The Great North Run - 30 Years and still going strong
A very famous Geordie song called “The Blaydon Races” has in its first line of “It’s was on the 9th June, 1862 on a summers afternoon” In my case It was on the 28th June, 1981 on a Sunny Sunday morning when myself and nearly 11,000 other runners (most of them fellow Geordies) set of from Newcastle to South Shields on the first ever Great North Run. 30 years later I’m still doing it but this time I will be with 50,000 + runners from all over the UK & the rest of the world in the world’s biggest half marathon.
The run was the idea of fellow Geordie Brendon Foster after he had witnessed a couple of runs in Australia & New Zealand called “City to Surf” runs. Always starting in a City Centre and finishing on the seafront. Sydney have been running such an event for over 40 years (more about that one later). So where else would you pick than Newcastle Upon Tyne to the South Shields on the North East coast.
Great choice Brendan. Apart from moving the start & finishing line by 100m, to make it easier to control the finishing line, the course has remained the same for all the years it has been run. Although it still feels like there are far more hills now than there was 30 years ago!
The race starts to the North of Newcastle on the Central Motorway which is closed to traffic from Midnight on the morning of the race. Both carriageways are used but the mass of runners stretches back over 1/2 mile from the elite runners to those slower runners at the back. All your kit needs to be on board baggage buses that leave the start area about 45 minutes before the actual race and head off to the finish.
In the past the buses have been marked with the first letter of your surname or with a number. It doesn’t really matter as long as you get your bag on board and remember which bus and where you left it when you finish. It’s amazing how many people can’t get either of these right!
Depending on what side of the motorway you start on when the starting gun fires you follow that side of the motorway for the first ? mile. One road takes you on a short climb over a flyover the other goes under the same road. Personally apart from only one year I have always gone for the under option as it’s flat & sheltered. Both roads take you through Newcastle and is always lined by thousands of spectators who are actually above you as the road heads towards the Tyne and its famous Bridge.
At about 1 ? miles you cross the river on the Tyne Bridge which is always the most photographed part of this course. For those of you who don’t already know the Tyne Bridge is the older but much smaller sister to the Sydney Harbour Bridge. After crossing the Bridge you then go through Gateshead and past the Gateshead Athletics stadium. From here you continue, mainly up hill on the dual carriage way before going down a slip road that takes you onto the road towards South Shields. By now you have completed 6 miles and as the field has thinned out a little you are only running on one side of a dual carriageway but it is still lined by thousands of spectators and the odd live band.
Apart from one short climb, the course is pretty flat until you get to 10 miles and then there is a gradual climb up (yes up) towards the coast. Then just before the 12 mile marker you have a steep but short hill down and then a sharp left turn onto the coast road. This is the best spot if you want to see the wheelchair racers crash! Then at 12 miles you can actually see the TV cameras at the finish but you’ve still got 1 mile 182 yards to go. However, if you thought the crowds were good over the first 11 miles then you will be amazed at the numbers who line the last mile, sometimes 10 deep as there is a small bank along the left hand side of the road. As a result and before you realise it your finished.
This is where the organisers of this race really do a great job. As apart from handing out the water, medals, T shirts and goodie bags they have the small problem of giving 50,000 runners their kit back and then, together with all the spectators who are now 13 miles from the Newcastle, they have to get them all back to where they started.
They do this by laying on hundreds of buses and extra trains from South Shields that take you back to the “Toon”.
So what memories do I have over the 30 years? Well the first year was very special as for this race I was joined by my Uncle who had immigrated to Sydney in Australia in 1968 but just by chance was visiting the UK and was a runner who had competed in every Sydney City to Surf run up to that stage. As a result we contacted the organisers who gave him a special number 12,501, the last one to be handed out that year and he ended up being interviewed on TV the day before the race.
As he had officially travelled the furthest distance to compete in the race, he was invited to a reception at the Lord Mayor of Newcastle’s mansion after the race. So he took his young nephew with him and as a result I had the pleasure of meeting the first ever winner Mike McLeod at the reception. In the early years I used to drive down to South Shields early and leave my car near the finish, something that would be impossible to do now.
I think it was about the eighth run in 1988 when I had left the car at the finish came back home and then got a lift down to the start, only to find I had left my car keys at home. So I what could I do? There was 40 minutes to go before the start, I lived about 6 miles away from the start, my car was at the finish, and I had no car keys. SHIT! All I could think about doing was to run home pick up the keys, get a lift off a neighour back to the start which I would have missed by then and then try to catch up. So I started to run back, however after about 50 metres, amazingly I bumped into my brother in law who unknown to me had come down to watch the start. I asked him where he had parked his car, it was about ? mile away, I took his keys, ran to the car, drove like an idiot, got my car keys, came back, parked his car in exactly the same space, ran back to the start, gave him his keys back and made the start line with 4 minutes to spare.
So that year I did over 14 miles and was completed knackered on the start line and then again at the finish. It was also the last time I ever left the car at the finish!
Most other years everything has went according to plan apart from the years I have ran with other people, sometimes friends, once with my nephew in 1989, who needed a S**t after 5 miles, would not stop, so ended up running with his legs together and once with my son in 2003, who was not even born when I ran my first race. Unfortunately these were always my slowest races.
Nowadays, I receive a special EGNR (Every Great North Run) number that allows me into the front area with all the Elite runners and celebrities. So to name a few I have met Jimmy Savile, Frank Bruno, John Motson, Gordon Ramsey, I’ve left Sebastian Coe trailing behind and I have fondled both Kelly Homes’ medals.
Only on one occasion have I ran the race in fancy dress and that year (2007) I was dressed as a fairy and asked Steve McLaren the then England manager if he wanted me to grant him a wish which he declined and then a couple of weeks later England lost to Croatia and were knocked out of the European championships and he lost his job. That will teach him, the miserable bugger!
But to be honest, being at the start line is not about the celebrities; it’s all about meeting up with all the others who have done EGNR. The numbers are starting to drop as many of the older guys were in their 40’s when they did their first run but we always look forward to meeting each other and some who aren’t running anymore still come down to support us. Officially there are about 90 who have done EGNR but for many of these it isn’t actually true as some years when they couldn’t make it for whatever reason they have given their numbers to somebody else so that they could keep their EGNR number.
Finally for those who like to look at the Stats: First race in 1981 was one by Mike McCloud in 1.03.23 Mike Flecks first race was 1.32.08 (without much training)
Mike Fleck PB: 1hr 23.04 in 1995 Mike Flecks slowest time 1hr 55mins (with nephew who had that problem in 1989)