race is the last one at 1.50pm. Late entries will be accepted on the day in the school hall.
H Sunderland Strollers Kevin O’Neil (3.19.12) and Malcolm Cox (3.51.23) competed in the Highland Perthshire Marathon in Aberfeldy on Sunday.
H Tiki Gelana (pictured), the Olympic marathon gold medallist, will be aiming to join several other world class Ethiopian runners who have triumphed in past Bupa Great North Run’s at this year’s race on September 16.
Gelana, who stunned her rivals with her surprise win at the recent London Games, headlines a superb women’s line up for Britain’s biggest running event which will see the 55,000 competitors trek 13.1 miles from Newcastle to South Shields.
The 24-year-old Ethiopian record holder will feature in a line-up which includes last year’s World Marathon champion Edna Kiplagat and her fellow Kenyan Irene Jerotich, winner of the Commonwealth title in 2010 and Great Britain’s Jo Pavey making a swift transition from her Olympic track appearances back to road running.
But all eyes will be on Gelana, who is the niece of Gezahegne Abera, the 2000 Sydney Games marathon winner who has encouraged her since she was a child.
Although Gelana fell over a plastic bottle during her epic victory in London, she picked herself up to defeat the much more fancied favourites from her Kenyan neighbours at a race contested with the rain pouring down.
Now she will be attempting to emulate the victories of renowned Ethiopian stars Berhane Adere in 2006 and 2010, Gete Wami who triumphed in 2008 and the world’s greatest ever female distance runner, Derartu Tulu.