GNR 06: How Was It For You?

Great atmosphere, shame about the crowded pens - here's how you rated the Great North Run


Posted: 2 October 2006
by Jane Hoskyn

At the time of writing, your event rating for Sunday's Great North Run gives the world's biggest half marathon an overall score of 77 per cent. Not bad, but a long way off the 96 per cent scored by the same day's Anglesey Marathon, and also dwarfed by the 88 per cent scored by last year's Great South Run.

But there's more to that 77 per cent than meets the eye. On atmosphere alone, the GNR scores very well indeed – it's just the hustle and bustle of this enormous event that lets its overall rating down. So crowded was that 50,000-strong field that you gave it just 51 per cent for PB potential.

That's the paradox of any big, famous race. The sheer weight of numbers makes it nigh-on impossible to sprint round the course unless you start at the very front, but it makes for a fantastic day out, with sterling crowd support – not to mention the chance to get your face on the telly.

Cockney Red sums it up in a small but perfectly formed review: "The GNR is a day out for all runners. Forget your time and just run and enjoy the whole event." And from tramps_like_us: "The crowds, the bands, the Red Arrows and the buzz you receive from so many cheering kids makes this unlike any other race."

Denz, on his ninth successive GNR, fills in the details. "Great atmosphere as always, with top crowd support. Despite what appeared to be very mixed abilities in each pen, there didn’t seem to be as much slowing down on the course as in previous years due to congestion (I may be wrong), so I think the new system worked in that sense. But will the organisers please, please, please have a sub 1:30/1:40 category just after the elite runners for people who can prove their ability with a previous qualifying time and satisfy the more able club runners who want to race the course."

'Event' or 'run'?

Most of your criticisms of overcrowding are tempered by forgiving nods to the event's strengths as a fundraising megalith with a great atmosphere. Many agreed with Richard Waterfield's comment: "This race I believe is all about charity and a great day out. So you should expect slow runners/walkers and people in your way"

But Old but slow isn't in the mood for mince his words, and highlights the main reason for GNR's reasonable-but-not-great overall score. "I stood in the pen for nearly two hours before the gun. But when the gun went there were already a couple of thousand people in front of me, as the marshals had been letting pretty much anyone into the yellow and white pen in front. This meant a really slow first couple of miles. Add to this the lack of pre- and post-race signposting, the shambles of serve-yourself double decker buses for bags and lack of anywhere to change, not to mention the total gridlock, and I felt that after 26 years it would be a lot better organised."

Monkey Runner is even more candid. "The start was a disgrace and needs sorted out, perhaps as per FLM with two or three start areas and the race merging at some later point. Runner safety is not only an issue at the start but the whole way round. The GNR team need to make their mind up if this is an 'event' or a 'run'. Runner safety is being compromised greatly by the numbers they allow to enter."

An unforgettable day

But it's not all bad. Monkey Runner admits that "it is still a great day. The people of Tyneside come out to support it year and after year and make the GNR what it is – a great day out!"

And that, it seems, is what brings tens of thousands of runners – beginners, elites, veterans, fundraisers and the rest of us – flocking to enter every year. First-timers seem particularly impressed, possibly because they don't come burdened with a PB to beat. "This was my first half marathon, and what an experience," says Roundhay Rabbit. "The route is lined with supporters, music and wonderful good will. Although the route is motorway and pretty boring, the atmosphere and support carries you along and it goes so quickly. Would definitely do it again." On the forum, JBass offers a story that seems to sum up the GNR: "It's not really a 'race'... a lot of it is about sheer determination. we all sailed past an old girl at the start who was struggling to shuffle along, and realised it would take more effort and guts for her to just finish than I could ever have!"

Here are a few more comments from the event ratings and forum that made us smile. If you haven't had your say yet, get in there!

