Sunderland Harriers have never been renowned for a strong women’s endurance section of the club.
But now there are signs of improvement as performances have been their best ever during 2016.
Picking up bronze medals in the North of England 5km team race on their home course at Silksworth in July was the high spot for team manager Eddie Maddison.
The year also included some local success, including winning the Sunderland Strollers’ Pier-to-Pier team race.
Maddison said: “I got involved about five years ago when we just had a handful of women in the club.
“I went on an England Athletics course called Leadership in Running Fitness and this gave me the credentials to lead running groups as part of the club.”
After qualification, Maddison was able to deliver fun and safe sessions to multi-ability groups and give advice and support to the new runner, as well as developing pathways for those who want to progress.
“I think we had about four runners to start off with, now we have around 50 of various abilities, coming to the club regularly,” he added
“Thankfully, I have a number of other club members who have qualified as Run Leaders who help out.”
On Saturday, the women finished second team in the Harrier League Second Division, this followed their second place at Wrekenton and sixth at Druridge Bay to take them third in the league, only one point behind leaders Gosforth and with the same points total as second club Morpeth.
This is a marked improvement on results of only a few years ago when they regularly failed to turn out a full team of four runners.
Now they are heavily involved in all competitions and results are improving as a result of their new found team spirit, which Maddison and team captain Colleen Compson have help to muster.
Maddison, 68, has a wealth of experience having competed over all distances as a leading North East veteran.
He is also one of a few who have competed in every Great North Run since its inception.
His personal best for the distance of 74 minutes was achieved as an Over-40 veteran.
The South Hylton man was quick to praise Compson for her commitment and leadership of the women’s team.
“She has played a pivotal role in garnishing team spirit, which no doubt has had led to the overall improvement of the team.
“We realise that we have still a long way to go, but we believe we are heading in the right direction.”
Compson, who was second team counter at Thornley Hall Farm on Saturday, welcomed a new club member to the team in Gemma Frost, who ran as a non team scorer, as her transfer from Ryton Triathlon club has not yet been completed.
She will be an asset to the team after having finished second in the Redcar Half Marathon and ninth in the Edinburgh Half Marathon with a personal best of 85.47.
Her time is faster than the club’s leading runner, Alice Smith, who recorded 87.51 in the Great North Run and was Sunderland’s first team scorer on Saturday in ninth.
In nine open races this year, Smith has not been out of the first three having won the Lambton Run and the Wynyard Woodland 10km, but she did finish behind Frost in the Redcar Half Marathon in third.
Add to the mix Jess Fox, the winner of the 2015 Kielder 10km, who is still an Under-20, and the foundations are there for further team improvement.
Sunderland Harrier Michael Barker, making his debut at the distance, scored an emphatic victory in the Run Northumberland Big 10-miler at Kirkley Hall.
He clocked 56.53 to win by over two minutes from Blaydon’s Andrew Anderson (58.59).
Former Sunderland Harrier Jack Martin (Stockport) warmed up for the North East Championships a week on Saturday with a superb run in the UKA European Trials at Liverpool.
He finished ninth to just miss out on a team place for the championships at Chia in Italy on December 11.