Sunderland Harriers go into the Royal Signals North East Road Relay Championships with a number of medal opportunities at Hetton on Saturday.
Last year, the Wearsiders placed two teams in the top 10 in the senior men’s relay and their veteran over-50 team finished second in their event and the over-40s picked up bronze.
This time the team management believes they can improve on these results in each of the categories in the fiercely competitive event hosted by Houghton Harriers.
Senior men’s team manager Albert James said: “We have our biggest ever entry with 16 teams contesting the two events, including six women’s teams, three over-40 men’s teams, three over-50 men’s teams and four senior men’s teams.
“Although not at full strength, our senior men have a chance of a place in the frame in their relay.
“They have been showing good form and if we can get a couple of them under the 11 minute barrier for the 2.2 mile course, we should be thereabouts.
“Last year we only had one, Nathan Reed, who clocked 10.58 on the first leg.’’
Last year’s team was Nathan Reed (10.58), Liam Roarty (12.12), Tony Noble (11.51), Craig Isherwood (11,27) ,Steve Rankin (11,21) and Sparrow Morley (11.42).
Veterans captain Dean Phillips said: “We have a very strong over-50 team with Brian Bewick back after injury and with Steve Coxon rejoining the club plus top over-55 Paul Merrison and Tim Field, also included, they must be the favourites to win.”
Bewick, just back from Gambia after volunteering on a building project there, through the Hall Farm Box Youth Project, will be having his first race since the Lambton Run in June where he aggravated a foot injury after finishing fifth.
He makes his debut as an over-50 and will be a welcome addition to the team.
Coxon has already tasted success in his first race back in years.
He was part of the winning over -50 team in the Durham Cathedral Relays in January.
The over-40 veterans also fancy there medal chances with Ian Dixon, Michael Thompson, Paul Blakey, Alan Knebel, Steve Potts and Steven Gordon, the probable team.
Last year’s bronze medallists were Tim Field (12.23), Steven Gordon (12.43), Paul Blakey (12.10), Michael Thompson (12.38), Steve Graham (13.21) and Alan Knebel (12.48).
The women’s race last year saw Olympian Laura Weightman in action for Morpeth, with her coach Steve Cram supporting from the sidelines.
She recorded 11.36 to finish 14 seconds outside her own course record.
She may be back again on Saturday to test her mid-winter fitness in this Olympic year.
World Championship marathon runner, Alyson Dixon, could be in the Sunderland Strollers team after arriving back home to Silksworth after four weeks training at altitude in Kenya.
Last year, the race was won by a young Birtley team and Sunderland’s Sophie Burnett, who made her England junior cross country debut on Sunday in Belgium, will be in action for Birtley.
The Belgium results have been revised to place Burnett in fourth instead of second.
It was her England clubmate and North East champion Phillipa Stone, who finished runner-up.
Sunderland Harriers should see much improvement from their senior women’s team and veteran’s over-35 team.
Senior team: Michelle Avery, Alice Smith, Sarah O’Mahoney and Emma North. Over-35: Judith Thirlwell, Vikki Cotton, Colleen Compson and Nicola Woodward.
Timetable: 12noon – Women and over-50 Men’s Four Stage Relay. 1.15pm – Senior Men and over-40 Veterans Six Stage Relay.
Signals course records: Senior men: Morpeth 65.24 – 2015, leg Ricky Stevenson (New Marske) 10.09 – 2012.
Veterans 40: Sunderland Harriers 71.12 – 2010, leg Guy Bracken (NSP) 11.02 – 2013
Veterans 50: Durham City 50.23 – 2013, leg Guy Bracken (North Shields) 11.09 – 2015
Women: Chester-le-Street 49.12 – 2010, leg Laura Weightman (Morpeth) 11.22 – 2014.
Veterans: New Marske 55.52 – 2015, leg Justina Heslop (Elswick) 12.13 – 2015.