The Great North Run experience

Here is my race report for the Great North Run. I will get back to my running journey shortly but wanted to put this into words while I can still remember it all.

I was born in 1974 so am a child of the late 70s and mostly the 80s but you don’t remember those early years, well I don’t much. In this era we only had 3 TV channels, then 4 (in 1982) and parents controlled the viewing much more that they do now! What I’m trying to say is choice was limited, so events like the London Marathon and Great North Run, (both were launched in 1981), were appointment to view for the family, because basically there was nothing else much on TV on a Sunday morning. I don’t remember wanting to participate in these races, I think I just wanted to go ride my bike or something but I do remember them being on and watching sometimes, basically I grew up with them.

Me in the 80s
An 80s Christmas

When I was given the opportunity/privilege to run the London Marathon, I remember thinking that it was pretty dam cool because this is one of the two “big ones” on the UK road running scene. A few weeks later my good friend Mike, (who had run the VLM in 2016 and inspired me to try to enter for 2017, yes that’s another story!), suggested maybe we should do the GNR in 2017.  I was a little bit worried because it always sits 2 weeks after a regular work trip to Barcelona that’s pretty tough mentally and physically but after some serious thought, I decided what the hell. Why not do both bucket list runs in one year, that would be pretty cool and I would worry about the training later. So we registered interest. Then I saw someone on instagram post that ballot entries were open, (maybe it was you Kirsty?), so I messaged Mike and we both signed up, not knowing if we would get in.

Now at this point, I had only raced two half marathons with times of about 1hr 43 and 1hr 45. So when it came to putting in your guide time, I think I put in 1hr 45.

ERROR NUMBER 1

I had no idea that just a couple of months later I would smash out a 1hr 36, (yes it was on a very flat course), at the Silverstone HM! This was a perfect race for me, the weather was great, I was stood next to the 1hr 30 pacer, (by accident), and kept him in my sight for over half the race. I was also able to run free and keep a consistent cadence. I was super happy with this new PB, of course.

When I found out that we both got in I was so happy. The double dream was on! First I had to get through the VLM and that is another story.

Fast forward to June and I was about to embark on a new training plan, with a running coach. I am not going to go into too much detail here, but there was a lot of tempo, interval and fartlek work over the 3 and a bit months leading up to the race. During this time I got a new 5K PB with 19.44. I also was starting to feel faster on track sessions and feel I could probably run a 10K a touch quicker than my PB, but there were not really any long runs at pace in the plan. I did push myself to a 1hr 45 HM to test out some new racing shoes in August though, but that was it. A friend of mine, Craig thought it was odd that I hadn’t done a 10 miler at race pace to see how I would do. I am coming round to his thinking now as it would have been good to do this about 3 weeks before race or something. I am going to discuss with my coach to get his thoughts though as I think my body needs this type of test. I remember before I did my first HM race I ran the distance on my own just to see if I could do it. I think it’s just as much about confidence as it is ability for races.

19441701_1229823230477420_4044315393921592328_oRunning a 43min 10K wihtout really thinking about it.

Anyway, I digress. Fast forward to 9th September. Mike and I had arranged to stay with a friend (Jack) from Farnham (where we grew up) who lives in Newcastle. We hadn’t seen him and his partner Jade in about 11 years, which is pretty dam slack and I won’t let that happen again!

We got the train up at a sensible time, arriving just before 5pm, where Jack picked us up and took up back to his lovely house in Gosforth. We chilled out and waited for Jades’ sister Kerry and her husband Chris to arrive. Kerry was also running and it was going to be her 1st HM!

Dinner was booked for 8pm at Carluccios, yay pasta! We arrived just before, the place was sooo busy, and they said we needed to come back in 15-20mins. So we went to a bar over the road. This place had an amazing beer menu, of which Mike and I didn’t partake. Instead I had an orange juice with lemonade; well it was actually an orange juice and a lemonade, lol!

IMG_5848Pre dinner drinks

Anyway, I digress again. So we went back to the restaurant at 8.25pm and waited ages for them to take our food order. I think we got our starters at about 9.15pm, which was pretty slack as well. Then the mains didn’t come 15mins later like you would expect, I looked at my watch and it was 10pm. I asked the waited where the food was. He said “in the kitchen”! I was soooo confused by this. He didn’t seem give a shit or was just being “funny”, neither of which was helping our panic! Then 10mins later after complaining again we were told ours was next to come out. I think we got our food about 10.20pm or something. This is not good, not good at all. Normally I am asleep or at least in bed by 10pm. I knew tonight might be a bit later but this was ridiculous and the restaurant wasn’t even busy, in fact almost empty! So it’s fair to say, we wolfed our food down so that we could leave as quickly as possible. Then just as I was thinking I would go and say something, Jack got up and went for a walk, I was pretty sure he was going to complain. He did the right thing of not making a scene, which can just be embarrassing for the staff and is just not necessary as it can often ruin other people’s evenings, which is not cool! A few minutes later Jack came back to the table and the manager came shortly after to apologise to us all and said the meal was free. He also gave us £20 gift cards. So they put it right but alas that wasn’t going to help my stomach.

