Bupa Great North Run

This was my third time at the Great North Run, my first one was 3 years ago, my second 2 years ago and this one, my deferred entry from last year. Previous years I had loved every minute of it. I had felt excited and very nervous. I had questioned my ability to complete the distance. This year I felt less excited, less nervous and just less into it than I really should have been.

So why was I not excited about the world’s largest mass participation half marathon? I had moved away from road races and mass participation events to trails, ultras and low key events. I had fallen in love with off road picturesque events, so running down a dual carriage way in the North East of England for 13 miles just didn’t seem a patch on running across hills and rocks in the Peak District. I lost my four legged furry best friend only a few days before the run to an evil petrol driven machine on four wheels. I had became emotionally drained having done no running since. However I needed to get away from the emptiness of my house. I was going to run this for my gorgeous little cat, Harriet who brought me 3 years of love and happiness.

[headline] Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving. . – Albert Einstein

So off we went, me and my best friend Becky all the way to Newcastle, staying in a hotel I had booked a year before, a lovely hotel next to the metro centre in Gateshead, we couldn’t really fault it. Taking a different strategy this year, we took the car to South Shields – the finish on Saturday afternoon. To get there we had to drive most of the route and realised how undulating it was, not hilly just undulating and it really did scare us more so than we realised. However it became a good move to drive it as we were able to visualise it much more effectively and talk through the route with each other.

The morning of the run the hotel had a fantastic spread of breakfast goodies, packed with boiled lycra, scrambled trainers, running cap muffins, Garmin pastries and hot steaming power aid. A hard boiled trainer please and a slice of lyrca topped off with a hot pot of power aid for me; thank you, and yes I am here for the run.

Yeah I have a diet. It’s called RUNNING! – Author Unknown

Fuelled up; we checked out and decided to share a taxi with another runner –a great idea as we were taken to almost the start, just as cheap if not cheaper than getting the train / bus into town and walking through crowds.

Once we arrived, the grey concrete motorway stretched emptily and somewhat bleakly in front of us, soon to be covered with 40 000 plus runners and a plethora of charity vests and characters that you wouldn’t even see in version 64 of Shrek. The zones were all marked clearly; expect nothing less from Bupa, and the big screens were flashing up messages of good luck and advise. This is such an incredible event and it was fantastic to be part of it once again.

[headline] In the midst of regular life, running is the touchstone that breathes adventure into my soul. – Kristin Armstrong

I began to get a little nervous and feel the excitement for the first time as I gazed at the stretch of road where 3 years ago I had stood having never done a half marathon before and realised how far I had come since that day. We were early but it was nice to just chill, go for a wee without queues, go for another wee without queues, go for a wee with queues and people watch all the amazing characters that had brought Newcastle to life this typical autumnal September morning.

It felt like the majority of people had got out their trainers to help raise millions of pounds for their chosen charities; supporting their brightly coloured vests, dressed up or holding out buckets. Full credit to everyone who raised money for their chosen charity, charities that were close to their hearts, in memory of their loved ones. This year we were both running for ourselves. We had done the charity thing in the past. Maybe it was selfish and I did feel a bit guilty however I reminded myself that running for me is about my freedom, myself belief, my own goals, and just running because I can. Why should I feel selfish and guilty not running for a charity? I was running in memory of my loved one too, even if she wasn’t a person. Call me sad or pathetic I don’t mind. I was still emotionally drained over something that gave me so much happiness and that’s what I would remember today.

Soon it was time to get into the pens. I hugged goodbye to Becky and made my way into Orange B where I thought I was way out of my league – it’s the first orange zone, what was I doing in the first orange zone only behind the fast paced club runners? Really? The warm up involved doing the Mobot and Bolt but instead I was looking at the ground and my trainers and just thinking. Just thinking that’s all, surrounded by 40 000 other runners.

Running well is a matter of having the patience to persevere when we are tired and not expecting instant results. – Robert de Castella, Australian marathon runner

I had no real expectations for this race. I had not followed a training plan. I had started doing a bit of speed work at club which I really felt I was rubbish at, having a blip on track a few weeks ago but 4 weeks of speed work wasn’t going to make me super speedy and I knew this. I wanted to beat my route PB of 1.41, I would have liked to have got sub 1.40 and at the very best a 137.30 would have brilliantly blown out all my expectations. Nothing more nothing less, no pressure and no real nerves. I wasn’t asking the usual questions of am I ready? can I do this? I was just blanked out.

At 10.40 the gun went off and we all edged forward. We were off. I crossed the start line at around 1 minute 40 – the nearest I have ever got to the start line and I was off running with everyone else. It was packed; like all the sardines in the world crammed into a rush hour tube. There were a lot of slower runners to begin with as I failed to get into rhythm and paced through the crowds dodging some of the fancy dress runners. I will not be beaten by a donkey, a ginger bread man, a snail or 2 girls in pink tutu skirts. Get me out of here and let me run.

The support in the centre was as good as always; looking down at us cheering loudly as we pounded down the streets of Newcastle. I was on the side where I should have gone under the underpass but huge congestion just before the underpass forced me to follow 3 other intelligent runners and duck under some tape to get to the other side of the motorway where there was more space – better better better but still running in the gutter.

