RECORD fields are anticipated when the first North East Harrier League of the season gets underway at Blaydon on Saturday.
Last season over the seven fixtures, which included the Sherman Cup, 6000 runners took part, an increase of 1500 on the previous season.
About 1000 athletes are expected to contest the nine events on the programme at Shibdon Pond, after the sport has seen a massive growth in entries in all local events.
Many of the open road and multi-terrain races are closing entries well before the entry deadline after being sold out.
Sunderland Harriers, who have won the Sisterton Cup and first division league title more than any other club – 24 times since 1980 with their last win in 2010 – bid to improve on their third place of last season.
They are also one of two club’s – Wallsend is the other – who have never been outside the first division.
On Saturday, they will have a new man at the helm when Dave Savage takes over the club captain’s role.
The Roker man, who has won a series of England Athletics awards for volunteering, faces his biggest competitive challenge in trying to get the Wearsiders back to winning ways.
Savage will be mindful of the club’s performance last season when they suffered a poor start to the season before finishing with a flourish. That cost them any chance of winning the title.
Also in the first division are Sunderland Strollers, who avoided relegation to the second division after putting in their best ever performance in the final fixture of the season at Prudhoe in March.
The Ashbrooke club finished in second place behind league winners Morpeth Harriers to finish sixth in the league. They just missed relegation by one point.
They were led home by two slow pack men in Paul Roper in 17th and Kevin Blyth in 23rd who are now promoted to the medium pack in the handicap race.
Durham City Harriers gained promotion to division one as league two runners-up to Tyne Bridge Harriers. Houghton Harriers compete in division two.
Sunderland Strollers women finished seventh in the first division, Sunderland Harriers were ninth and Houghton 15th in the second division.
Time-table: 12:15 – Under 11s, approx 12:25 – Under-13 Girls, Under-13 Boys,
Under-15 Girls, Under-15 Boys, 13:05 – Under-17 & 20 Women, 13:10 – Senior and Veteran Women, Under-17 Men, 14.10 approx – Senior and Veteran Men.
H Sunderland Harrier Mark Hood and his former clubmate Patrick Martin, Stockport Harriers, travel to Frankfurt in Germany tomorrow with their hopes of a fast marathon in the international event lying in tatters.
Their well laid-out plans were that Martin would make his marathon debut at Frankfurt, with Hood acting as is pacemaker up to halfway, with a sub 2hr 20min time as the target.
But Martin has suffered a stress fracture and Hood is under the weather, but their trip has been booked for months and they will still travel.
Hood said: “I still intend to run, but I don’t know how far I will get. It depends on how I feel. Pat is really disappointed, as now he will be just a spectator.”