Nearly 700 runners took to mid-Northumberland’s roads for the Wallington half marathon on Sunday – shattering organisers’ already high expectations for the picturesque race.
Given their starters orders by North East Olympic hopeful Stacey Smith – who received a rapturous welcome from runners and onlookers alike – 681 club and amateur athletes aged between 18 and 75 pounded the roads around Cambo and Scots Gap in the glorious early spring sunshine.
Around 650 had been expected to line-up for the Run Northumberland Wallington Half Marathon, but the warm and sunny weekend weather enticed even more to take to the tarmac for the second outing of one of the North East’s newest and most scenic challenge events.
With nearly 300 more runners taking part compared to 2011, it puts organiser Team Decathlon right on track to reach its target of 2012 competitors for 2012 over all five Run Northumberland races taking place between now and mid-October.
The event attracted many visitors to Northumberland. They came not just from across the North East but from as far afield as the West Country, Scotland and Canada, the US and Australia for the National Trust and Venator International backed run – one of the largest mass sporting occasions in Northumberland.
Among the athletics clubs represented were Morpeth, Tynedale, Alnwick, Blaydon, Elswick, Tyne Bridge, Gateshead and Heaton Harriers’, Northumberland Fell Runners, the North East Veterans’ Association and the Allen Valley Striders.
Martin Morris, 37, of Morpeth Harriers won the men’s race in a time of 1:13:29, with Conrad Franks, 28, of Gateshead Harriers second in a time of 1:13:55. Richard Parker, 48, of Tynedale Harriers was third in 1:17:33.
The top spot for the women was claimed by Fiona Taylor, 24, an unattached competitor from St Andrews, Scotland, in a time of 1:34:54 , with second placed Mairi Crawford, 28, of Heaton Harriers, close behind on 1:35.04.
Suzanne Thews, 37, of North Shields Poly Athletics Club came in third in 1:36:01.
The team awards went to Tynedale Harriers men with Heaton Harriers picking up the women’s team trophy.
Stacey Smith, 22, from Prudhoe, who will hear at the end of June if she has secured her place for London 2102 in the 1500m, said the Wallington Half Marathon had the potential to be one of the region’s best supported road races.
“I was thrilled to be asked to start the race and it was wonderful to see so many runners had turned out for it on a Sunday.
“I am passionate about running and anything that persuades people to give it a go has to be applauded.”
It was the second time Conrad Franks had run the half marathon. “I came in sixth last year so I stepped up the pace this year. It’s a great course and I really like it. It’s a bit hilly in places with quite long straight stretches which can seem daunting, but it’s a good challenge.”
Winner Michael Morris who normally competes in triathlons and will be taking part in an Iron Man contest in Germany in July, added: “I really enjoyed it for the first six or seven miles, but this was a long way for me.
“It’s a hard race with lots of hills, but I sat behind the second placed guy and grabbed my chance with about two miles to go. I’m really pleased to have won.”
It was Mairi Crawford’s first Wallington Half Marathon outing. “It’s a beautiful route, a great atmosphere and the weather has been perfect.
“I’ve only done three or four other half marathons before, so I’m really chuffed I came in second in the women’s race.
“I am thinking of doing Run Northumberland’s 10k events now.”
Run Northumberland had its first outing in 2011. Held against the backdrop of some of the county’s most attractive landmarks, last year’s four races attracted 1,000 club and recreational runners in total – just over 300 more than took part in this year’s Wallington Half Marathon.
An extra fixture has been added to 2012’s Run Northumberland programme of remaining 10k races which will take place at Cragside near Rothbury on April 14, Bamburgh on June 17, a return to Wallington on September 9 and newcomer Matfen in the Tyne Valley on October 14.
The aim is to turn Run Northumberland 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.
Team Decathlon athletic club’s race director Richard Hunter said: “Many of the runners came from outside Northumberland, so it is great to put the county on the map as well as help the local economy.
“The Wallington Half Marathon attracted 390 runners last year, so to have 681 this year – 30 more than we had anticipated even before the start of the race – is phenomenal.
“The half marathon is shaping up to be a major player on the annual regional sporting calendar. The course is excellent and there is a great start and finish at Wallington with sensational views along the way.”
- Places are still available for the Cragside, Bamburgh, Wallington and Matfen 10k races. For more information go to www.runnorthumberland.org.