Sunday saw me finally take part in the culmination of a year of fundraising for Tommy’s – the iconic and unmatchable Great North Run. My first ever half marathon, it has been the ultimate goal of my training since I decided to go for it earlier this year, and was of course the inspiration for my blogging alter ego! I shared my training journey from 10k to 13.1miles with the brilliant website The Running Stories, and you can read it all for yourself there.
Here, however, I wanted to share some of my personal memories of the day – a day I won’t soon forget, but some things I would rather put to the back of my mind for a long long time (see number 2).
1. Tony the Fridge - I mentioned the legend that is Tony the Fridge in a recent guest post for Sunderland Parents, and as Andy and I arrived at our assembly point on Sunday morning we were thrilled to see the famous man with the 43kg Smeg fridge strapped to his back make his way past us to the start. ‘Fresh’ from his epic trek from John O’Groat’s to Lands End with his bulky companion all in aid of The Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, he was back in the North East to add another half marathon to his total, as if he hadn’t done enough already. He received a lovely round of applause as he passed us, and we weren’t the only ones to admire his incredible achievement.
2. The Mankini – I found myself edging along the Central Motorway towards the start line in uncomfortably close proximity to a semi-naked man in an enormous false moustache and neon green ‘Borat’ mankini. His complete lack of shame at displaying his bare arse to the world was only made more hilarious by the clearly defined tan lines framing his extremely white behind. I can only assume that it was all for charity but I can’t for the life of me remember which one it was. Maybe he just really likes running in tiny swimwear.
3. Oggy Oggy Oggy! – Oi Oi Oi! It wouldn’t be the Great North Run without an Oggy/Oi shout-off echoing through the Central Motorway underpasses. If you don’t know what this is, you’re missing out big time.
4. The Tyne Bridge – No runner passing under the iconic green arch with the Great Run logo displayed proudly on the side could fail to be in awe of the sights around them – the huge steel girders above us, the crowds cheering from the sides and nothing but other runners all around us. It was such a special experience for me, summing up everything I had worked so hard for, I found a little lump in my throat as we crossed south of the river. An emotional moment.
5. The Rain – Bad weather had been forecast all week so we knew it was likely, but when the heavens opened about 4 miles in, they did so with such vehemence we were soaked through in minutes. Coupled with the strong winds whipping about us (fortunately blowing with us for most of the way) it was like running through a car wash for the best part of ten minutes before it mercifully stopped for the rest of the race. Still, at least there was no heatwave to worry about.
6. The Camaraderie - There was such a wonderful sense of togetherness amongst all the runners, and a real feeling of being part of something so much bigger than our personal stories. Every time we spotted a fellow Team Tommy’s runner we would point them out, and if we passed them, we would wave and encourage them on, always receiving a genuine smile of recognition in return thanks to our matching vests. Running a race with Andy was a new experience for both of us, and we had a great time weaving our way through the traffic, picking out gaps between slower runners and calling out directions to each other as we went. Running can definitely be a team sport.
7. The Fancy Dress – Apart from the mankini, we saw a guy in a huge Bagpuss outfit, a couple of Minions from Despicable Me, and someone who may have been Spotty from Bananaman but we weren’t too sure. Huge respect to anyone who completed the race in fancy dress – it’s hard enough in running gear never mind being weighed down by an enormous novelty outfit. I bet the guy dressed as a dog was regretting his choice of suit as the rain dripped off his fur.
8. The Support – Almost every part of the route was lined with cheering spectators, braving the weather with umbrellas and waterproofs, and there were hundreds of little hands sticking out just waiting for high fives. There were double-decker buses filled with mega-phone wielding charity supporters every mile and even more smaller cheering stations for those not lucky enough to have a bus. The Tommy’s supporters were gathered on a roundabout at 9.5 miles, and I really needed the boost by this point. A few high fives and enthusiastic cheers from our banner-waving fans were timely reminders of why we were running and helped push us on to the final part of the race. Pounding along the South Shields seafront flanked by huge crowds and lines of applauding soldiers was all we needed to get us over the line.
9. The Finish – Staggering through the finish area on legs like lead, I was so grateful for the sight of the Tommy’s charity tent and its selection of goodies for their team of weary runners. I quickly scoffed a Mars Bar for the first time in about 15 years and it was the best thing I had ever eaten. This was immediately followed by a KitKat Chunky, a bottle of water and a trip to the nearest Portaloo. Back at the tent, I stood with my family looking up to the sky filled with the amazing Red Arrows display and felt so overwhelmed with what I had just achieved. Two years earlier I could barely run a mile and here I had done a half marathon in a fairly respectable time and was still standing (just). The £1000+ raised for Tommy’s was the icing on the cake.
10. The Metro - The day was complete with an hour’s queuing for the Metro back to Newcastle in the pouring rain, wrapped in a foil blanket, feeling tired, miserable and cold. Nothing could sour the brilliance of the day though and soon the sun was shining, warming us through and drying us off.
Home, shower, change, out to eat. There was a cold victory beer waiting for me with my name on it.