Tips for Great North Run First-Timers

Well, the great day is nearly here – Great North Run day that is! I had my last long run (12 miles) yesterday and I don’t mind admitting my legs are pretty tired from training right now, so I’m glad to be finally tapering! I did the GNR (my first half marathon) for the first time two years ago. I’d never run that far before, so it was a bit of an unknown quantity and a massive learning curve for me. I did quite a few things wrong… like writing my mile split times on my arm in biro; unfortunately they sweated off after about two miles because it was a warm day (I didn’t have a Garmin back then!). I over-hydrated before the start, so had to stop for a pee behind a hedge after about a mile (but I wasn’t the only one!). At one point I lost the plot and couldn’t remember whether or not I’d passed the eight mile marker (I hadn’t – what a disappointment!). When I passed through the Bupa Boost Zone at mile ten I dropped all the Jelly Babies someone kindly handed to me because I didn’t want to stop running – which was a shame because at about 11½ miles I hit a bit of a wall and had to walk for a little while. At the end I was just pleased to be still standing! Even though my husband forgot where we were supposed to meet up and it took us ages to find each other I still loved the whole experience. But I loved it more last year when I knew what I was in for!

So here are a few tips that I hope might help other first-timers and non-elites like me. I learned most of them the hard way so you don’t have to! Feel free to let me know if you have any other good tips to share.

If you haven’t done any training it’s too late to start now. You can’t make up for lost time at the last minute. In fact, you’ll be doing yourself more harm than good if you try to, because you need to be rested on race day. Panicking is pointless, so just enjoy the experience and do what you can.

Take it easy during the week before the event – just have a couple of short, gentle runs to keep your legs turning. This is not the time to do lots of walking/cycling, have a big night out or tackle the gardening/decorating.

Consider having a pre-race sports massage. You don’t have to be an elite athlete to benefit from this. Even if you aren’t Mo Farah your body has still done lots of hard work! I had one a few days before last year’s event and I think it really helped.

Eat good, nutritious food in the week before the race – lean protein, good carbs, fruits and veggies. Just like a car, your body will perform much better on high grade fuel. Try to avoid alcohol – it will make a bigger difference than you think.

Get some early nights in – you want to be as refreshed as possible. Nerves may keep you awake the night before the race, and you’ll probably have an early start too, especially if (like me) you’re travelling to Newcastle on the day.

A couple of days before the event start to fuel yourself up on good carbohydrates such as wholemeal pasta and bread, beans, pulses and brown or basmati rice. There’s no need to eat loads more than usual, just adjust the proportions of your meals to include more carbs and less protein. These carbs will provide your muscles with most of the energy they’ll be using as you run. The night before the event have a meal made with ordinary pasta, as you may not have enough time to properly digest wholemeal stuff at this point.

On the morning you’ll need a breakfast that will provide you with some good energy but not take too long to digest. Different things work better for different bodies, so experiment in training. Many people favour white toast or porridge with something sweet on top like honey or jam. My personal favourite is porridge with maple syrup. Have breakfast at least two hours before the race so that it has time to leave your stomach before the start. About an hour before kick-off have a light snack such as a small banana or an energy bar if you feel hungry.

Consider carrying an energy gel or two with you to take during the race. This will prevent you ‘bonking’ (running out of steam) by giving you a temporary high-energy hit. On my recent long runs I’ve been carrying a Clif Shot Blok with me and taking half after 7 miles and the other half at around mile 10. They really do make a difference. Or of course you can stop for Jelly Babies at mile 10 and just not drop them! If you are going to use gels for the first time make sure you test them out before race day just in case they don’t agree with you.

Hydration is very important, especially if the weather is going to be warm. In the week before the race make sure you drink plenty of water. There is no set correct amount, as everyone’s body is different, but try to keep it at a level where your wee is a very pale straw colour, almost clear. Don’t overdo it on the morning of the race like I did! Water and energy drinks are available at various points along the course, so you shouldn’t need to carry a drink round with you.

Plan your travel arrangements well ahead to avoid stress spoiling your enjoyment of the big day. Think about things like where you’re going to park, how you’ll get to the start/finish and where you’ll meet up with people. There’s lots of helpful info in the GNR magazine, including how to buy bus/metro tickets online in advance. Allow plenty of time to get to the start, especially if you’re going to use the baggage buses. Bear in mind that with around 50,000 runners plus supporters and spectators all milling around at the finish the mobile phone networks get really overloaded and it’s sometimes impossible to make calls. Decide on a meeting point before the race; the best place is under the big alphabet letter signs in the finishing area. This is really important, especially if your supporters have your post-race clothes/food/drink with them and the weather isn’t good – or happen to be my husband!

