SUNDERLAND Harriers qualified for the National Road Relay final in the Northern 12-stage championship at Manchester on Saturday.
The Wearsiders, with a new management structure at the helm in manager Albert James and captain Dave Savage, achieved their target of a top-25 place and automatic qualification for the trip to Sutton Coldfield on April 5.
They finished 18th to join third-placed Morpeth Harriers, Gateshead (12th) and Tyne Bridge (15th) in a record-breaking entry of 77 teams at Heaton Park.
Sunderland’s hero of the day was Steve Tiltman, who came into the team at the 11th hour to run the anchor leg.
He arrived at the club through the jogging ranks, four months ago, and he ran his socks off to maintain a qualifying position.
The relay over alternate long and short legs, saw Sunderland get off to a steady start through Kevin Calvert’s opening in 17th (29.28). Mark Hood then toured his short stage leg in 16.16 to move up three places before Nathan Reed pegged back another spot for 13th (30.19).
Michael Wilson, 18, the youngest runner in the team, had the delight of taking the Wearsiders to their highest position throughout the race, climbing to 11th (16.23). Craig Isherwood, despite slipping to 12th, had his best race for months (30.26) before Jake Archer came back in 13th (17.30) at the halfway mark.
Michael Barker clocked 32.36 for 14th, Matthew Fearn held the same position on the eighth leg (17.51) and Ian Dixon recorded the same time as Barker to drop a further place to 15th.
Graham Lancaster, on leg 10, was sent the wrong way, losing about 30 seconds to finish his stint in 18.15, but he still held onto 15th. Steve Potts came back on the penultimate leg (31.54) to maintain that slot before Tiltman set off on his glory leg (19.55), arriving back at the finish a tired, but happy athlete in 18th.
Leeds won in 4.22.29 from Stockport (4.25.34) and Morpeth recorded 4.27.31 for the bronze medals. Stockport’s team featured former Sunderland runners Patrick and Jack Martin.
Patrick was the fourth fastest overall on the short leg (14.45) behind the fastest, Morpeth’s Nick McCormick (14.16).
Jack clocked the joint 19th quickest time – alongside Morpeth’s veteran Ian Hudspith – 28.21 behind Steve Vernon’s best of 27.20.
Other North East clubs positions were Durham in 35th, with Dan Jenkin (28.22) among the fastest long leg runners, Jarrow and Hebburn in 36th, with Andy Burn having an outstanding leg of 28.35, and Hartlepool Burn Road Harriers in 43rd.
H National champion Lydia Turner capped her superb season with second place in the senior girls’ race in the English Schools’ Cross Country Championships at Castle Donnington on Saturday. Sunderland’s Sophie Burnett, also representing Durham, finished 39th in the inter girls’ race.
H Sunderland Harrier Paul Merrison won the over-55 title in the British Masters Cross Country Championships at Glasgow on Saturday.
Jarrow and Hebburn had Elaine Leslie as second over-45 and Heather Robinson third over-50