Sunderland Harrier Michael Barker has international selection on his mind when he competes in the England Masters’ Cross Country Championship in October. He bids to catch the selectors eye for the Over-40 team in the the British and Irish Masters’ International in Dublin in November. He has got off to a good start having ran the fastest lap in the North Eastern Counties Over-40 Cross Country Relays Championships at Thornley Hall Farm last month.
He just missed out on an England Masters selection in 2019 when he travelled to the venue as a reserve to compete in the open race which he won at Aintree Racecourse. He was looking forward to 2020 as his breakthrough year going into the V40 age group and hoping to gain an England Masters vest but the sport came to a standstill through the Pandemic.
Earlier he had competed in the Helsby Half Marathon and clocked a useful 72:47, which was only his second outing over the distance. A couple of weeks later he ran heavy legged in the North East Masters Cross Country Championship finishing a disappointing eighth, the previous year he was second.
“I ran a 5k PB in a training run in April 2020 when the first Lockdown happened, but as I had been running through an Achilles’ injury I decided take a rest after that, he said. I kept fit by cycling each day which I started to enjoy but the Achilles’ injury lasted longer than I expected and I was out for six months. With rest and daily rehab exercise, I was able to start running again in October 2020 and I have slowly built my mileage back up to 60 miles per week.’’
Barker joined the Harriers as a minor colt back in 1991 or 1992 as an 11-year-old with his older brother Stephen. He said: "We were both fit lads doing a bit of boxing training at Lambton Street Boys’ Club when my Uncle Kenny entered us into a fun run at Silksworth. I loved it and must have done okay as my Uncle took us to the Harriers. We joined at a time when there was an abundance of talented lads training at the club. David Clark, Andy Barker and Matty Knowles were a few names out of a very strong group."
“I was told to stick at it by my uncle and Ken Jefferson, who was a fantastic coach, he had every athletes training schedule meticulously planned out for them and he got the very best from us."
“It wasn’t until my training started to click and my uncle offered me £5 incentives for beating teammates that I started to push on. I was in the Under-13 age group and I began to see improved results in finishing third in the North Eastern Cross Country Championships and 13th in the Inter Counties."
“Unfortunately, in 1994 I had an accident while out playing which resulted in surgery and a period of rest, but surprisingly I managed 23rd for Durham in the English Schools Championships. The following year, as an Under-15, I finished third again in the North Eastern’s. I gained some form over the next few months and representing the North East I finished 17th in the Inter Counties. I believe I was the first from the Harriers to have represented the North East in all age groups at U13, U15, U17 and at Junior level."
"I recently finished 15th in the senior championships at Alnwick. The race was celebrating 25 years since it was last run there. Ironically, that was when I finished third a year down as an Under-15 Boy. To mark the occasion, I had the honour of presenting the U15’s boys with their medals."
"I had many highlights as a youngster winning individual medals and national team titles, but my most memorable runs were winning a silver medal in the Scottish Championships 3000m and running 15:58 mins in the Saltwell 5k when I was 16. I also won the Inter County Schools Cross Country at Carlisle Racecourse then going to the English Schools' aiming for an England vest. Sadly, that didn’t work out as planned as I was in a lot of pain during the race and finished around 60th. I later found out I had a kidney problem which required an operation so that meant another year on the side-lines."
“I then moved into the seniors, being coached by Richie Tough and that was a shock to the system. I had only ever run 35 miles per week, mainly track sessions, and then to go out with men like Brian Rushworth hitting the roads for their tempo runs was very hard."
“In 1999 I gained my last North East Inter Counties selection before adult life took over and running wasn’t as important to me anymore. I had a very long lay-off, only returning as an unattached athlete to do the odd local 5k and 10k races."
“After becoming a bit overweight and fed up with gym routines I pulled on my running shoes once again in 2011 to train for the Sunderland 10k and Great North Run. I did 43min and 90min respectively. That encouraged me to have another go at the sport and re-join the Harriers."
“It wasn’t until I turned 35 in 2015 that I decided to stop training on the track and began to self-coach and train on my own. I have tinkered with 90 mile per week training, but I found I can run well and injury free doing around 65-70 miles per week."
“I have learnt a lot over the years and now with the coaching advice of clubmate Mark Hood, who is now planning my schedules, I am training smarter. I have reduced my 10k time to 33:17 which isn’t the fastest in the world but all my PB’s are getting quicker with age!.’’