Remember it's a (half) marathon, not a sprint.

This Is Our Run

September 12, 2021

You’re prepping for the race. Questions racing through your mind. Am I wearing the right clothes? Have I done enough groundwork?  Am I in the right frame of mind?  Months of preparation comes down to this moment. I know the supporters will keep me going.

You’re on the starting line…

This could be the start of the Great North Run. It’s also a good description of the Mayoral election in 2019. In between we’ve had Covid. It scuppered the GNR in 2019. This year, Covid uncertainty made sponsors nervous. Spacing runners into waves added complexity and cost.

On 28th June 1981, the first Great North Run took place. It was a trailblazer. I was 11. Life in the North East was a bit different then. Come to think of it, life in the whole country was a bit different then. We even won the Eurovision Song Contest. With 40 years of history, we could not risk it failing.

I first spoke to Brendan Foster about it back in February. The GNR is the biggest half-marathon in the world. Over 50,000 runners. The North of Tyne Combined Authority put £400,000 funding to keep the GNR secure.

It’s worth £33 million in economic benefit to the region. It puts us on the map. It fills 25,000 hotel bedrooms. £24 million raised for charity.

It’s a massive regional success story broadcast live in 137 countries around the world. We sponsored the film, Great North: A Run, A River, A Region which opened at the Tyneside last week. It’s on local cinemas – and well worth a watch.

There’s more to the GNR than numbers, though. Brendan persuaded me to run this year. My training was going well, until I got a calf strain a fortnight ago. My physio has been brilliant – shout out to Jack Gilmour. “You’re obviously going to run,” he said, “so let’s work out how we can get you round. But forget any hope of a personal best.”

Dashing around at the start. I started the elite women’s race. My friend, Lord Mayor Habib Rahman, started the wheelchair race. Best of all was the main race was started by NHS workers: I chatted to Community Nurse Dorothy and Cardiologist Micky, who like me were also running.

I’ve done long runs before, marathons and half-marathons. But nothing is like the Great North Run. It’s the sheer diversity. The awesome ability of the wheelchair athletes. The bravery of the blind and visually impaired athletes.

Before I even got to the Tyne Bridge, my calf-tightened. We knew it might, and had a plan. I slowed right down to a jog. It was a blessing in disguise – I got to pay attention to everyone else.

The sheer selflessness of thousands of people – doing something so physically gruelling – without any interest in personal reward. Cancer Research. Breast Cancer, Pancreatic Cancer, Blood Cancer. St Oswalds Hospice. McMillan Nurses. Shelter. Strokes. NSPCC. Mental Health. Help For Heroes. British Legion. Every one of them about healing and helping. I was running for veterans’ charity Forward Assist. Apologies to all those I haven’t got space to mention.

Countless people running in memory of loved ones. Personal stories about healing the grief.

At mile 9 I had to pop into the first aid tent for some Vaseline. I hadn’t had a chance to break in my new top, and jogger’s nipple struck – blood soaking through the white fabric like a pair of brake lights.

I watched the strength and compassion of all those tens of thousands of people. The runners. The volunteers. The supporters. All the kids I high-fived on the way round.  I’m proud to come from the North East. That pride – that support – that sheer generosity of spirit – got me round and across the finish line.

Along the Felling bypass I had one of the most amazing experiences of my life. A fellow runner ran past me, pressed a £20 not into my hand, and said, “Good man – good cause.”

We’ve had a hell of an eighteen months. We’ve come through Covid. So many have experienced tragedy. When we come together in unity, we are strong.

This is our Region. This is our Run. Let the healing begin.

Originally published in the Journal and Evening Chronicle 13 Sept 2021