This year’s Great North Run – the 25th anniversary of the event – saw a capacity entrance of 50,000 runners. Yet the hot weather brought a number of problems during the day that sadly included the death of four men.
With this in mind, my reflections on the run will be in two parts. Today I will talk about my actual run, a run that I believe has been my best yet. Later this week I want to talk about some of the sadder aspects of the event, but at the same time recall some of my happy memories that I will take from the day. I also plan to tell you all some exciting news regarding my fund-raising for the Bobby Moore Fund.
Before the Run
The night before the big day saw me travelling up to Thursby, a small town near Stockton-on-Tees, where I spent the night in student halls at the Durham University Stockton Campus.
Having spent a whole year in such accommodation during university, as well as using such facilities before my run in 2003, I knew what to expect, but I was still surprised by how bland and uninviting such rooms are. Fortunately this meant the table, chair, shower and bed couldn’t provide any distraction, and I went to bed at a very respectable 10:30pm. The following morning I raised out of bed at 6am, all refreshed and ready to run!
After an hour long coach trip into Newcastle (seeing some of the North-East’s magnificent industrial landscape as well as the beautiful Angel of the North), it was little a walk to the A167(M) Newcastle Central Motorway, that becomes home to a huge amount of runners and their families waiting to start the world’s biggest half marathon.
The two and half hours before the race soon passed, and before I knew it I was crossing the start line – of course 25 minutes after the race had started! From here on in, and unlike previous years, the first 4.5 miles where pretty easy – even those inclines that greet you as you enter Gateshead felt good!
Mile 1 was ran in 10 minutes, mile 2 in 11 minutes, mile 3 in 12… pretty good going for me. I intended to run at least until I reached the 5 mile mark where the first water station was. It turned out that this was at 4 and a half miles, and what with the shear number of people stopping to collect water, I decided to stop and walk, before starting to run again from 5 miles onwards.
In hindsight I see that this perhaps a little silly – the best way to keep running is well, er, not to stop! Still I ran a few more miles, reaching South Tyneside far quicker than in both previous runs, and run over 90% of the first 10k. I was feeling positive, confident in my running, and actually had a pain in my left foot that only hurt when I walked – spurring me on to run even further!
At about 7/8 miles it all started going to pot. I began walking more and more, but still at a rate of 15 minutes to a mile which wasn’t too bad considering. Running would often occur upon hearing the bands and the cheering locals – these all provide a huge amount of motivation. Entering South Shields also spurred me on, and at one point I was thinking I may be able to cross the finish line in 2’ 30”!
However, the last two or so miles in South Shields are that of an continual incline that seems to take everything out of you, before a cruel and steep drop before the sea-front and the final 1.1 miles. I ran as much of this last leg as I could, but as I approached the finish line I actually found it harder harder to keep running. This was unlike previous years in which saw me sprint towards the finish, which just goes to prove how much effort I put in this year.
I crossed the line with a time of 2 hour 49 minutes and 14 seconds – a new personal best! This time is 10 minutes faster than my last half marathon I completed in Stafford earlier in the year, and whilst hard to compare with previous ‘official’ results from the 2003 and 2004 Great North Runs (this year saw the introduction of accurate ‘chip’ timing) it is a massive improvement.
Whilst I was aiming for 2:45, and a little disappointed, I did prove to myself that I am capable of getting better and better times. And with such a positive result, I was also able to work out what changes I need to make to continue this improvement. This of course means training (hmmm, one day!) but perhaps more importantly better footwear and better nutrition in the weeks before the race (more pasta, more water).