This is the biggest half-marathon in the world with some 54000 taking part and was set-up by Brendan Foster in 1981. Applications are double what they can actually take so we all felt privileged to run it. Even me, Richard 😉

This race attracts the whole spectrum of competitors, from charity runners and walkers through competitive club-runners and up to the current world champion up there at the front, Mo Farah who was chasing his fourth consecutive victory. The course record stood at a lung destroying 58m 56s but as long as his closest rival finished behind him, he’d have it.

This was a proper road-trip. By the time we were all on board Liam’s Sportage at 4:30am, armed with a coffee (because we’d all carefully saved up our McDonalds stickers), we dropped onto the motorway at Denton and headed northeast. It was still dark and 5 miles away, some die-hards were still dancing round the handbags in clubs across town. It would be nearly two hours before the sun would poke its head up on the eastern horizon.

Shove a load of lads in a car for a while and the conversation and piss-taking is epic. Liam and Frankie occupied the front seats and Shaun and I sat in the back like a couple of kids. Liam had even left the child-locks on for us.

Now music can tell you a lot about someone. I had a decent 4G connection to Amazon Music and started streaming the tunes through the car’s sound system. I tried some decent stuff, Foo Fighters, Beatles, Coldplay and such but every time Liam turned the volume down to about three meaning in the back it was basically inaudible. This went on for a while before Liam put in an official objection with some carefully chosen words – “This is shit”. So of course I ask, “Pick a song, I’ve got everything” and got “Anything” as a reply. I probed a little further. “C’mon, what do you want me to play?”. I wish I could fast-forward here but picture the scene … The eventual reply was “Steps!!!!” or “S-Club”. Shaun and I looked at each other in stark disbelief and mimed ‘Steps?”. For a laugh I played ‘Tragedy” so cue Liam and Frankie doing the actual dance with the hand movements, seat dancing and moving in time, with the volume on maximum (50) whilst in control of a two-ton car going at 75mph in the dark. I think my fingernails are still embedded in the seat-back.

Shaun and I could only take so much and thankfully our bladders sent up some reminders that maybe it would be a good idea to empty them so we slipped into Wetherby Services. Bladders evacuated, we headed back to the car but Greggs had their magnet switched on and it dragged us in. We left a few minutes later armed with coffee and bacon butties.

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“Shaun’s bacon butty must have been laced with LSD”
As we wound our way north-east, daylight eventually enveloped us as we made our approach to South Shields.

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Running communities are great for sharing tips on all things, including where to park at events so we took advice and found our way to Grosvenor Road which is a main artery down to the beach on the approach to South Shields. The air was nippy and as ever I was cold. Shaun was a bold as brass Northerner and opted for just a t-shirt as we made our way down to the beach.

Arriving at finish (if that makes sense), we took a look at the finishing gantry and just hoped that we’d be back here in around 100 minutes after the start at 10:40 am in Newcastle.

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We jumped on the bus to Newcastle from near the finish and did all we could to stop Shaun climbing into the drivers seat. We headed right to the back on the upper deck for the ride into the City Centre which took in the majority of the finish as we assessed the terrain. I suggested it was undulating, Shaun said he liked hills, Frankie said “Its a bit up and down” then Liam concluded “It’s hilly as f*ck”.

I’d never been to Newcastle and still feel as though I haven’t as all I did was get off the bus, have some porridge then run away from it! We found a McDonalds on a Main Street and the others went to get porridge while I queued downstairs for the loo which took about 25 minutes (the queue, not the event itself). One chap emerged dressed as Superman and some sharp mind pointed out he should have used a phone box rather than the bog.

I’d never been to Newcastle and still feel as though I haven’t as all I did was get off the bus, have some porridge then run away from it!

When I returned, we found someone who had escaped the local lunatic asylum but managed to get him under control and back into his straight-jacket….

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It was here that we met up with Mike who had been there since Friday night (Newcastle, not McDonalds) so we took no time in getting a photo taken.

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Shaun, Mike, Frankie, Liam and RichPete
We needed to drop the bags off at the buses before dropping down onto the start area on the motorway. Everyone seemed to be watering the plants so we felt duty-bound to contribute.

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Frankie and Mike mark their territory
If you ever bend down to fasted your shoes or zip your bag shut, watch out for Frankie and Liam as they tend to ‘hover around’ making for some dodgy photo opportunities …

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Bags gone, trees watered and ready for action, we climbed over the fence (Liam says I just stepped over it) and walked down to the starting pens. Here it was like passport-control with some well-drilled staff pointing and directing where you should go. They were pretty hot on making sure people went to the right pens and we were all split up.

We still had 40 minutes to go so it gave plenty of time to stretch and warm up. Brendan Foster was on starting duty for this race instead of commentating for the BBC and he seemed to really enjoy doing it.

I tried to do the warm-up again but I was all over the place again, totally uncoordinated and making a right hash of it!

Whenever I write these blogs, it’s quite hard to remember the run itself as you sort of go into auto-pilot and just concentrate on the run. The route was rather dull to be honest as it was on dual-carriageways but did allow room to run unlike some events. Organisation and support were tip-top and all was well until between miles 11 and 12 where a prolonged hill sapped much of what I had left. I was also hot despite running through all the showers I could find.

The bus route to Newcastle had been useful as we sort of knew what we had left as we traced our steps back to the finish. The final mile is great as you drop down onto the beach road and feel the surge of support flanking you until the finish. This is worth a minute at least and is always very welcome.

I crossed the line in just under 1 hour 43 minutes and made my way to get my medal, looking for the others but we’d managed to miss each other near the start when Liam, Shaun and Frankie had waited for me in their pen but I must have passed them un-noticed.

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The weather had turned a bit colder on the front and we met-up near the baggage buses minus Shaun who had taken a turn for the worse. I managed to find freebie Heineken (0% alcohol) and managed to sink 7 of them while Liam and Frankie visited the TCT tent ‘after show party’. Shaun approached and looked white as a sheet.

It had been a long day and we headed back to the car. Shaun was not a well man. We arrived and got changed before Shaun jumped up and ran to the fence to hurl his guts over the fence into the playing field of a local school. I remembered I was sat next to him and that we had a long journey to complete so donned a poncho. What I actually did in fact was open up a carrier bag and shove it into the seat back in case he needed any more. He would.

We got a clean break from South Shields or so we thought until we got snarled up in some traffic due to local road-closures. On a few occasions, Shaun would throw open the door and make his own set of white lines down the middle of the road. He’d just started to feel a bit better than let something else go ….

Now cars are quite confined spaces and tend to distribute odours quite quickly. This is not a good thing. What ‘came out’ would have been accompanied by a green cloud in a Harry Potter film and I think it had a nuclear capability. The payload found its way round the cabin quickly and turned us all green.

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We pulled into McDonalds and loaded up with coffee and burgers for the trip back and returned to find Shaun asleep.

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[Shaun dreaming of running shoes and hills}
Liam had driven all the way there and was driving back when Frankie volunteered to step-in so we pulled into some services to do a driver pitstop. Some 21 minutes later, Liam was back in the drivers seat. Thats 1260 seconds. Just saying.

The weather took a turn for the worse coming back and the surface water was challenging (I’d guess as I was sat in the back).

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Once home, I decided to have a lie-down so Janet took this photo which sort of went viral.

All in all a great day out for us.

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Times

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