On September 11 2022, I ran the Great North Run for the very first time and had an absolute blast.
When I crossed the finish line I said, multiple times, “I can’t believe I’ve just done that” meaning I can’t believe I’ve just run 13.1 miles and how I can’t believe I’ve just run the Great North Run!
The Great North Run has been going for over 40 years and has upwards of over 60,000 participants each year. It is one of the biggest races in terms of participants and supporters that can make it quite intimidating to a first timer like me!
I didn’t expect to be running the Great North Run at all when I first started running, or even after I’d decided to enter the Leeds Half Marathon, which was my first ever half marathon- in fact, I’d entered the Great North Run before I’d even run Leeds!
Talk about being over ambitious! How did I know I’d be able to successfully complete the Great North Run if I’d not even run that distance before?
I hoped that my training would ensure I’d be able to successfully complete it – similar to when I entered my first 10K race!
The Lead Up
In the lead up to the Great North Run, I’d been busy training as much as time allowed me to and trying to prepare as much as possible.
Despite having run the Leeds Half Marathon I still didn’t think I’d trained as much as I perhaps should’ve done, but I guess that’s the way it goes sometimes.
The saying (in running anyway) goes “if you can run 10 miles you can run 13.1” which is one I’ve definitely hung onto throughout training for this half marathon, as well as for Leeds.
Having previously run the Leeds Half, I did have a bit of confidence going into the Great North, but like runners do, I was hung up on how my last run went, the time I did it in, the pace, how I felt during it, etc. etc.
There’s no lie when they say running is more of a mental battle than it will ever be a physical one. I’ve stopped during runs more times because of my mind telling me I should, than I ever have because my legs couldn’t do it.
Despite starting training on 5th June, a couple of weeks after the Leeds Half, I somehow ended up ahead of my training plan. No, I don’t know how either, but thankfully, in the end it didn’t matter too much!
Before I knew it, the race weekend was upon me, and it was almost time to be crossing that starting line. Thankfully I’d previously booked the whole weekend off work so that I didn’t have to worry about being tired from a long night shift prior to running 13.1 miles!
Mum had already booked a hotel near to the end in South Shields which would hopefully be easy enough to get back to upon finishing the race.
Unfortunately though, this ended up being cancelled but this actually turned out to be the best thing to have happened because it meant that Mum found an Air B+B right across from the finishing line!
We headed up on Saturday afternoon and soon after arriving decided to head out on a walk to explore the area and find out where the nearest Metro station was.
Quite fortuitously we met a chap who was out running with his dog who informed us that just at the end of the road would be a line of buses, ready to take runners to the start line, this was better than walking 20 minutes to a crowded Metro station!
Thankfully again the ticket I’d bought for the Metro would also work on the buses, so it meant I didn’t have to worry about needing money to buy yet another ticket!
Sadly though, it didn’t mean I could sleep any longer or leave any later, which I would’ve appreciated because I didn’t sleep too well the night before due to a mixture of nerves and excitement.
Knowing the bus trip and the walk to my particular holding area would probably take a total of over an hour and a start time of 10:45AM, we thought it would be best to leave earlier rather than later, giving me plenty of time to get there, drop my bag on the baggage bus and go to the toilet if needed.
After completing the walk, we headed back to the flat, tried to figure out the television (!), have dinner and get an early night.
Not a fan of waking up early and taking a trip in a place I don’t know, I headed to bed really early to try and get some sleep.
Waking up at 7:30AM, bleary eyed and tired from a fitful sleep, I got ready and made my pre-race breakfast of porridge and banana.
This has become my go to breakfast for long run/race days as it gives me enough energy to complete the run, without needing anything extra, save for fluids and perhaps a gel or two.
Unusually for me though, I couldn’t quite finish my bowl- I think the nerves were getting to me more than I realised.
After breakfast, I went about getting everything ready and ensuring that my support crew had everything I would need after finishing.
Mainly a banana and my water bottle with an added rehydration tablet- perfect for ensuring my body had all it needed to best start recovering.
Like I said before, finding the buses was really easy because they were literally at the bottom of the road from the flat we were staying in and getting there early meant there weren’t really any queues.
I’m sure we would’ve found them without the helpful insight from the chap we’d met the night before, but it was definitely helpful to already have that information!
The bus journey to the start line in Newcastle didn’t take too long and like we’d already surmised, there were definitely plenty of people to follow to the roundabout before the different coloured waves split off.
Also, there were volunteers there who were ready to help answer any questions us runners had which was particularly useful because I asked them where the green wave baggage buses were!
It was when I was walking down here that I realised just how many people were actually running the Great North Run and just how many of them were stopping off to use the various bathrooms located either in cafes/pubs or portaloos! I guess their morning coffee was already going through them!
I dropped my bag off on the number 36 bus (a local bus number to us so this was very funny!) and continued down to the back of the green wave.
Again, thousands of people here waiting either in the main line for the start of the race or for the portaloos, I decided to join a line for the toilets here as I realised my cup of tea was also working its way through my body!
I then joined the back of the green wave and waited to start…...and waited…...and waited. Despite the fact we’d been told the race/our particular wave would start at 10:45AM, I didn’t cross the start line until almost 12 o'clock!
I’d definitely leave later next time if I manage to get the same Air B+B at the finish line!
The Great North Run
So, after waiting in line for what seemed like forever, crossing that startling line felt more like a ‘finally’ rather than the ‘epic’ it should’ve been.
