What has passed is already finished. What I am interested in is what comes next.
Emil Zatopek – iconic Czech long-distance runner.
Like most children growing up in the North East 1970s and 80s, sport played a huge part in my life. Notice the deliberate use of ‘sport’ as opposed to football, central though it was. No, you were either directly involved in playing sport or you inhabited a community submerged in talking about it. Aside from events at SJP, boxing, horse racing, snooker, greyhounds and darts, and to a lesser extent, cricket and golf, were staple discussion topics in South East Northumberland streets, schools, pubs and clubs. The parallels will chime with most childhoods of those over 35. The streets were quiet during national sporting events on TV, kids joined the Cubs because it was an extra game of football, you read the back page of a paper before the front, your Dad did the pools, you swapped Panini stickers in the yard – the list goes on. The North East deserves its reputation as a sporting hot bed, though I sometimes reflect that we might have more a culture of spectating than participating. Escapism and entertainment over active pursuit, perhaps.
Running could not have been less fashionable during the early 1980s. This was an era when the idea of mass public participation events from the US had only just started to fire the imagination, taking hold mostly, but not exclusively, among the middle class demographic. I still feel that this was linked to white and blue collar occupations. How realistic would it have been for those working in heavy industry to leave a shift and run 9-10 miles on their return? Despite several honourable exceptions, you can still observe the popular running hot spots as Gosforth, Jesmond and Heaton in line with perhaps more sedentary non-physical occupations and suburban notions of well-being. Again, vibrant running clubs at the likes of Elswick, Blaydon, Saltwell, Gateshead, Jarrow & Hebburn, and Birtley suggest otherwise. I once went out with a girl from a pricier housing estate than mine while at school – the type where men compare lawn mowers and neighbours ‘entertain’ friends – and noticed that her parents had a mixed doubles badminton trophy on the sideboard. Not a gold miniature darts player statue trophy in sight. That’s the class system that is, comrade.
My own running interest started at school during cross country in PE. I liked the hills, the mud, the sense that you had to keep going. They were the days – running 5 miles only 10 minutes after consuming three courses of gloop and wearing a pair of shorts from lost property that smelled of a dead badger. Long distance running was pretty much hated. It was punishment, a sanction used by sadistic, child-hating PE staff. If you liked it, you were a bit strange. Pupils would do anything to avoid it. These days I look for every possible opportunity to run. Direct from work, weekend breaks, spare time in the evening – trainers on and out I go. I like the solitude, the time to think, the chance to go places you cannot get to in a car (add joke about Dinnington here), the chance to test yourself.
Some of the best times, places and experiences I have ever had are through running yet so much of what it takes to move to another level is completely incongruent with my other passions – time with a young family, work, United, beer, wine and food! I once ran the GNR the day after a full on away trip to Everton. Not good but never repeated. Before picking up the St Oswald’s cause again this year I ran in a brilliant Black & White striped vest complete with city crest. Still love it and it was always a talking point with other runners when competing outside the region – you would get fellas in Barnet Harriers vests tap you on the back and ask what you thought about Craig Bellamy seconds before the start gun went off.
You get to learn that your appearance during demanding physical exercise does not matter (interesting that Jessica Ennis spoke out about this being the main reason girls give for not participating in sport when she tours schools), you understand which breed of dogs are more likely to give chase (don’t get me started on this – “he won’t hurt you” shouts the owner as his alsatian has you pinned to the pavement), you get spontaneous acts of support or discouragement from various people on the streets (this varies from 8 years olds trying to run with you for 200 yards, teenagers chucking beer cans at you in underpasses (Ed: that’s got to be in Gateshead, please), people singing the Chariots of Fire theme tune when they see you coming or blokes giving you the thumbs up when having a tab in a pub doorway). Oh, and your washing machine is on a continual loop to wash kit.
Preparation for the GNR 2014 has gone well – injury-free, great weather for summer training and enjoyable build-up runs, the last being a drizzly Bupa 10K on Gateshead Quays in June. I have a theory that Brendan Foster’s BMI has increased in correlation to the rising entry cost of the GNR. A participation level that mirrors a sell-out SJP home crowd running to South Shields seems surreal. It adds to the experience but will leave first-time entrants hoping to run a PB disappointed when they find they cannot find leg space until they get past Heworth. Despite the GNR becoming an increasingly national and corporate event, it is impossible not to be moved by the scale of the multi-coloured trail of humanity assembled on the Central Motorway on race day. It is unique, iconic, part of our regional calendar and a huge boost to the local hospitality sector. A win-win for Tyneside on so many levels and a chance to spot B list celebrities limping from the Mal Maison into the Pitcher & Piano on Sunday night. Best wishes to all runners!
Ed: Gav is raising money for St Oswald’s Hospice – you can make a donation, no matter how small, on his Just Giving page at https://www.justgiving.com/Gavin-Bradshaw. Find out more about the amazing work done by the Hospice here – www.stoswaldsuk.org.
Gav has been writing for true faith almost since the start of the fanzine back in 1999 and I’m honoured to call him a friend. He’s an absolutely top lad, solid Black & Whiter, proper Geordie and like his old man, Tommy, the salt of the earth. It would be great if you haven’t sponsored anyone yet for the GNR, that you could think about putting some pounds Gav’s way for the St Oswald’s Hospice.
Likewise you know we’ve been asking people to support another great friend of true faith, Liz Luff, who is the little ball of energy that makes so much happen for the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation. You could feel great about yourself if you sent a few bob to the SBR Foundation via Liz who is also doing the run on Sunday. Just click here for Liz
Thanks to all of you who can afford to show a wee bit of generosity for two worthy causes.