Okay, this is going to be a long one, so if it’s not your thing, move along and check back later when I’ve stopped channelling Gwyneth Paltrow on Oscar night 😉
My journey to the 2010 Great North Run has been a pretty epic one. It was big enough last year, when it was my first half-marathon, but this year it’s been even bigger, mainly because so many of you have joined me on it. So I need to say some thank yous.
First of all, to my family. We’ve had a tough year and a good year. We’ve had occasion to weep and occasion to celebrate and we’ve done both together. We may not be a conventional set up and we may be separated by geography, but we’re always close at heart when it counts.
When I first decided I wanted to run for Ava, it was all a bit raw and emotional, but I hope you’ve seen how this amazing event can help turn something negative into something positive. For, make no mistake about it, the Great North Run is a celebration. I know you’re proud of me. I’m proud of you too.
I also want to say thank you to that great fellowship of runners. Fast or slow, old or young, elite or just starting out; from the unknown athletes that nod and smile as I pass on the street, to those of you I’ve come to look for at local races, we do all share something. Yes, we’re all nutters.
I’ve found a great supportive community of runners in Fetch Everyone. Some of you I only know by nickname; some of you I’ve come to know quite well. It would make strange reading to list you all, and I’d be bound to miss someone out, but will you indulge me with a few special mentions?
To Dave, Lesley and the Fetchpoint crew who saw me at that glorious moment just after 10 miles. Remember me always like that and I will never grow old or tired.
To Jeff, who has dealt with his own sad loss this year with strength and grace, thank you for all the coaching tips and advice.
To Lisa and Jason who invited me to run in their woods and provided excellent sausage sarnies. And to Dave W, who it’s always a pleasure to run with.
And to my two excellent friends from Scotland, Alistair and Lesley. You have been with me all the way with your kind words, advice and encouragement. You are two very special friends and I hope to meet you soon.
I need to say a big thank you to my friends and work mates. Some of you run and some of you don’t. But you’ve all endured me going on and on about training and running for the past year. And I’m afraid you’ll have to put up with it for a bit longer, as I’ve no intention of stopping.
I hope I made up for some of the ear bending with the Great North cake sale that helped boost my charity fundraising by over £200. Thank you to everyone who baked, bought and ate their way through a mountain of cake, especially ace bakers, Kathryn, Erika and Zeinab who really went out of their way to help me. And to Pete, for having a very sweet tooth and a generous wallet.
To everyone who has commented on a blog post, tweet, or facebook update – thank you. But it just encourages me you know 😉
To the people who have allowed me to share my story with a wider audience, from the JustGiving blog to BBC Radio Newcastle and in particular, Tony Horne on Metro Radio. Thank you for helping me spread the word, tell people about my baby sister and raise awareness of the work that Sands does. Tony, it was a real pleasure to talk to you, to shake your hand at the four mile mark and to enjoy a broadcast that really summed up the spirit of this amazing run.
To Ian, who got me running in the first place. Did you ever imagine I would get this far? Your patience with my questions and dedication to my training show you to be a professional. Your support and advice throughout everything show you to be a friend.
To Gary, who is always there for me. Even at the finish line, in the rain, without an umbrella. I know you don’t always understand why I do this, but I know you understand how important it is to me.
I also need to say a heartfelt thank you to the other families that have been affected by the loss of a baby. In telling my family’s story, you have opened your hearts to me. Although, it must still be painful, I hope it gives you some comfort to know that your little ones are remembered and that in supporting me, you will help Sands help other families and may even fund research that prevents a tiny life being lost.
What an amazing, fantastic, wonderful, emotional day. What a great run! I am so proud to have run this race again, my home race and shared it with so many big hearted people.
If I were any kind of writer I would make you read to the end to find out my result. But I’ve dragged so many of you on my quest for a sub 2 hour half marathon, that it feels unfair to drag it on much longer.
I didn’t do it. I ran 2:02:56 – a new PB. And honestly, I am happy with that. I ran this race as a runner and as best I could on the day. And it has been about so much more than that.
