The Great North Run is 40

Four decades of ordinary people doing extraordinary things

Sir Brendan Foster celebrated the official 40th birthday of the Great North Run today with a jog along the event’s iconic finish straight in South Shields, 40 years to the day after he welcomed the first ever runners over the line. He was joined by 40 people completing their own virtual GNR81 challenge to mark the historic milestone.

Brendan, along with his team of original founders, staged the first ever event on a sunny day in June, 1981. From day one the Great North Run was breaking records, with around 12,000 runners lining up on the central motorway it instantly became the UK’s biggest mass participation running event.

Speaking at a press conference in Newcastle this morning Sir Brendan said, “It’s an incredible feeling to look back on what we’ve achieved over the last four decades.

40 years ago today, surrounded by 12,000 runners and 200,000 spectators on the seafront in South Shields we realised we were witnessing a scene which no one in the country had seen before.

Sir Brendan Foster with 40 GNR81 runners at South Shields

“We had clearly created something with a character and an essence that has grown and flourished, and most importantly, has been preserved all this time later. The same question faces us today as it did on June 28th 1981. ‘What’s next for the Great North Run?’

“Hopefully it will always reflect ordinary people doing extraordinary things for others, as well as for themselves.”

The Great North Run was supposed to celebrate its 40th staging in 2020, but like so many other things, Covid-19 meant this didn’t happen as planned. This September, organisers are looking forward to finally marking this landmark achievement.

Chief Executive Paul Foster said, “It’s been an incredibly challenging 15 months for the entire country. Although necessary, it was also incredibly disappointing for us and all of our customers to cancel last year’s big celebrations.

“Although things might look a little different, we can’t wait to welcome runners back to the start line. There are so many people who are looking forward to getting back to physical events and so many charities that will benefit from a return to public fundraising. “We hope this year’s Great North Run will be an important step on the road to the region’s economic and cultural recovery after such a challenging time.”

Organisers plan to honour those in the North East who stepped up to support their communities during the pandemic. A Great North Thank You will see images of individuals from a range of professions will be displayed at every mile along the route.

Sir Brendan added,” The Great North Run has always been about ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Over the last 15 months we’ve seen examples of individuals doing just that time and time again in communities across the region. It’s right and fitting we celebrate them at the event in September.”

September will also see the release of a Heritage Lottery funded feature film, GREAT NORTH, which charts the journey of the Great North Run in the context of the changing social, cultural and industrial landscape of the region. The script has been written by renowned author Terry Deary and will be narrated by award winning actress Gina McKee. Great North also features contributions from some well-known faces including; Sting, Sir Anthony Gormley and Alan Shearer.

Director Paul Middleton said, “This film will tell the story of this changing region and the Run. It is a hard story at times, but ultimately, it’s a story about the strength of community and the hope for the new future of the North East.
“It will be told through the histories and experiences of the people who’ve lived through it, all connected to the Run in some way and who have witnessed this period of change and development unfold in front of their eyes.”

The 40th Great North Run will take place on Sunday 12 September and will be televised live on BBC Sport. General entry places are closed, but there are a small number of charity places still available. Find out more.