Michelle Avery was 11-years-old when she joined Sunderland Harriers and during her time in the royal blue vest she has become the longest serving female athlete. It was in 1995 that the youngster decided to choose athletics as the sport of her choice and now after nearly 26 years of continuous membership and 316 performances since 2003, she is also the most active.
Now aged 37 and competing in the veteran age group: She said: “I hope to keep running for as long as possible. It has given me so much in my life and I enjoy it not to just compete but for its own sake. I prefer road running generally. However, I like training on the track it’s the only way to improve in my opinion and I do enjoy cross country.
“Lockdown has helped me put more training miles in at decent times of the day. It is easier to get out during the day rather than before work or late at night. I’m currently running 40 miles a week with a day off on Friday. I have taken part in various virtual events like the Blaydon Race and Great North Run to keep me motivated when nothing else is happening."
“I have enjoyed being part of the Harriers and competing in many road, track and cross country events. My best performances and memories are not just when I’ve ran well but when I’ve been surrounded by good people and enjoyed the atmosphere.’’
One of Avery’s most remarkable performances was when she won the women's section of the Foundation of Light’s Lambton 10k multi terrain race for the fourth consecutive year. What was so astonishing was that she was five months pregnant with her first child, Henry, and she did it on what is recognised as one of the toughest courses in the North East.
She said: “The race went off steady for me and I found myself at the front. Then it was a case of just keeping the pace going. I felt quite comfortable and won with a bit to spare in the end. The only problem I had was I could not wear my club vest. It was just too tight. I’m pleased I did not get disqualified!’’
Avery is one of a growing number of endurance-based women who continued with their racing and training while pregnant. It is possible, say the specialists to maintain and improve your fitness during pregnancy - as elite athletes Paula Radcliffe and Jo Pavey have shown.
Avery finished 40th overall in a field approaching 600. She clocked 42:17 to win by 30 seconds. The only real anxiety came when she was barged out of the way on the finish line by a charging male runner. But she did not raise an eyebrow and crossed the line for a superb win.
Other career highlights for the primary school teacher was being awarded her North Eastern Counties vest when representing the North East in the Inter Counties Cross Country Championships and she won the North Eastern Counties 5000m championships at Gateshead in 2004.
The gruelling Penshaw Hill race is one of her favourites events having won it five times with her last win coming in 2013, with her fastest time being set in 2009 with 19:47. There have been four Sunderland Harriers winners of the women’s race with Gillian Barry in 2006 (20:41), Haley Reed 2010 (20:48), and Alice Smith twice in 2017 and 2018 with a best of 18:58.
The Fulwell athletes most recent performances before the first lockdown were winning the Beamish 10k and finishing second in the Prudhoe Miners 10k.
Her PB’s are track 3000m 10:39.5, 5000m 17:54.44, 10000m 37:36.54. Road 5k 17:48, 5 miles 29:54, 10k 36:27, 10m 61:03, Half Marathon 80:51.