So many strange little coincidences, so many little things unplanned added up to make this an amazing day.
I didn’t sleep particularly well. I wasn’t conscious of being hyped up and over excited, but I drifted in and out of sleep and finally awoke to the sound of pouring rain. I’d already decided to run in my contact lenses, and it was a good job as yesterday I managed to lose the nose bit off my glasses. For once I managed to get them in first time.
Porridge, banana, blueberries and honey. Race kit ready and off to the start line in plenty of time.
I browsed back from the elite start searching out familiar faces. I saw Liz McColgan and the Leukaemia Research team all lined up for a photo in their yellow T-shirts and Jonathan Edwards about to do an interview.
I scanned the orange pen for Alastair and Anne, running friends from Fetch, but no luck. And found myself in white Zone D just before they announced the moment of reflection for the runners and played Abide With Me. And that’s how I found myself hugging a beer bottle at the start of the Great North Run.
I knew that would be an emotional moment for me. And I didn’t really know what to do, where to stand. And as I looked around, I saw a sign on a runner’s back, saying ‘Running in memory of my son, born prematurely’. So I said hello, and explained I was running for a lost little one too and Charlie Paterson, dressed as a beer bottle, put his arm around my shoulder and we both had a wee cry.
And I remembered darling Ava, and said her name, along with Max Jacob, James, George, Molly and Indah. All precious little lives lost, but not forgotten.
Tributes paid. Time to Geordie up and on with the race. We warmed up and cheered the wheelchair athletes off. Then the women, and then a massive cheer for Haile Gebrslassie and soon I found myself moving forward to the start line. A quick good luck to a couple of runners nearby, set the watch and go.
Steady, steady on the start, don’t go off too quickly. Shouts of ‘oggy, oggy oggy’ through the tunnels and waving to the crowds on the road bridges.
The Tyne Bridge comes quickly. Spot Jolene from work and call out to her. I spot Peachy’s support crew with their banner and not far afterwards hear someone call out my name. They’ve read it on my shirt and it just makes me beam, because I know they’ll read Ava’s name too as I pass.
Check the pace for the first mile 08:09 – oops it’s fast, more like 10k pace. Never mind, you can slow it down.
Wave to the cameras on the cherry pickers and woosh, the Red Arrows zoom over. Right time to settle in and run this race right.
Steady, steady up the banking, focus just a few feet ahead. Keeping pace with a runner in an orange football shirt that says Ebits on the back. No I have no idea.
Just like last time I seem to find pace and space, not too baulked by runners, no need to weave and dodge. Just slow for a few steps and then find a gap.
My mind is already tightly focused. The spectators go by in a blur. I grab water at 3 miles, even though I don’t feel like I need it. I have too many memories of being desperate for it at the end last year. And my mouth is a little dry from the excitement.
Into my pace now, into my place. Just me out for a Sunday run. Running my own race.
And then reading a white T-shirt that says Tony Horne, running for cash for Kids. And taking a second to process it, but thinking, ‘That must be Tony Horne’.
For those of you who don’t know, he’s a DJ on Metro Radio here in the North East and a massive Great North Run fan. He did a live show all day on Saturday from the Quayside, speaking to celebs and athletes, and me actually. I told him all about Ava and why this year’s run was so special.
So, in a crowd of 50,000 runners, I spotted someone whose hand it was a pleasure to shake and someone who knew who I was. Amazing!
I was pacing myself well at this point, running strong and not looking at the watch too often, but seeing 9 min miles when I did. Around mile 5 I think I spotted a slower one and picked up my feet a little, still telling myself to run strong. That I had time in the bank from a fast start and a wee cushion for my pacing.
At one point my route is rather restricted by a few runners running and chatting together and a wheelchair. I drop behind but cannot find a gap and don’t want to waste energy, or risk upsetting the runners behind me by dodging out wide. So I just ask if I can squeeze through, and they let me. It’s only when I watch the TV later, I realise its Helen Skelton off Blue Peter, that I’ve just pushed past.
