Thornley Hall Farm was the setting for the annual northeastern cross-country relay championships, after a deluge of rain in the lead up to race day; the course resembled a quagmire - with mud deep in most places. The order of the day was to get the head down, run hard and get round in one piece.
Sunderland Harriers support this event very well and had 11 teams entered, but leading up to race day there were dropouts galore. In the end the club fielded six complete team, three incomplete team and there were no runners to fill the other two teams - this creating a headache for Club Team Manager Jimmy Johnson.
First up for the club were the under 13 boys team, who created a little bit of history for themselves. With a slight headwind, Ed Moon (10.21)- the current Northern 800m silver medallist set off on the first leg, one undulating lap of grass, puddles galore and plenty of mud. Ed got his team off to a fantastic start coming back in third place. Next off was Seth Hughes, roared on by his clubmates he completed the circuit in 11.33. On the anchor leg was Kieran Archer (12.48) who embraced the tough conditions and slogged it out to come back in fourth place.
However, although Darlington Harriers had two teams in the top three, only the A team can win medals, therefore our under 13 boys won the County bronze medals much to their delight, a magnificent achievement and it has been a long time since a junior team from Sunderland have won a relay championship medal.
The boys were delighted with their achievement and there were no prouder men than their coaches John Archer and Michael Hill - who work tirelessly in ensuring that their athletes are in the best condition to race.
Elswick Harriers won gold, as Darlington Harriers had to settle for silver only three seconds adrift.
Up next was the under 15 girls who were unfortunate to have a late withdrawal. Despite this setback both Elizabeth Hughes (15.44) and Caitlin Hughes (17.40) stuck to the task in hand and raced admirably.
Tyne Bridge Harriers were clear winners, Elswick Harriers and Heaton Harriers were second and third respectively.
The under 15 boys had to settle for tenth place, William Young (11.03) got them off to a solid start coming back in fifth place, off next was Josh Ebblewhite-Wood who scampered home in tenth (11.55). Jude Graham completed the trio as he completed in 12.02
Tyne Bridge Harriers yet again were dominant winners. Darlington Harriers in second and Blaydon Harriers completed the podium places.
The under 17 girls were rocked by a withdrawal at the last second, after a change of leg order and a discussion with the race organisers, the girls were cleared to race. Despite the disappointing setback, both Niamh Campbell (21.10) and Hannah Hughes (19.49) completed the race in conditions that were worsening by the minute. Both athletes showed a great attitude to go along with their grit and determination.
Tynedale, Gateshead and Birtley were the respective medal winners.
In the women's race, our masters women team produced a gutsy display of racing to come away with a championship bronze medal. Team captain, Vicky Haswell got them off to a flying start as she came back in first place with a time of 16.15, a time which was fourth fastest time of the day. On the second leg, Deb Defty battled through the deteriorating conditions to come back in third place (18.44). Off on the final leg was international triathlete Claire Cook, who stuck to the task in hand and romped home (17.51) to collect the deserved bronze medals.
Doreen Dickinson (20.39) and Colleen Compson (18.17), who was making her comeback ran in the incomplete B team.
South Shields Harriers were the winners 30 seconds ahead of Elswick Harriers.
In the senior women's race, the team did not fare well as they struggled to adapt to the conditions and finished in 12th position. Tasha Steel (18.18) came back in 16th position, Charlotte Stidolph (18.26) maintained that position. It was left to Jessica Fox, a seasoned campaigner on the country to haul the team into 12 place, she produced a sold run (14.53) in what was her first race of an injury interrupted winter season.
Morpeth Harriers claimed gold medals, Birtley AC grabbed silver as Houghton Harriers settled for bronze.
The men's masters team of Chris Dwyer (16.40), Andrew Hughes (15.56) and Mark Head (15.44) finished in 11th position.
Elswick Harriers won gold, Hartlepool Burn Road Harriers claimed a surprise silver as Gateshead had to settle for bronze.
In the final race of the day, with the dark clouds looming and the course now resembling a catastrophic quagmire, the senior men's race got underway.
For the first time in the events history, the senior men's team finished outside the medals. Despite not fielding their strongest team they managed to finish in 8th positon. Steve Rankin (12.22) kicked off the proceedings as he came back in 6th position, Alex Seed (13.38) travelled up from Leeds to propel the team into 5th place whilst wearing one shoe. Cameron Lawton (15., a late replacement lost a shoe shortly after the start and managed to hold on to 8th place. On the last leg, team captain, Nathan Reed consolidated 8th place with a run of 13.28, a run that he was pleased with.
Gateshead Harriers claimed gold as they included former national xc champion Calum Johnson - who in turn produced a masterclass as he obliterated the field running the fastest time of the day in 10.57, giving his team a lead of over a minute.
Morpeth Harriers, despite the valiant effort of Connor Marshall on the last leg had to make do with second place. Luke Pickering anchored Houghton Harriers to bronze medals, the run of Cameron Allen (11.08) on third leg propelled the team back in the medal hunt.
Sunderland Harriers Team Manager, Jimmy Johnson was pleased with how the day went, "overall
it was a good day at the office, despite the setbacks of withdrawals from athletes - I thought given the conditions we did well. I'm pleased for the masters women to win medals, however it was the under 13 boys medal success that really pleased. They're a credit to their coaches and to the club. Hopefully this inspires our members to race more for the club, we can't afford to dwell on success - we need to build on it. Trust the process."
Further afield, the classic Brampton to Carlisle road race was held and three of our athletes tackled the ten mile course, Michael Barker (56:35), Sam Thurlbeck (59.16), and David Lash (68.02) finished in 38th, 64th, and 204th respectively.
The race was won by Carl Avery (Morpeth H) in 49.21, a clear winner from Kieran Walker (NE Project) 50.33. Finn Brodie (Morpeth H) in 50.51 completed the podium positions. Morpeth also won the team prize as they had 4 runners in the top 8 positions.
In the women's race, it was dominated by Leeds City AC as Stephanie Davies (54.51) was a clear winner over her teammate Steph Pennycook (55.48). Jasmine Wood (Durham City Harriers) produced a fantastic run (59.15) as she claimed third place.
This Saturday sees the return of the Harrier League, the competition resumes at Aykley Heads. A proper cross-country course in what will be the last ever race at the venue, again it's more land being made way for housing development.
Sunderland Harriers are expecting a good strong turnout across all age-groups as the race will be a good tune-up before the North Eastern championships next month.