Sunderland Harriers send strong sides for Masters bid

Dean Phillips.
Dean Phillips.

Sunderland Harriers are sending two strong teams to contest the British Masters’ Cross Country Relay Championships at Long Eaton, Derbyshire on Saturday.

The Over-35 Women’s team bids to beat their third place of last year, while the Over-35 Men’s team are looking for their first win since 2006.

The women will field the same team as last year in Jacqueline Etherington, Nikki Woodward and Vicky Haswell.

The three-stage relay saw Rotherham Harriers win easily (35.53) from Telford (36.33) with Sunderland finishing in 36.50.

Etherington got the Wearsiders off to a great start in finishing second with 11.46, then followed Haswell (12.49) and Woodward closed on (12.15).

All three athletes have been targeting this event as they are determined to at least match their result of last year. They have been in good form over the track season with a series of personal bests to their names. The speed gained should serve them well over the short cross country course.

The men’s relay is over five legs and they have just one Over-35 in their team in Kevin Jeffress, who is 39 years old. The rest are Over-40 and Over-45, but they are all among the best in their age groups in the North East. They are: Over-40s Ian Dixon and Steve McMahon. The Over-45s are Michael Thompson and Rob Walker.

Veterans’ captain Dean Phillips said: “It will be a good, solid team and I expect them to be contenders for medals. They are all looking forward to the race as they know they have a medal opportunity.”

Jeffress and Dixon are both North East Masters’ Cross Country champions in their age groups and are in good form with the team depending on them for fast legs.

It was at Farringdon on the club’s cross country course that the team last won the championship in 2006, beating North Belfast for the title by nearly three minutes.

The team that day with their times were Brian Bewick (9.01), Martin Armstrong (9.05), Paul Merrison (9.10), Brian Rushworth (8.47), Tom Doughty (8.53) and Tim Field (8.56). They led from the second leg after Bewick had finished third on opening leg.

With the race clashing with the third fixture of the North Eastern Harrier League, the club could be struggling to turn out strong teams at Gosforth Park.

The senior men are lying third in the First Division and the women are second off bottom in their First Division.

Alice Smith, who won the women’s race in the South Park 10m at Darlington in 65:44 on Sunday, is the only Sunderland runner competing from the fast pack in the handicap event.

Judith Thirlwell gained promotion to the medium pack after finishing in 19th at the last fixture at Druridge Bay. She joins captain Colleen Compson.

The rest of the expected Sunderland team all compete from the slow pack and will enjoy a five minutes start, they are: Amy Callaghan, Nicole Webster Hufton, Lucie Rowell, Paula Goodson Allyson McCourt and Maria Davis.

The men welcome back Steve Rankin to the club’s ranks and he runs from the slow pack along with Paul Merrison.

After two events, the club cross country grand prix leaders are: Judith Thirlwell 8pts, Michelle O’Neil 8, Ian Dixon 8, Paul Redman 7, Darren Stoker 7, Dale Wilkinson 6, Nikki Woodward 6, Alan McManus 6, Shaun Bagley 6, Karl Robinson 6.

All competitors must use the west entrance to the park (the A1 side), and follow the car parking marshals instructions. Parking charge is £2. Postcode for the park is: NE3 5HP.