Debrief: Great North Run

I randomly popped a ballot application in for the Great North Run at some point last year – can’t even remember when. It’s clearly an awesome race & the largest half marathon in the world, but it’s never been a bucket list one for me. I know plenty folk who’ve ran it, including a friend who raised money for WWF by running with a life-size stuffed panda on her back, & my cousins, who’ve ran it several times in a big group to raise money for a local charity. It’s always had a good report, despite the course congestion, & it’s fairly close to home. I like all these things.

The email came in with confirmation of a place back in February, but I was heavily concentrating on something else & it barely even registered. I think I did an insta post or story about it, but September seemed ages away, and at that point in marathon training I was running 13.1 regularly as an easy run or in the rest weeks, so it didn’t seem like that big a deal.

Fast forward a few months and it was a lot sooner & I was not massively prepared for it. There’s been no training plan, except maintaining fitness as much as I can. There is no goal in mind, aside from completing it, but even then I’m not going to push myself to keep running if I need to slow down.

such bridge, tho

This way of thinking is not how I usually run. It’s different to Run The Blades, which I undertook at 12 weeks pregnant, because I’m now more or less halfway through at almost 20 weeks & running is getting a little more difficult every time. I haven’t really mentioned this race to many people, & those who did know mostly assumed I was going to drop out or defer the place.

But despite slowing down quite a bit, I didn’t see any reason to not run. I was lucky enough to have lots of friends and family running it too, it’s a very inclusive race that caters well for a lot of slower runners, & there’s no merit in not trying. Mostly, I have no idea what life will be like in September 2020 so it’s a much better idea to have a crack at it now, even if slow.

Lol at being in the 1:50-1:55 finish wave, though

I’m writing this on the train home, tea in hand. Tyneside is close enough to Scotland to be there, raced & back in 24 hours, which is good. Today has been the furthest distance I’ve run since knowingly pregnant, & I was quite apprehensive about it. Most people are very supportive, & those that aren’t aka my mother are just concerned. I get that. But I might never get a chance to run GNR again & I’m not chucking an entry fee unless I absolutely have to.

So. Full sun was forecast and was very much a feature of the day. Not ideal, but I sought the shade at all times, made use of almost every water station & every shower, & will be forever grateful to the good people of Tyne & Wear who stood in their gardens with hosepipes. Higher temps definitely slowed me down a lot & I walked several times, always keeping an eye on my heart rate and perceived effort.

I had genuinely considered wearing a long sleeve top

It was quite difficult & I am more than happy to admit that. With hindsight, I wouldn’t do this distance again at this stage. It was a long way & I currently feel the same as I’ve done in the past after running a lot further. I’m sore everywhere & I want a warm bath & some more tea & to not be at work for 8am tomorrow. I felt fine when actually running, though, so I’m guessing how I feel now is just heightened fatigue rather than unusual or dangerous. & baby’s currently fluttering away in there, which I started to feel a couple of weeks ago, so that’s good. I am going to take a few days recovery & make sure I get plenty of rest too.

Random points:

  • I don’t realise quite how much I’m flexing the bump until I’m tired & stop doing it. Right now it looks huge because I’m sitting down & have eaten loads of snacks all day
  • Number of women who slowed for a chat before overtaking, or said nice things: loads!
  • Number of mostly men people who elbow-barged me out of the way: also loads, unfortunately
  • I walked about 7 times for 1-2 minutes each time, usually during a hill or when my watch peeped at me for a high heart rate
  • Comparable to London in terms of route congestion, iconic bridge moment, crowd cheers & good marshalling. The end/event village was absolutely chaotic though & would put me off running or spectating again. Volumes of people meant no phone service & it was really strangely laid out.
  • I will have actual nightmares about the mile 9 portaloos 🤢

All in all, I’m glad to have been able to run this but as above, had I not had the race entry ready to go, I wouldn’t deliberately take this distance on during pregnancy. It might be bad timing, & even a couple of weeks ago might have been better for me, but we’ll never know. For now, I’m grateful that all I’m feeling is mild discomfort, tiny fluttery kicks & a crazy desire for sleep.

Debrief #2

Home race! Sleeping in my own bed! Club mates to run with!

Still not my race, though.

