Sunderland Harriers, who have been in existence since 1884, enjoyed their greatest performances over the marathon distance during the 1980s and beyond when they were one of the UK’s top marathon clubs.
With seven runners beating the benchmark of 2hr 20min and the 20th best Dave Robertson on 2:26:08, there was strength in depth in the squad.
A sign of things to come was in the first Great North Run in 1981 when Glenn Forster, Calum Bark, Paul Taylor, Dave Dixon, Ray Donkin and Larry Pratt won the team race. Their prize was a trip to the New York Marathon where two of the team dipped under 2:20:00 with Forster finishing with 2:19:02 and Chris Hallimond (2:19:43).
*The image shows Sunderland Harriers marathon runners Malcolm Price and Dave Robertson leading the field in the South Shields 10k before going down Lizard Lane.
At their peak the Harriers had seven internationals in their squad and won the London Marathon team race three times, taking the AAA’s and national title.
Sadly, those days have long gone, but it is worth noting the training ethic of those athletes who would train incredibly hard for their success with many completing up to and beyond 100 miles each week, training twice a day.
In 1982 Forster was rewarded for all his hard-work by winning in Holland and finishing first in the Glasgow Marathon (2:17:17). Bark was second in Glasgow (2:18:36) to give Sunderland Harriers a marvellous 1-2.
Both runners recorded personal bests and these performances inspired other club runners to get involved in marathon running and more success followed.
The first London Marathon triumph came in 1983 when Dave Hill, Bark and Hallimond claimed the club’s first London Marathon team victory. With his 2:17:35 clocking, Hill became the clubs fastest runner over the marathon distance. All three runners were selected for an international marathon in Scotland.
The following year Forster became the club’s quickest runner over the 26 miles 385 yards distance by finishing 12th in the London Marathon in 2:15:08. Forster was rewarded for his London PB by being selected to compete in Australia for Great Britain. Hill also gained international honours, with a trip to compete in China his reward.
In 1985 Richie Tough emerged on the clubs marathon roll of honour by clocking 2:19:59 at London and received his first England vest for the Milk Marathon in Aberdeen.
Forster competed for Britain in the World Cup Marathon in Japan after winning the Nuremburg Marathon in 2:19:00.
The next year Sunderland Harriers were invited to Roker Park to do a lap of honour after winning their second London Marathon team title and afterwards enjoyed a meal and drinks in the restaurant.
The team counters that day were, Bark, Hill, and Tough. In 1987 Bark had a superb win in the Belfast Marathon, clocking a PB of 2:16:33.
In 1988 the Harriers received an invite to compete in the famous Essonne Marathon near Paris, it brought a PB for Ian Haggan (2:21:28) in second place and Larry Pratt and Kevin Boal helped the team finish second.
In the Selby Marathon, second team place was achieved by John Maddison in 19th, Brian Bosher 20th and Peter Richardson 25th. Bark was third Britain home in the European Cup Marathon in Belgium.
Haggan, whose fastest marathon time was (2:16:32), was crowned North East Marathon Champion at Whitley Bay and he led the team of Dixon in 11th and Fred Judson 18th into first place.
In 1989 Forster gained silver in the Humber Bridge and Wear Valley Marathons.
Haggan was runner-up in the Warsaw Marathon when representing Great Britain and he also finished second in the Crete Marathon.
In 1993 John Stephens gained his first international vest by clocking 2:24 at London to win a trip to the Penang Marathon.
In 1998 Malcom Price was sixth Briton home in the London Marathon in 2:17:44 and backed by Michael Thompson, Brian Rushworth and Mike Cherrington, they won the London Marathon team race for the third time.
The last time Sunderland appeared in the medals was in 1999 when they finished second with Dave Grover (2:23:13), Price (2:24:41), Haggan (2:24:53) and Thompson (2:25:22).