The Great North Run

Middle Aged Man Completes The Great North Run

Sunday and the coach set off from the car park in Hexham at 7:15 heading for the “Toon”. We were delivered about three hours before the run started. Plenty of time to kill. I was returning to the great city where I was a student in the 1970’s. I headed for the University campus. A walk around for old time’s sake, and a photo or two, then headed slowly towards the start.

The scale of it was quite awesome. Over 40,000 – a good few more than London. I soaked up the atmosphere, chatted to a fellow long distance traveller, a lady from the Hayle Runners, Cornwall, where I had been on holiday a few weeks earlier, and eventually headed to “Orange 4”. I chatted to a couple more ladies, then turning around I spotted Mrs Sue Nicholls. I first saw this lady running the Crewkerne 10k, my first ever proper race. Aged 68, she started running just a few years earlier, like so many of us as a charity fund-raiser in memory of her late husband, and now the country’s number 1 ranked half-marathon runner in her age group. Hmmm – maybe I could try following her around? Which leads onto:

Preparing for the London marathon I constantly harped on about putting in the hours, and the miles, giving the challenge the respect it deserves. And now I think it’s ok to just turn up and run. Last week I was hill walking in Snowdonia. That was a tough week. It was not the best preparation for a half marathon.

And we were off. Any hopes of following Mrs Nicholls were damned in the first five seconds as she started to glide effortless through the massed ranks in front of her. My legs felt so heavy. My right ankle hellishly stiff. How could I possibly run this? Surely I wouldn’t be reduced to walking, would I?

Chris at work told me about the famous London underpass – and it’s role as an impromptu male urinal. But that act has now been cleaned up. We headed through the underground sections typical of the urban motorway. People shouted “Oggie Oggie Oggie” and it echoed around – and the responses echoed back “Oye Oye Oye”. But I didn’t have energy to spare. I didn’t join in. And then a rank of “gentlemen” lined up by the side of the road alongside one of the massive road supports. This truly was a river of male urine. And I was plainly on the wrong side of the road. Nowhere else to go. I held my breath and ploughed on through.

Then out into the sun-light and over the run’s most iconic landmark – the wonderful Tyne Bridge. But what is that terrible racket? And then over our heads the equally wonderful Red Arrows. Forgot all about them. I must have been in just about the best place for them. I am probably somewhere in the middle of those (iconic) photos of the massed ranks below them.

So onwards through Gateshead and beyond. The crowds were getting sparser, but at least my legs and ankles were easing. But it was hot – very hot. For the North-East this was virtually tropical. I was not running well. I was the one being overtaken by everyone. But at least I was still running.

Half way through km10 I decided it was my turn. Something more discrete for me, with a trip into the undergrowth. That was about a minute wasted (or maybe well spent), but heading back onto the course, I started to run more strongly. Now I was starting to do the overtaking. I put in some of my quickest splits. And started to talk to myself. Beyond half way. Start counting down. Start singing. “Bye-Bye Miss American Pie – drove my Chevy to the Levy … ” I recommend that one. Because it takes so long. Once through and that’s at least another km ticked off.

The signposts were saying “The Coast”. At one point load cheers from the CLIC Sargent cheer point. Apparently @RuBo from the running team was there, but sadly I didn’t see her. The housing density starts to increase. The crowds start to increase. And then we are at the seaside. A welcome drop down a sharp incline and we have arrived on the coast. We swing around sharply to the left. But we’ve all seen this on the television before. We know this is a deceptively long run in. By this time it is really crowded. I could have run faster, but there are just too many fellow runners to get around. A sign – 800m to go. Just grit your teeth.

But this is just like London – where is the next bloody marker? Eventually 400m, and then 200m, and then the finish – a slight turn to the right for the normal mortal’s finish. A sprint, make up just a few more places, and then it’s over. Hmmm – look at the time. Look at Garmin. That’s over two hours (about an hour in front of the millionth finisher). Sometimes you get what you deserve. A new personal worst for the half-marathon distance. But at least I ran it. I ran the Great North Run. And I’ve done what I set out to do – two cities that have played such a part in my life. Two cities that helped make me the man (and performance athlete) that I am today 😉 London and Newcastle-upon-Tyne – hmmm I guess they have a lot to answer for.

For the record, I finished in 12732 position out of 41554 in 2hrs 1min 15secs.

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