The Great North Run – an Experience.

The Great North Run is so much more than just a race, so much more than the World’s largest half marathon, it’s also one of those occasions where words might not be enough to describe the whole thing.  I shall try.

Of course it isn’t just about the race itself, it’s a whole weekend event.

For me it started at 11am on Saturday morning when, bag packed, I set off on the start of a six hour relatively pain free three train journey including lunch of champions at Kings Cross Station.  I met up with Miriam, a fellow runner from Running The Distance, an online Facebook running group, and we spend the whole journey chatting away.  On arrival in Newcastle we walked to my hotel, a few minutes from the station, checked in and then, after checking the map, decided to walk to Miriam’s hotel it being only one mile away.

This was to be my first experience of the hills of Newcastle.  That one mile to the hotel was all uphill and seemed to be much longer than one mile.  After checking Miriam in we retraced our steps back into the city centre on the look out for fellow RTD members and needed food.  We were unsuccessful with the members but food and beer were found in the Wetherspoons.  Good food and cheap beer always go down well I’ve found and a few beers later and we were flagging.  Miriam went off to her hotel by taxi and I returned to my hotel.

In hindsight, and I could have said this many times about things after this weekend, I would have paid a little more for my hotel.  The Albatross, where I was, was a clean hotel but was really a backpackers hostel, twelve to a dormitory room, shared facilities and noise, oh so much noise.  From squeaky beds to snorers, very drunk Irish lads sliding down the bannisters and party goers coming in at three am, it all combined together to not a great night’s sleep.  In fact I gave up at around six am and went for a run.  Cold and breezy it was to be the best part of the day, I always love running early before most people have got up.  The city market was just setting up and the smell from the bakery was divine.  I ran up to the start and watched for a while as the marshals and security arrived and set up.  Breakfast of Champions followed by returning to my room and chatting with fellow runners while changing for the race.

I collected Miriam at her hotel and we walked back up to the starting area to drop off bags and find our starting pen.  At this point the sun made its first appearance of the day.  Not in the weather forecast it caught a lot of people without sunglasses or sun cream, there would be a lot of red faces and shoulders by the end of the day.  We arrived at the pens early, thank you Miriam  🙂 , and found some shade and took loads of photos.  Although loads of people walked past us there wasn’t really a sense of the huge numbers that partake in the GNR and we were on the lookout for fellow runners.  I spotted the T-shirt footprint of RTD and Jason joined us for a while.

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At around 9.30am we entered our starting pen and the waiting began.  The sun blasted down and the entertainment started.  A massive TV screen near us showed pre race stories, interviews and charity stories, some very emotional ones too.  I did my #22pushupchallenge to applause in the pen and got to explain what it was all about.

And then at 10.40am we were off!!  Well Mo Farah was off, we wouldn’t start to move for 30 minutes and it’s only then that the scale of the GNR starts to sink in.  On the big screens we could see all the runners crossing the start line and still we waited and waited, slowly shuffling along listening to the commentator shout out name after name of charities being run for.  After 40 minutes it was our time to start racing, unfortunately the sheer number of people meant that for the first 200 metres nothing faster than a shuffle was possible.

We got into our stride and then the hills began.  I’ve never taken Newcastle to be a hilly city but it is, not big hills but long continuous inclines and they all seem to go up!  Miriam send me forward after 3 km but, in hindsight, I wish I’d stayed with her.  I chat to anyone when I run and I spoke to, among many others, a man with a fridge, a man in a dustbin, many superheroes, and people from all over the country.  The encouragement from the runners to each other was no less of that from the spectators who were out in force from start to finish handing out water, orange slices, jelly babies and much more that I didn’t partake of.  And those hills just kept on coming and coming.  It was tricky keeping a good rhythm up as people would suddenly stop running and start walking with no notice, I crashed, as did many other, into quite a few people.  I knew I wouldn’t be getting a good time when I found myself walking at around the 10km mark.  It was a long incline and I found myself with a lack of energy that never really came back.  At some point I caught and passed Jason who was visibly struggling, we had a quick chat and I pushed on.

Long story short and I came down the steep hill to the sea front quite tired and with heavy legs.  That last mile was a long one but I plodded on and overtook hundreds of people who had resigned themselves to a long walked finish.  Eventually the finish line came and that was that, quite anti climatic really.  A long walk to get medal and goody bag and then I waited for Miriam to finish so we could get back to the city.  Being on the sea front on a hill the wind blew hard and it was only the fact that it was still sunny that people didn’t start suffering from the cold.  Once Miriam arrived we collected her bag and found a bus back into the city.  Because of traffic it took an hour to travel the 8 miles and I slept most of it.  Another fantastic meal at the Wetherspoons before heading off to the station for the journey home.

Virgin Trains, you are shocking.  One train cancelled previously in the day caused chaos for all trains following.  We had reserved seats but no reservation slips were on seats and people from previous trains filled our train.  We found did find seats but the train was packed with people sitting on the floor and in the corridors.  Of the eight toilets on the train only four were working at the start of our journey, by the end none of them were, and the train guard could not have cared less.

I eventually arrived home at 11pm, 36 hours after leaving.  I was tired, hungry but full of the satisfaction that comes from overcoming difficulties to achieve something.

Is the Great North Run worth doing?  Absolutely.  Will I be doing it again?  Absolutely not!

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