Yes, I said it. I don’t think the Great North Run is ‘the worlds favourite half marathon’.
I just don’t know by what metric it can be considered even close?
We traveled up from Leeds, where we stayed with family, on the morning of the race and parked at the recommended Metro Station as listed in the official booklet – Heworth. It’s about halfway between the start and finish so should have been easy access to both. No problem parking, but lots of problems getting on the metro!
We queued for the ticket machine which isn’t a problem in itself, but just as we were getting our tickets, they closed access to the platform. It remained closed with no explanation as to why, and the station was getting more and more filled with anxious runners worried about getting to the start on time. After an hours wait, we eventually were allowed on. Turns out the trains coming from South Shields were unsurprisingly full. More, frequent trains needed and much better communication required.
When we got to Haymarket station, we followed the swarm of runners beelining to the start. The baggage buses closed at 10.05 apparenty – No problem I thought. Jodie needed the loo so I said my farewell and wished her luck as I took her bag to the baggage bus. Just as I got there I heard an announcement… ‘The baggage buses will close in 5 minutes’. No worries – I was just about in time.
Unfortunately the police on their horses had different ideas and I was told in no uncertain terms that the buses were CLOSED. I got a bit angry… The Metro being rubbish and the announcement telling us contrary information made for an unhappy Matty! I got the bag on the ‘late baggage truck’ (even though we weren’t late) but this meant that at the end we had to wait for 25 minutes for them to unload it!
Anyway, Jodie was at the start safely – or so I thought. Despite her being there on time, they closed the start pens early and she was told to go to the very back – despite there being plenty of room! People were climbing and ducking the fence, doing anything they could to get in. Surely that is more unsafe than keeping the pens open longer and letting people in the right way? Anyway, Jodie saw an opportunity to hop in the Orange start (she was in the White wave) and took it. And off they went.
I should mention here that I wasn’t actually a participant in the race. I was there to support Jodie and get my own long run in – I figured the best way to do this was to run to the end! There was a perfectly good course laid out after all. Just to clarify, I did not set a single foot on the course except to cross the road. I ran on the footpaths and pavements next to the course, as if I were any other supporter – I just happened to be running. I did not take any water, supplies or use any facility other than a toilet, which are fair game for supporters anyway. So I got a good, different view of the race.
I started at about the same time as the female elites, and was able to give Gemma Steel a quick cheer. Then I potted along the course at my long run pace. I tracked and supported some of the blind/guided runners – one of the guides thinking I was James Cracknell – until I heard the chopper coming, so I pulled over and watched Mo and company run past.
He made it look so effortless, tucked in among the Africans. And I even made it on the telly!
I continued on my merry way as the faster runners came along and eventually, a steady stream were just flowing past.
The positive side of the Great North Run is that the support is FANTASTIC. But course wise, it’s not a lot to write home about. The Tyne bridge is good, and Jodie was lucky enough to be on it when the red arrows did their fly past (we think this is her below on the telly). But there is nothing else to get excited about other than the finish.
The goody bag, for the price, was disappointing. A bag of crisps, non technical tee, craisins and some waterproofing and that was about it. For such an expensive race you expected more. The medal was similar to all the other Great Run medals.
After the race, the Metro is about 2 miles walk away it seemed. By the time we got to it we found the queue. Apparently it was a MILE long. And I’m not even using that term figuratively. We weren’t up for the wait and I’d have paid a taxi driver ANYTHING to get bag to the car – so we went to find one. it was only by sheer luck that we stumbled across a bus that happened to be stopping at our station. Sure, it took a while to get through the traffic, but rather sat on a bus than stood in a queue for hours to get on a cramped Metro.
Getting out from Heworth station was a straight forward affair, and we even got a glimpse of the Angel of the North. We got on the motorway and started the long journey home.
I just don’t think the infrastructure is there to take my pain points away from the event, and people keep going back regardless of the problems. But in my view many smaller events like Bristol (if 10,000+ people is “small”) has good support and relatively few problems. The course isn’t much there either but the organisation is superb. Cardiff is another excellent example of a smaller event, but the curse at Cardiff has a lot to see too. The Great South Run, same company, is an EXCELLENTLY organised race. So it doesn’t really make sense to me.
I don’t know, perhaps our woes aren’t a fair assessment of the event. It must be hard organising something of this magnitude. There are plenty of other brilliant events to try without the chaos and long travel.
We agreed we are glad we experienced it – but we shan’t be going up again. Jodie has the medal, but I won’t miss not having it. We’ll let a couple of others have a chance in the ballot.