Thursday, 6 October 2016

Lovely things to do #4: The Great North Run

Today's lovely thing to do isn't just about the thing itself, lovely though that thing undoubtedly is, but what leads up to it too. There are no shortage of people who've done the Great North Run. Something like 50,000 tramp round every year, so I'm claiming no special achievement here. The thing is a lot of those people will be the drawn from the young and the naturally fit. I am neither of those things.
Prior to training for this, the last time I did any actual running in actual trainers was probably the cross country at Dumfries High School, about 18 years ago. For some reason the sadistic bastards made you jog over icy fields and frozen mud in the middle of winter. Once I discovered music, booze and tabs, running stood not a chance.

Then towards the back end of last year I decided, for no reason that I can quite remember, that I was going to do the GNR. I think I liked the idea of getting a bit fit and was also fed up watching the thing on the tele with a pounding head and a gob like death valley, getting pathetically emotional at the story of some one-legged octogenarian, running in memory of someone or other. What would it be like to actually do the bloody thing? Only one way to find out.

To my complete shock and happy surprise, I found out I quite liked running. Sure, you feel all wheezy and shit at the time, but afterwards you feel great. Who knew!
Running makes you feel so fresh and vital
The only problem was things kept going a bit wrong with my legs. Years of under-use had clearly left them withered and weak. God bless the NHS; I got to see a physio just a few weeks after referral who sorted me out with all manner of strengthening exercises. Even so, by the arrival of the big day the longest training run I'd managed was 8 miles. During the week leading up to the GNR  my hip was hurting to walk on and I was pretty much sure that as soon as I started to run it would give out, and I was going to have a grim 13.1 mile walk on the cards.

Megan, Ella and I head to the start line
I'd arranged to at least start with my sister Megan, who's done a bunch of these things, and even a marathon. A few other assorted friends were running it too, which was all to the good. As we headed to the start line the air was heavy with anticipation and Vaseline. Even as I followed Mr Motivator's warm-up (what the hell does he do the other 364 days?) I was sure my gammy hip was going to screw me over.

Me, doing it.
Then we started running, and everything was ok! In fact, even better than that, I felt really quite good. Honestly, when we got to about 5 miles and I knew that I was going to be able to finish the thing, I don't think I've ever felt happier or more relieved. Everyone says the atmosphere is amazing, and it really is. The Red Arrows went overhead just as we started and every time a band or a DJ was at the side of the road I got shivers. The whole thing shook my misanthropic outlook to its foundations.

Up until 8 miles, everything was great. Between 8 and 10 it got a bit tough. Everything after that passed in what seemed like a slow-motion blur during which I was vaguely aware that my breathing had gotten weirdly noisy. There's a long uphill section which is just really hard work. At about 11 miles I clocked a kid handing out ice-pops; let me tell you, that strawberry Mr Freeze was, at that moment, the most wondrous thing I had ever tasted. The last mile was brutal.

Megan and I finished together in just under 2 hours 23 minutes. I was elated and sort of in a daze. It took a good few minutes to be sure I wasn't going to faint. I had wanted to get round without stopping, which happened. You can see why they call stuff like this endurance events, because unless you're some kind of superhuman, that's all you have to do- keep bloody going. I've got a new found respect for distance runners everywhere. The whole thing makes you pretty proud to live round here too. It's a brilliantly organised day.

We walked to Colmans in South Shields to get what proved to be the most wondrous tasting portion of fish chips I've ever tasted, before getting in the queue for the Metro.

There's something canivalesque about the whole day, from the fact that the traffic stops for the thousands of people on the streets to the fact that you can legitimately litter, lobbing lucozade bottles onto the street without fear of reprisals. I can't remember the last time I smiled at, or talked to, so many strangers. Days like this make you think that, actually, maybe our species isn't so bad after all.

I was running for Children North East, a fantastic local children's charity who do all sorts of great work across the region. If you're minded to consider sponsoring me you can still do so here.

I've said I'll do it again next year. There aren't many days that end with a complete and total sense that you've achieved everything you wanted to when you got out of bed. If you've never done it before, give it a go. This seems like hyperbolic schmaltz these few weeks after the event, but it was easily one of the best days I've ever had.

Lovely thing to do rating: Has to be a 10/10. Yes it costs about sixty quid to enter, but who cares. I've got a frigging medal and everything!


  1. Loved reading this. I've recently got into running and am thinking of doing the GNR next year even though the thought is pretty terrifying! I think you may have convinced me!


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