This weekend’s Ronnie Walker Saltwell 10k Road Race sees Olympic and Commonwealth Games representatives Aly Dixon and Sonia Samuels go head-to-head for the first time since they last locked horns in Australia in April.
On that occasion Samuels came out on top in the Commonwealth Games marathon where she finished in fifth place (2hr 36min 59sec) with Dixon crossing the line one place behind in 2:38.19.
Now the duo will drop down in distance to be on the start line on Saturday in the historic race which is listed as England’s oldest road race and, thanks to a healthy backing by local business Fentimans, has attracted a sell-out field of 600 competitors.Despite being based in Loughborough, former Wallsend Harrier Samuels often returns to her roots and on a number of trips ‘home’ last December she made it a winning debut in the Saltwell two weeks after she claimed the gold medal at the North Eastern Counties Cross-Country Championships in Redcar as well as winning the Blaydon Race earlier in the year.
While Samuels, who now competes for the Manchester-based Sale Harriers, will be eager to retain her Saltwell crown, Wearsider Dixon has the pedigree to win once again having been successful on no less than five occasions.
The Sunderland Stroller, who didn’t take part last year, first won in 2011 and then followed that up with victories in 2012 and 2013.
In 2014 Dixon was just easing back to fitness after dropping out of the Commonwealth marathon in Glasgow through injury but she still lined up at Saltwell where she finished runner-up behind Durham City’s Rosie Smith who set a course record of 35:06 that day, a record which which could be a target for the leading duo.
However, Dixon showed she was was back to full fitness the following year topping the podium in 2015 and then again in 2016.
Not only did Dixon and Samuels contest the Gold Coast marathon as England representatives the pair were also GB team-mates in Rio for the Olympic Games in 2016 where the Wearsider finished 28th (2:34.11), two places ahead of the Tynesider who recorded 2:34.36.Naturally, an excited Saltwell Harriers’ Race Director Keith Wood, is delighted to have two of the country’s leading endurance athletes on the start line this year where he commented: “Both Ally and Sonia have been at the forefront of women’s marathon running in the UK for a number of years now so we feel it’s something special that they will go head-to-head in our race.
“It would be nice if either, or both, could dip under the course record to make it a really special occasion.”
While the women’s contest is set to take centre stage the organisers have been inundated with requests for an entry from most of the region’s leading male athletes.
“The prize money on offer this year is far greater than ever before thanks to the generosity of Fentimans who’s founder Arthur Fentiman was a Saltwell Harrier and North East sprint champion in the 1920’s,” added Wood.
“While I don’t think that is the main reason why so many want to run this year it is certainly an incentive especially for the elite athletes. However, everyone, where ever they finish, will receive a generous goody bag.
“Among those entered are recently crowned North-East cross-country champion Teessider Greg Jayasuriya and North-East born Daniel Bradford who runs for Scottish club Shettleston Harriers. There’s also a strong Morpeth Harriers contingent who will be hoping to lift the £300 on offer for winning the team race.”
Saturday’s action gets underway at 11.30am with the course set in and around the grounds of Saltwell Park