Most importantly, enjoy the day – after all the training and organisation it’s taken to get there you deserve it. You won’t believe how good you’ll feel when you cross the line. I’m running for Martin House Children’s Hospice. If anyone would like to make donation you can do so on my Just Giving page.

Good luck everyone!

Race Review – For All Events York 10K

Welcome to another of my non-elite race reviews! First off, let me start by saying that I love the For All Events York 10K and have done it every year. It’s great to have a fab event right on my doorstep that’s a good opportunity to assess form in the run-up to the Great North Run and is also in aid of a really worthy cause, the Jane Tomlinson Appeal. This year my new-to-running brother Mike was doing it too, his first-ever 10K race.

We awoke to fog on race morning, which was a bit unexpected – and chilly – but at least it wasn’t raining! We’re able to cycle to York Racecourse (where the race starts and finishes) in about 15 minutes from our house, meaning we can avoid traffic queues and have a nice gentle warm-up en route – very handy. Hubby Steve came along to support us.


There’s always a fantastic atmosphere at the York 10K, probably due to the fact that it’s so inclusive, with runners ranging from elites through to joggers and walkers. The lovely Elly Fiorentini of Radio York was doing her usual great job of encouraging us all at the start. We probably turned up a bit later than we should have, so Mike and I found ourselves closer to the back than we’d have liked, but that was our fault for not getting up earlier! The race was started by World Cup final referee Howard Webb, who also took part in the run.

Unsurprisingly the first mile or so was spent trying to get past quite a lot of people. People say this course is quite good for achieving a PB, which it probably is if you’re an elite runner, but back in the main pack lots of people seem to stand closer to the start line than they should. Why? We all get our own individual chip time, so you have nothing to gain by getting in the way of faster people! Not that I’m fast, but I’m far from the slowest at this type of mass event, and it is a bit annoying when you see people who started near the front begin to walk after about half a mile. You can waste a lot of energy trying to get round them, as well as groups of friends who want to jog along five abreast. Note to self – get up and in the pen earlier next year!

The route of the race is lovely, taking runners past some of York’s finest sights such as the Minster and the castle, then along the river. The sun also managed to break through after a while, which I knew it would as I’d decided not to wear my shades! The event is always very well organised, with two water points en route provided by the Asda Foundation; my only grumble would be that the people giving out the water couldn’t keep up with demand, so anyone wanting it had to stop and wait to get it. Some tables with bottles laid out on them would have been useful. As it wasn’t too hot and I’d hydrated well beforehand I didn’t bother, not wanting to waste valuable seconds. I was refreshed by the sight of Steve popping up unexpectedly to cheer me on in a couple of places instead!

I always like to have an aim on race day to keep me going and have a dream of completing a 10K in under 50 minutes, just to get a time with a 4 at the beginning! As I get older I realise that’s less and less likely to happen, but it’s still a good motivator. My first few mile splits were pretty good at around 8:15, but I find it hard to keep that up over six miles, so did fade a bit towards the end. I finished in 52:30, about 20 seconds outside last year’s time of 52:19, and was very glad of the Lucozade Sport provided at the finish line! Mike did really well, coming in at 46:04. The goody bags at the end were great, with an attractive t-shirt and, for the first time, a medal too. Fired up by Mo Farah’s golden performance the previous evening, we felt a bit like Olympians ourselves, albeit quite a bit slower!

 So, after a rest day today I’m back on it tomorrow, now on week seven of my twelve week training plan for the Great North Run. I’m doing it for Martin House Children’s Hospice this year, so please feel free to donate on my Just Giving page if you’d like to. Can’t wait for that one!

Great North Run 2012

Well it’s that time of year again, when the Great North Run begins to loom large and I have to get my finger out and do some proper training! Actually this will be the third time I’ve done it, so I have a much better idea of what to expect now than when I first did it in 2010 – that was my first half marathon and a very steep learning curve! I didn’t do any fundraising that year as I wasn’t even sure I’d complete it, but last year thanks to the generosity of my friends and family I managed to raise over £500 for my friend Angie Grinham’s appeal for the Breast Cancer Care unit at York Hospital.


