The Great North Run has been described to me as a bucket list event, it’s the largest half marathon in the world. This is an event that I have wanted to experience for some time, but the logistics have always put me off. This year I decided that I would take on the Great North Run, and pace the 1:40 #funbus as a Duracell bunny. This was the 55th time I have paced an official event, and the furthest North I have ever ran (in the UK). This is the largest event in the UK, and I will describe my highs and lows during this blog. It was a fantastic event, I am pleased I have done it and recommended everyone does it once, but I won’t be in a rush to do it again.
I was fortunate to get a lift to Newcastle the night before with Jonathan and Liz, and I shared accomodation with Darren the night before. Before going out for pizza with Darren I did a quick kit check and laid out all my essentials. As you can see I ran for Gaz this year. I’ve been running with him in mind since he told me about his illness back in May. The only reason I actually agreed to do Great North Run was to go and run it with him, so it was a real shame for him not to be there with us.
It is a really late race start, not starting until 10:40, which makes it a really long day, especially for those planning to head off home that day. As a pacer I was asked to be at the start for 8:15, so that was also a lot of waiting around at the beginning. I am also lucky Jonathan was prepared too, as I wasn’t fully aware of the logistics of the course which starts in Newcastle and finishes in South Shields. Usually I can discount hills in courses as we start and finish in same place, so as the saying goes “what goes up must come down”. However as the course starts and finishes in different places it presented different dynamics, and a course that was mostly uphill.
After a selfie with the Duracell Bunny we made our way as a group to the start line for a photo. This was not organised very well, and it was kinda pointless most of us being there. There was no order to it, and we were clearly just the background for the celebrity pacers that they seem to have each year. I ended up behind the bunny, and it was all very rushed. As soon as we had the picture we were quickly ushered out of the start area and told to just make our way to the start zones.
I dropped my bag in the baggage bus, which isn’t the most secure way to keep our property. You put your own bag on the bus, and although they check your number, you could easily go through other people’s bags if you wanted on there. My bag was safe though, so no issues for me. I had been asked a lot about whether I was going left or right, and where I would start in the pen. I was hoping we would get this sort of guidance at the start, but we didn’t. So after dropping my bag and going to the toilet (and the queues got big as you would imagine) I made my way to the start. I went into Pen C, and just started talking to runners around me, all of whom were looking for 1:40.
The atmosphere with so many runners was fantastic. I spent time talking to individuals, then gave a usual brief to everyone, trying to cover as much as possible to give them confidence in both me, and their ability. I aim to encourage them, encourage a fun atmosphere and answer any general questions. Whilst I was there another 1:40 pacer came past me on my side (this is the issue without sides being allocated). She was joined by a 1:50 pacer who continued in front of me, even though I pointed out that perhaps it would be less confusing for other runners if she started behind me. All very strange but I had my group and I would be vocal enough to try and ensure there were no concerns.
I was told it would be really congested, and take ages to start, but it only took about 6 minutes to cross the start, and it wasn’t too congested at all. We were able to get into the right pace from the start. The weather looked like it would rain, but then all of a sudden the sun came out and it became too hot. Knowing the course was uphill a lot, and it could get congested, I told everyone I would be running between 7:30 and 7:35 min mile, and would adjust accordingly at each mile marker. I kept to low 7:30 min miles for the whole of the course except for two long hills where I dropped the pace slightly, but that’s the whole point of maintaining a quicker pace throughout.
The atmosphere was really good from the start, with lots of people running and lots of support on the route. The highlight of the route is the Tyne Bridge, I didn’t get the same feeling as in London on Tower Bridge, but it’s the same principle.
Outside of this bridge you basically run along a big main road, all the way until the sea front. It’s not a great course at all, it’s rather dull, and its undulating making it difficult. However it is a great course for accommodating so many runners. I don’t imagine there are any better courses out there that would be able to cope with these numbers.
Water stations were frequent with water in small bottles, and handed out well. The mile markers appeared accurate, I ran further, but they seemed consistent. The road conditions were good, and overall you cannot fault the organisation. It was just a tough day, with the hills and heat, I saw a number of runners struggling.
I was able to keep a number of runners with me, and tried shouting out motivation as we went along. We worked well together as a group, some runners were very kind getting me water where I struggled to get some in the group. I lost a few on some of the hills, which is the hardest thing, as I cant slow down for them as u have to keep the pace going, so all I can do is encourage them to pick up the pace. There were a few busy spots, and my two slower splits were a combination of hills and getting hold up with congestion. I always tried to make some room when I passed so others could follow me, but it wasn’t easy at times.
After the long hills on large roads it was great to turn along the seafront and finish with a flatter mile. It was also good to have good signage on the countdown towards the end, which keeps pacers on track. I did not have the same cushion I would like at the end, so I kept the pace strong. I could see I had a 15 second cushion, but I didn’t want to slow down, instead shouting for people to get ahead of me. Once I was near the finish I had the same good margin so carried on through the finish. My official time is 1:39:49.
It was fantastic to see lots of runners at the end waiting to see me. I wasn’t there for long as I got ushered straight away to give back my flag and backpack. This was a shame as I would have liked to have got my medal first for a photo.
The event village was huge. I didn’t see most of it as keen to get away, and heard lots of horror stories about queues for the metro. I did get time for another selfie with the bunny before getting my bag.
I was also in time to see the Redarrows display which was fantastic.
This was the start of an extremely busy Autumn season. Did I enjoy the race, Yes. Is it worth doing, Yes. Will I do it again, I’m not in a rush.
Next week I will be pacing Kew 10k and Berlin Marathon. Who is with me.