  • "I got overtaken by Spongebob Squarepants, which amused me greatly. I was slower than someone sweating inside six square feet of cumbersome foam rubber!" (Helen Belgian)
  • "Trying to use Nell McAndrew as a pacemaker for six miles wasn't the brightest idea I've ever had. Even while pregnant she was still way too fast. Where is Gordan Ramsay when you need him?" (Canniggia33)
  • "One bod managed to scale the fence [of the pens], to which we all gave him dirty looks. Another tried it and got shouted down at by one particularly vociforous geordie (good on yer lad). No-one else tried it!" (99%Chimp)
  • "Got cheesed off with scallywags jumping on half empty water bottles..." (Lucy Spink)
  • "The beer station is such a good idea, although the last thing I wanted just then was beer. Also the guy who stands on the bus shelter spraying everyone with a hose pipe – to me they are just as much a part of 'my' GNR weekend as the Red Arrows!" (Mandie R)
  • "Carol Voderman at Kings Cross and a journey home sitting opposite Alistair Campbell..." (barnaby r)
  • "Unfortunately missed the person handing out Jaffa Cakes, which would have hit the spot, I think." (Shielsy)
  • "Never been to such a well-supported event. Orange pieces, biscuits, unofficial water stops, hoses and soooooooooo many high fives." (mark jacobs)


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Discuss this article

To all the GNR 2005 forunites. The chat can continue here!
Posted: 22/09/2005 at 21:23

Oh & the forumites are welcome too!
Posted: 22/09/2005 at 21:25

As I said in a previous post, it's time to start the race in Exhibition Park/Town Moor (the two are in the same area adjacent to the current start).
Posted: 22/09/2005 at 23:19

Why is that then John? What's wrong with the current start & whats better about tour idea?
Posted: 22/09/2005 at 23:39

Or even your idea!
Posted: 22/09/2005 at 23:40

There's barely enough space now for all the runners in the 3/4 mile section of motorway that's used for the start. It was OK to use this area in the early days when it was only around 12,000 people, but now it's out of control.

By moving the start it will be possible to organise people into numbered blocks, which would be linked to their predicted times. It's an utter disgrace that there were people who were intending to walk from the beginning going to the front.

I've have a huge rant about this on another thread!
Posted: 23/09/2005 at 07:50

I agree with JA - the start cannot cope and hasn't for years - I've done the last 6 GNR's.

They should maybe look at staggered starts like they did for the GSR last year and this year.

10 minute intervals between starts - give everyone a coloured number according to predicted time.

Now I appreciate that this will need much more organisation and thought into the start line layout and setup (baggage buses, water, organising people etc etc etc), but the running experience would be so much better.
Posted: 23/09/2005 at 08:27

There's a valid point here.

I also think they should lower the 17 minute mile cut off. I know people who came in well over 3.5 hours!

The issue is that the fundraising/publicity/charity aspect has become bigger than the "race". having said that, it's what got me into it and back into running, so it can't all be bad. I've also got two guys at work into getting themselves fit. One of them stopped the weed, and ran 1.47! The other has lost 10 pounds in weight during training and says he feels better than he has done for years. However, there are those who treat it as a stroll, and as we've seen, it is demanding.

it's interesting that the provisional date is 1st October.

Staggered starts, especially given the chip times now used (4 hrs after i finished it was online), has to be the way forwards imo.
Posted: 23/09/2005 at 09:19

I totally agree - chip timing should encourage people to start with runners/walkers of the same pace. I didn't want to start near the front as I would have gone off too fast.

I have sympathy for runners who pick up injuries early on or go off too quick and are forced to walk the majority of the race but I got so annoyed this year by the "ramblers" who I went past during the first couple of miles side-by-side blocking half the road who started with no intention of running.

Fund-Runners (as Crammy and Brendan hate to call them Fun-Runners) play a big part of making the event the spectacle that it is - but they should take others into consideration.

I've done 9 halfs (7 GNRs & 2 at Silverstone) but have just entered my first local one in 2 weeks to see how it compares. My only worry is that while 1hr 50mins will place you quite high in big events like the GNR, I'll be nearer the back behind all the local club runners.

Oh well - wish me luck!
Posted: 23/09/2005 at 09:45

Mikey

I only run to keep fit for other stuff, and because I used to run to a county standard in my teens I can still do OK without too much training (such a long time ago!) but the GNRs have reminded me how much I used to enjoy it.

It's an interesting point that you make about local runs putting you at the back, I'll find that out for myself in Worksop hopefully at the end of October.

Unless I make a drastic change in my lifestyle/training patterns, I'm not going to drop much below my weight/build which probably compares to the average rugby league centre/loose forward! Every time I go out and run, I have to remind myself that I'm not the lithe 10 stone 18 yr old anymore, but I can run steady 8 minute miles for a couple of hours. So what if I get left behind by the club guys, it is about enjoying it and accepting the challenge. Going back to running for me has improved my stamina no end, has probably made me better at work and has made the wife appreciate me more!

