Arguably the largest half marathon in the world (Göteborg occasionally beats it) the Great North Run very quickly joined my bucket list of races to run. Although a southerner, I was at university in Newcastle and still jump at any chance to return whether it's for work or pleasure.

This event is almost as bad as the London Marathon for getting a place unless you sign up via a charity. With a short window in which you can enter via a ballot, there seems little chance of getting in, but somehow I managed it first time. Once you've run, you currently get the chance to buy a membership for ballot free (but not free in cost) entry for the next three years. I'm not sure how much longer they'll be able to maintain that before the pressure on spaces for ballot and charity entries is too great, but I guess they'll just push the membership price up!

You've probably seen the pictures of the Red Arrows flying over the Tyne Bridge for this race. What I didn't realise until I was sat on the Leas after my run, was that they sometimes come back a bit later for a full-on display over the sea. There's an incentive to run a PB, so you can get there in time to see them. That said, if you are too near the front at the start you'll miss them fly over the bridge; zone E seems to be a good place, as I was on the bridge when they went over in 2015, but was on the Felling bypass the next two years when I was in zone B or C.

Of course, the race isn't just about the Red Arrows, but it's not really about views either. You start off on the urban motorway and run through Newcastle shouting Oggy Oggy Oggy through all the tunnels before you get to the Tyne Bridge and cross the river into Gateshead. No sooner are you in Gateshead than you are off down the Felling Bypass, another piece of lovely dual carriageway. The great thing about these roads is that you'd never be able to do this at any other time - you'd probably get arrested for walking on the urban motorway. So what they lack in grandeur is made up for by the sheer excitement of running where you wouldn't normally be allowed; oh and maybe the fact you are doing it with about forty thousand other runners. There are also spectators or other supporters along almost every step of the course, so you'll not feel lonely.

When you get to the sea, remember there's still a way to go. There's about another mile along the coast road before the finish, but the road is lined with people that grow in number and volume the closer to the finish you get. If you're lucky, you might be on TV when you cross the line, but so far they've always cut to somewhere else when they've seen me coming!

About Matt

Not known for sport at school, I took up running in my mid-forties. Very soon I caught the running bug and progressed from the Couch to 5K programme, via parkrun, various 10k races and the Great North Run to running marathons and beyond in the UK and overseas. Now in my fifties, I still run fast enough to impress my friends and family, but not fast enough to think I've missed a vocation as an Olympian!

Race History

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