WATCH: Running legend Paula Radcliffe excited after signing up for Sunderland half-marathon
Legendary runner Paula Radcliffe was in Sunderland today after signing up to take part in the city's half-marathon next May.
Paula, who is the marathon world record holder, surprised shoppers by joining 50 other runners in taking part in a 'flash mob' style run from The Bridges, in the city centre.
Also involved was Sunderland marathon star Alyson Dixon as the group took on a 3km training route around Sunderland.
Paula - a two-time winner of the Great North Run - has never raced competitively in Sunderland, but is looking forward to doing so on Sunday, May 7 next year, after being persuaded to take part by friend and event founder Steve Cram.
She said: "I've never been able to race in Sunderland, so I'm really looking forward to it.
"The North East is an area that just gets sport and really gets behind people making an effort and just trying their best out there.
"That's what I've loved about the Great North Run and the Durham Cross Country, and whenever I've raced in Newcastle and Gateshead.
"It's a lot of fun and people understand it.
"Hopefully a lot of people can come out and really make this event big, and show that this is what Sunderland can do."
This may be Paula's first visit to Sunderland as a runner, but she has been in the city before - thanks to friend Cram.
She added: "I've been here before, because Crammy has dragged me to the football.
"It's a great city and it's just about getting people to see that.
"Sometimes when you're in somewhere every day, you don't see what's great about it, and you should be able to shout about that and share that with the people who are going to come and visit."
The half-marathon and 10km events are sponsored by Siglion, and organised by Events of the North, in partnership with Sunderland City Council and Active Sunderland. The 2017 events will also be sponsored by Totum Sport for the first time.
The theme of Run Sunderland in 2017 is “What’s going to make you do it?”.
Everyone who enters the half marathon or 10km is being encouraged to share their reasons for taking part in the event, in order to encourage more people to take up running.
For the 50 runners in Sunderland today, the message was spelled out on their T-shirts – “Paula made me do it”.
In an elite career that spanned two decades, she was one of the most successful female distance runners of all time, winning multiple races and medals.
As well as the Great North Run twice, she has won the London Marathon three times and secured a gold medal in the marathon at the World Athletics Championships in 2005.
She still holds the marathon world record that she set in London in 2003.
Since retiring from competitive athletics in 2015, Paula has continued to be a prominent figure in the sport through her work in the media.
Event organiser Cram is delighted to have secured Paula's participation in next year's event.
He said: "She's a very good friend and I've chatted with her over the last year or two about it.
"I said, 'What, you've never run in Sunderland before?'
"Like anyone else, Paula is looking for new things to do to keep her motivated. She runs regularly, but still needs little targets.
"This is perfect because it's six months away and gives her something to work towards.
"We're delighted, because she's one of the world's greatest athletes and all-time, and an inspiration to many people.
"To have her come and take part is great for us, and we hope it will inspire other people to be a part of it."
Portfolio holder for public health, wellness and culture at Sunderland City Council, Coun John Kelly, said: “It’s fantastic to have an athlete of Paula’s calibre signing up for the half marathon. I’m sure her presence will be a great inspiration to others.”
Events of the North is offering a Â£3 ‘early bird’ discount on entry fees for both the Siglion Sunderland City Half Marathon and 10km, until midnight on Wednesday, November 30.
Runners affiliated to a club can enter the half marathon for Â£29, while the price for unaffiliated runners is Â£31.
The early bird prices for the 10km are Â£20 and Â£22 respectively.
From Tuesday, December 1, the entry prices for the half marathon will be Â£32/Â£34, and for the 10km they will be Â£23/Â£25.
For more information about the 2017 events and to book a place on one of them, visit www.sunderlandcity10k.com.