ATHLETES of all age groups and abilities will be out in force in the region this weekend after a month-long big freeze in which six major events were called off.

The Start Fitness North- East Harrier League, which was forced to cancel its second fixture at Cramlington, resumes at Newcastle’s Exhibition Park today, but the younger age categories will be hit by a clash with the Durham Schools Cross Country Championships at Meadowfield.

The schools event should have been staged two weeks ago but was snowed off and now the county’s best youngsters will be vying for selection for next Saturday’s Inter Counties Championships, also at Meadowfield, when Durham will be taking on teams from Northumberland, Cleveland and Cumbria.

The Harrier League will see a resumption of rivalries in the senior men’s event between current leaders Morpeth Harriers, winners of the opening event at Farringdon, and Sunderland, still smarting after losing out to Wallsend last season after nine consecutive First Division championships. The Tyneside club made a disastrous start in their defence of the coveted Sisterton Trophy, finishing a lowly sixth, and will be anxious to climb back into the reckoning.

With only a short distance to travel today, Morpeth are expected to field a very strong senior men’s contingent, while Sunderland team manager Paul Redman – anticipating parking difficulties in Newcastle – has been trying to organise combined travel arrangements.

The annual Loftus Poultry Run, called off before Christmas, starts tomorrow at 11am from Loftus Leisure Centre.

Shildon’s European Junior Cross Country Championships bronze medallist Kate Avery will be chasing her eighth gold medal when she makes her final appearance in the Durham Schools Championships at Meadowfield today.

The 18-year-old student at Darlington College had been unbeaten in her previous races in her county schools championships, winning at minor, junior, intermediate and, last year, senior levels, and has proved herself to be one of Great Britain’s best teenage athletes.

Avery was 11th in the senior women’s race in Northern Ireland last weekend, when she headed the junior field. She now hopes to win selection for the World Cross Country Championships in Poland in March.