Great North Run, Sunday, September 16, 2012

Grand Prix Race. Endurance Champion Race.

Colin Blackburn, Pam Kirkup and George Nicholson

Colin Blackburn …

As a runner I’m happiest when I’m orienteering. At even the biggest orienteering events such as the Scottish 6-Day I can still find myself completely alone in a forest with the sounds and smells of the woodland all around me. So what was I thinking when I entered the Great North Run for the very first time way back at the start of this year. Did I think I’d enjoy being surrounded by over 40,000 people (that’s almost a third of the population of my hometown Huddersfield!). Did I think I would I enjoy the smells and sounds of the 13 miles of tarmac between Newcastle and South Shields? Eight months later, as Sunday the 16th of September dawned and I was stirring my porridge at some ungodly hour I was about to find out …

Louise and Victoria. Arriving with a coach-load of Striders near the start with almost two hours before the off it didn’t look too crowded. It was statistically unlikely but I did bump into Christine who I had met on holiday back in the summer, a 100+ parkrunner she was up doing the GNR with some friends. By 10:30 I was in a pen with a couple of thousand people I didn’t know from Adam who seemed to be throwing their clothes away into the central reservation. The Red Arrows traditional fly-over gave an impression the start was imminent but the start itself seemed fairly anticlimactic, more of a mass shuffle forward. As I shuffled forwards with the crowd each lorry parked in the central reservation seemed to be transformed into a mass urinal. Finally there was a pinch point and then I was running. I vaguely remember seeing people high-fiving Greg Rutherford but like the pre-race toilets there was a queue that you think twice about joining.

A minute or two later and I had the choice of the high road or the low road. There seemed to be a lot of last second barrier jumping to change lane but knowing no better and as I was on the left (and it was downhill) I went low and followed the underpass. The low road seemed to be the loo road! I don’t think I’ve ever witnessed so many people peeing around the start of the race. A little later with sky above my head again I realised why this race is special. I was in a concrete canyon but the tops of the cliffs were lined with hundreds people shouting, yelling and waving banners for their friends, family or loved ones running down below. And that was just a couple of hundred yards. A few months ago kittiwakes were the noisiest residents of the Tyne Bridge, today it was people cheering on the runners.

And then into Gateshead where the real entertainment started with steel bands and drumming groups every few K and most roundabouts seemingly occupied by rock bands. One band out towards South Shields was decent enough for me to have wanted to stop and have a proper listen if I hadn’t have been in a race. Oh, there was Elvis out there somewhere too but again I didn’t stop to listen as the race was always on my mind. Filling the gaps between the music were the relentless crowds and bus-full after bus-full of charity supporters. Okay, it thinned out a bit between Gateshead and South Shields but not much.

As for Striders, well from getting heading into my pen to about half way round I didn’t see a single one – despite knowing that George was carrying his torch I failed to notice passing him. Then at some point I heard a scream of “COLIN!!!” and nearly jumped out of my skin. Looking around Jan and Tony were on a patch of grass that you wouldn’t want to have to get to during rush hour. Jan was doing the screaming while Tony was taking some photos. A while late I passed Bill and then it wasn’t until the drop down to the coast that Anna passed me and I passed Jean. The final section along the coast road was great with the noisiest crowds of all. High-fiving (or should that be low-fiving?) all the little out-stretched palms seemed to make me run a little faster. The last 400m seemed longer than once round the track but I finally crossed the line taking 5 minutes off my only other half marathon in Dundee a couple of months ago.

That was the running bit over. I’ll skip the bit where I got lost finding the baggage buses and just get straight to the pub. To everyone’s surprise the Look Out had put on a spread for us. The pool table was laden with pies, pasties, sandwiches, crisps, cheese puffs… and the obligatory sausage rolls. I hope we drank enough between us to pay for it all! But it was very welcome despite plenty of people grabbing food before the pub. Getting out of South Shields was a bit of an adventure involving a bizarre discussion between our bus driver and a marshall as to whether what we were on was technically a bus. It turned out we weren’t enough like a bus to go down the “Bus Only” road and so we had to spend an hour in the sort of shuffling traffic that reminded me of the start.

Did I mention that it rained for almost the entire race? No? Well apparently it did. Definitely a race worth doing, I’d go so far as to say that for me it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

… Pam Kirkup …

This was my 19th Great North Run, the first one being 30 years ago in 1982. As my first ever race, it got me started running seriously and led me to joining my first club, Durham City Harriers, along with Jan Young.

Number-swapping? Noooooooo ... As the world’s biggest, arguably greatest, half marathon it has rightly earned the terms ‘iconic’ and ‘inspirational’. The images of the Tyne Bridge as thousands of runners pour over the river; the Red Arrows performing in perfect symmetry; the incredible feeling of seeing the coast after that harsh climb through the eleventh mile and then what seems like the longest mile in history, that run to the finish. The all-inclusive ethos of the race is impressive. Everyone from the superfit: whether it be Ethiopian and Kenyan superstars, finely honed celebrities, elite club runners or competent recreational runners down to the totally unfit and relatively unprepared; all are there mostly raising money for very personal charities and get round somehow. It’s all amazing – but does it have to cost so much? At £48 it’s considerably more expensive than London Marathon Club entrants paid this year. And if you defer your number, you have to pay the £48 all over again!

