On Sunday I ran the Great North Run. The largest half marathon in the world with a record number of 57,000 runners expected to take part. I can not find the exact numbers that attempted the run in the end but it seems to have reduced to 43,000 according to the news. Let me tell you I felt every bit as if I was amongst that many runners.
The build up to the race was not a happy one for me but this blog isn’t going to be about that. It will be about my experience of the day and how it feels to be part of such an iconic race.
I will start by saying I never really had the desire to run this race. It wasn’t on my bucket list. I find races like this a little daunting and having seen it on the telly it was just that. However its not quite how it looks on the telly. Its a little surreal. I can only imagine its exactly how the London Marathon would be and once your there and moving you feel as though you are part of something quite spectacular.
I had entered the ballot after my friend Fi (@fitnessfi) who I knew through instagram said she was running for charity and did I want to run it too. I couldn’t commit to raising the money as I found this quite hard when I ran the Royal Parks Half Marathon but I wanted to support her in the run if I bagged myself a spot. I was a little shocked when I received the email saying I was in. On reflection though I’m not sure they actually send out many no’s as I haven’t come across anyone who has had one.
It seemed to take a long time to come around. I think because at the time my focus was on training for the MK Marathon. But then suddenly time seemed to go by in a flash and before I knew it the weekend had arrived.
On the morning of the race I did my usual pre race things and was taken by taxi to a drop off point a 15 minute walk from the start. I was with a few other runners from the hotel (more on that soon) and we were dropped off on the opposite side to where runners from the city would be coming in. This was handy as it meant we could all nip to the toilet minus the queues.
The start of the GNR was on a motorway and the bag drop off was on a residential street lined with double decker buses that were taking all the bags to the finish line. I didn’t take a bag with me as I knew collecting it at the other end would be mayhem. So instead I sent Chris with my things (a good decision). It was fairly quick and easy for people wanting to put their bags in. I didn’t see anyone needing to queue. Considering how big the event is I was pleasantly surprised that the toilet queues were not longer as well. They were long but I have seen far worse at much smaller events.
I met Fi and we made our way to the starting pens. Had we had more time I probably would have ventured up towards the actual start line earlier to see all the stars being interviewed. I’m not sure if this would have been possible and they had big screens where you could see what the viewers at home would have been watching.
Another friend from home was in the Elite womens line up so I watched on nervously as she set off from the big screen. We then waited a while longer for the male Elite runners and us to start going. It took nearly 30 minutes for us to reach the start. The entire time all we could see was a sea of heads. The red arrows flew overhead a short while before we set off. I can imagine the ones already at Tyne bridge would have had a real show.
Prior to getting there we’d been told to go left under the bridge for a more fun experience. The rest would be taken over the top of the motorway while we ran under until we met a few miles in to the race closer to tyne bridge. For you to be able to do this you need to be in the left pens for your zone.
Spectators lined the street and the first 8 miles seemed to go by in a flash. We spent much of it reading tshirts and getting emotional over everyone’s whys. The entire route is a main road. I had been told mixed things about the hills. I guess it really depends on what you are used to. For us guys in Cambridgeshire it was hilly. Gradual long climbs but with all the people it didn’t seem to make it feel like you were going up hill. I imagine if you were an elite runner out there fairly alone you’d feel and see every incline. But we were just taking it all in and absorbing the atmosphere so much it distracted us from the run.
The entire way we were surrounded by hundreds of people. The water stations were well placed and I didn’t ever feel like it was long before the next one. It was a hot day once the quick rain shower passed so the water and showers on course were needed.
Once we’d reached about 8/9 miles and especially in South Shields it seemed to lose a bit of its appeal. The roads became narrower and the heat was getting to people. Runners were stopping dead in the streets. It did become a little frustrating.
There was a lovely down hill at around mile 12. It was almost steep enough to deem it harder to run down than up with out caution but it was a welcome sight as you could now see the seafront and knew the end was in sight.
