I’ve seen the Great North Run a few times on the television, and a friend has raved about the atmosphere but others have also been cautionary about how crowded it can be and how unlikely I’d be to get a PB there. For me this race wasn’t about trying to PB, it was one I just wanted to enjoy. I’ve known about the Great North Run for a very long time, seeing it for the first time when at school (at the end of the 80s) we were made to watch a TV series called Geordie Racer where one of the story threads through the series was about people running it.
Last year I tried to get in on the ballot and was unsuccessful – this year however I was fortunate enough to get a place.
Since the Brighton Marathon back in April I hadn’t run beyond 10 miles without walking for quite some time, and this was compounded by an injury I sustained whilst walking around in Russia. Just a few weeks before the Great North Run my ankle had finally recovered enough to no longer need the ankle support but I was behind on training for both this and my upcoming marathon. All I could do was hope that in my efforts to recover I’d done enough to get me around the course on the day.
It’s a long way from Leicester to Newcastle so I didn’t really want to be travelling up on the day, and I thought with a mass participation event like this I might find parking awkward. So, I begrudgingly paid the £103 (return) train ticket fee to get me to Newcastle the day before. It was a sleepness night, but I caught the train at 10:30 and was on my way to the start line of the Great North Run.
I arrived in Newcastle at 13:45 and started the 5k walk to where I’d be staying. It was mostly up hill but as my legs felt a little tight I hoped it’d ease them off. By the time I got there though my feet and calves were aching and I was ready to sit down!
Eventually I found the place – an old, nice looking building to the west of Newcastle. As if happened though it wasn’t as nice inside. The door to my room had a stiff lock and I cut my finger open on the key getting it open. Not too badly though so I got my race kit ready for the next day, and sat down for 20 minutes.
The room had dirty walls, anorexic pillows, a power socket that was hanging off the wall and not easy to safely plug the kettle into. As I later found, the kettle was also falling apart and wouldn’t switch off, which is why it wasn’t plugged in. The cups were dirty too and I had to wash one out before I could use it, but also had to get some milk and teabags from the shops first too. I also later found out that the bathroom didn’t have any towels, and the light didn’t work. Not really worth the £68 for the room.
I took the bus back into Newcastle and spent the next few hours wandering around the quayside and surrounding area, taking the odd photo, and not really doing much. There were a few places, such as the Old Castle which I’d wished I’d got my DSLR on me for, but as I hadn’t I didn’t go inside – it’s be something to do in future if I’m ever in the area again with a camera. I’d covered quite a few miles walking around so I also sat down for a while outside Saint Nicholas’ Cathedral where there was a statue of Queen Victoria. I also saw Gemma Steel presenting trophies to the Junior Great Run winners at the end of the Great City Games, and Laura Muir walked passed me as well.
The afternoon passed quickly and it finished with some spaghetti bolognese at a place near the Tyne Bridge. On the way back to the hotel it got dark, started to spit with rain and I couldn’t find the right bus stop. By the time I found where I should be I’d walked 9 miles and only had 1.5 miles left to get back to the hotel. My feet were dead.
Back at the hotel I tried to find a course elevation map for the race to see what it was like, a bit late I know, and all I could find was a post where the person described the course as “mostly down hill from Newcastle with a bit of a hill at mile 10”. Didn’t sound too bad to me!
I quickly had a cup of tea and after watching some TV I attempted to sleep, though that was interrupted when a neighbour was banging around just after midnight and I never did settle back into sleep.
The day had at last come, and I was awake long before I needed to be. For a while I spoke to a friend on Twitter, and I predicted my pace for this race would be 07:20 min/mile – almost 25 seconds a mile slower than my PB pace from Leicester. It was nice to be able to chat before the big race, and I think it helped me to forget about how bad the hotel was a little.
It got to 06:45 and I decided to have breakfast – crunchy nut cornflakes and a cup of tea as usual. I was fed up of this hotel, yet I sat around until 08:00 before checking out and coming across a few more runners who had stayed there. The bus to Haymarket Station was only £1.95, so better than walking to the start and it didn’t take too long either. The crowds of runners all heading in the same direction reminded me a lot of Brighton earlier in the year.
After dropping off my bag I made my way to the orange starting zone – just behind zone A and the elites. I’d hoped to see Mo Farrah, but sadly I didn’t. I sat for the next hour in this starting zone, gradually being cooked by the morning sun and listening to the presenters talk to different people taking part – including the impressionist Jon Culshaw. Eventually the warm-up started, which again I didn’t bother with, but I saw it as the right time to turn my running watch on ready for it to get a signal. I was amazed that as with training, it got it’s signal pretty much instantly! The Garmin Forerunner 235 never ceases to amaze me, especially when the 220 frequently took an age to get a signal. Then we were off – running the Great North Run.
