The Sunderland 5k Road Race on Thursday night at Silksworth Sports Complex sees another bumper entry for the Sunderland Harriers’ promotion.
This is the 24th annual running of the popular event and, again, the race has attracted a class field with a host of top North East endurance runners down to compete.
With the race combining the North East and Northern Championships, and held on a super fast course, all the ingredients are there for the elite club runner to make his mark.
With the vast majority of the field, including fun runners, setting personal bests, it is regarded as one of the fastest 5ks in the country.
On top of that, times could be even faster this year, as the crumbling and raised pathway, just after the start, has been resurfaced.
It is a far cry from the early 5ks from 1993 when the finish of the race was on grass, on what is now the tennis centre car park.
This undoubtedly slowed times, but Sunderland Harriers’ kingpin Brian Rushworth, who won the first five events, was still under the 15 minutes benchmark with his best set in the inaugural race where he recorded 14.36.
He went on to record 14.34 in 2000, and that was the record until Michael Openshaw (Birchfield) toured the course in 14.25 in 2002, before Martin Scaife (Mandale) clocked 14.23 in 2004 and that time still stands today as the course record.
Although, the very next year, clubmate Ian Hudspith came mighty close to breaking the new figures with his winning performance of 14.24.
The fastest time in recent years was Leeds City athlete Carl Smith’s 14.37 clocking in 2015.
The field on Thursday evening has those figures in front of them and, if favourable weather conditions prevail, another superfast time could be on the cards.
Last year, late entry Chris Parr won in 14.55 in windy conditions with the head wind confronting him on the long stretch at the back of Premier Road.
And he was also slowed when he was forced to stop when a woman with two dogs off their leash blocked the narrow path. He said then: “It did knock my rhythm and I had to get going again.”
The leading protagonists on the entry list so far include New Marske’s Dominic Shaw PB 14.40, Thomas Cornthwaite (Salford) PB 14.46 and Carl Avery (Morpeth) PB 14.52.
Also entered are leading club runners Matthew Williams (Notts AC), Finn Brodie (Tyne Bridge), Sam Hancox, Karl Taylor (Morpeth), Dean Newton (New Marske), Alex Brown (Houghton), Dan Jenkin, Robert Eaton, Jonathan Wilkinson, James Askew (Durham), Greg Jayasuriya (Middlesbrough) and Darrell Hastie of Scottish club Gala Harriers.
Sunderland Harriers’ men’s team last year won the bronze team medals behind winners Morpeth and Gateshead, and they would at least want to match that performance this time.
They will be led by the in-form Andy Powell and Kevin Jeffress.
The women’s race sees Morpeth’s Emma Holt defending her title won in 17.18.
Last year she said: “Every time I have ran this race I have clocked a personal best, but this time I didn’t. It was just too windy for fast times.”
The women’s record is held by Sunderland Stroller Alyson Dixon with a superb 15.52 from 2013. She is the only female runner to dip below 16 minutes.
Among Holt’s rivals are Birchfield’s Danielle Hodgkinson, the 2012 winner, in 17.28, Jo Adams (Richmond) PB 17.27, Charlotte Penfold (North Shields) with a best of 16.13 from 2004 and Helen Glover (Ribble Valley) PB 17.12.
Others to watch are Georgia Campbell, Stephanie Pattinson and Georgia Rutherford (Jarrow and Hebburn) and Rhiannon Silson (Border).
Sunderland Harriers’ women won silver team medals in this event last year and this time they will be relying on Alice Smith and Vicky Younger to lead them home.
In 2016, Smith finished an impressive fourth in 18.04. Next came Jess Fox in 10th (18.57) and 15-year-old Eve Quinn closed the scoring with an outstanding run of 19.27.
They scored a total of 27 points. Winners Jarrow and Hebburn, who had Alex Sneddon leading them home in second. scored 17 points with Birtley in third with 50.
The race timetable is 6.45pm Women and Over-50 Veteran Men. 7.20pm approx. Senior and Veteran men Over40.
The race headquarters for registration and presentation is at Silksworth Sports Complex.
The course is over two laps which takes in both lakes with the small fishing lake the first circuit to be completed. The finish is on grass, behind Sainsburys. Late entries are available.