But no matter, we were all now getting our turn to run in this amazing and historical race.
Running the first KM was filled with the first of the many ‘oggy oggy oggys’ I was to hear throughout the 13.1 miles. I’m not sure if this was deliberate, but it seemed like they purposely started doing them whilst we were going through tunnels or under bridges!
Perhaps this was because the sound would echo off the walls better but whatever it was, it definitely seemed to start off the race in the right way!
Prior to the race, I’d already talked through my pacing of it and decided it was best to keep to my usual 5K time of between 35-40 minutes, therefore being more or less on target for a sub-3 hour time.
I was trying not to think too much about my pacing or overall time, despite being able to check my watch and see exactly how I was getting on!
I didn’t want to think I could’ve done better if I’d just tried a little harder or conversely being disappointed that I’d missed beating my time from Leeds due to seeing I wasn’t hitting my timings.
I actually enjoyed the overall experience of running in my very first Great North Run. For the first time since what felt like forever, I actually felt better running than I did whenever I took a small walk break. I honestly don’t know what happened to make me feel this way, but I’m so so glad that it all came together on race day.
The atmosphere, despite being a bit subdued, was still electric and there were plenty of supporters all around the route, either on the sidelines or lined up on the bridges above the motorways.
There were supportive signs, cheering, kids wanting high fives or fist bumps, sweets, ice pops, sweets and water being handed out.
Everything we could need to best support ourselves during a race on what turned out to be a much warmer day than had been forecasted.
Thankfully, along the route there were shower tunnels available for us to walk/run through to cool off which I took full advantage of let me tell you! There was also a chap who was out with his high-pressure washer which again was very necessary!
Throughout the run I had two small bottles of water, two of my gel pouches and didn’t actually stop for the bathroom at all which surprised me considering the fluid I’d taken on board!
I guess I was in such a groove and felt so good running that I just didn’t feel the need to stop, although judging by my post run wee, I probably could’ve done with taking on board at least another bottle of water.
Despite being told that the route itself was quite hilly, I surprisingly didn’t notice too much. Maybe because I was too busy running to really notice the ups and downs of the roads, however I did notice the big DOWNhill before the finishing straight!
So, we must’ve come up to go down that big but again, I genuinely didn’t notice!
The Finishing Straight
Coming down that big hill and turning onto the finishing straight, I felt a mixture of emotions. Mainly have I still got that far to go, having just passed the big 20KMs sign I knew it was only 1.1KMs to the finish, but by this time my legs were beginning to feel really heavy, I was getting a stitch, my right side was starting to hurt for some reason...basically I was starting to break down and wondered how I’d make it to the finish line to potentially get a PB…
Seeing the countdown to the finish line, 800m, 400m, 200m, 100m etc. I knew I could kick on to the finish, but the problem was there were so many people in front of me who were walking that it made it difficult to actually do this without dodging in/out all without falling over the street furniture or knocking into the supporters who were actually on the road as well as on the banks at the side…
But I soon did find some room and managed to kick on to cross the finish line, even if the army guys did have to move to the side when they saw me coming! I saw another girl go in front of me so I knew then that I could kind of follow her through, so I did!
I was so relived to cross that finish line and know that I’d performed at my very best to get in just over 3 hours. I can’t help but think that if I had of kicked on sooner, I potentially could’ve come in just under the 3 hours, or closer to my watch time of 3:00:30, but I’m trying my best not to think that way as I know it’s not good for me.
I beat my time from the Leeds Half Marathon, got a new PB and that’s what I should be focusing on, even if it was only by 49 seconds.
I now have a new time to beat should I want to enter the Great North Run again next year. I’m not sure I can replicate HOW I felt during the run, but I can certainly train the very best I can to ensure I’m in the very best condition I can be on the starting line!
That last 800m definitely DIDN’T feel like 800m that’s for sure!! It. Just. Kept. Going! The longest 800m I’ve ever run, I’m sure some of my training runs weren’t as long as that!
But overall, I had a really good first Great North Run and am even thinking about coming back next year. As I was supporting a small, local charity there wasn’t any support out on the route nor people I knew cheering me on along the way and it did make me feel a bit lonely out on the run.
My Dad said how could I feel lonely when there were over 60,000 other people running, but I countered by saying it’s possible to feel lonely in a room full of people and this is also true during a race.
One of the things that I’ve learnt throughout my training with Coach Bennett, the Global Head Coach of Nike Running, is that you have to become the best teammate and head coach to yourself. After all, you’re the person you’re going to be spending the most time with.
Coach always says that he’s just an assistant coach to you, you’re the head coach and are capable of making any and all decisions when it comes to your running.
I’m sure this came to fruition during the Great North Run, as I was able to keep myself going when previously I’m sure that it would have been easy for me to give up.
All of the training I’d done leading up to this race came together and enabled me to get a PB in a situation that I’ve only previously experienced once.
It’s given me hope that I’m not as bad as I thought I was and that I’m pretty damn capable when it comes to the crunch. I’m now going to be concentrating on my 10K times until next year when I perhaps pick up half marathon training again.
I feel the key to my half marathons is a better 10K time, seeing as essentially, it’s just two 10Ks put together! Well, that’s what I’m saying anyway. Here’s to a sub-one hour 10K! You read it here first!
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading all about a first timer’s experience of running the Great North Run. I certainly enjoyed writing about it.
Let me know your thoughts in the comments below, I’d love to hear if you’ve ever run a half marathon or are perhaps thinking about it.