THE Royal Signals North East Road Relay Championships will be staged for the fifth time by hosts Houghton Harriers at Hetton Lyons Country Park on Saturday.
It has become a permanent fixture after being suggested as a venue by Sunderland Harriers secretary Michael Hill and club coach George Harden.
The course has proved popular with more and more clubs entering each year after discovering the traffic-free venue with two undulating tarmac laps, making up an ideal distance of 2.22 miles.
The championships, organised by the North East Road Running committee, sees four championship races taking place and hundreds of athletes involved in what is expected to be a record turnout.
Sunderland Harriers will help to boost the numbers with an entry of nine teams for the four events.
The Wearsiders, 12-times winners of the senior men’s relay and third in 2009, were back in the medals last year when they finished runners-up to Morpeth in the senior men’s six-stage relay.
But with a weakened squad turning out on Saturday, due to injuries, there appears to be no medal prospects this time.
Team manager Albert James has pulled together a team with a mixture of youth and experience from the athletes he has left to select from.
Nathan Reed, Kevin Calvert, Ian Dixon, Michael Wilson, Graham Lancaster and Steve Potts will be the runners carrying the club’s hopes in the race that starts at 1.15pm.
Last year, the Sunderland team was Oliver James (11.01), Craig Isherwood (11.27), Michael Barker (11.44), Nathan Reed (11.22), Mark Hood (11.06) and Weynay Ghebresilasie, who clocked the fastest lap of the day (10.23).
The Harriers’ over-50s were also in the medals last year, finishing second (50.42) to Durham (50.23), who had Rob Hand with the second best time overall (11.52) on the anchor stage.
This event could be the best chance of a medal winning performance from Sunderland who will probably turn-out Paul Merrison, Paul Collins, Paul Redman and veterans’ captain Rob Rush for their four stage race, which is run alongside the women’s relay starting at 12 noon.
Last year Sunderland had Brian Rushworth clocking the fastest time of the day with 11.49 for a new course record, backed by George Harden (13.04), Rush (13.22) and Merrison (12.27).
Rushworth is still on the injury list and is unlikely to compete.
Sunderland Harriers’ veterans, who have dominated the over-40 class for the last decade, finished down in seventh last year through Paul Redman (12.29), Steve Gordon (12.33), Jon Dobson (12.20), Alan Knebel (12.58), Peter Richardson (14.22) and Dean Phillips (14.39).
Jarrow and Hebburn defend their title in the women’s four-stage race and Sunderland Strollers will be without course record holder Alyson Dixon (11.31) who is training at altitude in Kenya.
The Strollers finished sixth last year with Ashleigh Thorpe (14.37), Rachel Ball (14.37) and Vicki Booth (14.29) joining Dixon.
Sunderland Harriers will make changes to their team that finished tenth last year. It was Michel Avery (13.26), Ingrid Hope (14.16), Alex Pearson (15.57) and Amy Coulson (15.02).
H Houghton Harriers coaches celebrated having three athletes finishing in third place at the North East Harrier League at Wrekenton on Saturday. They were under-13 girls’ Jennifer Reed, under-15 girls’ Grace Oliver and under-15 boys’ Alex Brown.