Oliver James’ pulsating performance in the Start Fitness North Eastern Harrier League at Herrington Country Park on Saturday was thought to be the first time a runner from the slow pack had won the race and also clocked the fastest time.
The 23-year-old Sunderland Harrier was having his first league run since competing at Wallington Hall in 2013.
This allowed him to start from the slow pack from which he received a five minute head start from the fast pack, from which the fastest times of the day normally come from.
But the Tunstall athlete, who is studying at McNeese State University in America in Lake Charles, Louisiana, defied logic with his front running performance where he led throughout the gruelling 10k mud-bound course.
Only Jarrow and Hebburn runner Graeme Taylor briefly attempted to go with James as he got into his stride to complete the three daunting laps of the hilly course.
After that he was on his own and the lapped runners gave him something to aim for as he made his way through Fox Cover woods and the long drags up the steep inclines.
At the finish, which he reached in 34 minutes 30 seconds, James had a long wait before the rest of the near 500 strong field began to close in, headed by Taylor, who finished 94 seconds behind.
His time (36.04) was still the fifth fastest time overall.
It was fast pack man Lewis Timmins, of Morpeth Harriers, who claimed the second fastest time in finishing 11th (35.44).
This undoubtedly was James’s best cross country performance, but it came at the end of his Christmas holiday and now he is back in America where he will be competing for his university.
His clubmates now have to wait until his next visit home, in the summer, to see him back in action.
With James leading Sunderland Harriers home, they have now moved up to third in the First Division after their resounding team victory at Herrington Country Park.
But with only two fixtures remaining at Thornley on Saturday, February 10, and Alnwick on March 1, they look too far adrift of the first two to be contenders for the title.
Leaders Morpeth Harriers have seven points and Tyne Bridge Harriers are on nine points, with Sunderland on 15 points.
Houghton Harriers’ bid for promotion from the Third Division has seen them drop from first place to third after finishing sixth in their league competition.
Sunderland Harriers are promotion contenders in the Second Division of the women’s league after finishing second to league leaders Heaton Harriers.
The Newcastle club have seven points, Sunderland are on 12 points and Elswick are breathing down the Wearsiders neck with 14 points.
Sunderland Strollers’ women are three points behind Blaydon and a promotion place in the Third Division.
In the young athletes divisions, Houghton head the Under-15 Girls table and their Under-15 Boys are third (12pts) in their league behind Morpeth (9) and Durham (11)
Sunderland Under-17/20 women are second in their league, four points behind Gateshead,
Sunderland Strollers were among the prizes in the Hartlepool Burn Road Harriers Old Monks multi-terrain race at Hart Village, won by Dean Newton (New Marske) in 31.51.
Derek Wright won the Over-65 category in 85th (45.58), Dawn Elliott was first Over-55 in 88th (46.12) and Lyne Valentine won the Over-60 title in 90th (46.28).
Durham City Harriers host their Cathedral Relays on Sunday. This is a cross-country event for teams of three runners, with each runner completing two laps of a fast, mainly flat, grass course.
Each leg is approximately 3,000m in total. The event will take place on the University’s Playing Fields behind the Maiden Castle Sports Centre (DH1 3SE).
The start/finish area will be positioned on the field immediately across the wooden footbridge that leads from the Sports Centre/Boathouse to the playing fields.
Toilets and refreshments will be available in the Sports Centre. The event includes three races: 10.15am – Veteran Men (35+), 11am – Senior Women/Veteran Women (35+), 11.45am – Senior Men.
Races one and two incorporate the NEMAA Championships for registered runners. An extensive prize list is available across age categories.
Parking at the Sports Centre is available for race officials, marshalls, helpers and those dropping off club tents.
All other athletes/supporters should park in the City as if using the original course – the new location is only a short distance further along the river from the Racecourse.