4am and my alarm sprang into action, rudely announcing the arrival of the Great North Run. It was finally here, and by the time the team and I arrived on site at 5.30am everything was already in its place! The Nova team must have slept on the course through the night because we were not the first to arrive that morning to work alongside the hundreds of workers and volunteers that make the Great North Run possible every year.
As the sun rose over the motorway, the filming team began to install the cameras in their spots; the first being on the bridge overlooking the start line. Here we jostled for space in between the film cameras and TV crews that had come to capture this special event and our tiny camera was completely dwarfed by the huge, industrial pieces of equipment surrounding us. Once the cameras were set up and ready to roll we left the two operators and their assistants squeezed into position as Layla, Paul and I headed onto camera position number 2. A bright white cherry picker parked virtually amongst the branches of the nearby trees was to be Paul's perch for the duration of the starting shots, filming overhead as the runners began their 13.1 mile journey along the course of the run. While not being a massive fan of heights and, coupled with the hand-eye coordination of an octopus in a panic, I was especially glad that I wasn’t asked to accompany Layla and Paul in their trip up to the cloud line. Instead I happily kept my feet on the ground and took a few snaps of them peering precariously over the barrier. Down on ground level the keener runners were already arriving, some of whom were decked out not in sporting gear and trainers but covered completely in fur, with bunny ears firmly strapped to the top of their heads and running numbers pinned to their pink furry chests - flapping in the wind as they jogged their way to their positions.
By the time Layla and Paul made the last adjustments to the camera, the start line was already humming with activity and the speakers were booming with announcements. Along with a few last minute motivational videos from the many charities that were being represented by the runners, there were sure signs that the start time was swiftly approaching, so Layla and I left Paul strapped into the cherry picker and headed on to the final set up.
Back in the underpass, the apprehension for the run was tangible in the echoes that reached us from the start line. Due to our site visit the previous weekend our set up was much swifter than most and by the time we heard the starting gun we were already rolling. The silent shot towards the entrance of the underpass saw the elite runners approach and disappear again in a matter of seconds, swiftly followed by the beginnings of the masses. What started as a trickle swiftly turned into a storm as the wave of runners rolled in, swarming through the underpass in a flurry of excitement and energy, their journey only just beginning. Looking through the screen of a camera I only caught snippets of the crowds, but what was most overwhelming as people streamed past was the noise; the thunderous pounding of multiple feet hitting the ground at the same time, the husky sound of breath being pushed in and out of hundreds of sets of labouring lungs and above all the incredible sound of support coming from the runners themselves. Every 10 seconds one member of a group would start the chant… "OGGY OGGY OGGY” they’d shout across the sea of heads and running legs, and without missing a beat the return cry would ring out from hundreds of lips, "Oi! Oi! Oi!”. This continued with every cluster of people that passed, the chant taking the meaning of all the words of support. "Keep going” it said, loud and strong, the force that seemed to carry everyone’s feet along.
Now for any runners reading this, you will know that I have avoided until now one of the more insalubrious qualities of the underpass. As Layla and I quickly learned, the runners who had waited a long time at their position for the race to begin and had drank numerous of bottles of water to stay hydrated on this hot day were rather in need of relief by the time they reached our camera positions (thanks for that, guys!). But even if my experience was slightly tainted with the sound of tinkling behind the pillars, the sights to follow at the finish line redeemed it.
Once the last runner had passed through the underpass the team packed up their respective cameras and met up for our egress to the finish line, the car journey and traffic allowing for 20 minutes of quiet in what had been a very long day already, needless to say napping was had! Feeling a little more rejuvenated after our snoozing the team unloaded in South Shields, careering off into the crowd to capture the last footage of the day. Layla and I headed straight to the finish-line to capture the runners as they completed their amazing journey.
One by one we watched the masses make it over the finish-line, greeting their family and friends with high emotions accentuated by their complete exhaustion. The look of pride and relief on the runners’ faces resonated in my memory long after they had passed me by, the weight of their achievements settling into the atmosphere of South Shields. As more people poured over the line everyone’s eyes pointed to the countdown that chimed closer and closer to the millionth finisher.
Tracey Cramond from Darlington was crowned the millionth finisher in our 2014 Great North Run. However, the status that she holds is not only for her achievement but to commemorate and recognise every individual that has run the race in its history. The achievement of hitting one million finishers not only celebrates the success of the run itself, but that of the teams involved in delivering the event every year and of course the people who raise hundreds of thousands of pounds through sponsorships for charities around the world.
As the day drew to a close and the filming team packed away, I couldn’t help but feel like I had left a part of me behind on the roads that led to the sea. My time with Great North Run Culture has come to its own finish at a remarkable speed and I have since returned to university to complete my Fine Art degree at Northumbria. My time on the team captured my love of the North East, ignited my imagination and passion for community driven cultural events, and has driven me to look to my future so that I might follow in the footsteps of these inspiring, down to earth people that bring Great North Run Culture to life year after year. As I go on to conquer the last year of university I take with me the friendships of the culture team who have looked after me so well and the memory of how it feels to be involved in such a special event that means so much to so many.
I hope you have enjoyed the accounts of my time at Great North Run Culture and I hope they gave you an insight to the amazing work the organisation presents to the public each year. I would urge you to follow their programme as it grows and to take a look at Layla Curtis’s work when it is shown in 2015.
Thank you for the Million Memories and goodbye for now!