Sunderland Harriers’ team bosses confident of big improvements

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Sunderland Harriers are looking for improved results in the North East Masters’ Road Relay Championships at Bedeswell Park, Jarrow, tonight.

The popular fixture has received another good entry of 103 teams for the two events on the programme for all Masters’ age groups.

Ages range from over 35 years to over 65 for men and women, who compete in 10 year age bands for the three stage relay events.

Last year, the Harriers’ turned out a below par squad and this resulted in one of their worst championships for years where they won only two team medals.

It was the Over-65 team of Peter Richardson, Billy Bittlestone and Jim Wightman that won gold, and the Over-45 team of Alan Hodgson, Tim Field and Paul Merrison, took bronze.

This time the women’s and men’s team managers, Eddie Maddison and Dean Phillips, are a lot more hopeful of a much improved result.

Maddison, who saw his Over-35 Women’s team finish sixth in the National Masters’ Road Relay Championships at Sutton Coldfield on Saturday, said: “We have a stronger team in the Women’s Over-35 relay than last year and I would expect us to be competing for medals after missing out when we finished fourth.”

Two of the athletes that competed at Sutton Park on Saturday, Vicky Haswell and Nikki Woodward, are back again and they will be joined by Alice Smith, who has her first race since she struggled in the red-hot London Marathon.

Maddison has entered four teams through the various age groups and their B team of Coleen Compson, Judith Thirlwell and Vikki Cotton also look a sound squad.

Sunderland Strollers’ team of Ashleigh Bennett, Gillian Ritchie and Wendy Chapman, who finished second last year in the Over-35 contest, will be pushing for medals once again.

Last year, in an exciting finish, Chapman just held off a fast finishing Birtley by one second.

Dean Phillips has a total of seven teams entered ranging from Over-35s to Over-65s.

The Over-35 team looks particularly strong with Steve McMahon, Ian Dixon and Rob Walker down on the team sheet.

McMahon has already got his track season off to a good start, while Dixon, one of the leading North East veterans, will want to put his London Marathon experience behind him where he failed to finish.

Over-45 Walker is in outstanding form following his Over-45 victory in the Hartlepool Marina five mile Road Race last month and clocking three of the fastest laps in his category in three relays so far this year.

The Over-45 team of Mickey Thompson, Paul Blakie and Steve Gordon are also potential medallists. The B team consists of Paul Merrison, Paul Collins and Tim Field.

There are two Over-65 teams entered and the A team will be selected from: Jim Wightman, Billy Bittlestone, Peter Richardson, Len Christopher, Eddie Maddison and Dave White.

Phillips said: “We have a big entry and at the moment the teams are provisional, they could change depending on circumstances.

“But I expect much more from us this time, with the potential of winning three events.”

The women’s relay starts at 6.30pm and the men’s at 7.15pm. Bedeswell Park is just over the road from Monkton Stadium.

The race HQ is at Jarrow and Hebburn AC clubhouse at Monkton Stadium Jarrow, Tyne & Wear, NE32 5NJ.

There will be two races in which there will be teams of three runners, each runner will complete two laps of approximately 1.5km on tarmac paths around Bedeswell Park/Campbell Park.

Sunderland Harrier Jessica Fox, studying in the USA at McNeese State University, improved her 3,000m steeplechase club record from 11.59.40 to 11.33.48, when finishing fourth in the LSU Alumni Gold meeting in Los Angeles.

Clubmate Richard Borrowdale, who dipped under three hours for the first time (2.59.40) in the Manchester Marathon last month, finished second in the Run Northumberland 20 mile event, recording 2.22.51.