Concerns over the coronavirus pandemic led to greatly reduced numbers in the North Eastern Harrier League at Lambton Park on Saturday.
Only 325 finished the senior men’s race compared to the season’s best and record of 666 at Wrekenton in September, while the women saw just 244 close in.
On top of this, the season has been disrupted with postponements and cancellations, due to flooded car parks, and now the final fixture at Druridge Bay at the end of March must be in doubt due to crowd restrictions.
Sunderland Harriers put any negative thoughts to the back of their minds to put in a superb winning team performance to keep them on track for the First Division league title.
They head the division by four points, ahead of Elvet Striders, and now must wait to see what happens to the final fixture. It could mean only four, instead of six fixtures, being counted in deciding final league positions.
Club team manager Jimmy Johnson said: "That was a great performance from the club. I was especially pleased with Liam's winning Harrier League debut, no doubt he inspired his team mates behind him.They packed well for a great win."
Liam Taylor got the Sunderland show off to a great start in winning the handicap race from the slow pack.
For most of the race he held a 90 second lead over Houghton Harrier Luke Pickering, who was running from the medium pack. But the 20-year-old rapidly closed Taylor down during the third and final lap and at the end was just four seconds behind his rival.
Taylor had to raise his speed in the finishing straight to keep Pickering at bay to clock 41.26. Pickering recorded the second fastest time on the course with 38.55, behind Newcastle University athlete Chris Larkin, who got through to fourth from the fast pack (39.49).
Second Sunderland Harrier to finish was medium packer Sean Mackie in 11th (43.50), then came fast man Craig Gunn with 17th (41.36), slows Kris Cantle was 23rd (47.12) and Steve Gordon 26th (47.30), with medium man Sam Thurlbeck closing the scoring in 28th (45.01).
Sunderland Harriers women who had a record turnout of 13, ensured Second Division survival for next year by finishing sixth. The counters were Alyson McCourt in 63rd, Vikki Cotton 93rd, Michelle O’Neil 111th and Doreen Dickinson 131st .
Washington were fifth with Claire Diamond-Howe 55th, Kathrine Conway 87th, Amy Roddam 103 and Kathrine Common 91.
Sunderland Harriers also had some good performances from their youngsters. Adam Hughes was first Under-15 Boy (15.15), Jak Jarvis was fifth (15.47) and Dillon Revell was 13th (14.39). While Rhys Clark was third Under-17. Isabel Maher was fifth Under-11.
Houghton Harrier Ethan Kirk finished fifth Under-15 Boy.