SUNDERLAND Harriers’ senior men’s team hit the medal trail again for the first time since 2009 in the Royal Signals North Eastern Road Relay Championships at Hetton Lyons Country Park on Saturday.
The Wearsiders, 12-times winners of the relay and third in 2009, this time delivered silver medals to give the club a real boost as they try to revive past glories.
In the highly competitive six-stage relay over legs of 2.22 miles, a recording-breaking field toed the line in the event promoted by Houghton Harriers.
With the cream of North East endurance clubs vying for success, it was not going to be any easy task for the medal hungry Sunderland squad.
But they got off to a reliable start when 18-year-old Oliver James did the business on the opening leg to finish fourth (11min 01sec) behind New Marske’s Russell Best (10.31), Durham City’s Dan Jenkin (10.32) and Fergus Roberts Richmond (10.53). Winners Morpeth were down in ninth with Jonny Nesbitt (11.20).
Craig Isherwood was next off for the royal blue vests and he had a good run to maintain fourth spot with his stint of 11.27. Morpeth hit the front on this leg through Ryan Stephenson’s 10.43, a position they would maintain to the finish.
At halfway, Sunderland were well placed for the medals, being still in fourth through Michael Barker (11.44), who was behind Morpeth (Lewis Timmins, 10.53), Gateshead (Barry Maskell, 10.59) and Richmond (Nick Zissler, 11.30).
Sunderland’s Nathan Reed, still in fourth, clocked 11.22 on the fourth leg as Morpeth appeared to have the race won after veteran Ian Hudspith recorded 10.48 to increase the Morpeth lead. In second place were last year’s winners Gateshead Harriers through Marc Elliott’s 11.12 circuit.
Matt Nicholson continued to build the Morpeth lead on the penultimate lap (10.48), while Gateshead held onto second through Kieran Flannery’s run 11.37.
But Sunderland were now in the medals after Mark Hood (11.06) continued his progress after injury to pass Richmond and take his team into third place.
On the last lap, Sunderland unleashed their big gun in Eritrean Weynay Ghebresilasie. The 18-year-old stormed passed Gateshead’s (Phil Edge, 11.32) to move into second place. But there was an almighty scrap going on with New Marske’s Ricky Stevenson, who started behind the Olympian, for the fastest time of the day.
With Morpeth out of sight and on their way to victory (Graeme Taylor, 11.01), it was Stevenson, with an indoor 3.56.31 mile to his name and the Signals course record holder on 10.09, who had the slight advantage on the first of the two undulating laps.
But Ghebresilasie pulled back five seconds on the final circuit to claim the fastest time of the day with 10.23 – two seconds faster than Stevenson, who brought his team into third.
Result: 1 Morpeth 65.32, 2 Sunderland 67.03, 3 New Masrke 67.36, 4 Gateshead 67.58 5 Richmond 69.36. 8 Durham 71.58, 30 Sunderland Strollers 79.57, 40 Houghton Harriers 81.58.
H Sunderland Harriers’ veterans, who have dominated the over-40 class for the last decade, were down in seventh this time through Paul Redman (12.29), Steve Gordon (12.33), Jon Dobson (12.20), Alan Knebel (12.58), Peter Richardson (14.22) and Dean Phillips (14.39).
Harriers’ over-50s were in the medals, finishing second (50.42) to Durham (50.23), who had Rob Hand with the second best time overall (11.52) on the anchor.
Sunderland had Brian Rushworth clocking the fastest time of the day with 11.49 for a new course record, backed by George Harden (13.04), Rob Rush (13.22) and Paul Merrison (12.27).
H Mo Farah believes practice will make perfect after announcing he will run half of this year’s London Marathon before making his full debut over the distance in the capital in 2014 – a decision world record holder Paula Radcliffe labelled “a bit strange”.