Sunday, 10 September 2017.

The Great North Run is one of the major events in the athletics calendar, certainly the biggest in Britain, and one that was inspired by the former Gateshead Olympic medallist Brendan Foster. First staged in June 1981, the race evolved out Britain’s first-ever Fun Run which was held on 29 October 1977, an event, incidentally, which I was privy to as I was there that day running for Halifax Harriers as a thirteen-year-old in the Gateshead Road Races.

The first Great North Run was competed for by 12,000 runners. The event has grown considerably in stature since then and over the years has attracted many top athletes and famous names, such as Mo Farah, Haile Gebrselassie, Kevin Keegan, Paul Gascoigne (who pushed wheelchair-bound Maureen Martin around in 1986), Nell McAndrew, Ricky Wilson, Jon Culshaw, Davina McCall and Andy Haslam.

The iconic 13.1-mile half marathon route starts just outside the centre of Newcastle on the central motorway. Continuing down the A167 the course takes the runners past Jesmond, Haymarket, Monument and Central Station before arriving at the Newcastle side of the Tyne Bridge. Here, as the runners cross the bridge they approach the two-mile mark. At this point, as usual, there is the fly over of the Red Arrows. Having entered Gateshead and being welcomed by the shimming sight of The Sage, runners are directed on the A184 to make their way towards Heworth. On route, they pass the renowned Gateshead Stadium as they approach the three-mile mark. Having entered Gateshead, the route continues on the A184 for the beginning of a six-mile stretch before being taken onto the A194. This takes the runners into South Tyneside, and they pass the eight-mile mark at the A19 interchange. Taking the A1300, participants pass Whiteleas and Centenary Avenue before they change onto the A183 just past Marsden Lane at the twelve-mile mark. Now on the home stretch in South Shields, runners are welcomed by the view of the sea in one of the most scenic and enjoyable parts of the whole course. With just over a mile to go on Prince Edward road, runners are cheered profusely as they make their way to the finishing line.

Claire Ramsbottom supplies the start-line selfie – and gets photobombed.

Yesterday, the 43,127-strong field included sixteen Northowram Pumas, most taking part for the first time. Each had their own reasons for being there, some raising money for charity, others doing it, in the words of George Mallory on why he set out to conquer Everest, “Because it’s there”. Sadly, Mallory never returned from his quest in 1923; happily, all Pumas made it to the finish line, all proud as punch for achieving what they’d set out do. There would have been others there, too, but for a variety of reasons (injury, other commitments) they had to miss out.

One person who’d missed out on seeing the start live over the previous 36 years was instigator Brendan Foster, but now retired from the BBC commentary box, he was there to start off all the runners at Spital Tongues, the elite wheelchair race getting under way first at 10.10am. Five minutes later, the gun sounded for the start of the elite women’s race, and at 10.40 the elite men and mass ranks of thousands behind set off, though for the likes of Mo Farah and his compatriots, he had no problem at all in getting into his stride. Some of the competitors would take over an hour to reach the starting point!

It wasn’t a particularly warm day; there was a definite cold snap in the air, something which gave Katrina Wood a bit of a dilemma; what or what not to wear. In the end, she went with bright pink T-shirt under her Pumas’ top, with neat Karrimor black peaked cap. A pair who had decided weeks in advance of exactly how they were going to dress up for the event were Cathy Farley and Katharine Barnett. Raising money for a Bradford cat rescue centre, they’d already left all those at the Brighouse parkrun open-mouthed eight days earlier when they arrived sitting inside their unicorn – or Pumacorn – outfits; now they were going to show all of Tyneside, too. And didn’t they just? Not only catching the eye of the thousands of spectators, but also those of a roadside BBC reporter who pulled them aside for a quick chat – live on TV in front of a few million viewers.

Carla Roxann watches on while Cathy Farley and Katharine Barnett give a live roadside interview to the BBC and become overnight sensations in their Pumacorn outfits. Their panto fees may rise, however.

