Companies eager to be in the running – on roads as well as in offices and shopfloors - can expect an exhilarating April 28. Feeding our sustained euphoric post-Olympics sentiments further, Steve “the Jarrow arrow” Cram is lining up four athletic events to suit everyone, whether they can run 42K or even only 3K.
Steve - world champion, Olympic silver medallist, former records holder, chief BBC athletics commentator and events organiser – will that day make Sunderland’s streets and picturesque seafront the setting for the city’s Festival of Running.
The event programme has been excitingly devised to enable 6,000 club runners, charity fundraisers and enthusiastic individuals to test their fitness.
Besides an established Marathon of the North and a Sunderland City 10K, he’s also organising a new Half Marathon of the North. Within the full marathon there is also an opportunity - in collaboration with BQ magazine - for teams of six to run the distance in relay, the longest stretch being 10K and the shortest 3K.
Steve says: “We’re doing all we can to appeal as widely as possible. The new BQ Team Relay at the Marathon of the North illustrates that. It’s something we hope will attract teams from businesses and charities especially. With shorter legs of the relay measuring just 3K and 5K, there’s an achievable target even for runners with little or no experience.
“Charity running on the day will be made as easy as possible too. Besides a lower than average cost of entry and the marathon relay option, there’s an individual run distance to suit every fundraiser. They can support our official charity, Cancer Research UK, or another good regional or national cause.”
He observes: “There’s a big health agenda after the Olympics. It’s all very well some saying they want to get healthy. They need enjoyable ways to do this. So we’re trying to provide for that here. His company DS Media and Events is organising the day for Sunderland City Council, and while a team of six for the marathon relay might simply be pub mates, college friends, or workmates on their own initiative, Steve hopes businesses will also sponsor or part sponsor any half dozen from the firms’ own ranks who enter. He finds corporate events popular abroad – in Japan, for example. Singapore’s many legal and financial companies, too, get intensively competitive at this.
Steve says: “Prizes there are coveted – not cash prizes. They don’t care about that. A trophy’s what they want.” How does a corporate relay team work? “Some folk in the workplace may organise it among themselves. Other times there’s a push within a company. If the company wants to find little ways to incentivise people, is on a drive about health for staff or just wants to show a healthy workforce, it will go further.
“Matched funding, for example. Participants raise some money for their chosen charity and their employer matches it. Or perhaps the company already supports a charity and will encourage their employees to run for that.” Those who simply want to run for selffulfilment will also line up.
Steve explains: “In these marathons, half marathons and 10K events you have races within races. You can have thousands on the starting line, all with their own target. Some may be trying to beat a personal best, others just hoping to complete the distance, and the rest trying to beat someone else. Tackling 3K you can probably even walk if you want to, though team mates may encourage otherwise!
“Everyone can line up with some goal in mind. When I ran in my early days you used to get shouted at as you ran around the streets because you were odd. Now, just while we’ve been chatting here on Sunderland seafront, many people have run past.”
This is the third year of Sunderland’s celebration for runners. The 10K was held first. The marathon was added last year, this year the Half Marathon of the North and the team relay within the marathon make their debut.
“The half marathon bridges a gap,” Steve explains. “For some, 10k is not enough of a challenge, whereas the full marathon is too much. We’re growing the festival by making it as accessible to as many as possible.”
Excitement is promised because marathon and half marathon runners start together from the Stadium of Light and finish there.
They cover 13 miles on the south side of the River Wear. On return to the stadium the half marathon pack turn in to finish. The marathon carries on for 13 miles more on the river’s north side. Meanwhile, 30 minutes after the start, the 10K participants will have set off.
The 10k winner should reach the finish about the same time as the leader of the half marathon, and there will be two separate finish funnels.
The full marathon is then expected to come in just as stragglers of the 10K finish. Courses will suit participants with disabilities too. Last year there were wheelchair entrants and partly sighted runners.
Indeed the 2012 Paralympic Games gold medallist Richard Whitehead (the “British Blade Runner”) will launch the Half Marathon of the North. Steve got to know Richard through running in the London Marathon. At the London Olympics Richard stormed to victory in the T42 200m final, his home straight burst bringing a world record.
Steve says: “He’s really a marathon runner. Now he’s planning a John O’Groats and Land’s End run, working his Sunderland visit into it.” Richard says he loves the inclusive nature of the long distance runs. Sunderland City Council says its aim is to build on its present portfolio of public events.
Steve says: “I’m really pleased the council shares my team’s ambition for a major running festival in the city, and one we intend to make a major event on the region’s sporting calendar. If April 28 proves the success expected, the festival could be even bigger next year – in competitors and in spectators.” He suggests that while the half marathon will suit club runners in the north of England or southern Scotland who want a spring road race to tackle, there will be appeal also for fun runners hungry for an achievable challenge for the first half of next year.
Councillor John Kelly, who leads on Sunderland City Council’s public health, wellness and culture responsibilities, predicts: “Sunday April 28 promises great sport and a great showcase for our city.”