Hello and a very warm welcome to my newly relaunched blog. I'm Paul a 40 year old family man from the UK. In this complex, information overload 21st century world, too often we lose sight of what's really important. Here I want to celebrate life, share inspirational stories, throw the spotlight on charities and causes close to my heart. Looking forward to sharing this journey with you all.

Friday, 26 March 2010

Get your trainers on- come and join me on the Great North Run!

New Years resolutions starting to falter? Perhaps you are still looking for a fresh challenge to kick-start 2010? Wouldn't it be brilliant to raise money for those charities that really mean something to you? 

As I've said in my last couple of blog entries, I'm looking to use this blog to inspire and motivate people out there to challenge themselves to make a difference. 

When you are trying to make positive changes in your life, I find it is so important to set yourselves goals. If you are looking to get back in shape, these days there are so many sporting events at all levels from a 1 mile run to triathalons that you can sign up for and enter. When you know that you are raising vital money for a special charity it certainly focuses your efforts, even on the darkest, coldest, wettest of training days. 

Hopefully this will give you a taster of what its like to compete in events like this, and maybe one or two of you might even be inspired enough to give it a go. I promise, you won't regret it.

So, if you are in reasonable physical shape and are able to commit to a few hours a week of training, why not consider taking part in Britain's biggest annual running event, the very appropriately named - Great North Run.....

***One Amazing Race****

Every year, more than 50,000 people drawn from a complete cross-section of ages (well 17 and above), abilities, and walks of life, gain entry to the annual Great North Run. They each get to take on and experience first hand the uniquely atmospheric and undulating 13.1 mile journey from Newcastle City Centre to South Shields on the North East coast and in the process manage to collectively raise a staggering £10 million for charities. No doubt the vast majority of you will at least have seen the extensive BBC sports coverage of the event, always run on a Sunday morning typically in either late September or October

Between 1995 and 2005 I've been lucky enough to have completed the course on no less than six occasions, raising oodles of cash for worthy causes in the process and can honestly say I've loved every minute of each experience (however painful the blisters!)

So, if you've ever wondered what it's actually like to experience it at ground level, from a participant's perspective, please come with me now. Come on, get off that mental couch, grab your virtual trainers and join me, because I'm about to take you on an access all areas, guided tour of the biggest mass participation half marathon event on the planet!!

****Race Prep****

First things first, you have to get yourself a place. A potentially tricky business when you consider over 100,000 people apply every year! You can easily enter online, however entries typically close by early January, and the ballot is drawn in early February. Don't be disheartened though- there are any number of charities that can offer you guaranteed places, on the proviso that you raise at least a threshold amount. The entry fee for this year's race on the 20th September 2009 is £42, which may seem a lot but you do get a, t-shirt and medal, as well as a fantastic goodie bag for your efforts.

The other thing you need to carefully consider, is hotel accommodation. Believe me, Great north weekend is truly a hotel operators dream! Literally within a few weeks of next year's race date being announced you can pretty much draw a 30 mile radius round Newcastle and guarantee that every single hotel in the area is booked up. Don't panic - the official website at http://www.greatrun.org/ can help and road and rail access is very well organised on the day itself.

If you are able to make a whole weekend of it, with the Junior run and road race series taking place down by the Quayside on the Saturday, as well as the giant Pasta Party over by the finish area the night before, there's plenty going on prior to the big race itself. Would also strongly advise you purchase a day or weekend pass in advance for the Metro subway service, it's definitely the best way to get around the place, and you don't want to be queuing to buy tickets on the day.

****On your marks, get set, slow....!****

The day's finally arrived. The adrenalin's already pumping, the streets are teeming with huge numbers of runners and wellwishers slowly making their way down to the start area. As advised we get there in plenty of time (ideally by around 9.15am at the latest - earlier still if you want to put stuff on the baggage buses). We've had our brekky, no need for full English extravaganzas or energy bar nonsense, just a normal toast and cereal affair, and we're sipping on some water.

Standing up on the first viewing bridge you can see the elite runners up at the front, maybe spot a celeb or two, listening to the chirpy fella on the PA booming out the welcomes and announcements. Looking at the never ending colourful kaleidoscope of teeming humanity stretching out as far as the eye can see, the sheer enormity of the occasion suddenly dawns on you.