Everything felt fine. A bit chilly & rainy at the start, but I wore a disposable long sleeve top for the warm up miles (not really disposable but I only decided to put it on last minute & didn’t want to carry it for the rest of the race), bursts of sunshine, some strong coastal breezes, as to be expected for a race that travels along the North Sea coast. No aches & pains beyond general fatigue, the wind was a bit strong sometimes but I didn’t feel too slowed down by it, nutrition went well & I had a really good last mile & a fast finish. Clearly can’t judge my own pace, though, as I came in a few minutes slower than London. 4:20:55 on Strava for the actual 42.195 distance, 4:22:44 on chip (with a distance of 42.7km)

So… following a 5-runs-a-week intermediate training plan has made me get steadily worse & I am a bit gutted. I’ve worked so hard & I really thought I could at least pb, even if a sub-4 wasn’t possible. To not manage either, & to finish the UK’s fastest, flattest marathon slower than London, is rubbish.

can’t be good

Positives, of a sort:

  • I’ve run over 1000km in 2019 so far, & will aim for 1000 miles by the end of the year.
  • I finished really strong, & aside from a few aches & pains I felt mostly OK on Sunday evening. My body can clearly cope well with marathons as long as they’re slow.
  • It’s a good medal
  • I had less mental anguish during this race, probably linked to not feeling physically ruined at any point. Miles 17-19 were still a bit dark but this time it was easier to count down from the half way.
  • I have stayed injury-free – a few niggles here & there, but nothing that can’t be fixed with more & better stretching & less running
  • I must visit North Berwick more often, the east coast is really pretty.
  • Now it’s time for weightlifting again

I’m taking a week off to rest, & then changing my training to all strength, all the time. I want my definition back, & I do not want to run as much as I have been.

Other positives, as ever, were the marvellous team & their continuing dedication. Fun when I’ve been able to train with them, & there were some fantastic first-time marathon finishers in this gang. Hugs & chat from folk who know why I’m so gutted is also useful post-race.

Also calf stretch time

Despite the weather forecast of heavy rain (plenty of it) many of us are sunburned. I genuinely do not remember it being sunny for more than a few stretches of 2 minutes. I know you can burn through cloud but it was forecast for continuous cloud & rain. I am coated in aftersun lotion.

Recovery will be plenty of walking & eating properly, & some long-term Netflix commitments to follow up. Knitting, reading, & indoor hobbies in general. Looking forward to indoor workouts too, when I get back to it. New goals will be set when I figure out how to deal with failing.

Debrief

Well.

Finished it! I am a London Marathoner.

& what a medal it is. Chunky, gold-coloured & a good shape. It’s still in my handbag and might stay there for a while in case it comes up in conversation.

Disappointingly, despite the wonderful experience, fantastic support from the crowd & all my training, I didn’t catch the time I wanted and was quite a way off. It was going well but I set off too fast. I am disappointed, but there will be other marathons. Or perhaps I will stop running them.

What everyone said about the crowds was true, & whilst a quieter route would have saved me a few seconds of not kicking people in the ankle/being kicked in the ankle/tripping over people, running with so many others was amazing. The sound of the crowd at iconic parts of the route was so loud it was overwhelming. That definitely carried the last few miles when I was mostly miserable. I have never been so pleased to see the crappy Tesco Express next to Westminster, although I would have never guessed it is a mile from there to the top of the Mall. Distances become so flexible in your mind, a mile can fly by in a daydream and a few hundred metres can seem very far indeed.

Getting the Palace behind you is always good though

So, mile by mile (almost):

Slept fairly well the night before, after re-reading the relevant chapter of Running Like A Girl. I first read this book before I had ever considered the distance & it is still just as useful. Breakfast was a slightly rubbish porridge pot, but went downstairs for a decent hotel coffee & found the hotel was providing bananas, porridge & water too. I still hate bananas but it’s a nice thought.

My cousin had booked us into a hotel near Tower Bridge to facilitate her own easy spectating, so I jumped on the tube to Charing Cross then a train to Blackheath. TfL is amazingly well organised for events like this & it was all absolutely seamless & cheerful.

Starting pens are always stressful. Held on to my kit bag for as long as I could & made sure I had all my gels and snacks. A few last minute additions to the playlist also happened at this point, & I also made some pals

Kat had never run a marathon before, but has run every London parkrun (which is now basically just a waiting game until another one starts up) and has embroidered the name of each one on her running vest. Rosie is a Six Star Finisher and has completed the Great Wall Of China Marathon. (She’s also Rosie Millard, & I didn’t realise this until the next day…) Half an hour of chat with these lovely women in the toilet queue was great for calming nerves & we stuck together until the starting pens separated us. However, we’ve all swapped details & have been checking in with each other for the last few days.