Yet on Sunday Striders filled a 50+ seater bus with mostly runners, a few supporters and race volunteers. Others made their own way there. The bus dropped us off incredibly early, so we had plenty of time to ‘mentally prepare’ for the race … which seemed to involve many trips to the loo, consuming bananas and having a go at carrying George’s Olympic torch. It was surprisingly heavy – no wonder Emma and Dougie were recruited as “torch Sherpas”! Eventually the start time grew closer so we all retired to our start ‘pens’, identified by the race number. Mine was ‘white zone G’. There I met up with Christine Farnsworth and we compared the relative inadequacies of our preparation; we would both just “get round”. Christine had “done no real training” other than “just 4 miles” at the most. After the bizarre warm-up aerobics session we began to move forward. Twenty two minutes after the gun we approached the start line … and she was off like a rocket! No real training? Hmmm!

My first impression was how hard it was actually running on tarmac! Having spent the last two and a half months training mostly on the Waskerley Way and other similar tracks and trails it felt like the soles of my feet had been beaten by bamboo sticks. Then the rain started! For me this race is such familiar territory that I know whether or not I’ve blown it pretty much by Heworth. All was well at that point but the rain was getting heavier so it wasn’t comfortable. However, it was amazing how quickly the miles seemed to pass by. My target was to finish before 2.30 and I’d tried to stay with the pacer for that time but to no avail. Without my glasses, steaming up in the rain, I couldn’t see him anyway!

As always the crowds cheering us on, the music, just the whole buzz of it all kept me going. Louise and Victoria, going really well, passed me at around 9 miles. That slight uphill bit on the John Reid Road always does for me. This year it was entirely psychological – I was reaching the furthest I had run in training. So it was starting to unravel a bit. But I soon recovered and pressed on. When I was able to put my glasses back on I realised I’d been following the 2.15 pacer! Anita passed me on the hill towards 11 miles. She was looking relaxed and comfortable. Not long to go now – it would be a breeze. Once I got to the downhill stretch to Marsden I knew it would be ok, I should finish in about 2.20. To my delight it was actually 2.16.49!

Once again I had that intense feeling of elation and achievement. The finish was extremely well managed. I met Kate McPherson who was delighted with her time and then I wandered off to the “Charity Village”. This year I am supporting Marie Curie Cancer Care – conspicuous by their absence around the course it has to be said. Never mind, they were offering every comfort in their marquee – even a “double leg massage”. There was a bit of a queue so after a cup of tea and a flapjack I left in seek of the baggage bus, but more importantly, a pint of lager! At the Look Out pub Striders were gathering, all exchanging stories of experiences around the course, times and a few PBs. It was a very happy enjoyable afternoon. The landlord had put on a buffet for us – apparently we had spent so much money on beer etc last year that he had wanted to thank us.

So was it worth it? I asked first timer (surprisingly) Colin. He had mixed views. Not too keen on the hype or “warm up” before the race – I’m with him on that one! Also some of the crowds and runners barging/ stopping dead in front of you was a bit of a problem but I think it was otherwise ok for him. He’ll no doubt tell me if I’ve got it wrong!

It has to be said that the organisation is superb. Although I’m not keen on the pens at the start. When we left the pub there was total gridlock. We were inexplicably prevented from using a road that had been closed other than as a bus lane. Weren’t we a bus? So maybe Brendan needs to rethink his transport policy.

Is it worth £48? I don’t know – for me I’d do it anyway. The price however might make it less of “the people’s race” in this day and age. 55,000 entrants would probably say otherwise. I’m totally against the £48 fee for deferrals – no wonder people pass on their numbers! Anyway, when I got home Paul said “how did you get on darling?” I replied “2.16.49”.

His response? “Well done – not bad for an OAP”!!! He may not have any teeth left!

… and George Nicholson

Another Great North Run done and dusted and I still find the ‘magic’ of the Event as exciting as ever.

Barrie & I never imagined back in 1981 when we had completed our 1st GNR that we would still be running down the same route 31 years later, and we both feel very privileged to be part of a select group of 117 runners. There is a now quite a ‘bond’ growing with all the ‘other presents’. We have our own Newsletter, T shirts, and of course special starting positions at the front of the race, and certainly since 2005 the GNR has become more than just a half-marathon to me.

The support I have had from Striders over the last few years and from many other friends has been absolutely marvellous, and each year I have tried to do something different or original that may help capture the imagination to raise the profile of the my chosen charity and thus encourage donations. As I did not fancy running with a fridge on my back for the 30 days preceding the Run, I took an easier option and decided on Olympic Torch carrying. Thankfully it was still relevant to gain press interest and I was lucky enough to have some interview requests. This aspect however is the one I find the most stressful (as Jacquie knows!) and I never find it gets any easier.

