In short: Really pleased I did it but accommodation is a problem. In full: Let's start with the biggest negative - decent accommodation is almost impossible to find as the hotels rack their prices up considerably for this weekend. I ended up in a horrid guest house miles out of town and I know many others who fared similarly.
The atmosphere at the start is brilliant and running over the Tyne Bridge while the Red Arrows fly overhead is just fabulous. The problem then is that the next 11 or so miles are as dull as dishwater with little atmosphere and just a dual carriageway for scenery. The last mile running down to the sea is enjoyable though and you just have to do a sprint finish! The Red Arrows are there again at the finish which is great but it does mean that the crowds are watching them instead of cheering you!
Good idea that they print your name on your running number - you get loads of personal shouts of encouragement as a result.
Medal and t-shirt are really good and I am proud to have done this event. I didn't find the hills too bad but then I do live in Wales so maybe I am used to gradients. I would do this one again but getting to Newcastle by train from Wales was just horrendous while the rip off accommodation issue is likewise off putting. If you live within a couple of hours drive of Newcastle though you'd be daft to miss this one. People obviously do though because despite what they say there is no way there we 50,000 on this one, nearer 35,000 I would say based on what the marshals told me.
In short: Not the biggest Half Marathon in the World without a good reason In full: My 4th GNR and still the same fantastic event. (comments copied from last year but still valid) With the City Games & Expo it does make for a whole weekend experience (More still needed in the expo thou). The crowds were, as usual wonderful giving huge amounts of support from the front runners to the runners at the back. Even with the rain coming down it didn`t damper the GNR atmostsphere. Date of review: November 2, 2011
In short: A thing to do before you die. In full: This was my 2nd GNR and I enjoyed it much more second time round as I knew what to expect. The atmosphere is superb. The live music the boost zone and the Red Arrows were particular highlights. Yes its not a scenic race but if you want scenery, best to head for the hills rather than a large town in the North East! As for the journey home, we caught a bus back into town rather than travelling on the Metro like we did last year. We queued less than 5 minutes. Great service. HINT Don't queue for the first bus you come to. Keep on walking and buses further down the road will be empty and waiting for you! Date of review: October 21, 2011
In short: Biggest, but far from the best In full: GNR is the biggest half-marathon, and attracts attention for that fact. But is if far from the best - indeed, in most respects, it is actually very poor. It is a race that most people will have heard of, and the iconic sight of the Red Arrows flying over Tyne Bridge is very inspirational. It's a race that you want to do - it's a race that you are almost compelled to do because of its status and fame. It's certainly a race I felt was a "must do".
I enjoyed the weekend up in Newcastle. Accommodation in Newcastle itself sells out very quickly, or is stunningly expensive. We stayed in a very pleasant caravan site north of Newcastle, within easy reach of South Shields. It was very cheap, very comfortable, and made for a very pleasant weekend break. We thoroughly enjoyed ourselves.
The race itself, though, was very disappointing. The pasta party on the Saturday was a miserable affair and was best avoided. I have been to a number of Pasta parties around the world, and usually they are inspirational affairs (well, the London Marathon one was a bit limp this year), but the quality of the food, and the location (a car park) was off-putting. It served as a warning that this was an event where things were not really organised with the runner's pleasure in mind, but of simply ticking a box in the cheapest, easiest manner - Pasta Party, done.
The information booklet is packed with information - but not easy to get the information you want, and the information changes depending on which page you read. And the information is not accurate, or is simply missing. Price of bus in the booklet - £3. Price of bus on the day - £3.30. It mentions a car park in South Shields, but doesn't say how to get to it, nor that when you arrive on the day, there is a £4 fee. Signposts to the car park are rare to the point of almost not existing. The bus leaves you a little distance from the start - not a problem, but there are no sign posts, and no marshals to help. Compare that to the London Marathon, where there is plenty of help on the ground with signs and marshals. You follow the crowd and trust that the person in front knows where they are going.
