The Great North Run has launched a bid to become the first running event to boast a participant from every country in the world – and organisers are calling on the public to help achieve the feat.
The half-marathon, which will be staged for the 36th time on September 11, is already the biggest of its kind in the world, with 57,000 accepted entrants from more than 100,000 applicants.
And, after welcoming its millionth finisher over the line in 2014, organisers of the hugely-popular event have now set their sights on a unique project.
The Great Run Company aim to recruit at least one runner born in every member state of the United Nations – a total of 193 countries – to take part in the iconic event – and they have called upon members of the general public to help fill in the gaps.
Do you know someone from Benin who lives in Benwell? A runner from Cambodia living in Cramlington? An adopted Geordie from Georgia? Or is there a Madagascan residing in Middlesbrough?
“Last year we had runners from every single postcode in the UK, which makes it Britain’s biggest and favourite run,” said Great Run chief executive, Mark Hollinshead, who unveiled the plan at a press conference alongside Great North Run founder Brendan Foster.
“By inviting participants from every single country on the planet, it will reassert its credentials as the world’s favourite run.
“We’re inviting the people of the United Kingdom to help us find those runners which will make it a spectacular event.
“It’s an event that over its history has celebrated lots of firsts, including the greatest road race in history in 2013 with Kenenisa Bekele, Mo Farah and Haile Gebrselassie, and the first event in the world to have a million finishers.
“This year, we’ll hopefully celebrate the fact that there’s someone born in every country on the planet in one place, on one day, in the same event which will make it a world first.”
From Albania to Zambia, from Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe, from Angola to Vanuatu, the route will carry flags from all 193 UN member states and will be transformed into a carnival of colour.
The Great North CityGames, Junior and Mini Great North Runs and the Great North 5k held on Saturday, September 10, will be accompanied by a food festival with dishes from around the world on offer.
And there will be interactive digital and social media elements leading up to and on the day of the event using the hashtag #GNRWorldRun.
It is the latest stage in the development of the Great North Run, 35 years on from its first staging in 1981, where 12,000 people took part.
In 2014, Tracey Cramond, from County Durham, was the millionth finisher over the line.
And, according to research produced by Bluegrass, the Great North Run has had a positive economic benefit of almost £24 million for the region, excluding the additional benefits associated with TV coverage.
It was also found that 52% of visitors attending the event left with a more positive view of the region than before they arrived and 93% rated it as a good or excellent place to visit.