SUNDERLAND Harriers will be turning-out a new look senior men’s team in the Royal Signals Road Relay Championships at Hetton Lyons Country Park on Saturday.
The Wearsiders, 12-times winners of the relay and second in 2013, will be chasing medals again in the six-stage relay that doubles as the North-East Championship.
Houghton Harriers host the race for the sixth time at this venue and the popular course is expected to attract nearly 1,000 runners.
The club have been boosted by a number of Strollers transferring to the Harriers, and at least one of them will be included in the six that will form the A team.
Team manager Albert James said: “It has been a difficult decision to select what I believe to be our strongest team.
“There is very little to choose between most of the lads that have recently joined the club.”
James’ selection headache has not been helped by the club’s top runner Mark Hood not being available through injury. and junior Michael Wilson is also unavailable through racing indoors.
The Birmingham University student won over 1500m (4.00.82) in the Inter Varsity match at Lee Valley last week.
He added: “I’m confident the team can get back in the medals again after missing out last year.
“It promises to be an exciting race with Morpeth the red-hot favourites and Gateshead, Durham, Tyne Bridge plus ourselves in the medal chase.”
The team in running order is Nathan Reed, Craig Isherwood, Kevin Jeffress, Liam Roarty, Steve Rankin and John Sparrow Morley.
Rankin is a former Stroller and Sparrow Morley is also a new signing from Tyne Bridge Harriers.
The benchmark for leading runners is dipping below 11 minutes. None of the team has run below that mark. Nathan Reed is the fastest with an 11.14 clocking to his name from last year and on present form he should go well below that.
Morley ran for Tyne Bridge Harriers’ B team last year and clocked 12.12. A big improvement is expected this time.
The club’s B team will be: Tony Noble, Steve Potts, Michael Barker, Ian Dixon, Steve McMahon and Andy Powell.
The club has four teams entered in this event with coach Michael Hill turning out a full complement of under-17s in one of the remaining teams.
Last year, Gateshead won after impressive legs by their last two runners, Calum Johnson (10.45) and the fastest runner overall, Chris Parr (10.44). New Marske were second and defending champions Morpeth finished third.
The Sunderland veterans’ over-40 team looks likely to be selected from Steven Gordon, Paul Blakey, Tim Field, Michael Thompson, Alan Knebel, Tony Allinson and Graham Lancaster. Blakey makes his relay debut on returning to the sport after being a former South Shields Harrier.
The veterans’ over-50 team finished second last year in their four-stage race, which is run in conjunction with the women. The A team face a battle to repeat a medal winning performance from the team selected from Paul Redman, Paul Merrision, Peter Richardson, George Harden and Fred Judson.
Sunderland Strollers, who were fourth last year with Ken Maynard, Kevin Blyth, Mick Armstrong and Gavin Sword, could medal this time.
Signals course records: Senior men - Ricky Stevenson (New Marske) 10.09. Veterans 40 - Guy Bracken (NSP) 11.02, Veterans 50 - Guy Bracken (Nth Shields)) 11.49. Women - Laura Weightman (Morpeth) 11.22. Veterans Alison Dargie (Elswick) 12.59.
Start times: 12-00 - 4-leg Relay - Senior Women, Veteran Women (over 35), Veteran Men (over 50). 1-15pm - 6-leg Relay - Senior Men, Veteran Men (over 40).