I did it! I took part in the world’s biggest half marathon, raising money for Action for Children.
It was a fantastic day. The atmosphere was amazing, with thousands of people running for charity or in memory of loved ones. I couldn’t help but be inspired.
Our Great North Run weekend started on Saturday afternoon. We drove to Newcastle to the Village Hotel, four miles from the city centre. Chris had booked an Italian restaurant so we ate pasta, followed by a giant chocolate brownie and ice cream, and discussed my race strategy.
‘What you need to do,’ Chris said. ‘Is be consistent and confident. You’ve done the training runs, so you can be confident.’
‘Apart from last week,’ I said. ‘I missed my long run and most of the training week.’
‘You’ve done lots of long runs. Be positive!’ Chris is a great motivator. And, because he’s good at marathon running, I really value his opinion. ‘I think you can go for 7.10 pace,’ he said. ‘It’ll feel comfortable.’
Chris took his phone out and did a quick calculation to work out my pace. ‘Anything under 7.19 pace will be a PB.’
My PB is one hour 36, but I didn’t think I’d be able to break it, especially after losing my racing confidence and fitness over the past few months.
‘Don’t set off too quickly,’ Chris added. ‘Try to make your miles as consistent as possible.’ He even programmed my watch so it gave not only my average pace for the run, but also the pace for each mile. ‘You need to know if you’re running too quick for a mile, because that will do the damage.’
Half marathon pacing is not my strong point. I tend to get carried away, run too quickly and nearly kill myself. I vowed to set off slowly. ‘The worse thing I could do,’ I told Chris. ‘Is to throw in a 6.40 mile. I’d not recover from that.’
Chris nodded. ‘You want to get to the finish feeling strong and enjoying it. That’s the main thing.’
It was. I just wanted to enjoy the day. It was important that I get back to racing and enjoyed it. That was why I was taking part, anything else was a bonus.
Race day arrived and I was so nervous. The coach dropped me at the start and took Chris to the finish. I was on my own for a long time, before finally catching up with team Kingstone.
It was hours before the race started, and with so many thousands of runners, there was nowhere to warm up. I jigged about a bit trying to do some sort of warm up, and my gel belt dropped off. I reattached it, jigged about some more. This time, the gels fell out. I hoped that my gel mishap wasn’t being broadcast live on the BBC.
When I’d finally sorted my gels, it was time to go. I was near to the front, but there was no way I was setting off too quickly. The first miles were fantastic and paced to perfection, even if I do say so myself. All of them 7.15 pace.
As I was running over the Tyne bridge I was broadcast live on the BBC. Mum and my four-year-old niece were watching at home. ‘There’s auntie Liz!’ Olivia shouted. She’d been glued to the TV shouting ‘Go auntie Liz,’ even before she’d spotted me.
‘I knew it was you on TV,’ Mum said afterwards. ‘I could tell from your running style…You know, with your dodgy arm.’
My technique may not have been the best but my pacing was amazing. I went through 5km in 22 minutes and 10km in 44 minutes. Twenty-two minutes for each 5km. I was so proud of myself. I’d got my pacing just right! I couldn’t help but get excited. ‘I’m going to run a negative split! I’m going to run a negative split!’ I kept thinking. And that was my downfall. Without realising, my pace got faster. I ran a 6.48 mile. ‘It’s fine,’ I told myself. ‘I feel fine.’ That’s when I spotted the one hour 35 pacer, and now that he was in my sights I had to get past. The next mile was 6.44.
‘Shit,’ I said.
‘What’s wrong?’ The chap next to me was a little startled.
‘I’m going too fast.’
‘You’re doing fine,’ he said. ‘We’re past half way. Just keep putting one foot in front of the other.’
I tried to slow down but I was enjoying myself so much that I ran even quicker. I felt so good and I was racing the girl next to me and I was pushing on and I was going to get a great time. It was all going to be wonderful. But then! Then came the pain. My legs turned to lead. My body demanded that I stop. I struggled to move.
I wanted to stop. Running is awful. Why was I doing this? It was too hot. It was too hilly. Why was I doing this? Why? Why? Why?
I thought about Chris and my friends who were waiting for me at the finish. Darren and Katrina had driven up for the day. I didn’t want to let them down. I kept going, digging deep, focusing on putting one foot in front of the other. But it was hurting. Really hurting.
As I reached the summit of the final hill, a friend from Barnsley Harriers called my name. This lifted me. I pulled myself together and turned onto the seafront with only one mile to go. One mile. I could manage a mile.
I gave it everything I had. I was hanging on for dear life. Then with 800m to go, Chris and Katrina and Darren were there shouting for me. I was so pleased to see them that I almost wept. On I went, running what felt like the longest 800m ever. I pushed a little more, storming into the home straight to record the fastest half marathon of my life.
I finished in one hour 34 minutes and 22 seconds to finish 58th female and eleventh in my age group. I was absolutely delighted. I staggered through the finish tunnel, and I may have even managed a smile.
‘I’m never doing it again,’ were my first words, but after a Mars Bar, kindly given to me by the lovely chap at the Motor Neurone Disease Association marquee, I was already talking about the next one.
‘You know what,’ I said to my friends. ‘I think my racing mojo might be back.’