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Page last updated at 11:35 GMT, Wednesday, 15 September 2010 12:35 UK
Thirty years heading down the road for John Gray

John Gray
John Gray
'Thirty years a-runnin...'

John Gray
Running has taken over John's life

John will be running his 30th Great North Run this year and he reflects on how he became such a dedicated runner.

Little did I know, when I first saw the race promoted on the BBC's Look North programme and sent for the training schedule, what a massive event and personal achievement it would be for me in the future.

I remember my first training run from that schedule, advising runners to run for 20 minutes.

I thought how difficult could that be as I used to run everywhere in my youth and played football for three separate teams at weekends and the occasional friendly for others when asked.

Unfortunately 5-a-side football gave me a crippling injury as I tore my medial ligament on my left knee and it became arthritic.

Although I loved to play football and even tennis, any sport that entailed twisting and turning was impossible.

Running for me

However, I realised I could run in a straight line OK.

So, I set off running home from work, making detours to make the 20 minutes. I set off like a fit sportsman then it hit me how unfit I was.

I managed the 20 minutes, with great difficulty and although only 50 metres from home, I had to stop as it was impossible to run the final bit.

My face was red all evening.

I read the schedule that night and saw in a few weeks I needed to run six miles on grass.

This filled me with dread.

But with a couple of friends from my office, who also entered the race, we ran this distance around Sedgefield Racecourse after asking the distance around the course.

I remember the first ever Great North Run and the amazing sight of so many runners gathered on the central motorway.

I recall it being in June and was extremely hot with loud speaker warnings to stay in the shade as people were suffering from sun stroke, even at 9am.

The run felt so easy and I finished in around 1 hour, 44 minutes. I had never had such a feeling of achievement before.

I loved the event so much it was a rush each year to get my entry form away to make sure I was accepted.

Taking it seriously

John Gray
After 25 years of GNRs, John brought home more awards

After three years, I decided to join Shildon Running Club. This was one of the best things I ever did - not least for the advice and wonderful friendships formed.

I had no idea how my efforts were perceived by others until after I completed the 25th GNR, as my friends at the club put on a surprise party for me. Around 100 people turned out.

This made me feel absolutely amazing and there were ex-members there who I hadn't seen for years.

They presented me with a lovely glass shield and a book of pictures and messages from many who attended and lots who couldn't make it.

Celebrity reward

I usually arrive early on the morning of the race at 7am, as I organise Marshalls from Shildon Running Club for the baggage buses on race day.

I stay with them until it is time for me to take my place on the start line - with all the celebrities. This is my reward for completing every run.

I try to keep my mind off the 13-mile struggle ahead by looking out for celebrities and fancy dress runners along the course.

My favourite so far has been the massive Newcastle Brown Ale Bottle and the Angel of the North costume.

The latter being in the Great North Museums Great North Run Exhibition, in which, I have been lucky enough to have been asked to take part in a film and talk - this is shown on a plasma screen in the exhibition.

My lasting impressions of the run are crossing the bridge on the central motorway.


GNR runners
That iconic moment sticks with everyone

I am still amazed at the sight of all the runners lined up at the start line as far as the eye can see.

I always notice the pubs we pass on the route with spectators drinking tempting pints of lager, and it makes me look forward to mine at the finish even more.

The toughest part is the long drag up John Reid Road where you catch a glimpse of the race T-shirt on one or two of those annoyingly good runners who've finished and are running back along the course warming down.

Finally, the steep drop down Marsden Bank to South Shields sea front and the longest mile in the world.

You can see the finish, but it appears to be getting pulled further away from you.

There is a wall of sound as crowds, 10 deep, cheer you on.

I finally finish and get my medal, walking stiff legged to the baggage buses, thinking I must train more next year… and there WILL be a next year.

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