Monday, 16 September 2013

My Great North Run Experience

It was way back in January whilst sat in my flat in Burton-on-Trent that something made me go to the Great North Run website and click ‘sign up’. It may have been living on my own sending me crazy, it could have been the influence of the product allowance from my work placement year at Molson Coors Brewing Company or it could have been the urge to do something challenging whilst raising money at the same time. In hindsight, it was probably a combination of all three.

I chose to raise money for Breast Cancer Care as a lifelong friend’s mother had been diagnosed and anything I could do to support the charity would be so beneficial. Having received my first donation at the back end of January, it forced me into thinking about a training plan. Creating a plan was probably the hardest thing of the whole experience! The only running I had ever done was a quick sprint to clear a football whilst playing in goal in my junior football days. There are so many plans available online from those for experienced runners to the likes of myself – someone who didn’t have a clue how to structure their training. The Great North Run organisers have their own plans available and Breast Cancer Care also sent a recommended timetable for beginners in their race pack. A mixture of both was eventually adhered to.

By the middle of March, I had raised over 50% of my £300 provisional target and the reality was kicking in that I had entered the race. This realisation persuaded me to sign up for the York 10K that was coming in August. My training in Burton was going reasonably well, I was starting to be able to push a little further every week and also made a couple of friends who were always out on the same route. May came and my cousin was the one to bring up the £300 target. The next step in the journey was to get some running kit; one thing I had noticed whilst out running in Burton were the frowns of fellow runners as I passed them in baggy football shorts and an AC Milan shirt. £180 plus later and I was the owner of some proper running shoes adapted to my running style as I had gone for a video gait analysis, in addition to the shoes, I bought a couple of light tops and some rather fetching (not) tight shorts. At least I now looked the part even if I personally felt that I was some way off being able to run a half marathon.

August soon came around and the York 10K along with it. York being the city where I live, I was rather concerned that I may see a lot of familiar faces along the route who may give their own versions of support (abuse). Luckily I didn’t and surprised myself by finishing in under an hour with a time of 57 minutes and 43 seconds. This was a huge boost with just over a month to go to the main event. My training stepped up with my first 10+ mile runs completed and a constant training pattern of 6-8 milers every week. My fundraising was going well, the £400 and £450 marks had been passed and I was edging closer to £500.

In the fortnight before the Great North Run, I moved out of Burton and back to York whilst also moving into my house for the new year at Uni, needless to say, my training took a bit of a setback but I was still able to squeeze a few runs in around my village at home. These made me realise one advantage of Burton – I knew no-one! I received numerous texts from people saying they’d seen me out and about at home.

The £500 mark was brought up two days before the race and this gave me a big push to get ready for the big day. I travelled up to Newcastle on the Saturday, spent time down on the Quayside getting inspiration from watching the likes of Christine Ohuruogu and David Oliver taking part in the Great City Games whilst also getting my free pasta that all GNR entrants were entitled to!

I didn’t really sleep much the night before the race, a mixture of nerves and excitement but at least this meant I was up bright and early at 7am to go and get breakfast (included with the room, big respect for Newcastle Uni who laid on accommodation and breakfast for over 1300 runners). Breakfast brought a strange atmosphere, veteran GNR entrants looking composed and relaxed whilst first timers looked much more concerned and worried. I sat on my own and kept myself to myself, I may have ended up talking to my porridge in a bid to keep myself sane. At 9:15, I set off to the start line, being just a ten minute walk from the halls where I was staying; it meant I could stroll there and embrace the atmosphere of almost 50,000 people heading in the same direction. After dropping my bag on the buses provided and a toilet stop, I decided to enter my pen at the earliest opportunity and so with over an hour to go until the start, I found myself stood staring down towards the start line which was around half a kilometre ahead of me.

There were big screens dotted all along the starting straight showing the BBC coverage as well as Iwan Thomas who was taking charge on the start line. The mass warm-up took place led by some guy who apparently is well-known but I had no clue who he was. After various stretches and exercises, he declared everyone ready to compete, having glanced a glimpse of the screens during the warm-up, I’m sure he had just made everyone look very daft.  The appeal to create a Gangnam Style down the entire starting straight thankfully failed and as the Wheelchairs and then the Elite Women were sent on their way, I had a massive rush of excitement and adrenaline as I knew it wouldn’t be long until I crossed the start-line. Mo Farah led off the men’s race and the thousands of people in front of me began to shuffle towards the start-line, around 20 minutes later, I found myself high fiving Christine Ohuruogu and breaking into a jog, thankfully, I’d remembered to start on the left hand side of the motorway and followed the road into an underpass rather than uphill on the flyover. The first 4 miles passed surprisingly quickly with only crossing the Tyne Bridge sticking in my head. The heavens opened whilst in Gateshead but I wasn’t going to let this stop me from giving my all.  A double high five with a former work colleague who for some reason was on the roadside pushed me on as did the various water points. As the route led us towards South Shields, I could see a Daily Mirror stage up ahead of me, as I got closer, I noticed it had Rylan with a microphone bounding around; this gave me all the encouragement I needed to step up my pace. At 8.5 miles, I decided it was time to crack out the orange sports gel, a mile later as I passed my parents at the Breast Cancer Care cheering point, I was still attempting to open the tube, when I eventually did break in, it was heaven. The Bupa Boost Zone complete with people giving out Jelly Babies and the Powerade station were again further boosts. But the biggest boost throughout the whole course were the shouts, cheers and claps of encouragement of the thousands of people who lined the roads right from the first metre at Newcastle until the last at South Shields. I remember going for a high five with a young lad on the steady incline into South Shields, he placed something into my hand and I realised it was a Custard Cream biscuit! This was the first of many biscuits, oranges, ice-pops and various other food and drink that the public were offering to all the runners as they passed. Quite incredible.

The last mile follows a steep downward sloping hill on to the sea front at South Shields, after managing to not fall over on this hill, I stepped up the pace once more in a bid to get as close to 2hrs 30 as I could – I didn’t really have a clue of my time as I didn’t have a stopwatch. Again, there were thousands of people lining the finishing section; the support was incredible with people reading my name from my pink running vest and cheering me on. The 800m to go sign passed in a blur as I zig zagged past other runners, a brief slowdown to try and get on telly (it didn’t work) before there was just 400m to go. It is amazing what support can do as I found myself sprinting the final straight before being ushered down the correct channel into the finishing area.

The feeling crossing the line was amazing, a sense of relief, achievement and tiredness all rolled into one but one of the best feelings I have ever experienced. I joined the crowds of other finishers filtering through to get finishers packs, medals and water before attempting to find my parents. We never met up until I got back to York due to the number of people attempting to send texts seemingly crashing the network but this couldn’t take the shine off my day. I had completed the Great North Run! My text confirmation of my time came through around 40 minutes after finishing – Two Hours and 13 Minutes. Comfortably inside my target of 2 and a half hours. I was delighted and a check of my fundraising page on my return to my room saw it had topped the £550 mark.

What a day! The atmosphere was electric absolutely everywhere even though it was cold and wet and the support continued all the way round the course. One of the best experiences of my life and I will definitely consider doing the 2014 one as well!

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