In the thick of all that anticipation and excitement comes a timely reminder of what all those long hours of training and effort are really all about. Our genial host introduces the now established annual tradition which allows us all to pause and reflect on all those dear people we've loved and lost, for so many the very reason and inspiration for them being here today. We stand silent and listen to that iconic hymn of love and camaraderie, Abide with me.

Maybe just time to see the wheelchair and ladies races which start around 10am, safe in the knowledge that Paula will be all cosy, feet up in her ice bath long before we even reach the half way mark. Final preparations, sensibly applying liberal amounts of vaseline to those sensitive areas - believe me, it can be painful otherwise - on my first run, I wore a charity shirt a size too small, it rained , it sunshined, and only when I eventually crossed the line did I realise I actually had two streaks of blood down my t-shirt - joggers nipple is not for the faint hearted!!

Next up, offloading the extra jerseys and trackie bottoms to our support team. Another top tip. particularly if you are running for charities is to get them to write your first name on your shirt front and back- its amazing how many people lining the route take the time to shout encouragement to you, and when you hear your name it's a huge lift. Cuddles and kisses and fond farewells to our loved ones who head off to try and beat the queues for the Metro in order to at least get to the finish area in time to see the elite leading men skipping down the home straight without a care in the world.

Back to matters in hand, if we can brave the portaloo queues at this stage, it's well worth taking a pre-race pee-stop - although there are one or two available on route, they're always in big demand; naturally there's always the grassy tree-lined banks up at the side for a more primeval direct option - I always admire the way people try to hide what they're doing up there and act all casual ; not so easy for the chap I saw one year with a full Angel of the North kit strapped on his back!

Now its time to line up properly, race start at 10.40am. Still, no need for us to try and squeeze too close to the front, each entrant wears their own electronic chip timer, so no worries if it takes 15 minutes to even cross the start line. In any case, towards the back you always find yourselves in the banter-rich company of the 100% fun runners and the heavyweight costumed hardcore charity ambassadors. Take a moment to marvel in their commitment to the cause and think about what it means to you.

Bang! At last our celebrity starter gets us underway and we're finally moving. Well technically speaking, more like trudging our way through a collective mass of elbows and knees, discarded bin bags, bottles and old sweatshirts, until finally we get a bit of space in front to get moving.

****Over the Bridge that day, that's where they spotted me...****

Warning! Warning! - This first mile of the course is pretty much downhill all the way to the Tyne Bridge and it's so easy to get carried along with the waves of people rushing ahead and end up running much faster than your normal training pace. There's an air of frenzied excitement that's hard to ignore, as you run under the first couple of bridges, accompanied to bellowing chants of Oggy, Oggy Oggy

I've learnt from bitter previous experience, if you want to run a good race here, the trick is to fight your natural instincts to keep up with those around you and start slow. Back in 1999, I grossly exaggerated my estimated finish time to 1hr 30 mins just so I could start close to the front and can still remember feeling like I was caught in a stampede, and by 2 or 3 miles I had to start alternating walking and running the rest of the way - not pleasant, and my worst ever finish time. Much more satisfying to start slow and overtake loads of people on the way round.

So, here we are at last, trotting our way over the mighty Tyne Bridge, barely a chance to take it in before we spot the giant camera gantry at the end. Now I have to say, despite all the hours of TV coverage, in all the years I've taken part, I've only once been seen by friends and family back home, and that was in my most recent effort of 2005. The minimal chance of being spotted in no way perturbs us from waving frantically like a giant collective swarm of deranged jellyfish before we charge down to the roundabout at the end where the first of many bands lining the route are invariably trotting out Blaydon Races at full tilt...

****Reality check - 9 miles of dual carriageway ahead****

Now what you don't always appreciate from the TV pictures is that pretty much all of the major landmarks and points of interest on route are concentrated either in the first bit up to the bridge or in the last couple of miles back through the outskirts of South Shields and the never ending coastal stretch at the end.

