Scott Ellis became only the fifth non-Sunderland Harrier to win the North East Vending Penshaw Hill race last year.
The 25-year-old unfancied North Shields Polytechnic athlete defied the threat from the host club’s challengers to win in the joint slowest time in the event’s history –17 minutes 9 seconds.
He is back again tonight to defend his title and goes into the three-mile race with little form to suggest that he can win again.
Before last year’s win, his best performance was his second place in the Helvellyn trail race.
Now, he has recently been competing on the track and has clocked very modest times of 16.50 for 5,000m and 10.13 for the 3,000m steeplechase, hardly times to stir the emotions of his rivals.
The race celebrates its 25th birthday and two Sunderland Harriers have their names on the roll of honour.
Brian Rushworth has emerged at the top of the famous hill first 18 times, suffering only four defeats. Nathan Reed became the first Sunderland Harrier to beat Rushworth, winning in 2013.
Last year, Rushworth’s attempt to replicate his 2012 victory ended in disappointment. The 51-year-old was below par, suffering from a stomach problem and, despite being in contention, was forced to drop out on the second lap.
Reed, who made a late decision to compete, filled second place, 12 seconds behind Ellis.
The defending champion said at the time: “I wore flats and didn’t bring my spikes and suffered for that. I caught the leaders up on the second lap, but, as soon as I hit the hill, through the woods, I was slipping back down again.
“It was hopeless.’’
However, on the final gruelling climb to the finish at the famous monument, Reed managed to haul himself into second, to beat his clubmate Kevin Jeffress by two seconds.
Reed is undecided whether he will race tonight through struggling with an Achilles tendon problem, but Jeffress is down to run and, along with Andy Powell and Steve Rankin, they should spearhead the Harriers’ quest for honours.
Morpeth Harrier Emma Holt is the clear favourite to win the women’s race, being one of the North East’s top endurance runners.
She goes into the event on the back of her win in the North Shields Clive Cookson Cup 10k women’s race, clocking 36.37. South Shields Harrier Georgia Campbell, the winner of her club’s Sand Dancer race in April, should be her leading rival.
Sunderland Harriers entry is headed by five times winner Michelle Avery and 17-year-old Jessica Fox.
Last year’s race was won by Jarrow and Hebburn’s Angela McGurk, finishing 21st overall in 20.54.
The course records are held by Brian Rushworth 15.24 – 1991 and Karen Hind (Gateshead) 18.20 – 1999. There was a record of 111 finishers last year.
The Penshaw race always sets off at breakneck speed, as the first male and female runner to reach the monument first on the opening lap wins the prime award.
The race starts at 7.15pm and late entries are available at the bottom of the hill. The prize presentation is in the Monument pub, Penshaw Village. Also in the Monument pub, the presentation of Sunderland Harriers’ cross country grand Prix will take place at around 8.45pm.
The Washington 5k race on Sunday was won by Sunderland Harriers’ 49-year-old Brian Bewick in 18.10, from Birtley’s Peter Farnie (18.36) and Gateshesad’s Steven Duffy (18.56).
The first woman was Lisa Atkinson of Gateshead (22.10). Sunderland Harrier George Harden was first over-50 in ninth (20.34). Sunderland Stroller Lyne Valentine was first over-60.
The British Milers’ Club Grand Prix was hit by gale force winds at Maiden Castle on Monday night.
Times were well below par in the six races on the programme.
The 1,500m A race was won in the slow time of 4.06.8 by Norwich athlete Martin Ramsey. Gateshead’s Barry Maskell was second (4.08.5). Sunderland Harriers had Sparrow Morley in third (4.09.2) and Nathan Reed fifth (4.11.6).
The Durham Association of Boys and Girls Clubs team for the National Track and Field Championships in Cardiff on June 13, has been selected with the inclusion of the following Houghton Harriers:
Under-11 Boys – Harry Ramshaw, Will Turner, Jack Evans and Thomas Bilton. Under-13 – Matthew Lumb and Henry Johnson. Under-15 – Matthew Smith and Tom Bowdon. Under-17 Jake Philpott. Under-20 Ryan Clark.
Under-11 Girls – Keeley Llewellyn and Holly Major. Under-13 – Anna Pigford, Lydia James, Ellie Patterson, Philippa Ellis and Courtney Clark. Under-15 – Eva Hardie, Lily Hardie, Sam Kirkup, Caitlyn Llewellyn and Savannah Lloyd. Under-17 – Gabby Burdess and Grace Oliver. Under 20 – Michelle Hahn and Georgia Oliver.