The last time I ran the Great North Run was in 2015 and to be honest I didn’t really enjoy training for or running it as much as I had in previous years. I wasn’t in a great state mentally, and training and running got mixed up in a whole load of a mess around stuff that was going on at work, low self-esteem and anxiety.
Anyway, onto 2019 and I’d decided I wanted a challenge to help me focus on run training. I wanted to have another go at a half marathon and ended up doing two. Edinburgh Half Marathon in May was excellent. The training was hard work, I questioned why I was doing it often, but eventually I had a few good runs and on the day, smashed my expectations out of the water, had a fantastic race and felt pretty epic.
So I had nothing to prove at Great North Run 2019. It’s a different type of course with , different conditions, so I didn’t feel under any pressure to try and beat my Edinburgh half time. My plan was just to run and enjoy it and remember what I loved about this race.
Training had gone okay. I’d done a few 10 milers in the build up to the race, and run consistently 2-3 times a week. I skipped one long run in favour of a lovely weekend cycling and enjoying the Edinburgh Book Festival. And I ran one race distance event two weeks before, on a lapped run where I stopped for water and food after each 5k lap.
I had a bit of a panic when I pulled something in my back a couple of weeks ago. But I managed to reduce the pain quite quickly and got a good sports massage on it in race week. It caused me no problems on race day.
I slept really well and woke up a little excited and just ready to get out there. My plan was to use the same approach as I had in Edinburgh, run at easy effort, not pay too much attention to my watch and just see how I felt. No pace bands, no pressure.
Race prep was standard, porridge with banana and honey, a small bottle of water sipped between walking over to the start line. It was bright and sunny, but not forecast to be too hot – around 16-18C. I remembered to slap on the sunscreen just before setting off.
I wandered through the gathering crowds and saw local legend Minnie Mouse (aka Anne) who is one of the few GNR all-timers. I’ve seen her at just about every GNR I’ve ever done, so that felt like an auspicious omen and after bumping into her, I made my way down towards the starting pens. I had loads of time before the hullaballoo started but didn’t want to waste energy wandering round too much. As I was walking down I spotted a Fetch pal from Scotland, Paul, sitting on the bank beside the central motorway. Perfect company for a bit of chat and chill. Just what I needed.
I left with my good wishes and hugs at about 10am and made my way further back to my white starting pen, where I watched the start of the elite races, the usual warm up and all the razzmatazz that goes with this race on the big screen. I was still feeling pretty relaxed and excited.
It took just over 20 minutes before I reached the start, pushed the button on my Garmin and was off. Under the flyovers, trying to keep it steady , enjoying the oggy oggy oggies through the tunnels.
On the Tyne Bridge I ran along the left hand side and got loads of shout outs from the spectators. I thought they were people I knew until I remembered my name was printed in big letters on my number. I tried to smile or thumbs up every one as they all gave me a real boost. There were loads of cheers and smiles from younger folks too who were pointing out the guys dressed in furry penguin suits running beside me. I hope that means I’m easier to spot in the traditional masses on the bridge photo!
Once over the Tyne Bridge, there’s not a lot in terms of scenic highlights. There was a sign on one of the bridges near Gateshead stadium that said something like “settle into your pace and enjoy the race” and that’s what I was doing. I got a shout out from my parkrun pals Angela and Jules and was feeling good.
It was pretty hot and sunny, so I had decided I would take on water when I could, with the first station being at 3 miles. I grabbed a bottle and kept moving and sipping.
At 4 miles I was feeling a bit tired in my legs. But the course goes uphill between 4 and 5 miles. It’s one of those deceptive long drags that you can’t really see, so I just put it down to that and pushed on.
But I could sense I was slowing down, even as my effort levels stayed the same. No real worries, maybe I had gone off a bit fast, although I didn’t think so. I ran through my mental checks – feet, knees, hips, core, shoulders, head. Yeah – all okay, although mentally I felt a bit vague and unfocused. I counted up to one hundred to engage my brain. Fine, I’ve slowed down a bit, it will come back to me.
