It is unashamed to advertise itself as the ‘world’s greatest half marathon’ and as Tracey Cramond became the 1,000,000th runner to cross the finish line of the 13.1 mile annual fixture that has seen over £250m being raised for charity since its inauguration in 1981, there is no argument that it has every right to do so.
On a weekend that began with some of Britain’s celebrated track athletes producing excellent performances in the Great North City Games, Mo Farah proved that he was back on form with a personal best time of exactly one hour to take the Men’s Elite title following a close battle with his occasional training partner; Kenyan Mike Kigan. This makes him the first British athlete to take top spot in the men’s standings since 1985 and his name joins those of other distance running greats like Kenenisa Bekele and Haile Gebrselassie on the event’s prestigious Roll of Honour.
It was Briton Paula Radcliffe’s course record that was broken in the Women’s Elite race however, with Kenyan Mary Keitany dominating the field to win in a time of 01:09:39, whilst Lancashire born Paralympian Shelley Woods notched up her total wins to six as she took the tape in the female wheelchair event.
This year’s milestone event commenced earlier than usual with crowds of people attending a spectacular opening ceremony held on Thursday evening. Fireworks and laser lights illuminated the banks of the Tyne as the International Amateur Athletics Federation’s ‘Athletics for a Better World’ campaign officially recognised the Great North Run’s (GNR) ‘One Millionth Finish’ landmark. Compèred by local personalities; Ant and Dec, the stage played host to music from Sting and Mark Knopfler, and a number of GNR heroes and heroines were also involved. These included Gebrselassie, who has since brought the concept to his home country in the form of the Great Ethiopia Run, Radcliffe, eight time wheelchair race winner Tanni-Grey Thompson, and founder and Chairman Brendan Foster.
From 12,000 competitors in 1981, the GNR has grown in stature and without including those taking part in its sister events; The Great North 5k and the Mini & Junior Great North Runs, which were also held this weekend, applications for the 2014 race surpassed 120,000, from which the balloting system allocated the 56,000 places to lucky runners from all over the world.
The ‘Great North’ as it is sometimes affectionately known, has always been about more than the run itself though, and whilst the course, taking athletes out past some of Gateshead’s most iconic sights before winding towards the coast at South Shields provides an impressive backdrop, it is the people that make this race one of the most enjoyable mass participation events to date. Amidst live music and a party atmosphere, locals line the route handing out water, sweets and high fives to runners as they pass by. Many of the charities commission special ‘cheering groups’ who provide motivational support to those raising money on their behalf and there is always a host of celebrity entrants; this year’s contingent including BBC Breakfast’s Bill Turnbull and Steph McGovern, who spark popular interest.
Through personal triumphs, inspiring stories and a place in history, the Bupa Great North Run ‘One Million’ certainly proved to be a memorable occasion. There is no reason to stop at one million though and event organisers are already making preparations for next year. 13th September 2015 if anyone is interested- believe me, it will be one of the best experiences you ever have!