Tributes paid to the Queen at the Great North Run

·4-min read

It was a celebration of the life of a monarch and the achievements of elite athletes and fun runners alike.

The Great North Run saw a field of 60,000 make the journey from Newcastle to South Shields on Sunday, just three days after the death of the Queen at the age of 96.

They did so having poignantly paid their respects before they got under way, and honoured a life of service as they toiled – some of them for longer than others – to complete what for many will represent the achievement of a lifetime.

The 41st edition of the race regarded as the world’s biggest half marathon went ahead despite some sports – principally football – opting to postpone fixtures as a mark of respect to the Queen.

The thousands who set out on the 13.1-mile route from central Newcastle to the coast passing under an image of the Queen as they did with the elite runners targeting victory, but most among the field running for personal achievement and to raise an estimated £25million for charity.

Race founder Sir Brendan Foster addressed the runners before the start, and later told the BBC he believed the Queen would have wanted the event to go ahead.

He said: “We felt it was in tune with what would have been the Queen’s wishes in our view, people coming together as a community, coming together to do what they aimed for, to be the best version of themselves they could be to raise money for charities.

Spectators support athletes over the finish line during the Great North Run
Spectators support athletes over the finish line during the Great North Run (Richard Sellers/PA)

“She spent a lot of her life raising money for charity, so we felt it was the right thing to do.”

The elite wheelchair athletes were first to set out at 10.15am, followed five minutes later by the elite women as the masses continued to stream towards the start line.

A minute’s silence was observed followed by a moving rendition of God Save the King, which was greeted by spontaneous applause before Commonwealth 10,000m champion Eilish McColgan sent the elite men and the rest of the field on their way amid subdued and respectful excitement.

On the course, the atmosphere was as good as ever as crowds turned out in force to celebrate the achievements of the athletes, but also to pay tribute to the Queen with Union flags prominent along the route.

The cheers and music which provide the soundtrack to every Great North Run were there in abundance, as were the jelly babies – and in some cases, beers – always on offer to participants along the way.

Some ran in fancy dress, others wearing the names of the charities or family members they were supporting, among them a team of sports reporters running as a team put together by Foster on behalf of the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation.

One of them, Matt Dickinson, of the Times, said: “There’s so much to be emotional about today. Brendan Foster, to me, is a hero. He did a great speech at the start, made sure that the right tributes were paid to the Royal Family and then you forget the pain in your legs because the crowd and the atmosphere are so brilliant.

“I don’t think there’s a better time to do it in some ways.”

Runners cross the Tyne Bridge during the Great North Run
Runners cross the Tyne Bridge during the Great North Run (Will Matthews/PA)

Colleague Matt Lawton added: “I know they thought long and hard about it, but I think they made the right decision.

“When you think about what the modern Royal family does represent. It is about charity, it is about about the Prince’s Trust, it is about the Duke of Edinburgh, the whole thing is about charity. I think the Queen would have been outraged if it hadn’t gone ahead!”

For the record, Uganda’s Jacob Kiplimo won the men’s race, Hellen Obiri took the women’s title for the second successive year and David Weir and Eden Rainbow-Cooper won the wheelchair events.

Perhaps more importantly, those who took part and those who witnessed their efforts did so with in fitting style after a difficult few days for the nation.