I pushed on to 6 miles and then thought that the 10k sign took forever to appear. Half way and not feeling any more fluid or faster in my running. I gave myself a mental note to pick my feet up, get the cadence going, run light. The message didn’t seem to reach my legs.
Somewhere between mile 4 and mile 7, an ambulance went past and runners split to the sides of the course. I used it as an excuse to walk for 20-30 seconds in a bid to reset my head and get back into something that felt more like my usual running flow.
The vague feeling in my head continued. I grabbed water from another station and drank some, poured some over the back of my neck. I ran through a shower to cool down. I can’t tell you what order those things happened.
For a few brief moments I felt a bit wobbly and faint. I can only remember that because I’d stepped to the kerbside to walk for a bit and when I started running again, I was that annoying runner who steps out into someone’s path. I apologised and she was fine about it, but it was a sign for me that I wasn’t really paying attention to things as I usually would.
I walked again. I checked my watch and told myself I could walk for 1 minute, and started to shuffle again after about 50 seconds. I did a 10 min shuffle/run to 1 min walk option a few times and then the walking breaks got longer.
I bypassed sweeties and ice pops offered by the supporters who were out in droves. But I grabbed an orange segment and ate it like a flesh-devouring zombie, then tried to get back into a running rhythm again.
The run never really came back to me. Mentally it was a bit frustrating. I couldn’t pinpoint anything that was wrong, or injured or hurting. When I did run, I felt like I was shuffling along at a very slow pace. My legs just felt like they had no power in them.
I’m really pleased that I didn’t allow this to become a stick to beat myself with. I have been ridiculously, stupidly hard on myself when my head has gone in other races. No pressure, really meant no pressure this time and I just plugged on as best as I could.
At around 10 miles I got my phone out to record something for the Fetch Everyone podcast as a welcome distraction and a way of me making the positive mental action real.
After struggling with running and letting go of any sense of pace, I found it easier to deal with what are traditionally the hardest bits of the course. My breathing and effort was relaxed and although I felt some muscles in my legs starting to seize up, I kept going. All along the John Reid Road, past the Nook and onto Prince Edward Road blurred into one. I took some encouragement from a runner from Cheshire who was urging a runner called Becky on. It was nice to hear a North West accent.
There was the sea at last. Just down the hill, turn left and run the longest mile of your life to the finish. And I did run. Or at least what passed for running by that point. It was a point of pride not to walk and to smile and thumbs up and thank everyone who called out my name again.
I know this is a long mile, but still the 20k banner almost caught me out and that last kilometre went on forever, but finally I saw the guys and girls in uniforms that really mark the end of the course. What a welcome sight. They lifted my spirits as I made a bit of a dash for the line, remembered to throw a winning pose and smile for the cameras and stopped. 2:50:17 – 30 minutes slower than I ran at Edinburgh Half Marathon.
Post finish was a bit of a blur. Got my bottle of water and headed for the medals, remembering to stick to the lane nearest the sea where parkrun friend Sumanth presented me with my bling and had a bit of a chat. Picked up my goodie bag and dove towards a space on the grass where I could dig into it and find something to eat. The Clif bar vanished in seconds. The tub of tuna… maybe not!
As I posted on various social media, it wasn’t my day for a good run but I did have a good day and I’m pleased about that. But I’m still puzzling out why I feel a bit dissatisfied, like I have unfinished business with the half marathon/GNR. I guess I’m looking for reasons why there was such a big drop off between my performance at Edinburgh Half and GNR. A couple of days on I’m resigning myself to the fact that there may be many small reasons or none at all. It’s just one of those things.
I am very proud that I’ve now completed 7 Great North Runs and on this one I was supported not just by all those brilliant people who stood at the roadsides cheering on over 50,000 runners, but by friends and family who always wish me well and who have helped me raise funds for CARE International UK.