The Great North Run in Memory of David Staff by Gillian Haddow

Saturday 21st. October – the eve of the Great North Run 2000. I was sitting in a B & B somewhere to the west of Durham City, and feeling extra-ordinarily nervous. I can honestly say.

I had always enjoyed running for my own sake and although this was the first time I had taken part in an organised event, I had spent seven or eight months training for it. I was fairly confident about finishing the race and no one was really expecting me to be.

Having survived the night, I woke early to catch the train to Newcastle. Having been an undergraduate at Durham for four years, it was a journey I was used to, but as a shopping trip or a night out. Fortunately, by this time, my nerves had disappeared, I was more concerned with safety pinning my race number to my T- shirt rather than my flesh and trying not to think about that my fingers and toes were so cold that I could no longer feel them. By this time I had made it to the start of the race and had managed to link up with Uncle Granville (David’s father and running partner extraordinaire), I was really caught up in the atmosphere.

Gillian_HadlowThe anticipation was almost palpable and the thirteen miles ahead of us seemed irrelevant as everyone was in party mode. It felt entirely natural to be sharing a motorway with forty thousand people on a Sunday morning in Newcastle whilst mingling with a group of Teletubbies chatting to a Giraffe. As the race began, the party continued with much shouting, shuffling and excitement.

Crossing the Tyne Bridge on a clear, sunny morning with thousands of other people was fantastic and an experience beyond compare. In fact, my good mood continued right up until I had crossed the bridge and faced the first hill of the morning. So this was what the training was for then………. Miles 3 – 10 passed in a reasonably pleasant way, and once I had settled into some sort of steady pace, I actually started to notice more of what was going on around me. There were runners making money for babies, older people, younger people, people-in-between and I have not even started to mention the variety of human organs that were represented……. Apparently, every postcode in the country had a representative too.

“What an incredible event.” Mile eleven was, shall we say, less enjoyable and even forgettable. It was a hill, not a short hill, but a long, drawn out hill. As I paused for my sixth bottle of water I started to doubt that the end of the race would ever happen. This feeling became stronger as I looked ahead to try and spot the fluorescent yellow twelve mile marker that would mark the beginning of the end. I became increasingly convinced that someone had been moving the mile markers as the race had gone on, I firmly believed that Blackpool Tower would appear somewhere on the horizon. Fortunately, it didn’t, and with a great deal of encouragement from my running partner, I began the last mile.

“Come on pet, only six hundred to go” someone shouted !!! Six hundred !!! Six hundred what ??? Six hundred ice cream vans, six hundred hot dog stands, six hundred people, actually it was six hundred metres. Then four hundred, then two hundred, and with twenty five metres to go, I managed a smile and sprinted over the line in two hours and sixteen minutes. Jubilation !!! I had always been told that running is as much about psychology as it is stamina and fitness. In my case, that was certainly true, there was a lot more to MY run than just getting from Newcastle to South Shields in the quickest time possible.

A few years ago, I would not have believed myself capable of such an undertaking – me ? A half marathon ?? Never !!! No way !!! Impossible !!! However, a few years ago I would not have conceived of losing a dearly loved cousin to an undiagnosed heart condition about which I knew nothing. David died at Christmas in 1994, just weeks after his seventeenth birthday due to Hyperthrophic Obstructive Cardiomyopathy. The emotions that derive from such an event need not be discussed here, suffice to say that none of us quite understand what had hit us. The death of any young person leaves in it’s wake many questions and the need for justification impossible. It is then that attention has to be turned to life and the living. With that in mind, I chose to take part in the Great North Run and to raise money for CRY. It was a privilege to represent CRY., an honour to represent my family and I hope, a suitable tribute to David.

Gillian Haddow