A week after the event and I think it is time to give an honest appraisal of my first (and last) Great North Run.
A few weeks ago I wrote about why I was doing the run and the fact that I raised over £500 for Thomma’s foundation made every step worthwhile but I can’t say that I enjoyed the experience.
I’m the first to admit that I’m not a great runner and I’ve been training with a knee injury for a couple of months now so it was always going to be a struggle but the biggest problems for me were all the things that make the Great North Run ‘Great’.
I was up at 6am and went through my normal routine before a long run, porridge, plenty of liquid on board, warm up on exercise bike etc. The only difference being that instead of being out on the road straight away, it was going to be over three and half hours between leaving the house and starting to run.
The Tyne and Wear Metro has gradually been getting less reliable over the past few years so whilst I had my wristband ticket, I left in plenty of time in case I needed to invoke a contingency plan. The Metros didn’t seem to be running to timetable but I only waited fifteen minutes and got a seat so all good. The fact that every other runner who got on the Metro looked considerably fitter than me was no surprise.
On arrival at Haymarket I embarked on what seemed to be the mantra for the day and ‘followed the crowds’.
I spotted my first ‘character’ walking through Newcastle University. Badly dyed hair, head to toe in the Union Flag, including trainers apart from one stars and stripes sock. He had written an essay on his back about why he was running for Help For Heroes but I don’t think anyone wanted to get close enough to read it.
After taking on plenty of liquids and sitting on the Metro, I was desperate for the toilet but luckily they were plentiful and the queues seemed to go down quickly. I then waited for a friend I was meeting. She’d travelled up on the train but had also arrived without much drama.
Neither of us had done the run before so we wanted to get our bearings and get to the start line. We negotiated the baggage buses and decided another toilet stop was in order. For the gents there were open-air urinals so no queues but the ladies had a wait of about 30-45 mins at that point and the queues seemed to get bigger as we waited.
After our visit we still had about 40 mins until the start so walked to the start line. Our pen was possibly about a mile back although hard to predict how far it really was.
As we arrived, the warm up was starting and someone managed to elbow me in the neck whilst attempting to take a selfie and warm up at the same time.
After what seemed like an eternity, the starting gun went off and the race started. Except it hadn’t for us. We had another half an hour to walk before we even crossed the start line. When that half an hour is filled with Alan Robson shouting at you through a microphone, it seems like a lifetime.
Me and my friend had agreed not to run together as I didn’t want to hold her up so we parted ways on the start line. It didn’t take long, less than a mile in fact, before I encountered my first walkers. I understand that some people are going to struggle with the distance, get carried away with the pace and have to walk at some point but if you can’t manage the first mile, is the Great North Run really for you? This was the same throughout the run so it was impossible to keep to a steady pace and I was constantly stopping and starting and dodging around people.
Fair play to the woman who wrote an apology on her back to say she was walking due to a recent knee injury. I can respect that but I suspect a lot of others just thought it would be a nice walk out and didn’t put in any training.
The crowds didn’t thin for the whole 13 miles but I found the first 6-8 miles easy enough apart from the occasional fancy dress fundraiser thinking their need to be on camera was more important than other people’s need to do a run.
Around the eight mile point I spotted someone on the floor who looked in a bad way with paramedics helping her. It was that point that I really started feeling my legs and began to struggle. My plan was always to take it easy to eight miles and then push on but I had nothing left and every step was going to be hard work.
I’d had my fill of ‘Oggy, Oggy, Oggy’ and the crowd, bands and fantastic groups of charity cheerleaders had the totally opposite effect than what was intended and did nothing but irritate me. I must stress that this isn’t a criticism of them but a reflection of my state of mind at that point.
At mile eleven someone in the crowd clearly recognising my struggle shouted “You’re doing well, Alan.” I did all I could to stop myself from arguing with them. Apologies to that person for not acknowledging the encouragement.
Coming up the final hill, I spotted an ambulance and if I could have caught it, I may well have crawled in and had a lie down. I didn’t and that hill nearly finished me off.
The downhill stretch to the seafront was a relief although some runners in front of me had put the brakes on so I had to do a lot of dodging in and out to get to the bottom.
The final mile was the only bit that I ‘enjoyed’. Not because of the crowd that I’d heard so much about but because I knew that it was nearly over.
The final stretch on the grass led to my final conflict with other runners as a couple desperate to do a sprint finish whilst holding hands decided to elbow me out of the way. Probably quite a fitting way to end the race.
I finished in 2:19. Not a great time, 13 minutes slower than my only other half marathon, but it’s what I expected given my training.
I was relieved that it was over and received my medal and goody bag with good grace.
I’d made vague arrangements about meeting friends at the finish but lack of a phone signal meant I loitered about for just over half an hour before making the decision to head home. After retrieving my bag I followed the crowds once again to the Metro station. It was a lot further than I thought and the subsequent wait of over an hour just added to my frustration.
When changing trains at Pelaw it was lashing down but instead of taking cover with everyone else, I stood out in the rain in the huff with myself. I eventually got home showered and in the pub for 5.30pm. I even attempted to run home from the metro station but that was a challenge to far.
I realise that I come across as a misery and I can certainly see why the run is an attraction for some but it’s not for me. It’s too big and too crowded and I won’t be doing it again.
I went out and did a 10k yesterday morning and plan to keep the training up with the intention of doing the real best half marathon in the North East, the Sunderland Half Marathon next year.
There is still time to sponsor me if you would like to.
Here are a few stats for anyone who has bothered to read this far.