In what is a massive blow for South Shields The Great Run Company said the iconic half marathon will now start and finish in Newcastle to help reduce crowds both at the event and on public transport.
Instead of finishing on the beautiful South Tyneside coast, the 2021 event will see runners crossing the Tyne Bridge twice on a route taking in Newcastle city centre on the return leg, before finishing on the Great North Road.
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The finishers’ village usually situated at Gypsies Green in South Shields will be built on Newcastle’s Town Moor instead.
Rather than the traditional mass start, runners will be allocated specific timeslots, with the final participants setting off several hours after the first.
Great Run CompanyChief Executive Paul Foster said the changes will allow organisers to ensure runners are able to socially distance both at the event and on the region’s transport network before and after the race.
“With the lifting of most pandemic restrictions, we’re very confident that the Great North Run can go ahead in September,” said Mr Foster.
"We have tens of thousands of runners training and fundraising ahead of the event, and so we need to take every step to ensure the race can take place.”
“We would normally welcome huge crowds at the Great North Run, but this year is a bit different, and we want to make sure that the race is staged responsibly and safely.”
“By changing the route and adapting the timetable we can reduce the crowds at the event and on public transport, minimising the risk of transmission of Covid.
"In turn this creates a more resilient event plan and helps to ensure that the race will go ahead on September 12.”
“We have been working in close consultation with our partners in Newcastle, Gateshead and South Tyneside councils, with local Public Health Directors, transport providers, local NHS and other stakeholders, and we thank them all for their strong support for the Great North Run.”
“These changes are a direct response to the pandemic, and we look forward to returning to South Shields next year.”
Organisers say they have committed to the changes now, to ensure the event can go ahead in September.
Race director Nigel Gough explained “Planning the Great North Run takes many months, and we need to commit to a plan. Even as most restrictions are lifted, it makes sense to plan carefully to minimise the risk of transmission and ensure that this event can go ahead. After careful consultation with a wide range of national and local stakeholders, it is clear these adaptations provide that.”
Organisers promise the event will retain its character, however.
Mr Foster said: “The Great North Run has always been a celebration of everything that’s great about the North East.
“This year, more than ever, it’s important we have the opportunity to come together and celebrate our collective efforts after such a challenging time.
“We know many people will be using the event to pay tribute to loved ones, provide much needed support for worthy causes and on an individual level, remember what it’s like to be part of something bigger than themselves.
"We want to make sure we’ve done everything we can to make that possible.
“Whether this is your first Great North Run or you’ve taken on every one, this will certainly be a year to remember.”
The 40th Great North Run will take place on Sunday 12 September and will be televised live on BBC Sport. General entry places are closed, but there are a small number of charity places still available.
To find out more visit greatrun.org/North