This was the moment the red arrows were out putting on a spectacular display. I was so pleased we made it there in time. It made the last mile for me a little more enjoyable and just how it is shown on telly.
The last 800m sign appeared and we spent the rest of the race trying to spot our spectators whilst watching the red arrows but not managing to see anyone.
As you get to the end you are pulled on to the grass to cross the finish line and from memory I think it was only the VIP areas that could see us actually cross the line.
What you don’t see
Unfortunately I’ve seen it all too much in the summer races I have done. Runners on the sides of the roads needing medical attention. We witnessed at least 4 plus someone in the waiting pens. I won’t make assumptions as I do not know the reasons. I know one required CPR but had regained consciousness which was a relief to hear. Being moved over to the side of an already busy road to allow the emergency services through can be a little unnerving. Its not something that sits easily with any runner I am sure but especially not me. I find myself reverting a little to nurse mode. Everyone was receiving the help they needed so we just had to keep moving.
The chaos as you pass through the littered water stations having to negotiate the empty bottles thrown all over the road. There were no designated areas to throw the bottles so it was just a free for all. The gel station was particularly bad as you could feel the stickiness under your feet as you passed through.
I can only compare the sheer numbers of people as being like a cow at a cattle market. I say this in jest as I loved the race it was to be expected with those numbers but it is funny how we enter these events only to be a number in amongst thousands of others while people clap and cheer as you pound the streets like your on parade.
The crowds for the spectators were as busy along the roads as they were on them for us running and Chris and the girls did not see me finish. If we had known he would have been better positioned further away from the finish line along the sea front.
The signal was quite poor and made it very hard for Chris to track me and for me to then call him to find them after. Its like trying to find Wheres Wally. You’d think wearing bright orange would have made me stand out!
There was a meeting point which we had agreed to meet at but it was so busy I luckily found him before I needed to venture over there.
It wasn’t too long a wait to collect our very important medals and our goodies.
I love the race tshirt. The choice of wording and the colour. I have so many bright ones it’s nice to have one I’d happily wear when training.
Hotels, travel and practical bits
The organisers sent out a very detailed magazine with everything you could possibly need to know about traveling to the start line, parking, spectators guides and loads more. I was really impressed. Especially as these were all the things that worry me.
We stayed at a travelodge 7 miles from the city centre. A great choice in the end. It was conveniently placed to reach South shields and Gates Head. One bit of advice when it comes to booking the hotel is don’t delay. I had a nightmare. I managed to find a Travelodge because I changed my search to stay there for 2 nights. I expected this from other hotels but I was surprised at Travelodge. We only paid a smidge more to stay on the Friday night and this gave me all of Saturday to then sort out the transport and see the start and finish.
When we checked in to the hotel they informed us that they would be putting on taxis for us to get to the start for £7/person. They also gave us water and bananas. The ladies on reception were so warm and welcoming. A really lovely experience. We stayed at the Seaton Burn Travelodge just off the A1.
Once your in South shields and finished you then have to get out of there and its extremely busy. We opted to go our separate ways and Chris drove to the finish and parked at the metro station car park and I made my own way to the start. Its a short walk from the finish but far enough away to not be quite so busy queuing to leave South Shields.
I’m pleased we did this as seeing me start would have been totally unrealistic and getting to the end with out long delays near impossible.
Would I do it again?
I absolutely loved the whole day. The bits I didn’t enjoy were not enough to dampen the experience. Some of it you expect with any race and it can’t be avoided.
The distance from home to Newcastle was a long old way and it was not fun traveling back all that way. I’d have preferred to stay another night but school/work meant we couldn’t.
For spectators it’s tricky for them to actually support you as they would at a smaller event but actually they loved it as they were able to see the Elite runners and Mo Farah was a massive bonus.
I would not have enjoyed it in quite the same way had I been running on my own so I would say don’t go there expecting a PB go for the experience factor.
So yes I would do it again if it was to run with others!