A FIVE-YEAR-OLD boy is to have the honour of firing the starting pistol for thousands of runners in Oxford next month.

Harry Barnley, who has muscular dystrophy, will be joined by big brother Jack, seven, to start next month’s Town and Gown 10k around the historic city centre.

It is hoped runners will raise £150,000 to tackle rare muscle-wasting conditions.

The boys were given the honour of counting down the Oxfordshire reace-goers in recognition of their family’s efforts in raising cash for the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign .

Harry’s mum Sue said: “We are all really excited to be involved with the event, especially Harry and Jack. They have already started practising the countdown.

“Now more than ever there is hope on the horizon for treatments that could delay symptoms of Duchenne muscular dystrophy – and eventually lead to a cure.

“Funds raised now could help speed up this process to beat Duchenne and to help support families currently living with the condition.”

Harry was diagnosed with the condition, which causes muscles to weaken and waste over time, last June.

And in less than a year, the Barnleys, who live in Farnham, Surrey, and their supporters have raised more than £15,000 to help the Muscular Dystrophy Campaign back promising research that could help Harry and other young sufferers.

During its 33-year history, the Oxford Town and Gown 10k, which will this year be held on Sunday, May 11, has raised close to £1.5m for the charity, which funds research into treatments for muscle-wasting conditions and supports families affected by them.

Race organiser Toya Champ said: “We are very proud that Harry and Jack have agreed to start the race for us.

“There is such a buzz at the start line as our runners prepare to tackle our course through the centre of Oxford — we hope the boys enjoy counting down our runners and that they are exercising their vocal chords ready for the big day.”

Virgin Active’s Oxfordshire Health and Racquet Club team plan to do their bit to help out runners on the day, offering a pre-race warm-up at the start.

They will also be offering tips and advice to help runners give their best.

More than 70,000 children and adults in the UK have muscular dystrophy or a related neuromuscular condition.

A further 350,000 people are affected indirectly as family, friends or carers.