I love the Great North Run! It’s a unique event with such a great atmosphere. I was doing it for the third time this year and everyone seemed even more excited than usual – maybe because we were all still riding the wave of post-Olympic euphoria. It was a bit disappointing that Mo Farah had to drop out, but to be fair the little fella must have been pretty tired! The charity I supported last year was the Macmillan Breast Cancer Unit at York Hospital. This year I’d chosen Martin House Children’s Hospice because I think it’s such a great cause – oh yes, and because they said they’d give me cake at the end!
I felt I’d trained as well as I could in the run-up to the event. My last twelve mile run hadn’t been that great, but on the Monday before the GNR I did six miles and felt really good, clocking up an unofficial PB for 10K, so I felt fairly optimistic that things would go OK. In the past I’ve just been happy to come in at under two hours for a half marathon, but this time I had a target of 1:55 in my head, which would need an average mile pace of 8:45. I didn’t tell anyone though, as I wasn’t sure I could do it! The weather forecast for the day looked promising – cool and mostly dry with the wind behind us. You can’t ask for better than that as a runner!
My husband Steve was coming along to support me and we left home in York at around 6.15, which should have been ample time to get to South Shields, park the car on The Leas and catch the seafront bus to the start. I ate my breakfast of overnight oats en route, accompanied by some coffee to wake me up. However, after getting caught in some roadworks on the A1 we arrived only just in time to make the last bus. Top tip: this stops next to a Wetherspoons pub called The Five Swans, which has toilets that you can access directly from the street without having to walk through the bar – way more convenient and pleasant than queuing for half an hour at the race portaloos up the road. Sorry Wetherspoons, but I wasn’t the only one by a long way and I will buy something next time I’m passing, honest! We made our way up to the start and walked right past Denise Lewis interviewing people for the BBC coverage. She looks just as amazing in the flesh as on the telly! I had a small banana about an hour before kick-off to give me a pre-race energy boost and carried a gel with me; I usually take these in two halves.
I went into my pen at about 10.20 and Steve set off for the Tyne Bridge, where he intended to cheer me on and take a photo. He’d borrowed a folding bike from a friend to get back to the finish so he could avoid the crowded Metro – it was probably quicker too! After the traditional playing of Abide With Me, mass warm-up and Red Arrows flypast (always a thrill) it was time to get going. We had several Olympic and Paralympic athletes there to start us off (including Mo), which was great to see, and I crossed the line about 15 minutes after the gun. It had already started to rain gently and continued pretty much all the way round – so much for the weather forecast! Still, I guess it’s better than heat.
I ran the first mile in 8:04, which was a bit fast, but as it’s all downhill I wasn’t too worried. I did manage to see Steve at the Tyne Bridge, which was great, but unfortunately the only photo he managed to take of me is from behind!
The first six miles went really well, but I did notice that my Garmin was clocking up the miles a bit sooner than the official markers, so I must have set it off a bit too early – schoolgirl error! This meant that I often missed my mile split times and had to calculate what was happening in my head – and maths was never my strong point. The route was lined with all the things people love about the GNR – cheering crowds offering all manner of refreshments from ice lollies to beer, live music (including ‘Elvis’) and kids picking up discarded water bottles to squirt at you – just what you need when it’s raining! I’ve developed a tactic of squirting back at the worst offenders, which is always very satisfying. I do wish people wouldn’t give out orange quarters though, as if it were a football match in the 1950s, because in some places the ground becomes a lethal carpet of slippery orange peel and you really do have to watch your step. Come on folks, they give us Powerade instead these days! As the rain continued and my hair became plastered to my head I regretted not bringing a cap, but fortunately I had taken the precaution of wearing waterproof mascara! I spotted lots of Martin House runners on the way round and it was lovely to say hello to other people running for the same great cause.
By about mile 10 I realised I could achieve 1:55 even if I slowed down a bit, which was just as well because that big hill at around ten and a half miles is tough on tired legs. Taking a gel a little while before it is always a good move! But after that it’s all gravy as you run down to the seafront and along the finishing straight. This always feels like much less than a mile to me, mostly due to the cheering crowds, plus the fact that you can see the finishing line ahead! Some kind stranger shouted “Come on Angela” and I heard a “Come on Martin House” from somewhere. I crossed the line at the same time as another woman and we congratulated each other – the random camaraderie of the GNR is one of the nicest things about it. I forgot to stop my Garmin until after I’d returned my timing chip (for heaven’s sake) so had to wait until I received a text to know what my official time was; as telecoms are always a bit patchy at the finish due to the huge volume of people this took quite a while.
After collecting my goody bag, which contained a really nice t-shirt this year, I made my way to the Martin House tent in the charity village where Steve was waiting for me. It was lovely to have somewhere to go with shelter and refreshments, although typically it had stopped raining by then! Loads of great stuff was laid on for tired runners: food (including all kinds of cake!), drinks, massage and even a photographer. We were looked after really well and it was greatly appreciated. Fabulous cupcakes had been donated by The Bun Bunny and my carrot one was deeelicious!
One of the highlights of the GNR is the Red Arrows display at the finish, and it’s amazing to sit looking out over the sea and watch them perform. I’d passed one of the Jon Egging Trust ladies en route and it was very inspiring to see them, especially as our family has RAF connections. Whilst this was going on my official finish time text came through, confirmed at 1:54:13, so I was very happy with that as it was about 3½ minutes off my previous PB, set here last year. According to my Garmin my average pace was 8:37 min/mile. Apparently my overall position was 1,558, I was the 1,660th woman to finish and in my age group (45-49) I came 1,132nd. Combining gender and age I was 149th – don’t know out of how many though! The only downside to the whole event is having to queue for an hour to get out of the car park, but hey ho, it’s all part of the experience. If I ever win the lottery I’ll be leaving in a helicopter like the celebs do! Then it was back to my mum’s for a Sunday roast and a celebratory glass of wine or three. All in all a grand day out and I’ll hopefully be back next year! I hope everyone else who took part enjoyed it too – let me know how you got on. If anyone would like to make a donation to Martin House my Just Giving page is still open. Next stop is the Leeds Abbey Dash on 18th November.