The start area is not well organised, signposted or equipped with toilets or marshals. It's largely a messy free for all with people pissing and shitting in the bushes by the side of the road. It's all good humoured, and people help each other out by pointing to where you enter the start area proper. But starting a race, especially such a big race, in this location is a poor idea, and is very badly managed. The only other race I've known which has a comparably poorly organised start is the London 10K.
The timed pens are not well organised - people are allowed to give optimistic or deliberately inaccurate times in order to get into the front pens, so that the whole idea of timed pens is a nonsense. You will be blocked by hoards of slower runners/walkers from the start to the finish. To some extent with a race of this size you expect some congestion, but the reality of the amount is simply frustrating and unpleasant - it can be compared to the first day of the sales at a big London department store. You will get jostled and knocked, and will have to stop several times, and will run more than the 13 mile distance because of all the weaving and dodging. You might as well put down that you can do it in 70 minutes and give yourself the chance of some space. The pens fill up quickly, and people will continue to shove in until the last minute so you can't relax, as there will be intense crowding and shuffling going on. And your view while waiting will be the motorway embankment either side.
The rout is appalling. It is mainly a dreary dual carriageway passing through business zones or indifferent residential areas. For the first couple of miles it is inner city motorway, with no access for spectators, other than on occasional bridges. The highlights are the Tyne Bridge, and the finish near the coast at South Shields. The rest is dreary, with - despite what is claimed - very patchy and often indifferent crowd support. Yes, people do turn up, but considering the fame of this event, and the huge number of people who live in Tyneside, the support is very sad. There are people who hand out sweets, biscuits and tissues, but they are the exception, and the crowd support is not the same as you get during the London Marathon, Run To The Beat, or Hastings Half. There are many events which I have been to which are low key, local events, with no expectation of crowd support, and I am frequently touched by the amount of people who turn out. Here I was expecting more - indeed, people say the support is fantastic. But it's not true. The bulk of the people who turn out, mainly stare. There is little actual encouragement. I have my name on my shirt, and I'm used to hearing people call out my name. On this run my name was called just twice. So the route is dreary with patchy support, and the organisers do little to encourage the crowd support, or to inspire and encourage the runners. There is one "boost zone", and I think three live bands for the entire race. Even small local events can often manage to hire a bagpipe player. For the world's biggest half-marathon, and for a fee of £46, I was hoping for a bit more than one guy shouting out people's names for a hundred yards, and a scattering of bands. The locals at Hastings organise themselves every year, so you have several choirs singing, and pubs blasting out music, and the nurses at the local hospital banging saucepans and whooping so loud you can hear them from a mile away. The Marseille-Cassis has go-go dancers at the halfway point. The Amsterdam marathon has fairground organs scattered throughout. Paris supplies beer, wine, cider, cake and oysters. Prague supplies beer. Here, there is little fun, little support, and the bare minimum of water and sports drinks. What exactly did I pay for?
Getting away from South Shields at the end is a nightmare. If you thought the race was bad enough, just wait until you try to get away from it. The average time is two and a half hours. Because they have a helicopter pad for the celebrities to get away quickly, and the pad is placed between the finish and the car park, it took me over half an hour to get to my car, which was parked 500 yards from the finish. There is simply no crowd control. People push both ways down a congested roped off lane, which may get closed off if an ambulance needs to get to the finish. Ah! nightmare!
The positives are the friendliness of the other runners. The sheer size of the event so you know you are taking part in something big. The Red Arrows - they fly over the start, they fly again over the bridge, and they do a spectacular display at the finish, which I enjoyed as I was arriving at the finish as that happened. But those positives do not compensate for the rest. This could be not just the biggest half-marathon, but also the best if the organisers committed themselves into thinking what the runners might appreciate, rather than how little they can give and get away with it.
The race might be a victim of its own success, but I think it is more likely that its a victim of complacency. The event is a commercial and popular success - people swallow the short-comings and don't complain, so why make the effort to change it? Why make the effort to make it brilliant when people are happy enough as it is?
I'm hearing grumblings of discontent, and I think its time those grumblings came a bit louder, and people started demanding improvements. Date of review: October 14, 2011