Sunderland’s Great North Run stalwarts ready to tackle half marathon again

Len Christopher.
Len Christopher.
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Two of Sunderland Harriers Great North Run stalwarts will be putting on their racing shoes once again for the world’s biggest half marathon on Sunday.

Eddie Maddison, 70, has competed in every GNR since the first in 1981, while Len Christopher, 72 in October, will be turning out in his 31st race from Newcastle to South Shields.

Christopher, who won the 2002 Over-55 London Marathon in his category, is hoping to go near his time of last year, while Maddison, who is nursing an injury, will be determined to make it to the finish.

Last year Maddison recorded his fastest time for three years with his 1.55.49 clocking. His best time stands at 1.13.24 which he set as a 39-year-old.

The dwindling band of ever presents, which numbers less than 100, were issued with blue and white striped numbers which entitles them to start at the front of the field, if they wish.

They have also been given their own special T-shirt complete with logo. The All Runs Club members are aged between 53 and 86.

Maddison was also presented with a special plaque to mark his 20th appearance in the race. That is proudly displayed in his trophy cabinet. All his treasured GNR T-shirts are unused and hanging up in the wardrobe.

When he collected his first T-shirt he managed to complete the course in 1hr 32min 33sec on limited training.

“I was delighted with that. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but I thought I would never run as fast again,” he reflected.

The South Hylton runner, who is now more at home as team manager of the Harriers women squad, which he saw gain their best-ever performance in their own cross country relays at Farringdon on Saturday, said: “I don’t get much training in these days and I jarred my leg a couple of weeks ago which hasn’t helped.

“I have just managed to get going again. I will be on the start line and will be determined to make it to the finish whatever time it takes.”

Christopher said: “I will always aim for under two hours but would hope to get somewhere near to last year’s time of 1.49.27.

“This will be my 31st GNR with my best time set in 2001 with 1.21.08. My slowest time in 2015 was 1.59.56 when I ran with plantar fasciitis.

“Training has gone well especially my long Sunday morning runs after my treatment for a niggling injury from club physiotherapist Kevin Jeffress. But it will come down to how I feel on the day.”

Mo Farah will be on the start line in a bid to make Great North Run history.

The four-time Olympic gold medallist and six-times world champion won the half-marathon in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017, and a fifth win would put him into the record books. Kenyan Benson Masya also won the Great North Run four times, in 1991, 1992, 1994 and 1996.

Also taking part will be Olympic and world champion Vivian Cheruiyot, aiming for a second win in three years.

l Houghton Harriers won the men’s team title at the Low Fell Watergate 5k at Gateshead and one of their former athletes won the race.

Alex Brown claimed an emphatic victory (15.30) in his first race in the colours of Morpeth Harriers following his transfer from Houghton.

Even without the talented 19-year-old, Houghton still won the team race by placing Lee Dover in third (16.12), Under-17 Will Bellamy fourth (16.23) and Sam Gibson ninth (16.53).

Sunderland Strollers had Mark Anderson in seventh (16.39), Sunderland Harrier Craig Gunn was eighth (16.44) and Over-55 Paul Collins placed second (17.43) to Durham’s Steve Everett (17.34) in his category.

Jarrow and Hebburn’s Stephanie Pattinson won the women’s race in 17.54.

In the younger age groups, Houghton had Thomas Pigford as winner of Under-11 race and Freya Stockley was placed second girl. There was also a good performance from Under-13 Jessica Greggs in second.