Sunderland Harriers go into the 113th North Eastern Counties Cross Country Championships with their biggest ever entry in the Senior Men’s and Women’s events at Wrekenton on Saturday.
A total of 24 men and 13 women are included in the respective fields of 501 men and 316 women.
Both teams stand a realistic chance of appearing in the medals, if they manage to get their full teams out.
The women won their first ever medals last year at Redcar when the team of Alice Smith, Vicky Haswell, Nikki Woodward and Vikki Cotton, claimed the bronze medals.
The men’s team, who have won the championships 14 times, with their last win going back to 2008, should be at full strength.
They welcome back Andy Powell and Nathan Reed and they will be joined by other possible team counters in Kevin Jeffress, Ian Dixon, Craig Gunn, Paul Blakey, Robert Walker and Steve McMahon.
Last year’s senior men’s champion and former Sunderland Harrier Jack Martin will not be defending his title.
He is concentrating on focusing on training for the London Marathon. His brother Patrick, the 2015 champion, will also be missing from the championship.
Morpeth Harriers will be the clear favourites for the team championships and their runner Carl Avery bids to improve on his third place over the past two years.
The Sunderland women’s team is strengthened by the inclusion of Jenna Wilkinson and Jessica Fox, but Haswell and Cotton will be missing.
Smith, who finished eighth last year, ran a marathon last Saturday and this could be still in her legs come Saturday. She finished fourth woman in the Nottingham Christmas Marathon (3.14.02).
The women’s race sees Sale’s marathon international Sonia Samuels, the defending champion, heading the entries. Last year’s runner-up, Emma Holt and third-placed Jane Hodgson are also down to race.
Also in with a chance of team medals are the Sunderland Under-17/20 Women’s team of Sarah Knight, Eve Quinn and Haley Dobinson, who won silver medals last year, with Hannah Wight in the team instead of Dobinson.
Houghton Harriers will be depending on their youngsters to deliver a handful of medals.
Will Bellamy, Henry Johnson, Sam Gibson, Izaak Taylor and Jack Seeney, are looking for team medals in the Under-17 Men’s three-to-count team race.
Bellamy could also be a contender for an individual medal where he will face the inform Middlesbrough athlete Archie Lowe, who headed him in the UK Cross Challenge at Liverpool a couple of weeks ago where he finished third to Bellamy’s sixth.
Houghton also have a strong Under-17 Women’s team, with inform Eva Hardie, Lydia James, Anna Pigford, and Laura Megan Greggs, gunning for medals.
Nicole Phillips, Amy Leonard and Erin Keeler-Clark chase team medals in the Under-15 Girls’ event as does Lucy Hayes, Jessica Greggs, Sophie Leonard and Anna Whelan in the Under-13s event.
The Wrekenton course is the same as the one used for the Harrier League, but it will be run in a reverse direction.
The senior men race over 12km and cover four laps of 3km. The women cover 8km with one lap of 2km and two laps of 3km.
There are non-championship races for Under-11 Boys’ and Under-11 Girls’ which start at 10.35am and 10.40am respectively.
The championship timetable 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.
The popular Durham City Harriers’ Cathedral Cross Country Relays scheduled for Sunday, January 13, has been cancelled. It joins the summer event that was also cancelled.
Sunderland Strollers thank all who turned out to run or support the Doorstep Events on Sunday.
Around 180 runners took part over the three distances on offer. They raised £3,600 which will be split equally between three charities: Phoenix Cancer Unit, Cancer Research UK and Macmillan Cancer Support.