The Great North Run

Sep 15, 2021 | Insights

On Sunday, I competed in the 40th Great North Run.

As usual, it was tough, tearful and awe-inspiring. I love how we were cheered on the route by the crowds, and as I staggered up the finish straight, this really got to me.

I am always amazed that people should come out in the cold or stand for hours performing with a steel band, just to cheer us on. But they do, and we were genuinely grateful for their support.

The event is often billed as the world’s largest half-marathon. This year there were 56,000 runners – the most extensive field yet.

Typically (this was my 16th Great North), we run from Newcastle over the iconic Tyne Bridge to the coast at South Shields. However, this year the route was changed to accommodate social distancing. The staggered start and finish were co-located in Exhibition Park. So, with a later start time, I was able to take the train from York, along with many others. We recognise and chat with each other, so the event starts even before we get to the start.

It was a tough run this year, not least because the last couple of miles took us back over the Tyne Bridge and uphill through the centre of Newcastle to the finish.

Nonetheless, I completed it in under three hours and have good reason to celebrate this achievement in my last half-marathon.

With sixteen runs behind me, I now understand that three elements make the event truly meaningful: achievement, community and contribution.


Finishing the Great North gives me – and everyone else – a unique feeling of achievement. The whole event, from the pre-race training, the logistics of getting to the start line on time and fit, running the race and finishing, gives a real sense of purpose and meaning to my life and the lives of everyone involved.

Yes, I swear as I cross the finishing line that I’m never going to do that again and have had a subsequent change of heart sixteen times!


If you want to feel a real sense of community, do the Great North. I’ve never found anything else like it. The challenge, the sense of achievement, the crowds of runners with a single purpose and spectators cheering us on, the sheer buzz is enough to bring tears to my eyes.


The charitable sector must love the first Sunday in September. So many of us run for a cause and raise money, often celebrating the memory of a loved one.

The Great North is all about finding meaning by making a difference. Out of achievement, community and contribution, this last probably adds the most meaning to the lives of us runners.

Running half-marathons might not be your cup of tea. But, nevertheless, you go out there and make a difference in all sorts of ways. So what do you do to discover deeper and different forms of meaning in your life?

(Photo: Marathon Photos, with permission)

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