AFTER countless miles, thousands of pounds in sponsorship and weeks of nerves, the wait is nearly over.
The Great North Run is here again.
Runners from Hartlepool will line up on Sunday alongside the thousands from throughout the world.
Mail reporter DOMINIC SHAW caught up with some of them.
AS an excited 17-year-old Phil Holbrook made his way to Newcastle to start a newly launched half-marathon.
Little did he and the 12,000 others taking part know they were taking part in a race which, over time, would become the most popular of its kind in the world.
Thirty years later, 47-year-old Phil will be lining up alongside 50,000 others and taking part in his 20th consecutive Great North Run and his 22nd in all.
A new year, but for Phil the same reasons and the same cause, the Hartlepool and District Hospice.
The careers advisor who lives in Fenton Road, Owton Manor, in Hartlepool, with wife Sally, 47, a sales assistant, has raised thousands of pounds over the years for the Wells Avenue-based facility.
“The hospice drives me on further,” said Phil.
“I might have a blister on my foot, my legs might be hurting but I know I am going to be OK tomorrow. Some people don’t have that.”
Phil goes out running three nights a week and has an impressive personal best of one hour 37 minutes.
But he says he would be delighted to break the two hour mark this time out.
“Even for people who aren’t running, just to be there on the day sampling the atmosphere is excellent.”
To sponsor Phil in his efforts visit www.justgiving.com/PhilipHolbrook1960.
ANNE Saunders stepped on the start line of the Great North Run for the first time in 1993.
This weekend, she lines up for the 13th time.
Anne, 58, first ran the famous event when she was 40. She had no idea it would end up in the love-affair that followed.
But the atmosphere of the world’s most popular 13.1 mile race means she just keeps going back.
“It’s brilliant,” said Anne, who works as a civil servant and lives in the Fens area of Hartlepool.
“Everyone is so friendly, it’s a fantastic day.”
This year’s run will have special personal meaning for Anne. She is running to raise money for the British Heart Foundation.
When Anne was 22, she lost her mum, Mary Millican, to angina and, in the last year, a close relative and the mum of her best friend have both died after suffering heart problems.
“The work of the charity is fantastic, it is a pleasure to be able to help out in any way possible.”
Anne’s personal best time at the Great North is a creditable two hours 32 minutes.
She admits she will be nowhere near that time this year but her enthusiasm hasn’t warned.
“I am aiming to get round in about three hours and 15 minutes,” she added.
Anne has pledged to donate a minimum of £350 to the BHF and thanked everyone for their support.
CHRIS Mincher and Brian Swanson are best friends and business partners.
This weekend, they will be running 13.1 miles side by side. The two of them, who run CB Maintenance, in the town, signed up for their very first Great North Run earlier this year.
Both admit the training and preparation has changed their lifestyle from that of a “typical” builder to fitness-conscious runners.
But whereas Chris, 35, is really looking forward to this weekend, Brian says he is “dreading it”.
Regardless of the split opinion, they have raised a spectacular amount of money in the build up to the race.
They will hand over more than £3,000 to Macmillan Cancer Research next week.
“That’s the main thing about this weekend,” said Chris, a dad of Kaci, six, and Kian, two, who lives in the Elwick Road area of town, with his wife, Lisa, 29, who is currently unemployed.
“Everyone at some point is affected in some way by cancer. That is why we decided to raise money for such a brilliant cause.”
The pals, who are hoping to break two hours, have been hard in training with the help of Ian Glass, from Muscle World Gym and Sports Supplements, in Andrew Street, Hartlepool.
“Ian has been a big help to us,” added Chris.
“Whereas before we used to enjoy a fry-up for breakfast and have chips for dinner, we have changed that now.
“It has changed our life.”
Brian, 28, a dad of Kaitlin, nine, and Ellie, two, who lives on Hartlepool’s Central Estate, with his partner, Caroline Dean, 31, a mum to Charlotte, nine, and Emily, six, said: “I have suffered with shin splints in the build up to the race so training has been tough.
“But we are raising money for an excellent cause, I know that will get me through.”