31 minutes 34 seconds. My slowest Km to date. This is the time it took me to get from my starting position to the start line. By this time Sir Mo had elapsed the 10k mark, making my chance of winning slim.
I am not a fast runner, averaging around the 9 min mile pace. I started running back in 2016 when I got a call from Matt informing me I had a place in the 2017 London Marathon. 17 weeks of training later, I had picked up a medal on the Mall having ran for 4 hours 38 minutes and 52 seconds. After 6 months or so of getting overweight and unfit, I decided to enter the ballot for the Great North Run the following year. Although I was hopeful of a place, I was not expecting a place. Therefore, the binge drinking and excessive smoking continued.
Little did I know that on the morning of 7th February an email hit my inbox to inform me I have been successful and I have indeed received a place for the Great North Run 2018. “SHIT” I thought, although presenting myself far more grateful and fortunate than I really was. Throw the cigs’ away, pour the lagers away. I wanted to get a good time. I plodded around London, waving and thanking the crowd, whilst taking everything in. I wanted to record a time I could look back and be proud of.
Training was good, I enjoyed some very nice runs with my good friends Matt, Andy, Michael and Iain. I also enjoyed running with my fiancé, who got into running this year and it was really nice to spend time with her whilst training. Previously, Beth had been waiting at home with a bath ran for me, my E-Cig waiting and something to watch on my laptop, whilst I recovered from a long run. This time, it was the other way round!….
….The training was not good, although I ran 2/3 times a week, I was focusing too much on trying to improve my 5k time, something that in hindsight, was disastrous. My longest run was on July 30th. 7.2 Miles, 4 Miles on which, I virtually crawled. It was one of the runs, where everything went wrong. Eventually I got back into the car and drove home disappointed, texting my running partner’s apologies as my performance must have affected their run. All was forgiven.
We drove up to the North-East on the Saturday before and enjoyed a lovely pasta dinner and the reality check of England loosing to Spain, during the UEFA Nations League.
As my alarm went off at 7am, I felt good. Well rested and optimistic. I inhaled my porridge and it was off we went. A short walk from Gateshead to Town Moor found us at the start line. A further 30 minute walk found us at our bag drop. Another 45 minutes later I found myself at my start pen. The weaving in-an-out of people was exhausting and I hadn’t run a single yard.
At 11:11am, I crossed the start line and I was excited. Mostly because I spotted a television camera pointing in my direction and my watch buzzing continuously with WhatsApp notifications. “I’m probably on tele”- I thought. Starting off at my normal pace of 9min the first mile elapsed with no problem. There were concerns, certainly as on the other side of the central reservation, the other runners were seemingly running underneath the ring road and I was faced with the task of running over it, I thought “what goes up, must come down”. How wrong I was. I cannot remember running downhill until the final mile. The Tyne Bridge is something special. The Crowds were packed 4/5 people deep and plenty of hands offering a moral boosting ‘high-five’.
The most apparent stat of the Great North Run is the amount of participators. The course was packed from mile 1 to mile 13. This was the hardest aspect of the run. Every time I thought I had passed people recovering, you had to navigate around another set and so on. Not only was this hard to settle into a decent pace, it was also mentally tiring. 5K had passed before a water station was available. Then again at 7K, 9K, 10K, 11.5K and so on. There were no consistencies with the water stations which was challenging for me, as I like to know when to take water on and settle into a routine.
As I checked my watch throughout the race, it was apparent my target of 120 minutes, was falling away from me. Not to worry, I will take in the crowd and the atmosphere. The atmosphere was fantastic, with steel, classical and rock ‘n’ roll bands dotted around the course. Families were out in numbers offering water, jelly babies and oranges to everyone. This is my favourite thing about running. I am never going to get anywhere near competing with my running, therefore I have to take smaller victories. The smile of the crowds, the ‘high-fives’, even the deafening screams of “oggy-oggy-oggy”.
Mile 12. As you come over the steep hill, you can see the North Sea. More importantly, you can see the final stretch is all downhill. For me, I could also see the famous red arrows commencing their air show. As my 120 minutes had just elapsed, I took it all in. Running whilst watching the red arrows completing their near impossible show was incredible and a moment that will stay with me for a very long time. This stretch also saw the deepest crowds across the course. However, for me, I was only looking for one of them. My fiancé had been waiting 350 metres from the finish line for 2 hours, to cheer me along. Fortunately, I did spot Beth and after a quick wave and a kiss, I was moments away from completing the greatest half marathon in the world.
Would I do it again? Probably not. I don’t want to come across ungrateful, but the whole race had been under-whelming. For me, there were too many people. This was evident in the pandemonium at the finish line. However, this day was more than the 2 hours 11 minutes and 55 seconds it took me to finish. My best friend was running in his first ever event. Oli has family from Newcastle and when we spoke back in November about running, he was keen. Oli completed the race in a fantastic 2 hours 30 minutes. Together we raised just shy of £1,500 for charity.
I will keep up with my running. Shorter races for now, but I would like to run the royal parks half marathon next. But for now, where’s the beer?