As for the club runners, there are plenty talking on other threads about being happy to break 2 hours, so i should be well in front of them!
Posted: 23/09/2005 at 09:55

Mikey, You won't be near the back of many local halves with 1hr 50 mins. There are many 'club' runners who run slower than that, they just enjoy running. There are plenty of smaller races which, whilst having a different atmosphere to the larger races, can be just as rewarding. You may also be able to increase your pb as you will get a better start. Treat the GNR as a novelty event and use the local events to build up your experience. Best of luck.
Posted: 23/09/2005 at 09:58


san
all this talk of walkers starting too far forward, i know some slow people will have started too far forward, but a lot of it is due to one side of the road starting much faster than the other side. i started right at the VERY back, and crossed the start line well before the 9 and 10 min mile people on the other side of the road. not everyone who APPERAED to start too far forward was being inconsiderate.
Posted: 23/09/2005 at 10:07

Very true san - the right side went off at least 5mins befoer the left had even moved. We were at the 11min mile marker on the left and the last markers on the right had long gone, therefore the faster runners on the right were bound to come across those who were walking early on.
I did find it strange how many people set out to walk most of the way - ok so i had to walk a little, mainly down to cramp, but here were plenty walking before and while we were crossing the bridge - thats less than 2miles in! - surely if you are going to enter the GNR you would or at least should be expected to run most of the way if not all.
i don't know what the solution is, the walkers do slow the runners down, but in a large event like this has become i can't see what they can do about it without
a) the faster runners accepting they won't break many records or pb's or
b) changing it into a totally different event than it is now and perhaps spoiling some of the fantastic atmoshphere it creates!
personally i'd have a) anyday!!
Posted: 23/09/2005 at 10:47

I'm hoping to try for a place through the ballot for next year. Now, time to go find the previous thread & see how everyone did.
Posted: 23/09/2005 at 10:51

I agree with Dead Slow - if you want a PB, do another half marathon. The Great North Run was what made me start running in April. If someone had told me it was full of fast runners wanting to do PBs, then I never would have entered as I would have been too scared. The GNR has meant a postive lifetyle change for so many people, me included, and was probably many people's first race. I did find it strange that some people walked just a couple of minutes being over the start line - but this is due to inexperience, and probably the fact that it was quite hot.

Give us newbies a break. We're doing our best to get fitter. Like San said the right side went off much quicker than the left, which probably caused a lot of the problems anyway....that and the heat.
Posted: 23/09/2005 at 11:03

There can be no excuse for people walking within the first few minutes of a race, no matter how hot it was. Heat would only become a factor much later in the race. The truth is that some people had no intention of running the race and therefore should have started at the back of the field and been instucted to keep to the side of the road to allow people who wanted to run to pass. This happens every year at this event and is nearly always the most contentious issue in these forums. Unfortunately the people who walk this event do not read these comments as the web site is RUNNER'S World.
Posted: 23/09/2005 at 14:47

well i might as well just hang up my running shoes now and go for a walk instead then eh?! i run at 11min mile pace and i am extremely proud of myself for being able to. ok yeah i would love to be speedy gonsales and get round a half marathon in under 2hrs - BUT I CAN'T!! i can however run at my own pace and finish in what i consider a respectable 2hr52min - ok so i am slow but who cares! i certainly would not be better off walking, and to be honest i don't know many people who can walk at 11 min mile pace!
ok so some people walk, yeah ok, they get in the way, but stop taking it so seriously, what if we are fun runners? at keast i am running and maybe if i get the chance i will be faster, but unless there are events like the GNR to cater for slower people like me i won't.
the GNR is a fantastic event and that is why it attracts the numbers it does, i don't want it to become a race that only 'fast' people can participate in, i think it should continue to encourage people of all speeds to take part in and enjoy themselves - after all that's what running is all about - not times and speed!!
Let us slower ones enjoy ourselves while running at whatever pace we can and find a faster course do do your pb's and run like the wind on!!
sorry rant over!
DS

Posted: 23/09/2005 at 14:59

Well it seems like everyone is having a jolly good time over here without me!!!

You have all got your knickers in a twist...Ha! You guys need to chill. The GNR is never going to be the race you want it to be, the slow runners are happy to absorb the atmosphere and get lost in the crowds, the fast ones are always going to moan about the slow ones and walkers......

