North East Olympic hopeful Stacey Smith has thrown her weight behind a string of picturesque running events.
The 22-year-old athlete, who is on target to make the Team GB squad for London 2012, is backing the Run Northumberland challenge series, which gets off to a racing start on March 25 with the Wallington Morpeth Half Marathon.
And the 1500m runner who hails from Prudhoe, Northumberland, will be showing her support for one of the region’s newest sporting contests when she puts competitors under starters orders at the National Trust owned property at Cambo, near Morpeth.
Over 600 club and recreational runners are expected to turn out for the second Wallington Half Marathon – 200 more than last year.
It means organiser Team Decathlon is on track to reach its own Olympic goal of 2012 participants for 2012 across all five Run Northumberland races.
Stacey said she was thrilled to be involved with the initiative, which is the brainchild of former England and GB athlete Richard Hunter.
“Northumberland is where I grew up, went to school and was first inspired to start running,” the Gateshead Harrier said. “It’s a beautiful county packed full of stunning locations, wonderful people, culture, history and excitement – all the components that make Northumberland a great place to live and run in.
“How fantastic to be able to run against the backdrop of somewhere like Wallington. Run Northumberland is an inspirational event which I hope will not only encourage people of all ages and abilities to take up running themselves, but help put the area on the national and international race map.
“I am passionate about running and anything that persuades people – especially kids – to give it a go has to be applauded. It can be hard to get kids interested in sport these days; they just don’t want to get involved.
“But I like the fact that alongside the main Run Northumberland races, a series of children’s and family events have also been planned aimed at getting people off the sofa and out into the countryside exercising.
“It is giving young people the chance to become engaged with sport in a fun way. Hopefully some of the kids will be motivated to take it further. Where will the stars of the future be without this sort of encouragement?
“It would be great to think I might meet the next generation of up-and-coming athletes at Wallington.”
Stacey, who will find out at the end of June if she has secured her place for London 2012, is being sponsored by the Team Decathlon athletic club, whose director is fellow Northumbrian Richard Hunter.
A former 400m hurdler and decathlete himself, he said: “I am thrilled that Stacey has come on board to support Run Northumberland as she is a great ambassador for the region.
“This year is an exciting one for sport with London 2012 now firmly on the horizon, and it is great that Stacey has found the time to briefly step back from her Olympic preparations and support Run Northumberland and all those who will be taking part in the races.
“I have known Stacey for many years, way back to her early days with Tynedale Harriers, and it has been amazing watching her develop as a middle distance runner who is now on the brink of Olympic glory.
“She is a wonderful role model and is carrying on the North East’s tradition for producing top class athletes like Steve Cram, Brendan Foster and Charlie Spedding.
“We are really happy to be supporting her and the positive sporting legacy we hope 2012 is going to leave behind.”
Run Northumberland had its first outing in 2011. Held against the backdrop of some of the country’s most iconic landmarks, last year’s four races attracted more than 1,000 club and recreational runners.
This year an extra fixture has been added to the half marathon – one of only a handful in the North East – and 10k programme.
The Wallington outing later this month – which will take competitors along the banks of the River Wansbeck and on the roads around Scots Gap and Cambo before finishing under the property’s famous Clock Tower – will be followed by four 10k races.
They are fellow National Trust property Cragside at Rothbury on April 14, Bamburgh on June 17, a return to Wallington on September 9 and newcomer Matfen on October 14.
The aim is to turn Run Northumberland – which is being supported by the National Trust, Run Britain and Venator International – into an annual summer programme and develop it into one of the UK’s biggest and best supported race series’ for fun runners and club athletes.
This year’s series has already attracted wide interest with competitors from as far afield as the West Country, Edinburgh, Canada, the US and Australia signed up.
Stacey Smith said: “Because I am from Northumberland I like to support anything locally and to do what I can to raise the county’s profile.
“It is important that people keep coming to Northumberland and are encouraged to make the most of its beautiful scenery in any way possible.”
Julie Tucker, Wallington’s events and promotions manager, added: “There are probably few races that take place in such lovely surroundings. Wallington was a successful event last year and we hope it will be even better this year.
“We are just as eager as Richard and Stacey to get people out and about on our estate and attract new people to visit Wallington and see what we have to offer.
“People often whizz by in their cars and don’t get a chance to see how beautiful the countryside is around here, so this is the ideal opportunity to take it in.”
Places are still available for the Wallington Half Marathon and other races.
- For more information on the Run Northumberland series go to www.runnorthumberland.org. The half marathon costs £25 to enter for non-club runners and £23 for UKA club members. The 10K races cost £13 and £11 respectively.