Marathon Running in Leeds: The History of the Leeds Marathon

by Karen Downham, Local & Family History Library

After the amazing feat of distance runner Eliud Kipchoge, breaking the world record for the marathon in a time of 2 hours, 1 minute, and 39 seconds, at the Berlin Marathon earlier this year, on 16th September, and as runners thoughts start to turn to training for Spring marathons, it seemed a good time to highlight the history of marathon running in Leeds.

Leeds is well known for its Half Marathon, run every May, and organised by Run for All, the legacy of the late Jane Tomlinson CBE, amateur athlete and fundraiser of some £1.85 million through completing several gruelling challenges. Jane died from breast cancer in September 2007.

Less well known is that Leeds has had its own marathon – the full distance of 26.2 miles was run for 23 years, from 1981 to 2003, and from 1985 to 1993 was known as the Trimoco Leeds Marathon after its major sponsor, a local motor dealership.

A look through the newspaper archives here at the  Local & Family History Library provides plenty of articles and photographs from the races.

Early Years – Roundhay Park and one single lap

The first race took place on 1st November 1981 and was won by Michael Critchley of Bolton United Harriers, Manchester in a time of 2:28:02 (2 hours, 28 minutes and 2 seconds).

Both pictures – Yorkshire Evening Post 2nd November 1981
First woman to finish, Helen Maclean from Wakefield, although no time appears to have been recorded for her. Yorkshire Evening Post 2nd November 1981

The race started at 9.30 am at Roundhay Park, and the route passed through Gipton, Halton, Woodlesford, Hunslet, Beeston, Armley, Kirkstall, Headingley, and West Park, before heading back to Roundhay. There were 3,000 participants, with a minimum age of 20 years, and the race was registered with the Amateur Athletics Association. The oldest participant was Arthur Barron, age 64, completing the course in 4 hours and 10 minutes, and race director, Neil Littlewood also completed the course in 3 hours 47 minutes. One celebrity participant on this and other future occasions was the now disgraced Jimmy Saville, who called the race the “Duchess Marathon” in memory of his late mother, and raising funds for Stoke Mandeville Spinal Unit.

The full marathon route, starting at Roundhay Park and extending to the south of the city. Yorkshire Evening Post 31st October 1981
Yorkshire Evening Post 2nd November 1981

The course gained a reputation for being one of the toughest in Europe at the time, due to its undulating terrain, and also became known as “The Tough One”

No results are listed for 1982, although the race was scheduled to take place on 31st October.

1984 saw the first half marathon in Leeds, on the 3rd June.

Winner in 1984 was international competitor Max Coleby, 36, of Gateshead Harriers, in 2:26:44, despite overshooting at the end in a marshalling error, and first woman home was Ann Morse, 39, from Tingley, in 3:16:54. Plenty of participants ran in fancy dress, with Stuart Houth of Wetherby completing the course accompanied by his dog Jasper!

All photographs above – Yorkshire Evening Post 29th October 1984

City Centre Start

In 1985 the start and finish had moved to the city centre, with the runners setting off from Wellington Street, by the old Yorkshire Evening Post building, and finishing by the Town Hall, and running a changed course that was flatter and faster. Yorkshire Post published a four page supplement for the event, showing the route and listing the names of all 2,000 entrants, and in the following days published the names of the first 250 finishers.

Yorkshire Evening Post 28th October 1985

First man – Martyn Hopson, 31 of Headingley, in 2:23:52

First Woman – Susan Hall, 38, from Sowerby Bridge in 2:56:20.

Team prize was won by the local Valley Striders club.

All photographs above – Yorkshire Evening Post 28th October 1985

The oldest runner, by 10 years, was Alfred Gibson, age 78, completing in a time of 4:57:10. To mark the new finish point, entertainment was provided by brass bands playing outside the Art Gallery. Marshalling duties were taken on by volunteers from the local Venture Scouts and Ranger Guides, at 68 marshal points and 11 feed stations along the route. A total of 800 people were on duty.

Weather Problems

The 1992 race was the only time the race was cancelled – due to snow, sleet and driving rain it was felt not safe for runners to complete the 26 mile course, but the half marathon race of 13 miles was still allowed to take place, and many of the full marathon runners decided to race the shorter route.

1995 was the 12th event and the last time the race – now named Leeds Centenary Marathon & Half Marathon – was held in October, after which the decision was made to move the event to the summer months, due to previous difficulties with the weather.

The 1996 race and 13th event was held on the 17th July.

Two Lap Race

From 2002 onwards the race took place over a 2-lap route for the full marathon, the same route being run once only for half marathon participants. The start and finish was in Millennium Square, with the route heading northwards along Meanwood Road, westwards along the Ring Road, and returning to the city centre via Kirkstall Road. Some 5,000 goody bags were handed out at the finish.

The Start in 2003. Yorkshire Evening Post 9th May 2003.
The two-lap route in 2003. Yorkshire Evening Post 9th May 2003.

By 2003 the race was named the GE Capitol Leeds Marathon, with 4,500 entrants.

View showing competitors taking part in the GE Capitol Leeds Marathon running along Cookridge Street. Spectators line the side of the road. Buildings seen in the background include the Electric Press Building on the left and Brodrick’s Buildings further along.   Image from


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