I got to the start line quite late on and quite frankly, couldnt be bothered to walk 1 mile down the dual carriageway only to run back again. So i sat on a grass verge and watch everyone go. When my 10min marker came up i joined in. I started on the right hand side and ran into walkers almost immediately. These people are never going to start where they should, the sheer volume of runners, walkers and people shaking buckets cannot be controlled!

The sooner we accept the GNR for what it is and stop moaning about it the better.....it has got me running this year, i am running another half marathon in 3 weeks and a couple of 10k's in winter and training for my first marathon next spring. The more i run the faster i will get. But when i go back to the GNR next year i won't be grumpy at anyone who gets in my way - for all you know they could be riddled with cancer, have brain tumours or even blind. The fact that they are out there doing it is all that matters. All you can hope for is that next year the organisers try and ram it home that these people should start in the right place.

And even you fast runners must have been slow once!
Posted: 23/09/2005 at 15:17

Thanks OD - i've calmed down now - actually i ran a 9min mile yesterday but dont tell anyone - i quite like being a slowcoach!
I love this running malarky don't you? running another half in 6months - (not quite ready for another one just yet i don't think) then maybe a few 10k's and the GNR again next year - who know's i might even be good enough to stand near the front by then?!
happy running!
DS

Posted: 23/09/2005 at 15:27

Hello all-Just to say i will be doing the gnr 2006,i paid my 30quid to secure my place for 3 years[my choice].So hopefully another 12 months of crack.

Just a bit about the start debate-Ive done the last 2 great scottish runs and from my knowledge of "13" halfs,the start at the gsr has been spot on.When i first entered it i had to put my predicted time on the form,when i recieved my running number i was colour coded to go into a certain area at the start,i was also chip timed.When we started stewards took us down to the start where we were allowed to cross the start line when the previous group had set off about 3/4 mins before us.This year because of my finishing time last year i was moved forward into a faster time group.But the start itself went very smothly.I think this would be a good idea for the gnr.
Posted: 23/09/2005 at 16:45

aha... i've found it. are we all moving over here then?
would love to run GNR 2006 and can't wait to get back on the road.
Posted: 23/09/2005 at 16:53

Hi Little Sandra and Mick :-)

I have just been reading the reviews of the GNR. And it has bought back all the memories of the pain. And i am running the Cardiff half in 3 weeks. And starting to panic again.

Aaaaaaargh.
Posted: 23/09/2005 at 16:57

God, I wish I could walk at 11 minute mile pace......

maybe us "slow" people should just give up to keep you "runners" happy. And here was me thinking running / jogging was a sport for all.
Posted: 23/09/2005 at 16:59

Hello alisonclair-To me,you are a runner,as soon as you step outside that front door with your runningear on and step off-you are a runner in my eyes.

Odonut-you,ll do cardiff easy-just keep popping onto here for advice and support.
Posted: 23/09/2005 at 17:08

Thanks Mick. I wish some others were so understanding to us newbies. Everyone knows the GNR isn't a race to get PBs, so why do they bother coming. Just spoil it for the rest of us.

I never did get to sing you that song did I? Was too nervous!
Posted: 23/09/2005 at 17:11

Alison, don't get dragged into the "us and them" vibe on this thread, its not worth it, and it's not worth carrying it on! All that matters is that we are running, and one day, we might run a sub 1.45 half marathon or something!!!!

There is much fun to be had jumping on here, learning tips from others and sharing our progress however slow it may be!

I understand their frustrations because it must be difficult if you are running for a time etc. Blimey, even i got fed up pushing past people and it was my first one! :-)




Posted: 23/09/2005 at 17:41

alison-i bet you,ll sing it now after you,ve done the gnr.
Posted: 23/09/2005 at 18:15

Hi All
O'D - you'll be fine in the cardiff half i am sure, you did really well in the GNR and now you know you can do it there is no stopping you.
I must admit my inpsiration last night when i went out for a run was totally different, i thouroughly enjoyed myself for the first time in ages! - knowing i can run a half marathon really kept me going!

Posted: 23/09/2005 at 18:22

Alison,
if you have both feet off the ground simultaneously at any point of your locomotion, you are running. (You would be disqualified for this from a walking race)
Nothing to do with speed.

You are a runner, you have a medal to prove it too.

