Tensions in Tyneside were palpably rising, along with the temperatures, in the week building up to the 42nd Great North Run. A surprise sunny start to September sent the mercury spiralling upwards but did not deter the 82 JJs (our largest ever amount of member entries) from striding proudly onto the baked tarmac of the central motorway to stare down at the starting line with our infamous enthusiasm and determination. The almighty presence of the JJs was not only felt in the starting pens, but all across the event with various members volunteering in the water provisions and also the medical tent! Sophie Reynolds was also setting the pace for the 1hr 55mins runners; ready to display the very best of her consistent training! Not all pacers had prepared so diligently with one of them forgetting their running shoes, but not from the JJs who are always prepared. it was Floor Christie who saved the day by donating a spare pair of running shoes just in time.
As the runners lined up, ready to smash this iconic run #oneMotime, the colours in the starting pens from all the different running clubs and charities from across the world were an absolute sight to behold. From far and wide, for every reason imaginable, people had descended into our small city to share in the biggest experience that is the Great North Run. Many of the JJs were running in club colours, but an equal amount opting for the vests of charities close to their hearts after collectively raising thousands of pounds; all worn with great pride and purpose.
Spirits remained high on the initial downhill section after Eddie Howe started the race. The rapturous cheers of the crowd boosting the energy levels, and the classic echoing chants of “Oggy Oggy Oggy, Oi Oi, Oi” through the motorway flyovers uniting and entwining the JJs in and amongst the other 60,000 runners! From the safety of shade, it was out into the relentless sunshine ready for the crossing of the North Easts most iconic structure. Supporting JJs lined the pavements beneath the green arches, audible amongst the deafening swathes of onlookers, sending the runners into Gateshead and beyond with an immeasurable sense of pride and focus. The Red arrows soared overhead, painting their trademark Red, White and Blue smoke in the clear blue skies over The Tyne.
Into Gateshead the reality of the conditions started to set in for many, with the heat of the day becoming apparent after the first uphill onto the Felling bypass. However, in true Geordie style the noise lined dual carriageway never faltered in delivering the warmest, friendliest and world-renowned Northeast welcome. Ice pops, oranges, peaches, jelly babies, pints of beer and (more race appropriate)– water, were handed out on mass. The ingenuity of the residents of South Tyneside, repurposing garden hoses and pressure washers into makeshift mist showers certainly was welcome relief to the sweltering JJs. Even the odd water pistol fired directly to the face was an unusually pleasant experience! Very sensibly, many members recognised that the day did not lend itself to PBs and pace pushing, but more to absorbing in as much of the incredible atmosphere as possible and making the goal to just cross the finish line.
As the dual carriageway meandered on towards Jarrow the sun seemed to beat down ever more, but the heartbeat of the Northeast was beating stronger! The music played louder, the support grew in size, every roundabout bursting with colour and sound more vibrant than the last. The streets lined with hands stretched out for a high five and a morale boost; much needed in the build up towards the insidious incline towards mile 11! JJs showed their true spirit in stopping to help a runner in need for over 30 minutes until paramedics could arrive, a fantastic display of sportsmanship and community. Well done to Becky, Beth and Ben for making sure that the person was ok helping till the paramedics arrived.
As the route reached its final stages, the mental model of “it must be downhill to the seaside” will have struck many as not playing out true, as the route climbs ever more into the outskirts of South Shields. It’s around here where Joe Kirtley opted not to adopt the Paula Radcliffe ‘excrete on the streets’ method and instead made a fateful portaloo stop that would cost him the JJs title. Finally, the tantalising, refreshing, salty seabreeze greeted the runners on the descent to the South Shields shoreline; many weary tired legs and knees not prepared for the steep downhill. A sharp left turn points you to the finish line, supposedly waiting just one mile away. Emotion and relief overwhelm you at this point as the markers count down the final 800m. Nothing can prepare you for drowning and deafening decibel levels on this home straight, as with each stride you realise what has just been achieved, against all odds.
The finish line showcased some incredible moments this year, with Kate Winstanley claiming a PB and beating her Sub 2hr target, Calvin Marsland flying across the line, taking advantage of Joe Kirtley’s earlier toilet troubles, with the JJs fastest time of the day and also a PB in 1:28:05, and Jake Archer unexpectedly crossing the line on four wheels rather than two legs, making for the most legendary photo in JJs history and one for the hall of fame. (He has thankfully made a very speedy recovery but has decided not to purchase the photo!) 2023 saw several people complete their first Great North Run including Sophie Blair, Hannah Wilson and Michael Crowe. I’m sure the infectious energy and atmosphere already has you raring to go again for next year! Every finish and attempt was celebrated beneath the brilliant Red Arrows display, after the most challenging Great North Run to date, as conditions truly were out of character for the Northeast. The deluge later in the day also making the journey home just as difficult as the journey out to the coast!
One thing that wasn’t out of character was the spirit of NorthEast. The Great North Run is the world’s largest half marathon, and for one day the world is given a snapshot and insight into what makes this corner of the UK so special: it’s people. The cheers and support of the crowds lining the street for the entire 13 miles, the sheer determination and perseverance shown by 60,0000 runners in challenging conditions, and the generosity, kindness and empathy shown by volunteers and complete strangers to one another, all make this event truly world class.
The weather on the day is perhaps the perfect metaphor for how the Great North Run 2023 should be remembered; The sunshine optimism from the start may have been washed away in the deluge, but once the clouds clear, and you have time to reflect; no matter what happened, against all the odds, you were a part of something bigger, part of something that people travel across the world to experience. A true display of Geordie pride. An event rather than a race. You’re left with that ever-growing sense of pride that the spectacle of the world’s largest half marathon, quite literally on your doorstep, truly does put on the greatest show on earth, and as a JJ you are at the beating heart of this endearing, infectious, loveable, warm, inviting, undeniably Canny City that we all have the pleasure and privilege to call home.
|Hannah B Wilson||1525||01:36:08|
|Floor Christie-de Jong||3882||01:46:22|