GreatNorthRun2014 start
The Great North Run is not a beautiful race. There are many other races which have better scenery, more attractive vistas and more variety. The Great North Run is all about the occasion, the atmosphere, the scale and the support, and on that score, nobody does it better.

I entered this race way back at the start of 2014 when I was lucky enough to get selected in an early entry ballot run by the Daily Mirror. I had watched the previous year’s race on TV  and marvelled at the spectacle. I was keen to experience it all first hand.

Race day approached. I left the logistics planning late, and two weeks out decided that I would travel to Newcastle on the day, (also known as the the early start – 2 hour 20 minute drive – metro – race – metro – 2 hour 20 minute drive option). One week out, on Monday lunchtime I went for a normal 7 mile run around Water of Leith and Union Canal and strained my left calf muscle. I seem to get strains in Marchish and Septemberish. Usually just before new runners time. Perhaps I am trying to squeeze too many miles out of my old runners. Anyway, I rested up until Thursday, then went for a light jog. The pain was still there. Now I had a dilemma.

numberCompression socksI did as little as possible on Friday and Saturday except try on new compression socks (which was kind of an exercise class on its own). On Saturday evening I could still feel the strain but decided that I was going to do the event anyway, even if it meant walking. Experience breeds sense however, and I planned to abort rather than risk further injury. I even checked the abort points.

As usual, I woke up 5 minutes before the alarm at 5.45 on Sunday morning. I grabbed some cereal, espresso and berocca, and headed south. Before long I was driving into bright sunshine. Perfect, I thought. I like running in the sun.

After a toilet stop at Otterburn, nicely timed to avoid the inevitable queues at race start, I parked up at Callerton Parkway metro station and joined the queue for metro tickets. The queue was moving slowly as folks tried to decrypt the code to buy an all-day all-areas pass, but before long I was deboarding at Haymarket and joining the hordes making the 15 minute walk to the race start.

start forwardstart backwardIt is worth mentioning here that the race organisation is quite unparalleled in my experience. Getting 57,000 people to the right place, in the right mood, handling their luggage, letting them relieve themselves etc is no insignificant feat. The metro was running extra trains and was not overloaded. The bag drop buses were clearly marked and easy to navigate, there were plenty of toilets.

But it did not stop there. In the pens the warm up was excellent. This was not just a case of getting folks stretched and ready for race start. The MCs really built the sense of occasion in the lead up to the start, amplified by the fact that one of us would be the millionth finisher of the Great North Run. For some reason they decided to give Mo Farrah a head start on the field, but shortly after the great man was on his way I was moving past the start point, High5ing Tony the Fridge and I was on my way.

approaching tyne bridgetyne bridge 1The-Great-North-Run red arrowsI planned to start really slowly, and nearly managed to achieve that, but adrenaline, the running crowd and a downhill start had me moving faster than I wanted. A mile in, I felt the calf and put the brakes on a bit. At two miles I crossed the iconic Tyne Bridge exactly at the same time as the Red Arrows flew past a few thousand feet overhead, accompanied by great cheers from runners and supporters alike,

Mile 1: 8:38
Mile 2: 10.14
Mile 3: 9.03

I found I could run at about 9 minute mile pace by relaxing when placing my left foot. On occasion when I got lulled into a false sense of security and moved faster, a sharper pain told me to back off. I was entertaining no thoughts of a fast run anyway, and wanted to finish if possible, so I settled in and enjoyed the atmosphere.

Mile 4: 9.10
Mile 5: 8.59
Mile 6: 8.29

It was hot. The sun definitely had his hat on and was delivering something in the region of 17-18 degrees. Some folks were struggling and on a few occasions, the running crowd had to part to let an ambulance through. In one way I felt like a bit of a fraud for taking the race easy, but another part of me was secretly happy that I did not have any internal pressure to push it. I was cruising along nicely, albeit with something of an uneven gait. The course was always crowded, particularly when the road narrowed from mile 7 to mile 9.

Mile 7: 8:34
Mile 8: 8:36
Mile 9: 8:58

There was plenty of entertainment along the way, including just about every kind of percussion band imaginable. The North East must be the steel band capital of UK. The crowds were vocal and generous and it seemed like the spectators had cornered the market in jelly babies. There was even a free beer bench at one point. The volume of runners did not seem to thin out at all. Another part of me was secretly happy that I did not have a PB on the agenda. Although the route was fairly flat with a few undulations, anyone shooting for a PB had to be ready to dodge and weave their way through the congestion.

Mile 10: 9:00
Mile 11: 9:07
Mile 12: 8:52

Suddenly, with just over a mile to go, the sea was in sight. This also coincided with a downhill section which goaded most runners around me into one last push. Except me. I was finding the uphills easier going on the calf, and slowed down on the downhill. A sharp left brought us into the final mile to the finish line.

Mile 13: 8:48
Run in (pace): 8:19.

finish garminI was happy to cross the line in one piece and be gently herded into the finish zones. The Garmin confirmed I was under two hours. I guess nursing a strain around 13 miles, and coming in a little faster than my first ever race last year, is a sign of some progress. I collected my finisher’s bag containing a cotton T shirt and medal. I forgot that Great Run T shirts are big and went for large when medium would have been a better choice, but I can’t complain. The finish zone organisation was impeccable. I picked up my bag from the same bus I had dropped it off at, and continued walking for about half an hour to the metro station in South Shields. There were no queues at this time, and about 40 minutes later I was back in the car heading home.

I am glad I ran the race, even though I couldn’t give it my best shot. I cruised one for the first time and was able to take in more of the atmosphere. Next year? Who knows. Like buses, you wait for ages and then three arrive at the same time. The Highland Perthshire Half/Full marathon is tough competition and there is the new Scottish (aka East Lothian) Half Marathon…

Official Result:

Time: 2:06:45 (for some reason the website is showing gun time and calling it chip time)
Position: 15,883 / TBA
Gender: 12,215 / TBA

  1. […] time last year I was lining up for the start of the Great North Run. I would have been very surprised if you had told me then that it would be a year before my next […]