It has been 5 years since I started to take an interest in all things Geordie, ever since my daughter moved to Newcastle for Uni – the weekend of the Great North Run. (Is it really 5 years since I would burst in to tears at the drop of a hat, thinking of her imminent/recent departure : delete as applicable)
I would sometimes watch the Great North Run on the telly, and be moved by the heart- warming stories, and think that I would like to do that one day – while secretly knowing that I never would – I am after all, all talk, especially when it comes to physical exertion!
However, the months of January and February are sad months, as we remember our Mum Linda’s birthday and the anniversary of her death. It is especially hard for my sisters Libby and Poppy, who at 5 and 7 years when she died missed out on so much time with her, and yet were old enough to remember her. I am sure they are grateful for that but it means they know what they are missing out on.
At that time of year in 2015, I had the bright idea of using 2016 – the 20th anniversary of her death and what should have been her 65th birthday, to do some fund raising.
I suggested signing up for the Great North Run. Although it is in September, I thought that if we had it as a goal in our minds, it might make the next anniversary a little easier to bear, knowing we were doing something positive.
Libby and Poppy agreed it was a good idea, and Nicola, my daughter, also decided she would like to be involved. We agreed to support the Lymphoma Association, as our Mum had suffered from Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma.
We put our name in the ballot and training began.
I started out following a run/walk program – which I absolutely guarantee is the way to go! The first couple of sessions were just walking, then I did a one minute run followed by a one minute walk six times
Clare became my virtual coach/running adviser – I have just looked back now on the message that I sent her, expressing alarm that my 90 second running/walking intervals were shooting up dramatically to a 5 minute run, how was I going to manage it! (how she must have smiled – but she never let on!)
Virtually everyone who heard of my plans responded with the words “I didn’t know you were a runner” and my response was usually, “I’m not”
As we waited for news of our places, Nicola also got in touch with the Lymphoma association – who agreed to guarantee us 4 charity places, should we need them, but we would have to raise a minimum of £500 per place. I now understand why charities set a minimum target. It costs them a lot of money to get places in the run, and even more if they have a presence on the route or at the charity village, so they have to make it worth their while. We decided to wait on the ballot results, and any of us who were not successful in the ballot could take a charity place, and we would then pool our resources to ensure the targets were reached.
By the time the ballot results came out, Poppy had to pull out as she was pregnant., with the baby due round about the time of the run. (Any excuse hey? Lightweight!) Nicola and I got places through the ballot, Libby didn’t, but accepted a charity place. We were in!
As my training continued I found people to be really supportive and encouraging. Making enquiries about my progress and geeing me up on Facebook when I was full of doubt – which was often.
Finally the weekend of the event arrived. Hubby Adrian said it was his job to make sure I have everything I would need – an extra three months would have been nice!
We headed up to Newcastle on the Saturday morning, then made our way over to the quayside for the “pasta party” – which is a bit of a euphemism for standing in a long queue for free bowls of pasta!
To be fair, the atmosphere was great. The great City Games was taking place, and there were lots of people milling about – including Greg Rutherford who was competing. Wish I had known he was going to have a little dance practice with his strictly partner Natalie – missed it!
There were lots of children who had taken part in the mini and junior north runs milling about, proudly donning their T-Shirts and medals – it was really nice.
We ate our free pasta and bought Churros. Then back at Nicola’s flat later, we had pizza for tea – you’ve got to carb-load right?
In the meantime, Libby and Poppy were setting up camp here
I was so worried about Poppy being over 8 months pregnant and wild camping! It did look beautiful, and I was a little bit jealous (apart from the provision of a spade to dig your own loo, which was enough to put me off) but it was a great adventure for the kids.
As for me, I was sleeping on the floor in Nicola’a flat. It felt like I didn’t sleep very much, I kept lying there convincing myself I was ill “I think I’m getting a cold, have I got a cold?” but I must have got more sleep that I thought, because Adrian was awake a couple of times in the night and said I was asleep at the time.
As the morning dawned I was feeling quite anxious. Nicola, with her local knowledge and experience, assured me we had plenty of time to get from her flat to the start line. Libby had already arrived (in a taxi arranged by the campsite for all the runners) before we had even left, and I was fretting about missing her in the crowds. It was so busy, it did take us quite a while to shuffle our way through the throngs, and the warm up had already started by the time we got there.
There were so many people to get through the start line, that I knew it was going to take a long time. My Uncle was following my progress via Garmin live tracking on his phone, and he later reported that Mo Farah had already won the race, before we had even crossed the start line and got on our way.
One funny moment, was when we started to throng forward. Adrian shouted “Go, go, go, and don’t forget to start your watch” but we actually only move a few steps before we came to a stop again!
