SUNDERLAND Harriers are reaping the benefits of a new competition they launched at the start of the cross country season in an effort to increase participation by club members.
The club cross country grand prix was introduced for senior men and women plus juniors (under-20) for competitions at regional, northern and national level.
Points are awarded for turning out and extra points are earned for being a team counter. National, Northern and North Eastern championships earn the most points on a sliding scale.
Nearly 40 runners are involved at the halfway stage of the season and this is expected to rise as the season draws to a close at the Harrier League at Prudhoe on Saturday, March 24.
Club secretary Michael Hill said: “The grand prix is proving a great success. It came about when the club turned out just the bare bones of a team at a Harrier League fixture last year and we lost the first division title through that.
“It’s important for the club that we are seen to turn out full teams in local, regional and national competitions. It also appeals to everyone, whatever their ability. The way the competition is structured all runners have an equal chance of lifting the grand prix title.
“The competition has encouraged athletes to enter the Northern and National championships and hopefully we will have teams in both events.’’
Heading the leader board is much-improved veteran Alan Hodgson, who is on 25 points.
The Consett athlete is being chased by one of the club’s most prolific racers over the country and on the roads – Dean Phillips, who has gained 22 points.
Fulwell bricklayer Fred Judson is also in with a shout of first prize, as he is also on 22 points. All three athletes are down for the Northern (Pontefract) and National Cross Country Championships (London) where extra grand prix points can be earned. Also on 22 points are Kevin Calvert and Paul Redman.
The rest of the top ten positions in the grand prix at the moment are: Paul Merrison 21pts, David Savage 18, Noel Hitchcock 17, Vicki Haswell 17 and Jake Archer 16.
The next grand prix event is the Durham Cathedral Relays on Sunday January 22.
H Sunderland Harriers’ golden oldie Denis Field is ranked top in three field events in the over-80s UK ranking lists.
The East Herrington athlete heads the triple jump (5.17), javelin (23.60) and discus (27.27).
H Sunderland Harrier Hollie Lancaster bids to improve on her fastest time (8.24) and go for a medal in the Northern Athletics under-15 indoor championships at Sheffield on Saturday.
H The Durham Schools’ Cross Country Championships is held at Meadowfield on Saturday.
H On Saturday, Sunderland parkrun, based at Silksworth, is holding a first-timers’ event within the run at 9am.
They will hold a special first-timers briefing at 8.45 at the start line. They are planning to have a number of volunteers to take beginners around the course at different speeds.
One of these pacers will be a walk/run pacer, who will aim to complete the 5k by walking and jogging to ensure everyone feels comfortable.
Anyone wishing to go at a faster pace will also be accommodated.