The Great North Run 2023 Race Report by Russell Stevenson

Race Date: Sunday 10th September 2023
Race Report by: Russell Stevenson

Whenever my cynical side rears its head or maybe when I class myself as “old”, I’ll look back on The Great North Run of 2023 for a guaranteed good feeling. Belief in the “Human Spirit” can be challenging these days however as I write this race report, I’m still buzzing, with my belief of said spirit strengthened.

The opportunity of entry to the World’s Largest Half Marathon was presented to me by my children’s school who offered some charity fundraising entries, this would be my first GNR and my last ever event in the vet 40 category but alas not run in the Green & Gold colours as I donned the charity t-shirt presented to me by the school’s Assistant Head, yes Sir.

My best mate passed away suddenly in 2004, he was out training for the GNR at the time of his passing, perhaps he was giving me a steer to take part in this iconic event. I recognised the opportunity as I approached the half century mark in my own life, determined to just go out and enjoy this iconic event, enjoy running for its individuality yet at the same time spirit of togetherness and community. In life “everything happens for a reason” apparently, this saying did seem to ring true in terms of the events of the day.

I had hardly trained at all, what seemed like a constant stream of niggly injuries throughout 2023, struggling to form any consistency having been buzzing at the back end of 2022, I was therefore going to Newcastle to purely enjoy the GNR. Off on the train from Doncaster at 7am and not coming back until late afternoon, allowing myself enough time to enjoy the occasion with some light refreshments afterwards and opportunity to stuff my face post-race was basically the plan. The LNER train bombed up to Newcastle packed out with runners from York upwards, the atmosphere feeling good on a beautiful sunny morning.

A nice stroll up through Newcastle City Centre from the station, taking in the sights whilst amongst the crowds prior to the requirement to be in your colour coded starting pen well before the 11am start time. Before any other race, I can be a bit of an unsociable sod, sporting my “race face”, preferring to focus and draw concentration on the run ahead. Today was different however and I felt more relaxed. Chatting to John Burkill aka Pram Man prior to the start was a pleasure.

“Are you hoping for a time, kid?” John enquired,
“I’ll be happy with 1 hour 50 minutes today, John” I remarked,
“I’ll be happy to finish in time for t’News at Ten, kid” responded John.

The GNR starts on the Newcastle Central Motorway, the starting pens, fencing and advertising hoardings stretching back as far as the eye can see to accommodate 60000 runners. I passed the gantry where Gabby Logan was presenting for BBC Sport, as she chatted to Steve Cram the camera angle appeared favourable in my passing direction, however, I could not pick myself out on the telly box when watching the rerun on iPlayer, all that effort of waving like a loon in vain.

The heat was building already at 10.30am. I waited in anticipation of the off, jumping up in the crowd to look back at the sea of people built up behind, in amongst so many people on one occasion and the sight of so many was inspiring. Some nice messages for Sir Mo Farah prior to the start and it felt great to be in the same field and to be part of his final GNR. The starting hooter rang out and gradually runners moved forwards, how was I the one who managed to stand behind the guy who continued to remain stationary, looking at his mobile phone whilst the masses moved either side of him? We were off and running and I passed through the actually starting line 4/5 minutes after Sir Mo, who was probably fast approaching mile 1, it felt great to be moving.

The magnitude of this event now fully apparent, the supporting crowds in their thousands within Newcastle City Centre, hanging over bridges and at the side of the roads, cheering your every stride, the atmosphere was electric. Approaching mile 2 brings the iconic Tyne Bridge into view ahead, an amazing sight with a sea of runners approaching it in my view ahead, a clear blue sky above, an etched mental image I shall never forget.

The supporting crowds on the day made you feel special, as if they had come out just to cheer you on as an individual, they enthusiastically shouted your name like they’d know you for years. The Red Arrows streaked by around mile 3 to the right having passed over the Tyne Bridge.

Water, ice pops, jelly babies, oranges, haribo, slush puppies and beer were all on the menu throughout the route, I had to tell myself to stop consuming around mile 5 so as not to regret it later in the race. There were numerous garden type hoses slushing out cold water and overhead water mist showers along the route, much needed in the first half heat of the race, with several casualties of the heat being attended to by medical staff along the route.

