This year’s Great North Run is fast approaching. HELEN GILDERSLEEVE finds out some interesting facts and regales her own experiences of the iconic North East event.
It isn’t called the world’s most famous half marathon for no reason.
The run was originally devised by Tynesider and former Olympic 10,000 metre bronze medallist and BBC Sport commentator Brendan Foster. The first Great North Run which was advertised as a ‘local fun run’ began on 28 June 1981, when 12,000 runners participated.
Fast forward three decades and the number of participants had risen to 47,000 with this year’s event boasting a record 57,000 runners who will pound across the iconic Tyne Bridge to South Shields sea front.
Nothing quite prepares you for this event and it’s so much more than just ‘going for a run’. I’m about to (hopefully) complete my fifth this year and I can’t wait.
Standing at the start line and looking ahead at the sea of coloured tops and eccentric fancy dress is nothing short of amazing. How they get 57,000 people on the central motorway each year in an orderly fashion always astounds me.
Every single person has their own story for competing, and most are extremely touching. It’s hard not to get emotional seeing the huge variety of charity runners and signs on people’s vests emblazoning messages like ‘for you mum’ and ‘in memory of ….’. Each year sees millions of pounds being raised for hundreds of different charities. It’s a moment where people come as one and the atmosphere is simply magical.
Once the start gun goes off at 10.40am and the sea of runners ascend across the town flyover amidst chanting and the echoes of pounding feet, there’s no greater sight than the masses of people and shouts of support greeting you as you run across the Tyne Bridge with the Red Arrows flying overhead.
Throughout the 13.1 mile course the support from local people is astonishing; they come out in their thousands to give support and many give runners home baked goodies, biscuits and fruit to boost energy. One particularly warm year I got blasted by a child with a Super Soaker and I’ve never been more grateful.
Nothing is more welcome than the sight of the sea when you head into the last mile at South Shields, I’ve witnessed people limping, crawling, carrying one another and crying at this point.
As you bear left and run the final mile with the North Sea on your right, the finish line is in sight and all you want to do is stop/cry/collapse as you can’t feel your legs anymore, but the masses of people cheer you on and push you to the end. These people will never understand how much the runners appreciate them.
You FINALLY get to the end and as you sprint through that famous finish arch, the feeling cannot be explained. Nor can the taste of that first sip of a beer.
And it’s over for another year!
Five things you probably didn’t know about the Great North Run:
- Previous runners include: former England and Newcastle United manager Sir Bobby Robson, former Prime Minister Tony Blair, Sting and Newcastle’s own TV presenters Ant & Dec.
- In 2014 the 34th Great North Run had 57,000 participants and celebrated the 1 millionth runner to cross the finish line, and was the first to have a British man win in 29 years.
- If all the Great North Runners stood head to toe, their combined height would be ten times the height of Mount Everest.
- About 18 miles of cloth is used to make Great North Run souvenir T-shirts.
- Paul Gascoigne once pushed a wheelchair athlete all the way round the Great North Run circuit.
The Great North Run 2017 Newcastle upon Tyne to South Shields, takes place on Sunday 10 September. Live coverage on BBC 1 from 9.30-13.30
Thanks to Chris Booth of www.chrisbooth.photos/ for the images of the Great North Run.