Running Running
away from my tears
away from my pain
away from my fears

Brittany Ray

Some guy decided to suddenly stop in front of me to tie his shoelaces, – runners etiquette please as I nearly toppled on top of him losing my balance and staggering into the middle of the road. Thanks Mr Runner double up your laces next time please. The beep of my watch went and whereas everyone around me started looking at their watch I just ignored it, it is not going to make me go faster, I don’t care. It felt like a slow mile dodging people. The saying if you can’t dodge it ram it would be inappropriate for this event.

Fear not those who argue but those who dodge. – Dale Carnegie

Cruising across the infamous Tyne Bridge, I remember previous years getting all emotional crossing this bridge, for me today I had the memory of Harriet in my head and focused on getting round people to find my own space. I was still jumping from one side of the road to the other trying to find my own spot but it just kept moving away from me and being filled by a mass of trainers.

3 miles, beep – ignored, 5km mark – ignore, water – not ignore, grab a bottle and onwards and upwards. It was still busy but by now crowds had eased off and I had found my little space and I was just running. This is where it’s at. I still had to run around people or slow down a little to get passed those who had gone out far too fast. At this point I was feeling ok, putting one step in front of the other, this is ‘fun’:

put one foot in front of the other one. (Oh oh oh!)
I don’t need a new love or a new life just a better place to die.

Fun, One Foot

The rain began to pour down from the grey misty clouds. It was actually quite refreshing. Not too heavy just enough to keep everyone cool. Just after 4 miles I hit stitch. I didn’t mean to hit stitch, stitch wasn’t a bloke getting in my way oh no it was that horrible sharp excruciating pain around the side of my chest. I hit it hard but it was not going to go away. It hurt and I could feel my body slowing down as I held my side and tried to breath into it. I needed more oxygen I needed to stretch that diaphragm but I couldn’t stop and stretch the diaphragm like you can with a calf, oh no you just have to run on. The pain slowed me down and it was noticeable. I was supporting my Sheffield Running Club vest and people were shouting out “Go Helen” “Go Sheffield” and this really helped me get through the pain. I knew my body could go the distance; just mentally I needed to remain focused and get through this.

Suffering is an extraordinary teacher. – Ryan Hall, U.S. Olympic marathoner

The half way mark wasn’t far away as I continued to run with the stitch easing. I must apologise for all the kids who I didn’t high 5 to I am sorry I was concentrating combating the pain. That’s the fantastic thing about these events, support is just stupendous almost across the whole course.

A massive “half way point” screen told me nothing about how I was doing for time but that I was half way – yeah really! I thought then that I would take a sneaky look at my watch it may tell me how I was doing, but alas I looked down and it told me that I had done 6.49miles. Thank you watch – sod you – I am going to ignore you now for the rest of the race that was such a waste of time. Yet just 10541203 millimeters to go.

My stitch had eased off by now and my positive mindset began to return. I thought too soon, and at mile 8 it hit again and brought me pain right through to the Bupa Power Zone at near on 10 miles. I really can’t say at the time that I was enjoying myself on the outside but I knew deep down that it would all be good and I would look back and think what a great time I had.

Strength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will. – Mahatma Gandhi

I passed the clock around 10 miles it said 111 does that mean it had broken or had I really just run 10 miles in a sub 1.10? (having crossed the start line just under 2 minutes after gun time) It then hit me that I could be on for a comfortable 1.35 if I kept going and challenged the next three miles which I knew were painful. With this in mind, some pumped up music, free jelly babies and lots of cheers it really did give me a boost – that’s why they call it the Bupa Boost Zone. Suddenly I was feeling ok, but knowing that at this point previously I had struggled up the 10-11 mile hill. (I call it an upward slope but some people call it a hill). I was feeling stronger as I passed so many people through the 10-11 mile mark. I may have been ‘grunting’ rather a bit too vocally and adding to I had to have a prep talk to myself. I actually shouted out loud to myself “come on” and really did dig in deeper as I found myself cruising past some of the runners who were now really suffering.

At the top of the hill some chart hit blasted out of the speakers and gave me that extra bit of power to freefall down the hill. Just 2 miles to go, that’s less than 15 minutes if I got it right. I was focusing; and actually overtaking people on the downhill too. Smile for the camera on your way down to the long coastal road of pain.

There are no standards and no possible victories except the joy you are living while dancing your run..you are not running for some future reward-the real reward is now! – Fred Rohe, author of The Zen of Running

This finish is one of those finishes where you can see the finish in the far far away distance. It looks miles and miles away but actually it is only 1 mile away. Such a delusion. What makes this stretch so special though are the crowds, cheering on every single step of every single runner. I was running near the edge and people were shouting me again “Go Helen” “Go Sheffield” “Come on Sheffield not far to go”. I was suffering. I will admit.

