So I can officially say I’m a Half-Marathoner (if there’s such a thing, if not there should be.) I didn’t get the time I wanted, but my gosh, I made the most of the race and enjoyed it all. Here’s a very honest race review of the Great North Run from an amateur and slow runner:
I’m lucky enough to have friends in the North East who would put me up for the night, so I stayed in Houghton-le-Spring which is about 30 miles south of Newcastle. Knowing the pens opened at 10am I wanted to be at the start line at about that time. So we set off driving at 8:45, aiming to get into the city centre for about 9:30. I jumped out the car at 9:30 just near Newcastle Uni and followed the thousaands of other people.
Just before the motorway which the start line is on there are portaloos for all runners. Now I ended up queueing for about 40minutes for the toilet. I think I chose the wrong queue but either way, leave plenty of time for toilet queuing. If you’re in one of the later pens there are some toilets nearby but again, there’s all so long queues.
As my start pen was the last one I had about a mile walk alongside all the other quicker runners to get to my pen. However I did manage to sneak into the side of my pen so I wasn’t right at the back.
Having missed the warmup, I did my own adaptation in the small space I had. Next was the start of the race and then the wait.
We waited. And waited. Saw the Red Arrows fly over us. Waited. And waited some more.
The race began officially at 10:45 I crossed the start line at 11:30.
After a long wait to start I was running. After the initial pre-race nerves I now felt very giddy to be finally running the Great North Run.
I knew my partner and friend were at the one mile marker so I had something to look forward to very soon. They were just before the tunnels you enter before getting to the Tyne Bridge and I spotted them before they spotted me so I started to wave like a crazy women until they finally saw me. After lots of cheers from them I headed into the tunnels and shouted along to the Oggy Oggy Oggies with thousands of others.
After the tunnels came the Tyne Bridge. Covered in hundreds of people cheering, I got a little emotional. Like many I took my phone out my pocket and tried to capture some of the moment so I had it as a keepsake.
After the elation of the Tyne Bridge and the first 2 miles came the hard work. The slow ascent for the next 3 miles began and the initial hill after the Tyne Bridge is a cruel one. In fact there are a lot of hills over the next week miles, all of which no one warned me about, all of which took a lot out of my legs.
With very heavy legs I started to fall away from my pace. After being frustrated with myself I decided to not get angry but to continue to enjoy the experience so that’s what I did. I knew at about 6 miles it was very unlikely I was going to get my goal time so I instead high-fived all the kids, ate the jelly babies, cheered on those in costumes, danced and sang along to the great bands en-route and chatted to others who were struggling.
My legs continued to feel like led so I’d slowed to a shuffle kind of run and a speed walk when my legs wouldn’t shuffle. But I was determined to get across that finished line.
After one last uphill I finally spotted the sea. There a very steep decline onto the seafront which you have to take carefully before the left hand turn to the finish.
Now many people had warned me that the last mile is the longest mile you’ll ever run and they were right. I’d decided to run as much along the front as possible so I took it very slowly to ensure I’d didn’t injure myself. I hit the 800m to go mark and what felt like 10 minutes later I was at 400m, unlike Mo I did not sprint from here, I was just desperately looking for that finish line. After why felt like another 20 minutes I reached the kick right to the finish line. I crossed the line at 3:59:00 gun time.
A wave of pride, happiness and pain washed over me all in one go. I hobbled to the medals and was awarded my bling then heard my partner and friend shouting my name. After picking up my goody bag I found them in the crowd and burst into tears.
Although I was annoyed to have not hit the 3 hours I wanted, I had knocked 10 minutes off the last time I ran 13.1 miles and I had really enjoyed the race and the atmosphere. But ultimately I was so proud and relieved that me and my little ankle had made it the whole distance. After all the doubts and the tough training I had completed the goal I set myself 8 months ago.
Even as I crossed the finish line I knew I would be signing up for the race again next year because yes it’s a tough course but the atmosphere is unlike any other.
So as a slow runner tackling my first half marathon, here are my tips for anyone who is thinking of entering the Great North Run:
- The route is uphill for about half the race. So you need to include some gradual inclines in your training runs. My training route was relatively flat so the hills really took it out of my legs.
- For the same reason, don’t skip strength training. I skipped a lot of cross training and strength training thinking that if I got the miles in I’d be ok. I was wrong. You’re gonna need strong legs for the slow and steady uphills.
- Plan your travel in the morning. I’m lucky because I lived in Newcastle so knew the easiest ways in and out of the city and good places to jump out of the car. (Which is just by Newcastle Uni)
- Add at least half an hour onto the time you think you need to get to the start zone. This is the worlds largest half marathon, there are 50,000 people who need to go to the toilet, 50,000 people who need to get to their pen.
- Don’t worry if you’re a solo runner. I was by myself and ended up making friends in the toilet queue who I then walked to the pen with. Once in my pen we made more friends and together we calmed each other’s nerves and pumped each other up. The support in the race is unlike any other.
- As in any race, don’t start too quickly. This can be difficult in the Great North Run as the atmosphere up until the end of the Tyne Bridge is amazing. Try your best to reign it in as the last mile along the seafront is a great one to really go for it. There’s people cheering all the way along and it’s nice and flat – unlike some of the other miles.
- Don’t overegg your finish time. I was in the last pen, and was overtaking a lot people from 2/3 pens ahead of me. The Great North Run is a gruelling route and very busy so getting a PB can be hard. Be realistic in your finish time.
- Lastly, take in the atmosphere. Turn your headphone down a little and really soak it all up. I have never run a race with so many people supporting you right along the route. It really is what makes the Great North Run so special.