Sunderland Harriers aim to defend title

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SUNDERLAND Harriers’ distance athletes are putting the final touches to their training in preparation for the defence of their team title in the Marathon of the North Club Challenge at the Stadium of Light on Saturday and Sunday, May 5 and 6.

The competition formed a successful part of the inaugural Sunderland City 10k last year and now the marathon has been added to the format.

The challenge requires each club to enter at least one runner in the Sunderland Echo Junior Run, four runners in the 10K (with at least one female) and one athlete in the Marathon of the North. The lowest cumulative time for the six club runners will be the winners of the Sunderland City Club Challenge.

Last year, the Harriers won the £500 first prize with Kevin Calvert, Steven Duffy, Paul Redman and Michelle Holt from the 10k and Luca Irvine in the junior race.

This time, Calvert will be joined by super veteran Brian Rushworth, Craig Isherwood, 17-year-old Patrick Crombie, Michelle Holt and Ingrid Hope in the 10k.

The rapidly-improving Calvert and the 49-year-old Rushworth should be both be involved at the sharp end of the race and Isherwood can be relied upon for much-needed support to his clubmates.

Holt and over-50 Hope will also give a good account of themselves to ensure Sunderland are in with a shout of first prize, while Joel Jones could win the junior race.

The Marathon of the North sees at least a half a dozen Harriers fighting it out among themselves to be the first Sunderland runner home with the reward of being a Club Challenge team counter.

Graham Lancaster, Steve Potts, Noel Hichcock, Steven Gordon and Brian Bewick have all been training diligently over the winter months and beyond to be in prime condition for Sunderland’s first ever marathon.

Unfortunately, Bewick’s tough training regime has seen him pick up a hamstring injury and his place on the start line now appears to be in doubt. But the rest are approaching peak fitness and it should be a close battle between them to see who arrives at the Stadium of Light first after their 26.2 mile trek.

Graham Lancaster is back in the throes of training and racing after regaining his appetite for competition. He recently dipped under 35 minutes in the Trafford 10k and picked up a third over-40 veterans’ prize in the Liverpool half marathon to announce he is back on the racing scene.

“I’m looking to run about 2hr 50min as I need to be cautious as this is my first marathon. It does not appear to be a particular fast course. There are plenty of twists and turns and a few uphill sections. But I’m looking forward to it,’’ said Lancaster.

Steve Potts is the fastest marathon runner of the bunch with a 2.36.48 clocking from 2008, but his form of late does not suggest an improvement on that time.

Steve Gordon recorded 3.09.14 in London last year, but an improvement could be on the cards after an impressive 13th place and third veterans award in the Wallington half marathon last month.

Noel Hitchcock has been quietly getting on with his marathon training and racing programme in preparation for his marathon debut. He recently finished 18th in the tough Buttermere Round 34k fell race and was 11th in the Lorten School 10k (37.41).