SUNDERLAND Harriers will turn out a strong team in the defence of their Club Challenge team title in the Run Sunderland showpiece at the Stadium of Light this weekend.
This time, the inaugural redspottedhanky.com Marathon of the North is added to the competition, where the winners will take away a £500 first prize.
A minimum of six members of the same athletic club are required to take part. One athlete from the junior race, four 10K runners (with at least one female) and one Marathon entrant form the team.
The lowest cumulative time for the six club runners will be hailed Sunderland City Club Challenge champions.
In the Sunderland City 10k, the Wearsiders will call upon Kevin Calvert, Brian Rushworth, Craig Isherwood, Steven Graham and Jon Dobson to battle it out among themselves to be one of the three counting team members.
Calvert, one of the most improved endurance runners on Wearside, super veteran Rushworth and newcomer Isherwood will be the favourites to steer the Harriers to a team win. However, Graham and Dobson will be in the wings in case of any slip-ups.
It could be an intriguing battle between Calvert, who made his track debut last week and clocked 4.17.7 for 1500m at the North East Athletics League and Rushworth.
In their last joint competitive outing in the Elswick Harriers’ Good Friday Road Relay, Calvert ran the fourth-fastest overall stage time with his 10.47 clocking. The 49-year-old Rushworth recorded the quickest veterans’ time with 11.03.
Isherwood has got the racing bug and hardly a week goes by where he has not added another two or three races to his portfolio.
Last week he finished 14th in the Terry O’Gara Memorial 5k at Wallsend. He then anchored Sunderland to third in the Sedgefield Harriers Neptune relay on Wednesday before popping up again in the Sunderland park run on Saturday, winning in a personal best of 17.00 minutes.
Michelle Holt and Ingrid Hope will lead the club’s women in the 10k.
Sunderland have four men who all seem to have an equal chance of being the Harriers’ club counter in the marathon.
Steve Potts, Graham Lancaster, Noel Hitchcock and Paul Redman will be chasing a leading position in the field that has attracted nearly 2,000 runners.
Potts and Lancaster have been nursing injuries, but they are back in training and hopeful their problems are behind them.
Potts is the fastest marathon man of the four, with a 2hr 36min clocking to his name.
Over-45 veteran Redman is a reliable athlete who could turn out to be the man to beat, his best stands at 2hr 46min.
Hitchcock, like Lancaster, will be making his marathon debut, but he has a background of racing over long-distance fell races, so the marathon distance should not prove a problem.
Joel Jones will be expected to get the challenge off to a good start on Saturday in the Junior race.
The marathon is due off at 9.15am, then there will be a development mile race at 9.40am, with the 10k starting at 10.10am.
The Club Room at the stadium will be accessible to all club members after the race, where free refreshments will be available.
H Sunderland Harriers’ talented sprinter Hollie Lancaster warmed up for the North East Championships a week on Saturday with a sprint double in the Gateshead Open Medal meeting on Sunday.
Competing in the 13 to 15 age group, she won the 100m in 12.70 and the 200m (26.50).
Club-mate Logan Powell was also in fine form with a win in the under-15s 100m (12.04) and second in the 200m (24.87).
Patrick Crombie was runner-up in the senior 1,500m (4.15.55) and Sam McKenzie was second in the senior women’s 100m (13.38).
Houghton Harrier Ben Mitchell won the under-15 80m hurdles (13.87).