16 Sep 2013

708.64 - 729.92KM: The Greatest Half Marathon in the World? (Great North Run)

September was always due to be a big month for me this year, not just because it features Jenny's birthday and National Eczema Week but also because it sees me enter some high profile races as marathon season began to return. After breaking an 11 week streak of races every weekend how else would I mark the occasion of my 35th race of the year than the biggest and 'best' Half Marathon in the World, the Great North Run?

I mentioned in my previous post about how last weekend I was suffering with what I was hoping at the time would only be a brief cold. This however continued into the next week and along with a stress induced tension headache, complete with random nosebleeds on Tuesday, meant that when the weekend came I wasn't feeling as fresh as I had hoped.

The forecast before the race wasn't pretty; with torrential rain, low temperatures and 40 m.p.h. winds it's safe to say I was a little bit anxious about the weather on Sunday. The signs were there the day before as we were heading up the A1, once we passed Junction 49 the weather changed and started to get a bit 'grim' up North.

The North/South Divide
Going 'home' for the weekend was a big deal for Jenny, her health has hardly been good recently so it was never 100% certain whether or not she would be able to make the trip. Obviously being her birthday meant that she would be much more determined to get home, but with essentially being allergic to her mum's house and after only being able to last make the trip up North 4 months ago it always felt like it would be a case of being a flying visit if anything. Fortunately I am pleased to say that there was no significant reaction, whether this is simply luck or because her allergies are decreasing is unclear.

After taking to the roads of Lincolnshire on my own last weekend for my first Solo Run in 12 weeks, the 56,000 or so fellow runners I would have with me on Sunday would be a stark contrast. I didn't realise it at the time, but to try and give you an idea of the scale, the London Marathon, the largest Marathon in the World has around 20,000 less competitors. Despite being in Zone B, the furthest forward general entry participants could hope to be, behind the 'proper' runners and the 'celebrities', it still took me a good four minutes to cross the line. 

The Biggest Half Marathon in the World
I had no plan in place for how I was going to run the race, but once the race started I found myself keeping pace with those around me, so my legs had obviously decided they wanted a good workout. As ridiculous as it sounds I knew little of the course beforehand other than I would be running across the Tyne bridge, something I was a little apprehensive about. I make no secret of my fear of heights, or rather my fear of falling from them, crossing a bridge in a car is normally bad enough, so naturally running across it increases this fear exponentially. At London I had the same issue and almost ended up sprinting across Tower Bridge to get across it as fast as possible. As I crossed the Tyne bridge on Sunday the images of me falling off it 'Final Destination' style flashed in my mind more than once. Yes I know, I'm ridiculous.

Around the fourth or fifth mile I began to feel a little rough and ended up throwing up a couple of times, not for the first time this year. Was it my breakfast? Probably. I'm sure a can of Relentless and a Mars bar wasn't what Mo Farah had in the morning but I'm also sure the illness I have been carrying for the past week or so also had a big part to play. This then naturally had a big knock on effect for the rest of the race, I was reluctant to take in any more fluid or a gel as my stomach felt on the edge at all times. At various points I felt like I needed to step to the side of the road and sort out the disagreement I had with my stomach, but naturally I saw I was on for a good time, so tried to 'power' through it.

Breakfast of Champions?

As I came down the hill towards the coast for the final mile, I encountered the infamous winds that I had been anticipating for the entire race. This wasn't enough to stop my final push for a PB as as soon as the sea came into view I received the final needed boost to get me to the finish line. Conditions aside I knew it would be difficult to get a PB in the run as with each mile I could see the course measure 0.10 - 0.20 miles longer than my watch. I kept an eye on my watch as I edged closer to the finish and saw that when my watch measured 13.1 miles I had set a new (for distance) PB by 3 seconds before ending crossing the line with an official time of 1:37:39.

There was a huge sense of relief when I crossed the line, despite vowing to start approaching races sensibly a few weeks a go, yesterday's race was a very much impromptu attempt at a PB. Given my diet of fizzy drinks, cake and pizza the few days beforehand, illness and generally rubbish weather conditions shooting for a PB was perhaps a little unrealistic, but it's good to know that without much effort I could probably at least shave a few seconds of the time set in Sheffield. After the race I shuffled along in the cold to collect my medal and goody bag before then diving (or rather falling) into the car to warm up.

Standing still in the car park
Now for the really bad. The car park situation at the end was nothing short of diabolical. I had been warned prior to the race to expect queues, the signs at the car park advised runners to avoid leaving at 'peak times' (between 1400 - 1600), which we did. We were sat in a queue not moving for 30 minutes before this 'peak time' started and then continued to sit in said queue for another hour and a half moving at a rate of a car's length ever 20 or so minutes. Gradually more and more car's started to jump the queue and drive round to the front, until eventually one driver decided to make his own exit and moved some barriers to allow access to the road. Cue mayhem and hordes of cars shooting across from every possible direction, a horde we were unashamedly a part of. Had that one guy not decided to make his own exit, we'd probably still be sat in that queue now.

If after 33 years of running the event the best solution they could come up with to ease the congestion of runners trying to leave is to appear to have no organisation at all, then I worry what the alternative would be. On top of all that, to pay £5 for the privilege of being sat in such a queue is shocking. In fairness the weather didn't help the situation, had it been a nice sunny day I'm sure less people would've been in such a hurry to leave, but it shouldn't take me less time to run the 13.1 mile race than it does to try and get out of the car park.

Finally, this week is National Eczema Week (14th - 22nd September), every day I will be sharing a post from either myself or Jenny on her condition, take a look down for the previous posts. The big feature of this week though will be the Bake Sale I'm hosting on the 21st at ASDA Living in Lincoln, where I plan to have dairy and gluten free bakes, alongside what people would consider the 'normal' stuff. So if you're in and around Lincoln this weekend, please pay us a visit. We will also be very grateful of anyone willing to bake some cakes for us to sell, if you are interested feel free to get in touch.

As always, please visit http://www.justgiving.com/shanes1000km and donate what you can and please share news of what I am doing with others.

Distance: 21.28km | 13.22 miles
Time: 01:37:39
Official Time: 01:37:39
Average Pace: 04:35 min/km | 7:23 min/mi
Playlist: Masterplan
Goody Bag: T-Shirt, Medal, Powerade, Bottle of Water


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