Sunderland Harriers’ women battle blizzards to clinch Harrier League promotion in style

Sunderland Harriers' women's team. Back, from left: Vikki Cotton, Coleen Compson, Linda Mudford, Lauren Flaxen,Catherine Purdy. Front: Lucy Forster, Nicola Woodward, Michelle Avery, Vicky Haswell
Sunderland Harriers' women's team. Back, from left: Vikki Cotton, Coleen Compson, Linda Mudford, Lauren Flaxen,Catherine Purdy. Front: Lucy Forster, Nicola Woodward, Michelle Avery, Vicky Haswell
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Sunderland Harriers women’s team braved freezing conditions and blizzards to turn in their best performance of the season to gain promotion to the First Division of the Start Fitness North Eastern Harrier League.

They not only won their divisional team race, they also beat all the First Division clubs to end their cross country season with a flourish at Alnwick on Saturday.

The Wearsiders went into the 8k race in second place, with just a point to spare on third club Elswick Harriers, while Crook AC were a further point behind. Heaton Harriers were already assured of the title.

Sunderland team manager Eddie Maddison had been knocking on doors to ensure that the team to do battle on the Pastures beneath Alnwick Castle was strong enough for the task ahead.

He managed to pull in Michele Avery, who had been maintaining her fitness by running parkruns, but this was her first Harrier League race since 2013.

She took her place in the slow pack in the handicap race, enjoying a start of one minute and 50 seconds on the fast pack.

On the first of two laps, she was in second place, with fellow slow-packer Helen King (Morpeth) 30 metres ahead.

At this stage, Elswick headed Sunderland with their four counters all from the slow pack, but the Wearsiders’ fast pack runners Vicky Haswell and Nicola Woodward were making inroads into the mass of runners ahead of them.

Coming into the long downhill stretch to the finish, Avery was now in an isolated third place, with Morpeth fast pack runner Jane Hodgson already across the line in first place in an actual time of 27min 1sec.

King was second in 31.54, with Avery having a good run for the bronze medal, clocking 32.05. She gasped at the finish: “I’m pleased I’ve still got something to offer. I was pleased with that run.’’

Haswell and Woodward’s charge through the field saw them record the third and fourth fastest times overall in seventh (30.08) and eighth positions (30.18) respectively.

Vikki Cotton was not far behind her club-mates in finishing 12th (32.04), running from the medium pack to close the scoring with a total of 17 points to Elswick’s 56.

Unfortunately, Maddison was not at the Pastures to see his charges’ fine performances.

He was at the English Schools’ Championships at Leeds to watch his granddaughter, Eve Quinn, compete.

But this was after he had been at Alnwick early in the morning to erect the club tent before travelling south!

Sunderland’s senior men’s team failed to field a team, having just four runners.

But their First Division status is assured as they had a big points advantage over the clubs near the bottom.

Sunderland won another medal when Dillon Revel was second in the Under-13 boys’ event.

Houghton Harriers Under-15 girls’ team won their league title despite having three of their top runners, Lydia James, Amy Leonard and Anna Pigford, competing at the English Schools’ Championships.

They finished the season in style at Alnwick, with Laura Megan Greggs winning the race. Nicole Phillips was 12th and Courtney Clark 18th as they finished second team.