I’ve always wondered what was up with the Great North Run. They claim to be the largest half marathon in the world with 57,000 runners, however, Goteborg half marathon claims the same and says they have over 60,000 runners each year. I always wondered why Newcastle upon Tyne? You’d expect the largest half in the world to be in some famous city. The biggest marathon in the world is New York City, which makes sense to me.
So, I decided to do it as a bucket list thing and do the Great North Run to see what it is all about. On the Saturday before the race it is very busy in Newcastle. There is a 5k race and there are some elite races that are taking place as well as the kids runs. In the afternoon I had to pick up my bib. If you live in the UK it is send out to you but if you live outside the UK you have to pick it up. The merchandise and the bib pick up are outside in tents along the river. I expected there to be a line for the bib pick up since there are so many runners doing the half, surely there must be a lot from outside the UK as well. But there were only two people in line when I got there. Luckily the weather was good so the volunteers working in the tents didn’t get too cold or wet. In the evening I met up with a lovely group of people I know from Twitter who were also doing the race.
When I left my accommodation on Sunday morning it was only five degrees Celsius outside. It wasn’t that busy on the metro yet and it easily takes you to a station near the start. It’s about a 5 minute walk from the station to the road where all the baggage busses are lined up. A lot of busses, 38 to be exact. I was in one of the last starting waves so I had to walk all the way down the road to my baggage bus. But first I sat down on a wall to eat my pasta while enjoying the sunshine, then dropped off my bag in the bus and went to my starting pen. It was still a bit chilly but the sun was already out in full force.
So, apparently you have to make up your mind if you want to go over or under the bridge that’s at the beginning of the course. One side of the field goes over while the other half goes under. If you go over you might get to see the Red Arrows fly by, but there were no Red Arrows at all this year. And if you go under you apparently have to yell Oggy Oggy Oggy, Oi Oi Oi. No one could really tell me why, except “it’s a British thing”. I decided to go over the bridge and see if I would get any kind of view. Well, not really. And apparently everyone was up to date on the Oggy Oggy Oggy thing since there was a lot of yelling coming from underneath the bridge. After the bridge you pass underneath a few more roads where a big screen with some advertisement from the Great North Run even displayed the words Oggy Oggy Oggy. Yes, we get it now.
At around mile two you pass over the famous Tyne Bridge with lots of crowds on either side.
You cross the bridge make a left turn and you start heading towards the coast. Basically, what follows is ten miles of roughly the same view, you’re running over the highway to South Shields. The view changes in the last mile or so when you see the sea, make another left turn and run along the boulevard to the finish line.
And all of this you do in an enormous crowd of people. It takes about an hour for the entire crowd to cross the starting line and by the time the last person crosses that starting line the elite will have crossed the finish line in South Shields. I’m used to big races, but since I’m slow I normally end up at the back of the pack and do have some space to run. I was also told that the first few kilometers are crowded but that it gets better from around the 5k mark. That made sense to me, it takes a while for people to spread out. But in reality there was no spreading out, it even got more difficult to get through the crowd as more and more people started to walk.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind people walking during a race, I do it myself. But normally it’s a few people that you can get around and there is still some space for you to run. And if I’m the one walking, I stay to the side or even on the sidewalk if possible so I’m not in the way of anyone. But in this case, lots of people were walking and there was no space. There was no way of weaving your way through the crowd. I would only get ahead of about three rows of people before encountering so many more people walking that I had to slow down again myself.
It’s basically one long traffic jam from start to finish. Yes, people are in a good mood and for lots of them it might be their first and only half marathon and lots of people are running for charity. But I still don’t get what the big deal is. You don’t get to run you’re own pace and you get to see a car road. I guess the appeal for most people is that everyone else is doing it as well or they know someone who’s done it in the past.
I finished in my slowest half marathon time yet 02:58:21. It was also pretty warm and I had to make way for 10 (!) ambulances while out on the course. This was my 10th half marathon. And this time I wasn’t even back of the pack, there were 20,000 people who finished behind me in the results! It was definitely one of those races where I was glad I brought my Aftershokz with me.
You do get a nice medal in the end. And, one of my pet peeves, a unisex finisher shirt. If you have 57,000 runners there really isn’t an excuse for you to have a unisex finisher shirt and only have it in 3 sizes! Meaning I got another far too big for me race shirt that I’ll never actually wear, because I can fit into it twice.
Picked up my bag from the bus and then there are some busses that could take you back to Newcastle, but I couldn’t figure out which one I needed, so I decided to take the Metro since in that case I at least knew which stop I needed to get out. But this resulted in me walking about 20 minutes to the metro and then standing in line for the metro for an hour and then being stuffed into a metro.
Biggest half marathon in the world? Maybe, maybe not. Best half marathon in the world? Uhm, no. Would I do it again? Probably not.