Race #1 – The Great North Run

A weekend to remember

I’m embarrassed to say that despite making it to the ripe old age of 40, Friday was my very first trip to the North East of the UK.

After picking up the children from school, 3 of the challenger families hit the road and convoyed to Durham. Some of us stopping at a rather splendid American Diner, somewhere on the A1 to begin the process of carb loading, without feeling guilty. Even then, we were surrounded by tables of runners and families – the scale of the event began to hit us.

The Saturday was spent in Newcastle, under blue skies with hundreds watching the Great North mini-run. My son Matthew making his debut at the 1.5km distance along with dozens of other children – some being chased by ‘accompanying adults’, whilst some were some way ahead, leaving their so-called ‘accompanying adult’ for dust.

Matthew, Amelia, Dominic and Jessica from our team all did a fantastic job and enjoyed their receiving their medals.

It was then onto the pasta party. The lengths us Brits will go to for a free bowl of pasta is amazing. Fortunately the 30min queue wasn’t 30 mins – and the process of carb loading for the next day continued. The sky remained blue as one of the older children, Lewis entered the 4.5km in the afternoon, shortly after the legend Mo Farrah competed in the City Games – also being held on the quayside.

Our first experience of Newcastle was a good one. Today we were standing under the Tyne Bridge spectating. Tomorrow we would be running across it on the way to our first half marathon.

The challenger team continued to join via train throughout the day and even more carb loading took place in Durham in the evening at the very accommodating Zizzis.

After debating whether beer contained carbs, we all agreed one wouldn’t hurt (like any group of elite athletes). Simon “The Machine” Hodgkinson opted for a second, to much tutting. It turned out he knew what he was doing.

Sunday started earlier than planned with an unscheduled 5.25 alarm call (sorry again Paul). One day I’ll learn how to use my iPhone. At 6.30, we got up and can I just give a massive thanks to the Premier Inn, Durham – they started breakfast early for us runners. I would imagine the Quaker Oats factory had been working overtime that night – a lot of porridge was consumed, not to mention a handful of cheeky fry ups – Mo Farrah would have been proud.

Without any form of plan b, we then took the very last possible train to Newcastle. The weather was perfect from a running perspective – not so from a crowd perspective. We were early to the start line and only then did it dawn on us all the scale of the Great North Run. 55,000 runners is a lot of runners and a lot of baggage and a lot of water bottles and a lot of toilet queues!

The magnificent team were now assembled….

  • Carol was walking – she was injured and had planned to revise for her interview on Monday by studying postcards on the way round.
  • Paul was heavily loaded with gels – carefully positioned around his activity belt.
  • Simon downed a litre of Castrol GTX shortly before putting his baggage in the bus.
  • Murray mainly worried about whether there was enough time to get changed and get his kit on the bus.
  • Harvey wore far too much lycra, mainly obscuring the cause we were running for.
  • Jonathan was lucky enough to be selected by me as my pacemaker.
  • I continued to maintain I wasn’t interested in running a good time. I was there just for the fun. I lied.

The start line was amazing – the Red Arrows, the warm up and the Mexican Wave will remain with me for a long time.

At 10:40 the gun went. At 10:59 it started raining. At 11:00 we went over the start line!

Before we did though, I was lucky enough to ‘high five’ the legend that is Mo Farrah who held the starting gun. His hands must have been seriously sore by the end.

The rain came down, the crowds came out and the first 5 miles literally flew by. We were running a good pace.

We were helped at 4 miles by the Leukaemia and Lymphoma Research team bus – much cheering and support from our families from a very wet top deck.

At around 6 miles, I had to stop for a rather special experience with Denise Lewis:

The remainder of the race got harder and hillier. Murray was a legend – he took over as ‘my pacemaker’ – and really forced the pace.

The last mile was pretty special – not only did it feel like it lasted 3 miles, the crowds grew, we were finally on the flat by the beach and we could taste the Powerade and chocolate miniroll cocktail we were about to enjoy.

Massive respect to Simon The Machine, who finished in an incredible 1’32.

Huge respect to everyone else too – everyone did great times. Particularly Carol, who obviously did run, despite being injured and Paul who by his own admission hates running and will be hanging up his trainers when this is all over. That’s what makes all of these people very special in my eyes.

We were all greeted at the charity tent by our families who had covered almost as many miles as us around the course. The children had been fantastic – on ferries, trains, buses and on foot.

Wind forward a mere 10.5 hours and we were all home safely in Bray.

We were happy. We were exhausted. We were slightly achy, but we were ready for the next half marathon in Bristol.

And the total kept climbing…