I ran the Great North Run! A whole 13.1 miles for Gateshead Youth Council!

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I said I would run the Great North Run, I fundraised for Gateshead Youth Council. And I bloody went and ran a whole half marathon. It has taken a little while to find the brain power to write this post, I’ve been quite literally in a whirlwind of emotions. Here’s how taking part in the 40th Great North Run went:

The night before

I have been planning meticulously for this event for years, I’d originally entered the ballot in 2019, getting a place for 2020, that was then of course cancelled because of Covid. I rolled my place over to 2021, but due to the matter of a pandemic that we all had to deal with, my running fell off a cliff. Then, I started running again in April 2021, when setting my sights on a possible half marathon seemed like a good idea. I didn’t know if it would even go ahead this year, and I don’t deal well with uncertainty, but I set out to get back to some level of fitness to be in with a chance of completing the thing. My running club helpfully put on 20/20 sessions to support people to get back to running, many who like me, hadn’t ran at all during the pandemic. The sessions involved running on a straight, flat route for 20 minutes, turning around wherever you are and running back. This meant that everyone always finished as a group. Turning up to that first Tuesday night session was tough, when at the time I wasn’t yet comfortable going inside a shop. I eventually began to enjoy running again, progressing to running regular 5K’s with the odd weekend 10K thrown in, until it was time to progress through my half marathon training plan. Slowly but surely I began to run out of a pandemic.

I was sensible and took two days off work prior to Great North Run day, this meant that in theory I had three days to prepare myself, so I could relax by the Saturday. Panicking about not having a charity top printed, didn’t help here, until I realised it didn’t matter what I wore, I was doing a brilliant thing for GYC and no one will really care. With any new thing I do, I research the bones off it. Do I have the right fuel? What do I need in my bag for the end? Is everything fully charged and ready to go? What about muscle remedies? There was a lot to consider, and I’m pretty sure I’d bought the whole pharmacy of boots and several isles of Holland and Barrett to ensure I had everything. My sister came down that morning, and we had a family lunch in the afternoon, and then I had a giant bowl of pasta in the evening. I also made sure I drank as much water as I could get into me so I was properly hydrated. After all of the thinking, overthinking and planning in my head, I was still rushing around before bed making sure I had everything laid out on my chair the night before. Despite all of this meticulous prep and over reading what to do and not do before a half marathon, I still struggled to sleep much that night. Waking up every hour needing to go to the loo. Pre half marathon nervous wees are most definitely a thing. I shut the cat out of my room so I could get a good night sleep without her bouncing on my head, meaning that she just moaned outside for hours wanting to come in. I’m sure I was awake enough to watch it get light, as I played over everything I had to do the next day in my head. ADHD can be a beast sometimes when it comes to insomnia before big, important events. Eventually, I gave up on sleep ever happening and got up at 7.30am. As I get up I’m greeted by a supportive tweet from a friend wishing me good luck for the day. I told her that I had hardly slept, she reassured me that the adrenaline would see me though. I hoped it would. She has ran a half marathon and a marathon and is dyspraxic too, so I trusted her reassurance. I opened the curtains and it was miserable and drizzly outside. The kind of weather that indicates Autumn is on its way. I was pleased it wasn’t a blazing hot day, but still hoped the rain would hold off. I didn’t want people coming to watch having to stand for hours in the rain waiting for me. I go downstairs and eat a big bowl off porridge, a banana, and make myself a cup of tea. No one else is up yet, apart from the cats who were grumpy I’d fed myself before them for a change. I felt a surge of energy, and more awake than I expected to feel with so little sleep. The cats were fed and I headed upstairs to get ready. We didn’t have a taxi booked until 11.20, so had a lot of time to kill that I didn’t know what to do with. This year everyone was split up into waves because of Covid, and the green wave, the wave I had been allocated to, wasn’t due to set off until 13.15. A lot of time to wait and deal with excess nervous energy. By the time our taxi came, I was pretty much bouncing off the walls. As we were on our way, and It suddenly felt real, I scrolled through several good luck messages from friends across the country, and replied to as many as I could. The race’s start and finish lines this year were on the Town Moor, which if you’re not local, is a massive piece of land that usually has cows in it. There were no cows on Sunday. Just a lot of nervous runners. The start line and finishers village were just across Claremont Bridge. As we crossed the bridge it all started to feel real. We past a bin that was full of banana skins, and I joked to my sister; “you can tell we’re near a running event!” Once we were on the field it felt a bit more overwhelming, my energy was then accompanied with worries about where I need to go, which queue I should join and where I can wee. We’d arrived a bit early for my 1.15 start, and watched some of the run from the bridge. My parents then did that usual parental faffing thing about me getting too cold. A friend of mum who’s a runner mentioned taking an old T-shirt to wear and discard before the race, I tried it on but couldn’t get my head around coordinating myself to undress quick enough in time for starting. I then settled with wrapping a space blanket around me, that I could get rid of quicker and easier. Once I’d ear marked the loos for a pre-race wee, I re-joined my family to hear “green wave come on down”. It all seemed to happen pretty quickly. To get to the start line we had to go over a hill and down some steps leading to the central motorway. I bumbled on down to where everyone was congregating, with space blanket billowing in the wind behind me. “haha. You have too much to coordinate!” my sister laughed as I headed off in the general direction of runners. We took some ‘I’m at the start, looking ridiculous and terrified’ photos, and then I left my family to find a good viewing point. It felt like I was standing in the crowd for ages, I kept looking around to make sure everyone had the same number and bib colour as me and I was in the right place. It seemed that everyone else was doing the same. I was worried about being with loads of competent runners, but starting in different waves meant that I was with lots of runners in charity tops doing it for charity, a gorilla and the three little pigs. I think I spotted a few super men and women too. My kind of people. There was of course people who set out to walk the whole thing. I remember one of the leaders at my running club say; “remember it’s a fun run”, and being surrounded by these kind of people all just wanting to get to the end made it seem much less intimidating. As we got down to the road everyone started to stretch and warm up as best they could. I looked for the best place to discard my space blanket, and the positioned myself at the edge towards the railings. It was then I started to feel a bit sick. “Will I really be able to do this?” I thought, then having words with myself that now wasn’t the time for self doubt. We started fast walking, and then much quicker than we arrived, we were off. I spotted my family standing by the roadside and gave them a quick wave. This half marathon was really happening. And I was really in it.

