The Great North Run is one of the few iconic yearly running events that brings together 1000’s (about 43,000 actually) of runners from the length and breadth of the country. After the London marathon it is the most publicised and popular run in the country, indeed as of this time it is the largest Half Marathon in the world. Even the BBC with Steve Cram & Paula Radcliffe dedicate an entire morning of live broadcasting to it one Sunday every September, relegating Match of the Day and Andrew Marr to BBC2 so it must be something special.
They even manage to get some blokes called the Red Arrows to fly around until they get dizzy. In short, The Great North Run is big; very big. If the biggest race you’ve done is a Parkrun in Shroggs Park on a cold Saturday morning in the middle of winter, nothing is going to prepare you for this.
With such a large family of Pumas, it’s odds on that there’s going to be a few doing it every year and this year was no exception. In order to get a place in the run, each hopeful must either enter a ballot or try to get one of the many charity places available. There are over 40 charities to run for and each one is allocated a set number of spaces so if the initial ballot is unsuccessful, the lucky few might just be able to get a place supporting their favourite.
This year 28 lucky Pumas managed to blag a place, some just running for themselves but a lot for running for dedicated charities that were dear to their hearts. With everyone running for different reasons, there were numerous groups travelling up at different times. Some had booked rooms for the night before and the night after the race to enjoy the delights of Newcastle’s excellent drinking holes (guess who.!) whilst others had decided to get up before the crack of dawn and travel up on the day. Regardless, as the start of the race grew ever closer, the various little groups migrated to a single point and a mass gaggle of Pumapeople were ready for the photo opportunities and a spot of celebrity spotting.
Whilst Lara Croft (or some woman called Nell McAndrew) was more than happy to be mugged by a group of our intrepid runners, unfortunately Mo Farah had photo-fatigue by that point. As Britain’s most highly decorated & most famous long-distance runner it seems that everyone wants a selfie so I don’t think anyone could blame him for finally decided enough was enough on the morning (albeit with a smile)
Just getting to the start point at the Great North Run is a feat in itself. Despite the Newcastle Metro running at full load and sending trains every 5 mins, each one is packed with runners and spectators from at least 7:30 in the morning and once at the final station, there is still at least a 30 minute walk through a vast sea of bodies to reach even the closest starting pens. This walk will inevitably lead past one of the traditions of the Great North Run, the casting off of jumpers which are then rounded up and distributed to local charities.
The pens are laid out in traditional style with the fastest runners at the front and the slowest at the back although I suspect the guy dressed as a fridge who was near the front might have been pushing it a bit.
But the scene was now set and thankfully the sun was shining and as the start got ever closer, the irritatingly jolly compere introduces an even more irritatingly jolly fitness guru to lead the 43000 sea of competitors through a series of warm up exercises.
As with the London Marathon, the starting times for each pen is staggered so that the 1000s don’t all fall over themselves at the same time. First off are the Elite Wheelchair racers then each zone behind at set intervals until the very final zone gets underway. Such are the numbers that the last runners start nearly an hour after the Elite guys leave the start line so by that time, just about the entire 13.1 mile route is nothing but a sea of runners and wheelchair athletes.
I wasn’t running this year so joined the equally vast crowds who decided to cheat and take the Metro from the starting point in Newcastle to the finishing point in South Shields. I did think that there would be lot more wriggle room on those trains than there had been in the efforts to get to the starting point; how wrong I was. By the end of the line we were hot and highly intimate but the thought that our lot was so much easier than it was for the competitors kept us going through the hardship. Leaving the train was another long walk to the finishing line with thousands of people looking remarkably like a North-Eastern zombie apocalypse.
But anyway, enough of my whinging and back the really important people who were doing the trip the hard way. Starting from the central motorway in Newcastle city-centre the race runs slightly downhill for the first mile before reaching one of the most famous view of the race, the Tyne Bridge. If you’re lucky you might just get there in time for the Red Arrows first appearance of the day. If you’re even more lucky, you might even get you picture taken.
By this time the runners around you should have spaced out a little bit and you should no longer be blocked by people who are walking, having optimistically suggested to the organisers that they could do the course in 1:30 and started in a zone way ahead of you.
Slight uphill into Gateshead on the other side of the Tyne the route turns right to follow the river down to the coast. En-route and towards the quarter point of the race, the Gateshead stadium with music stands lining the route and joining the crowds in urging the runners on. No doubt along the way you’ll be shocked that some random stranger knows you before realising your name is written on your bib.
Mile 4 heads upwards on a gentle drag to the highest point of the race at Black Bull. The next 3 miles head relatively downhill till eventually the large crowds on the Tyne Tunnel come into view.
Heading through miles nine to eleven, along the John Reid road are usually described as the hardest of the race and a chance to take one of the many cold shower stations to cool down (that’s apart from the hundreds of kids squirting water from the crowds).
Past the Nook shopping complex and getting close to the Coast with a stand on the side of the road offering free pints of beer run by the local Hash House Harriers. If you’re planning a run/walk, that’s the time to walk..
By the end of mile 11 the course is right by the coast with the fresh sea breeze in the air and one final climb up to Marsden Inn before a sharp drop down to Coastal Road Bank.
By the last 2 miles the crowds at the huge cheering points are three or four deep right to the finish line the end of the world’s biggest half-marathon. This is the time to feel a huge sense of pride, not just at finishing but also at managing to catch and overtake someone dressed as a banana (even though you did get overtaken by at least three Pandas and a Honey Monster along the way). Once again if you’re lucky, the Red Arrows will be doing their thing just for you as you cross the finishing line.
Such is the size of the race, trying to find everyone at the end of the race really was almost impossible, even with well-made plans. As already suggested though, each little group of Pumas had their own plans for the rest of the day and the evening so it didn’t really matter. What mattered was that once again, people had come together to represent themselves and the club and the Facebook feed for the Pumas group was full of pride & congratulations. Fast, slow or in-between doesn’t matter in this group, none of that ‘we only want to be represented by our elite runners’ rubbish here, which is just as it should be.
Pumas Great North Run Times 2018
Deke Banks 01:36:13
Kirsty Edwards 01:46:45
Andy Haslam 01:47:38
Julie Bowman 01:49:05
Simon Wilkinson 01:53:03
Andrew Tudor 01:53:06
Sarah Haigh 01:59:02
Christopher Ellis 02:00:29
Victoria Owen 02:00:29
Dawn Higgins 02:11:17
Paul Bottomley 02:11:37
Jodie Knowles 02:11:55
Andrew Barnes 02:14:25
Peter Reason 02:16:25
Tiffany Lewis 02:17:56
Sarah Firth 02:20:48
Melissa Hall 02:22:32
Alison Shooter 02:28:44
Brett Swiffen 02:41:33
Gillian Holmes 02:49:59
Emma John-Baptiste 03:04:58
Dean James 03:07:47
Rachel Calvert 03:16:42
Fiona Averill 03:21:54
Katharine Barnett 03:56:05
Cathy Farley 03:56:06