Saturday, 3 October 2009

Mass Participation

As anybody who has ever met me will know, I do not take to taking part. I don't get stuck in, and I don't get involved. Therefore, my competing (a word not used strictly correctly) in the Great North Run the other weekend was something of a bizarre experience, lent a febrile edge by the unseasonal heat and chaotic nature of the occasion.

'The world's biggest mass participation running programme' - a blanket subtitle given to the full gamut of Bupa-sponsored 'Great Run' events - offered in this instance a place among some 54,000 numbered & singlet-decked entrants. We squeezed onto the gas chamber Metro into the city, got whipped into a whooping frenzy of a group warm-up at the start, burst the banks of the course throughout with torrents of piss (evidence that medical advice suggesting a mere 250ml of water was all that was needed in the hour before the race was not generally heeded - correct hydration should have kept urine a pale straw colour), and warmed down afterwards by clambering through the crowds for our family & friends and then shuffling for a good hour in the Metro queue home again.

Some 28 minutes passed between the firing of Sting's starting gun - sadly pointing the right way - and yours truly getting to actually start the race, such was the depth of the staggered herds stretched along the A167 central motorway. Scores of runners thusly found the time to jump the barriers and siphon themselves into the embankment before exertions began. The event MC saw us off with a salutatory cheer for each charity as respective fundraising participants sped by in an oblique, ecstatic hollering of myriad debilitation - "Muscular dystrophy!! Cystic fibrosis!! Children with autism!!!" - and we were off. Early upward gazes on a blindingly bright cloudless day afforded views of the Gateshead Trinity Square multi-storey (still standing but unlikely to see another summer) in and out of the spectator-thronged flyovers, before the course wound into sundry council estates.

Here, elderly grandmothers manned enormous soundsystems on parched driveways and mums & daughters weaved neatly among the runners to cross the road to the shops. Scores of volunteers were on hand to dole out the sponsored booster refreshments of Powerade and Aqua Pura in biblical quantities, whilst the good burghers of Jarrow and Hebburn offered the unauthorised repast of sausage rolls and cheese & biscuits via Tupperware. Prone oxygen-masked bodies lined the final strait, surrounded by cheering onlookers and their fanning high-five palms. I knew I could've done better.

So yes, it was surreal, exhausting in more ways than one, and for the most part complete fucking chaos, but I don't know how else a curmudgeonly sod like me would've ever been moved to raise money for charity. For this I have to thank my running partner Kelly, a fiercely motivated athlete who roared home nearly an hour in front of me, and of course my Rebecca Jane, for industrial stacks of Jaffa Cakes and unwavering support (not to mention her own reserves of endurance, in evidence over the 6 hour drive there and back again). A uniquely odd experience all told; I've never done anything quite so virtuous. Therefore, it was certainly worth it, and if you want to add to the JustGiving sum blinking beneath the banner on this page, then you can do so for another few weeks yet. Sincere thanks to all those who have already donated.

We came, we ran, we weed. There is, on the site, a facility which allows you to compare your time with that of any other runner on the day via name search, so it's possible to find out which celebrities beat you. If I ever do it again, my aim will be to beat my own risible time, and that of this woman, my newfound nemesis.

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