In the days leading up to the Great North Run, I had two targets. The first was to try and at least get a time similar to my half marathon PB (1:43:39, set last month), even if I couldn’t be precise given that the GNR would present a very different environment. The second was to soak in the experience and enjoy it as much as possible.
On Sunday morning, I joined my sister and some of her running friends in taking the bus into Newcastle. It was when we stepped onto the gathering point on the Town Moor that the sheer scale of the event hit home; sixty thousand people were gathering to run, and it was a job to keep track of each other when moving through the throng. In spite of this, dropping off the baggage and making a final toilet stop proceeded smoothly, and then we split up and headed to our respective start zones.
Leaving the Town Moor and heading onto the A167, it felt like a very long way past the start line to my zone. Naturally, the pre-start buildup was rather more sombre than it might have been, with the passing of the Queen earlier that week, an event that had made it uncertain for a time whether the run would go ahead at all. There was a minute’s silence, a rendition of the national anthem – now God Save The King – and then, far ahead of me, the race began. At that point, it was a matter of waiting and slowly drifting forward, my autistic side feeling decidedly uncomfortable amongst the packed crowd of strangers and with the uncertainty of what lay ahead.
Then, finally, my wave reached a point where we could start running – and instantly, just as at previous events, the running was all that mattered.
I was pleased to find that I had room to run at my intended pace right from the start. Spectators were lining the route to cheer everyone on, and would continue to be present for almost the entire distance, along with several music stations; they certainly served as great motivation. For the first half, I was doing so well that I wondered if I might not snatch another PB after all.
In the second half, however, it became rather more gruelling. It wasn’t an easy course; there seemed to be one uphill section after another. The need to constantly seek out gaps to pass other runners in the crowd, or slow down when another runner would suddenly cut in front of me, was also draining. The fact that it was a surprisingly warm day probably took its toll, although I was less conscious of that.
With around two miles to go, we came to a particularly long uphill stretch in South Shields, and I just had to pull over to the side and walk, finally taking advantage of the spectators’ generous offerings by accepting a welcome slice of orange. I still find it difficult to accept when I don’t have enough energy to run continuously during an event – but at least I didn’t have to walk for as long as I did at previous half marathons before I was able to start running again, at a slower pace.
Knowing that there would definitely be no PB that day took away some of the mental pressure, and when passing the next water station, I slowed to a walk again for a leisurely drink. A few moments later, the North Sea finally came into sight; driven on by the sound of kind strangers calling my name (from my running number), I kept running, and even managed one last little sprint over the finish line.
My time was 1:48:17 – not quite what I’d hoped for, but out of the five official half marathons I’ve now run, it was still the second best. (I still seem to be alternating between running a very smooth half marathon and what feels like a more challenging one.) Aside from a sore back, which quickly got better when I was able to sit down on the metro, I didn’t feel too bad either. The Great North Run was certainly very challenging, but I enjoyed the majority of the experience, and I would like to give it at least one more go to see how I deal with the less comfortable aspects with better anticipation.