TWO thousand runners will brave the wintry conditions when one of Britain’s most celebrated road races is held on Sunday.

Knavesmire Harriers are staging the 31st annual Brass Monkey half marathon with 2,000 participants – headed by some top-quality athletes – taking to the streets of York to tackle the 13.1-mile course.

Won 12 months ago by Yared Hagus, of Wallsend Athletics Club, the men’s race this year looks to be a fierce contest between Matthew Pierson, last year’s runner-up and the victor in 2010, and regular Brass Monkey runner Paul Lockwood.

Pierson is coming into the race in form following a strong display in the Yorkshire Cross Country Championships at Lightwater Valley this month, where he was 26th.

The race was started in 1983 by club president Brian Hughes who, it is said, founded the club with Ray Wilstrop after meeting under a tree on Knavesmire.

The race starts on Bishopthorpe Road and travels through the village on to Acaster Lane and back through Bishopthorpe, via Appleton Roebuck, to a conclusion at York Racecourse.

Club members do not compete in the event, instead acting as marshalls manning the route.

The Brass Monkey was initially intended as a contest for club runners but has expanded enormously over its three decades and has attracted some of the country’s best to take part. These include Olympic 10,000 metres runner Angela Tooby-Smith and former world 100 kilometres champion Caroline Hunter-Rowe.

Pierson won the race three years ago in one hour and five minutes, slightly slower than the record held by New Zealander Paul Martelletti.

In the ladies’ race, returning runners expected to be in the frame include Melissa Neale, who was third last year, and Amy Green, the runner-up in 2011.

Former Scottish and Commonwealth Games athlete Hayley Haining still holds the women’s record, set in 2008, with one hour, 11 minutes and 46 seconds.

For the first time, prize money for both categories is the same. The winners of the men’s and women’s contest each collect £150.

BBC Look North’s Claire Frisby starts the race at 10am.