The supportive crowds remained constant throughout the course but the middle section of the GNR as you exit Gateshead is quieter in comparison to the start and end of the course. Periodically a band or a singer would give you a lift as did the numerous charity buses and set ups situated on the route. As the miles notched up, you could feel the noise of the crowds again in the later part of the course. It is very apparent how much the people of the North-East personally feel about this event on their turf, like they want you to return year after year, tents on the side of the road, paste tables set out with food and drink for friends to enjoy and the community to come together, you can tell they hold it close to their hearts.

Into the outskirts of South Shields and the support was out in force once again, willing you on up a few climbs. I recall passing a Public House on a roundabout that had the iconic Federation Brewery blue star on the middle of the building frontage, the crowds packing the sides of the road. Runners now descending towards the finish and as the sea came into view on the horizon, I felt the temperature drop and a pleasant breeze was welcome. I made a point of showing my own appreciation, clapping the supporting crowds which seemed to be appreciated in return. The final mile holds a deceptive twist as you turn left at mile 12, a long straight push to the end with the crowds now amassed at the roadside and on the grass banking.

I crossed the finish line with a chip time of 1 hour 51 minutes 9 seconds, pleased considering the lack of training opportunity in previous months.

Now you would have thought I’d bring things to a close at this point, but the fun and games continued in a very different sense.

After collecting my medal and t-shirt whilst scoffing post-race goody bag treats, I hung around for a post-race £6.50 pint, chatting to Striders Kate and Malcom, with the Red Arrows making another appearance overhead. A well organised baggage reclaim and quick clothing change, the belly called out in the hunt for food. I wondered towards the sea front on South Shields (the beach looks very nice), still within the jovial post-race atmosphere arriving upon a fish and chip shop.

Stomach satisfied now time to get back to Newcastle for some downtime and a couple of pints prior to the train home at 6.30pm, a walk into South Shields and catch the Tyne and Wear Metro the plan, time 2.30pm ish. At this point the sky went dark as though someone had dimmed the lights, there was a storm brewing. Now in the Town Centre and just ahead in the distance a blanket of torrential rain swept forth down the road and continued literally bucketing it down for an hour or more. South Shields basically flooded out in several areas, closing the Tyne and Wear Metro, preventing the local bus services from operating and submerging vehicles in places under several feet of water, roads were gridlocked.

There were hundreds if not thousands of people stranded in South Shields with no transport options back to wherever they had left their vehicle nearer the start or where they lived. The queues for The Tyne Ferry were almost a mile long apparently just to get to the other side of the river. For 5 minutes I stood and pondered the situation without actually knowing what to do, feeling sorry for the adults with young kids who’d obviously met them at the finish line and were now stuck. I set off walking, on tired legs and wet through in the rough direction of Newcastle.

The folk of South Shields sure did their bit, coming out of their homes offering advice and directions. In this very difficult situation, you might think to see a minority of folks getting a bit agitated with the numerous Metro staff, bus crews, Police, with each other or anyone else for that matter but I witnessed none of that myself, ahh, the runner’s mentality and willingness to overcome I thought.

After walking about 3 miles I wondered what I’d got to lose by attempting to thumb a lift, the roads were starting to clear in parts and there was the odd passing vehicle. Within a minute of commencing my first attempt at hitch hiking a family stopped and asked if they could help, willingly agreeing to give me a lift to Newcastle train station. So, Anthony, Katie and William (from Gosforth), who’d also run the GNR, thank you sincerely, you got me out of a big pickle. The chat in the car was most welcome from these lovely people, sorry I must have started to smell quite fresh by this point post-race.

All in all, what a day! This is not much of a report on the race I know but more an opportunity to share my experiences of the day and some of the people I met and to express my thanks to the locals who were immense. I really enjoyed the GNR and would say it’s probably the best all round event I have taken part in for all the positive reasons in this report.

I raised £130.00 for Bethlehem Care and Hospice Trust who are a charity providing palliative care services.

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