Adrian and Tom, Nicola’s boyfriend, decided to leave us there, arranging to watch us from the Tyne Bridge before heading on to the finish line.
I think this might be where I started dry retching! I was so nervous about the fact that what lay ahead was so much further than I had ever done before.
It didn’t take long for Nicola to run on ahead, and I resolved in my own mind that when I saw Adrian and Tom on the bridge I would tell them I was going in the car with them.
However, in my own oblivious world, I didn’t spot them, so had to keep going.
Since then, I have watched video of Nicola shouting out “Mum’s dying” and Tom commenting on myself and Libby passing by “It’s going to be a long run for those 2”!
I have to say, Libby was really supportive and encouraging. She said she didn’t want me not to finish, because I had, unlikely as it appeared, trained for this. She repeatedly set little goals, like “Let’s run to the fly over” “Let’s run from that traffic light to the next one” etc.
I also knew that my Aunt, Uncle and Cousin were going to be waiting at approximately the 4 ½ mile point, so we were looking out for them. It was lifting when Libby spotted them on our side of the road, so were able to step it up a gear, to be able to run over to them for a brief chat, offer of food (which we declined) and a quick hug before we plodded on again.
One of my pre-race anxieties was about needing the loo. Nobody wants a Paula Radcliffe moment, but there were plenty of porta loos en-route, so many that we were confident that we need not worry. We passed them at 4 miles, and at 5. At 6 there were several toilets, with a moderate queue, however we decided to press on to 7 miles, as this would give us the psychological boost of being past the half way point and would break our run up nicely! Who would have thought you would actually look forward to using a porta-loo?
It was after we reached the half way point, and stopped for a photo, that I really started to feel a sense of achievement, and know I was going to get to the end.
Anyway, back to the toilet situation! When we reached 7 miles – no toilets! We pressed on to 8 – where there was one toilet and a big queue! As we waited, a “helpful” spectator “ informed us that there were a lot more toilets just a little further on, so on we plodded. No toilet. We took to desperately asking people in the crowd as we jogged past where they were to be found, but no one seemed to know! It was another mile, at the 9 mile point that we eventually managed to relieve our bladders.
Through a combination of running and walking we managed to finish the race.
I struggled again at the 9-11 mile points. There was quite a medical presence and at this point, with St Johns Ambulances and medics. Saw a man sitting on the kerb side having his blood pressure taken, and there was a shuttle bus stop, to take runners to the finish line – I could have seriously been tempted to take them up on it, if the thought of being so near to getting a medal wasn’t driving me on at that point.
Another funny moment, at about 11 miles, was when Libby asked when we were going to be crossing the famous bridge – maybe not as impressive as you thought hey Newcastle?
I have to say the atmosphere is every bit as amazing as you imagine it to be!
The crowds really will you on. With the shouts of “oggy, oggy, oggy, oi oi oi”, people calling your name and telling you that you are doing great. High fives from kids and offers of water, sweets, biscuits and orange quarters. As well as the occasional dousing with water from bottles, sprinklers or hose-pipes.
As in our case, many people were doing it for charity in the first place, and in memory of loved ones. We spotted, and chatted to “Sheffield John” who was pushing a cart, to raise money for MacMillan – and Libby says he has been out every day, pushing that trolley and walking to raise awareness, since his wife died
Also, you see such human kindness that it is humbling. The encouragement of the crowd, and the camaraderie of the other runners.
At the finish line, a woman was in tears, being encouraged by a fellow runner – who I think was a stranger to her. She was clearly worried about slowing this other lady down, but it didn’t matter to her at all, She was saying “that doesn’t matter, I just want you to get across the finish line. You’re so nearly there, you’ve done the hard bit”
There was a man carrying his wife on his back, and we later learned she had fractured her hip.
It was great to be reunited with family, and see Nicola again, who finished ahead of us. Unfortunately, the South Shields traffic and children’s bladders conspired to mean that Poppy, Arran and the four kids didn’t make it to the finish line – which is a shame, as I am sure they’d have liked seeing the fancy dress runners, in their super hero guises. And especially as I don’t think I’d have finished it without Libby and I don’t think that she would have even got to the start line in the first place if it wasn’t for Poppy and Arran looking after her girls.
I ran some and I walked some, but I’m very proud of my medal and the amount of money we have raised for the lymphoma association. After a lifetime of inactivity, I now consider myself to be a runner, and corny and dramatic as it sounds, it has changed my life. It was a really great experience (mostly!) and I would love to do it again.
I would like to thank everyone for their support, especially those who sponsored us, because it was after all why we did it. Thank you so much
For more information: http://www.lymphomas.org.uk/