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)