Over the last few months I’ve been a lot better at doing the running than I have about updating the blog about my running! But I did it. Great North Run 09/09/2018, 13.1 miles, half a marathon, along with 57,000 other runners, the furthest I’ve ever run and my big goal for the year. Exactly one year after my first 5k race.
I’d felt really positive about it in advance. I’d done the training, getting past 10 miles several times and over 11 on my last long run. I had my kit all ready, all stuff I’d run in many times. I’d identified my biggest problem as setting off too fast, and had a plan to try and stick as near to 11 minute miles as I could.
I’d said all along that I was hoping for cloud, and the forecast said I’d get it. I’ve struggled so much to run in this summer’s heat, and my pace had picked up so well since it cooled down a bit. When I started walking to the race it was not just cloudy, but drizzling, and I knew I could run really well in this. I might even get under 2 hours 30 minutes, my fantasy race time!
The walk in is where things started going wrong. The socks and shoes I’d trained in a million times chose this morning to rub my feet to bloody blisters, and the wonderful clouds vanished to be replaced by brilliant blue skies and rapidly increasing temperature.
Ready to go!
I met up with my running group for photos and chat, was given blister plasters and sun screen, found the loos, and marvelled at the sheer mass of humanity waiting to run. I’d heard the number 57,000 over and over, but until I was there amongst them, trying to make my way to the pink pen at the back, I really didn’t understand just how many people that was.
There was a lot of hanging around. It was about 40 minutes between the start of the main race and my crossing the start line, but the excitement of actually being there carried me through. I’ve watched the Great North Run so many times as a spectator, never thinking I’d do it – now here I was! I was really glad to be waiting with a friend from running group, also taking part for the first time, who was equally excited. She helped me navigate through the crowd to run where I’d see my family, who were waiting to cheer me on shortly after the start.
I lost her quite quickly, once we were moving it was so crowded with runners of all different paces, but I got going well. I managed to keep to my target time for the first few miles, which passed in a blur. When I first looked at my watch I’d already done 2.5 miles and passed the Tyne Bridge and the Sage. It was hot but I kept going, even running the uphill sections, until well past the 8 mile mark. A couple of times we all had to move to the side of the road to let ambulances through, and there was a lot of concern for the runners who’d collapsed.
By mile 9 I was struggling and had to stop and queue for a toilet, which I was painfully aware was adding minutes to my time (7 minutes if you’re interested). I found it hard to get going again after that, and by mile 10 my legs were shaky and I was struggling even to walk. I felt awful, that I was letting people down, that I’d stupidly taken on something I just wasn’t capable of. I slowed, even walked eventually, and genuinely considered pulling out. This photo, one of my official ones, shows how bad I felt. I’d seen the camera, but couldn’t even summon the energy to look up or smile.
As well as official water, jelly baby and gel points there were thousands of ordinary people all along the route, cheering us on and handing out sweets, water, cake, fruit and more. Some even had garden hoses to help hot runners cool down. At my lowest point, somewhere around 11 miles, a small boy handed me a slice of orange and said, with complete sincerity, “You CAN do this.” And I remembered how sure I’d been that I could.
So I forced my legs to run again. I kept telling myself there was less than a parkrun left, a distance I run regularly, that I could do it. It was hard, really hard. While the first miles had flown by the last two dragged. Every step was a conscious effort. The last 800m have a distance marker every 200m, and they felt miles apart, but I was determined not to walk so close to the end. I was actually talking out loud, telling my legs to keep moving.
And then the end was in sight.
Thank goodness it’s nearly over!
I’m smiling in my finish photos. I don’t remember smiling – I remember struggling not to cry.
I’d done it.
But it wasn’t over.
My legs and feet were in agony. I wasn’t sure I could keep upright to collect my medal and goodie bag. I stretched as I queued.
My phone wasn’t working. So many people and media all transmitting from the same place was causing blocked signals, so I couldn’t find out where my family were waiting. I was too tired to worry about that! I had an ice cream and a sit down and took in the atmosphere while I waited.
Eventually I found my family and began the long slow journey home. I’d thought 57,000 was a lot of people earlier, it was nothing to 57,000 elated, tired people and all the friends and family supporting them. Public transport managed well, but it was a slow process.
After despair during the race elation had taken over. I did it! I pushed myself absolutely to my limits. I had sunburn, chafing, blisters, pain in my feet and legs, but I felt great. Part of me already wanted to do it again.
I couldn’t have done it without so many people supporting me, from friends and family throughout my training, everyone who sponsored me, to all the people lining the streets who cheered me on. Although I’m sure a less crowded run could be quicker I’m not sure I’d get round it without the support on the day.
For now, recovery. But I’m already signed up for a 10k in November and a 10 mile race in February. I’m not stopping running any time soon. And I still absolutely believe that if I can do this, there’s something for everyone, no matter how inactive you are now.
I’ve raised over £700 for my charities, over £800 with Gift Aid, which is way beyond my target. They’re both charities that have made a massive positive difference to my family, and I know they’re grateful for every penny and will put it to good use. If anyone has not yet donated and can spare a £ or two you can contribute here.