Sunderland Harriers’ senior men bid to beat their performance of the last two years in the 113th North Eastern Counties Cross Country Championships at Redcar Race Course on Saturday.
The 14 times team champions were shunted out of the medals in finishing in fourth place for the second year running at Aykley Heads last year.
And this time they face an even bigger task as a number of their leading runners will be missing the championship.
But they will welcome back into the team fold Oliver James, who has been on an athletics scholarship in the United States for the last four years.
He arrives back in Sunderland on Friday after a long journey from McNeese State University in Lake Charles, Louisiana.
James appears to be in good form after winning a quality 2,000m in 5.19.50 a couple of weeks ago. This will be his senior championship debut and his first appearance in the North East Championship since finishing fifth as an Under-20 Junior in 2013 at South Shields.
Former Sunderland Harrier Patrick Martin (Stockport), the 2015 champion, has withdrawn from the race due to a hamstring injury. But his brother Jack (also Stockport) will be at Redcar going for his first senior title.
He finished third in 2011 at Cramlington and was runner-up to Durham’s Dan Garbutt in 2013.
Sunderland’s best chances of medals lie with the Under-20 Junior Men’s team who finished in third place last year. They will call upon Chris Bell, Jack Tallentire, Mark Smith and Sean Mackie for the three to count team race.
Sunderland’s women’s team of Alice Smith, Nicola Woodward, Vicky Haswell and Vikki Cotton, bid to beat their best ever performance of sixth place from last year.
Also in with a chance of team medals are the Under-17 Women’s team of Sarah Knight, Eve Quinn and Hannah Wight.
Houghton Harriers will be depending on their youngsters to deliver a handful of medals. They will have Alex Brown, runner-up last year, as a leading contender in the Junior Under-20 Men’s race.
Henry Johnson and Will Bellamy are in with a chance of individual gold in the Under-15 Boys’ race where they will face Middlesbrough athlete Archie Lowe, who headed them in the UK Cross Challenge at Liverpool a couple of weeks ago.
Lydia James, Amy Leonard and Anna Pigford chase individual and team medals in the Under-15 Girls’ event.
There are non-championship races for Under-11 Boys’ and Under-11 Girls’ which start at 10.35am and 10.40am respectively.
The championship time-table is: 11am - Under-13 boys, 11.15am - Under-13 Girls, 11.30am - Under-15 Boys, 11.45am - Under-15 Girls, 12noon - Under 17/20 Women, 12.20pm - Under-20 Men, 1pm - Senior Men, 1.55pm - Senior Women, 2.30pm - Under/17 Men.
Over 200 runners took to the Sunderland and South Shields seafronts to raise over £3,000 for The Phoenix Cancer Unit at Sunderland Royal Hospital and Cancer Research UK.
The Sunderland Strollers organised Doorstep Events offered marathon, half marathon and 10km distances which saw runners from 22 North East clubs covering a combined distance of almost 2,000 miles.
The Doorstep Events arose from Club member Graeme Claezy’s desire to complete a marathon following treatment for cancer.
Starting and finishing at the Sunderland Yacht Club the events are not races, but social runs with the main purpose being to raise money for charity.
Sunderland Strollers Club Secretary Harry Harrison said: “Most of these runners would have been out running this morning, so it is a great opportunity to tap into their generosity and raise a substantial amount for two deserving charities.
“None of this could have been possible without the marshals, led by Tricia O’Neill.”
Entries are selling fast for the Strollers Pier-to-Pier race which will be held on May 20, 2018. Last year’s race was a sell out. Entries are available at: http://my1.raceresult.com/85289/