IT was early on the morning of Sunday, September 19 last year, and Nigel Barnes was sitting at the back of a bus.

He was one of many runners being transported to the start line of Great North Run as part of the event’s official park and ride service.

As he and fellow runners prepared to take on the 13.1-mile half marathon, Nigel began to talk about his pacemaker, and the heart condition which caused him to collapse during the same event eight years earlier.

“Why are you here today Nigel,” asked one runner. “Why do you carry on putting yourself through it?”

They couldn’t understand why a father of two in his early 40s would want to continue putting his body through such physical exertion, after such a major health scare.

But those sitting with Nigel on the park and ride bus that day were not aware of his pedigree in the sport.

For Nigel, who lives at Haydon Bridge, was born with a talent for running.

He ran competitively as a child and into his teenage years, representing Elswick Harriers and Tynedale Harriers, and earning top 10 finishes in regional events.

At the age of just 13, Nigel was one of the 12,000 people who took part in the very first Great North Run. He finished in the middle of the pack, with a respectable time of 2h 01s. A year later, he almost made the top 1,400, out of an increased field of 20,000, with a vastly improved time of 1hr 30m 11s.

“I was very fortunate to be part of that,” said Nigel. “Nowadays you have to be 17 to take part. But there I was, merely a teenager, running alongside adults and established senior competitors.

“I remember the excitement of those early Great North Runs. The atmosphere was electric, and even back then, we knew it was going to grow into something huge.”

Nigel, who has also taken part in three London Marathons, went on to compete in every Great North Run until 2010, when his life changed during the race.

“I remember getting dizzy and struggling to stay on my feet,” he recalled. “Somebody helped me towards the finish line, and then I collapsed.”

At hospital, medics made a worrying discovery.

“I had a pause in my heart,” he revealed. “The rhythm was not as it should have been. It was a very difficult time but them main thing was that the problem had been identified.”

For the first time, Nigel had to sit out the Great North Run in 2011 on health grounds. But after having a pacemaker installed, he made a triumphant return in 2012.

“I went back to running because I was able to do it,” he said. “To this day I have to be monitored and I have to look after myself, but I run because I thoroughly enjoy it and it is something I’ve always done.

Although he has spent the majority of his life in the North-East, Nigel was born in Singapore in 1967. His father Michael Barnes was serving with the Royal Navy on the island city-state, and the family returned to the UK within a few years.

Nigel grew up at Kingston Park and Forest Hall, before moving to Ovingham, where his dad ran a community shop. A work placement at Just Sport in Newcastle, where he did a retail course as part of a Youth Training Scheme (YTS) initiative, was the start of a lengthy career in the retail sector for Nigel.

In 1986, he began working at Hexham’s flagship department store Robb’s, in both the food hall and in the delivery section. The job also enabled him to work at Tynedale Park, also owned by Robb’s, which closed in 2004 before becoming a Tesco.

“It was an interesting job,” he said. “Robb’s was a very busy store in the 1980s, and even then, people could make telephone orders to have food delivered. It was like pre-internet shopping, but using the telephone instead.

“When I was based at Tynedale Park, I worked in the Asics sportswear outlet, and they provided me with my running gear when I ran my second London Marathon in 1998.”

Nigel began working at Hexham’s now former Co-op store at Maiden’s Walk. When the store was taken over by Marks and Spencer in 2008, he remained loyal to the Co-op, and moved to its Corbridge outlet.

A move to Haydon Bridge Co-op followed in 2016, before he switched to his current position, at Haltwhistle Co-op, 12 months ago.

“I’ve had a great career with the Co-op,” said Nigel. “And I’ve enjoyed a lot of variety. I did the twilight shift at Hexham and was a section head for two years. I also worked on produce, fruit and vegetables, and was a team leader.”

Nigel received a nice surprise last month when he was awarded a certificate for 20 years’ service with the Co-op. He is a proud father of twins Martyn and Nathan (both 15), and enjoys combining work and family life with his love of running.

“Nathan is into running, and Martyn has a go occasionally,” said Nigel, who competed in the recent Hexham 10k.