Paul Redman hopes to make amends

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THE cross-country season gets under way on Saturday when Blyth Running Club stages the first North East Harrier League meeting of the season at East Cramlington.

The popular Start Fitness-sponsored fixture combines events for all age groups with handicap races defined by running packs.

In the senior men and women’s events there are three packs of fast medium and slow with promotion to the quicker packs gained through performance.

In the senior men’s race, the fast pack gives away a five-minute start to the slow pack and two-and-a-half minutes to the mediums. If you finish in the first 30 from the slow pack you are promoted to the mediums and if a medium pack runner finishes inside the first 20 he joins the fast pack.

This unique North East format is admired throughout the country by other counties, as it encourages participation whatever the athletes’ ability. This idea makes the North Harrier League extremely popular with fields of more than 400 contesting the men’s race. The women have seen their fields increase four-fold during the last few years after the handicap system was introduced to them.

Sunderland Harriers’ senior men have been the most dominant club since they celebrated their first win in 1980. They have won the title a remarkable 23 times since then and, when the league was split into divisions, they are one of only two clubs to have retained their first division status. Wallsend are the other club with this proud record.

But Sunderland suffered their worst performance last season when they finished outside the first three for the first time in fourth.

Team manager Paul Redman said: “Last year we had our worst ever performance in the middle of the season at Newcastle’s Town Moor and we were left with too much to make up on the other clubs ahead of us. Although we won the next two league races we were relying on other clubs slipping up. Now we have to make amends for that and hopefully get off to a good start on Saturday.

“This will be the same course as the one being used for the North East Championships in December so athletes will be keen to have a trial run.

“We have also launched a new grand prix for men and women for the cross country season with good prizes to be won for the top five finishes. The race on Saturday is the first one where runners can get off their mark. Points are mainly earned for participation so everyone who competes regularly during the cross country season has a great chance of winning a prize, whatever their ability.”

And, as an added incentive, for all Harrier League runners, Start Fitness will give special league T-shirts to all runners that compete in every race.

Sunderland Strollers are back again in the first division and they will be out to consolidate their place after winning the second division title last season. The Ashbrooke club had two runners competing in the Mablethorpe Marathon on Sunday. Vicki Booth was ninth woman in 3.38.29 and Joy Champion was 13th (3.41.37) and fourth over-45.

As well as the Harrier League fixture on Saturday, the Kielder 10k is staged, followed by the Kielder marathon on Sunday.

Programme of events at Kielder – Saturday 1.00pm Kielder 10K 1.00pm Kielder Run-Bike-Run relay event; Sunday: 10:15am Salomon Kielder Marathon. 11.00am Kielder Junior Runs.

Times are subject to change.

H It will be the second anniversary of the Sunderland parkrun on Saturday where prizes for the male and female points winners over the last 12 months will be awarded. The parkrun is a free weekly 5k event for runners of all standards, which takes place every Saturday at 9am at Silksworth Sports Complex.