In 2019 I entered the Great North Run ballot, thinking there’s no way I’ll get a place, and then they announced more places for the 2020 GNR AND then I bloody well did get a place. It really felt like a weird kind of luck. I took up running at the age of 30, after first trying to run badly on my own, and then joining a running club, who took me through the Couch 2 5K, and awarded my first running medal. And an award, I have an award telling me I’m the “most inspirational female runner”, still baffled why people voted for me. All I know is that they, the people who I ran with every week, believed something I didn’t at the time. I’d previously had years of anxiety, bad managers telling me I didn’t fit in, being laughed at by PE teachers and people making assumptions about my abilities, so it felt great to finally hear people tell me that I could do something.
Running became the one thing that has been able to consume me as much as Folk Music. I began getting up early to go running on Sunday mornings, in public, with other people. I’d race home from work to go running, often opting to go running rather than to the session, placing exercise over playing my fiddle would have been unheard of in the past. It had taken until my 30’s to fall in love with a sport, that I wasn’t great at, but I could still do. In March 2020, when Covid happened, and the national lockdown was announced, running, the sport I loved so much suddenly left my world. I began to focus on my work, that involves supporting vulnerable families who were all having a tough time in the pandemic. The young people I work with became my priority. Doing anything for myself suddenly wasn’t important anymore. I was scared to go out, people made me anxious and social distancing whilst running felt impossible. So I just didn’t go. The only link I had with my running club, is the “Red Kit Runners Bakers” dropping round with baked goods, to try and keep everyone connected in the midst of lockdown. The GNR was then postponed, and we were given the option to role our entry over to the 2021 race. Without thinking, I postponed my run until 2021. I can do this, I thought optimistically. And here I am now, aiming to face one of the biggest challenges I’ve ever had. To run 13 miles, after a pandemic, when going into a shop for a pint of milk still feels too much. This sums up me perfectly: “unable to do the little things in life, but the big things feel totally achievable”.
Last year I printed off a beginners training plan from the Great North Run website and stuck it on my wall, it has been there ever since, staring at me every morning. The plan builds the running up gradually every week, mixing running with walking, and slowly increasing the miles over 16 weeks. It should feel like I’m not doing too much too soon, and hopefully won’t break me. Then before race day, I will have just under a month to practice the bigger mileage, to make sure I’m comfortable. It sounds so organised in theory! I’m the most disorganised and distractible person ever so I’m sure there will be slip ups, if not literal ones. When I’m running I feel so focussed, it’s like all that matters in my world is getting to the next tree or the next bench, everything else, all of my worries or anxieties, disappears. I’m hoping that If I feel like this when running 5Ks, it will stay with me when I finally get up to 13 miles. I’m running for Gateshead Youth Council, who changed my life as a teenager. Last year I wrote about why they are my chosen charity, if you’d like to read more about them, you can do here.
On Tuesday, I went for my first run, with actual people in over a year. I was, as anyone would be pretty nervous but I was determined to use running to emerge from this pandemic. Restrictions easing has caused all sorts of thoughts, I’d got used to not seeing many people and being almost as isolated as I have been when I’ve experienced serious mental health dips. I enjoy working from home, not having a commute, being able to manage my time and space to suit me needs, so things changing again has felt overwhelming. And that would be very much an understatement. I met eight other Red Kit Runners on Tuesday evening, straight after work, on what felt like the hottest day of the year so far. “It’ll be snowing next week!” Paul the run leader said. I wouldn’t be surprised.
We made our way up out of the carpark to the top path to start our group warm up. There was a few people around but it wasn’t as busy as I’d expected. As I stretched and got ready to run, my mind wandered, I thought about how big a thing just being there was for me, and even if I did feel anxious, I had turned up and was about to run. Paul gave us a talk, about running at your own pace, and focussing on what you can do, and not worrying about how fast others are. “It’s about getting comfortable running together again,” he said. I’d never heard a truer word, it wasn’t about other people, it was about what I could do. We set off, and I cautiously stayed at the back, attempting to maintain a slow but steady pace. And walking for sections if I needed to. Our run leader, ran with me the whole time. I wasn’t right at the back of the group, but I was almost there, and that didn’t matter because I was pushing myself to run after a year of being terrified to leave the house without a member of my family. As I was running I heard Paul saying, “You’re doing great, Alice.” “Keep going” “You’re a star.” “Just around this corner now.” “A few minutes to go and then I’ll blow the whistle, keep it up.” Throughout our 40 minute run, I had a constant stream of positive comments in my ear. Words of encouragement that made putting one foot in front of the other seem achievable. I said at one point that I think I’ve forgotten how to run, to be told that I’d get it back. I successfully negotiated dogs, bikes, other people and horses, during this first run. I felt more pleased with myself than I’ve felt in a long time. I didn’t run very far or fast. But I was there and I got to the end. If I can see the GNR like this, I’m more determined to do it than ever.
