The Great North Blog 



Well take that bucket list and cross another thing off. A hot, hilly and simply awesome half marathon, the Great North Run. All the excitement of the worlds biggest road race, the buzz of all the TV coverage and celebrity runners, it’s just like London but without the distance. Then of course there’s Mo…..that’s twice I’ve been in the same staring line up as the worlds greatest. At least 20000 people behind him of course, but nevertheless still in the same starting line up.

I proudly took on the challenge alone ( I know I was with 56,999 other runners….but I undertook it as a solo adventure). Over 8 years, my family are a little jaded by the whole running thing and being a spectator for the London marathon last year clearly scarred them for life, I agreed they were better at home. As I headed off the day before though, I realised I really wanted them to come. Still, I’m never deterred from a mission. A Nirvana (official coach transfer) at God awful o’clock from Middlesbrough Travelodge, 6.45am to be precise was a breeze straight to the starting area. Hats off to the Travelodge who put on an early runners breakfast and put out water, fruit, cereal bars and plasters for our onward journey. 

The starting area itself was rather a surprise. I was thinking a park, marquees, coffee stalls, merchandise. I wasn’t expecting double decker buses parked along a residential street. Dropped off nice and early, I had over 2 hours to kill. The advantage to an early drop off? acres of portaloos with not a soul waiting. I was having a wee whatever ! 

And then what to do?…… Well basically sit on someone’s garden wall in the morning sunshine and people watch as the street began to fill. Time flew, people chatted, I know lots of purple ladies from my club were running but I gave up finding anyone having seen so many purple charity vests. Animal mad Hollie was running for WWF with a 3ft panda strapped to her back and I never spotted that. 

I kept my stuff with me til much later as dropping it off on the baggage buses was so easy. Then I though I’d head for the starting pens for a change of scenery. Amusingly located on a closed off section of the A1(M) I found my colour zone and sat on the Tarmac chatting to a fellow ‘sitter’and watching the big screens showing the TV coverage and therefore the arrival and departure of Mo. I enthusiastically embraced the warm up and excitedly shuffled over the start line  a mere 12 minutes after the elites. 6lbs of all inclusive holiday excess bouncing along with me compensated for by a tan, I couldn’t have felt happier.

Buzzing with excitement, basking in the sunshine it’s only a mile and a half to the Tyne bridge and preceding underpass for the obligatory and deafening ‘oggie, oggie, oggie’ . I found space on the Tyne bridge enough to raise my arms and flap my bingo wings at the official photographer and onwards I raced still blissfully happy. I was ahead of the Red Arrows display on the bridge, now that’s pace! By about mile 4 I realised I may have forgotten to cut my toe nails properly after my holiday. There was an episode of the ‘House of the flying daggers’ going on in my trainers…….I put it to the back of my mind.

The sun started getting a bit hot and I grabbed a water ahead of halfway which was my only planned drink stop. Kids grabbed all those bottles barely emptied and delighted in squirting them back on passing runners, so with official shower points and a few folk with garden hoses a cool down soaking was readily available. Respect to the many runners in fancy dress apart from the guy in just leopard print pants, who was clearly dressed for the conditions.

The crowd had orange slices ( like half time at a school match), icy pops, jelly babies and beer not that I was taking anything. There were lots of eye catching home made signs. My favourite sign …..

“If Trump can run, so can you!” 

It’s an ‘undulating’ route and once out of Newcastle, it’s neither beautiful nor iconic but the crowds make it very special. The last hill is almost 2 miles of steady climb between miles 10 and 12 and was a serious struggle in the heat, I slowed down despite the best endeavours of Elvis singing on the roadside. Let’s face it, it looks flat on the telly, how the hell do Mo and the elites keep that blistering pace on such inclines? My ‘perk up’ came when I spied ‘crazy Kelly’ from my Notts Womwn Runners purple ladies hiding in a pack of runners on the other side of the road. I weaved over to hi five and finally see a friendly face which at such a hard point in the race was amazing. It got us both to the top of that bloody hill and gave us the first view of the seafront which is followed by a hurtle down a sharp hill to the final straight that you recognise from the telly. 

Crazy Kelly, my 12 mile race boost.

Crazy Kelly, my 12 mile race boost.


I read a race review the night before warning that there’s still a mile to go once you spot the sea so I tempered the pace and enjoyed the amazing crowd support at this point. In my pre race head I wanted to be as close to 2 hours as possible and not more than 2.11 which was my first ever half marathon time. Based on my lack lustre training and despite the slow down on that last bloody hill I realised I could actually still sub 2 with a final push. I was waiting to see those fir trees in white plant pots guarded by the military that I see every year on TV. I know they’re the true sign you’re nearly done. Could I be a ‘purple blur’ passed them ?

There’s always something in the tank for the finish and I was over the line with a storm trooper in 1.58.42, really happy with that and really emotional. The finish and baggage collection was a finely tuned military operation and I was medal collected, goody bag in hand and standing with Kelly just in time for the Red Arrows display over the sea……what an end to a brilliant experience. Checking my phone I realised I’d had a moment of fame on TV spotted by a fellow club member from their sofa…..shame my mum and dad didn’t spot it. 

Seconds of fame, look I'm on the telly box!

Seconds of fame, look I’m on the telly box!


The coach back to Middlesbrough was slow in chocca block traffic but a good rest for my legs. Thank god no one sat next to me which meant I could adopt 101 different seating positions ( not all of them ladylike) to avoid cramp. Plus after such exertions in the heat, I smelled like a dead badger and didn’t want to inflict that on anyone! The young lady across the aisle had the right idea. She whipped off her trainers and popped on her flip flops, dug out a small bottle of prosecco and a plastic champagne glass to enjoy her own little celebration.  I bravely drove home from Middlesbrough, a busy 2 1/2 hour chug that I couldn’t wait to be over allowing me to finally remove my running shoes and socks to see what level of toe carnage was beneath. Let’s just say it’s been a week of many plasters! 

I think I’d do it again but I missed running buddies or supporters, it felt a slightly lonely affair when you can’t share your excitement. Can I be honest and dare I say it but the medal is a bit shit, rather uninspiring in design compared to some fabulous medals I’ve had from lesser events. Same goes for the goodie bag but it’s atmosphere would be hard to beat. Thank you for all that north east hospitality, it’s a race I won’t forget.


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2 thoughts on “The Great North Blog 

  1. Bettina Benski says:

    Lovely blog Justine! I felt like I’d been with you all the way! Just to let you know I was watching the race from the gym & I saw you when they got that shot of you at which point I was telling those around me ‘Oh that’s my sister-in-law running!’ So very proud of you & your achievement! Long may you run! Xxx

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