Andy Jackson
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Making the most of the Great North Run: A runner's perspective

Andy Jackson
Posted by
11 Sep 2013

As race organisers and commentators are always at pains to stress, the Great North Run is the largest mass participation race in the world. Based on personal experience, it's also one of the best.

This year will be no exception with 56,000 set to line up at the start line on Sunday, including a 700-strong team of Unstoppable Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research runners.

For some of the team this will be the first time that they have taken part in a half marathon. With that in mind, I thought it would be worth sharing my experiences of the Great North to give the team a heads up on what to expect from the biggest and best half marathon in the world.


If my pre-race experiences are anything to go by, the chances are that lining up on the start line you'll be full of nervous excitement. Part of you will be eager to get underway, another part will be worrying about whether you're going to get round and if you've done enought training. You'll also be worried about what pace you need to go at and where you're going to meet up with your loved ones at the end of the race.

This is perfectly normal. Everyone, and I include the most experienced runners in this, will be going through very similar thought processes. The key to a good run is removing as many of these doubts before you get to the start line.

That means fastening your running number to your vest and preparing your race kit the night before. It also means resisting the temptation of staying up late with your friends and family who have come to watch you and under no circumstances go out to a bar the night before - even if for a soft drink - as I did.  If you do nothing else make sure you carb up with a spaghetti bolognese or something similar and get a good night's kip. 

Get up early on the morning of the race and have a normal breakfast even if you're feeling a bit nervous. Be careful not to over do it though - I did that before a marathon once and felt bloated and uncomfortable for the first five miles.

Leave in good time for the race and get to your pen about half an hour before the race as there's nothing worse than rushing to get to the start line. If possible go with a friend, as you'll be able to leave any extra layers you want to take off before the race starts with them. Having a friend with you will also save you the bother of having to drop off your bag which is an extra hassle which you don't need. Queuing up to collect your bag at the end of the race when you're tired is far from ideal, too.


The start

My most important piece of advice for the start of the race would be not to go off too fast and not too worry too much if the first couple of miles are below you're target pace - it's much better to start slow and have energy going into the second half of the race than to go haring off at the beginning and run out of steam later on. Don't panic too much about the congestion caused by the sheer number of runners either - they will thin out a bit when people get settled in to their respective races.

If you have a time you're going for, keep an eye out for the pacers with their timing sticks as they will get you your desired time provided that you can keep up with them!


During the race

The key with the race itself is to enjoy yourself! Establish a rhythm, aim to take 2-3 sips of water every 2-3 miles (there are water stations every mile) and acknowledge the crowd - the support along the Great North Run is tremendous and it will really give you a boost on the way round.

Put your name on your shirt so that they crowd can shout out your name, too, as their cheers will help enormously when you are going through a difficult period.

If you've got friends and family coming, plan in advance where they're going to be so you can know when and where to look out for them. If possible, stagger where your friends are watching from, too, to ensure you see people more than once. Look out, too, for our cheerpoint at the 4.25 mile point - we'll be rooting for you!

One important and event specific piece of advice that I would have really benefitted enormously from knowing prior to the race is that there is a bit of a gradual climb between 9-11 miles which, if you are not expecting it, will be a bit of a shock to the system at a point when you're tired. The key landmark to look out for is the Marsden Inn - once you've past there the climb is over and it's a downhill or flat for the last couple of miles.

Above all, don't forget to smile (as difficult as that may be at times) as smiling, believe it or not, actually helps keep your body relaxed and will take your mind off other things like the cramp in your leg or how far you have to go.


After the race

It can be chaotic after the race as there are thousands and thousands of runners and spectators packed in to the South Shields area. Mobile phone reception is terrible as a result so the best piece of advice that I could give you is to make sure that you have arranged a place to meet up with your friends and family in advance. Our marquee in the charity village on Avenue A is as good a place as any. 

Other than that, my only suggestions would be to wrap up warm, stretch and rehydrate with a mineral drink like Lucozade or Powerade before you hit the beers. Queues to get back on the metro back to Newcastle were horrendous when I did the race a few years ago so it might be an idea to find the sanctuary of a local bar or restaurant for a couple of hours before heading back.

Good luck to everyone taking part in the Great North Run on Sunday. Don't forget to take photos and tell us how you got on on Facebook and Twitter using the hashtag #UnstoppableGNR.



Don't forget tape/Elastoplast
Type protection for heels & nipples. Males as well as females & younger runners too. Wishing you all good luck. You're all amazing.

Justin Cliffe

What a great guide Andy - I've passed this on to friends taking part - it's been much appreciated!

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