The Great North Run 2012

I wrote the title carefully, adding 2012 afterwards in case I needed to identify it as the 2012 report in the future.

I’m trying hard now to remember as many details as I can for you, but also for me because the whole day blurred into an experience, rather than a race. The Great North Run compares with nothing I’ve ever done before. If I’m honest, I’m sitting here watching the race on TV, which my son recorded for me. If nothing else it’s sparking memories that might make this a better post.

I’ll start at the beginning, at 7am when my alarm woke me. I was already awake, of course, waiting for the alarm to sound. I’d slept well and knew that I had everything ready so that I could breakfast, dress and go. I followed advice and ditched my porridge for toast and jam. We’d decided to catch the Metro from Whitley Bay. It’s the furthest point from Newcastle no matter which way you go so chances were that it would be quietest so far as passengers go. We also knew that it had a reasonable car park. Right enough the car park was only half full when we go there at just after 8. There were around 30 other runners at the station waiting. We boarded the anti-clockwise train and easily got a seat. So far, so good.

Runners embarked at every stop, until there was standing room only. We soon reached Haymarket, the station identified as the closest to the start, and followed the crowds. We had no idea where we were going; our recky run the day before hadn’t taken us further than the station. We passed the university and on the other side of the campus found ourselves in crowds I’ve never seen the like of, despite being a city born girl. Murphy had to be carried for fear of him being trodden on.

We found the baggage buses, all thirty of them, lined up parallel to the start. The green starters buses were right at the back so it was some walk to the bus and back. Once I’d deposited my bag I thought it best to visit the loo. It was now 9:45 and we were to be in our starting pens by 10:30 at the latest. No bother then.

What I hadn’t anticipated was how long it takes for people to pee. We joined a queue thinking it was one queue for the entire toilet block. It turned out to be the queue for the last toilet in the block and as we reached the corner we could see smaller queues for the others. Time wasted there! It was now 10:00. I eventually reached the end of the toilet queue at 10:15. Grant was panicking that I’d miss my pen time. So was I. We went straight down to the start.

The race starts on the A167 motorway, using both sides of the motorway. As we walked we went further and further from the starting line, trying to find my section. Eventually we found the green section, but no way into it. It turned out that the sections were merging and there was no clearly identifiable ‘I’ section within the green. I kissed Grant and Murphy goodbye and I queued up with hundreds of others outside of the pens, trying to move into them. Grant and Murphy planned to catch the Metro across to South Shields in time to see me cross the finish line some two and half hours later. As we waited the gun fired and the pens started to move forward, very slowly. It was obvious that as the people already in the pens moved forward we’d not be able to edge into our section. I couldn’t take it and jumped the fence along with a few others. I wasn’t going to be left behind, sorry!

It was way after 11 when I crossed the line. I had stuck to the right hand side of the road with the thought in my head that I needed to stay out of people’s way when I was on a walk break. When I looked across there was Mo Farah high fiving the starters on the left. Damn. An opportunity missed. I wasn’t about to race across the road for a taste of fame though. Whilst we were waiting for the start it had started to rain quite heavily. I managed to grab an Asics raincoat that someone had stuffed in the fence and wore that until we got close to the start. The rain had slowed by then and was reduced to a gentle and refreshing shower.

I had Jeff Galloway and his wonderful half marathon app on my iPhone, giving me a consistent pace to run to and I set off steadily, as planned. To begin with I was running with plenty of space around me. I didn’t take a lot of notice of people around me so I can’t say if they left me behind, or if I left them, but what I do remember is that just up from the start was a row of trees and a set of toilets; I couldn’t believe how many men headed for the trees and women headed for the loos! We ran along the motorway into Newcastle centre. As we went through the first tunnel there were shouts of “Oggy, Oggy, Oggy!” Spectators were lining the bridges and streets, which was amazing to see. I don’t think I’ve ever run for so far smiling!

I won’t do a step by step analysis of the run. To begin with I was running around about a 10 min/mile pace. Mile 1 came in at 9:34, mile 2 at 9:55 and mile 3 at 10:08, giving me an official 5k split of 31:01. I was really happy to see that. There was a time, not so long ago, when I couldn’t crack the 30 minute 5k and now I’m not far off that whilst carrying on to run a half marathon!

Crossing the iconic Tyne Bridge was the next amazing point. My husband loves bridges and I thought about how much he would like this as I crossed it. The amount of charity runners out there was astonishing. Thousands and thousands of them, for more charities than I knew existed. I spotted three other Dogs Trust runners on the way round and got a couple of pats on the back from other runners acknowledging what a great charity Dogs Trust is.

As well as spectators there were bands playing, the local radio station had presenters positioned along the course and ordinary folk were there handing out sweeties, oranges, ice pops – even Jaffa Cakes! It was hugely motivating, hugely so. I think the crowds, more than anything, spurred me on. There were frustrating times when we were running on narrower roads and I was dodging people trying to overtake them, weaving in and out and feeling as if I was running an extra mile on top of the 13.1!

I reached 10k in 64:52 which isn’t far off my ordinary 10k time. It’s certainly faster than I could do 10k last year! I’d been under the misapprehension that the course would be fairly flat, heading gently down to the coast. How wrong I was. It seemed to be hill after hill after hill. It shows on my Garmin data that the uphill miles 4 and 5 were much slower at 10:47 and 11:07. I managed to pick up my pace on the next two miles (10:14 and 10:35) and the fact that I managed to do so many faster miles meant that I could afford to be a bit slower on some miles and still be under my 11 min/mile target pace.