My second run of the week happened on good Friday, and that it happened is a good thing. We ran along the Derwent again, for 20 minutes and then returned on the sound of the whistle however far we got. This meant that we can start and finish together as a group. One thing that’s always worried me as a runner is getting horrendously lost, and turning into a tearful mess in the middle of a forest. Here though, I am confident with our regular 5K route, and if I just have to do several loops of that when I get to the bigger runs, I will. When I go running with the club, I’m reassured that there’s always someone at the front and a tail runner, so even if I’m somewhere in the middle by myself, there will always be someone not far away. Fridays run felt better than Tuesday, I ran further than before. I ran for longer and walked less, and I was somewhere comfortably in the middle of the group. I expected it to be busier, but by 6pm, everyone seemed to have gone home, leaving a clear route for me. I had a bit of a disaster with my headphones before the run, with the bluetooth on my phone refusing to cooperate so had to run without. I could hear the pounding of my flat feet on the pavements and the birds singing in the trees, with the chatter of other runners around me. I looked ahead, giving myself little goals to get to the next tree or run a bit faster to that bench. It worked and I started feeling comfortable with running again. On the way back I saw the runners at the end of the group in the distance, and tried to run faster to catch up with them, pushing myself, but sticking to my rhythm. it felt good to be out again, really really good, and I realised why I’d fallen in love with running. As we finished I was asked, “How did you find that compared to Tuesday, Alice?” “Well I ran further?”, I said. “Well that’s a good thing,” she told me. That made it all make so much sense, it was about what I can achieve against myself, other people’s times and pace’s don’t matter, it was all about me proving to myself that I can do it. I’m sure as my training progresses I won’t always feel this way, and there will be some wobbles in the lead up to the Great North Run. It terrifies me in more ways than I’m excited at the moment, but right now I’m just pleased to be out running with people again. On Sunday I plan to go for a short run by myself, that will eventually be my longer run day as my training intensifies.
There are of course some training worries, that have been in my head since I got the ballot place:
- Training with a full time job. I know people train and run long distances with jobs, kids, a dog and several other commitments I’m not even close to having, but fitting in training, on top of working full time is something, I wish my brain would spend less time overthinking. I was talking about trying to buy a house earlier this year, but that might have to be put on hold until there’s less in my life to think about. Working from home would be ideal for training, as I can be more flexible and I don’t have to worry about a knackering commute, but this won’t be forever. And when I get back to the office, how the Jeff am I going to cope?
- Raising money. Fundraising is hard when you don’t have the connections at the best of times, but raising money, post pandemic when your friends have either lost jobs/not been able to work/or generally don’t have disposable income, isn’t the easiest thing. I’ve chosen to raise money for Gateshead Youth Council, because they are awesome, and I have a very personal reason to fundraise for them, but there’s only so much asking I can do. I even thought at one stage to get my old school on board, we’ll see.
- Not falling over. This is a worry for anyone who’s arms and legs aren’t the most coordinated, and thinking about it I have only fallen over once spectacularly since I started running. And that was a cyclists fault. So hopefully, I can get to the start line, without breaking myself in training first. I’ve started running slower to avoid this, but I really want to overcome this fear, and of dogs, and cyclist to improve my pace by GNR day.
- Trying not to let people down. This sounds ridiculous written down, but I don’t want to fail people, or myself. I want to do what I set out to do. This might hark back to the years when I didn’t feel good enough, and always feeling the need to prove myself. Whether it was academically, musically, trying and failing different sports, or just with writing. And lets be honest, no one has two Masters, unless they think a tiny bit like that. I also want to do Gateshead Youth Council proud, I want young people to see that if I can get from where I was to where I am now, they can too. A lot of pressure on myself. My ADHD brain needs pressure to function, helpful or otherwise. My sponsors and friends who are already promising to come and watch need me to complete this run too, I don’t want to let them down.
- Sticking to my training plan. I have ADHD, sticking to anything has always had mixed results. You only need to see the route I’ve taken in my career to understand that. Running with the club is massive motivation, but sometimes I’ll have to run without them or after an exhausting day at work. I do wonder if I’ll be able to do it, or run well because there is so much more going on in my brain too. The training plan staring me in the face is being good so far at reminding me of my goal, crossing that finish line with a massive smile on my face.
I haven’t mentioned post pandemic worries, but that goes without saying, running isn’t the same as it was a year ago and I’m sure you don’t need me to go into all of the details. It’s a massive challenge I have ahead of me, and I’m pretty petrified about how I’ll do, if I’d be able to do it, or if this is just a step too far. So please please offer any encouragement and support you can from now until September.
And if you’ve read this far and are able to please consider sponsoring my half marathon, and tell all of your friends! Gateshead Youth Council are a fabulous charity, who changed my life, and if they didn’t do what they did all those years ago I might not be undertaking this run, or even writing this at all. So there you go. And if you are unable to donate, I’m sure you can think of other ways to keep me going. Just by reading about my journey (I plan to write about how my training is going every week) and sharing my story where you can will also be absolutely fabulous.
“It’s not about how fast or far everyone else goes, it’s about what you make of the run for yourself,” – a piece of wisdom I was told recently…