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What is the Great North Run? How to train for the world's biggest half marathon

August 10 2023 6 min read

The Great North Run has earned its place as one of the UK’s most popular races, with tens of thousands of people eagerly crossing the finish line on the beautiful South Shields coast.

But it’s no easy feat taking on this gruelling half marathon!

With this guide from Fitness First, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about the Great North Run, including when it’s taking place, how long the route is, as well as some training tips to get you started.

What is the Great North Run?

The AJ Bell Great North Run is the world's biggest half-marathon, with over 60,000 runners lining the streets of Newcastle to run the distance to the stunning seafront of South Shields.

The run was devised by former Olympic 10,000 metre bronze medalist Brendan Foster, who was inspired after running in the ‘Round the Bays Race’ in New Zealand in 1979. The first Great North Run was staged on 28 June 1981, with 12,000 runners participating.  

When is the Great North Run?

The Great North Run will take place on Sunday, 10 September 2023. 

How long is the Great North Run?

The Great North Run is a 13.1 mile (21 kilometres) half marathon that takes runners on a journey across Newcastle.

What is the route of the Great North Run?

The race will start as it has in previous years, on Newcastle’s A167 central motorway near the Town Moor, heading off through the city centre towards the River Tyne. From here, runners will then cross over the iconic Tyne Bridge.

For the next stage, runners will run along Gateshead’s Felling Bypass, pressing on toward South Shields at White Mare Pool as they soon welcome a view of the sea and the finish line!

Our top tips for Great North Run success

Here are our top tips to get you prepared for the Great North Run:

1. Go little and often

It’s better to complete a smaller amount of exercise every day than trying to jump straight into gruelling sessions a few times a week. 

If you aren’t used to intense bouts of exercise, overtraining can do your body more harm than good, so it’s best to ease into it by completing manageable amounts more frequently. 

2. Train with a friend

Training doesn’t have to be boring, so why not get a friend involved and challenge each other? You’ll be much more likely to stick to your goals if you have someone to help hold you accountable if you miss a session.

Plus, there’s nothing wrong with a little bit of healthy competition, and you’ll probably end up pushing yourself harder than if you were training alone. 

3. Visualise the route

Sometimes, it helps to know exactly where you’re going, and visualising the route will make it seem more manageable to break down and conquer the run. 

While we aren’t suggesting that you run the whole route before the race, you could start by walking sections of it and eventually begin to run individual parts until you are ready to complete the entire route.

4. Think about the end result

Instead of thinking about how challenging the race could be, imagine how great you’ll feel afterwards! 

A half marathon is a fantastic achievement you’ll be proud of for years. You’ll also train yourself to be in the best shape of your life with improved health benefits, a better mood and enhanced body confidence to boot.

5. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself

Just because you can’t run 13 miles today doesn’t mean you never will. Slow progress is still good progress, have faith in yourself that you can do it and you will be able to.

How to train for the Great North Run

Before you take on the big day, you first need to establish the building blocks for success. From base mileage to taking on longer runs, here’s how to train for the Great North Run:

1. Focus on base mileage to begin

Increasing your weekly mileage is a great way to help build endurance and your aerobic capacity, meaning you’ll be able to run for longer without getting fatigued. 

When increasing your mileage, it’s best never to increase your weekly mileage by more than 10 percent weekly. Steady progression helps to reduce the risk of injury (which can hinder your progress) and discouragement. Make sure to include 1-2 rest days per week to give your body time to recover. 

2. Take on the long run

To train confidently, you’ll want to build up to a weekly long run. This should be done every 7-10 days — depending on your fitness level — aiming to extend the long run by a mile or two each week. Aiming for anything more than this can lead to injury and ultimately set you back. 

Every three weeks, make sure to scale it back slightly by a few miles; this way, you won’t over-tax your body. Before the race, it’s best to build up to running at least 10 miles once or twice so your body can get used to this distance. 

Doing these longer runs at a slower pace helps to build confidence and teaches your body to burn fat for fuel. 

3. Incorporate speed runs

Speed runs are a type of run that means you work for certain intervals near, at or even faster than your VO2 max pace — this occurs when oxygen consumption redlines, which means your heart rate is maxed out and you’re working hard. 

Intervals are a set of repetitions of a specific, short-distance run at a faster pace than usual, with a recovery jog or walk in between. You might run 4 x 1-mile repeats at a hard pace and then include a 5-minute jog or walk in between the mile repeats. 

You can also opt to incorporate tempo runs into your runs, which are longer intervals — typically between the 4-10 mile range — run at a challenging but sustainable pace. 

4. You need rest days

Rest days are an important part of exercise for all levels of fitness. While it can sometimes be tempting to carry on training, it can lead to muscle tears, making it harder to keep up with your goals. 

