Title’s up for grabs, with Penshaw king out of Hill race

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THE 21st running of the Sunderland Harriers’ Penshaw Hill race takes place tonight.

While it is not regarded as a fell race, the North East Vending and Start Fitness-supported race, has a reputation as one of the toughest events in the North East.

The two-lap course skirts the monument before the final gruelling climb to the top of the hill, giving a distance of approximately three miles. The race also includes prizes for the first runner to reach the monument first on the opening lap.

Over the years, the hill race has attracted a wide cross section of endurance specialists from track athletes, hill and cross-country runners to road runners.

They have all met with varying degrees of success, but star of the show is Penshaw kingpin Brian Rushworth.

Unfortunately, Rushworth will not be defending his title, as he is still sidelined with a long-term Achilles tendon injury.

This will allow another athlete the chance of winning the title, as it will be only the fourth time the winner’s trophy has not ended up in Rushworth’s home.

Indeed, during the previous 20 years, Rushworth has only been beaten once – in 2008, when Morpeth’s junior international fell runner Nick Swinburn just got the better of the 44-year-old veteran. Injury and illness forced cross-country specialist Rushworth to miss the event in 1993 and 2002 when Morpeth’s Ian Archbold and Terry Wall took the plaudits.

Michael Openshaw, a World Championship 5000m runner, twice came to Penshaw to try to unseat Rushworth. But his superior track speed failed to get the better of the dogged Rushworth, who won both encounters.

Without Rushworth the race appears wide open, although to pinpoint a likely winner is difficult as there are entries on the night.

Again, Sunderland veterans have entered the race in good numbers and they would do well to repeat their success of 2009 when they filled the first four places.

Following Rushworth home were Tim Field in second, Paul Merrison third and Paul Redman fourth.

This will be Redman’s third race within eight days and comes just three days after finishing 14th in Sunday’s Redcar half-marathon.

The 46-year-old is building-up towards the Chevy Chase in Wooler, a daunting 20-mile fell race which tests the fittest of runners.

Noel Hitchcock, second in the recent Glendue Fell race, near Brampton in Cumbria, is expected to make his Penshaw debut.

Sunderland Harriers continued their domination of their Penshaw promotion last year by also providing the winner of the women’s race in Hayley Reed. But it is clubmate Michelle Holt who will be the favourite. She clocked her fastest time when finishing eighth overall in 2009 with 19.47 to win the women’s race for the third time.

The race starts at 7.15pm and late entries are available at the bottom of the hill. The prize presentation is in the Monument pub, Penshaw.