Running the Great North Run for Crohn’s and Colitis UK
I did it! I ran the Great North Run, my first GNR and my first ever half marathon. Man, was that tough. Going from running 10K’s to a half marathon, and not just any half marathon, the legendary Great North Run. To say it dragged every possible emotion out of me would be understating it.
The Great North Run is special
First of all, for those who don’t know, the Great North Run is a half marathon in the North East of England. The route takes you from Newcastle, across the iconic Tyne Bridge, through Gateshead and finally finishing down on the coast of South Shields.
Over 50,000 people take part in this huge annual run. The run is heavily oversubscribed and you are entered into a ballot to see if you are lucky enough to get a place.
Those fortunate to secure a spot come from all over the UK and more than 50 countries around the world.
This 13.1 mile run has grown massively over the years. Started in 1981 by Olympic gold medallist Brendan Foster (who also started this years’ run) with just 12,000 runners participating. It makes you proud to be from the North East, seeing the behemoth it has grown into these days.
It truly is a landmark event up here, drawing huge crowds of spectators all along the route. Cheering, high-fiving, and dishing out all manner of sweets, ice pops, orange slices and even beers! All to keep the runners going and spur them on to the South Shields coast.
Why did I want to do the Great North Run?
I had three main reasons for wanting to do the run. First and foremost being from the North East myself and never having taken part is just unacceptable. This had to change.
Every year come September I pass the finish line build daily. Seeing it all come together gives you a buzz of anticipation. Even more so when you know you’ll be one of the runners crossing that finish line.
Secondly, I wanted to take my running to the next level. Moving from 10k runs to a half marathon seemed like the next logical step. Logical maybe, but definitely not the easiest! Suffice to say 6.2 miles to 13.1 is a big step and you feel it.
Lastly, I wanted to raise some money for a great charity I support wholeheartedly. Crohn’s and Colitis UK. This was an obvious choice for me as I have Crohn’s Disease myself. It also spurred me on that little extra when I needed it.
Running with and for Crohn’s Disease
Crohn’s came calling in 2010 when I was officially diagnosed with the disease. I had suffered on and off for months with horrendous abdominal pain and sickness. At times this was so bad I was unable to move and could only lie doubled over on the settee.
Living with Crohn’s disease is never easy, there are good days, manageable days, bad days and days where even getting out of bed just isn’t going to happen.
It forces you to address and change every aspect of your life and at times leaves you feeling helpless.
Crohn’s and Colitis are serious lifelong conditions where currently no cure exists. These are life-changing diseases and cause an incredible amount of distress and suffering.
Crohn’s and Colitis UK is such a worthwhile and needed charity; the funds raised help with pioneering research, improving care and providing better information and support for every person facing this life-changing diagnosis, they ensure nobody faces Crohn’s and Colitis alone.
Raising money to help support a charity that means something to you can really spur you on during those tough miles, and trust me there are a lot of tough miles in this one. The hills, my god, the hills!
Great North Run training
In all honesty, my training was up and down like a pigeon with cockney neck; beset on all sides by the tyranny of evil diseases. I never really got in all of the training that I wanted to and struggled to stick to my training plan. This was down to one thing and one thing only, my Crohn’s ridden body.
Running with Crohn’s is so rewarding, it gives you a real sense of achievement. Knowing how hard day to day life with Crohn’s can be getting in any kind of physical activity can be a challenge in itself. Getting out there and ticking off the miles leaves me feeling back in charge. I won’t let anything beat me down. Sometimes though, it just won’t let you do what you want to no matter how much you try.
In any single run during my training period, seven miles was the most I managed. I also wasn’t able to get out for the three weeks prior to GNR day. Given all of this, I went into the GNR feeling massively unprepared.
Charity starts at home
In fact, I actually considered not running due to the way my training went. This is where raising money and running in support of a charity came into play like a knight in shining armour.
Having had people donate their hard earned money to the cause and show me shed loads of support is what kept me in the running. There was no way I was going to disappoint all of those supporters. I gritted my teeth, took a deep breath and gave myself a little pep talk.
This is the big reason I recommend running for your favourite charity. When you feel like quitting, it keeps you going.
When your training isn’t going the way you want it to, you can fall into the trap of over-thinking every step and every mile that you haven’t done. Worrying about hitting targets. Split times and PB’s. Sometimes though you’ve just got to switch off your targeting computer and trust to the force.
Cometh the run cometh the man
Run day finally come around and I decided that I was just going to go out there and enjoy it. Soak up as much of the experience, and atmosphere as I could, and trust me there’s plenty of both.
