Bupa Great North Run 2011 race reviewAlastair Upham takes on the Bupa Great North Run
It was the perfect tribute really; on a day where thousands get their shoes on to help raise millions of pounds for charity and honour lost loved ones, The Red Arrows paid respects to one of their own, Flt Lt Jon Egging, as they performed the 'Missing Man' routine over the Tyne Bridge. The air display is always an iconic moment in the Great North, a monster event in the running calendar now in its 30th year, and the particular poignancy of this year’s efforts was not lost on the athletes out on the course, one of whom was Dr Emma Egging running in Red 4 in remembrance of her husband. Ali (pictured right), with his brother Rob enjoying the hospitality at the Motor Neurone Disease Association tentBut for all the courageous and heartbreaking stories floating out from the PA across the vast starting area, this was no sombre affair. With coverage on the BBC, a host of celebs (well, newsreaders, soap stars and Nell McAndrew), superheroes, a giant baby, a Knight of the realm in full armour and 54,000 runners of all shapes and sizes, everyone was bang up for the 13.1 miles from Newcastle to South Shields and pitched in to the lively, carnival atmosphere.The host city plays a huge part in making The Great North such an incredible event. Even arriving on Saturday afternoon the centre is full of youngsters wearing medals and clutching foil blankets after the Junior and Mini run, and across the way in Gateshead some of the world’s finest athletes – including Mo Farah, who got this year’s race underway - competed in The Great North City games. And while you didn’t see many runners revelling on the Saturday night, the Toon’s Italian restaurants were heaving, with competitors all queuing up for a heavy carb fix. It’s a weekend-long celebration of running, and the people of Tyneside come out in droves to be part of it. Crowds line the entire course that runs along the A167, across the Tyne and away to the coast, and the thousands that turned up to show their support were treated to a blast of sunshine for the latter part of the morning until the rain poured down at around mile nine for a soggy run in. It didn’t dampen any spirits, however; the bands played on, as did a Geordie Elvis, and at the 10-mile point BUPA were on hand in the Boost Zone with sweets, Vasaline and some welcome encouragement to power through the final 5K. The Great North is a fast, gently undulating course, that despite the vast number of runners never feels overcrowded, yet you can still be part of a heavy pack for the entire run which really helps keep the pace and spirits high. It really made the difference over the final mile along the coastline, when the sun made a dazzling return for the last slog to the line.As ever the organisation was fantastic, and it’s all the more impressive when you get to the finisher’s enclosure and grab a moment to take in the enormous scale of The Great North. From there, it’s the 13 or so miles back into town to be greeted by runners still in their kit clutching a well-earned pint, which is probably the other great thing about The Great North: there are plenty of cracking watering holes in the region, and even on a Sunday night you’ll be sure to find someone wearing running shoes and up for a party.