Earlier this year when my other half and I were helping out with the The Alexis Rose Trail Race Alexis dad Alan asked us if we would be part of the team doing the Great North Run. We had enjoyed helping out with the trail race and Joe was – to my surprise – quite agreeable to it so we signed up. At 13.1 miles and having hundreds more in my legs I wasn’t worried about the distance. I knew it was a ‘popular’ run so there was going to be quite a few people. This might be a problem but we were going as a team so there were bound to be people in the same start pen as me – I would just have to try and stick with them and not freak out. I didn’t even look at the route if I’m honest. It’s in Newcastle, there’s a bridge, the Red Arrows do a fly over, that was about as far as I got in my research.
Then, the magazine came. And the social media posts started. ‘The Most Popular Race in the Series’. I know Chris Moyles did it a number of years ago, made it quite popular at the time. ‘Thousands of entries’ – yeah, expected that, I know. ‘World’s Biggest Half Marathon’.
Em, what now?
Worlds biggest? Ok that I didn’t know. Yeah it’s on telly but so are baking shows and who watches them?
As the time grew nearer I took the adult approach of ignoring it all. Seemed the best choice.
On the drive down to Newcastle I was ‘ok’. It was certainly different leaving the kids with my parents and travelling so far for a race. Joe had booked us in to a fantastic hotel and the minute we arrived we were very well looked after. The receptionist recognized instantly we were there for the run and gave us all the information we could want. The gym opening times, the pool opening times, where the metro was etc. She even told us we could go back to the hotel after the run to use the facilities even though we would be checked out! Needless to say we will be staying there again!
We were meant to be meeting up to get our running vests as there had been a problem with them but unfortunately it was late in the day and it turned out we were not staying near anyone else (Newcastle is pretty big!). Luckily I had packed my meningitis running vest from when I did the Scottish Half Marathon (also for Team Alexis) so I had that to run in. It also had my name on it which would come in handy for the run. Can’t beat a bit of encouragement from the sidelines.
We went for a swim then had something to eat before heading to our room and the comfiest bed I have slept in in a very long time – probably because it didn’t have any dogs on it!
Morning of the race and we were up, bags packed and directions in hand to the metro. Just a short walk and we were at the station and within 5 minutes we were on the metro.
I got to one stop and that all too familiar feeling hit me like a tidal wave. I grabbed on to Joe as the tears started trickling down, closed my eyes and started counting down the stops. It wasn’t even a long journey to where we were getting off – possibly 10 minutes – but it felt like half an hour. I just wanted off and to get back up to Scotland and to the kids.
Out of the underground and we were up on the street following the crowds. No idea of where to go just following the masses. As we crossed the road my phone started ringing – it was my brother phoning all the way from Australia! He could not have phoned at a better time! Even though it was a bad connection it was just what I needed. Calmed me right down.
We made our way to the baggage buses and dropped off our stuff amongst Scooby Doo, Breaking Bad, Vikings, Pirates, Marilyn Monroe, Storm Troopers – you name it someone was dressed up as it.
Joe was in one of the front pens and I was 4 behind him. He had originally said he would just jump in my pen but to be fair he had a good starting position and wanted to go for a pb. He wouldn’t be able to do that if he fell back in to my pen so I told I would be fine. He walked me up to my start line and went back to his. Head down I went straight to the front after taking a bottle of water.
As the pen starting filling up I tried to ignore the elephant putting pressure on my chest and to be honest, there’s only so much of staring at your trainers you can take. When the mass warm up started instead of standing still I decided what the hell just go for it. Now don’t get me wrong I didn’t fling myself around like a creature possessed but I moved. I stepped side to side, I swung my arms round in a circle, I squatted (thankfully I didn’t need the toilet!).
I can do this.
There was no big ‘bang’ for the start – or if there was I was that far back I didn’t hear it. I did hear my phone go again. This time it was my dad. No I haven’t started yet. Yes I know Mo Farah has. That’s right dad he is faster than me. Bye dad. A couple of good luck messages came through from my friends – ‘I will be at my window with my chip butty’ – got to love them ha ha. And before I knew it I was crossing the start line and turning my garmin on.