I had set myself a very conservative target when I started training. Having run 10k before but never a half marathon. I wanted to complete the course in a reasonable time, but also one that wasn’t going to kill me.
My initial target was two hours and 30 minutes. This, I thought, would be a challenge but also one that was achievable with a little pushing. I’ve spoken to friends who have run it previously, compared the times they achieved and decided that two and a half was the right target to aim for.
The way my training had gone, I was seriously doubting whether I would even make it to the finish let alone do it in my target time. So, I decided just forget the time and enjoy the taking part.
There’s a real buzz in the air on run day
There’s a real buzz around on GNR day. It’s cliche to say, but the atmosphere pre-run feels electric. Everybody milling around near the start, chatting with lads and lasses you’ve never met, people wearing all manner of costumes, the media pulling people aside for an interview. It’s a big big deal up here in the North East. The run is also televised on the BBC in a massive 4-hour long program.
I thought come run day there would be nerves. Actually, all I felt was anticipation. I genuinely wanted to just get going. For a run, this was easily the most excited I’ve been in a long time.
The mass warm-up was fun and I’d recommend everyone join in. You want your body to be as loose and prepared as possible for the hardships ahead.
Start walking then get running
Off the wheelchair athletes went, then the elite women and lastly magic Mo Farrah and the rest of the elite men.
I just want to take a sentence or two to just sit in awe at what Mo Farrah has achieved. An incredible 4 times a winner of the Great North Run. What a time as well, 1 hour and 6 seconds. A true competitor who just inspires you to give it everything.
Finally, we all started walking towards the start line. Popped in my earbuds, set my playlist away, and readied my watch to log my miles and time.
I hit the line and made a complete rookie mistake, I shot off like a rocket. Instead of finding my pace and settling into it. I got caught up in the atmosphere and went off like I was trying to catch up with Mo!
This meant by the fourth mile I was pretty knackered. Oh, and another embarrassing moment, I needed a pee on the third mile, went to the bushes at the side of the road and stood straight in a nettle bush. Ouch!
For the next three miles after that, my legs were stinging from the nettles and hurting from the running. 😕
Still, I slowed my pace and kept on going. Then at mile 8, after one too many uphill sections, my body felt like it was ready to quit. Give up. Call it a day. Taxi back to the pub.
It was only through pure mental strength that I kept on going. I guess Crohn’s is good for something after all. It’s made me mentally strong enough to endure a lot of hardship and keep battling through.
I kept pushing through the miles, realising I hadn’t done anywhere near enough training for this.
The last miles a killer
Eventually, I hit the coast road and that sacred last mile. Looked at my watch, checked my timings and was pleasantly surprised. If I ran this final mile in a little over ten minutes I would hit my target for the run.
Normally this would be very achievable for me, but unfortunately…
At this point, I was a broken man. Nothing left in the tank. The hardest mile I’ve EVER had to run in my life was this thirteenth mile. I struggled onto the “800 yards to go” sign. Which, when you’re truly spent, seems like another 8 miles.
To cut a long story short I limped, stumbled and fell ecstatically across the finish line at a time of 2 hours and 31 minutes. A minute short of my goal. I was strangely pleased and slightly gutted at the same time.
Finishing thoughts on the 2017 Great North Run
It was tough. Man alive was it tough. The number of uphill parts definitely took their toll. Yet, I got through it. I pushed on when I had to and persevered to the end.
What an experience. I feel confident saying this now, as I wasn’t thinking it when I was running, but I absolutely loved every minute of it. The whole experience, from the start line, warming up, running with all the crowds, crossing that finish line and most importantly the post-race drinks, which incidentally lasted well into the night.
After the run, I also had a wonderful massage from the fantastic folks at the Crohn’s and Colitis UK tent in the charity village. The Crohn’s and Colitis UK ladies were great to go and chat with, as well as having the chance to talk with the other people milling around there who ran in support of the charity.
Running in the Great North Run was such a rewarding experience and I urge anyone to take part. It was a great first half marathon to run in. Going from 10K’s to this was hard, but I’m so glad I did it. You’ve just got to dive in sometimes and enjoy the ride. Even when you’re feeling like you’re not ready or fully prepared.
I will definitely be signing up for next year once it opens for entries. Fingers crossed I’m lucky enough to be drawn in the ballot again.
The Great North Run has been my training goal for so long; now to decide which event, or events, to train for next. I hear the Edinburgh half is good!