I’m excited nervous. Just a bit twitchy, like a small child anticipating a treat, but knowing I’ll have to be good to get it. I wake well before the alarm and go into my preparation plan, kit laid out the night before.
The sun is shining and there’s barely a breeze when I look out the window. But it was like that yesterday and still chilly when I ventured out. I opt for long sleeves, but change my mind after less than half an hour. All the kit’s been tried and tested, so I know it’s comfy. Today is not a day to try something new.
Porridge and banana – the breakfast of champions. Yello’s ‘The Race’ on the CD player puts the butterflies in my stomach to flight. A good round of stretches and some breathing focuses my attention. Kit in my bag ready for the finish line and it’s time to go.
Driving part of the way along the route, watching marshalls in fluorescent vests set out cones, it all becomes very real. Seeing runners in coloured vests and shorts filing towards the sports centre and I start wondering if they know. Can they tell I haven’t done this before?
Looking for a familiar face among the assembled throng. Starting to identify club runners. The green vests, red white and black bands, the bumblebee stripes. All this lot are pros. They greet each other like old friends as the distinctive hot tang of Deep Heat spikes the air. I feel alone in the crowd.
I’m kidding myself I’m not nervous, but my body says otherwise. Queueing at the portaloos is an odd way to pass the time, but it does. And with less than 10 minutes to go I walk to the start. Here there are smiles, and laughs and chat. I bounce up and down on my toes, just wanting to be off, wondering what it’s going to feel like.
It’s all quite low key. A short countdown, a few strolling steps to the line, hit the start button on the watch, a bit of a verbal gee up, and I’m away. Amazed to be surrounded by so many people. Shirts of all colours stream away into the distance. It didn’t look like I was that far back at the start. Stick to the plan, don’t go off too quickly, keep it easy.
Down the hill to the quayside, stick to the left, stretch out the stride. The crowds start to spread out. The first mile goes by in a flash. I’ve got my pace, got my space. Away along the promenade all I can see is runners, stretching out into the distance.
Approaching the hill, you can sense it. We all know it’s coming. We’re all facing it in our own way. Beside me I hear a girl coaching her friend, “Small steps, keep it coming…” I listen and dig in a little, moving past bodies up to the Spanish Battery. The hill beside the priory is no threat now. I know I can tackle this one. Just a little extra effort. A minute’s worth, that’s all. The trick is just to keep moving at the top.
There are people along the course now, watching and smiling and no doubt thinking “What fools!” Beside the surf shop a small boy calls out “You’re nearly there”. The three mile marker shows we’re just under half way.
I’m now on familiar ground, the route of regular runs. But hearing other runners beside me panting and struggling for breath is distracting. And now my watch keeps showing me the time, which I don’t want to see, and won’t show me my pace, which I do.
I focus on a runner ahead. A girl in a red vest with white blonde hair. She doesn’t look like a club runner. Can I keep up with her? I unravel my headphones and decide to run my own race. The music kicks in and the coast goes by in a blur. Just focus on the runner ahead. Stick to the right hand side away from the traffic and enjoy the tunes.
Dodge a couple of lampposts and benches. Avoid the people crossing from the beach to the road. Find the space, find the rhythym. Extend my stride and smile. Approach the sandcastles by Spanish City – another marker tagged. There’s a bit of an incline ahead, but I know I can deal with it.
Along the Links more people clapping and urging us on. I’m really enjoying it now. Pass the girl in the red vest and focus on one in orange and black stripes. Can see the lighthouse clearly now. Running my own race, leaving a couple of squaddies behind me and feeling strong. Passing the buses. Seeing the runners who have already finished making their way back and cheering us on.
And there’s the finish line. Turn from the Links and it’s just there. Only a couple of hundred metres left. And I’m grinning, smiling. Take the headphones from my ears to hear the buzz of the crowd, watching and running. Ready to sprint now a couple of hundred metres.
And there’s Ian and Kelda, standing by the barriers, watching me sprint to the line, big daft grin on my face.
What a buzz! Gary captures me on camera as I cross the line. I stop the watch and check the time. It looks good. I barely register anything beyond the finish line, pick up my goody bag on auto pilot and head back in the sunshine to find the car. And I’m surprised at how good I feel. Not stiff, not achey, not particularly out of breath. Like I could do it all over again.
Great North Run? No problem…