It wasn’t as chaotic as I thought it would be in the start pens, but it was cold & that made the waiting around seem longer. Kept my fleece on as long as I could before chucking it in the donation bin. The actual start & first few miles were a little underwhelming, like many races. The fun began when the starts all merged & it became busy. There is no room to move & get a clear path through. This is where I ended up going too fast, despite the crowds. Eventually I started to recognise the streets, the Cutty Sark loomed up ahead & the noise of the crowd was phenomenal.

unflattering

Buoyed by this crowd noise & knowing my family were at Tower Bridge, the next few miles were fine. Managed to spot my family which was fantastic. Tower Bridge itself was wonderful to run over.

Honestly, it was wonderful, I just look like a confused child

Heading towards Canary Wharf, I started to feel really tired. Looked at my watch and it wasn’t time for another gel, but I snaffled a couple of jelly babies and kept going. It was really quite difficult from mile 16 or so. Legs felt heavy, & the point where you’ve only got 10 miles to go is… not a cheering prospect. 10 miles is far. I gritted my teeth and sulked, knowing I would see people further along the route & determined to be going well when I saw them.

Canary Wharf messes up your GPS because of the height of the buildings. I’d heard about this but glancing at my watch & seeing it clocking 10 minute kilometres messed with my head. I knew I had slowed down a bit, but couldn’t gauge how much & this made me really miserable. The crowd support picked up again along the North Colonnade & it was way too loud for my mood. I ended up right in the middle of the road with a lot of space around me & paused my music as I couldn’t hear it. I did hear someone shouting my name with more enthusiasm than kind strangers, & looked up to see my cousin & her dad cheering & clapping. Definitely what I needed at this point, & easing into a slight downhill section here was also nice to get a bit of a speed pickup. Everything was hurting now, though.

I hung on for a few miles more, seeing my old Carers Trust colleagues who cheered me as loudly as their charity runners. The Run Dem Crew cheering section came up soon after & they are LOUD and amazing. I also spotted London Frontrunners & a couple of Glasgow Frontrunners, which was a nice boost but I was trying too hard to speed up & not look shit in front of club mates.

Coming back towards the Tower was a nice feeling, but after catching the tube from Tower Hill to Charing Cross earlier that morning, I knew that running that route would feel quite a bit longer so just got my head down. I don’t remember much about miles 21-24 except feeling sore & unhappy & worrying that I might have to stop and walk.

Three things happened in quick succession. I saw a Frontrunner pal cheering me on which was amazing; I saw New Scotland Yard & knew we were about to turn into Parliament Square, & despite the best efforts of the amazing marshals & first aiders to create a screen, I saw someone lying on the ground being defibrillated. At that point, nothing mattered more than getting to the finish line & seeing my family. I couldn’t stop thinking about the man on the ground for most of Birdcage Walk. There haven’t been any reports of deaths, unlike previous years, but the stark reality of the situation is still quite harsh. I very much hope that he is OK.

Right turn onto the Mall. Buckingham Palace to my left. Someone on my line of sight stopped to walk; I tapped them on the shoulder & said nah, not now. Run this now. I saw them vomiting at the finish line so I do feel a little guilty but always, always run the finish. More people screaming. My dad & cousin, somehow at the front of the crowd & smiling. & then the big red finish. It became easier to lift my feet & then walking was OK because you’re over the timing mats & it’s done.

oh my god you guys

Medal round my neck. Walking slowly & stiffly to the baggage lorries & being unable to recall my number or read it properly upside down, or speak in full sentences. Did I mention the marshals are wonderful & endlessly patient with the thousands of sweaty idiots stumbling around?

More slow walking towards the reunion area, more shouting ‘can you see a blue flag? I am under the BLUE FLAG’ into my phone. But suddenly everyone was hugging me and I had some water & put my hoodie on & then we went to a pub on Whitehall that was full of runners spilling out onto the street & it was lovely.

& it came in at 4:16:34. Basically the same as last year in Manchester, give or take some seconds. I am a bit gutted, & the post marathon blues are strong today as it’s no longer painful to walk down flights of stairs & people have stopped asking me how it went. I was rather well on track for a sub-4 until the final third of the race, so I am assuming I went off too fast & peaked too early.

So it’s over; it’ll never be undone. It was amazing, & it was really quite difficult. I haven’t entered the 2020 ballot but I think I might have unfinished business with this race. We’ll see.

Next is Edinburgh, in 25 days…