NORTH-EAST athletics clubs are being invited to take part in a unique team challenge as part of the inaugural Marathon of the North in Sunderland next month.

Last year home club Sunderland lifted the Club Challenge £500 prize when the first Sunderland City 10K was held, having the best cumulative time for a competitor in the Junior Run and four seniors in the 10K, including one woman.

Now the contest will be enlarged to include one finisher in the marathon, and the prize will go to the club with the best cumulative time for their best six runners over the weekend of May 5 and 6.

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Three North-East clubs, Morpeth, Gateshead and New Marske, will compete in today's ERRA National 12-Stage Road Relay Championships at Sutton Coldfield. Morpeth were the region's top finishers in third place when they qualified for Sutton Park in the Northern Championships at Liverpool last month, where Gateshead finished seventh and New Marske 11th on their debut in the event.

Morpeth, bronze medallists in the National Championships last year, are again expected to field their Mongolian Olympic Games marathon runner, Serod Batochir, who was runner-up defending his title in last weekend's North Tyneside 10K. Batochir, living on Tyneside as he prepares for the London Olympics, was fifth fastest long-leg runner last year as former AAA 1500m champion Nick McCormick recorded the fastest short leg time.

Former Elswick Harrier Justina Heslop, 33, who shot to the top of the UK five mile rankings when she set a new record of 26 mins 21 secs in the London Victoria Park race last weekend before travelling to her native North-East to set another new record winning the North Tyneside 10K 24 hours later, will act as a pace-maker to the women's elite runners in tomorrow's big Brighton Marathon. Heslop, who now competes for London club Clapham Chasers, intends to compete on the Continent before attempting a fourth consecutive victory in the Blaydon Race on June 9.

South Shields Harriers host their annual Sand Dancer multi-terrain six-mile race on the cliff tops at the Leas tomorrow, including the North-East Veterans championships.