I’m sorry, I’m one of those people. We wear fluorescent t-shirts and garish trainers. You see us on your commute, pounding the pavement, faces alight with equal pain and pleasure. And you hear us – well - all the time, because we do not shut up. I’m a runner and I’m so sorry.
The Run Up…
Everyone at Eyeful got an email that I would be running the Great North Run for Hearing Dogs for the Deaf. On the one hand, I can appreciate the incredulity that anyone should subsidise my fitness regime (wonderfully articulated here by David Mitchell), but equally, mention that you’re running a half marathon and not taking donations and there’s an eggy pause: if you’re going to do all that running, why not do it for a good reason? And with Hearing Dogs for the Deaf, I found a truly wonderful reason to run. They do amazing work and make a huge impact on the lives of deaf people.
So, through a combination of mild obsession and charitable inspiration I found myself in Newcastle ready to run the 13.1 miles to South Shields. Here’s how it went.
After getting up atrociously early I caught a coach to the start line. There was already a hum of nervous energy. Between yawns there was chatter about race day hopes, preemptive excuses for poor performance, and coyly exchanged target times.
When we arrived, the crowds were already obscene. Groups were pinning bibs to each other’s vests, water was being handed out, and the queue for the portaloos was growing. A few volunteers that looked like Ghostbusters were dispensing sun cream from great backpacks.
I found my start section in zone B, then sat on the grass eating croissants. When I couldn’t bear to sit still any longer, I got into my pen. Warm up exercises would filter through the crowd as everyone copied each other in the vain hope that one might unlock our inner Mo Farah. We shuffled nervously as the crowd got denser, then waited for the start gun...
The Starting Line…
BANG! And we were off! Well, almost. With crowds that big – 57,000 signed up - it took a while to get to the start line, but after about 40 seconds we were off!
I set off too fast, of course, we all did. With all that build up, the downhill start, and the crowds egging us on, that first mile was a frenetic weave. We were past the iconic Tyne bridge before it felt like the run had truly began.
There’s a sign after a couple of miles: “This is what you trained for, find your pace and settle in.” Good advice but easier said than done. After running the first 5k about a minute faster than target pace, things did start to calm down, though. I was finally starting to get into a good rhythm.
The whole course was lined with crowds cheering and waving, bands playing music, and clusters of people in matching charity t-shirts shouting extra loud when they saw one of their own. On top of the official water stations, others held out drinks, sweets, ice pops, and on one station, beer – tempting but I thought better of it. Signs of encouragement beckoned all around – “Don’t be sh*t!” was my favourite - while others had buttons drawn on for runners to tap for a speed boost.
The runners themselves were a varied bunch: some stoic, feet pounding the tarmac hard, others who looked like they were out for a Sunday jog. While most were wearing some variation of vest/ t-shirt and shorts, there was some strong fancy dress. My personal highlight was the woman who was running breathtakingly fast in a full squid outfit. At one point, I was overtaken by Batman.
The Middle Stretch…
A little after the halfway mark it all began to get a little difficult. The sun was now beating down and the hills seemed to stretch endlessly. I was paying for my earlier overenthusiasm. The bottles I grabbed from water stations were no longer demurely sipped but thrown in the vague direction of my face. Showers arranged along the run were a salvation, gleefully skipped through, who cared if I might break my phone?
The end was painful. Not the gasping fire in the lungs of a sprint, but a slow build-up of exhaustion. I mean, I was tired, but at the time it felt a measure more apocalyptic. Not long after halfway I had started counting down the miles, making and breaking agreements to myself about what pace I would keep.
It was getting strange at mile 11: I started bouncing between misery and hope seemingly at random. I high fived Elvis. I think… For a while I was seriously afraid I might completely crumble. Not that I wouldn’t finish but that I would seize up and crawl to the end. There would be no shame in it, but I was desperate to avoid it.
The Last Leg…
But at mile 12 something clicked. I still had a mile left but I was going to make it. I ran taller, my pace increased. Before long there was a sign for 800 metres to go, then 400, then 200. A last surge of adrenaline and I sprinted – or at least it felt like it – across the finish line. I’d done it! And then I crumbled.
I staggered through the event village, collecting my medal and swag bag and was suddenly overwhelmed. I didn’t quite cry but the feeling of intense emotion hit me like a truck. After I calmed down, I very slowly walked to the Hearing Dogs tent, where I met a very good miniature poodle still in training and grabbed a chocolate bar.
On the very slow walk back to the car I thought about the McDonald’s I would shortly be devouring, the fact that I’d never got around to getting sun cream put on (that was fun the next day), but mainly: where do I sign up for the next one?
And if you’re as boring as me and want to know how I got on, here are my stats:
Average pace: 6:34 per Mile/ 4:05 per Kilometer
Splits: 5k: 19:33