I grew up in Newcastle. I grew up watching the Great North Run, if not in person, then on the TV. I’ve never run it, and I doubt I ever will, but it isn’t just the landmarks of my hometown that make it the world’s greatest marathon for me. It’s the people who take part.
There has never been a time when there hasn’t been a face to look for in the crowds. Never a year when I haven’t sponsored someone in my family, or my circle of friends, or a colleague. Never any September, sunny or pouring down with Geordie rain, that there’s not been a brightly coloured vest or daft costume among the hoards of others that hasn’t tugged a little bit more at my heart.
Tomorrow, I’ll be watching it in the company of my little niece and nephew while their parents, my sister and brother-in-law, join the rest of the wobbly legs and dodgy stomachs on the start line. They’ll be lining up with my other members of our family, and friends, so many friends, all in their white vests, in memory of my wonderful cousin who died almost a year ago.
The past twelve months have taught me much about grief and sudden loss that I wish I had never had to learn so close at hand. The pain and the bereavement are not mine to write about, but the forever-afterness of tragedy, even when the initial drama and shock have subsided, has been a hard-learned lesson in appreciating life. Life in its tiny, everyday moments as well as its highlights; life in the people around, and the knowledge that nothing is certain to be tomorrow as it has been today.
I don’t know if my brother, or sister, or cousins, or any of their team is the millionth ever Great North Runner, tucked away among tomorrow’s entrants. I don’t know how many millions of pounds will be raised by the 56 000 people covering just over 13 miles in their lycra and blisters and chaffed unmentionables. I don’t know how many names will be carried in their hearts; how many tears and heartaches and bitter nights lie behind the smiles and cheers and camaraderie en route. But I know that every step along the way is a promise to remember. A pledge to make a difference, whether for someone who needs that help, or in memory of someone who no longer can. Every step is a tribute to love, and, despite everything, to hope.
Good luck to everyone who is running tomorrow, whatever your reasons for doing so. Even as you jostle together, thousands and thousands and thousands strong, you are all one in a million.