A 46-year-old who had barely run since my mid-twenties, I signed up for my first Great North Run back in 2007 because it felt like a good thing to do. A way I could at least help raise a little awareness and money for the MS Trust, a charity I’d only got to know as a result of my wife Kathy’s diagnosis with MS four years previously.
I’ve never really stuck to a fitness regime. My idea of a warm down is a pint of Guinness in Durham City on the way home, and fish and chips at the Coast 2 Coast chippie in Kirkby Stephen. But I played a bit of five-a-side and I walked the dog most days. Surely a half marathon couldn’t be too bad!
This September was my sixth Great North Run, our son Josh’s third and daughter Hannah’s second. The atmosphere on race day is incredible. People waving and smiling on bridges and by the roadside. It’s like one gigantic Geordie family and they all seem to be rooting for you. Every note is positive, every voice encouraging. Exhilarating and unforgettable.
The guy up on top of his shed with his garden hose spraying down the runners in Hebburn to keep them cool. The strictly unofficial Elvis impersonator belting out ‘Suspicious Minds’. The kids handing out lollies or jelly babies. Everyone looking out for each other; everyone doing it for a reason.
When you think the finish may never come, the road drops and the North Sea is in front of you. One mile to go. One flat, wonderful mile. Then 800m, 600, 400… You find yourself breaking into a sprint.
Then as suddenly as it started, it’s over. A mug of hot sweet tea at the MS Trust tent in the Charity Village, a Mars Bar, banana, more smiles, more Red Arrows. Pure euphoria and a sense of real achievement. And I keep coming back, to recapture that feeling, do it again and again.
It is the most positive experience imaginable: so worthwhile in every way. There is something about the heady mix of north-east hospitality and warmth, flawless organisation and that fantastic finale by the sea that make the Great North Run very special indeed. If you are thinking about it, do it. You’ll love it.
Finally, always remember why you are doing it: to help the MS Trust continue to offer hope, support and information for people like my amazing wife, and Josh and Hannah’s amazing mum, Kathy.
Find out more about all our upcoming running events at mstrust.org.uk/run