Wow. Where do I start. What. A. Day.
Just over 12 weeks ago I was caught slightly off guard by a friend of mine who is involved in a fantastic charity called Max Appeal. They do absolutely fantastic work for families affected by 22q deletion syndrome. It’s relatively little known to both the medical profession and the average Joe in the street, despite it being the second most common chromosome disorder behind Down’s syndrome. My friend Mark said the charity had places for the GNR2017 and would I be interested. To be honest I wasn’t sure. I had planned the Brighton Half to be my first half marathon in Feb so this seemed so soon. It’s an iconic race that I did fancy doing but had decided to enter the 2018 ballot and what would be would be. I left it. Over the next day or two at work, I kept thinking about it. It was like an itch that wouldn’t go away, so I got in touch with Mark and knowing I probably wouldn’t be able to train properly as I’m not a good runner in the heat and we were now in June so training would be in the summer, and having a two week sun holiday the month before the event wouldn’t help either. It was the GNR after all though. I had to do it. Didn’t I?
The next thing I knew, id emailed the charity and paid my entry fee, I raised my minimum sponsorship in just over 24 hours so I knew I could concentrate on the running and the fundraising would look after it’s self with the odd Facebook and twitter post here and there. So that was it. I was in. I was doing it.
Fast forward three months and it was race weekend. I’d already decided that I wasn’t going to pressure myself and set a time as I hadn’t trained as well as I could/should have. My aim was to simply do as well as I could and to finish. I’ll aim for a time for Brighton but for this I just wanted to enjoy the event and finish in one piece. It was almost a fact finding mission, to see what I could do, what a half marathon distance felt like. A recce for Brighton. It would turn out to be so much more!
I stayed in the Premier Inn, New Bridge Street (@Newbridgetweet on twitter). I wouldn’t necessarily mention where I stayed but the staff in this hotel were fantastic. They had printed directions to the start for us runners, on race morning there were bananas, water, safety pins, wishes of good luck. When we returned after the run, tired and exhausted, they had more water and bananas, goody bags for the runners which was almost better than the actual finishers bags at the event. They had a fun photo frame and were taking photos of everyone and putting it on their twitter (see above), lots of congratulations. The morning after they were sympathetic to everyone shuffling around the hotel with the aches and pains. They were honestly great.
I woke up on event day, nervous. I had a semi sensible breakfast of bran flakes and fruit then eggs and sausage with some beans. I knew I probably wouldn’t get over the start line until gone 11 as I was in a green pen so I had 3hours until I would start running so I didn’t feel too guilty for my breakfast. It had to keep me going. I didn’t want to eat too light and be hungry or too heavy and feel sluggish and bloated. Breakfast done, I went back to my room changed into my gear and relaxed a little. Just after 9:30 I set off for the short walk to the start line. When I arrived at the start area I was a little overwhelmed. I could feel myself welling up as I gave my girlfriend claire a goodbye kiss and hug. I wandered off to find my pen feeling ready to cry and anxious. Thankfully I managed to put the anxiety to bed with some of my coping strategies and I found my pen, got in and waited for the start. As for as the eye could see in front and behind me there were runners. It was incredible.
Just before 10:40 came, they announced the elite male starters, the cheer for Mo was incredible. He went on to win it in 60:06! Soon after the elites went off, we started to slowly move forward. It took about 35 mins for me to cross the line. Once I’d started, my mind was blown and it would continue to be so for the next 3 hours.
People tell you about the support for the GNR. The people of Newcastle, Gateshead and the North East come and line the whole route. There isn’t a part where you’re on your own. It truly is something special. Families stand by the roadside in front of their houses with tubs of sweets, oranges cut into segments, water, biscuits, you name it they’ve got it to keep you going. I lost count of how many people read my name on my race number and shouted my name out to spur me on. I must have hi fived a thousand children, even the bits of the run that are on dual carriageway and motorway sections have people cheering you on. Honestly it was beyond all of my expectations. It blew me away and it almost certainly kept me going in those tough last 3 miles.
I had a couple of plans in my head pre race. The first was that I would treat it as four 5k runs in my head. I can do 5k without too much drama so if I could persuade my head to work in 5k units then I might win the head race. The second plan was to run for the first 45 mins then walk 5mins, run 15, walk 5, run 15 and repeat until I got to the end. It wasn’t because I didn’t feel I could run more than 45 mins, but I was trying to be realistic and ensure I didn’t burn out too early. I was trying to conserve my energy as I’d never done more than 10K, I wasn’t sure what to expect. As it happened, I was running really well at a slow but steady pace and I felt good maintaining it. I barely walked in the first couple of hours. I had surpassed all my expectations. I was loving it. Then came mile 10.
Mile 10. Oh dear. This is where it all started to go bad. I didn’t hit a wall in a mental kind of way, I hit it in the my legs don’t want to work kind of way. I stopped and did some stretching as my legs had gone so heavy, just putting one foot in front of the other was brutal. The last three miles took me about 50 minutes. There was a lot of walking, I tried to keep the pace up but it wasn’t easy. I dug deep and the last mile and a half, broke back into a ran. I kept telling myself that pain was temporary, achievement was forever. That last mile along the seafront may as well have been a thousand miles. The finish line seemed to get further and further away. The ‘200m to go’ sign appeared and the route was lined with British and American army troops all applauding us tired runners, I couldn’t stop now. I was being clapped home by thousands of supporters, troops and I was about to actually finish The Great North Run 2017. As I turned into the grass and headed towards that finish line, the emotion was huge. I’d done it. I’d actually bloody done it. All my fears, doubts, worries and demons had been quashed. I finished in 3:10:50.
As the medal was put around my neck I could feel those tears welling again. This time though it wasn’t anxiety or fear, it was sheer happiness, pride and probably a little bit of shock that I’d done it and done it better than I had hoped for. Ok so my time wasn’t speedy, but I ran way more of it than I had ever dreamed and I felt strong for so much longer than I had anticipated. I thought I’d be ok to mile 7 or 8. I made it to 10 before it all started to crumble. After the medal came the goody bag, I didn’t join the queue for my finisher photo as all I wanted to do was meet up with claire, I needed that hug so badly. I also was beginning to stiffen up rapidly. I found claire and then the waterworks started. She got the sweatiest, tearful hug she’s ever had. Poor girl. I posed for my own finisher photo and we went off to find the charity tent with the Max Appeal family. They were all super warm and welcoming and I felt proud to have been able to represent them. I’ll be forever grateful to them for the opportunity to take part in such an incredible event and I hope to continue to raise money for them in the future. They really are a special group of people that have taken a little part of my heart.
Now the dust has settled and looking back, I would have been made up with a sub 3hr finish but those last few miles really took it out of me. I know what I’ve got to do for Brighton now and I’ll be aiming for 2:45 for that one. So, that was my Great North Run 2017, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this as much as I enjoyed running it and writing about it. One last thing before I sign off, is if you’d like to donate to Max Appeal, my fundraising page can be found by clicking this link to my Just giving page. If you’d like to find out about Max Appeal, the work they do and how truly fantastic they are, click this link to Max Appeal.
Thanks for reading.