The countdown has really begun, in two weeks time I will be pounding the streets of Newcastle and Gateshead, alongside 60,000 other runners hoping to have a jolly time and to raise as much as possible for lovely charities. In my case that would be, Gateshead Youth Council, who I literally wouldn’t be doing this without. The GNR became a bit of a pipe dream for me when I started running two years ago, before that it was a dream I was more than happy for others to have. I say pipe dream because I didn’t think I had it in me to run any further than 5K’s, when I got to 10K, I almost had a word with my legs to ask them what they were doing. This didn’t seem like me at all. I didn’t recognise myself. Surely I’ve been replaced by a better Alice?, I thought. But no, I’d just unexpectedly fallen in love with running.
This week has been busy, both on the running and work front, but I’ve kept up with running three times a week and managed a whole half marathon yesterday. HALF MARATHON sounds like a terrifying word doesn’t it? I mean, I get that it’s half a marathon, but 5K’S and 10K’s have their own special name, so why doesn’t a half? A half is a bloody big achievement too. Maybe it should be called super miles or something, because you really do feel like super woman after you’ve completed a half. It shouldn’t be overshadowed by marathons, it’s just as shiny and wonderful. And afterwards anything really does feel possible.
As the week began, “13.1 miles!” stared at me from my training programme. I knew that I had to run a half by the end of the week and then tapering will officially begin. For those unaware of running lingo, tapering is when you’re meant to ease off your training to prepare your muscles just before a big race. Running my half by yesterday really felt like a long way. On Tuesday I got a 10K in before work and managed the same on Thursday. Running 6 miles before a day at my desk is now normal. I say normal, as I don’t think about having just run 6 miles now. I love early morning runs before most of the world wakes up, the stillness of the streets, a few cars on the roads and the odd dog walker here and there. I start any run with a giant bowl of porridge, I’ve discovered those porridge pots that you just need to add water to. They are pretty useful at the crack of dawn when you have the executive function of a snail and need something quick, filled with energy. They don’t taste too bad too if you add blueberries or a banana. I’ve decided that the cinnamon poridge is my favourite. Suitably fuelled, I set my watch, warm up and set off. I plod along, not running too fast to begin with, I’ve learned about pacing and how important it is on longer runs when I want to finish and not run out of steam. I’m also better at conserving my energy and eating the right things to fuel myself and protect my muscles. It seems to have worked because I haven’t had any more scary fainting or legs giving way moments since. I also make sure I eat a protein bar or similar not long after I’ve finished a long run to ensure I don’t crash. I really have learned loads about long distance running over the last few months.
On Sunday, I got up and ran my first ever half marathon. I’ve spoken to a few people about whether running the full distance in training is necessary, some have said you don’t need to get there as long as you’ve got a few 10 milers in, and others have told me it can’t do me any harm. I wanted to run the full distance as a dress rehearsal for the big day for a couple of reasons, A) I wanted to see what 13.1 miles felt like, to prove I can do it. And B) I wanted to run my first ever half marathon without an audience. I decided to run this training run on my own, and not with the club for this reason, I wanted to work through how big an achievement this is for me solo. Running on your own also has it’s difficulties too, mostly because there isn’t someone to shout words of encouragement as you think about giving up, and you have to meticulously plan a route, to know where you’re going. I spoke to a friend about routes, who incidentally also has the dyspraxia/ADHD combo and she said: “stick to what you know, you don’t want any surprises this late in training…” And I followed her advice. I ran the 5K route I know very well four and a bit times. The first 5K of a run is always the toughest bit. I find that I always warm up, and my legs remember what they have to do to get me round. I also get my breathing right by 5K too and breathing is very important, especially when running ridiculous miles. When I got to 10k, I stopped to eat a Cliff energy chew and take a “I can’t believe I’m going this!”, selfie. The chew was strawberry flavour, and great for giving me energy to power me through. I also carry Lucozade and water, taking alternate sips when I need to. There will be no sugar levels completely hitting the floor on this run I had decided.
At about 8 miles in, I encountered a dog named Henry, and his gang of owners who were taking up the path. I daren’t run past him, because he had one of those evil faces, and kept turning round and staring at me. I dropped down to slow jog, and hid behind a bush at one point, so I didn’t catch his eye. I tailed Henry and co, until they veered off into a cafe’. Henry might have been perfectly fine, but I didn’t take any chances with that face. And certainly not a fortnight before running the Great North Run. I met some nicer dogs on my run as well, two dogs that resembled sheep, lots of lunchers and a few spaniels. I also saw a tiny tiny baby who was toddling along, and for a moment I mistook as a dog, as I got closer, I realised my mistake and that he was actually a small child. He was out for a stroll and seemed very proud with himself. I smiled as I ran past, and he babbled back. Maybe he was saying, “keep going.” Amongst the horse riders, and dogs and small children, I also saw several other runners and squirrels. Mostly Grey, but they also seemed to be out having a jolly time. There are runners of two camps, runners like me who try to offer a smile or wave to keep someone going, and the storm troopers. The storm troopers are usually from competitive running clubs who speed up behind you, most of the time it’s impossible to know they are coming, and then overtake until they are a tiny dot in the distance. I’ve often been intimated by runners faster than me, chasing personal bests and who look very much like a runner, but now I’ve concluded that we run the same race, the destination is the same, I just get to take in more scenery. We all earn the same medal at the end. And the scenery near where I run is lovely. I saw a few people who I know or recognise from my running club, and they always waved or smiled. It’s nice to be acknowledged. It’s like being part of a team constantly cheering you on or willing you to run further. During the last leg of my run, I past someone who was clearly struggling, I took out my headphones and said “you can do it,” she smiled and carried on. Anyone who gets out to exercise, going any distance, when we’re still in a pandemic is bloody brilliant in my book. I know how hard running can feel, sometimes we all need someone to tell us we’re doing great. As I was on my fourth lap, I wondered will I make it? There were minor twinges in my legs as I ran up race day hill for a fourth time. Race day hill is the hill I was introduced to when I was on the couch 2 5K course. I thought, ‘shoulders back, helium balloon above your head!’ The advice we are given when hill running, always remember that balloon. I always add in a sneaky walk on the path after the hill to catch my breath before setting off again.