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Heading out of town toward Tyne bridge

“Oh I’m going oh i’ve gone!” I accidentally said out loud as I started the first few miles. The woman next to me nodded in appreciation. I put my music on and started to get into my stride, making sure my breathing wasn’t all over the place and I had some sort of pace going on. I kept running, spotting Northumbria University. And a sign for mile 2. At mile two I realised just how far it was, and how little I’d already ran. It was then I tried to take in more around me, the crowd and support were something I’ve never experienced before. “Go Alice!” “keep going”, I heard the crowd cheer. One woman shouted “Alice you’re amazing!”, at me through a megaphone. I have never been told I’m amazing by a complete stranger at a sporting event before. These people, cheering my name, and making me run further all believed that I could complete this half marathon. So, I better start believing I can complete it too. I welled up, as a lot of things dawned on me. Why I was there. The support I’ve had leading up to this day. And the encouragement I was getting now. We were then in no time at all heading towards the Tyne Bridge. A friend told me to look out for the steel pans on the bridge. I looked out, I could see lot’s of bands, but didn’t spot her. There was some kind of musical support or shouty megaphone person on most corners as I came out of Newcastle. Coming over the bridge, I looked out onto the Tyne. It looked calm. A feeling I wished I had more often. Today, once I’d got over feeling sick and wanting to run away from a half marathon, I didn’t have anymore fear that I couldn’t complete it. I could already smell my medal.

Gateshead Stadium

The approach to Gateshead Stadium came around pretty quickly. As I ran and mile 4 came into view I said to myself out loud: “god it’s a long way!” The man next to me laughed. We got chatting and he told me last year he was hospitalised with Covid and had to learn to walk again. And there he was running a whole half marathon. His ambition was always to run the Great North Run and in his words; “I just got on and did it.” He is right. If anything, the last two years have made us all realise that life is too short, after being unable to do things we all love and aspire to for such a long time. People never fail to amaze me and he was no exception. If he can finish the run, I certainly could. Not long after this conversation I bumped into Paul, the couch 2 5K leader from my running club, Red Kite Runners. I could recognise that couchie whistle anywhere. He had jelly babies, ready to go in freezer bags. The jelly babies really kept me going when the run began to get tough.

Heworth Metro

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The next few miles passes by as soon as they arrive. The route this year takes in a lot of up and down hills, and often I’d be on a hill for ages until I realise it is in fact a hill. As I run along I’m looking out for Heworth Metro, where Valerie from Gateshead Youth Council will be, alongside hopefully my parents and sister. I get out one of the jelly babies to give me a bit of energy. And focus on the music in my ears. “Where are they?” I thought. Everything is a very long way all of a sudden. I passed a gorilla, and chirped “must be a bit warm” He shouted back, “But I’m a gorilla!” People really are mint. I see the metro in the distance, and spot my sister’s bright pink skirt, I hear them cheering. “Yaaaaay!” I yell back! My parents, Sister and Valerie are there, alongside her partner Mike and Freya her niece who is also the co-chair of Gateshead Youth Assembly. I stop for a quick hug from my sister, a photo with the family and then run off again. It had felt like such a long trek so far, and seeing them smiling and being supportive meant the world. I knew then that I could do it. I had to for all of the young people in Gateshead, and youth services who meant so much to me. “We’ll see you on the other side!” Valerie shouted. That motivated me. I was determined to get there. My whole training and preparation for this run has been fuelled by sheer determination and never ever doing things by halves. If I set out to do something, I put my whole heart into it and this is how I approached running.

