Great North Run

If you want to run a half marathon, why not try the Great North Run?  It's considered to be the world's most popular half marathon with around 35,000 competitors completing the race each year.

The Great North Run was the brain child of former Olympic 10,000 metres bronze medallist and BBC Sport commentator Brendan Foster.  In 1979 Foster ran the Round the Bays Race in New Zealand, and was determined to stage a mass participation event in his native North-East.  It was first run in June 1981, when 12,000 runners participated, and grew rapidly to become one of the biggest running events in the world.

The Great North Run is now firmly established as the UK's biggest road race, with only the London Marathon coming close in terms of number of runners each year.

Over the years the race has attracted a stellar cast of runners, with early men's winners including Portuguese Olympic marathon champion Carlos Lopes, and Australian marathon world record holder Rob de Castella.  Recent winners read like a who's who of world class distance runners, including Martin Lel, who won in 2007 and 2009, and the legendary Ethiopian, Haile Gebrselassie in 2010.

Gebrselassie was fulfilling a promise to race founder Brendan Foster that he would run in the event's 30th anniversary, and more than made good on his promise.  In cold, wet conditions he blitzed the field to finish almost two minutes clear in a time of 59:33, just one second off Martin Lel's course record set the previous year.

The women's field has also had its fair share of legendary runners, including the great Greta Waitz, who twice won the race in the 1980s, and Britain's own
Paula Radcliffe.  Paula first won the race in 2000, and returned in 2003 to set a world record time of 65:40. 

For runners who aren't likely to set any world records, it is nonetheless a great event to run.  The course begins in Newcastle and passes through Gateshead to finish in South Shields.  There are large and enthusiastic crowds all the way round the course, making it a really fun event, whether it is your first half marathon of you are a veteran racer.

Like all half marathons, the key to enjoying the race is to train appropriately.  Although half marathons are a lot easier than their full-length cousins, many runners have come unstuck by taking a "half" for granted and not training sufficiently.

You still have to get the miles in and do the long runs to ensure that on the day you can concentrate on enjoying the race rather than struggling in pain simply to finish.