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Sunderland prepares for a sporting spectacular
STEVE Cram is hoping the addition of a new half marathon will help make next year's Marathon of the North weekend a sporting festival of which Sunderland and the wider North-East can be proud.
The inaugural Half Marathon of the North will take place on Sunday, April 28, the same day as the Marathon of the North and the Sunderland City 10k.
The three events will run simultaneously, and it is hoped up to 6,000 runners will pound the streets of Sunderland as the city's premier road-running event celebrates its third year.
Further sporting activities are planned for both the Saturday and Sunday of the Marathon of the North weekend, and Cram is delighted to see the event evolving into a major attraction.
"I hope there will be the feeling of a really big weekend for the city," said the former world record holder and Olympic silver medallist. "We have a lot of big weekends here in Sunderland with the concerts (at the Stadium of Light) and the air show, and this should kick off what should be a really great year for the city.
"We added the Marathon of the North to the programme last year and were delighted with the way that went, but a marathon and a 10k are at opposite ends of the spectrum and we've been mindful of the fact that there was nothing in between.
"The creation of the Half Marathon of the North addresses that and gives people another event to aim for. With the three different distances, there's something for everyone no matter what their level of experience."
The North-East already boasts the world's biggest half marathon in the Great North Run, but Cram feels there is plenty of room in the region's sporting calendar for two half marathon races.
He does not see the Sunderland event as being a rival to its Tyneside equivalent, but instead sees the spring series of races as an ideal opening to a sporting summer that culminates in September's Great North Run and City Games.
"The Great North Run is a fantastic, well-established event that is rightly celebrated as one of the most successful sporting events in the country," he said.
"I don't think we're ever going to be at the level of the Great North Run or London Marathon, but that's not what we're trying to do. This is an event with three races in one afternoon - a 10k, a half marathon and a marathon - and it's very much focused on trying to get the people of the city and the region to take part in a challenge that they can set themselves.
"We've all enjoyed 2012 and talked about the legacy that will be left behind, but you've got to put events on locally for people and that's what this is about.
"I think we can have lots of events of different types and different sizes, and this is taking place at a different time of year as well. If people haven't managed to get into the Great North Run, and it's a very popular event, it's important there are plenty of opportunities for them to run in other races."
Next year's half marathon and marathon races will start at the same time, with competitors in both events completing a looped course on the south side of the River Wear.
They will cross Wearmouth Bridge together, before the half marathon runners head to the finish at the Stadium of Light while the marathon entrants head up the coast to the northern fringe of Sunderland.
"When the marathon runners cross the bridge, they'll be faced with a choice," said Cram. "'Do I carry on for another 13 miles, or do I nip left and head to the half marathon finish?' It's going to be a test of willpower as well as stamina."
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