Race Date: Sunday 11th September 2022
Race Report by Andrew Pembroke
The Great North Run is an iconic race, the biggest half-marathon in the country, with 60,000 runners setting off from Newcastle towards the coast at South Shields. However, it tends to divide opinion, and it seems that as much as some love the race, others dislike it, often for the same reasons.
To the critic, it is an expensive, overly-busy run along featureless dual carriageway, all while weaving amongst the crowds (it does get busy), and passing (and being passed by) a variety of superheroes, unicorns, butterflies, more superheroes, elephants and so-called celebrities. “Too expensive, too busy, no scenery!” you hear them complain.
However, I must admit that I am an ardent fan. My wife is from the North-East, and we regularly visit family and friends in Newcastle, so it’s a race I was aware of before I started running and was the first half-marathon I entered way back in 2011. I have now completed it 6 times and will doubtless be back for more next year.
The gripes of others are the things I love the most, and remind me why I love running, and entering races. To some, being dropped at mile 3 by someone dressed as Spiderman may be galling, and dodging around charity fundraisers walking within a mile of the start may be an inconvenience (and certainly a challenge to achieving a PB), but to me, they make the race what it is, and give me the inspiration to push myself. So many of the runners are raising money for charities, often in memory of family or friends, and I can’t help but be buoyed up by the stories and photos pinned to people’s backs. To lots of people in the north-east it has become more than just a race – it’s a pilgrimage, a rite of passage and an act of commemoration. I’ve not seen anything quite like it at any other event.
The thing I love the most has to be the support – for most of the course, local residents are out on the road, offering support, shouting out the names of strangers and handing out anything they think might get runners to the end – beer, ice pops, bits of sausage rolls, yoghurts, and slices of orange held up on plates. As you go through residential areas, the streets are lined with people, and in places it feels like running through a street carnival. One of my favourite memories from a few years back was of a man stood on a bus shelter, spraying runners with a hosepipe trailing from his garden. You can only hope he wasn’t on a water meter.
So onto the day itself. I (as ever) missed the Striders pre-race photo but bumped into a few people before the start. Then into the pens, although the new start village layout meant I missed the inappropriate warm up was complete, although I did see the elites get on their way.
I’ve had a rubbish couple of years running (since late 2019), so was tempted to defer to next year, until a successful run in August convinced me to just get it done this year. My previous times (more on that later) had given me a really good start pen, but as I knew I would be much slower, I joined towards the back of the field to avoid being a road-block for others. I crossed the start line nearly an hour after the elites.
Through the underpasses and tunnels of the Central Motorway, then over the Tyne Bridge towards Gateshead. Sadly no Red Arrows again this year, but still a great atmosphere, and I personally love all the music along the route. The crowds were as enthusiastic as ever, and my pace this time meant that I could take more of it in, at least for the first half. It would be fair to say it was somewhat hotter and sunnier than forecast, which didn’t make the day any easier, and resulted in awful vest sunburn on my part.
Its fair to say that I always get greedy on the start line, and go off at a pace I’ve no chance of maintaining, then drag myself to the line, hanging on by my fingertips. Given my fitness, I knew I wouldn’t get away with that this time, so needed a strategy and to actually stick to it. I’d done a couple of tests over the past weeks, and found a pace that I thought would keep my breathing steady, and the legs less unhappy than they otherwise might be. It was more of a Marathon-paced effort than a HM pace. It would also have given me a finish time similar to my first Half Marathon.
Over the course of the race, I realised that I needed to knock the pace off a bit more. There are no real hills on the GNR, just a series of moderate rises, but even these were taking it out of me. I couldn’t have been more pleased to drop down the hill towards the coast just before the 12-mile marker. As ever, the last mile along the seafront is the longest mile that has ever been run by anyone, ever, but I dragged myself along it to finish in 2:20:31. Despite being my slowest ever HM, I felt (and still feel) every bit as proud of this one as the others, and I think (and hope) that it has rekindled a love of running that has been sadly lacking in recent years.
A bit of history – I first ran the GNR in 2011 (02:14:35), again in 2014 (02:00:35) and then again in 2017 (01:46:15). Whilst incredibly proud of each of these times (although also frustrated with 2014 for the obvious reasons), the most striking thing is that every 3 years, I’d knocked around 14 minutes off my previous time. It therefore stood to reason that after another 3 years I’d knock another 14 minutes off – so 2020 was to be a superb time of 01:32:35!
As we’re all aware, the race didn’t go ahead in 2020, and so the prophecy couldn’t be fulfilled. Either the disruption brought about by the pandemic broke the otherwise inevitable outcome that the prophecy had foretold, or incremental improvements in results can only be achieved with the hard work and dedication that I have frankly been lacking over the past 3 years. Sadly, we’ll never know which it was. In any case, 01:18:35 seems out of reach for 2023!
60,000 runners lined up for the Great North Run. The elite race was won by Hellen Obiri of Kenya in 1:07:05, and Jacob Kiplimo of Uganda in 59:32.
23 Striders completed the GNR. Stephen Schubeler was first male Strider in 1:18:09, with Kate Scott first female Strider in 01:48:44.
Full results can be searched on the greatrun.org website.