The Great North Run
I had described the scene prior to the 10km race in Leeds this July as being “a madhouse.” Little did I know that Leeds before that race was like practically a ghost town compared to the atmosphere this morning.
The Great North Run took place today. It’s the largest half-marathon in the world with more than 57,000 participants. Not only is the race a major event in the northeast of England but it’s televised on the BBC. Sounds like something I should obviously participate in, right?
Well, I really gave no thought to throwing my hat into the ring. Probably because (a) I had no idea when the deadline was and (b) I was unsure if I still would be in the country at this point. So a week-to-ten days ago, the Great North Run looked like something I would have to enjoy from the comfort of my new abode (which I will address eventually).
However, Nishant mentioned that a buddy of his who had registered for the fun had dropped out and he asked me if I wanted to take his place. Since I’m unsure if I’ll do the Abbey Dash again this year, I figured “Why Not?” The Great North Run is obviously an enormous event, I had never been to the northeast of this country and I only needed to pay Nishant £25. And better yet – from a running standpoint – I supposedly would be taking off in the wave immediately after the elite runners such as Mo Farah, so there was a chance I could be on TV.
The only thing is well… Rashaad Jorden wouldn’t officially be running in the Great North Run. Mark Symmonds would 😦
Anyway, I made the trip to Newcastle with Nishant, Marcus and Lana (the latter did the driving) and amazingly (for this country), it was quite sunny and eventually – to some – it even got “hot.” (It was never hot but British people and Americans seem to share different opinions of what constitutes “hot weather”)
As for the actual race, it seemed like all of Tyneside was either running – or cheering on the runners. Although I had the impression prior to the race that I would be starting just behind the elite runners, there were fellow competitors in front of me as far as the eye could see. While that wasn’t a problem at all, I unfortunately started behind so many slowpokes. Of course, I could pass them without expending a lot of energy. But I had to zigzag around a lot of runners, which slowed me down – in addition to making me run cautiously so I wouldn’t run up the backs of others.
Despite the aggravation of not being able to establish the pace I would’ve liked at the outset, the atmosphere was electric. The Great North Run starts in the centre of Newcastle and that event take over the city in a way that many marathons don’t. Some of the city’s major streets and motorways are part of the course and seemingly everyone in town crowded the pedestrian overpasses and sidewalks to cheer on friends, families and others.
I had thought the Great North Run only took place within the Newcastle city limits but once we left the city centre, we ran through residential areas in a neighboring town named Gateshead. Just like during the Newcastle portion of the race, a large number of onlookers came out to cheer on the runners – and I saw some spectators handing out (or trying to hand out) cookies to the athletes as well as the typical water bottles and oranges. I don’t recall seeing anyone take the cookies – I certainly wouldn’t – but they appeared to be chocolate chip ones 🙂
To prevent myself from hitting the wall, I really didn’t exert myself too much early on. Although I didn’t enter the Great North Run in the kind of shape I would have liked, I never saw or felt one runner pass me and I was able to accelerate in the last couple of miles.
I finished in 272th place, completing the 13.1 miles in 1:24:06. Or maybe, I should say, Mark Symmonds finished in 272th place. Which doesn’t sound bad considering there were roughly 57,000 runners. I just wish I had started closer to the elite runners.
But the biggest surprise the Great North Run brought was the landscape at the finish. Instead of ending somewhere in Newcastle, the finish line was in a grassy area full of food stalls and tents organized by race sponsors and charities. That grassy area happened to be adjacent to… a beach! A lovely, white sandy beach 🙂 One of my biggest complaints about this country is the lack of good beaches – well, compared to New Jersey. But South Shields (the site of the race’s finish) appears to be a happening place in the summer with beachside bars and restaurants accessible via public transport from Newcastle
It’s so nice to be reminded that fun times can be had outdoors in this country.