My longest Half Marathon, the Great North Run – Part 1

Great North Run fundraising
[Great North Run fundraising – photo by Runiversity of life]
I made it! Completing the Great North Run had been a long time coming. I am pleased to finally fulfil the challenge of running the largest half marathon in the world. Unfortunately, it wasn’t on my birthday, and not how I would have wanted, but before I turned 40 the next day. At the same time, it was a delight to raise over £1350 for Parkinson’s UK in memory of my late Grandfather.

Since fracturing my leg, I have struggled somewhat to get back into my running. I booked a few races along the way to use them as catalysts of motivation. Some were more enjoyable than others, and quite a few, I found arduous. Perhaps this was because my fitness was lacking and coupled with the odd minor niggle. That being said, I always try to take the positive aspects from a run.

It’s been quite a campaign to find the motivation or my running mojo this past year. Maybe I hadn’t got out there enough, or life just got in the way.
Sometimes before you know it, the time has just passed by and suddenly the race is around the corner…and, that is precisely what transpired with this year’s Great North Run!

Just seven weeks before the race, I recognised I hadn’t been training anywhere enough and thought, uh-oh! A few weeks later, my Garmin watch decided to give up its life, leaving me without a fitness tracker for four weeks. Not particularly what I needed and a little disheartening!

Last year I fractured my leg circa four weeks before race day. This time around, I was quite wary and found my running quite taxing – the fear of becoming injured again was holding me back. Instead of just pounding the pavements, I turned to swimming, some spinning classes, and strength training along with a few gentle long runs.

Getting there

The majority of my previous races have been reasonably local. As the Great North Run is based in Newcastle, some 4 1/2 hours by car and nearly 300 miles away, it took a little more planning than usual. Hotels tended to cost £200 a night! Whenever a big event is on, hoteliers recognise this or take advantage of the demand and hike up the prices. I chose to go down the Airbnb route instead.

After some research, I decided to stay in Tynemouth. The advantage would be not having to queue at the metro and squeeze on the tube. All I would have to do was catch the free bus to the ferry, and cross the River Tyne.

I travelled to Newcastle on Saturday, but if I were to do this again and I would travel on Friday, as it’s such a long way and quite a tiring journey. This would allow one time to rest and relax before race day.

Bib numbers arrived in the post ahead of the event. There was also a bib for your back, on which you could write who you were running for. Many people take on the Great North Run (GNR) challenge for charity, or in memory of a loved one.

The evening before the big day, it was time for the obligatory flat lay Instagram photo – the last check I hadn’t forgotten anything, thankfully I didn’t. One more sleep…

In the morning, getting to where the start of the race was in the centre of Newcastle easy. A jump on the metro to Haymarket and then follow the crowds. I didn’t bother using the bag drop as I didn’t want the hassle of having to queue and collect it at the end.

Great North Run Racecheck meet up
[Great North Run Racecheck visor club meet up – photo by Runiversity of life]
Recently, I received a “team white visor” #visorclub from for reviewer of the month. I donned my visor and looked out for other members and made my way to the arranged meet up point, before the race. As I was on my own, it was lovely to join other #visorclub members for a chat and a few photos before heading to the start.

The route and recap

Eventually, everyone made their way to their designated starting pens. If you were not in your pen by a specific time, you would have to start from the very back. There was a great atmosphere, people were friendly, and waited with anticipation for the off.

The weather forecast was set to be not too hot nor cold, apparently perfect conditions. In fact, it was really quite warm, not a cloud in sight and a bright blue sky…the sun had decided to make an early appearance.

Great North Run Sir Mo
[Great North Run Sir Mo – photo by Runiversity of life]
Great North Run
[Great North Run – photo by Runiversity of life]
The pre-race warm-up commenced, which could be seen on enormous TV screens. Shortly afterwards, it was time for the race to begin. The elite runners started at the same time as us amateurs. Due to the volume of participants (57,000), each starting pen was released one by one. So, although the race began at 10.40, you didn’t really cross the line until a while later.

As it drew closer to your turn, the excitement grew…you could hear the signature music playing that we all know (the music is actually from the Film ‘Local Hero’ written by Mark Knoppler, lead guitarist, singer, and songwriter for the rock band Dire Straits). The compere was calling out runners names and charities as they advanced along the starting road.

This year cricketing hero Mark Wood and Steph Houghton, captain of the Lionesses started the race. You have probably seen on TV runners going past ‘high fiving’ the celebrities. I managed to high five both starters Mark and Steph.

Initially, the course had a slight downward slope as it took you under a dual carriageway then up and out on the other side.

While under the long dual carriageway and tunnel sections, it’s a tradition for runners to shout the ‘oggy oggy oggy’… it was great fun! On exiting the tunnel, the sides of the roads were thoroughly lined with crowds cheering you. Each bridge was full of spectators watching all the runners go by. In no time, before you knew it, you reached the iconic Gateshead bridge.

Great North Run the Tyne Bridge
[Great North Run the Tyne Bridge- photo by Runiversity of life]
If you are lucky to time it right, you could be running across the bridge when the famous Red Arrows fly above you, blazing a trail of red, white, and blue. Unfortunately, there were no red arrows this time! They were on tour in the USA which was a shame….all the more reason to go back another year!

As with many races, it can be easy to get carried away, heading off too fast and struggle later on. Knowing this was going to be the case, I just told myself to run comfortably. However, with the slight downward slopes, atmosphere and flow of other runners at the beginning, I found myself running at a quicker pace than planned. After reaching 5km, it was time to slow down and take it more steadily. I knew my fitness was somewhat lacking and was unsure of what state I would be in by the end…

My longest Half Marathon, the Great North Run – Part 2

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The Great North Run – Part 1 – October 12, 2019
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