Friday 12 September 2014

Second Time Around, One in a Million - Great North Run 2014

The course was familiar, but the experience was different. Once again, the Great North Run was a great day out for participants and spectators alike. As with with each Greta North Run, there are many inspiring stories behind why participants take on the challenge and heart-warming stories about spectators coming out to cheer on family and friends as well as support the runners with cup of water and jelly babies. But in 2014, there was something extra special about it, not only was it won by a Briton for the first time in 29 years, but the event also saw its one millionth finisher cross the line.

From its relatively humble beginnings in 1981 through former Olympic Bronze medallist Brendan Foster's vision of encouraging public participation in running, when 12,000 runners competed in the first Great North Run, not only has it evolved beyond simply a local event to the world's biggest half-marathon as well as spawning a series of Great Run road races, but has also made huge differences to the lives of many, not just to participants who may have taken up the challenge in an attempt to benefit their health both physically and mentally but also the many charities that have benefited from the awareness and funds raised.

After having enjoyed the experience as a participant first time around in 2012 for the Daisy Chain Project, I was keen to do it again after I had summitted Kilimanjaro the year after for the same charity, feeling I needed an achievable challenge after such a feat to motivate me to keep up my physical fitness and mental well-being, after having learned in the past that it doesn't help to live in the past by picking out favourite times and moments, but rather by continuing to be active in a number of ways, in my case through reading, writing, mindfulness practice, physical activity, I find helps me to stay present in the moment by being with the experience as it unfolds, thus opening up to new and different experiences. 

Though as a person with Asperger's Syndrome, reflecting common descriptions of what many people with the condition, I do still find predictability and routine conducive to how I am but I do find variation every so often within routine and predictability stimulating. When applying mindfulness practice to doing an activity, task or physical exercise, including a set routine workout, it then becomes possible to open up to new experience by noticing the variations in sensations and bodily feeling. From such noticing, it then becomes possible to notice that each actual bodily experience of a regular activity, task or physical workout is unique, The routine and principal may be similar, but the experience, particularly at the sensory level, varies dramatically.
Then - approaching the last mile in 2012

And Now - Just after completing the run in 2014
As well as being motivated by previous enjoyment of participation in the event another of my goals of going in for it a second time was to be able to apply beginners mind to the experience, to see if I could still go the distance two years later as well as to provide a motivating factor for me to continue to practice and train. I felt I by getting touch with beginners mind regarding mindfulness practice during my ten-day silent Vipassana retreat helped me to open up to a different experience at Great North Run 2014 at a sensory level. During my first time, I felt that the encouragement from the crowd was the main factor for me being able to complete the 13.1 miles successfully, but second time round, while the crowd encouragement again helped as it undoubtedly did for the thousands of other runners, I felt it was more so personal confidence that I felt came within at the start once I got going, which I was able to maintain physically for the full 13.1 miles.

Though Mo Farrah finished first and did Britain proud, for me, the real winner at the Great North Run each year is the event itself. All the way from the elite runners, those going for a personal best time, those looking to just to complete the 13.1 miles and lets not forget those out for a bit of fun in fancy dress, the Great North Run is an event that participants can both experience and enjoy at their own physical level and as well as in respect of their individual circumstances. Each individual runner has a story to tell as to why they are going for it, including those doing it in memory of a friend or relative. It was therefore fitting that the one millionth finisher, Tracey Cramond from Darlington, was doing it to achieve the 13.1 miles for the Butterwick Hospice in memory of her late mother. 

Now let's sign off with a bit of local pride! First of all, the other winners at the Great North Run are the fantastic and very supportive crowds, who each year put the 'Great' in the Great North Run and secondly, the event has achieved one million finishers ahead of some rather illustrious places - London, New York and Sydney!

This year I managed to complete the run in two hours and eight minutes, two minutes faster than my first time in 2012. Running in aid of the National Autistic Society's Newcastle and Gateshead Branch, I have managed to raise over £150. A huge thank you to all who have donated, you are making a difference to many families affected by autism in the Newcastle and Gateshead area. Donations can still be made at 


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