On rest days, we mean absolutely no running. A rest day can still be an active day, but it’s best to incorporate gentle exercises such as walking or yoga.

How to get your body ready to race on the day

Before taking on any physical activity, it’s always best to start with some warm-up exercises and stretches, especially when you're running for 13 miles!

Warm-up exercises:

  • Jog in place — Start with a light jog in place for 3-5 minutes to gradually increase your heart rate and warm up your muscles.
  • Leg swings — Stand beside a wall for support and swing one leg forward and backwards like a pendulum. Repeat 10-15 times on each leg to warm up your hip flexors and hamstrings.
  • Hip circles — Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and make circular motions with your hips. Rotate clockwise for 10-15 seconds and then counter clockwise for another 10-15 seconds.
  • Walking lunges — Take a step forward with your right leg and lower your body until your right thigh is parallel to the ground and your knee is at a 90-degree angle. Push off with your right foot and repeat with the left leg. Perform 10-15 lunges on each leg to warm up your quadriceps and glutes.
  • High knees — While jogging in place, lift your knees as high as possible, alternating between legs. Aim for 20-30 high knees on each leg to activate your hip flexors and improve knee drive.
  • Butt kicks — While jogging in place, kick your heels up toward your glutes, alternating between legs. Perform 20-30 butt kicks on each leg to warm up your quadriceps and improve flexibility.
  • Calf raises — Stand with your feet hip-width apart and raise yourself up onto your toes, then lower back down. Repeat this motion for 15-20 repetitions to warm up your calf muscles.


  • Standing quad stretch — Stand upright and grab your right foot with your right hand, pulling your heel toward your glutes. Hold for 15-30 seconds and repeat with the other leg. This stretch targets the quadriceps. 
  • Standing hamstring stretch — Extend your right leg in front of you while keeping it straight. Bend forward at the hips, reaching toward your toes and hold this for 15-30 seconds and then repeat with the other leg. 
  • Calf stretch — Find a wall or tree and place your hand against it. Extend one leg behind you, with your heel planted firmly on the ground and lean forward until you feel a stretch in your calf muscle. Hold for 15-30 seconds and repeat with the other leg.
  • Hip flexor stretch — Kneel on your right knee with your left foot forward. Lean forward slightly, keeping your back straight until you feel a stretch in the front of your right hip. Hold for 15-30 seconds and repeat with the opposite leg. 

Remember to perform each stretch in a controlled manner, without bouncing, and avoid any movements that cause pain. It's also important to listen to your body and adjust the intensity of the warm-up exercises and stretches based on your fitness level and individual needs.

What should I wear for the Great North Run?

The choice of clothing for the event can largely depend on the weather conditions on the day of the race; however, here’s a general rule of thumb for what to wear:

  • Running trainers — Ensure you have a comfortable and well-fitting pair of running trainers that you have trained in prior to the event. Avoid wearing brand-new shoes on race day to prevent blisters or discomfort.
  • Moisture-wicking clothing — Opt for moisture-wicking fabrics that help to keep you dry and comfortable by wicking away sweat from your body. Consider wearing a technical shirt or top and moisture-wicking shorts or running tights.
  • Layering — If the weather is expected to be cool or if there's a chance of rain, consider layering your clothing. Start with a lightweight base layer and add a long-sleeved shirt or a jacket that you can tie around your waist if it gets too warm.
  • Hat and sunglasses — If it's sunny, protect yourself from direct sunlight by wearing a hat and sunglasses. This will provide shade and reduce the risk of sunburn and glare.
  • Compression garments — Some runners find compression socks or sleeves helpful for muscle support and recovery. If you've trained with compression gear and find it beneficial, you may choose to wear them during the race.
  • Rain gear — If there's a possibility of rain, it's a good idea to bring a waterproof jacket or a poncho to keep yourself dry during the race.
  • Race bib — Make sure to attach your race bib to the front of your shirt using safety pins or the provided clips. This bib usually contains your race number and timing chip.

Remember to test and train in your race-day clothing before the race to ensure that you’re comfortable and to minimise any potential issues — such as an item of clothing not fitting properly or rubbing when you run. 

How do I stay hydrated during the Great North Run?

Hydration is crucial during the race. Take advantage of the water and sports drink stations along the course. It's recommended to practise drinking fluids during your training runs to develop a strategy that works for you.

To learn more, check out our guide to staying hydrated before, during and after a workout.

Get Great North Run ready with Fitness First

At Fitness First, we have a wide range of fitness classes, personal training sessions and more to get you ready for taking on the Great North Run. 

Or, for tips on running a marathon, read our guide on how to train for the London Marathon.

Book a club visit to come and experience our facilities for free. Or, for more helpful tips and advice on fitness and nutrition, check out our blog.