Felling bypass (The longest road I have ever known…)

The felling bypass is long. Even longer if you’re running up the thing. It also isn’t very pretty. There isn’t much to look at, so much of this part of the run was a blur. I just wanted to get to the end. At the start there was support. People shouting my name. Children wanting Hi fives. And people offering sweets, but then the support dried up. And it was just me, my music and several other runners for a few miles. Starting in a later wave meant that everyone who came out to support in the morning didn’t stick around until we came bouncing down the road. They had long gone. Some advice was to not run with music, but I just couldn’t leave the music at home. It was the music that got me through this stretch. That and looking on in admiration at everyone running in fancy dress doing great things for charity. A few weeks ago I’d asked my friends and family for suggestions for my running playlist, as a way to remember all of the support I’ve had to get here and think of people as I run around. It’s meant that I’ve been able to discover loads more great music, which I’d love. As I came towards the end of the road to turn around, Bob Marley’s ‘Three little birds’ came on. And if it wasn’t for having to keep moving myself forward, I would have turned into a puddle of Alice on the floor. “It really is going to be alright,” I told myself. I was going to get to the finish. And everything else in my life will sort itself out too. I glanced at my phone as I reached the end, my best friend told me I’m “great.” I was so so proud to be there.

Turning around and the return to Heworth

The end of the road was my favourite thing to see knowing I just had the return leg to go now. There was a stage at the end shouting out words of encouragement. Words I really needed to hear by this part of the run. I needed a wee. Wee’s are very inconvenient in the middle of half marathons, some portaloos were coming up so I dived in there. Going back down Felling Bypass was really hard work, I started to feel dizzy at one stage, that was quickly resolved by another jelly baby. There was no way I was going to get ill and not make the finish. I walked a bit of the bypass to conserve energy. My body started to tell me that I really didn’t have any sleep last night. I was looking out for Heworth Metro again, it seemed miles away now. I couldn’t believe I’d ran so far. I’ve trained hard for this, but no amount of training prepares you for how you will feel on the day. My family and Valerie came into view again, and I said as I past; “running a half marathon on no sleep is hard work!” They laughed. Here I was on the home stretch now. The support began to pick up as I headed back into town. There were bands on most corners as I returned, and people in charity busses screaming my name. There is nothing quite like hearing a stranger with a megaphone telling me i’m brilliant. As I head towards the Tyne Bridge I spot a lot of people holding signs saying “go on” “you can do this!” “You’re running the greatest run in the world!” I grin the whole way round. I could feel my face beaming as if i’m having the time of my life. The truth is, i couldn’t believe any of this was happening. I was so happy to feel so much support around me, from those on the streets that day, and friends who had been sending me messages of support all morning. I get my phone out to change the song, and spot that my sister has been updating the family group chat of my movements. “The girl is killing it,” my uncle said. I carried pushing on up and down the hills. I stopped for a moment to fiddle around to try and get out an energy chew, and thought about my grandparents both of whom are ill, and who are both chuffed i’m running this run. My grandma who was diagnosed with Alzheimers earlier this year, was pleased when I told her I would be running in my pink hat. “I can spot you on the telly,” she said. Me tackling a half marathon seems really important to her. She may forget what day it is sometimes, but she continues to remember that I’m a runner. And that I’m running “quite a way”, as she put it. It really was quite a way.

Tyne Bridge take two

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It was not long before we hit the tunnel just before the Tyne Bridge. It was pitch black, so I carefully walked this bit. “Oggy oggy oggy!” “Oi Oi Oi!” everyone shouted. On the bridge for a second time, I looked out onto the river tyne, and across to the Sage Gateshead, where I had spent a lot of time playing music when I was younger. It all looked really still and beautiful. I thought about how the arts industry had suffered as a result of the pandemic, and how important music is to get us through difficult times. I thought about my late friend Andrew, who I met through music, and what he might think of me becoming a runner. I had a moment. There were more people on the bridge calling my name. “GO ON!” “Nearly there!” they said. I grinned at a camera as I ran past. and then hit mile 10.