This was error 2

I got to sleep about 11.30-11.45pm, which is not good for someone whose body clock wakes one up at 5am for training! I was lucky that I didn’t wake up until 6am this time but that was still 1 hour earlier than my alarm. Straight away I felt my stomach wasn’t particularly great. I had some breakfast and took on some more fluids to help. This settled it for now but I wasn’t feeling 100%.

We arrived at the start at about 9.15am, which we thought was early. I knew this would be a massive race (biggest HM in the world) but I wasn’t prepared for the amount of people and how long it would take to get everywhere. This event really was massive! We dropped my bag off in good time but then need to line up for the toilet. I also really wanted to meet Emilia (__pocket_rocket__) and the rest of the running family before the start. So I managed to catch up with them for 5mins, which was fantastic. Hugs and encouragement all around.

IMG_5874Awesome team!

I then ran back to Mike as I was worried about the start pens, I knew I was in the wrong one and it would probably be a struggle but what happened next was just a bloody nightmare.

Each start pen was massive but clearly not big enough, there was only one entrance to each and it was towards the back! It took us about 20mins to get to the pen by which time ours was full to choking point at the back with loads of space in the front half! They should have had multiple entry points to each pen; this would make it easier to manage space. We were all squashed in like sardines, no room to warm up.

img_5879.jpga right old squeeze

As they started releasing people at the front, we got a little space; I managed to jog and stretch out a bit. I was now focused on trying to get past as many of people in front as quickly as possible to find some space to run at my target pace of 4mins 30 KM. This would get me a PB of 1hr 35.

I now have 3 targets in a big race like this to manage expectations: Gold, silver and bronze. This was something I heard about during my marathon training and it’s great for motivation if things change on course.

For this race:

GOLD: 1hr 35 or quicker = new PB

SILVER: Sub 1hr 40 = a great time and still something to be proud of.

BRONZE: Sub 1hr 45 Your IT band went but you still bloody did it, (that’s what happened at the Ealing half).

So as Mike and I approached the start, we said good luck to each other. He would be running for a 1hr45 race as he has had a torrid time with running injuries. We would meet for a beer at the end though and celebrate.

I sprinted off, putting in 4.19, 4.21 4.24 & 4.39 for my 1st few KMs felt ok but I had to pass soooooo many people, weaving in and out, up on the pavement, on verges etc. and it wasn’t fun at all. My stride was all over the place with slow, then fast, then slow. It wasn’t particularly fun and I now know how Paul and James felt during the marathon!

Then during KM 5 my stomach tightened, I got some real pain and I knew I needed a toilet soon! This wasn’t good. I stressed about what would happen if I did stop and if I didn’t. Then I saw a row of toilets just after the 5K marker and made the right choice. It wasn’t pleasant seeing over 2mins tick away from my time. I also took off my HRM strap as I hadn’t set it right and it was bloody annoying me. Even so, I thought maybe a PB was still on but I would have to put in some serious speed post #poogate but this wasn’t easy. My stomach felt better and I was ready to fight!

Alas I was now back behind most of the people I had spent the effort passing! I even ran past Mike at a water station. This was so depressing seeing literally all the same people again and having the same issues getting past them. I looked at my average pace and it was coming back down eventually but I was putting in KMs 9 to 13 at sub 4.30 and it was starting to take its toll on me.

By the time I got to KM 15 I was on plus 4.30s and getting slower. It was at this point I knew a PB was gone and I was still passing so many people. So I reassessed to a silver strategy. I wanted to be sub 1hr40 and I was gonna dam well get it!

I dug in deep and even though the hill at KM 18/19 (Mel had warned me about this!) was a bit of a killer because I was spent chasing the PB, I still shouted “I can see the sea” as I came over the top of it. People looked at me confused, maybe that doesn’t happen up here lol!

Then it was the sharp hill down to the sea front, where the support was almost London level amazing (it had been great all along the route though), I looked at my watch and knew what I had to do and brought my times back closer to 4.30 for those last two km and crossed the finish line with a smile.

I even did a jump photo, which a lovely lady took for me just after the finish line.

IMG_5861Jumping for joy!

I said before the race I was going to enjoy it whatever happened and I did. I talked to a Petts Wood runner along route, I gave hi fives to loads of kids. I loved the live music. I got to meet some of the insta family. Mike managed a sub 1hr45 which was brilliant. We drank beer and we celebrated with first class seats on the train home.

IMG_5871Well earned beers with Mike

Yes the route is a bit…grey but hey it’s the biggest HM in the world and I got my silver medal and the actual medal is silver.

My finishing time was: 1hr 38mins and 51secs. I am pretty happy considering.

So my learning’s are:

  • Continue to enjoy running
  • Practice race pace.
  • Pick the right starting pen and find out how busy they are from someone who has done the race before.
  • Make sure you eat early enough, this wasn’t our fault this time.
  • Make sure you are in a good place in your pen
  • Try to pick a PB race that you can do if that’s what you want

Now I will be hitting the trails for the next couple of months!

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