Paralympic hero Richard Whitehead set to take part in Sunderland running festival

Paralympian Richard Whitehead, centre, with Steve Cram and Coun John Kelly launching the Sunderland Half Marathon.
Paralympian Richard Whitehead, centre, with Steve Cram and Coun John Kelly launching the Sunderland Half Marathon.
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WEARSIDERS have no excuse not to get involved in next spring’s festival of running in Sunderland.

That is the verdict of former Olympian Steve Cram, who launched the first Half Marathon of the North yesterday.

Organisers are hoping between 5,000 and 6,000 runners will lace up their trainers for the half marathon, or the returning Marathon of the North and Sunderland City 10k events. They all take place on Sunday, April 28, with thousands more expected to line the race routes as spectators.

Steve believes that rather than trying to compete with the Great North Run in Newcastle, the race would help complement events on Wearside in 2013 such as the Rihanna and Bon Jovi concerts at the Stadium of Light and the Sunderland International Airshow.

He said it would be “another great occasion” for people in the area.

“Nearly 4,000 people took part in the two events this year and quite a lot of them were from outside the region,” he added.

“Hopefully next year will be even bigger. If we can bring people from outside the area to stay in the hotels and eat in the restaurants in the city then that’s great.”

Civic leaders are hoping that the new race will help cement Sunderland as a city in which runners look forward to competing.

“This will give us the ultimate road race combination,” said Councillor John Kelly, cabinet member for public health. Sunderland really is becoming a destination choice and this will really put us out there.

“Of course we are supporting people from the city by putting it on, but we also want to see people from Newcastle, Northumberland and Cumbria here running too.”

Paralympic hero Richard Whitehead, a double amputee who scooped gold after claiming victory in the T42 200m final this summer, is set to run in one of the three races.

Richard, from Nottingham, said: “Hopefully I’ll be able to take part once I’ve worked out a programme for next year with my coach, Liz Yelling.

“Things like this are about face time with the public, which we know is important because athletes have massive responsibility now.

“It’s not just about winning marathons, it’s about providing positive role models as well.”

Runners with Sunderland Harriers will be looking for a hat-trick of wins after taking the club challenge prize in the last two years.

Club chairman Kevin Carr said: “The half marathon gives athletes an ideal choice if they maybe don’t feel they are capable of running a full marathon.

“It puts a bit of pressure on us as a club to make sure that we have the athletes out there to win but we’ll be going for it.”

Details of junior runs for younger athletes are set be released in the coming months.

l To enter any of next April’s races go to www.marathonofthenorth.com or www.sunderlandcity10k.com.

Twitter: @davidallison88