Once more I had great support from other Striders who opted to run and fundraise for Acorns. Monies are still coming in , and between Alister, Sue Gardham, Sue Jennings, Dougie, Emma, Sam Brown (former Sunderland park run director) & myself we will have topped £2500.

As for the Race itself, what can I say that’s not been said before? It’s a very familiar route to so many of us. Colin & Pam have summed it up perfectly in their reports. The excitement for me is as great as ever.

Starting in Zone A with Barrie & I were Sue J, Emma, Sam & Dougie. Thankfully I’d run the Coll half-marathon with the Torch, and I felt less anxious having familiar faces near to me. The first mile tends to be relatively quick but then soon settles down. Sam Brown left our group and moved ahead and was thrilled with her first sub 2hr half marathon. I lost sight of Sue & Emma for the first mile or so, but they soon caught me up and stopped alongside me for several more miles, thankfully did not hang back for me as I slowed and both recorded PB’s.

Dougie in particular was a tower of Strength to me at many vital points en route when I was struggling, and carried the Torch for several of the miles. He caught up with me by Gateshead Stadium and stayed with me all the way to the finish line. The one big regret I had was that we separated just after the Tag removal area. We discussed beforehand the problems that may be encountered if he was photographed with a swapped name & numbered bib pinned to his chest. I was distracted by the first TV crew encountered and then lost sight of him altogether after that. I wish that he could have been by my side at these times and had been interviewed alongside me as well. His effort on the Run was greater than mine as he was also taking photographs , and I feel he did not get the recognition he deserved.

George receives a proposalPerhaps the most surreal moment was on the startline. I had a ‘marriage’ proposal by one of the ‘celebs’ !!!!! I did suggest it would have been nicer for him to ‘propose’ to one of the gorgeous young ladies with me at that moment i.e. Emma or Sam. He was insistent however that it had to be to me and gave me a big hug afterwards. Hmmm.. Without a few minutes his picture of us all was circulated to his 8600 followers on Twitter. It turned out that he was Patrick Monahan a stand up comedian who was sending out regular tweets every mile along the route, and giving his observations of the day. We ran together for the first mile or so and parted company just before the Tyne Bridge.

So another Great North Run done and most of my objectives achieved. Nova International have already commenced their planning for the 2013 GNR. I may defer MY plans for a few more weeks yet…

Results

Pos Name Club Cat Pos Time
1 Wilson Kipsang Kenya 00:59:06
1 Tirunesh Dibaba Ethiopia F 01:07:35
836 James Garland M 01:29:32
847 Simon Gardner M 01:29:36
1056 Graeme Walton M 01:31:09
2072 Matt Claydon M 01:36:19
2110 Jonathan Ackley M 01:36:31
2665 John Wandless M 01:38:20
4344 Marco van den Bremer M 01:42:46
4431 Aaron Gourley M 01:42:58
5613 Anna Seeley F 01:45:29
6149 Colin Blackburn M 01:46:32
6225 David Spence M 01:46:43
6519 Konstantin Visegradi M 01:47:17
6850 Kathryn Sygrove F 01:47:58
6857 Elinor Rodger F 01:47:58
7496 Paul Beal M 01:49:06
9687 Jean Bradley F 01:52:50
10263 Camilla Lauren-Maatta F 01:53:45
11659 Jill Ford F 01:55:45
12662 Alan Harvey Smith M 01:57:13
13067 John Greathead M 01:57:46
13151 Sue Gardham F 01:57:53
13172 Angela Proctor F 01:57:55
13232 Greta Jones F 01:57:59
13275 Alister Robson M 01:58:02
15027 Sandra Graham F 02:00:27
17004 Sarah Tulip F 02:03:41
17122 Zsofia Nemeth F 02:03:51
17760 Emma Detchon F 02:04:51
18288 Danny Lim M 02:05:41
18764 Dawn Dunn F 02:06:25
18853 Kate Macpherson F 02:06:34
19023 Ann Towers M 02:06:50
19447 Victoria Tindale F 02:07:30
19490 Denise Mason F 02:07:36
19716 Jim Nicholson M 02:07:56
19904 Dougie Nisbet M 02:08:15
20045 George Nicholson M 02:08:29
20458 Anita Clementson F 02:09:08
21172 Louise Barrow F 02:10:16
21263 Carole Reid F 02:10:24
21370 Christine Ann Farnsworth F 02:10:36
21396 Barrie John Evans M 02:10:40
21696 Joanne Richardson F 02:11:09
21697 Joanne Porter F 02:11:09
22307 Brian Ford M 02:12:10
23221 Jacquie Robson F 02:13:43
23501 Gary Parkinson M 02:14:11
23680 Nicola van den Bremer-Hornsby F 02:14:31
24267 Margaret Thompson F 02:15:31
24992 Pamela Kirkup F 02:16:49
25183 David Thornber M 02:17:10
26074 Katie Butler F 02:18:45
26074 Robert Clark M 02:26:24
33665 Kathryn Clark F 02:37:57
34031 Philippa Coffer F 02:39:15
34032 Alex Probert F 02:39:15
36222 Elizabeth Dick F 02:49:02
38885 Mark Reay M 03:14:17

40,041 finishers.

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