BRIAN RUSHWORTH astounded his clubmates when he turned up for last night’s 21st running of the North East Vending Penshaw Hill Race.
The pre-race publicity had stated that an injured Rushworth was giving the race a miss, so it was a complete surprise to all his rivals that he was there among them.
The 48-year-old Sunderland Harrier, who has lost the Penshaw title only once, decided at the last minute to toe the line after being on the injured list since competing in the National Veterans’ Cross-Country Championships on March 12.
With only two weeks’ light training behind him, he took the chance of giving his favourite race a go when clearly far from his fittest.
“I decided to have a jog before the race to try out my Achilles’ tendon. It was only after that I decided to race,’’ he said.
It was Sunderland Stroller Liam Taylor who claimed the title (16.52) after facing the might of a remarkable Rushworth challenge. The 25-year-old ran the race like a scared rabbit, with the Penshaw kingpin breathing down his neck.
Far from going through the motions and treating the event as a training spin, Rushworth was out to win the race.
But it was Taylor who laid down the gauntlet when he set off to win the prime prize to reach the famous monument first on the opening lap.
The Barnes barman was in full flow, while Rushworth set off at a steady pace, picking his way through the field.
“Brian was just behind me going through the woods on the first lap,’’ said Taylor, who seemed to spend the whole race glancing over his shoulder checking to see where Rushworth was.
“He was catching me, so I put in an effort coming out of the woods and managed to get a few more yards on him.
“He was never far behind me. I know how good a runner he is, so I could never relax. But, on the last lap, the gap stretched a little and it was then I realized I had the race won.’’
Rushworth, with 17 Penshaw victories to his name, added: “That must be one of the hardest races I’ve ever run.
“I was on my knees coming up the hill at the finish. I was exhausted, but I had to give it a go. I’ll know tomorrow how my Achilles has reacted to the race.’’
In third place, with his best-ever run, was Sunderland Harrier Kevin Calvert, just five seconds behind Rushworth.
The women’s winner was Leeds City athlete Claire Duck, 4.27, a 1,500m runner, who overhauled leader Michelle Holt not far from the finish.
Duck finished 23rd overall in 20.01 and Sunderland Harrier Holt was 17 seconds behind.
Durham’s Aiveen Fox was third (20.30) after taking the prime prize. Next came unattached Alice Smith (22.24) followed by Saltwell’s Melanie Haughan (22.51) and Stroller Ashleigh Thorpe was sixth (23.01).
Results: 1 Liam Taylor (Sunderland Stroll) 16.52, 2 Brian Rushworth V45 (Sun Harr) 17.14. 3 Kevin Clavert (Sun Harr) 17.19, 4 James Raven (Cardiff) 17.46, 5 Tim Field V45 (Sun Harr) 17.56, 6 Jon Dobson V45 (Sun Harr) 18.10, 7 Graham Lancaster (Sun Harr) 18.15, 8 Finn Brodie (Gosforth) 18.19, 9 Paul Redman V45 (Sun Harr) 18.23, 10 Ben Foster (Sth Shields) 18.28, 11 George Arthur (Sth Shields) 18.33, 12 Noel Hitchcock (Sun Harr) 18.40, 13 Tom Grey (Houghton) 18.43, 14 Colin Robson (Jarr & Heb) 18.53, 15 Steve Gordon (Sun Harr) 18.58, 16 Ken Maynard V50 (Sun Stroll) 19.07, 17 Tom Campion V50 (Sun Harr) 19.12, 18 Alan Hodgson V40 (Sun Harr) 19.17, 19 Darren Bradshaw (Sth Shields) 19.59, 20 George Bainbridge V40 (Sth Shields).