Monday, 20 September 2010

The Ever-Present fanatics

With this year’s race celebrating its’ 30th anniversary, AW sought out some fascinating stories from a bunch of BUPA Great North Run ‘ever-presents’ – a crazy clan who for one reason or another, have participated in every race since its’ inception and will be toeing the line for their big 3-0 this weekend, Nicola Bamford writes.

Kicking off our tales of torture, satisfaction and memories galore is 78-year-old Frankie Gilmore, who is an inspiration to all and has aspirations of completing his 32nd event in 2012, aged 80:

“It’s now the only organised race that I do each year because it’s such a special event for me, having managed through good luck and determination to have done them all,” Gilmore explained.

“I don’t want to miss one! I’m always working towards the next one. I have the Great North Run to thank for giving me the incentive and motivation to keep fit all year round and a positive attitude and outlook on life.”

Competing in the World’s most popular half-marathon has become a family tradition in

Peter McDonald’s household. With one brother an ever-present like himself and another who has run 15 of the editions, Peter is maintaining a strong competitive streak with his siblings:

“I was 29 when I ran my first Great North Run. The main reason I have run them all is to stay fit, but it has now become a family tradition,” McDonald revealed.

“My son has run every year since he was eligible and he is up to seven runs.”
Just as impressive is the friendship that has carried Joe McConnell and Simon Rodden through the past 30 events.

Back in 1981, the duo - aged 23 at the time – decided they fancied a test of sporting ability and three decades on, have completed each annual edition as a pair:

“Now the same two grumpy old men will hopefully stumble across the finishing line in South Shields with no particular interest in our time or our speed...we’ll just be looking forward to the refreshments, the humour and the leg massage in the St. Oswald’s tent!,” they explained.

Dennis Hewitt is another who stumbled across his ‘ever-present’ status by accident:
“Having crossed the line I can remember thinking – well that’s a half marathon done, cross that off the list, no need to do that again,” Hewitt recalled.

“Within half an hour I was thinking – maybe I could apply again next year. Twenty nine years later I’m still applying every year. I was 22 when I completed the first run.”

Further proof that sometimes just male pride can be enough to push you beyond your comfort zone is David McGuire and his story that will resonate among many:

“I was 22 years-old at the time of the first Run when a number of us from Tynemouth Rowing Club, after a few drinks one night, thought it would be a good idea to enter the first race, mainly because it was something new, was taking place in the North East and was the chance to ‘prove’ we could actually run a half-marathon!” McGuire explained.

“I’m now the only survivor of this little group who is still entering the Run.”
Robin Armstrong now has the enviable experience and knowledge of travelling logistics for getting to the World’s biggest half-marathon:

“It seems such a long, long time ago now but I remember thinking to myself what a good idea and maybe I should give it a go,” Armstrong recalled.

“This was shortly after an over excessive Christmas period when I was feeling a bit lethargic and maybe a bit overweight. Getting started and past the end of the street was the first big hurdle.

Over the years I have perfected the travelling to and from the event and now have it down to a fine art and I usually manage to get a great view of the Red Arrows over South Shields from the Ferry after I finish. Oh, and I was 23 in the first Great North Run.”

Another whose life has obviously been changed for the better by the BUPA Great North Run is self-confessed ‘addict’ John Tomlinson:

“The Great North Run is as much a part of my life cycle as Christmas, Easter and summer,” Tomlinson proudly exclaimed.

“I was 29 when I ran the first time and my sister-in-law was nursing on the kidney unit at the RVI, Newcastle and told me I should do the Great North “thingy” for kidney research. My wife, Barbara, reckons I now have obsessive compulsive disorder!”

Emphasising how the event has a positive effect on the local community, David Westhead explained:

“I was 38 when I ran the first one after having been a long distance pleasure walker before taking up running,” Westhead reflected.

“I was born in South Shields but now live in Sunderland and I’ve stuck with the Run all these years as I felt I was running home so to speak, as I still have an affinity for South Shields.”

That same affinity is certainly evident in all of the BUPA Great North Run ‘ever-presents’ so AW would like to say a huge ‘congratulations’ to you all and ‘good luck’ on Sunday...!

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