To start with the route was down hill with a few slight inclines, and then crosses the Tyne Bridge. The first 5K I covered in 19:37 – one of my faster 5K times and I was instantly concerned I’d started off too fast. It was hot though and by this point I was already wiping sweat from my eyes and forehead. Thankfully though this point also had the first water station!
After a few swigs of water I carried on running but found I was getting too warm and by 4 miles I’d decided not only was I too warm, I’d set off too quickly and I started to walk briefly. I quickly recovered though and after another mile I then managed to miles 6 and 7 without too much walking – it was still there though and was a frequent thing over the coming miles. I’d reached the 10K mark in 42:50 – slightly slower than I would reach that point on a 10 mile training run.
The support on the route was great and I often heard my name being shouted – though it’s possible (and indeed likely) there’d be another David running near me… I had actually noticed one standing immediately behind me in the pens back at the start! It was around this time that I could hear the Red Arrows, but I didn’t see them – they were behind be somewhere, but shortly after I saw them in front – flying in formation, but quite a way in the distance!
Flying free, flying high,
Flashing wings across the sky,
Geordie racer, Geordie racer.
The heat was really getting to me, and a the second water station I actually poured some of the water over my head after drinking some. Around this time was also the first(?) of the run-through showers as well though I decided against these as I figured if my feet got wet then I’d get blisters and that’d be even worse. I walked quite a few times in mile 9 getting my slowest split of 8:47, and another runner slowed down to make sure I was okay and was running backwards until I insisted that he carry on. I was only walking to cool off anyway! I did also wish I’d put my ankle support on, but that was short lived.
After I passed the mile 10 marker I noticed that the long hill I’d read about had started, and it was here that I was passed by the 1:35 pacer, and then shortly after by @1SteveMac who I quickly chatted to. I really tried to run up this hill, but I couldn’t keep it going and ended up walking most of this mile. It was however an incredibly supported part of the route and as we reached mile 12 the sea in South Shields was finally in sight. It was also the start of a very sudden fast descent, one which I found myself accelerating down very quickly and struggled to slow at the bottom – I could understand why the hay bales were there!
This part of the race was familiar to me as it’s always the bit I remember on TV, and I so clearly remembered Mo running this bit last year. I was determined not to walk again, and sure enough from just before starting that descent I didn’t walk again until I’d finished.
Don’t wait, don’t stop,
You’re heading home.
Don’t rest, don’t drop,
You’re heading home.
The last straight was brilliant, lined with screaming crowds and enough space around me to start building up some speed for the finish. I did my 13th mile in 06:50, but 200 metres from the finish, as I’d started to sprint, I had to quickly stop as another runner cut across in front of me. For the second race in a row there was also a runner stopping completely on the finish line as they crossed as well which meant as I sprinted to the finish line I crashed through them. Not very polite of me, but I couldn’t move out of the way or stop quick enough to avoid it.
I finished in position 1,608 out of approximately 57,000 runners (first 3%), with a chip time of 1:36:39 – not my best half marathon, but I was also a little surprised by the time considering how much I’d walked. It was also an average pace that was precisely the same as what I’d said to @miss_gen in the morning as a prediction.
I was however disappointed that I’d walked so often – although I’d been told this wasn’t a PB course and it’d be crowded I think with more training (particularly in the heat) I could have done it. For almost the entire race I had plenty of space to move as well – everyone had spread out before we’d even reached the first tunnel and the inevitable shouts of “oggy oggy oggy” (I still have no idea what that’s all about). All I can do is learn from this and hopefully my next half marathon will be one that will work out much better!
The finish area in South Shields is quite a nice one as it has a constant view of the sea. There’s a large village of stands there selling food, etc. and a decent selection, but it’s quite a walk from there to the baggage busses so by the time I’d got my bag I didn’t really feel like walking back. Instead I headed to the Metro and stopped by a Subway on the way – by the time I got to the metro it was still quiet and for £3.30 I got straight on and headed back to Newcastle for the start of a very long journey home.
At the finish they give you a bottle of water, a finishers medal, and a goodie bag dependent on your t-shirt size containing:
- A bottle of lucozade,
- 2 packets of Haribo starmix sweets,
- Super seeds Rasberry 9 bar,
- Jointace gel,
- Sanex for men soap,
- Nikwax wash-in waterproofing sample,
- and the usual slew of leaflets.
It’s a race I’m likely to do again, given the chance, and hopefully next time it can be in weather that is a little cooler. It’s a shame though that from the moment I boarded the metro it then took me 6 hours to get home due to delays with the trains, and long waits in between them. It didn’t help either that the one from Newcastle to Derby stopped for 20 minutes to check out a signal which made me miss the train I was supposed to get.