This year I didn’t get in through the general ballot, so wanted to take a charity place and decided to run for Martin House Children’s Hospice in Boston Spa. The folks there do amazing work caring for children and young adults with progressive, life-limiting illnesses, and also give invaluable support to their families. Please have a look at the Martin House website to read more about the brilliant job they do there. Of course, despite being an absolute godsend, hospices have to raise nearly all the money they need to keep going, so I do think this is a really worthy cause to support.

This year I’ve been quite organised with my training, and doing the Leeds Half Marathon in May certainly helped get me off to a good start. I’m now on week five of a twelve week programme, and the Jane Tomlinson Run For All York 10K on 5th August will be a good opportunity to check on progress – I just hope it isn’t as hot as it was last year! It’s also the day of the Olympic Women’s Marathon, which I can’t wait to watch afterwards as I eat a big post-race brekkie. I’m still not convinced I could run a marathon myself, but might just give it a go next year as I have a big birthday coming up – don’t quote me on that though! Entry is still open for the 10K if anyone fancies it, and the For All Events team is looking for volunteer marshals too if any non-runners would like to help out.

If you’d like to make a donation to Martin House please visit my Just Giving page, or give me a shout if you’d prefer to donate by cheque or in cash. I’d be very grateful and so will they! Thanks for reading and watch this space to find out how I get on.

Leeds Half Marathon Review

Yesterday was my first attempt at a half marathon that wasn’t the Great North Run, which I’ve done twice now. I do find that if I don’t have an event on the horizon my running motivation can slide a little, so wanted to enter a spring half this year as well as the GNR. Close to home, Leeds seemed like a convenient option and is now organised by the For All Events team, so it benefits a great charity too, The Jane Tomlinson Appeal.

 My preparations in the period leading up to race day weren’t ideal. Three weeks beforehand I’d had a nasty stomach bug which meant I had to miss one of the two twelve mile runs on my schedule. The following weekend I launched straight into the second twelve miler after a week off, and paid the price by tweaking a muscle in my hip, which has been niggling ever since. But I was still up for it, especially as it was the first ever race for my brother Mike, who I’d nagged into starting running just after Christmas and who soon turned out to be far better than me!

 Sunday dawned sunny with quite a chilly wind – but at least it wasn’t raining! The drive from York to Leeds was pleasantly quiet and stress-free, with plenty of free parking available in the city centre. Organisation of the event was really good, with only short queues for the essential pre-race loo visit. It was cold hanging around at the start, but once the gun had gone off we were over the line in about five minutes. Obviously that was the last I saw of Mike!

 I’d been pre-warned about the hilly first few miles, so had included some in training. The first mile was fine, but there was a lot of climbing up out of town until we reached the ring road at about 4½ miles. Many people found it very tiring and a few seemed to be dropping out even at that point. I have to admit that I found these uphill miles pretty tough, but just reduced my target pace a bit with the hope of gaining some time later on. On the ring road we turned into the wind, but at least we were going downhill for quite a while! From that point on the route undulated quite a bit. Someone had told me beforehand that from mile 7 it was all downhill – er, I don’t think so! However, it did flatten out as we followed the route of the River Aire along Kirkstall Road for the last few miles. Facilities en route were pretty good, with five toilet areas and five drinking points with water and energy drink supplied by sponsor Asda.

 So how did we do? I realised fairly early on that this wasn’t going to be a PB day for me, but still wanted to come in at under two hours and just squeezed in at 1:59:03. In the last mile there was a short climb over a flyover which seemed to scupper quite a few tired legs, and it was a bit sad to see folk having to start walking so close to home. I managed to keep going, but certainly didn’t have a sprint finish left in me as I approached the line! Mike did fantastically well for what was not just his first half marathon, but first ever running event, bringing it in at 1:42. He only started running to keep him fit over the winter for mountain biking in the summer, but I think he just might have got the bug now…

 My only slight grumble is that on some of the roads where we were coned off into one lane the route was very narrow and it was hard to pass people. Having chugged up the hills I wanted to make up as much time as possible on the downhill sections, but where you had groups of friends running three abreast it was virtually impossible. That’s my only gripe about the day though, and I don’t suppose there’s much that can be done about it. All in all very enjoyable, although I was really glad to see the finish line! Great goody bag too, with a top quality technical tee and a Toffee Crisp – get in! Would I do it again? Very probably!

 For the next month I’m going to do some gentle running and cross-training on my bike, which I’ve seen far too little of recently. My very supportive cycling hubby Steve will be pleased to hear that! Coming up later in the summer I’ll be doing the Race For All York 10K and then in September I’ll be ding the Great North Run for Martin House Children’s Hospice. Bring ‘em on!