Dream Trip For Great North Run Millionth Finisher

Great Comeback 3

Tracey Cramond, the Morrisons Great North Run's one in a million, is preparing to follow in Brendan Foster's footsteps to trace the very roots of the world's greatest half marathon.

It was while training in New Zealand in 1980 that Brendan took part in the 70,000-strong Round the Bays race in Auckland and vowed to create a mass participation run in the North-East of England.

Thirty-five years on, the Great North Run chairman and co-founder is honouring his pledge to send the millionth finisher to Auckland to run Round the Bays on Sunday 8 March.

The idea was suggested to Brendan on live television by Lord Sebastian Coe, vice president of the International Association of Athletics Federations, during the countdown to the millionth finisher crossing the line at South Shields in the Great North Run last September.

Having taken the Great North Run past the one million mark, amid a blaze of publicity, Tracey is getting ready to follow in Brendan's antipodean footsteps.

“I was in the BBC Look North studio the day after the Great North Run when Jeff Brown made the announcement that I would be going to New Zealand,” said the 52-year-old grandmother from Darlington. “I nearly fell through the sofa, I think.”

To be fair, Tracey was still coming to terms with having crossed the finish line at South Shields and been swept into the media spotlight.

“Brendan said to me at the time, ‘This is your ten minutes of fame',” she recalled, chuckling. “I think Mr Foster had better check his watch. Ten minutes! It's been a whirlwind ever since. It's been amazing.”

Tracey has been an active sportsperson all her life but only took up running in 2013 after the tragic death of her mother, Lynn. She completed the 13.1 miles of the Great North Run that year with her son-in law, Danny, acting as her ‘wingman', and then entered the 2014 event to raise money for Butterwick Hospice in Stockton.

“It's a charity very close to my heart,” said Tracey, who works as a buyer for the National Health Service. “And it was very popular with my mum, because of the care they give to all ages but especially to children and babies.

“That's why I did the Great North Run again last year, to raise money for Butterwick. And then when I came over the finish line my life went in a tilt.

“I get recognised when I go into supermarkets. People ask me how it's going. And I get quizzical looks quite often – that half recognition and half ‘where do I know her from' look.

“They nudge each other in Greggs and say, ‘You ask, you ask.'…It's quite comical.”

Tracey has switched on the Christmas lights at South Shields with pop star Joe McElderry, been a presenter at the BBC North East Awards, featured in the Great North Greats Exhibition, been appointed a Great North Run ambassador and been guest of honour at the Butterwick Ball.

She has not taken part in a running event since the 2014 Great North Run but has been running three or four times a week in readiness for joining the masses in the relative sprint of the 8.4km (5.2 miles) Round the Bays event.

“I've checked up a little bit on the race online and there seems to be quite a huge number of people involved,” said Tracey. “It looks like a fun weekend targeted at all ages and I've seen pictures of an incredible amount of people crossing over bridges and running along by the bays.

“I've been to Auckland before. I've got family out there – two sisters-in-law, a brother-in-law and lots of nieces and nephews. It' a beautiful place – very, very pretty.

“My Dad, Roy Liddell, is coming out with me. I only got involved in running in memory of my Mum and my Dad has been my staunchest supporter. He's always been there for me, on the finish line.

“He's super-excited. It's a double whammy for him because not only is he getting the opportunity to join me in New Zealand but – thanks to Brendan's company, Nova – he's going on to see his family in Australia. He hasn't seen them since they emigrated in 1967, so he's got lots of exciting plans and memories to be made.”

As for Tracey, as well as following in Brendan Foster's footsteps, she will be hitting the heights in Auckland.

“I am going to do the Auckland Bridge walk,” she said. “I'm nervous with heights but why not?. So that's going to be champion isn't it?”

It's going to be rather fitting certainly. The bridge was constructed in 1959 by the Cleveland Bridge and Engineering Company from Darlington and Dorman Long of Middlesbrough. 

Dorman Long also built the coat-hanger frame the Tyne Bridge, which Tracey Cramond crossed on September 7 last year – en route to Great North Run history