The Great North Run

How wonderful it was to see my daughter at the finish point of the Great North Run, beaming and holding up a placard, ‘Congratulations Tookie D’.   She enveloped me in a hug.   

Having done my usual, of vowing never to enter a running event of more than 10k – too much training involved – when the invitation to enter the ballot for the Great North Run, dropped unannounced into my email, back in January, I over-rode my vow and entered the ballot.  

The Great North Run is a half marathon which is 13.1094 miles or 21.0975km. I was gaily told in a confirmation email: “Congratulations, the hardest part is taking the leap! We hope you are successful and can’t wait to see where the journey takes you. The ballot will be drawn on Monday 21st Feb and you will receive an email confirming if you have been successful or not by Friday 25th Feb.  Good luck!”

Unconvinced that ‘the hardest part is taking the leap [to enter the ballot]’ as, having done half marathons many times, I know the training itself is hard and time consuming (hence the vow not to do it again) part of me began to hope I wouldn’t get a place.

No such out! On 21 February I got, “Congratulations, you’re in!  We’re delighted to let you know you’ve secured a place in the 2022 Great North Run.   After three long years, we can’t wait to see you back on the iconic Great North Run, city to sea course. We’ll be celebrating the return of our traditional finish line in South Shields and we’re so pleased you’ll be there.”

I’ve run it before, in 2014, I’d loved it.  Newcastle is my favourite city in the UK.  The place I want to live in at some point.  I go there often.  Each time I see the Tyne bridges coming into sight on the train from London, I feel I’m coming home, it’s where I belong. 

In that sense, entering the Great North Run was a no-brainer, why would I pass up a chance to visit?  Not that I really needed that chance as I can go whenever I want, but the suggestion to myself over-rode my vow not to run that distance again.   Sometimes I feel I am multiple selves in constant discussion, dissension and (on occasion) effective collaboration with each other.

Knowing that I was ‘in’ and not one to shirk a self-set challenge, I contacted the running coach I’d worked with before, and off I set on ‘the journey’ to completing the race in a decent enough time.  He set a training plan involving strength and resistance exercises, speed and distance increments, and advice on nutrition, rest, etc.   I bought the book Fast after 50, by Joe Friel which is packed with sensible, “guidelines for high-intensity workouts, focused strength training, recovery, cross-training, and nutrition for high performance: How the body’s response to training changes with age, how to adapt your training plan, and how to avoid overtraining.”

I don’t think I come close to having to know how to avoid over-training.  I’m an under-trainer, trying to fit in sessions at the crack of dawn before the school run, which is probably why I very rarely achieve my goal time.  It’s always within spitting distance, but that’s not the goal!   For the Great North Run, I toyed with the idea of going to my running club’s track training, which I knew would be helpful to do but I didn’t, giving myself the excuse that a two-bus trip there and back taking about an hour each way was too much to contemplate, after a day of to-ing and fro-ing with grandchildren.

I’ve now discovered I may be able to get to the track in a one-bus trip with a short run and am going to test that idea later this week – no, not for a half marathon, but to help improve my 10k time.

I travelled up on Friday, giving us (me and daughter who lives in Newcastle) 48 hours to work out a) how to meet up at the end in the melee of 60 thousand runners and their attendant cheerers on b) how to ensure I got my booked train back to London with my stuff.  

If I finished in my estimated time, by 13:30, was four hours enough time to get from South Shields to Newcastle Central Station for the 18:00 train, given the numbers of people trying to make the same journey.  Suppose we spent two of the four hours looking for each other in the crowd?  But, what if I fell over and/or didn’t make the finish?   O, what if  … ?  Any number of scenarios fell into our discussions.  I wasn’t going to run with my phone (and didn’t) so how would we communicate with each other in event of failure to connect?

Our final plan went like this.  I divided my stuff into two bags, one with clothes for me to put on immediately at the end of the race – my daughter to bring with her.  She’d vetoed my idea of putting it on the baggage bus, she thought it would add a logistical complication. The other for my daughter to leave in a friend’s place close to the station.   

I loaded the Great North Run tracking app onto my phone and gave it to my daughter so she could track my progress.  We agreed to meet at meeting point letter X (guessing this would be the one with the fewest people, unless everyone had the same idea as us).  If I hadn’t shown up 90 mins after my estimated finish time we’d make our way to central station and meet there.

Plan settled.  On the day, I set off to the start and she set off to the finish, each carrying our Great North Run day-travel-pass which we’d remembered to buy on Friday before the event.   Our plan worked brilliantly.  The only departure from it was meeting at letter X, because she spotted me coming in at the finish.  She positioned herself pretty much right in front of where she thought I would exit from the corral.   She reckoned I wouldn’t fail to spot her, and anyway I was in her sight as I came out.  She was right, I did spot her. (Wearing a bright orange tee shirt that I’d been given at the end of a race I’d done a few years ago).

She described the metro taking her out to the finish as ‘rammed’.   Which was pretty much the word I would use for the walking route to getting to the starting line.  What was so spectacular, was despite the rammed-ness, runners and non-runners alike, were out there with so much good cheer and camaraderie, supporting so many good causes.    

Having me up with no problem, we just walked to the line of shuttle buses going to City Centre and jumped on the first one.  It was so easy.  We were back at Haymarket with four hours to spare before my train.   We’d plenty of time to enjoy dissecting our day’s experiences over a stottie with a pint of beer, on the Westgate Road. (My goal run time? 1 hour 59 mins. My actual time? 2 hours, 3 mins).

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