In 1981 the first Great North Run was organised. At the time, it was a big event for the North East with 10,000 athletes pounding the roads from central Newcastle to South Shields. The organisers hoped it could become an annual event, especially after both the men’s and women’s races were won by local athletes. Mike McLeod broke the tape in 1:03:23 with Karen Goldhawk following in 1:17:36. Since 1991 no one from outside Africa has won the men’s event and the women’s race has yielded 10 African winners in the same time.
Fast forward to 2013 and we are ready for the Great North Run 2013. The banners are up on the famous Tyne Bridge, the barriers are in place and the North East knows that large parts of the road network will be closed from Saturday night.
In CAFOD we have a team of about 35 runners this year. They’ll be covering the distance, having put in a lot of hard training but will be showing their concern for others as they run. Their blisters, injuries and set-backs are all part of a runner’s life. The people they are helping also bear suffering and hardship and are looking for a chance to help themselves to a better life.
This year, I’m having a year off the Great North Run. Having completed the race about 15 or so times, I’m well aware of the challenges faced by runners. One year, I was breezing along the course, the next year, I’m lying face down in a South Shields gutter, with a small child asking if he should call an ambulance.
I’ve been through the full range of emotions that the race can throw at you. However one thing has dragged me along, especially the last, endless mile and that’s the amount of good that comes from the effort all our runners put in. That is only matched by the appreciation that our friends who find themselves in poverty, constantly pour out to anyone who wears a CAFOD T-shirt on a visit.
I’ve been lucky enough to receive their thanks in person and was thoroughly embarrassed that all I’d done is run a race. They were running all the time – running to keep up with prices that moved faster than they can earn. Trying to grow food when the rains seemed to be running away from them and striving to keep a flame of hope alive that things could be better. This is the reason we run, we’re running to end poverty and to give people hope for a better future.
If you’re reading this as a supporter, hope to see you at the 12 mile CAFOD cheering point.
If you’re reading this as a runner, there’ll be thousands of faces along the route cheering you on, but look closer and you’ll see a million others encouraging you as well.