Alyson Dixon faces a quality women’s domestic field when she defends her Virgin London Marathon British title in April.
The race will be used as qualification for the World Championships in London, in August, and the bunch of British hopefuls will be headed by Jo Pavey.
The five-time Great Britain Olympian made history last summer when she became the first British track and field athlete to compete at five Olympic Games.
Now the 43-year-old will return to the London Marathon for the first time since 2011 with a double objective in mind – to run a new personal best and to qualify for the World Championships
Sunderland Stroller Dixon was cast as the favourite to lift the British title again before Pavey’s inclusion in the race.
Now, this has put a whole new dimension on the event, with Pavey’s quickest time for the classic distance standing at 2.28.24 from London 2011, compared to 38-year-old Dixon’s best of 2.29.30.
The Silksworth athlete has just returned from four weeks altitude training in Kenya and took the opportunity on Sunday to compete in the Dewsbury 10km.
She finished first woman in 34.37 and 22nd overall in a field of over 1,000, beating second placed Julie Briscoe (Wakefield) by 31 seconds. Dixon’s quickest 10km stands at 32.17 from 2015.
Qualifying for a place at the World Championships in August means that athletes will have to run inside 2.36.00 and be in the top two British finishers.
“I know it’s not going to be easy,” said mother-of-two-Pavey.
“There are lots of good girls in the field like Alyson Dixon, Charlotte Purdue, Louise Damen and Susan Partridge, who all want the same thing.
“I’m always looking for a new challenge. Last year was all about making a fifth Olympic Games and after I had done that I started to think about my next challenge.
“I have been thinking about doing a marathon again for the past few years and for a British athlete the London Marathon is the pinnacle.
“I wanted to be sure I was injury-free and could crack on with my training before committing which I am and I’m really excited about it.
“I would love to qualify for the World Championships in London. I know it’s a tough ask, but it is an exciting challenge to think about the possibility of representing my country over distances from 1,500m right up to the marathon.
“It’s also an event where I think I have the possibility of running a PB and that is also a massive target of mine.”
Pavey and Dixon will be on the start line with one of the finest collection of female marathon runners ever assembled.
The line-up includes runners like Jemima Sumgong (the 2016 Virgin Money London Marathon winner and Olympic champion) and Mary Keitany (the 2016 New York Marathon champion), as well as Tirunesh Dibaba, who has been such a legend on the track and who has a best for the marathon of 2:20:35.
Former Sunderland Harrier Jack Martin (Stockport) celebrated his call-up for the North Eastern Counties to contest the Inter Counties Cross Country Championships in March, by having a terrific victory (23.44) in the Alsager five-mile Road Race.
Competing in the States in the Meyo Invitational, Sunderland Harrier Oliver James clocked a personal best when finishing fourth in the indoor 3,000m (8.20.92).
Clubmate Jess Fox clocked 11.07.53 on her indoor debut over 3,000m in Los Angeles.
The penultimate North Eastern Harrier League takes place at Thornley on Saturday, and all three Sunderland clubs have something to aim for.
Sunderland Harriers have lifted themselves from the bottom of senior men’s league in Division One to fourth in the league and are looking for further progress at Thornley Hall Farm.
And the club’s women’s team have a slight chance of gaining promotion from Division Two.
Houghton Harriers, in third place, are gunning for promotion from the third division in the senior men’s table, while the Under-13 and Under-15 Girls’ teams are both lying second in their divisions.
Sunderland Strollers bid to improve on their fourth spot in the senior men’s league Division Two and climb into a promotion spot.
Sunderland Harriers Cross Country Grand Prix is reaching its conclusion with only three events to go and the top five prize winning awards should be decided from the following.
The league leaders are: Rachael Moore 33pts, Ian Dixon 32, Paul Redman 32, Vicky Younger 31, Karl Robinson 27, Jason Waite 26, Nicola Woodward 23, Alice Smith 23, Chris Bell 22 and Colleen Compson 21.
The Harrier League venue is at Thornley Hall Farm. The Farm is located off the A181 road. The postcode is DH6 3LY. There is no off-site parking.
Any runner found to be in a vehicle parked on the main road will be disqualified from the race. Parking is £2 per vehicle and is on a field within the farm. Follow the directions of the parking marshals.
The first race for Under-11s is off at 12.10pm. The senior women start at 1.10pm and cover two large laps of 6.50km.
The senior men are off at 2.15pm and complete three large laps of 9.75km.