Things running a half marathon has taught me: some reflections and advice for Sundays Great North Runners…

It’s a year ago since I ran my first half marathon, the Great North Run; that became a great way to channel my hyperfocus before I was medicated for ADHD, and a lot of complicated feelings. It is also largely one of the biggest achievements of my life, and something that I will remain forever proud of achieving. I haven’t ran it for years like a lot of people who keep going back for more, so my authority might be questioned, but I have done it once, and 13.1 miles is a long time to reflect on what you’re doing and why you’re there. I’ve been running on and off for several years now, and each time I come back to it, I realise how good it is for my brain, and that there is nothing quite like the feeling in your heart after finishing a run. Of course I ran the Great North Run for myself, to get a medal to prove I actually ran the thing, but I also ran it for Gateshead Youth Council, the youth organisation who taught a shy, anxious teenager the values of participation, feeling included and being listened to, like really listened to. The very values that I held onto so tightly as I’ve developed my own career working with young people, and ensuring that they have better life chances, outcomes and opportunities. I especially want young people of the future to be able to say “I did it” too, especially about challenges that once seemed impossible.

This Sunday, it is the Great North Run again. I’m not running it, but I will be there to cheer everyone on taking on the challenge this time, and I’m sure feeling emotional about how I felt running it this time last year. I’ve been thinking a lot about what running taught me, not just long distance running but trots around the block, and runs that didn’t go well and those that did. I’ve channelled these thoughts into something productive and put together a list of reflections a year on and some advice for Sundays Great North runners.

Run for you. Not for your club. Your charity. Or anyone else there. Do it for yourself. I took up running to do something for me, originally it was to be able to channel my questionable mental health and anxiety into something positive. When I ran, it felt like, at least for the duration of the run, that I could leave any baggage at the door. All I had to focus on was the beat of the music and my feet on the ground. I’ve often felt awkward about times, and I rarely share mine, I always describe running as a race with myself and that’s all that matters. Improving for yourself and not because someone has a better time than you. A race like the Great North Run isn’t about times, it’s about getting from point A to point B, no matter how long you take. It’s about being there, and feeling proud for being there.

Get a good nights sleep several days before. Goes without saying, but get as much rest as you can before Sunday. And try to sleep as much as you can several days before the run, you’ll need it as once you’ve finished tapering you’r body will need time to regain the energy. I slept really badly the night before the run, and kept waking up having running dreams. It’s hard to avoid if like me you’re prone to insomnia before big events, but it’s always better to not attempt to run a half marathon on no sleep! And several nights of sleep before, even if you have a bad nights sleep the night before can help…

Carry plasters. When I ran I had the remnants of blisters from training. And plasters will fall off, or rub. Extra plasters in your pockets or bra are a life saver.

Plan your wees Sounds daft, but always better to go to the toilet before you make your way along to the start. There are no toilets on the start line just a lot of people peeing behind trees. And if you’re anything like me and too dyspraxic to cope with wild weeing with dignity, making use of the portaloos when you see them is a must. There are a lot of toilets along the route too, so you shouldn’t be caught short.

Arrive with plenty of time: Get there early, so you have time to eat a banana, walk to the other end of the field to visit the portaloos and work out when you have to make it down to your pen. There are lots of people there to direct you so you can’t go far wrong.

Take a insulated blanket to discard It can get pretty chilly hanging around the start line, so a lot of people take old joggers or hoodies to discard just as they set off. I didn’t feel confident undressing quick enough, so i wore a disposable insulated blanket. So much easier. You’ll also probably get one of these at the finish, when your body temperature drops post run.

Enjoy the atmosphere The buzz from everyone cheering you on is like something I’ve never experienced before. There will be kids handing out sweets, music on every corner and people from your charity waiting in the cold pushing you on to finish.

If you’ve trained with music, run to a beat A lot of people will tell you to leave your headphones at home as you can’t really enjoy the atmosphere with music. I trained with music for every run, and I can’t run without music. I ran with bone conductor headphones, but you don’t need to. Any headphones that you have trained with will work. Music provides an emotional connection for me, and a way to escape when the running gets tough. I made running to music an event in itself, asking friends and family to choose a song for my running playlist. This left me quite a varied collection of music, and being able to think about that specific person as it came on when I ran. A beat also helps me to keep my rhythm and pace. If music helps you too, make sure it comes with you for this half marathon.

Plan your walking bits. And don’t run it all. Walking is important for conserving energy for when you really need it and not burning out too soon. There was some awful, and often gradual hills once I past Heworth that snuck up on you, and I walked some of those bits. Running over the Tyne Bridge is one of my favourite parts of the run, the place when you realise, god I really am doing this thing!

Smile! I had a massive grin on my face all of the way round, even on the painful hilly bits. Everyone kept saying “and she’s still smiling!” I was terrified of what I was doing really, but equally incredibly proud to be there and running for an organisation who really do matter to me. Making my face show some of my feelings helped.

Don’t try and do too much post run Other than eating all of the food, don’t plan too much for the evening. Your body will be exhausted, and if you’re anything like me, I struggled to walk for a couple of days after, until eventually my legs got back to normal. My evening after the run, was food, bath with all of the muscle remedies and bed. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself to “celebrate” much beyond that.

Pack tissues! Whether you’re fighting the last of a cold or for when you ball your eyes out when a song comes on or a child shouts your name, telling you “you can do it” just as you’re nearing the finish, you will need those tissues.

Get support for any big feelings running brings to the surface Running is a great companion to therapy but it shouldn’t be a substitute for therapy if you’re working through big feelings. During or after the race the reason behind or leading up to your motivation to take up running can hit you. And talking this through with a professional can help, although I know accessing support is easier said than done. I took up running when I felt overwhelmed with anxiety and undiagnosed & unmedicated ADHD. Running was a helpful outlet to channel these feelings, but has only been one way to explore them. Listen to your brain as well as your body post race, and during training too.

Understand your grief post race No one warned me of this, but it very much happened, and makes sense. After completing the Great North Run I went through what felt like grief, I felt low, lost and like I had experienced a loss. Running had been part of my life for months, I’d planned everything around training, it had been a constant topic of conversation. And once training for a big race was over I felt bereft. At first to deal with this loss I considered signing up to other half marathons or even wondering if I could do a marathon to fill the void. I didn’t in the end. I sat with my feelings for a while and allowed myself to grieve the loss of working towards one of the biggest achievements of my life. Grief after you finish and your body physically recovers is totally normal, just do what you need to do to ride those waves.

Tell everyone you made it! Geordies are a friendly bunch, so I have no doubt with the crowds enthusiasm you will make your way round. If you’ve put in the training and are determined to finish, you will get there. A year on I still have conversations with people about “that time I ran a the Great North Run”. It never becomes old news.

And finally, good luck on Sunday! Enjoy your run, there really is no experience quite like it…

This entry was posted in ADHD, Dyspraxia, Great North Run, Running, Youth Work. Bookmark the permalink.

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