UPDATED: Leeds was lit up by glorious sunshine and a sea of smiling faces as thousands of runners flooded the city’s streets for the Plusnet Leeds Half Marathon.
More than 9,000 people are believed to have pulled on their trainers to take part in Yorkshire’s biggest ever half marathon on its 30th anniversary.
And organisers were celebrating a record turnout once again, up from last year’s record field of 7,000 entrants, and a staggering increase from the 949 who completed the inaugural race in 1986.
Famous faces taking part in the event – which has grown into a highlight of the city’s sporting calendar as well as a key fundraiser for hospices across the county – included former England footballer Danny Mills, BBC newsreaders George Riley and Nicola Rees, Leeds actor Dean Smith and England Rugby Union head coach Stuart Lancaster.
Also pounding the pavements was Horsforth dad John Convery, the winner of the first ever Leeds Half Marathon in a time of 1:06:59 – still one of the fastest in the race’s history.
The 53-year-old said: “The event has developed a lot since those early days. It is fantastic that it has grown into such a popular race that always generates a wonderful atmosphere.”
The route started in The Headrow alongside Victoria Gardens, with runners heading out of the city centre, taking in a section of the Ring Road and returning via Abbey Road and Kirkstall Road, past historic Kirkstall Abbey before finishing in Cookridge Street alongside Millennium Square.
The city centre was transformed even before the race began as participants and their many supporters reclaimed roads that are usually filled with traffic.
As they counted down to the 9.30am start time, nervous-looking amateurs offered each other encouraging words.
And hundreds chomped their way through energy-boosting bananas, before taking part in the mass warm-up session, while enthusiastic supporters lined the streets and took to the balconies of city-centre flats to cheer them on.
Actor Dean Smith, who has starred in Waterloo Road and Last Tango in Halifax, said: “I’m from Leeds so I love it – I love to turn up and see everyone else that is taking part.”
The 25-year-old added: “I’ve run all around the world but I’ve not done the Leeds Half before.”
Sky TV favourite Bryn Law, who was raising money for cancer charities in North Wales, had an extra incentive to achieve a good time – he was booked on a train at 1.05pm to cover this evening’s Stevenage v Southend match.
A team of seven doctors from Leeds General Infirmary pulled on their running shoes to raise £1,000 for the Stroke Association and the stroke unit at LGI. Consultant Marc Randall said: “There were lots of supporters and lots of noise and cheering. It was a brilliant atmosphere.”
This year’s official partner charities include the Jane Tomlinson Appeal, Forget Me Not Children’s Hospice, Martin House Children’s Hospice, St Gemma’s Hospice and Macmillan Cancer Support.
The Leeds Half is part of the lasting legacy of Leeds mum-of-three Jane Tomlinson CBE, who raised almost £2m for charity through a series of endurance challenges, despite being diagnosed with incurable cancer.
Former Leeds United footballer and Jane Tomlinson Appeal patron Danny Mills, said: “I got involved with the Jane Tomlinson Appeal a while ago when I met Jane and the legacy that she has put in place, raising money for as many people as possible, is brilliant.”
Wheelchair racer Brett Crossley completed the course in 1:06:02.
The fastest men were: Mohammad Aburezeq – 1:11:18; Mike Burrett – 1:12:08 and Alasdair Tatham – 1:13:56.
The fastest women were Hannah Oldroyd – 1:23:13; Nicola Gleadall – 1:24:30; Roslyn Eadie – 1:24:54.