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THE Start Fitness North Eastern Harrier League moves into the second half of its season with the fourth fixture being staged by Saltwell Harriers at Wrekenton on Saturday.

Following the first three fixtures at Cramlington, Blaydon and Jarrow, the league is seeing record turnouts in the senior fields for both men and women.

A total of nearly 3,000 competitors have turned out for all eight events on the programme, to make it one of the most popular leagues in the UK.

With promotion and relegation a feature of the three men’s and two women’s leagues and the handicap system with fast, slow and medium packs, competition is keener than ever.

Sunderland Harriers moved up to fifth in the senior men’s table following their win at the last fixture at Jarrow.

New recruit Weynay Ghebresilasie, who clocked the fastest time of the day after finishing third in the handicap race, was making his debut for the Harriers.

The Eritrean steered the club to their first team win of the season, moving up to fifth in the first division. In a close team contest, the Wearsiders packed their six counters inside the first 45 finishers .

There will be no Ghebresilasie this time, as the 18-year-old is intending to miss out to concentrate on preparing for the National Cross Country Championships at Herrington Country Park on Saturday, February 23.

Clubmates Noel Hitchcock ninth, Steven Graham tenth and Ian Dixon 29th gained promotion to the medium pack through finishing inside the first 30 at Jarrow. They will now have a 2min 30sec handicap to contend with.

Sunderland Strollers are in a relegation fight again, being only two points off the bottom of the league.

League table: 1 Gateshead 9pts, 2 Morpeth 11, 3 South Shields 12, 4 Durham 13, 5 Sunderland Harriers 14, 6 Low Fell 16, 7 Heaton 20, 8 North Shields 22, 9 Sunderland Strollers 23, 10 Wallsend 25.

Tynedale Harriers head division two with Birtley in second. Gosforth are in bottom place on 33 points with Claremont on 29. Houghton Harriers are in danger of the drop to division three with 25.

Jarrow and Hebburn top division three, ahead of Jesmond Joggers, having won all three fixtures.

Tyne Bridge Harriers women lead division one by just one point from Tynedale with champions Heaton three points behind in third place. Sunderland Strollers are seventh on 20 points.

Durham City are bottom of the table with 28 points with Wallsend on 25 and Elvet third-bottom on 24.

Low Fell with eight points are one ahead of Morpeth in division two with Elswick in third place on 12. Sunderland Harriers are eighth on 24 points and Houghton Harriers are 14th on 45.

Sunderland Harriers head the under 17/20 league with Amy Coulson, Alex Pearson and Anna Robinson being the mainstays. But the event clashes with the rearranged Inter County Schools’ match and the trio could be missing.

There is no under-11s race at Wrekenton. The meeting starts at 12.30pm and the senior men are off at 1.15pm.

The leaders in the Sunderland Harriers’ cross country grand prix which will take in Saturday’s event, are: Paul Redman 42pts, Len Christopher 37, Dean Phillips 37, Peter Richardson 30, Aimee Adey 29, Nathan Reed 28, Craig Isherwood 26, Steve Graham 26, Helen Higgins 25, Steve Gordon 23, Michael Hill 22, Paul Merrison 22, Susan Clughen 19, Alan Hodgson 18, Weynay Ghebresilasie 16 and Abiel Werede 16.