I always run with music, it helps to keep me on track and distracts me enough when I have to slow down because of dogs named Henry. I have everything from The Pretenders, Thea Gilmore, Bob Marley and Blazing fiddles on my playlist. As much variety as possible is my motto, alongside songs and tunes that will actually help me conquer the run. I know a lot of people say you don’t need music and the atmosphere is all you need, but I can’t bare to be without, it would be like running without my pants or something. A necessity. I might turn the volume down a bit, so I can still soak up the atmosphere, that I’m told is the best thing about the Great North Run. I’ve started having race day dreams, when I’m either lost or forget something important, or turn up on the wrong day. I hope none of this happens, and it’s just my brains way of making sure I’m extra prepared. This year due to Covid, they’ve separated everyone off into start times, to stagger the run over a longer period. I’m in Green wave 25, starting at the back at 13.15. I assume accompanied by all of the determined people in fancy dress, hats of to them because I know I couldn’t run that far dressed as a gorilla. I once wore a tiger suite at a folk festival and even that was warm, the things you do for a friends 18th birthday.
As I got to 11 miles, I looked at my watch several times to make sure it was real. “I’ve bloody gone and done it”, I said out loud. I didn’t care who heard me at this point. Long distance running does have a habit of making you slightly delirious. I turned my music up and sang for the last two miles and a bit. When Generation Rent by Megson came on I thought ‘god, don’t remind me now, I need to get back on the mission of trying to buy a house at some point.’ Trying to get on the property ladder and GNR training was never going to work, really. I still can’t get my head around how people train for marathons with full time jobs, I’m just knackered training for a half and that’s with the benefit of working from home. The singing worked, I finally conquered my half marathon goal! I was knackered (and still am) but very very proud. So proud I immediately texted a friend to tell her the good news.
When I first entered the Great North Run ballot, I did it to see what would happen, I didn’t actually think I would get a place. And when I did, I decided that it was what I needed to motivate me. A good goal to have. I was barely running 5K’s at that point, I had no idea what 13.1 miles would even feel like. As the pandemic begun to unfold and it became clear that the 2020 GNR would not take place until it was eventually cancelled, part of me was pleased but part of me was devastated that my goal had been taken away from me. I was always always going to run for Gateshead Youth Council and youth work and to prove I could do something that was once impossible, but by 2021, this run developed a new meaning; a pandemic meaning. I had decided that I was going to use running to run out a pandemic. In 2020 my mental health began to really plummet, and I quite literally wanted to run away. I had just been diagnosed with ADHD and all I wanted in the world was to see my friends, (and I still do.) I can now say that I really have achieved that goal, I have ran out of the pandemic. Covid-19 is far from over, and it won’t be for a while yet, but I am in a much better place to where I was a year ago, all thanks to running. I owe a lot to this sport, and even more to my running club, Red Kite Runners. I have so much love for pandemic running and anyone who has made it their mission too. Running is hard most of the time, but running following a pandemic is even tougher. Running my way out of a pandemic; another milestone achieved.
I’ve been pondering a lot about what I’m going to do following the run, whenever big things in my life have come to an end like university or India or festivals, I’ve always felt a bit lost for a few weeks after. Training has been a big part of my life for months, I’ve only ran and worked, so I’m certain once the buzz of finishing the race is over, things will feel a bit flat. I’ll continue running 5K’s and the odd 10K too, without having the big half marathon goal to focus on. I’m hoping to plan nice things to do following race day, so I don’t get so low and I still have things to look forward to. So far I’m thinking about days out and trying hard to see some friends for the first time in over two years. Things I haven’t been able to do because training has taken up so much time. They are things I need to do because people have been so supported and understanding over the last few months.
And finally, I’ve raised 67% of my target for Gateshead Youth Council which is so fab! Thank you so so much to everyone who has supported me so far. It is all really very lovely. I will, I promise, get round to thanking you all individually. I’d love to get my fundraising up to £1,000 for this fabulous charity. They really do change the lives of young people and I’m living proof of that. Please please do consider sponsoring me. If you sponsor me, you can pick a song for my running playlist. And I’ll think of you, and all of of the amazing support I’ve had so far to get here. If you’ve already sponsored me, send a song my way. My fundraising will go towards a residential for young people; even more important following a pandemic. So please support me to make that a reality for the current Gateshead Youth Assembly young people.
Thank you again to everyone who’s said nice things over the last few months, and especially my family who have the joy of me banging on about running all of the time. I’m very nearly there, just tapering and the big day to go now. Anything really is possible, even a half marathon when you have the coordination of a piece of spaghetti (I have no idea where that really bad analogy came from, but it certainly suggests the state of my brain at the moment. Totally blaming the half marathon tiredness…)