RUNNERS have completed one of their toughest challenges with a 26.2 mile race through York and its surrounding villages. 

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Around 7,000 people started the Plusnet Yorkshire Marathon from the University of York, in Heslington, on a route which took them into the city centre before heading out to Sand Hutton, Stamford Bridge and Dunnington.

A further 4,000 amateur athletes also challenged themselves in the Yorkshire 10 Mile.

Runners were sent on their way by former cricket umpire Dickie Bird OBE.

He said: "It's a marvellous occasion.

"When you see so many people out here, at the only marathon in Yorkshire, it's wonderful.

"It's a great pleasure to be here.

"I hope all the spectators and runners enjoy it."

Cllr Barbara Boyce, the Lord Mayor of York, said: "It's incredibly fun.

"It's bringing people together and it shows that York people are so willing to do so much for hundreds of different organisations.

"People have come into York from all over the country to do this.

"I've seen people today who are not professional athletes in any way, but they are all here to take part.  There's a woman I know doing this in her 80s and it's tremendous."

The men's race was won by Ross Houston, 37, of Central AC, in Edinburgh, with a time of two hours and 24 minutes, while the first woman to cross the finish line was Tracy Millmore, 46, of Birtley AC, near Newcastle Upon Tyne, in two hours 46 minutes.

Mr Houston said: "It's a good, flat course.

"I really pleased to be first, but it was very hard work on the last few miles."

Ms Millmore added: "I was second until 19 miles and it was difficult, but I knew I had to keep my legs going.

"I always think with marathons that the race doesn't really start until 20 miles, but I kept going.

"I had the bikes in front of me acting as support, so they were a good help and I kept focusing on that."

The first York runner back was David Smithers, 44, of York Knavesmire Harriers.

He added: "I have done this every year so far and it's really good.

"You don't have to worry about parking when you can just cycle to the start from your house.

"The course is really good and I enjoyed going through town and the villages."

Mum Anna Thompson, 33, from Acomb, was running for St Leonard's Hospice and helped raise £1,400 with her sister Jenny Finlayson, 38.

Mrs Thompson said: "There were more hills than I thought, but I've done it now and will tick it off the bucket list.

"All the spectators are amazing and they kept me going.

"Everyone clapped for hours and it was a brilliant atmosphere."