The Great North Run is unlike any other race I’ve been part of. Although I do take slight issue with the popularised depiction of it being a 13.1-mile conga line. Anyone who has arrived on the start line, as I did back in 1999, with the mistaken assumption that ‘adrenaline will see me round’ only to find that by the time you’re on the outskirts of Jarrow you’ve realised ‘no it bloody won’t’ can attest to there being a distinct lack of fun between miles 3 and 11. Still, it’s a great race and a fabulous experience and has quite rightly morphed from local fun run into an iconic part of UK popular culture.
I read this week an article called ’36 things you only know if you’ve done the Great North Run’. But, there are things not on this list. Things that need to be said. And if you’re looking for a quick list of 5 toilet-related truths about the Great North Run, urine luck…
1) When 55,000+ people need to go to the bog at the same time, there’ll be queues. Lots of queues. And, like Indiana Jones deciding which is the cup of a carpenter and knowing if he gets it wrong he’ll horribly age to death in seconds, you need to choose your Portaloo queue…wisely. And get in position early. To avoid horribly aging to death in seconds wetting yourself.
2) If you’re a gent, a novice mistake is to queue for the sitty-downy when you need a standy-uppy. At the heart of the Great North Run Toilet Village (its not called that but it should be), if you take the correct path and have a fair wind behind you, you’ll find (to carry on the Indiana Jones metaphor) the Holy Grail of gentlemen’s pre-race lavatorial supplies – the portable urinals. Of course, its tempting to approach a chap in the queue for the sitty-downies and say ‘did you know there’s and ample number of urinals tucked away over there, sir?’ but the fear of the response being ‘I know mate, I need a shite alright?!’ is enough to let the chap make the discovery for himself.
3) As a species, human beings are not the most patient. Particularly us men. So rather than queuing politely or bothering to seek out the fabled urinals, gents tend to take to the bushes that line the start. If you’ve only ever watched the Great North Run on TV I can give you a little insight here: when the helicopter hovers over the starting masses and you can see the trees that line the starting bit of the route, those trees are chock full of last-minute pissers.
4) This is the one I want everyone to realise – an outrageous number of people take a piss actually AT THE START OF THE RACE. On the course itself. On the road. Against the barriers. At the start. Not in the trees with their relative discretion, or by opting to go for a last minute dash to the emergency Portaloos (although my heart goes out to those who need to dash to those for an critical crap as the gun goes) but there on the start. Do the celebrities charged with starting the race know this I wonder? Back in 2013 when I, along with hundreds of others, high-fived Christine Ohuruogu as I crossed the starting line I did find myself wondering how many penises I was only one hand-shake away from…
5) Less than a mile in, the route heads down through an underpass. Which doubles as a toilet. For lots of people. Yes, less than a mile in and chronic overhydration gets the better of many who, I would imagine, wouldn’t usually take an indiscrete piss in front of several thousand people. There’s a PhD thesis in ‘social conventions deemed disposable during large running events’ I feel, for which this would comprise at least one chapter.
I’m sure the whole race route is full of emergency urine stops. Or worse. But once it thins out a bit I can’t say I’ve noticed any more ultra-public relief stops. Although maybe I should ask for reader’s letters and put together a book. But what to call it? It’s a toss-up between Great North Urine and Taylorson’s Toilet Terrors.