WEARSIDE lecturer Brian Rushworth - a record-breaking cross country ace - defends his British Masters title in Northern Ireland today.

The 42-year-old Sunderland Harriers, who proved himself one of the regions best-ever exponents of the winter sport by winning the North-East senior men's championship ten times, beating former Commonwealth Games marathon gold medallist Jim Alder's long-stranding record, has won the area's veterans' crown three times since moving into the ranks of the over-40s.

But his greatest triumph was winning the British Masters' title on home ground at Maiden Castle, Durham, last year, when he beat the cream of over-40 cross country runners from the four home countries. His success followed a disappointing third place on his Masters Championship debut at Irvine, Ayrshire, in 2003.

Now Rushworth knows he will have to be on top form to retain the trophy, with younger leading cross country runners qualifying as veterans to challenge their elders.

"It is always a keenly contested race and you never know who will be in the field until you line up," said the former shipyard joiner.

"It will be hard but I've prepared well and I'll be battling to retain the title."

Last year Sunderland finished second to Scottish club Cambuslang in the over-40 team race and Rushworth will be joined at Castle Park, Bangor by team-mates Steve Coxon, Dave Ellis and George Harden.

* Morpeth Harrier Terry Wall and Darlington's North-East cross country champion Bernadette Taylor will defend their titles in tomorrow's Redcar Half Marathon.

Former winner Steve Hepples, who lives in Redcar, has entered the Liverpool Half Marathon, along with Morpeth Harrier Mark Hudspith but may yet decide to run in his local event. Late entries will be accepted before the race, which starts in Majuba Road at 10.30am.

* Outstanding Shildon schoolgirl Kate Avery, who has won the North-East, Northern and National under-13 cross country titles this winter, faces her biggest test to date when she will be racing for Durham County against girls a year her senior in the English Schools Cross Country Championships at Norwich today.

* Chester-le-Street AC's annual road races, scheduled to held at the Riverside Park tomorrow, have been cancelled because of a lack of entries.