Mile 10: where I’m sure I left my energy (Greys street, monument and Haymarket…)

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The last three miles were the toughest of what was a very hilly course. Heading back up to town was mostly uphill, but where I found the most support. I walked up part of Grey Street, desperately reaching for another jelly baby. Just another 5K to go I thought. I run 5K’S all of the time. This 5K just went on forever. Running past Greys Monument was great too. I haven’t been into town since the pandemic began, and seeing town from the middle of the Great North Run certainly gives it all a new perspective. I dropped my lucozade bottle on the floor, stopped to pick it up, and felt my legs do something legs probably shouldn’t do. Must keep running, as If I didn’t I was certain my legs would give way. My legs hurt in a way I didn’t know it was possible for legs to hurt. I gave it my everything to get this far. I was nearly there. “Not long now!” one of the marshals shouted at me, when I was probably looking pissed off this last 5K was going on forever. Then, just when I needed it, I got the motivation I needed. A group of young people were shouting my name. “GO ON!” they said. And I knew I could find the last bit of energy in me to push on, I was doing this run for young people. Young people in the North East, to show that youth work matters. Young people just like the group who cheered me on that day. They may not be Gateshead Youth Councils young people, but they were young people from the North East where youth services have been destroyed. I want young people like them to have the same opportunities I had growing up. To have access to supportive youth workers who will listen if they need them. To feel valued. “I’m doing this for you lot!” I screamed back! They probably had no idea what I was going on about, but they cheered anyway.

The finish

As I made it onto the home stretch, the 400 metres sign danced at me. I’m nearly there! I could actually see the finish! I could do it! I broke into a sprint for the last section, serenaded by S Club 7’s reach being played through the PA system. I had Thea Gilmores ‘Beautiful Day’ in my ears, so it made for quite a contrast. It really was a beautiful day. I felt on top of the world, even if it was just for a day. As a headed towards the finish, I spotted my sisters pink skirt again and then the rest of my family and my brother this time too. “WOOOOOO” Maddy shouted. They were standing on the side of the road with a pint. “This is your half marathon glory” the man on the tannoy said as I crossed the finish line. It was then that I seemed to forget how to use my legs, and everything began to hurt like I’d never felt before. I tried to keep moving. And headed up to the marque to collect my medal and goody bag. I then took a while to work out how to join my family. I found them. And collapsed on the nearest available piece of grass. “I’m so proud of you,” my sister said. I had done it. I had ran my first half marathon. And in the process raised loads of money for Gateshead Youth Council. They meant, and still mean so much to me that I was prepared to put myself through this much physical and emotional pain to show it.

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The week following and post half marathon lows

I took the next week off work, a wise decision considering how much I struggled to walk the next day. My Neales Yard remedies recommended by a friend were a life saver. My sister was here for a couple of days before traveling back to her university town. On Tuesday I met up with everyone from my running club for a Great North Run finishers photo. It was great seeing everyone to compare notes about the hills, but also made it feel real that it really was over. I’ve never been in a sports photo proudly holding a medal before. It was a great feeling.

I’ve been in a constant state of hunger since. Demolishing a plate of pancakes the next day in no time at all. I’ve also felt extremely fatigued. Fatigue that I didn’t expect on such a level, as it has also been accompanied by crushing lows. My legs were pretty much back to normal after a couple of days, but the sense of sadness and “what now?” has stuck around. I’ve been reassured that this is normal. I had planned meticulously for every other eventuality in long distance running but not this. For months I’ve put everything I have into working towards this goal, and now it is over, it feels like I don’t have the same purpose as training for a half marathon gave me. You feel very lost after completing a big run. Lost and determined to decide on the next thing. This morning I even considered signing up to the Edinburgh Half Marathon, as a desperate attempt to fill the void. I absolutely loved the Great North Run, and would totally do it again. It was the best. And gave me a feeling of pride I haven’t felt in years. It’s hard to accept you have to take the days after slow, when taking it slow reminds you of the times of anxiety and depression. And when making strides forward towards the next goal accompanied by ADHD fuelled energy is your way of overcompensating for that. I’ve texted a friend who told me that how I’m feeling is completely normal, and that it will get better. I believe her. I know it will. I need to give myself time, and another focus, which I know for now, will be my friends. I want to see as many people as I can in person, given we are still in a pandemic. I’ve been supported to get this far in the best way possible, and know I really couldn’t have made it without any of you. Mush over. But Thank you. Thank you Thank you. Running a half marathon is hard, and dealing with the post run emotions is just as tough. The feeling that few people truly get what goes on in your head post long distance running will always be there. Although, I am so glad I did all of it. That I have a shiny medal to show that of course, “I can bloody do it, too.” The rollercoaster has been worth it. I will now ride the waves.

There’s still time to support my fundraising for Gateshead Youth Council, if you wanted to and haven’t yet, you can do so here. I am overwhelmed by the generous donations and kind messages from friends I’ve had over the last few months. Raising £1,210 truly is epic. Thank you.

This entry was posted in ADHD, Dyspraxia, Great North Run, Mental health, Music, Running, Useful links, Youth Work. Bookmark the permalink.

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