My First Half Marathon; The Great North Run Experience

If a year ago today you’d have told me that 2016 would be the year I ran my first half marathon I’d have ran back to my seat on the sofa laughing, probably with a chocolate orange in my hand. I’m not a ridiculously lazy person as my job means I’m on my feet for most of my day and I’m the first to agree to a long Sunday walk or game of squash given the chance, but generally I’m not someone who religiously exercises 3 times a week or is a member at a local gym. Last year Mat (my boyfriend) ran the Great North Run having taken up running about 6 months before (but having always been very physically fit!) and as we live up in Newcastle you can’t escape the amazing atmosphere. Before May this year I had been a member of the gym for a couple of months at uni but other than that kept my feet at walking pace.

img_9324This summer Mat was away for 9 weeks in Africa and as we live together it was looking like a long lonely Summer and although I was going on holiday for part of it and was going to be working full time, I needed something to do. I’ve been sat on my arse far too long saying “one day I will start running” and I decided it was about damn time. It was literally like a random Thursday evening at the beginning of May or something that I decided within about half an hour that I wanted to run the Great North Run and I was going to do it for a charity; Lindsey Lodge Hospice (if they still had places left – which their Facebook page said they did!) Within another 12 hours I had spoken to the fundraising lady at Lindsey Lodge and had all my forms ready to fill in to take part. For Lindsey Lodge the price to enter was around £65 I think and that was for a guaranteed place. That was it – I was set to be running the Great North Run on Sunday 11th September 2016. Eek. I think I had something like 18 weeks to go and I didn’t even own a pair of decent trainers.

I started my training by heading to Start Fitness to buy said pair of trainers and came away with a pair of Asics GT 2000s (Sounds fancy doesn’t it) for £110 (now £59 omg why) as well as some fluorescent running socks because I wanted literally the full kit. I also bought a pair of Nike running leggings for like £40 which I expected to fully regret and was my “treat yo’self you runnin’ a half marathon guuuurl” gift to myself but they turned out to be the best thing I bought and were fab for training in. I already had a sports bra and some tops I could run in so I was away! The next day I went for my first training run and I started off by using the fitbit app. I think I ran about 1 mile on that first training run and I realised just what I was in for.

img_9666I tried really hard to go out for a run every other day and to be honest I had no real pattern to my training as to the number of miles I wanted to do per week. I just sort of went and did as many as I felt I could. For my training I usually ran after work and generally a longer run at the weekend. I mainly struggled with eating enough throughout the day at work to give myself the energy for the evenings. I soon realised I cannot run on an empty stomach as my legs just felt so heavy when I tried that it wasn’t worth it and I would come away feeling so demotivated and as though I had taken about 4 steps back. I ran my first 10k (around 6 miles) after three weeks of training and was chuffed to bits. I think I must have had some fitness in me but it was mainly determination and really pacing myself that got me to 6 miles so quickly. I’m not a fast runner by a long way and for that first 10k I didn’t stop to catch my breath once and just powered through. It took me 1 hour 10 minutes.

img_9515After that 10k I aimed to do a couple of shorter runs (anything from 2-4.5 miles) and one longer one (6+ miles) every week and it’s safe to say that didn’t happen. It wasn’t as though I didn’t try and I would say other than the week I was on holiday I managed at least two runs every week leading up to race week. I didn’t so much struggle with the discipline so much as the time. I’m not a fan of running in the dark so the long summer nights were on my side, however having plans on an evening often hindered my original plans for the week as well as just not feeling up to it some days (I get headaches and running makes them worse!) meant that I didn’t really train as much as I would have liked to, but I didn’t do a half bad job for a beginner. Looking back, yes, I would have liked to have done more running before the big day but it was my first serious race and it wasn’t about a time for me this time. It was just about finishing a half marathon!

