Nathan Reed’s late decision to take his place on the start line, after being doubtful through an Achilles tendon problem, was rewarded with him retaining his title in an exciting Penshaw Hill Race last night.
The Sunderland Harrier sensibly made a cautious start in his bid for his third victory in the popular three-mile race.
And he was way off the pace as leaders climbed the hill to the famous monument on the opening lap.
This is where the prime prize is awarded and it was clubmate Steve Rankin who found the pace to defeat his closest rival, tiny Sedgefield Harrier Kieron Walker, to take the award.
As Rankin faded, youngsters Walker (18) and Houghton Harrier Alex Brown (17) provided the opposition to Reed as he gradually made his way through the field to join them after the first lap was completed.
Going into the last gruelling lap through Penshaw Woods, before the final climb to the monument, Brown and Reed were the duo from whom the race would be decided as Walker was beginning to slip off the pace.
Coming out of the woods, up a steep incline, the brave Brown made his move, opening up a 20-metre gap on his rival.
“He was still in full flow as he hit flatter ground on the loop at the bottom of the hill, but this is way Reed made his bid for victory.
“I knew if I got in front of him before the final climb up the hill, I would win, said Reed, who clocked 16min 24sec to win by five seconds.
“I was pleased to be racing again after all my problems and to win again was all that I wanted.
“I have missed a lot of training, but my Achilles held up. It was a tough race and he ran well and really tested me.’’
Brown, one of the North East’s promising young athletes, said: “I thought I had it won when I opened that gap, but he was that bit too strong for me.’’
Walker ran well for third and former winner Scott Ellis, of North Shields, was fourth.
The women’s race was won by Morpeth’s Emma Holt, who finished a superb 12th overall in a time more than one minute faster than last year (18.44).
She also equalled her performances of 2015 by winning the prime prize for a golden double.
She said: “I really enjoy this race and it’s nice to come here again and win. It is a tough and hard course where you are having to work all the way.’’
In second place was her clubmate Sarah Wilkinson (19.05) and Sunderland Harrier Alice Smith had a great race to finish third (19.25).
Clubmate Jess Fox was fourth (19.45) and Georgia Campbell of Jarrow and Hebburn was fifth (19.46).
Sunderland Harrier Nicola Woodward was the first veteran (21.26).
Result: 1 Nathan Reed (Sunderland Harriers) 19.39, 2 Alex Brown (Houghton Harriers) 16.29, 3 Kieron Walker (Sedgefield) 16.43, 4 Scott Ellis (North Shields Poly) 17.08, 5 Michael Barker (Sunderland Harriers) 17.21, 6 Steve Rankin (Sunderland Harriers) 17.33, 7 Michael Thompson V45 (Sunderland Harriers) 17.49, 8 Jack Talentire (Sunderland Harriers) 17.52, 9 Michael Edward (Sunderland Harriers) 18.18, 10 Steve Everett V55 (Durham City Harriers) 18.35