The headline act at the Morrisons Great North Run was undoubtedly Mo Farah. With a breath-taking sprint finish and a record breaking run, he deserves all the plaudits going. First British male to win the event twice, a new British half marathon record and possibly the loudest cheer ever recorded for an athlete’s announcement at the start of any event.
However, the real stars of the show weren’t the elite runners and wheelchair racers or the celebrities on the start line, but instead the supporting cast of the people of the North East. Stand up and take a bow.
From the minute I arrived on Saturday in Hexham (our pre-event pizza from Little Angel was heavenly), I have enjoyed your hospitality and your company. You might have built a wall to keep us (the Scots) out, but this weekend you embraced the hordes of runners invading your lands, causing mayhem on the Metro; the closures of your streets and takeovers of your restaurants (particularly Italian restaurants).
We might have stolen your city, but you have stolen our hearts.
And that was before you had gathered an army of Newcastle and South Shields residents. Not to defend your streets, but to befriend us with sweets (the way to a runner’s heart).
As I drove into South Shields early in the morning, I saw you unloading vans full of water, setting up stations and getting your music equipment ready to rock our day.
This was my third Great North Run and I knew that is was as special to you as it was to me, but this weekend I sensed it was even more important to you.
There was not one stretch of the route that wasn’t crowded with people. You lined up on either side of the streets and cheered from the overpasses above us. You didn’t just hand out words of encouragement; you showered us with love and even water (thank you to the Fire Brigade for that one); you gave us much needed sugar with fabled jelly babies, orange slices and, my personal favourite, ice lollies. I’m not sure how many seconds I lost running and sucking an ice lolly, but on a day when the sun seemed to be tracking my every step, I’ve never enjoyed a lolly more. Thank you.
At the numerous water stations, everyone, including your guides and scouts did their good deed for the day, by ensuring that we all kept hydrated. Elvis, rock bands and drum bands kept our feet moving, often when I felt my pace slowing. Every charity in the land was present and you cheered for all, regardless of our own chosen charities.
You brought your children and they brought with them, their smiles and their hands. I had a slow race (I AM blaming it on the sunshine), but I did record a new personal best. During the course of the run, I coursed from side to side (probably why my Garmin showed I ran 13.23 miles) and high fived as many kids as I could. 104 was my final total and I could have managed more, but for Olaf the snowman (he must have melted in that heat) and a Minion. Even a despicable me couldn’t come between them and the kids!
In the last leg, when I wasn’t sure my legs would last, you came to my rescue. The last mile was tough, but how many of us didn’t push that little bit harder or find that little bit extra to carry us forward when we felt your eyes upon us and heard your words and screams willing us on?
And when, the majority of runners had finished and left, you stayed on. Whether we finished in one hour or four hours didn’t matter to you. Every runner was cheered across the finish line right to the very end. And you weren’t finished. As we drove out of the city, pubs were flowing with beer and people. Gardens were home to children bouncing on inflatable castles and I imagine you partied on as we parted company.
In my home city, we believe that People Make Glasgow and I can definitely say that it is you, the people of the North East, that make the Great North Run the greatest half marathon in the world.
Till next year (unless I visit Gibside Great Run Local).