by George Nicholson
22 September 2017
The Great North Run (GNR) is the world’s largest Half Marathon with roughly 40 000 - 50 000 runners lining up each September in North East England to run between Newcastle and South Shields. It attracts from the world’s best runners to the so-called back-of-the-pack guys and girls. What many people don’t know is that there is an elite group of runners who have run in each and every single GNR since the event started in 1981. We caught up with George Nicholson from Durham in the UK who shares with us his special experience of running each and every Great North Run for the last 37 years.
How it all started
Just over a week ago I finished the 37th Great North Run - probably the most famous Half Marathon in the world and certainly the largest according to the Guinness Book of Records. The first time this race was staged was on June 28th, 1981. I was lucky enough to gain an entry that first year, and it has been my ‘highlight race’ every year since then.
A total of 4 women and 89 men share this same ‘claim to fame’ and we have our own race category called ‘The All Great North Club’ also known as the ‘Ever Presents’. Each year, a day before the race, many of us meet up at the Gateshead City Games and swap stories of our various ailments and/or injuries etc. We then continue to provide each other with reasons why our respective times will not be quite as fast as the previous year. Any talk of a ‘PB’ is considered delusional!
Race day 2017
On the morning of September 10th I was amongst 43 000 other runners making our way to the Central Motorway in Newcastle, and assembling in our respective start zones. It is quite an amazing site seeing the mass of runners stretching back over a half mile along both sides of a dual carriageway. Putting it into perspective: it takes about 40 minutes for everybody to cross the start line from the time the gun goes off.
Being ‘Ever Presents’ we have the privilege of starting in the front zone alongside celebrities, TV- personalities and top elite runners such as Mo Farrah. It is a great thrill to be so close to the likes of Mo at the start of a race, however that ‘closeness’ ends the second the gun goes off. We begin our slow run, the elites begin what appears to be a ‘13 mile sprint’.
Even for us humble beings though it is quite a fast 1.5 mile downhill stampede to the iconic Tyne Bridge where thousands of supporters line the route cheering and clapping us on, many with comments such as “you’re nearly there”! It is probably the most memorable part of the race, especially if it coincides with the majestic fly-past overhead of the Red Arrows, one of the World’s premier aerobatic display teams.
Article Keywordsgreat north run
From there it is ‘grit your teeth time’ for the remaining 11 miles to the seafront at South Shields. However the distance never seems as bad because there are so many other things to distract your mind. There are the music bands of varying type every mile (as well as a lookalike Elvis at mile 11), dozens of cheering points, several thousand supporters lining the route cheering, the handing out jelly babies, drinks, as well as money to the hundreds of charity runners carrying collecting buckets. There is also the camaraderie to be enjoyed amongst the other runners, encouragement given to each other, all sharing a feeling of the same ‘pain’. After crossing the finish line it’s time to join the queues, collect your medal, T-shirt and goodie bag.
I enjoy going back to the finish again and watching many more tired ‘bodies’ cross that line. The smiles and tears exemplify what an emotional journey it is for many of them as they successfully complete their challenge. Thousands are taking part for deep personal reasons. Many are raising funds for a charity of their choice, or are in the process of overcoming a personal adversity of their own. The GNR does get a lot of criticism by some ‘purists’ of the sport. However, for me the many plus points such as the wonderful carnival atmosphere, 43 000 runners, more than 100 000 supporters and over £28 million raised for respective charities, definitely cancels out any perceived minus points.
The charity of my choice for the last 10 years has been ACORNS CHILDREN’S HOSPICE. It is a wonderful charity and is one that is very close to my heart, so I see it as a great privilege that I am able to run this great race to support them, and I hope to do so for many years to come.
Run24 salutes George! Living in a country such as South Africa, where long distance running is on the forefront, we all know how hard it is to run a race even 10 times consecutively.
Running 37 Great North Runs is a true example of longevity, sheer grit, determination and a genuine passion for the sport of running. And although George has had some tough times being sick in between runs, he has always managed to pull it together out of his sheer passion for running, and his stead vast belief in making a difference in the lives of others.
George, we look forward to seeing you complete many more!
Share this article on facebook?
Tweet about this article?