How to make sense of this overload of sensations? How to describe the sights, sounds and feelings? It’s a blur, a jumble, a carnival of noise and colour, swirled in with feelings of excitement, and pride, fears and doubt, joy and fellowship.
What a race! What a day!
Nervous excited in a good way as I walked through Exhibition Park back from the start. Spotting celebs at the front and making my way back to the white zone. How glad am I that I managed to get my start zone changed – it was a long way to the back of the field.
Runners meeting and greeting, relaxing by the sides of the road. Was it too early to head to the pen? Picking a spot and stretching, looking around. Here they’re all wearing serious running gear, charity vests and sports watches, well worn-in trainers. Not so many costumes or craziness apart from a couple of punky hairdos.
I chat to Nick from London – he’s on his sixth Great North Run and says it’s the only one he does because it’s so well organised and the atmosphere’s brilliant. I try to conserve my energy, eat my banana, nervously sip at my water and wait.
Watching the big screen it all seems to go so quickly. There’s a warm up and music to make me smile and sooner than I think we’re walking forward – edging to the start line. And there’s room, there’s space, hit the watch, start running and we’re off.
The welcome cool of the overpass and the resonant shouts of ‘Oggy oggy oggy’. Pumped up and excited we reply and wave to the crowds on the bridges. Up towards the Tyne Bridge – about to be part of an iconic moment. Remember this moment in the crowd in the sunshine – behind the girl wearing a brthday cake hat.
The red arrows roar over.
And there’s a hill, pulling on my calves. I’ve gone off fast, ease it down a bit, find my usual pace and just keep moving forwards, forwards.
All these people, it’s amazing, but I’m still running my own race. I smile and talk to myself in my head. Checking I’m okay. Checking the watch and the pace band – and I’m on.
Everything blurs. I can’t take in landmarks or signposts. I miss most of the mile markers. Where am I? I don’t know. I’m on a road runnning and it’s hot. The sun beats down and surges up from the tarmac. I need water. I never need water when I’m running – but today I do.
I stick to the left hand side, find my space and just keep going. Where the ground heads up there’s a sea of bobbing colours, but mostly my focus is just a few feet ahead.
Miles pass and I acknowledge the half way point. Feeling good, feeling strong. Enjoying the sunshine. A shower from a fire hose cools things down a little, dousing sticky sweat from my face.
It’s hot. It’s hot. I reach for water again and look in vain for shade. I stick to my plan and tear off a gel pack to keep me going.
There’s a roundabout, but by now I have no sense of the route. I’m just running, following, unable to do anything more. I pass 10 miles and I know I’m slowing. I try to hang on to a couple of runners in Cystic Fybrosis shirts for a while, but start to drop back and they’re gone. A couple of black fairies bat me with their wings. And I’m starting to struggle in my head.
Plug in my headphones for some focus and direction. Treat myself to another gel pack, barely even registering the taste. Just body craving the sugar.
And finally there’s shade. Trees line the road and families have gathered with picnic mats and chairs to watch the runners. They hold out cups of water, bananas, ice pops. I grab a slice of orange and it bursts in my mouth with welcome sweetness.
That’s what I needed, just to settle and gather my thoughts. Just a little further, just a little more. You can run for another 20 minutes, easy. But it’s not so easy as it has been in training.
And here’s the hill. The one everyone talks about. But it’s okay and suddenly I’m running down, down towards the sea and I’ve never seen such blue. Turn onto the sea front – remember there’s still a mile to go. The soft breeze revives me.
All I can see is faces. People crowded four deep by the barriers, clapping, shouting “Not far to go, keep going”. I pick up speed. I can do this. 800m and trying to decide when to sprint. And I see Gary – one face in the crowd that means something to me and I call out.
400m – it still seems a long way. I can see the elite finish now. But where’s the end? How much further? My legs don’t have enough for a real sprint, just a brief spurt and head in a blur I remember to stop my watch. It’s over. I did it!
Can I call myself an honorary Geordie now?