The slight incline from the 12 mile mark to the 20 km mark seemed like another 3 miles; but I kept digging in deep, focusing on my mind on that last few minutes of pain. 800 metres – that’s just 2 laps of a track; that can be done. Come on; as I told myself I could do this. It felt like everyone was passing me; as some super speedy runners put in a huge sprint but it was too early for me, only when I got to the 400m mark would I increase my speed. I have been a victim of speeding up too fast too soon.

400 metres sign; the finish become much more visible as I could just make out the clocks in a blur of mashed up numbers. I pushed on. By this time I was overtaking other runners, we were all fighting for that finish line. The 200m metres sign; my pace increased overtaking a few other people, keeping up with others, then suddenly a bloke got in my way as I hit the grassy patch and lost my pace to the finish. Another runners nightmare. I crossed over the finish line; the clock said something like 1.33.07. This meant that I had done a sub 132 half marathon. I suddenly felt really emotional and I felt myself sniffling.

I AM A RUNNER because I run. Not because I run fast. Not because I run far. I AM A RUNNER because I say I am. And no one can tell me I’m not. – John Bingham, author and runner

It was still raining as I wearily walked to the water point and goodie bag point; clutching a silver blanket which they were handing out to all runners, wrapping it around me shivering, trying to keep warm and shedding a few tears. I felt emotionally sad, but overwhelmed at the same time. I wanted a hug from someone. My furry friend came to the forefront of my mind as I walked to the 38 yellow buses to find my bag and put on some warm clothes. I was drenched to the skin and beyond. It must have rained more than I thought and I didn’t even notice. I hadn’t really accepted that I had just run a sub 132 marathon. It half didn’t feel like it.

Games require skill. Running requires endurance, character, pride, physical strength, and mental toughness. Running is a test, not a game. A test of faith, belief, will, and trust in one’s self. So hardcore that it needs a category all to itself to define the pain. When game players criticize, it’s because they aren’t willing to understand, not because they’re stronger. Running is more than a sport; it’s a lifestyle. If you have to ask us why we run, you’ll never understand, so just accept. – Jessica Propst

Becky was still running. I stripped off my soaking club top and bra in front of the yellow but and lots of male finishers but hey hoo I had just wee’d in a bush some 1 hr 45 minutes earlier and flashed my bum to a potential 39 000 runners – no shame!. My warm jumper was a lifesaver. I didn’t feel like putting the event tee on yet.

I poured chocolate milk down my throat and tried to eat a muesli bar whilst wandering around still sniffling but feeling a little better. I had just cracked over 10 minutes off my route PB and a good 7 minutes off my previous half marathon PB and probably just run under 7 minute miles for over 13 miles yet the time hadn’t really sunk in.

Something cheered me up as I wandered through the crowds of finishing runners. Signs for “Free Massage”. Being a tight fisted northerner anything for free is good with me. As I wasn’t running for charity I could not go into the charity tents so into the free massage section I went and queued up with all the jelly babies and other runners. It was only a 15 minute wait and just lying on the massage table having my calf’s lightly massaged immediately made me feel instantly better. A bit of TLC is all I needed.

After the massage I wondered around absorbing the atmosphere. The sun was now shining high in the sky as hundreds more runners had finished and celebrating in euphoria having completed the worlds’ largest half marathon. It was an indescribable atmosphere; Bupa’s impressive organisation make this something special, there must have been 100 000 plus people mingling about South Shields.

It was only £1.20 for a cup of tea so I dug deep into my pocket and enjoyed my cup of tea whilst watching the Red Arrows putting on a brilliant show. I gazed up at the blue light greyish skies in admiration at their spectacular skill, whilst absorbing the general atmosphere on the ground; watching the expressions of all runners faces taking in the enormous scale of this event.

I knew Becky was due in soon, so I wondered to the finish area and found a nice spot to take photos – I am sure I must have seen her come through but it so busy that I missed her. However I was taking photos of the clock around 2 hrs 59 minutes and 59 seconds and we are both convinced that she crossed the finish line around this time. This gave Becky a massively brilliant time of 2.25 minutes knocking some 7 minutes off her previous years’ PB. I am so proud of my best friend. Really so proud.

To finish will leave you feeling like a champion and positively change your life. – Jeff Galloway, U.S. Olympian and author

I watched as the other runners came in, waving their arms in the air, runners doing the mobot as they approached the finish, fancy dress runners. Amazing respect for the man with the fridge on the back. I was really emotional just watching people cross that finish line. There is something special about this event whatever anyone says.

My phone beeped – a text from Becky to tell me she had just finished, received almost at the same time as my Great Run text came through. I rushed back round to the meeting point ‘C’ and gave Becky such a humongous hug as she stood there shivering. What mattered was that we had both finished this, not just finished it but finished having smashing our PB’s by 7 minutes. We had done it. At the time I was going to say that it wasn’t one of my favourite races, yet just like everyone else that day we both jumped over those mental hurdles in our heads. But we both jumped high enough and in the end had real Great Run(s). That’s what it’s about at the end of the day. A fantastic weekend with a fantastic result.


Time: 1.31.38
Gender Position: 68th
Age Position: 184
Gender/Age: 9th
Overall Position: 1132

Bupa Great Run Website

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