The Great North Run is the biggest half marathon in the WORLD and I’d somehow managed to grab a ballot place earlier in the year, so on Sunday morning I lined up with 57,000 others to take on the 13.1 miles from Newcastle to South Shields.
My sister Tess was also running, so despite a slight (!) niggle in my hip that I’d been nursing in the week leading up to the race, I was determined to get on that start line and run it to enjoy every mile. Looking back, it maybe wasn’t the wisest decision considering my condition – the pain in my hip flexor was pretty severe even to walk – but I just couldn’t turn down the opportunity to join in the race I’d ran over 10 years ago with my Mum and have watched on the BBC for as many years.
Logistically, I had the perfect race preparation. Tess lives in Newcastle so I travelled up on the train on Saturday and stayed at hers that evening, cooking a good homemade dinner of roast chicken, sweet potatoes and veggies the night before, getting a good nights’ sleep and feeling very relaxed waking up to have my pre-race porridge and tea. The race start wasn’t until 10.40am, so we had plenty of time to walk/jog down to the race HQ, no bags to drop, just nipping into the University Medical School right next to the start line to use the toilets, before getting into the start pens as they closed at 10.30am. Simple, no rushing, no anxieties.
Ten minutes of pre-race build up from the commentators and spectators was plenty – the music, hearing the elite men (including Mo Farah) being introduced, and the soft familiar voice of Brendan Foster who, to me, is the THE voice of both the London Marathon and Great North Run BBC coverage – and soon we heard the gun and began to slowly walk towards the start line. As Tess and I were in the second wave, jut behind the elites and fast club runners, it only took a minute or so to get to the line, step over the chip mats, and we were off!
My initial race plan was to stick with Tess and this would’ve been the most sensible thing to do, running at a comfortable pace considering my niggle. I think Plan A went out the window about 2 minutes after we’d started, as I stayed ahead and kept looking behind, but within a few minutes we’d lost each other and that was that. Plan B, which I made up on the spot, was to enjoy the race as much as possible and take in the atmosphere. Again this meant sticking to a pace I felt comfortable with, but I decided I’d see how I felt at every water station considering it was a warm day, and adjust my goal if I needed to. The first mile went past far too quickly, at sub 7:30min/mile pace, and as soon as I clocked that on my watch I put the brakes on. We ran over the iconic Tyne Bridge just before mile 2 and the crowds simply took my breathe away. The noise from the supporters was deafening and I lapped up every cheer as I looked around at the runners beside me, running this famous route together. Despite my trying the second mile was just seconds slower than the first, the crowds carrying my legs faster, and I gave myself a good talking to and slowed even further. Before the third mile I heard a roar above us and looked up to see the brilliant display of the Red Arrows, shooting red, white and blue streaks through the cloudless sky. The North East sure know how to treat us runners and the race had already exceeded my expectations before we hit 5km.
Between 5-10km, I began to notice the effects of my feet pounding down the motorway and the gentle but long stretches of inclines as the crowds of runners ahead of me climbed. My running became a little monotonous and I tried to distract myself using the crowds, spotting the most crazy fancy dressed – Where’s Wally, a pair of bananas and the token dinosaur – and the lines of supporters holding out ice pops, orange quarters and handfuls of Jelly Babies. The charity supporters were also out in force, standing out in their bright colours and screaming from double-decker buses. Just before mile 6 I spotted a familiar face standing on the side of the road, microphone in hand and a camera pointing at her. Denise Lewis, GB Olympic Heptathlete was soon faced with a sweaty wide-armed Fulham RC runner as I ran in for a hug and ran off just as quickly to hear her shout ‘keep going darling!’ behind me. Race day already made and I was only halfway.
After mile 7 I started counting down the miles, 6, 5, 4…and although my pace was more consistent than the start at just over 8min/miles, I found myself stopping to walk through the water stations and stretching off my hip to release it as the pain was becoming more severe. At mile 10, with just 5km to go, I decided that there was no more stopping to be done, as the pain only seemed to get worse after a stop/start. Head down, I got in the zone, as we approached the coast and I could feel the refreshing sea breeze pick up. With just a mile to go we turned onto the road running parallel to the beach and I could hear and see the finish in the distance. Signs told us 1km to go, 800m, 400m, 200m and at this point I was really fighting the pain, one foot in front of the other to the line. The race photos tell me that I somehow mustered up the energy and joy to lift my arms up as I crossed the finish line, but all I remember is stopping and my hip seizing up in cramp. Despite the thousands of finishers I managed to spot friend Laura as we were ushered to get our medals and goody bags and we exchanged our thoughts on a tough race, weather-wise, with a few cheeky hills thrown in and in busy crowds.
I’m still pleased I ran on Sunday, even though I’m still hurting today. It’s an incredible race to take part in and one I would recommend to everyone who’s still to try it. The atmosphere is simply electric and although I don’t usually like the deafening crowds, the folk of the North East sure know how to welcome you to their home and carry you through the race. You can’t help but run with a huge smile on your face and take in their energy.
Did you run the Great North Run this year or would be tempted to enter the ballot for a place next time??