Newest Review: ... who offer places by doing an internet search. This is how I got my first ever place in the run. You may still have to pay the entry fee... more
A Great Bit of Fun!
Great North Run (BUPA)
Member Name: cc2sg
Great North Run (BUPA)
Date: 07/06/13, updated on 25/08/13 (126 review reads)
Advantages: Loads of support.
Disadvantages: The baggage buses are shambolic and there are never enough loos.
The Great North Run (or GNR) is an iconic race and something that everyone should do at least once, whether you're a seasoned runner or a couch potato. It is a half marathon, which is 13.1 miles, run point to point from Newcastle to South Shields. Over the years I have had many different experiences of the race - the newbie starting right at the back, the average runner starting mid-pack, the fancy dress runner, the competition winner starting in the celebrity pen, and more recently the 'Fast Paced Club Runner' starting right behind the Elite athletes. No matter which way I've run the race, I have absolutely loved it.
For first time runners of the GNR there are two ways to gain entry to the race. Unlike the London Marathon you cannot gain a place by virtue of having achieved a certain race time previously (unless of course you are an actual elite athlete). You can either apply for the ballot or get a place directly through a charity. The ballot usually opens in February but you can sign up on the Great Run website for a reminder. It is also worth keeping up with online running forums such as those on the Runner's World website, as there is usually an extra ballot operated by a national newspaper and members of those forums have a knack for finding out when that opens. A ballot place currently costs just under £50.
If you are unlucky in the ballot you can apply for a place through a charity. You can find the charities who offer places by doing an internet search. This is how I got my first ever place in the run. You may still have to pay the entry fee and you'll have to commit to raising a certain amount of money, usually at least £250. Many charities have their own tents at the finish line where they will provide their runners with refreshments and sometimes a massage too. Of course, you can also run for a charity if you got a ballot place, but then you don't have to raise any particular amount.
Once you have completed one GNR you will be offered a Golden Bond, which guarantees you entry for the next three years in a row. There is an additional fee for this.
If you are ill or injured and have to miss the race you can defer your place for guaranteed entry the following year. You will have to pay the entry fee a second time though.
You will need to arrive very early. Allow much more time for your journey than you think you will need as the Metro trains will be jam packed like the London Underground in rush hour, but the service is far less frequent! Driving can also be difficult as there is no parking at the start. You can park at the finish and take a bus back to the start line.
As there are so many people it can be quite a walk to your baggage bus and then back to your start pen. The buses are labelled with colours to match your number; this also reflects your pen allocation. When you leave your bag on the bus your number will be stamped with the number of the bus so you don't have to remember it at the other end.
Be warned, there are never enough toilets and the queues are enormous. Accept that you will probably have to pee in a bush. Don't be embarrassed, everyone has to do it!
You have to get into your pen quite early as they close them, so make sure you're done with toileting and in your pen nice and early. The pens are marshalled and you will not be able to access a pen nearer the front than your allocation. The fences are 6 foot tall as well, so there can be no 'hopping over' the barrier.
Other than one or two highlights, the route is actually rather ugly. However the crowd support more than makes up for this. You start off downhill running towards the river Tyne. It is important to hold yourself back a little here as you'll need to save your energy. As you go under the tunnels there'll be shouts of 'Oggie, oggie, oggie' (and loads of men will veer off to the sides to, erm, water the walls).
The Tyne Bridge is the main highlight of the course, and if you're right in the middle of the mass field you may well get to see the Red Arrows fly over your head, with red, white and blue smoke streaming out behind them. Once over the bridge you have to go uphill again and you reach the highest point of the course at 5 miles.
Nobody's favourite part of the race is the John Reid Road, which is a long uphill drag from 11 to 12 miles. However the road is lined with supporters and your reward at the top is the long awaited view of the North Sea. There follows a very steep, short downhill and a sharp left turn, then you're on the last stretch to the finish. This last mile seems to take forever, but the crowds are amazing.
Finally you cross the finish line, and regardless of how long it took you, you have been part of a great day. You receive water and sports drinks, a medal, usually a few samples of toiletries and cereal bar type things, and your T-shirt in your goodie bag. Sadly the T-shirts are cotton and not technical material, but they are good quality.
Beyond the finish line you need to retrieve your bag from the correct bus. This is my main gripe of the race. No-one hands it to you, you have to board the bus and find it for yourself, which isn't easy with so many bags on there.
Then you can explore the charity village, the retail area and the beer tent, meet your relatives at the meet up points, and begin to make your way home. Be prepared for the journey to take quite some time as 50000 runners plus their supporters all try to get out of South Shields at much the same time!
All in all the GNR is an amazing experience, and one I'll keep going back to whenever I am lucky enough to get a place in it. Contrary to popular belief you absolutely can get a fast time on this course, which is actually net downhill, and pretty much anyone get around a 13.1 miles if they put their minds to it.
* Review also appears on Ciao *
Summary: One that everyone should add to their bucket list.
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