For Kevin Sinfield it was “a celebration of friendship” as he and more than 12,000 others completed the inaugural Rob Burrow Leeds Marathon on Sunday.
Of course Sinfield, who has become known for challenges many would see as mad or superhuman, was not just running – he was also pushing his friend Burrow, who has motor neurone disease (MND), in a specially adapted wheelchair for the full 26.2 miles.
It was an emotional scene when, just before the finish line, Sinfield helped Burrow out of the chair and carried him across it.
Sinfield and Burrow were teammates and close friends when they played rugby league for Leeds Rhinos.
Burrow revealed he had been diagnosed with MND in January 2020 and in December that year Sinfield started running in his honour and to raise money for everyone affected by the disease.
Sinfield, one of the greatest rugby league players, has raised more than £8m with challenges that have included running seven marathons in seven days and then seven ultramarathons in seven days. He described the latter as “a run for a mate, with other mates”.
The seven reflects the fact that Burrow wore the number seven shirt at Leeds. Sunday’s marathon was initially meant to have 7,777 places available but demand was such that organisers allowed more people in.
Of the 12,000 running on Sunday, more than 40% were in a marathon for the first time, including Burrow’s wife, Lindsey.
Before the run Sinfield said he was most looking forward to the time with Burrow.
“We had some really funny moments during the Leeds 10k when we did a trial run in anticipation for this and while it’s difficult for him to communicate, I know when he’s laughing, and you can see it. We’ll have some fun, I promise you that.”
The marathon started and finished at Headingley stadium and it took Sinfield and Burrow just over four hours and 20 minutes to complete.
But it was never about the time, Sinfield – or “Sir Kev” to Leeds fans – stressed. “I ran the London Marathon three weeks ago and everyone wants to know what your time was but this, it doesn’t matter how long it takes. The longer it takes, the more time I get to spend with him.”
The marathon was the first in Leeds for 20 years and was based around “friendship and community”, said Sinfield.
Before the start he told BBC Radio 5 Live’s Sunday Breakfast everyone was running in Rob’s name for a reason.
“Today there are so many people here because they think so much of Rob, or they want to do their own bit for a friend or a family member who’s going through some rough times. Together we get to fight, shoulder to shoulder.”