HOUGHTON Harriers are set to stage the North East Road Relay Championships on the new course at Hetton Lyons Country Park for the second time on Saturday.
The championships, for the Royal Signals trophy, have received a bumper entry, with 80 teams for the three events on the programme.
There is a six-stage relay for seniors and veteran men, and the women race over four legs.
As well as the relay for over-40 men, a new event has been added – an over-50 event, again over six stages.
Sunderland Harriers, winners of the magnificent Signals trophy 12 times, will be represented in each of the four events.
They will be defending their veterans’ title and are gunning to lift the over-50 championship.
The senior men’s A team will be the strongest for years and the women have a decent team, too.
Sunderland senior men’s last victory came in 2007. They finished second in 2008 and third in 2009.
The veteran men have also won their relay for the last nine years.
Club secretary Michael Hill welcomes back leading lights Jack Martin and Mark Hood to the senior team following long-term injury problems.
However, the club’s other top relay men, Gavin Massingham and Patrick Martin, will both be absent.
Massingham is warm weather training in Portugal and Patrick Martin is racing in Armagh on Thursday night in an international 5k, followed by a 6k cross-country race on Saturday.
With Jack Martin and Hood spearheading the team, Hill will select the other four from Jake Archer, Richard Kemp, Steven Potts, Steven Duffy, Michael Wilson and Jason Waite.
Veterans’ captain Rob Rush will pick his over-40 team from: Brian Rushworth; Brian Bewick; Jon Dobson; Paul Bestford; Paul Redman; Paul Collins; Ken Bell and Tim Field.
Rushworth, forced to miss the Northern Cross-Country Championship with a calf problem, is hoping to make the start this time.
The over-50s will chase gold with: Tom Campion; Keith Elliott; Paul Merrison; Vince Emmett; Glenn Forster; Jim Wightman; Eddie Maddison; Steve Winter; Len Christopher and Billy Bittlestone.
Merrison will face a fitness test as he has been suffering from an Achilles tendon problem.
The women’s team will be headed by Michelle Holt, lying fourth in the North East Harrier League grand prix, and she will be joined by Hayley Reed, over-50 Ingrid Hope and 15-year-old Amy Coulson.
Chester-le-Street defend the women’s title and the Cestrians will welcome back Alyson Dixon after spell of altitude training in Kenya.
She is in tremendous form following her win and personal best of 33.28 in the Dewsbury 10k Road Race on Sunday.
Hosts Houghton and Sunderland Strollers are both well represented in the championship. Last year the Strollers finished fourth in the veterans men’s relay.
Signals course records: Senior men – Gateshead 65.45, leg Adam Morrell and Andy Wiles (New Marske) 10.36.
Veterans – Sunderland Harriers 71.12, leg Brian Rushworth (Sun Har) 11.16.
Women – Chester-le-Street 49.20, leg Emma Raven (Chester-le-Street) 11.57.
Each leg at Hetton Lyons Country Park will be over two laps of 2.22 miles on a closed tarmac road.
There is one hill to negotiate, but the rest of the lap is fast going. The race starts at 1pm and athletes are asked to report by noon.