THE heart of Scotland was transformed into a festival of running as thousands of people took on a range of distances as part of the historic first-ever Stirling Scottish Marathon.

A total of 6,500 people signed up to the 26.2mile event, taking on a route from Blair Drummond Safari Park, through Doune, Dunblane, Bridge of Allan and the University of Stirling and into the city centre where they finished beneath the iconic Stirling Castle.

At the same time, 500 runners took part in the Great Stirling 5K, taking in a city centre loop which started and finished in City Park while, on Saturday, hundreds of children and their parents tackled the Thistles Great Stirling Family Run on the picturesque campus at the University of Stirling.

Thousands of spectators turned out to cheer on the marathon and 5k runners over the line for the first marathon to take place in the city.

The winner of the inaugural marathon was Andrew Lemoncello, who returned to Stirling from his base in America to compete in the city where he spent time as a student at the university.

Lemoncello, who finished in a time of 2.25.01 with Iain Reid and Robert Gilroy second and third in 2.29.44 and 2.34.17 respectively, said: “It feels great to be the first winner of the Stirling Scottish Marathon.

“This is where I went to university, I wasn't sure where I was with some of the course but as soon as I got back on the road, I remembered it all. Seeing the crowds really spurred me on to finish.

“It was so much fun out there and to finish with the crowds cheering was a great thing. I'd recommend this to anyone, it was a great course and I'll be back next year.

"You would be hard-pressed to find a more beautiful marathon route."

Lesley Pirie was the inaugural female winner of the event in 2.47.36, with Jill Smylie in second, clocking 2.57.04 while Juliet Champion was third in 2.58.36.

Running legends Liz McColgan and Zola Budd took part in the marathon, with Zola over the line first in 3.12.24, finishing as ninth female, and Liz not far behind in 3.18.33.

Double Commonwealth gold medal winner McColgan said: “It was really enjoyable in a funny sort of way.

“I was really pleased to run round and not have any problems, I was really comfortable. My legs stood up to the distance, so I'm just pleased to have finished. I've had a lot of problems since I retired so I never thought I'd be able to run a marathon again, so I'm chuffed.

Zola, who represented Great Britain and South Africa, said: “It was a great race, it was tough at the end, but it was really a great race. It was really lovely to be out here. The support was amazing all throughout the race. I had a really warm welcome and I really appreciated the support – it was magnificent.”

Portuguese Olympic champion Rosa Mota took on the 5k, and was fourth female in a time of 19.51.

On Saturday, around 200 children with their parents took on a short course around the University of Stirling's campus for the inaugural Thistles Great Stirling Family Run.

Event sponsors The Thistles Centre, who are based in the heart of Stirling, handed out medals to the youngsters crossing the line, and centre director Phil Byrne said: “What a success the inaugural The Thistles Great Stirling Family Run was. We were delighted with the uptake in participation not only by local families, but by many from across the Central Belt too.

 “The event proved hugely popular and was a fantastic opportunity for children to feel involved in the wider events taking place across the city.

“The Family Run delivered everything we hoped it would achieve in year one; a fun, sociable way for families to enjoy exercise together.

 “The Thistles looks forward to working with the organisers to help build upon the success of this year and strengthen it further for 2018.”

The Stirling Scottish Marathon was organised by the Great Run Company in partnership with Stirling Council, and group CEO Mark Hollinshead said: “We're delighted with the first-ever Stirling Scottish Marathon.

“We can safely say it's the only marathon in the world that starts in a safari park and finishes beneath a castle, so our participants enjoyed a truly unique experience in a historic setting.

“It was fantastic to see Stirling as a city embracing this event and the spectators turning out in force – we can't wait to be back next year.”

Stirling Council Chief Executive Stewart Carruth said: "This has been a fantastic day for Stirling and for all our runners, supporters and spectators at the first Stirling Scottish Marathon.

“It has been humbling to see the grit, determination, emotion and sheer hard work of everyone who has taken part in, cheered on and helped organise the event.

“Stirling has done us proud and we are looking forward to building on all of this for next year."

To sign up for the reminder service for next year's Stirling Scottish Marathon, visit greatrun.org/stirling