Let the moaners blow their hot air.
Posted: 23/09/2005 at 18:32

Isn't it amazing, you quote someone else, and everyone thinks you have it in for anyone who can't run a 10 minute mile.

Just read the post properly people. I personally don't agree with the idea that running slow is bad for you. However, I think we can all agree that taking 17 minutes a mile isn't running!

What I would say though is that next year's event will have to be different. Without prejudicing any inquiries or court cases (which we'll have to be careful about) four deaths is very serious.

Brendan did say on TV "I don't know what else we can do". Well I imagine that the emergency services will have a lot of suggestions. I would suspect that these deaths were due to a combination of factors, and the coroner may well make some recommendations.
Posted: 23/09/2005 at 18:34

Found you all,
We are all runners some people are faster than others thats all. Six months ago I couldnt run a mile on Sunday I ran 13.1 miles. I loved it and want to carry on running and would love to do just 1 marathon then concentrate on 1/2's and 10k's and meeting people I would never I met. Thats what its all about.
Posted: 23/09/2005 at 18:58

I thought it was going a bit quiet on the origional thread!!

My goodness this ones started off lively hasnt it??!!



Posted: 23/09/2005 at 19:12

I'm in :-)
Posted: 23/09/2005 at 19:14

JohnAirey - The four deaths were a tragedy & possibly changes will have to be made to allow the emergency services faster access to runners in distress but I do hope they can do this without affecting the fundamental mass participation nature of the run.

Also lets not forget with all the very interesting & differing points of view about walkers/mins per mile etc that this event was very deliberately named as a RUN but not a race 25 years ago.

Good to see so many familiar names from the previous GNR forum on here. I have posted a reminder on there that the chat continues.
Posted: 23/09/2005 at 20:04

good evening all

well this forum has started off with a bang!!!

i can see both sides to this argument but what i think it boils down to is basic manners.

If someone wants to walk the course go to the back and have consideration for those who want to run.

Dont just bloody stop with no warning or checking to see if anyone is right behind you.

If you are running a quicker pace dont push and shove people step left and right when its clear.

If you bump into somebody even if its their fault just say sorry pal/love and carry on.

There is room for the serious runner the average runner, the slow/first timers and the 14 foof f***ing bananas if we all just give and take a little and show consideration to each other and at the end of the day its a run which we should all enjoy in our own way and relax a little. There are four families out there who have got a real reason to be upset
Posted: 23/09/2005 at 20:54

hear hear.

Posted: 23/09/2005 at 21:36

Hi Mick The Mackem, can you explain how you paid your £30 to secure your place for three years? How does that work then?
Posted: 23/09/2005 at 22:02

well said Wanderer - thanks! DS
Posted: 23/09/2005 at 22:33

I'm only commenting on media reports and what I observed myself. One of those who died had to wait 45 mins for an ambulance. I'm a qualified First Aider and I think that's appalling. According to the same reports the ambulances couldn't find casualties, and had to ask permission to enter the race against the flow of runners.

I observed far more casualties this year than last year (although I only ran the last four miles last year which is the reason I got back into running anyway). Some of the changes I can imagine are:

1. A safety briefing five minutes before the start. Eg, if it's hot (shouldn't be in October, but then it shouldn't be in September either!), advice on keeping cool.
2. A dedicated emergency number to ring whilst in the event, not just 999/112. Other foreign events do this.
3. Helium balloons carried by First Aid personnel, so that ambulances can find a casualty in a crowd. The balloons would be kept on a long string and be visible at a distance (14 foot high bananas permitting).

4. Mandatory certification by Doctors, although that might reduce the numbers of entrants. I did this for the Etape Du Tour in France earlier in the year.

5. Numbered markers every tenth of a mile so that anyone ringing for assistance can give a more accurate position. Otherwise lamppost numbers would do, if emergency calls are being answered by a dedicated line.

I've already passed these on to the organisers, but I haven't yet mentioned about having a larger area for assembly at the start.
Posted: 23/09/2005 at 23:55

Good morning all.
Can you believe that this time last week we were all anxious/nervous/excited about the race.

It has been a good week. I still can't quite believe how well it went for me.

I know our little band had some mixed experiences, but I hope we can all look back with pride on the achievement, especially the half-marathon first-timers. You really did do it :0)


Posted: 24/09/2005 at 08:38

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