The weekend started with a long, tough, wet drive up to Middlesbrough. To put it mildly Lauren was unimpressed with my driving skills in the wet, but we made it up there safely and were welcomed by an excited leaping Henley, Lauren's favourite pup in the world.
I took myself up to bed fairly promptly ready for the early morning start for parkrun, but on waking Lauren said she was tired, and I was happy to miss the parkrun as it wasn't ideal prep for the Great North Run the next day and I had intended to run at my estimated race pace rather than racing it. So I stayed in bed and watched some Triathlon while Lauren went and played with Henley.
I did manage to get myself out for a run in the sun, just a gentle 6km or so around a small circuit behind Jan's house. Then it was a pretty relaxed Saturday with a couple of walk/run/sniffs/sit downs with Henley. The pre-race dinner was not the usual pasta based dish and instead was a lamb roast. The cooking instructions were just plain wrong and so I carved us up some pretty raw looking meat, but after a zap in the microwave we had us a tasty roast dinner. This was followed up with some apple crumble and custard, and then it was early to bed to rest up.
My pre-race breakfasts are pretty legendary. The yet to be beaten Solero pre Edinburgh Marathon will go down in history. For the GNR this year I opted for a slice of Jamaican Ginger Cake and that was it. I did manage to get a bottle of water at the start, but that was going to fuel me all the way to South Shields.
I thought me and Lauren had left plenty of time to get to the start, but the logistics of the race meant I was more rushed than I would have liked. Nearly an hour drive to the end, park the car, say goodbye to Lauren, jump on a bus to Haymarket, and then walk to the start and my pen. We left Laurens at 7:45 and I made it into my start pen at 10:15, effort! I tried to settle myself down as the mass warm-up went on around me, I've never been much of a dancer and that wasn't going to change now.
So after some athlete introductions and in particular one Mo Farah we were set off at 10:40. I made it over the line after 2.5 minutes and soon got into a rhythm. As always there were people who had either snuck into the wrong pen or who had lied/over estimated on their entry forms about their predicted times. This meant there were human statues and walkers within the first half mile. I dodged them without too much bother and before you knew it we were heading over the Tyne Bridge. We were too early for the Red Arrows, but I probably wouldn't have noticed them anyway as I was focused on picking my way through the slower runners. I was making steady progress, as the course ebbed and flowed. I was probably pushing a little too hard on the up slopes but wanted to maintain the momentum. My earlier stress and bad mood was starting to ease as I concentrated on the task at hand.
The promised winds and rain were not apparent for the first part of the race, and the temperature was pretty ideal for running, the Km's were getting ticked off and my average pace was 4:36-4:38 a little slower than my most optimistic goal of 1:36 but nicely ahead of the 4:45's needed for 1:40. The official splits have me going through the 5km point in 22:46 around 1:33's. Looking at the course profile this is net downhill and it felt it as well.
The race does then climb a little more through the next two miles to reach the highpoint after about 5 miles. The road surface is almost exclusively on the motorways which is fast, but the terrain is definitely undulating and with the crowds of runners throughout the course you couldn't always attack the up and downhill’s as you would choose to. I went through 10Km in 46:26 so a (23:40 5km split) and 4:44's a steadying of my pace and this section was also net uphill.
I must have gone through halfway in around 48:30 so on for around 1:37 but I could feel my energy levels dropping and my pace was going to slow rather than quicken over the 2nd half of the race. I did get a surprise visitor around this point when the guy from parkrun eased past me and said hello. I had seen him at Silverstone HM with Luke and Southend so it was funny to see him once again. He is in much better shape than me and so I think he would have really upped the pace in the 2nd half, and I didn't seem him again.
With a 3rd of the race still to run, I really did go into a holding strategy, my legs were tired and a big part of me wanted to slow it right down. My focus was now very much on sub 1:40 and I reckoned I needed 5min or so km's all the way to the end to make it. I went though 15km in 1:09:51 (23:25 5km split) 4:41’s and so I had steadied the ship.
I knew the course from having run it twice previously that there was one long drag up to South Shields before you drop down to the seafront for the final mile. The waiting for it was agony, and the climb itself was every bit as bad as I had expected. I knew it was about 2km to the sea and I was continuously checking the Garmin, so keen was I to be put out of my misery! But right on cue there it was, the steep drop where you try to not fall head over heels before the super flat run to the finish.
This was one of the few parts of the course where I felt the wind against us, but I was getting stronger and trying to pick my way through the field as the road was narrow and so it was crowded. Others were also weakening on the run in, so you had to keep your wits all the way to the end. 800m to go, 400m to go, 200m, each marker was a relief and then finally the turn onto the grass and over the line. Garmin stopped at 1:39:36 and that is the official time too.
On the stretch to the line I looked down at my Garmin to see 1:39, but after an hour I lose the seconds, so it was a tense sprint for the line knowing that any second it might tick over and I would just miss my target. Thankfully that wasn't the case and I was chuffed to have made it. After the line I kept on moving, through the long finish funnel, excited to see Lauren. I grabbed my goody bag with medal and t-shirt then headed for the car.
It was all a bit mad and I managed to get myself on the wrong side of the road. I didn't fancy the walk back around and there wasn't the crossing point I was anticipating so I chose to improvise. The crowd of runners was so thick that there wasn't a sufficient gap to cross. I elected to get back on course run towards the finish a little and drift off to the right hand side gradually then asking the crowd to part a little to let me through. I got a few odd looks, but I had run my race and collected my medal and I wanted out of there! The official photos are now out and if you have a keen eye you will spot a picture of me with my white finisher’s bag on my shoulder attempting to exit stage right.
Lauren and I were finally reunited back at the car, and we made our way out of the carpark slowly due to the crowds of cars still trying to get into the carpark as we made our exit. But then we on the roads home to Rayleigh via Great Ayton.
It has now been over a week since the Great North Run, I have watched the highlights and unfortunately they cut to the kids races highlights just as I was coming up to the finish and so didn't get my two seconds of fame this year. My body is fully recovered and my motivation has gone quiet for the week post race. I often struggle to get out the door that first week, but I am now refocused and ready to get back on it in a big way. The 5k in October and the 10k in November should both be interesting gauges of my fitness over the shorter distance. October is also when I find out if I have been successful in the ballot for the London Marathon. If that is confirmed then I have the Barcelona Half Marathon on my 30th Bday and the Marathon as my A goals for early 2014. Plenty of reasons for me to get out the door!