After a surprise success in the ballot back in February, I had my flights booked and ready before leaving for home and telling my wife. I wasn't running back in February, still in recovery after a "running repair" and getting a place in the GNR was all the inspiration that I needed to get me back on my feet.
Last week, the event finally arrived. I had completed my recovery and done my preparation through the spring and summer. I had accomodation sorted, and Brian Blessed had yelled at me that it would all be just fine!
The night before the run, I attended the Pasta Party at the University campus - a school dinners type affair with the bonus of dining with other runners. The conversation was largely about the awful weather conditions predicted for the following day, but took in other subjects, like clothing suggesions and injury comparisons, including a lady showing me her knee - it had a boney piece sticking out of the front - ouch! This conversation continued at the Runners Breakfast, where I was taken in by another running club that deserve a mention - the Airedale Dodgers. I had some directions from Carol the day before when arriving at the University, and it was great to talk to people at Breakfast - they also expressed an interest in a bit of parkrun tourism, so I joined their Facebook group to keep them updated with events in South Wales, though I was particularly careful with the spelling when looking them up!
Fully fuelled with a bowl of porridge (how can people eat full cooked breakfast before a run btw?), I got changed and set off to the start. Bumped into someone from work just as I was about to drop my bag at the baggage bus. These baggage busses are amazing - drop your bag on a double-decker, the number is stamped on your race number, and the buses drive down to the finish line ready for collection after the run. Heavy rain was due to hit at 10:00, just as the starting pens were due to fill up. Luckilly the rain held off, though the cold weather meant that I kept my gloves and old fleeces on, just stripping off as they started the warm-up.
As the start time approached, we started moving forward to the start line. I was met with something that I didn't expect. One of the local lads did what looked like a sideways squat, before squirting a jet from under his shorts. We moved back and commented in disgust but the response was "when ya goota goo, ya goota goo man" (sorry for the poor accent, never been my strongpoint). It was amazing how many people managed to hold it in until just after the start line too - never seen so many blokes dart off to the side of the road in the first 200 metres.
As expected, the camaraderie of the runners and the support from the crowd was amazing - exactly how everyone says. For evermore, I will remember having "Goo own Noigell, goo un" shouted at regular intervals.
The first few miles of the race were stunning - running over the Tyne bridge and seeing the Stadium and the other bridges was impressive too. Going down two underpasses to the shouts of "Oggi Oggi Oggi" was incredible - amazing to think that those locations would have had this shouted continually for about three hours. Not long afterwards came a rumble, a serious rumble then a whoosh as the Red Arrows flew over (I'm going a bit tingly remembering that bit). Then, at mile five, rain. Hard, pouring rain came down. Now everything changed - about seven miles of uninteresting dodgy estate running, but the crowds had come out and they were amazing! Never been offered so much support during a run - never high-fived so many people during a run (though I was very confused by the lady who appeared to have a bandage on her middle finger - eventually worked it out - she was offering vaseline!) I had no chaffing, and no wish for a medical examination, so I just kept going. I am pleased to report that Elvis is alive, he was performing in a bus shelter in Whiteleas (singing). Actually, he nearly filled the Bus Shelter, but sounded just great as I ran past. Pacing was great at this point, on target to smash my previous PB.
I had been warned of the local scallies picking up discarded Jelly Babies off the road and offering them to tired runners, and also of the water fights using dropped water bottles. No issues myself, but I did see some runners squirting the kids themselves, positively encouraging a fight, and I did talk to a lady later who took a full jet in her right ear!
Another regular sight is the guy who sits on top of a bus shelter with a hose pipe, cooling hot runners – no need for that this year.
In-race catering was interesting. There were a few water stations, together with the usual energy drink and Jelly Babies. In addition, ice pops, sausage rolls, custard slices and Newcastle Brown were on offer! Personally, I didn’t take anything on board except my pre-packed Gels, and that’s where I made my biggest mistake. Took three with me, and switched in a Gel with caffeine as they’d come through the week before. I took a regular Gel at 6K, followed by the caffeine gel at 12K – this didn’t feel too good and I was a bit concerned over whether it was safe to take another Gel. I went on the side of caution and left it. I have wondered whether my lack of energy during the last mile would have been sorted by the taking the extra Gel - or it might just have been due to it being a pretty hard course!
Fancy Dress was out in force for this one - I remember seeing the Penguins, Zippy from Rainbow and half a dozen Geordies in their speedos while waiting to start. During the race, I remember overtaken by a Storm Trooper, Kick Ass (I want his outfit) and a Spartan warrier - impressive - helmet, cloak and shorts, not to mention the obligatory Banana! On the TV footage, I spotted that Bagpuss had run too - wish I'd seen him.
Back to the race, at the ten mile point I hit the "Bupa Boost Zone", where I remember things getting a bit noisier, and plenty of Jelly Babies and sports drinks on offer. I missed out here, by not picking up any sugary-goodness, but not getting a menion on the PA either. Often, I smile optimistically when people's names are being shouted out, but come to the conclusion that you've got to be spectacularly quick or attractive to get a mention. Personally, I just I kept my head down and started looking for the drop-off point. The point where the road would rise and runners drop over the other side. The steep downhill that proved to be Mo's undoing. I took the standard approach - relax shoulders, lean forward from the ankles and windmill like a child - worked a treat for me, though with less devastating effect than it did for Bekele. I hit the last mile and I felt bad. The constant cold (I kept my gloves on all the way), the rain and now the fierce gusts from the coast were awful. Running past 11 Miles was rather special - it was at this point where I stopped on the last Cardiff Half. The pain in my knee was so bad, but I had kept going until I got a bottle of water from my son on the St Davids / Liswerry water station. After that, it was stop / start to the end.
Anyway, back to Newcastle. The 1Km mark arrived, and I hurt. Another sign came up, I prayed for it to be 600m but it was 800m. I kept going, trying to gain some strength from somewhere. Must have got somewhere as I got through the finish line and checked my watch - 1:49:03. My thoughts - oooh, four seconds quicker and I'd be 1:48! Next thought was goodie bag, followed rapidly by I want my jumper and want to go home. The Runners Village looked interesting, but in the blustering cold of South Shields it just wasn't appealing.
Went to the baggage bus, got my jumper. Went to the pre-booked bus home and almost collapsed. The bus was awful - legroom made EasyJet look luxurious, and it was about an hour before we arrived back. What was amazing though, was the people behind me with a baby were on their way back to the car to drive back to Bassaleg! Talk about a small world.
So nice to get back to my room for stretches, read some good luck messages and update family and friends on my success - knocking a good five minutes off my previous Half Marathon PB, but more importantly remaining intact.
As I left the University, I was struck by a sight that finished off my memories of the Great North Run - the sun was shining brightly, and a lady was walking up the path towards me. Her tin foil wrap was shining brightly in the sun, she proudly wore her finishers medal and tee shirt... and a set of cat's ears and face paint. I just had to stop and talk to Sam, and here's the photo! oh, and Sam got a shout on the Bupa Zone :)