Race Review – Great North Run 2013

 Well, you might think I’m a bit of an old hand at the Great North Run, having done it three times before (or maybe just a bit of an old hand!) but this year was a bit different as it was the first time I flew completely solo without having anyone there to support me. My usual coat-holder, husband Steve, had a Yorkshire Points Series cyclo-cross race at Keighley on the same day, so we had to go our separate ways in the pursuit of sporting glory (lol). That’s why there are no pics of me in this post, although to be honest that’s probably not a bad thing as I always look rough in running photos even when I feel fine! It was also the first time I’d done the event as part of a marathon training plan rather than an end in itself – the instructions on my Women’s Running magazine Improver’s Plan were still to run it at PB pace though!

I travelled up to Newcastle by train on Sunday morning. I’d had a little Twitter exchange with East Coast Rail a few weeks before, wondering about their bizarre train scheduling strategy for GNR day. From York there are trains at 06:55 and 07:10, both of which get you to Newcastle way too early, then nothing until 09:00, which is cutting it a bit fine. Why nothing at around 08:00, which would be perfect? I’m sure there must be a reason, but East Coast weren’t very forthcoming about it. Oh well. And another thing – there’s nowhere open to get coffee at 7am on a Sunday morning at York station. That’s just plain wrong!

Moving on from rail-related gripes, Steve dropped me off at the station and I walked across the concourse convinced I’d probably forgotten something vital. Oh wait, I had – I’d left my brekkie in the car! Good job I realised before I got on the train. Crisis averted! Looking for my seat on the train, my phone rang. It was my Mum, calling to wish me good luck. “Is it a marathon?” she said (she asks me this before every race I do, even though I’ve only ever run one marathon). “What are you wearing? I’ll look out for you on the telly”. Bless. I settled down to eat my lukewarm porridge. The guy next to me, an old fella with a pot belly, clearly dressed to run, was having a Maximuscle protein shake. Interesting choice. I think he’d probably have been better off having that afterwards! The bloke opposite was eating cold pasta. More appropriate, but much as I love pasta I don’t think I could face it cold for breakfast. Perhaps he didn’t fancy cold porridge. He was also reading Nuts magazine, so I had a ‘lady’ with duct tape over her boobs practically shoved in my face for the whole journey. Nice!

I can’t fault East Coast for punctuality on this occasion. I arrived in Newcastle at 8:20 with about two hours to kill before kick-off. Luckily Starbucks was open by now (any port in a storm!), so I got myself a coffee and killed half an hour in there before going next door to the County Hotel. This was a top tip that I’d picked up from the York Runners Facebook page. The ground floor facilities in there are an excellent place to take a ‘comfort break’ without queuing for the race Portaloos. The hotel is full of runners anyway, so if you just stroll in and act cool nobody notices. Thank you Thistle Hotels, I promise to buy a drink in one of your hotels some time to make up for it. Although I had a day pass for the Metro I decided to walk up to the start as the weather was OK and it would be a good warm-up for the legs. The forecast wasn’t great, but I’d come prepared with a waterproof cap and the essential start line bin bag.

The baggage bus facility was great, hardly any queue at all. After all this time the GNR organisers have obviously got this sort of thing sussed. I dropped off my bag and headed to the starting pen. Still no rain! Unfortunately the Red Arrows weren’t able to fly over the start this year due to weather conditions, but everyone was in good spirits and gave Mo Farah a massive cheer when he was announced. As the gun went off I fired up my Garmin, knowing it might take a bit of time to kick in. Ten minutes later I was approaching the starting line and it still hadn’t locked on to the satellites. Bugger. So I decided to hang around a bit until it did. Ten minutes after that, still nothing! People were pouring past me and I thought of how I’d probably have to try and pass half of them some point, which would really slow me down. In the end I gave up and just set off. I had no idea how fast I was running for the first couple of miles, but the first mile is usually quite fast anyway as it’s mostly downhill. The Garmin eventually fired up at around two and a half miles, so although it didn’t measure the full distance at least I now knew my pace. I did miss the Red Arrows flying over the Tyne Bridge though. Bloody technology!

The race itself went pretty smoothly. It only rained on me for a couple of miles when I was already warmed up, so I think we got off pretty lightly there. There were the usual bugbears of people who’d clearly lied about their time (Orange numbers walking after two miles? Hello?!), groups of friends running six abreast and litter all over the road, but hey ho – the GNR isn’t the place for a serious PB attempt anyway, it’s more about the occasion, which is always enjoyable. You certainly can’t beat it for atmosphere and camaraderie. I saw one guy running with a bike on his back, and everyone was giving him shouts of encouragement – what a hero! The last mile of the GNR, along the seafront at South Shields, is always something special, with throngs of people clapping and cheering all the way along. I crossed the line feeling good, but with no real idea of my time!

I didn’t linger in the finish area, as I’d been advised it was wise to get to the Metro ASAP to avoid being held up on the journey back to Newcastle. The finisher’s bag was pretty good – as it probably should be for the entry fee – a nice soft cotton t-shirt (too big, but aren’t they all?), a quality medal, a High 5 Nutrition taster pack, Powerade, Power Bar Regeneration recovery drink powder, Aqua Pura water and a few other bits and bobs. The baggage buses were a bit of a walk from the finish, but in the direction of the Metro anyway, and reclaim was easy and quick. However, as I stepped up onto the bus my left calf had a twinge of cramp, much to the amusement of the attendant – aargh! I chomped on my recovery banana as I headed for the station, wondering what more I can do to strengthen my calves before the Yorkshire Marathon. I must admit I hadn’t appreciated how far it was to the Metro – a good half hour walk – but no doubt it was a good cool down for the legs.

I got changed and found some food at Newcastle station and waited for my train home. I can’t believe how little some people seemed to have with them – there were some folk travelling all that way back in just their vests, shorts and silver blankets! Obviously it’s nicer when you have someone at the event with you, but the whole process throughout the day was very smooth, so it’s a great event for the solo traveller. Unfortunately the weather was apparently horrendous at Keighley and Steve had problems with his fancy new tubeless tyres, so I had a much better day than him. That’ll teach him to bin me for cyclo-cross 😉

It was ages before I got the text to tell me my time. In the end it was a PB of 1:53:34, so I’d achieved what I’d set out to on the day, but I couldn’t help feeling it could have been a bit better if I’d been able to set off a bit sooner. I came 10,710th overall, 1,105 in my age group (40-49) and 145th in my age/gender group. Out of how many I don’t know, but I’ll take that! Entry will soon be open for the Brass Monkey Half here in York in January, so I think I’ll enter that again and hope it won’t get cancelled this time! Of course I soon move into the next age group, but that’s another story…

So it’s onwards to the Yorkshire Marathon now – two big runs on the next two weekends and then the taper starts. I can’t believe it’s nearly here!

How was the GNR for you?