img_0916I was building up to ten miles as my training goal and I hit it on the 2nd September – 9 days before the run. I think I then went on maybe one 2 mile run and did nothing after that in preparation for the big day. The 10 miles was a real learning curve. For one, until it happened I didn’t realise how long I would actually be running for given I’m not that fast. I think it took me just over 2 hours and that’s a long time to be jogging for. I didn’t take any food or water with me so by about 8.5 miles, although determined, I really was flagging. I learnt that on the day I would need to drink during the run and that small walking stops were fine but I limited them to maximum 1 minute. For the first time I worried that I ought to have trialled energy gels t some point during my training but after reading reviews online I realised it was a bit late now and that I’d just have to hope that the crowd was as generous as I’d been told they were and that there would be an Aqua Pura stop soon after I got thirsty. Having said all that though, the 10 miles really did give me the confidence and the push I needed after the daunting feeling had crept in. I genuinely felt pain the next day in places I didn’t know I could and in muscles I didn’t know I had but I felt so proud that I was ready for it to come now. I knew I could do it. EEEEEK WHAT A CHEESY LINE but so true.

So I don’t know if it’s a thing for the whole “Great Run” series or what but the day before the Great North Run there was a Pasta Party and the City Games (a really teeny athletics competition) on the Quayside, which was where the 5k and 10k were taking place too I believe. It was a great atmosphere and the pasta party was great as I got two fairly sizeable portions of pasta for my lunch for free which helped perfectly for my carb-loading. (I swear all anyone spoke to me about the week of the run was bloody carb loading). My brother and Mat’s brother were also running for Lindsey Lodge and we were all so excited when we left the Quayside and the nerves left us completely (for a bit…). For our tea we had some lovely homemade pizza (recipe) and Mary Berry’s Saturday Night Pasta (recipe) which has become a firm fave in our household, however bad for us it is.

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img_3434On the day of the run it felt as though it had come around really quick. I had a yoghurt and granola for my breakfast and some Belvita breakfast biscuits but didn’t finish them as the nerves had set back in and I can’t really eat when I’m nervous. I also seemed to need a wee like every half an hour which is very unlike me so that was definitely nerves! We left Mat and my parents some time in the morning before we had to be at our starting zone and they gave us a text when they got to South Shields to let us know where they would be to wave at. They were 200m from the end and that thought kept me going all the way through. I was in zone J and we were basically at the back of the pack but could still hear all the music and hear them announcing Mo Farah as a competitor. As it had been the day before, the atmosphere was incredible. I’m a crier, so whenever they played an emotional song I cried. The red arrows also did a fly-over and I cried at that. Cried cried cried.

As we were so far back it was over 40 minutes after the race start that we actually started it ourselves and it was sooooo amazing to know I had started running the Great North Run after starting from nothing just a few months ago. I ran my first mile in 9.5 minutes which was the quickest I had ever ran a mile and was a huge mistake. I really didn’t feel it had tired me out until I got the dreaded dry mouth at mile 3 and wished I’d have taken it a bit slower.

I could ramble on forever about how it felt running the half marathon and the things and amazing people I crossed paths with but I will keep it short and sweet. It was hard. And it was painful. The temperature on the day was 24C+ and that was the hottest I had ever trained in under pure sunlight. There was essentially no cloud cover meaning there was little opportunity to cool down other than the little showers they have en-route. I am 100% certain it would have been easier had it been even just a little cooler or cloudier. I had my first stop at about 4 miles which I had always beaten in training and stopped around every 2 miles after than for a little walk at least. Miles 9-12 all roll into one in my head and all I really remember is feeling very sick after eating a jelly baby and realising I should have had more for breakfast. The last mile was difficult but brilliant. I knew my family were waiting at the 200m to go mark which gave me the extra push and the crowds became more excited and busy and the atmosphere built once more. It was an amazing feeling looking back, especially seeing my family (including the two lads who had finished ages before me) all cheering my name and the thought of the people I was helping at the hospice genuinely did get me over the finish line.

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img_1258I finished the Great North Run in 2 hours and 49 minutes. Collecting my medal and goody bag, with Elbow’s “One Day like This” over the speakers, I was so teary and tired and I vowed never to do it again. When Mat found me I muttered a lot of “That was F****** S*** I am never doing that again”, but with a chip butty in my belly and the promise of Domino’s for tea, within half an hour it was decided; of course I was doing it again next year. What. A. Feeling.

img_1242I hope you enjoyed this little ramble and that it could motivate you to run your first half marathon. Looking back I really do feel so proud and chuffed that I did it and although it was hard, it was so worth it.

S x

 

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