My nutrition was spot on. I had my Lucozade Isotonic drink for all the way round. I didn’t take any water or Powerade offered at the roadside wanting to stick to what I knew worked. I had my gels at miles 4, 7 and 11, although getting the tops off the gels was a nightmare with sweaty fingers! I had to stop and ask a fireman to help me open my last one!

Just before the drop down into South Shields there is a hill that just seems to go on forever! People around me were walking, but I was determined to only walk when Jeff told me to. At mile 12 the ground just dropped away in front of us revealing the sea. At last!

The last mile was nothing short of a killer. It was a long mile, but I tried to lift my pace. I did the last mile in 10:35, even managing to speed up at the end! The sight of the 800m sign spurred me on. I looked along the spectators for Grant and Murphy, expecting them to be somewhere along the finish straight. The Red Arrows did a fabulous display as I ran along the finish straight, finishing with a huge heart. They’d started us off at Newcastle and were helping us finish at South Shields.

I crossed the line in 2:22:13 in 27,766th place. It was a half marathon PB by 2 minutes which, considering the course and the amount of people in my way most of the time, was brilliant. My Garmin data is here.

I was spent by the time I crossed the line, I have to admit. I struggled to walk from the finish line to the chip deposit section. I managed to stretch out just beyond this and went to collect my goodie bag, complete with T-shirt and medal. The organisation at this point was spot on. Beyond the finish was a section for families to reunite. I rang Grant to tell him that I was heading up to the section for H and would wait under the flag, but only got his voicemail. Unbeknownst to me Grant had been held up in Newcastle, struggling to get a train to the coast. I waited and waited, getting colder and colder, not wanting to move in case I missed Grant. There was nothing in my goody bag that I could eat, everything had nuts or wheat in. All I had was the Powerade to sip.

An hour passed and still there was no sign of Grant. I kept trying to call, but my calls just went to voicemail. I sent texts to say where I was and eventually I got a reply. For some reason he had not received any of my voicemails and only knew that I’d finished when he started to get texts. When we finally found each other I needed my kitbag and the milk shakes and Mars Bar. We headed for the baggage buses.

I couldn’t find my bus! There was the sign saying bus 23, but no bus! When I asked an official he said the buses were being unloaded, despite the fact that the buses couldn’t leave and there were people still running! I was sent to a small marquee, loaded with bags, with a massive crowd leading from it. I joined the throng and patiently waited. There was no queue. It was a bit like a jumble sale. It was a good twenty minutes before I got to the front, a full two hours after I’d finished. Had I realised that Grant was so severely delayed I’d have gone straight to the baggage bus. I had something to eat and drink, although there wasn’t anything other than chips for me on the stalls. Sadly the risotto had run out! I settled for some hastily and undercooked chips and a hot chocolate.

We walked into South Shields town centre, following many others along the route, reaching the end of the Metro queue far too quickly. It stretched for the length of the High Street. I was tired and hungry. I wasn’t relishing the wait. We had initially planned to take the ferry across to North Shields and then two stops on the Metro to Whitley Bay. If I had been alone I think I would have chanced it and headed for the ferry, but together we are useless decision makers, neither wanting to upset the other! Instead we waited in the queue for a good hour or so. By the time we reached the platform I was shot. I started to feel sick and went to sit down. The train was fully packed and all the seats were taken before we could get on. I was carrying Murphy so I had no hands free to hold onto the straps or poles. Almost immediately I started to feel ill. My temperature started to climb and I felt weak. Apparently the colour drained from my face and I eventually took Grant’s advice to sit down on the floor. I sat on my bag with Murphy on my lap for the remainder of the journey into Newcastle, only really feeling better when we’d changed trains and reached Whitley Bay and I had my curry and Guinness  in my hand!

People have been asking if I’ll do it next year and I’m still unsure. If I could be transported to the start and beamed home at the finish I’d say yes, like a shot. Getting there wasn’t too bad, but getting away was awful. Everyone, especially catered for elites and celebrities, has been tweeting about how wonderful the event was and, yes, it is a great race. I loved running it. The logistics of getting away spoilt it for me. What I’ve learnt is that I need to go through the finish and head for my bag. Forget meeting anyone – just go. After that I can relax, knowing that I have my food and drink. Then we need to look more closely at the ferry and how much easier that might be or for Grant to take the car straight to the finish and park up there.

Today I went for a recovery run. Just a slow trail run with Murphy, free of iPhone, music and Garmin. I walked when I wanted and ran when I wanted, working out the stiffness in my legs. It was bloody hard for the first half a mile, almost as if my feet had forgotten what “to run” meant! After that I just went with my easy pace and enjoyed it, hardly breaking sweat.

Next on the calendar? I’m not sure at the moment. Give me a few days and I’ll let you know!

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2 thoughts on “The Great North Run 2012

    1. Thank you! I’m really trying hard not to let the getting home part spoil my memory of the event. I was really angry on the day itself and that’s tempered a bit. A really well organised event seemed to be let down by a few daft decisions and that had a knock on effect for the rest of the day. Mostly it was down to lack of experience. I’ve stopped ranting now!

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