Along the route of the Great North Run

PUBLISHED: 08:35 26 August 2010 | UPDATED: 17:46 20 February 2013

The Running Man, a floral tribute to the GNR runners
Below: Dame Catherine Cookson

The Running Man, a floral tribute to the GNR runners Below: Dame Catherine Cookson

More than 50,000 runners will take part in the Bupa Great North Run from Newcastle to South Shields on Sunday, September 19. Tom Fennelly takes a more leisurely journey along the route to see the characters and places that make it a special event

The iconic image of a mass of thousands of runners streaming across the Tyne Bridge has become the definitive signature of the worlds biggest half marathon, the Bupa Great North Run, which this year celebrates its 30th anniversary.

Over the years more than one million pairs of feet have passed across the bridge on their way to the finish on the wonderful expanse of The Leas at South Shields. As they run, jog, walk or limp to collect their commemorative tee-shirt and medal, not many of them will have had time to look at things they will passed along the way.

One thing they will miss this year will be the famous Get Carter car park, which dominated the Gateshead skyline until its recent demolition. In the first two miles they will have glimpsed Gatesheads now more famous architectural landmarks of the Sage music venue and the Baltic arts venue and, of course, the wonderful "Blinking Eye" Millennium Bridge.
As they get into their stride along the Felling by-pass, how many will take note of the Gateshead International Stadium which has developed into one of the countrys leading athletics venues thanks to the vision and achievements of Gatesheads favourite athlete Brendan Foster, founder of the Great North Run.

Just after three miles, the runners will pass the distinctive metal sculpture by Graeme Hopper near Abbotsford Road. It is in the shape of an abbots hat, enshrouding an open door, a teapot on the table and a cat underneath. These elements signify the warmth and friendly hospitality of the local community, which so many runners remember as part of the Great North Run experience.

After four miles the runners approach Heworth roundabout and the Metro interchange, but how many will notice the churchyard of St Marys, where lies the grave and memorial to Thomas Hepburn, one of the founders of the first miners trades unions - the Union of Northern Miners in 1831- and campaigner for better pay, conditions and education for coal miners.

As they turn past White Mare Pool towards South Shields, the runners approach Hebburn and then Jarrow, home of the Venerable Bede, one of the countrys most famous scholars and saints whose master work, the Ecclesiastical History of the English People, was written in Jarrow.
In more recent times Monkton Stadium, which is about half a mile off the GNR route, was the home track of another famous local son, Olympic athlete Steve Cram (The Jarrow Arrow).

Most people will have heard of the famous Jarrow Crusade, when a disciplined group of unemployed men took the plight of the town to London. In the economic depression of the 1930s, North East ship builders and steel workers suffered mass unemployment and grinding poverty.

On 5th October 1936, 200 men hit the road on a trek to London to lobbyParliament for work. They carried a petition signed by 90,000 people from the North East.

Leaving Jarrow, the runners turn on to John Reid Road and, with five miles still to go, they are close to Tyne Dock, birthplace of Catherine Cookson (1906-1998) who became one of Britains best-selling authors.

The runners steadily climb towards the Marsden Inn at 12 miles and get their first glimpse of the sea and the finish on The Leas, the National Trusts two-mile stretch of the South Shields coastline stretching from Lizard Point and Souter Lighthouse to the finish area at Gypsies Green. Watch out for the Running Man floral figure on the roundabout outside the New Crown Hotel.

As they turn northwards down the last mile and a half, behind them lies the magnificent Marsden Bay and the famous pub and restaurant of Marsden. The twin Tyne piers and Tynemouth Castle and Priory fill the horizon ahead.

On the Lawe Top, overlooking the River Tyne, is the Roman Fort of Arbeia, founded around AD 160 as the military supply base for the 17 forts along the length of Hadrians Wall. Today, Arbela is an important archaeological site and is one of the few places in Britain where visitors can see brought-to-life Roman buildings.

South Shields is also home to Britains second oldest preserved lifeboat, the Tyne, which stands next to the Wouldhave Memorial at the Pier Head, commemorating the very first purpose built lifeboat designed here by William Wouldhave in 1789.

All of these places and famous faces past and present and much more besides are to be found on and around the route of the Great North Run. Many of those crossing the finishing line in 2010 may be inspired to return at a more leisurely pace as tourists on a future visit to explore Tyneside without 53,999 others sharing the same road.

Dennis is one of the elite few

Dennis Stidolph is a self-confessed Great North Run addict. At the age of 64, he is a very proud a member of a truly elite group who have taken part in every single race since its inception way back in 1981.

Dennis, whose home in Bamburgh Avenue, South Shields, is right alongside the GNR finish on The Leas, took part in the first event with 18 colleagues from the Shields Gazette where then worked as a compositor.

He has completed every Great North Run since and is one of only 124 runners who proudly sport distinctive blue and white race numbers to denote their achievement.

He says: The Great North Run is addictive. It gets hold of you. The atmosphere, the serious athletes, the fun runners, spectators, the start, the course and the finish right outside where I live make it unique.

Over the years he has met many of the famous celebrities taking part in the Great North Run, including athletics legend Sir Christopher Chataway, the inspirational paralympian Dame Tanni Gray Thompson (who in recent years regularly hands Dennis water at the GNR feeding station on the Felling bypass), boxing champion Frank Bruno, and double Gold Olympic champion Dame Kelly Holmes.

Jarra Jim shows real GNR spirit

Nobody epitomises the spirit of the Great North Run better than Jim Purcell, who at 89 is one of the oldest participants aiming to complete his 24th consecutive run.

Better known as Jarra Jim, he has finished every GNR since 1987 and only started running at the age of 65. Over the years, great grandfather Jim, who has five children, 12 grandchildren and 10 great grandchildren, has raised thousands of pounds for charity, taking part in marathons and running events all over the British Isles.

Two knee replacements in 2003 did not stop him keeping up his remarkable record and he aims to celebrate his 90th year by notching up his 25th GNR next year. He has completed the London Marathon 12 times, the last in 2006 at the age of 85. Jim lives in Falmouth Drive, Low Simonside, Jarrow, not far from where the GNR route turns on to the John Reid Road, five miles from the finish on the seafront.

Let us all share in your own Great North Run glory this year.Leave a message telling us about your run and how you feel, and upload any pictures that record your achievement. And well done to all who take part.

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