Sunderland Harriers thrived in the worst conditions of the winter to improve their league positions in both the men’s and women’s divisions of the North Eastern Harrier League at Thornley Hall Farm on Saturday.
In what can only be described as a quagmire of a course, where mud was ankle deep for most of the routes, it proved a stamina-sapping challenge for the hardiest of cross country runners.
The Sunderland senior men’s team finished third in Division One to climb into second place in the league behind Tyne Bridge Harriers.
The club’s women’s team won their Division Two match and have now moved into a promotion spot behind Morpeth.
The first two runners home in both the men’s and women’s races were runners from the fast pack, who, despite up to a five-minute handicap, charged through the big fields to emphasise their strength.
Durham’s Dan Jenkin (38min 50sec) and Wallsend’s Harry Coates (39.00) were the first athletes this season to claim a place in the frame, running from the fasts.
Sunderland’s first team counter was Steve Potts, who ran from the medium pack with a handicap of two minutes 30 seconds, to finish fourth (42.16).
Then came fast men Ian Dixon in 14th (40.59) and Ian Ritchie 23rd (41.42) before medium man Matty Devlin closed in 25th (44.20).
Up to this point in the team competition, Sunderland were in second place, just five points behind eventual winners Crook. But a long wait for the Wearsiders’ last two spirited scorers saw the club’s points total mount up.
Steve Duffy was 72nd (46.42) and Martin Blenkinsopp 106th (50.03). Crook won the team race with 99 points, Tyne Bridge were second (107) and Sunderland third (136).
Houghton Harrier Thomas Grey finished16th (43.34).
Morpeth’s winner Emma Holt (27.55) and Durham’s runner-up Rosie Smith (29.11) defied the handicapper in the women’s race by slicing through the field from the fast pack.
Sunderland’s winning team included three fast packers, including Alice Smith, who finished 10th (31.49), and Vicky Younger, in 19th (32.53), who both had powerful runs. New member Linda Mudford was 61st from the slows (37.55) and the other fast pack runner was Coleen Compson in 67th (34.49). Sunderland Stroller Rachel Ball was 20th (36.17).
Sunderland Harriers won their first medal of the season in the young athletes’ races, with James Savage coming home third in the Under-15 Boys’ race. They also finished second team, with Jack Seeny 10th and Nathan Bland 16th, providing the backing.
Luke Bell was fourth and Josh Bland 10th in the Under-11s race.
Houghton Harriers had Lydia James in second in the Under-15 Girls’ race and the team, which included twins Eva Hardie in fifth and Lily Hardie seventh, won the team contest.