A mo-mentous occasion - The 2023 AJ Bell Great North Run

As is often the case, it was Sir Mo Farah who made all the headlines at yesterday’s AJ Bell Great North Run although this time it was for a different reason.

After an incredible career, Farah called time on life as a professional athlete, choosing the Great North Run to be his final competitive race.  After the event, we spoke to him to get his thoughts on the last race of his career:

“It was very emotional.  I have been trying to take it all in over the last few days and it’s actually reminded me a bit of 2012.  All the people and the support and how everybody has been so amazing over the last couple of days, Brendan Foster and his whole team and the community.  It has just been a joy.”

Mo Farah handing out medals at the 2023 AJ Bell Great North Run

Having won the Great North Run six times previously, it seemed very fitting that Farah chose this event to be his final elite race.  We asked him what the event means to him and how the crowd lifted him during the final few miles of his career:

“It was amazing.  It was very emotional with everyone ringing the bells, shouting out your name, giving you high fives, waiting around.  The kids, the parents, the grandparents and just all the people.  This race means so much to me and to see how this event has grown over the years and what it gives to people.  People who are running for loved ones, charities and how sport unites people.  It is so important for all of us.”

There is no doubt that the crowd certainly played its part when it came to supporting Farah over the 13.1 miles.  We caught up with Jane, a spectator and fan of the sport, to gain her thoughts on watching his last ever race:

“It was really special to see Sir Mo out on the streets of Newcastle for the last time.  I’ve watched Mo on the TV for years now so to be able to see him race for the last time, and to do so in person, is absolutely fantastic.”

This was Jane’s first time attending the Great North Run, having travelled nearly six hours to watch her friends and family tackle the half marathon.  Jane gave her views on the event and whether or not it was worth the long car journey:

“It was definitely worth the trip.  To see so many people cheering and supporting was just fantastic and to see so many runners taking on a real challenge and doing it for themselves, for their families and for charity was just incredible.  I think everyone should be really proud of themselves today.”

Crowd cheering, smiling and having fun at the 2023 AJ Bell Great North Run

The stories behind the success

With over 60,000 people crossing the start line of the Great North Run yesterday, there is no doubt that the runners taking part in the event helped to make it so special.  Someone who is a seasoned Great North Run participant is Adrian who was taking part in the event for the 11th time.  We asked Adrian what has brought him back to Newcastle time and time again:

“The atmosphere of the event is amazing and being from Norwich it’s also a good opportunity to visit friends.  I also like setting myself the challenge.”

Following an operation in the spring, Adrian’s goal was just to finish the race.  To help him get round, he was cheered on by his friend and his son:

“It was great to have my son there supporting me and cheering me on.  He’s recently got into running himself and has now completed a few 10ks.  It’s so nice that we have something we both enjoy and can do together.  Who knows, maybe we will both be doing the Great North Run next year.”

2023 AJ Bell Great North Run finish line

From seasoned Great North ‘Runners’ to those who deliberately picked this iconic race to make their half marathon debut.

“I’ve never done a half marathon before and wanted the challenge and also wanted to get fit,” said Carl Sizer, an accountant from Surrey. “This is known as the biggest in the world so why not start there?"

“I haven’t done a huge amount of running in the past. This was my first organised running race although I did do a super sprint triathlon a few years back.”

“I didn’t have anyone in the crowd this time, but lots of cheering from family and friends back home. The crowd around the course really amazed me. It was great hearing them shout out your name, hand you sweets and oranges. You were never on your own which was amazing.”

It was that support from start to finish which kept him going during the more challenging moments along the course.

“The race went better than I expected,” added Carl, who finished in a time of 2:11:52. “It took a long time to get going as I didn’t cross the start line until just after 12 and it was hot at the start. Miles five-seven were the hardest for me together with a few hills which hurt, but the last three miles I actually really enjoyed and seeing the red arrows overhead distracted you from the pain in your legs."

“Overall, a truly brilliant experience.”

Making a difference

Mind mental health charity team at the 2023 AJ Bell Great North Run

As is the case with most mass participation events, a lot of the runners aren’t just taking part to test themselves over the grueling distance.  They are running for a very worthy cause with the goal of raising as much money for charity as possible.  We caught up with Nicola, who manages the events team at the mental health charity Mind, to tell us more:

“Our main goal today is to support all the runners and make sure they have a good time.  We have over 1,000 runners taking part today and we’re hoping to raise just over £300,000 for mental health.  This is enough to power our online service called side-by-side which is an online support platform where people can go 24/7 and chat to others.  So it’s huge really.”

This was Nicola’s sixth time getting involved with the Great North Run and it was one of her colleague’s twelfth.  We asked Nicola what it is about the Great North Run that is so inspiring and such a good platform to showcase the work the charity does for mental health:

“With the Great North Run being such a big race, it’s a massive opportunity for us to see people who want to support mental health.  Another thing we are doing today is working with local minds, so lots of local minds providing services in the local communities around Newcastle are going to be here joining us.  It’s really nice to catch up with them.”

Elite wheelchair athlete at the finish of the 2023 AJ Bell Great North Run

Get involved

Has this year’s AJ Bell Great North Run inspired you to get involved in athletics and running?  Whether you are looking to run yourself, try a field event for the first time, or get involved as a volunteer, there’s something for everyone.  Visit the England Athletics homepage to find out more.