Sunderland Stroller Alyson Dixon faces the race of her life when Britain’s top distance runners battle it out in the London Marathon on Sunday for a place in the Olympic team for Rio.
The 37-year-old is one of only two UK athletes that have the qualification time (2.31.00) for Brazil, with Sale Harrier Sonia Samuels, the other.
They achieved their target time in the Berlin Marathon last September when former Wallsend Harrier Samuels clocked 2.28.04 and Dixon 2.29.30.
The selectors have stated that athletes need to run the qualification time and finish as one of the first two Brits in order to guarantee selection.
So the pressure is on Samuels and Dixon’s rivals to ensure they run a fast qualification time and finish in the first two.
It promises to be a real treat for spectators and TV supporters alike, seeing how the drama of the race unfolds and not just watching a time trial.
With a spell of high altitude training in Kenya and having just arrived back after another altitude spell in France in Fort Romeu, Dixon is in good shape.
She will want to make amends after missing out on the London Olympics in 2012.
Among her leading rivals is Leeds City athlete Susan Partridge (PB 2.30.46) who could also be in the mix after coming desperately close to the selection time at the Chicago Marathon last October, while former Chester-le-Street athlete Freya Ross (PB 2.28.10) is back from long-term injury and has high hopes of making the Olympic team again after running for Britain at London 2012 as a late replacement for Paula Radcliffe.
The talented marathon debutante, Charlotte Purdue, should not be discounted, but the experienced Louise Damen has been forced to pull out with an injury sustained while training in Albuquerque.
At the other end of the age scale, Chester-le-Street’s Ian Bloomfield will be targeting the 63-year-old single age world best of 2.46.26 for the marathon.
He said: “Having been hampered with flu and a bout of shingles recently, my training has not gone as well as expected and my racing has been limited to an 80 minute half-marathon (York) and a 61 minute 10 miler (Thirsk).
“Hardly the best preparation for a good marathon, but I’ve been putting the miles in as best I can and hope to be ready for Sunday.
“My 2:44 from two years ago has qualified me for an AAA championship entry and I’ll be planning to consolidate that with a 2:45 target time.
“However, I’ve ran too many marathons now to know that anything can happen during the race, and very often does, so it’s always best to be realistic about the challenge ahead and I’ll take anything sub three hours, especially at 63.
“On a more optimistic note, if all goes well, the last time I looked, the 63-year-old single age World Best was 2:46:26, which is certainly possible, but I’ve learned over the years not to ‘count your chickens’.
“If it happens, all well and good, but I won’t be disrespecting the distance whatever the scenario.”
Bloomfield holds the British Over-60 best for the marathon, having clocked 2.44.27 in Manchester in 2014.
At the peak of his athletics career, the former international recorded his fastest time of 2.17.42.
Andrew Forbes set a new Stroller men’s marathon record with 2:51:59 in the Manchester Marathon.
Clubmate Lyne Valentine, an Over-60, clocked 4.08.11 in Monday’s Boston Marathon.
In the Anne Marie Readshaw Memorial Open meeting at Shildon, Houghton Harrier Henry Johnson’s time of 9:44.9 gave him third fastest time over the distance for an Under-15 in the UK this year.
First place finishes were also gained by Matthew Lumb (Under-13 boys’ 100m) and Lydia James (Under-15 girls’ 800m).
Sunderland Harrier Sarah Knight was first Under-17 and third overall in the 3,000m at Shildon. She made her 3km debut on the track and recorded 11.25.7.
She competes for the North East this Sunday, along with her Under-13 team-mate Connor Prior, in the London Mini Marathon.
Next Wednesday, the Neptune relays are at Hardwick Park, Sedgefield from 6.45pm.
Teams of four race over legs of approximately 1.7 miles around trails and paths.