The biggest half marathon in the world.
Some of the best elite runners from across the globe.
This is the Great North Run.
It has been on my bucket list for years, having watched in on TV since I was little. Also I’m really keen to take part in more UK races and support British athletics (although I can’t lie, the draw of international races is real!).
I was lucky enough to be taken to the start of the race via VIP bus, allowing us to use the portaloos without big queues and see the elites close up. There were a number of tv crews interviewing runners going for world records, local celebrities and charity runners that we had to steer clear of (having watched the BBC coverage this morning, it seems like I did a good job of this!). However, we were still hanging around for a long, long time before the gun went off at 10.40am, probably two hours in total. Luckily the sun was shining and it wasn’t too cold, but I was already feeling hungry and thirsty before even starting. Pre-race fueling fail!
I bumped into Sophie who I hadn’t seen in ages, and we excitedly watched the elites head off before we crossed the start line ourselves. We got caught up in the excitement of the race though and headed off far too quickly, running a sub 8 min first mile (a speed I am not in shape to keep up for 13.1 miles right now).
Running over the Tyne Bridge was a real highlight of the race, although at mile 1.75 it was pretty early on for an energy injection, it did help us get over the hump at mile 2. The crowds were 4 deep across the bridge, and with our names printed on our bibs, we got lots of people shouting for us as we crossed.
Soph and I managed to stay together until I had to nip into the loo around mile 4.5 and sadly I never found her again in the crowds.
I honestly found the race really hard, both mentally and physically. I started to berate myself for taking so much time off from running, for feeling so unfit and for letting myself get so far from the 1.40 half I ran in February. I was very close to tears… which now sounds silly but I genuinely felt so disappointed in myself. I have stayed in half marathon shape for years, and in that moment I felt like I may not even be able to finish!
However, I walked through the next water station, and refocused, deciding instead to look at the excitement on the faces of the kids cheering on the sidelines, the volunteers who were dedicating their time so that we could race, to the spectators who had set up their own water stations for us, and those who had bought ice popsicles for the runners to combat the heat. I saw the sheer number of charity runners around me, raising money for amazing causes and running in memory of loved ones.
The highlight of my race was meeting so many runners that follow me on Instagram, thank you so much to everyone that came over to say hi! I loved chatting with you all. In particular one runner who came up to me during the race and talked about his Marathon Major plans and goals. It reminded me of why I run in the first place, and why I share so much of my journey – the ups and downs.
There’s no room for ego with running.
So I just kept running a pace I felt I could keep up for the remaining miles, high fiving the kids, thanking those that shouted my name as I ran past. I pushed up the hills, walked through every water station and tried to enjoy every remaining moment.
It was tough. But that feeling of reaching the top of the hill at mile 12 and seeing the sea come into view, knowing we only had one mile left was amazing.
I managed to see the blue Garmin tops of Rachel and Martin Yelling up ahead, it spurred me on to push that little bit more to reach them. Looking at my watch, I could see that it was close-ish to her sub 2 hour goal, but it was within striking distance. I pushed onwards, and tried to keep pace as Rachel powered in to the finish line, crossing holding our arms up together. We finished in 1.56 and Rachel earned herself a shiny new PB!
There’s no greater feeling than that finish line feeling, especially when you’ve run a PB! So happy for Rachel – and it’s got me hungry for a PB of my own soon. I want that sub 1.40 half and of course the BQ marathon time!
After finishing, ny next challenge was to find Corey who had come up to spend the weekend with me and cheer me on. Sadly I hadn’t seen her on the course as she somehow found herself at mile 9 instead of 11, and meeting up with her at the end was a logistical nightmare. Finally, after 90 mins and some low blood sugar and panic (her), and high stress (me!), we found each other. How great is her sign!
The course is far from flat, and although during the race I would have said it was ‘very hilly’, in reality, it’s undulating. There are some steady climbs and some downhills to cruise down. The course profile I was sent before the race exaggerates it slightly, however do prepare yourself mentally and physically for the pace and elevation changes.
Water stations were every two or so miles, with extra laid on by friendly volunteers. There were plenty of loos along the course too, which I definitely appreciated. Aside from the slightly disappointing goody bag at the end (tuna and cereal?!) and the logistic of finding spectators, I loved everything about The Great North Run!
This is a race on a huge scale, and was so well organised, with corrals, plenty of water on the course, gel stations and medical staff. I would compare it New York or London marathons in terms of organisation, atmosphere and number of runners. For those that don’t love big crowds or find large events a little overwhelming, this might not be the best race for you. However, for runners that love the support and excitement of a big race, then definitely put this one on your race bucket list. Sign up for info on 2020 ballot entries here.
Huge thanks to Garmin for the race bib and awesome weekend.