One of the region’s most iconic tourist attractions will form the eye-catching backdrop this weekend to the first of this year’s Run Northumberland challenge races.
Around 650 club and amateur runners are expected to line-up on Sunday (March 25) for the Wallington Half Marathon – 250 more than for the race’s first outing in 2011.
It puts organiser Team Decathlon on track to reach its target of 2012 competitors for 2012 over all five Run Northumberland races taking place between now and mid-October.
North East Olympic hopeful Stacey Smith is due to officially start the half marathon at 9.30am, which will take runners along the banks of the River Wansbeck and on the roads around Scots Gap and Cambo before finishing under Wallington’s famous Clock Tower.
The 22-year-old 1500m runner from Prudhoe in the Tyne Valley, who will find out at the end of June if she has secured her place for London 2012, is officially backing Run Northumberland’s string of picturesque half marathon and 10k running events set against some of the county’s most recognisable manmade landmarks.
They include not only Wallington this weekend but fellow National Trust property Cragside at nearby Rothbury on April 14 which will mark the first of Run Northumberland’s four 10k races.
Cragside – where competitors will be putting their best foot forward on the property’s scenic carriage drive – will be followed by Bamburgh on the stunning north Northumberland coast on June 17, a return to Wallington on September 9 and newcomer Matfen in the Tyne Valley on October 14.
With the weather set fair for Sunday, Run Northumberland organiser and Team Decathlon athletic club director, Richard Hunter, himself a former England and GB 400m hurdler and decathlete, said: “The Wallington Half Marathon promises to be a fantastic event for runners and spectators alike.
“With around 650 club and recreational runners taking part in the second Run Northumberland Wallington Half Marathon this race, and the challenge series as a whole, is shaping up to be a major player on the annual regional sporting calendar.
“The Run Northumberland series had its first outing last year and attracted around 1,000 runners in total. We are well on our way to reaching – and smashing – our 2012 runners for 2012 target to mark the London Olympics, and hopefully turn this series of picturesque runs not into just one of the region’s best supported sporting events but one of the UK’s.
“This year’s series has already attracted competitors not only from the North East but the West Country and Scotland and as far afield as Canada, the US and Australia.
“And to have a top international athlete of Stacey Smith’s calibre not just starting the Wallington Half Marathon but backing all five Run Northumberland races, is the icing on the proverbial cake.
“I am sure her presence at Wallington this Sunday will inspire young and old runners alike to put in some cracking performances.”
The first runners are expected to cross the finish line in around 70 minutes, with prizes for the top three male and female competitors on offer as well as group and team awards and even a special accolade for the first Northumbrian born lad and lass to come in under the Clock Tower.
The Wallington Half Marathon also includes a number of junior runs this year. They include an 800m race for under-nines, 1000m competition for under-11s, 1.5km event for under-13s, and 3km runs for both under-15s and-17s.
It is part of Run Northumberland’s goal to promote running as a fun family activity open to all ages and abilities.
Richard added: “We want to attract people who may only do one or two races a year, like the Great North Run, and who don’t want to feel intimidated by the more serious runners.
“That is why we have chosen such picturesque locations for the Run Northumberland series. People can take the course at their own pace – and hopefully enjoy their surroundings at the same time.
“The races also give young people the chance to become engaged in sport in a fun way, and hopefully many of the kids will be encouraged to take their running a stage further.
“You never know, there may be a future Stacey Smith of Steve Cram at Wallington on Sunday who will carry on the North East’s tradition for producing top class middle distance runners.”
Places are still available for the Cragside, Bamburgh, Wallington and Matfen 10k races. For more information go to www.runnorthumberland.org.