Great North Run

It’s overblown, overhyped, overpriced and OTT, but I don’t care. I love it! I love the Great North Run! We may all be Brendan’s whores, but it’s good to feel dirty and sinful once in a while. Poor man’s gotta be able to feed his family after all. He can be my pimp any day.

This was my 2nd GNR and so I considered myself a seasoned pro. I knew there would be crowd trouble. I knew that there might be some congestion, occassional gridlock, and things would get sticky, especially at the lucozade stations. I had a rough race plan that, broadly speaking, involved getting as much out of my entrance fee as possible. I would go through every shower, drink every lucozade, listen to every band and high-five as many people as possible.

After disembarking from the coach I soon lost sight of my fellow Striders. Barrie and George waved their VIP cards and headed straight to the front of the field. Feeling part of a 52,000 sized family I wandered with camera in hand and soaked up the atmosphere. This year I was running for Shelter so I kept an eye open for other Shelter supporters. Not everyone took kindly to me bounding up and asking for my photo to be taken but a couple of charming friendly lassies were happy to pose with me.

I knew things would be busy but was surprised at just how chocka it turned out to be. Last year I was at the back of the last pen and it took me less than 15 minutes to the start. This year I climbed into the pen in front but we still crossed the start a good 28 minutes after the gun had fired. Chatting to Margaret in the pub later we both agreed that the second half of the race was the more congested – I don’t know if that ties in with what others found. My split times show mile three as being the fastest. Andy James had sponsored me on the understanding that I would hit a sub-2hr time, and at the half way mark I was on track. But it was pinball wizard all the way after that. Dodging, ducking, bouncing and ricocheting was hard work so I settled down to high-fiving and waving. Apart from spotting Dave Robson at the Fetchpoint I saw no-one else I recognised. I had a spell of staring accusingly at runners that I passed whose colours clearly had no relation to their prospective finish time. I trusted my glare translated as “How the hell are you in that colour when you’re walking up this teensy hill?”. I paused in my Hard Stare activities to high-five Elvis and, realising that the road ahead was blocked, settled down for an easy finish. At least this year I was not passed by any amusingly shaped vegetables.

Meeting up with Roberta at the finish was tricky due to the huge crowds and congested mobile network. We decided later than one of the nicest parts of the day was just sitting in the companionable coziness of the Look Out Inn having a quiet drink and waiting for the coach, listening to the day’s tales being told around us. After the frenetic buzz and crowds of the preceding hours it was a peaceful oasis of calm.

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Burn Valley Half Marathon

I’m still relatively new to running and so every race brings something unexpected and lessons to be learnt. This was my first wet-weather race and by the time we’d walked from the car park to the start everyone was soaked through. I was warm, clammy and uncomfortable, and I hadn’t run a step. I had a sense of foreboding that leaving the Lanacane at home was a bad idea.

I’d read Dave’s report from last year and studied the route so had a pretty good idea what to expect. (I find the old race reports very useful and always check them out before running a new race.) The bunch left the market square and I instantly spotted the stonewashed running vest of Alan Purvis, and we ran the first mile together discussing the course and how bored our wives would be while we were away, perhaps sitting in a nice DRY tea shop in the town.

The course is described as hilly, and so it is. It undulates outwards and upwards for about 6 miles, and then it undulates backwards and downwards back to the finish, overlapping some of the outward route. Sometimes it undulates quite considerably and provides a fascinating study in biomechanics and the different shapes of runners. I found I wasn’t a strider, but a climber. I would pass people on the climbs, only to be passed a few minutes later by the same runners as they strode past me on the descents. Some of the descents were just a little too steep to ‘let go’ completely and I could feel the thumping on my upper thighs as I tried to balance speed against stability.

On the subject of thighs, by the end of the race the insides were rubbed raw, a sort of sandpaper pink, and a lesson was learnt. And it stung like a bee when I stepped into the shower a few hours later. I’m already considering the ‘Shaun Roberts look’ and getting myself a pair of long shorts to wear under my short shorts.

Alan wasn’t the first person to approach the finish and ask the crowd where it was. The approach is clear enough but there was nothing as vulgar as a big banner proclaiming FINISH. It was discretely nestling in a bottleneck in the alley next to the school, and many weary runners ran optimistically rather than specifically in the direction of where they thought the finish must be.

This is one of my favourite races to date (although I’ve got my eye on the Chevy Chase for next year). With the varied terrain and hills it offers a complete body workout. It was quite atmospheric and broody with the mist lurking around the upper slopes. The crowd and marshals and support were all great with plenty of water stations and even a sponge stop.

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Redcar Half Marathon

The weather was warmer and calmer than I was expecting and I turned up in good time despite a mad dash back home to discover that the timing chip I thought I’d left behind had mysteriously velcroed itself to my running vest. Everything was well organised and I was soon parked and at the start. Bumped into Alan Purvis who was wearing the coolest faded running vest I’ve ever seen. It looked like denim. I want one of those. They should be manufactured to a specification so that they look like they’ve done a few marathons rather than just walked out of a sports shop.

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As I stood amongst the gently dripping wild garlic wondering what all this liquid fertilizer was doing to the delicate ecological balance of the woodland, I felt pretty good. Dennis, my perfectly pixellated virtual enemy was going for the elusive sub 1:50. That would be a new PB by 10 minutes, but I was feeling confident.

I started fast but the course wasn’t quite as flat as I expected. I began to have doubts about things on the long, straight hill that seemed to go on for ever into the wind from mile 5 to 7, and Dennis, who I thought I’d left way behind, edged past me as we reached the top. It was around here that I was passed by the mandatory Man pushing a Pram with Small Child Inside that no race is complete without, and I began to think I’d pushed too hard too early.

The stretch along the coast was fine, and my pace picked up. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea but I love the surreal petrochemical skyline of Teesside. Dennis gradually lost his 300 feet advantage and I counted 12 oil tankers queued up across the bay. This didn’t help my pace so I chased the Man with the Pram instead. I caught Dennis, the smug git, at mile 11, and was already wondering how much I was going to smash the 1:50 barrier by.

The thing about cracking of course is there’s no point doing it half-heartedly. If you’re going to crack, do it properly. Much to my astonishment, and within 2 miles of the finish, I crumpled. I groaned and whimpered and may even have called faintly for my mummy. My pace time started bobbing enthusiastically into double figures. Dennis showed me a pixel perfect two-fingered salute and surged ahead, the digits showing his increasing lead spinning over like a cartoon speedometer. I was conscious of pitying heads shaking in the crowd and at one point I was convinced I was going to throw-up at the feet of a St John’s Ambulance crew. People who I’d coasted past earlier now passed me like I was standing still, with their smug, smug, backs. I had no idea backs could look smug, but there you go.

I still got in with a respectable 1:51:16 that’s a new PB for me by a lot. However I definitely ran too fast too early and perhaps if I’d run my own race, rather than Dennis’s, I might have done a bit better. It was good to see Greta and Mike at the finish and I spotted Alan again. Don’t know if there were any more Striders there though.

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