Those who lined the route or watched on television from the comfort of their front rooms doubtless had an interest in Olympic champion Mo Farah, to see if he could pull off a record fourth successive Great North Run victory. He successfully managed it by pulling away from New Zealand’s Jake Robertson in the final 200 metres, but while Mo basked in his personal glory (lying prostrate on the tarmac), Robertson duly got down on his knees to propose to partner Magdalyne Masai (who’d finished fourth in the ladies’ race) seconds after he crossed the line.

But what more of our local interest? Well, the honour of being #FPH fell to relative newcomer Andrew Barnes, who finished in a time of 1hour 35:19, some two minutes faster than second Puma Rick Ralph. Rick was back in good time to cheer home wife Anna, who completed the course in 2 hours 14:05.

There were no smiles from Mo Farah as he approached the finish line, but you can always guarantee one from Julie Bowman and Vicky Owen

Paul and Jenny Hopkinson were representing Halifax Harriers once again, and as at Fleetwood three weeks earlier, Paul took the domestic honours (with a personal best to boot). And Vicky Owen would be the first to acknowledge the invaluable help given to her by Julie Bowman (who had selflessly helped Matt Newton prepare for the London Marathon earlier this year). Both Julie and Vicky comfortably managed sub-two hours and seemingly had more trouble finding their way back to the car. Agonisingly, though, Katrina Wood missed beating the two-hour mark by just 29 seconds. Yet she should still feel proud of her achievements; several weeks earlier injury looked to have threatened her participation at all.

Claire Ramsbottom was quick to praise friend Rachael Hawkins (who’d she travelled up with) and fellow Pumas after completing the race in just over 2 hours 16 minutes. “Super proud of myself, what an amazing event and couldn’t have done it without my amazing friend Rachael Hawkins and the fab Pumas,” she exclaimed post-race. Rachael, to her credit, finished in 2 hours 33:08.

Rachael Hawkins and Claire Ramsbottom show off their medals while sporting their commemorative T-shirt (Rachael’s is under there somewhere). Oh, and a glass of Prosseco? It’d be rude not to.
Just outside the two-hour mark, but Katrina Wood has got her medal and that’s all that counts.

Hard on her Yorkshire Lass Sportive thirty-mile bike ride four weeks ago, Sarah Firth donned running shoes to complete the Great North Run in a respectable 2 hours 16|:28, whilst Brett Swiffen and partner Rachel Calvert continued their impressive road to fitness. The vagaries of the system meant that Brett finished two places in front of Rachel, though she managed the course eight seconds faster!

The backdrop suggests the Red Arrows were flying over especially for Brett Swiffen and Rachel Calvert. Perhaps they should have done.

Perhaps the final word should be left to Carla Roxann. After finishing her first half marathon, she paid tribute to the Pumas, and the run leaders in particular. “I just want to say a massive thank you to our run leaders! If it wasn’t for them, especially Ian Marshall, I wouldn’t have done as well as I did today at the Great North Run!” Carla only ran her first parkrun last April and joined the Pumas the following month. She’s put the work in and the long Sunday sessions have certainly paid off. Serving as an inspiration to others, Carla added, “For those who think you can’t do it, you can! I always told myself I couldn’t run, but I did!”

Carla Roxann – an inspiration to others. “If I can do it, so can you!”

Northowram Pumas’ finishing positions and times were;

1,696 Andrew Barnes 1hr 35:19

2,167 Rick Ralph 1hr 37:32

2,213 Paul Hopkinson 1hr 37:44

7,625 Jenny Hopkinson 1hr 52:08

9,460 Julie Bowman 1hr 55:18

10,553 Victoria Owen 1hr 57:08

12,812 Katrina Wood 2hr 00:29

22,026 Claire Ramsbottom 2hr 16:12

22,146 Sarah Firth 2hr 16:28

27,234 Carla Roxann 2hr 25:48

29,714 Anna Ralph 2hr 14:05

30,890 Rachael Hawkins 2hr 33:08

41,282 Brett Swiffen 3hr 21:08

41,284 Rachel Calvert 3hr 21:01

42,756 Katharine Barnett 3hr 56:04

42,757 Cathy Farley 3hr 56:05