I was clocking the miles until the end of the Tyne Tunnel – an important point for me, as I’d run the route from here last Friday, so I knew it would give me a good psychological boost. That and the band at the bottom of the John Reid Road, singing Walk this Way, really put a smile on my face.
Just after 8 miles, I went to grab water again. I’d been running down the left hand side of the road, but noticed the right hand side was less congested. Trying to keep moving through the water station and reach out for a bottle, held out by the most successful Great North Run athlete, Tanni Grey-Thompson. I shout ‘Tanni’ and she says, ‘Well done Michelle’. Wow! That has just made my day. I tweet her later and get a lovely reply.
And so to mile 8. So often my troublesome mile. And it’s no different here. I feel good. I feel strong. But the clock is starting to tell and I’m slowing down. I notice a slower pace mile, but tell myself not to worry. Just run to the finish line.
But the next mile’s hard too. Pulling on my calves and I’m starting to waver. I’m beginning to struggle and I know it. The dark thoughts don’t overtake me for long, as I know Fetchpoint’s not far away. Just run how you feel I tell myself. Today the time is not important.
Let me explain Fetchpoint. You may remember that I log my runs and chat to other runners on a site called Fetch Everyone. It’s like a social networking site for runners – a bit like belonging to a virtual running club. And when they’re not running and there’s a big event on, like the Great North Run, sometimes Fetchies arrange a cheering zone along the route. They are usually stocked with jelly babies and hugs and always guaranteed to be noisy.
As I approach, I yell ‘Fetchie’ with all the breath in my lungs. And I high-five Dave, Jeff, Lesley and a runner I only know as Geordiegirl. I’m beaming and put on a good show for some good friends.
But a few hundred metres past my fabulous chums and I start to pay for my exhuberance. I’m slowing. I bloody will not stop. The legs fall more slowly and slowly. I’m plodding.
Do the opposite, dig in. It’s the sodding Nook again isn’t it? Push on. But hopes are fading. Just keep looking forward, pushing forward. Ignore the walkers. You’re not going to walk today.
Just like last time I grab some proferred orange segments on Prince Edward Road and keep going. My mango treats and gel have long been used up. It’s just stubbornness and adrenaline now.
And then there it is, that grand vista. It’s the sea, the sea. ‘Just over a mile to go’ I say to the runner beside me. ‘We can do that’. And we smile.
I pile down the bank picking up the pace and push on just a little bit into the roar of the crowds at the sea front. I don’t have the same speed in my legs as I’ve had on training runs, but I manage to pick it up a bit.
I feel a brief twinge of cramp in my calf and grimace. Someone calls out my name from the sidelines. It happens again. And I’m just pushing on, overtaking runners, desperate to see the 800m sign.
Another shout out and another. You are lovely people. I will finish this smiling. 800m and tell myself to finish in 10k pace if I can. It’s so close, I can taste it.
Past the marker. I can see the 200m sign ahead. And then there he is. Gary, in the crowd. I cannot believe I’ve spotted him again. I call out and he sees me.
At 200m I no longer care, hammer down, arms pumping, who needs to breathe anyway? Spotting the elite finish and turning to run over the grass. Stopping the watch, knowing I haven’t done sub 2 hours, but not caring. Feeling a bit wibbly in the funnel, but welcoming the stretch to tear off the timing chip.
And then away over the field, and a stretch by the fence. And a few tears. Because it’s been emotional. But not many, because it’s been so amazing and full of so many memories.
I called this a run with the stars. I don’t mean the athletes or the celebrities, although they add to the sense of occasion and I’ll always be proud to say I ran with Haile. I mean the real stars. The hundreds of thousands of people that do this. That take on this challenge for thousands of reasons. The people that come out and support it, cheering and yelling, offering biscuits, jelly babies and hose downs. And the people that make it possible. The St John’s crew holding out globs of vaseline. The army of marshalls, the people collecting chips at the finish and picking up all the rubbish at the start.
This is an amazing run. It is an amazing experience. It’s worth every ache and pain, every worry and niggle, just to say I’ve done it. And I didn’t do it alone.