Mark Hood and Michelle Holt join the elite

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SUNDERLAND Harriers’ Mark Hood and Michelle Holt join the stars of the Bupa Great North Run on the elite start line for the 31st running of the world’s biggest half marathon.

Hood (right) is one of five North East athletes to join the leading lights, while Holt is among four other regional athletes invited to contest the event from Newcastle to South Shields before the main race gets underway.

This will be Hood’s third GNR and he has had mixed fortunes in his two previous races, finishing 25th (66.33) in 2008 before limping over the line injured in 2009. Although he bravely completed the course in 33rd in 69.56, he went into the race with an injury problem.

That calf injury became chronic and it resulted in Hood missing over a year out of the sport.

He has now put that nightmare behind him and has been gradually getting back to his best form with some encouraging results.

The 30-year-old Chester-le-Street school teacher has been putting in the miles in recent months to ensure that he is in peak form for Sunday.

“I’ve been going over 100 miles each week and my strength and speed has been gradually returning,’’ he said.

“I’ve been aiming for this race all year and I’m determined to make up for my last appearance when I struggled to complete the course. I was quite pleased with my races in the Sunderland 5k and the Darlington 10k where all the indications were I was heading in the right direction. I’m looking to improve on my personal best and go close to 65 minutes.’’

Joining Hood on the elite start is Morpeth veteran Ian Hudspith with a best half marathon time of 62.53, clubmate Peter Newton, the Northern 10,000m champion (69.12), Heaton’s James Buis (69.34) and Birtley’s Darren Purvis (70.48).

Sunderland Harrier Steven Duffy and Kevin Calvert are hoping to go close to 73 minutes. Duffy chopped chunks off his previous best last year when recording 77.23. Calvert makes his half marathon debut but his recent 10k personal best of 33.30 suggests he could go close to that mark.

Holt clocked her best time in 2008 when she finished 17th (80.51). She would love to go below 80 minutes and if she managed that feat she would be only the second Sunderland woman to do so. Houghton Harriers’ double Commonwealth Games marathon runner Lynn Harding recorded 73.09 in 1989. Holt is another runner that has been putting in the miles, with her highest mileage in a week, 113, completed during the long summer holidays she enjoys as a teacher. This year she gained victory in the Lambton Run and second places in the Pier-to-Pier and Angel View races.

The other North East athletes joining Holt on the elite start with their fastest times alongside are Wallsend’s Stacey Rogers (79.54), Middlesbrough’s Carolyn Summersgill (84.39), Chester-le-Street’s Claire Simpson (85.06) and Blackhill’s Gemma Frost (85.47).

Sunderland Harrier Eddie Maddison is one of a few to have competed in everyone of the GNR’S. The 64-year-old goes for his 31st appearance on Sunday. Last year he clocked a creditable 1.41.50. Despite struggling with hamstring trouble for most of the year he now seems to have hit a purple patch just before his big date.

“I bought a new pair of shoes and it wasn’t until I got home that I realised they were women’s trainers. But they are comfortable and I’m running a lot better now. It must be the shoes!’’ He said.

Maddison was presented with a special plaque 10 years ago to mark his 20th appearance in the world’s biggest half marathon. That is proudly displayed in his cabinet. All his treasured GNR T-shirts are unused and hanging up in the wardrobe.

When he collected his first T-shirt he managed to complete the course in 1hr 32min 33sec but after being encouraged to join Sunderland Harriers he recorded his fastest time as a 39-year-old of 1.13.24. “I’m looking again towards 1hr 45min. Anything faster will be a bonus,’’ he added.