THE Royal Signals North East Road Relay Championships will be staged for the third time by hosts Houghton Harriers at Hetton Lyons Country Park on Saturday.
The championships, organised by the North East Road Running committee, has received its biggest entry yet at the relatively new venue.
It came to Hetton Lyons after being suggested as a venue from Sunderland Harriers secretary Michael Hill and committee member George Harden.
The Road Race committee had been looking for a new course after traffic problems on the Team Valley, used since 1960, forced a move to Saltwell Park and then to Watergate Park, Lobley Hill, in recent years.
But athletes and officials were not happy with the two venues. Saltwell Park was too tight a course and Watergate Park was a dolomite surface which became soft when wet.
Now the Hetton course is proving popular with more and more clubs entering each year after discovering the traffic-free venue with two undulating tarmac laps, making up an ideal total distance of 2.22 miles.
A total of 110 teams have entered the six-stage relay for the five events held within the championship for men and women.
The biggest entry is in the senior men’s race where 45 teams are entered in the race won by Gateshead Harriers last year.
Sunderland Harriers have three teams down to run, and a place in the first three will be difficult to come by for the Wearsiders who have won the championship 12 times. Their last success came in 2007, though they won bronze medals in 2009.
Down for consideration for the A team are Mark Hood, Kevin Calvert, Craig Isherwood, Steve Potts, Nathan Reed, Oliver James, Michael Wilson, Steven Graham and Michael Barker. The team is expected to be wrapped around Hood, Calvert, James and Isherwood.
The veterans’ over-40s team defend their title and the six will be selected from Brian Rushworth, Brian Bewick, Paul Besford, Ken Bell, Steven Gordon, Graham Lancaster and Paul Redman.
The last place will depend on the availability of Besford, but Gordon is standing by.
The over-50 team were runners-up to Morpeth last year and they hope to go one better this time.
Captain Rob Rush will be joined by Paul Merrison, Paul Collins, George Harden, Kevin Carrahar and Peter Richardson. Carrahar received a surprise selection following his performance in the Durham Cathedral Relays in January.
There are 27 teams in the women’s relay and Sunderland Harriers, Sunderland Strollers and Houghton Harriers are all involved in the four-stage event.
The combined relay starts at 1pm and runners are asked to be in attendance by noon for the selection of teams.
It was back in 1927 that the Royal Corps of Signals, based at Catterick, presented the North East Counties Association with a replica of its insignia which was used to inaugurate the first road relay.
For the first seven years, the “Signals’’ was run from Sunderland to Catterick in ten stages varying from 4.5 miles to 8.25 miles, taking about five-and-a-half hours.
From 1934 to 1938, the event became a marathon and in 1939 it became a relay again and moved around the North East to different venues until finding its way to Team Valley.
* Sunderland’s Patrick Martin finished fifth (28.46) on his England debut in the Lotto Cross Cup in Belgium – two places behind Morpeth’s Jon Taylor (28.34).
* Unattached runner Steve Rankin won the weekend Sunderland parkrun in 18 minutes 16 seconds, more than a minute clear of second-placed John Collins, with Brian Charlton third (19.44). It was Rankin’s second win in his 20th appearance in the race.
Alice Smith, 30th overall, was the first woman home in 23.09, ahead of Houghton Harrier Paula Dodds (24.49) and June Alexander (25.59).