So somewhere around the 3 mile mark you realise that you are now on a continous dual laned, mostly straight but at the same time constantly undulating and gradually inclining road run. There's no question that as the initial enthusiasm starts to evaporate and you notice the chatter around you getting a little muted, inevitably some doubts will start to creep in about levels of fitness, preparation and being able to complete the distance.

The best way I've found to combat this is to break things down into manageable chunks, and set yourself little challenges along the way. My own personal favourite strategy is to try and target anybody running in a fancy dress outfit, whether it be the countless Scooby Doos, 118s or Supermen, or my own personal favourites the four elegantly attired Wombles from the Jesuit mission, and make sure you keep a mental score as you overtake them.

They are easy to pick out from the crowd ahead, usually easy enough to reel in - particularly the ones in the baking hot suits are bound to be tiring by this point - and best of all you find that when you run alongside them you get spurred on by the extra cheers from the side of the road as the kids recognise their favourite characters, everyone's a winner!

There are water stations spread every couple of miles from about 4 miles onwards. Best to be cautious and slow down around the watering holes, lots of people dive in early or start walking abruptly and it's far too easy to turn an ankle on all the empties scattered on the floor.

At last we reach the half-way point (if you are running for special reasons, the BBC usually have an interviewer up on the gantry near the Shell Garage here) and our weary legs get a rhythm injection spurred on by a guitar wielding drum happy live band bashing out "Keep on running"

Duly we oblige, gaining further momentum through the next few miles by high-fiving the kids lining the footpaths, we've already caught two of the famous 4, only Uncle Bulgaria and Madame Chalet can deny us now.

Our renewed enthusiasm is only temporarily dampened at the 8 mile mark when the one-legged fella sales past us on his crutches (yes it did happen to me in 1995)

****Oh I do like to be beside the seaside...****

Beyond 10 miles we reach civilization once more, and the scores of people young and old armed with cooling hose pipes, ghetto blasters pumping out yes you guessed it "keep on running" dishing out cups of water, biscuits, orange segments and sweeties are welcome relief. The only trouble is this is where the road gets pretty steep, so there's a lot of walking going on around you at this stage. But there's no time for us to slow up now, there's a tartan clad giant ball of fur within range and at last, Bulgaria has been passed.

Finally we reach the summit and cross the next roundabout there's a short, sheer 1 in 4 drop slope which leads right down to the sea if you can't make the turn. Frankly by this point we can only dream of having the energy levels in the tank to be able to make the for some traditional pub on the corner stop off.

Welcome to the longest home stretch imaginable - claimed to be just over a mile but as you look into the distance it seems like five. It's pure seaside, so mixed in with that welcome breeze you get the entoxicating whiff of burgers and icecreams from the sides.

At last, the 800 metres to go sign, and you can hear the faint whispers of the finishing line commentary. We've paced it well, and are round about the 2hr 20 mark, which puts us mid-fun running pack, safe in the knowledge there'll be at least 10,000 behind us in the final reckoning.

Furtive glances to the side are finally rewarded with the beautifully welcome sight of my good lady wife cheering us on from the sidelines. Suddenly my legs have rocket fuel in them and inexplicably I'm sprinting. You bravely keep the pace for a while and manage to pass on the sighting of all sightings. Chalet is only just up ahead. A mission is a mission, Jesuit or otherwise, and I'm going for it. Just on the final corner, moments from the line I catch the first lady of Wombling and with dramatic aplomb I dip for the line like a 100m runner.

It's over, we've made it, and I am overwhelmed with the sense of achievement written all over your face as you cross the line - or is it laughter as you gently pick me up of the floor and quickly rub my shoulders to try and ease the onset of severe cramping brought on by my late late victory surge.

Off we trot through the finishing area, past Sue Barker doing her final to camera wrap ups, through the endless lines to gain medal and shirts, and our last weary steps to the family fun area. No point trying mobiles at this stage, the networks simply can't cope. Just head to the amphitheatre of A to Zs where you can find your loved ones presuming you can still remember your name at this point.

Big hugs, ouch my shoulders, crash down on the grass bank get the burger and double chocolate cone order in and relax - we've done it - see you next year :) !

1 comment:

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