And then, I had to stop.
My blooming shoe lace came undone! Who makes such a rookie mistake?!? I actually had to stop less than 500metres in to tie a freaking shoe lace! I can only put it down to being in the pen for so long. Excuses, excuses.
As predicted it was extremely difficult trying to weave my way through 57000 people – yeah, that’s right, 57000! I think my freak outs were justified. It didn’t help that every single person wasn’t just taller than me, they towered over me. I’m used t being the smallest, have been since I was born, but when everyone around you shares air space with the BFG it’s quite daunting.
I managed to get past the firefighters, the unicorns, batman, superman and wonder woman (awesome costume) but I wasn’t keeping as fast a pace as I had hoped. I knew I would have to accept this though and as it heated up those around me started slowing more and more. Getting across the bridge was very tricky as there was a camera there which clearly everyone knew about apart from me.
I had wanted to take a video when the Red Arrows flew over but to be honest I am very glad I didn’t. Why? Because I got a lump in my throat and that set me off. Yes, I had a little cry, whilst running. My name is Ella and I cry when I am running. It was a very emotional day ok! Stop judging!
From about half way I started seeing people at the side of the road with medics. It was very hot and I had overheard an awful lot of people talking about how little they had trained for it. Yes it has a reputation as a ‘fun run’ with thousands dressing up but it’s still 13.1 miles people. I ran through every shower they had available and slowly past the spectators who were out with their hoses but I was still feeling the heat. I poured water over my head at every station too but it was tough.
At an hour and a half in I reckoned Joe would be finished so I tried to pick up the pace a little knowing he would be waiting for me. All the way along the route there were spectators cheering and shouting, it was great. There were several different charities with cheer points set up and it really was fantastic hearing the encouragement coming from them. There were local residents handing out jelly babies, wine gums, oranges, ice poles, loads of things! There wasn’t one time you were running that route where you couldn’t see or hear a spectator.
As I hit the last mile I went past 3 girls at the side who shouted out ‘Go on Ella, well done Ella’ and then all I heard was them singing the famous Rihanna song ‘Ella, Ella, Ella, Oh, oh, oh, under my umbrella’. I’ve never smiled so much when running, I can’t thank them enough for that. They gave me the encouragement to push it on the final stretch and come in strong.
As I made my way through the finishers section my phone started ringing again. It was my dad. ‘You done yet?’ Yes dad, just finished now. ‘Mo Farah did it in 1 hour 4’. Very good dad, good for him, can’t really breathe right now, I will phone you in a bit.
Mo Farah isn’t a 34 year old mother of 3 with emotional issues when planes fly over head. Just saying.
I find Joe quite quickly and we head to get the ‘I Did It’ photo taken. We stand and watch the incredible air show put on by the Red Arrows (no tears this time, I promise) and afterwards make our way to the charity tent to see if anyone else is there before heading to the ferry (which made my day ha ha).
Back at the hotel we pick up the car and after a quick cooling drink we head back up the road. Both in finisher t-shirts of course.
Despite the panic on the metro and the anxiety of it all this is definitely an event I would do again. It was run so smoothly and you really can’t believe the atmosphere until you experience it. Everyone was so friendly and willing to help. There was even water in abundance, everywhere you turned someone was handing you a bottle. I’m glad we were able to be part of Team Alexis this one last time and at such a great event too. If you are thinking of doing this stop thinking, just go and do it!
Lastly, I can’t thank everyone enough for their support. From complete strangers to work colleagues, friends, family and of course my ever supportive mum (and dad – thanks for those calls!). Getting messages at a time when I’m honestly going to throw up or pass out is something I just can’t measure – even though the thought of a chip butty might actually push my stomach over ha ha. Next up is a more local 10km run which I know I will have to take easy as it’s marathon time just a week later! It’s the encouragement and support of others that helps me achieve it though.