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Kielder Half Marathon is another step towards a happier and healthier lifestyle for Wearside man

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The 2017 Active Northumberland Kielder half marathon will be a huge step forward in Sunderland man Gary Wilkinson’s life for many different reasons.

The 13 mile track around Northumbrian Water’s Kielder Reservoir will not only be the dad-of-two’s longest distance event that he has ever faced, but it will also be another step towards his goal of achieving a happier and healthier lifestyle.

Gary’s story began in January 2016 when he took up running as a way to lose weight and get fit.

The 51-year-old, who was 19 stone at the time, found he was becoming out of breath very quickly while playing with his six-year-old son. His weight was affecting his life and making his job, as a full time carer to his elderly and disabled mother, very difficult.

He became increasingly depressed and withdrawn from family and friends and this motivated him to take action and he started his journey by joining his local gym.

Gary, by his own admission, found the beginning of his training very difficult but with the help of the personal trainers and staff at the Sunderland Aquatic Centre and gym, he slowly built up his fitness and began to cover more and more miles.

He continued to push himself and developed a real passion for running. He found that it gave him a much needed release, a focus and sense of freedom that he really enjoyed and got a lot out of.

The weight soon began to drop off and, now at 12 stone, Gary is happier and healthier than he has ever been and is looking forward to the challenge that the Kielder Half Marathon will offer.

Gary said: “Running has changed my life completely and has given me my life back. I found it tough going when I first got started but with the help of my family, the people at the gym and those around me I’ve managed to lose seven stones and I feel better and more positive than I have ever done before.

“Running helps me relax, it helps me switch off and deal with stress and problems in a much better way. It’s improved by general health and every aspect of my life. Each time I complete a run and manage to push myself that little bit faster, or further, I get a huge sense of achievement and there is no better feeling.”

Friends and family played a key part in Gary’s lifestyle change, with his eldest son Liam helping him change his diet and nutrition and his close friend Joanne becoming his training partner and main motivator.

It’s that motivation that led Gary to set himself a challenge to compete in five different running events throughout 2017, and having completed 5k and 10k events earlier in the year Gary will next tackle the Active Northumberland Kielder half marathon in October, before doing two more events in November.

He added: “I can’t wait for the Kielder Half Marathon. I’ve heard a lot about it from people who I train with and they said that the scenery and the course is the most beautiful they had ever seen. I know it’s going to be tough and extremely challenging but I’m training hard and raring to go.”

The Active Northumberland Kielder Marathon Weekend 2017 is run by Events of the North, a company led by Olympians Steve Cram and Allison Curbishley, in conjunction with Northumbrian Water, Active Northumberland, and Northumberland County Council.

Race director Steve Cram said: “Gary’s story is so uplifting and positive and is a real reminder to us all about how fantastic running and exercise can be and the benefits it can bring to our lives.

We wish Gary and all of the entrants into this year’s races the best of luck and are proud that the weekend is a platform for all such competitors to take on their own personal challenges.”

The weekend’s events are all based around Northumbrian Water’s picturesque Kielder Reservoir and waterside sites and whether it’s the Marathon, Half Marathon, 10k or the Run Bike Run the views for athletes and spectators are spectacular.

David Hall, Head of Leisure Strategy at Northumbrian Water, said: “We believe Kielder Water & Forest Park is the most beautiful setting of any marathon in the world and we draw runners and riders from across the UK and beyond.

The Active Northumberland Kielder Marathon Weekend grows in size and excitement every year, but what makes it truly special are the stories behind those who take part and Gary’s Half Marathon challenge is a great example of that.”

County Councillor Cath Homer, Cabinet Member for Arts, Leisure, and Culture, said: “It is easy to see why the marathon has become a firm favourite in the racing calendar with people setting themselves new personal challenges and travelling far and wide to take part.

“A huge reason for its popularity is its spectacular setting and by offering a range of events across the weekend from 10kms to the full marathon, this widens its appeal and makes taking part achievable to so many more people.

“Whether you are running or spectating and  cheering on  from one of the amazing viewing  points it really will be an  exciting and  memorable weekend of sport.”

Gary is running the Active Northumberland Kielder Half Marathon in memory of his nephew and a close friend who took their own lives after battling depression. He is hoping to raise money, and awareness, for the MIND charity.

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