This coming Sunday, 10th September, will see tens of thousands of runners descend on Tyneside for the world’s largest half marathon, the Great North Run. Now in its 37th year, the iconic half marathon attracts over 54,000 runners, with the vast majority running for charity.
2017 will be my eighth consecutive Great North Run and the 2010 event was my first ever race and mass-participation event. I entered the ballot at the beginning of 2010, as I’d been running a little in an attempt to get fit and I’d watched the event on TV many times, always taken in by the atmosphere and the sheer number of runners, I didn’t expect to get a place. My Grandparents also lived close to the finish line in South Shields, so it was great to turn the experience into a family weekend, catching up with relatives too.
That first race was hard work, training hadn’t gone well, I’d been slightly injured after running in some off-the-shelf non-running trainers. I’m not sure I knew what a training plan was – I just ran when I felt like it. However, I did it and completed it just within my target time of 2 hours, crossing the line in 01:59:05. I had no GPS watch or app on my phone, I borrowed my Grandad’s digital watch just so I knew what time it was, I didn’t even start the stopwatch for the run.
It was hard work but I loved it. I loved not knowing what I was doing, taking in the sights, sounds and atmosphere. The memories of arriving on Sunday morning at the start in Newcastle on my own, my family waiting in South Shields and not knowing if I’d even make the 13.1 miles to the finish line. Rushing into a newsagents to buy a bottle of Lucozade, just because I saw other people with energy drinks, and not realising that there would be Powerade and water aplenty a the start.
Taking part in the mass-participation warm up, doing stretches in time with music and the fitness instructor standing above everyone on a crane.
Watching the “wheels of steel” and elites set off on the big screens whilst helicopters whirred above in the sky.
Listening to “Abide with Me”, “Chariots of Fire” and Mark Knopfler’s “Local Hero”, the anthem to the Great North Run as we filtered through the start.
Shouts of “Oggy, Oggy, Oggy, Oi, Oi, Oi” as we ran through underpasses.
Watching the Red Arrows perform their acrobatics above the Tyne Bridge as we ran into Gateshead and listening to cheers of my name from the crowds lining the route, the letters that I’d spent hours printing out and ironing onto my Asthma UK charity vest.
That first year it took me over 20 minutes just to cross the start line, but it didn’t matter, I was nervous, excited and taking everything in.
The Great North Run isn’t for everyone, even today I’ve read negative comments online about the Men’s elite line-up, I hear people complaining that the course isn’t very inspiring – running down the dual carriageway isn’t the most scenic of routes, but the crowds make the event and the last mile down to the finish on the coast road is brilliant. However, for me it’ll always be one of my favourite events and that’s why I’m heading back for my eighth Great North Run. If you’re running this year, take in those moments above, enjoy the run with the people around you, high-five the crowds and enjoy!