The author aiming for the finish of the Great North Run

Grace and Adrenaline - Great North Run 2019

There are many things that I find frustrating about the Great North Run. It’s expensive, over commercialised and mainly ran on dual carriageways. There are too many people and the t-shirts are cheap. But the moment I hear the gun, and the opening bars of Local Hero come from the speakers, all frustrations are forgotten.

The run up to this years event has been a little different for me. I’d been having a golden spell in early summer. In eight days I ran personal bests for 5k, 10k and the Chevy Chase. Everything seemed to be falling into place right until the moment I took a tumble at the Turner Landscape. As my ankle turned over on itself, I saw my hopes of a quick summer disappear.

It’s been a tough five weeks since. I spent two weeks flailing around attempting to swim before a gradual return to running. I squeezed into my start pen on Sunday having done nothing longer than 10k since my injury and at a real low point fitness wise.

Pacing is so hard when you know you can’t achieve your goals. My body knew I’d lost fitness but the part of the brain that sets pace struggled to accept this. I spent the first miles moving too quickly, living in the tension between knowing I couldn’t sustain the pace and hoping that by some miracle I would.

I spent the first miles moving too quickly, living in the tension between knowing I couldn’t sustain the pace and hoping that by some miracle I would

The first mile along the central motorway is fantastic. Enthusiastic crowds line the course, ‘Oggy Oggy Oggy,’ reverberates through the underpasses, and the roar as you approach the Tyne Bridge is second to none. This year, the crowds were pushing onto the road itself, cheering and yelling. It’s emotional for anyone but for a Geordie? This is home.

I was worried that my ankle wouldn’t cope with racing but – either by grace or adrenaline – it was pain free. My glutes, on the other hand, felt weak and by the time I’d settled in towards Heworth I knew that a slow down was inevitable.

Some days all you can do is knuckle down and grind out the best effort you have on the day. By the time I passed my parents on the John Reid Road, the incline seemed to have grown into a mountain.

I was worried that my ankle wouldn’t cope with racing but – either by grace or adrenaline – it was pain free

By the ten mile mark I’d given up on achieving any particular time and decided to have a little more fun with the crowds. People are vocal all the way but it’s when you interact that it gets really special. Children’s faces light up as you high-five them, there’s a roar of support when you do the mobot as requested by a roadside banner, and a golden moment when you high-five Elvis at mile eleven.

I often find that when I do engage with spectators it takes my mind off the struggle for a while and, by the time I hit the seafront, I’m ready to up the pace again. It’s amazing what the sound of a solid wall of cheering geordies can do for your motivation.

It’s amazing what the sound of a solid wall of cheering geordies can do for your motivation.

I was pushing on when, with about six hundred metres left, I spotted a guy start to lose his legs. He teetered into the barriers and the man next to him reached out to support him. Seeing the other runner take one of his arms, I took the other and we started to guide him home.

And that got me – the emotion of feeling like you’re pulling together to do something. That’s one of the things with running. You help each other. We kept the guy upright and somehow, even though he swayed unresponsively with his eyes closed, he kept moving. As we neared the finish line a medic ran toward us and took over from me to get him over the line to medical attention.

Freed up I then decided on a sprint finish for the last hundred yards. It’s my slowest Great North Run to date, but was the best I had in me on the day. It’s proved my ankle is recovering and given me some confidence to get back to training.

I’m not sure if I have enough fitness or ankle strength for the upcoming Ring of Steall Skyrace next week but there’s only one way to find out…


My place in the Great North Run was kindly provided by Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation. They’re a fantastic charity and if you’d consider adding to our fundraising, you can do so on my Virgin Money Giving page.