I’m not sure what motivated me to run, maybe a seed was sown when I met Brendan Foster, the British Olympian and father of the Great North Run, late in 2014. His enthusiasm for running was immense as was his passion to get people running and keeping fit. “It shouldn’t cost anything other than a pair of shoes” he said!
I kept at it and by the 15th of March I could run 6.5km and I was enjoying going out two or three times a week. By the end of March my distance was up to 10km. However, now my training took on a different purpose as I’d secured a place in the Great North Run. This is the world famous half marathon with around 57,000 participants and it was taking place on 13th September 2015.
Around the same time I was having a chat with Stephen Kelly the new CEO of Sage. The outcome was an idea to see how many colleagues we could get to participate in the Great North Run as #teamsage. To make it more interesting Stephen laid down a challenge that he would donate £1 to charity for every minute that any colleague beat him. At the end of the day #teamsage would raise in excess of £70k for Cancer Research.
By the 19th April I was up to 12k but my run that day felt harder and my legs were sore the next day. Over the next couple of days the soreness wore off and I thought everything was back to normal. However, I was wrong! Around 1km into a run on the 22nd April the pain was back and my thigh went into spasm shortly afterwards. I tried to run it off, but by 3km the pain was intense and I had to stop. By the time I’d walked another 3km back to the car I was in agony and realised this was bad. I managed to drive home, but when I tried to get out of the car I couldn’t move my leg at all.
A visit to the GP the next day and a torn quadriceps in my right leg was the prognosis. I would be on crutches for two weeks and I wouldn’t run again until 31st May. My training schedule was back to square one! The highlight of the next few weeks was visits to my physio to undergo an intensive programme of physiotherapy.
By the 28th June I was back up to 10k and by the 12th July my distance had increased to 15k. The rest of July was difficult and enjoyable in equal measures as I spent three weeks, part work and part holiday in the searing heat and humidity of New Orleans and Florida where training was very hard work.
August was much better and by the 30th August I could run 20k and I felt ready for the Great North Run. Around this time I also started experimenting with diet, not to lose weight as I was already two stones lighter, but to increase performance. I was interested in understanding how nutrition might help my running. I tried eating more heathy foods and introduced myself to Peanut Butter as a great source of protein and Soreen Malt loaf as a slow release running fuel. I also stared to experiment with performance gels, which are used by many athletes to replenish energy on long runs.
I’d also invested in running technology. A Garmin 225 running watch with heart rate monitor and I was collecting a lot of data about my running. So much for it costing nothing more than a pair of shoes. A good pair of shoes cost around £100, then there’s the running kit, the watch, and of course the cost of the physio sessions and it’s all starting to mount up.
I felt excited and nervous in equal measures. Friends and colleagues had blown me away with their generosity and they had sponsored me for £1000. I felt pressure and I didn’t want to let anyone down. I was going to make it to the finish line even if I had to crawl on my hands and knees.
I wasn’t alone, the #teamsage challenge would also see 204 colleagues participate in the race supported by more colleagues working behind the scenes to bring it all together. This was the largest team ever to attempt a half marathon and there was a tremendous sense of camaraderie in the weeks and months preceding the race.
I travelled to the start on the Tyne and Wear Metro which can only be described as shambolic and it would only get worse on the return journey. I’ll not say more than that as plenty has been written in the news about it. In Newcastle, I met my good friend Juan Miguel Rodriguez who had travelled from Madrid to take part. With thousands of other runners we walked to the starting pen arriving around 30 minutes before the start. The atmosphere was fantastic and everyone was raring to go. Finally it was race time and as you can imagine, with 57,000 runners, you need to be patient as it takes a while to get moving after the gun goes.
As we moved down towards the start there were some gaps in the fence and I could see lots of people taking a last minute chemical break before they crossed the start line. This was important lesson number one for me. You guessed it, as I crossed the start line I’m feeling the need to go. No doubt due to the combination of lots of prerace fluids, time waiting in the pen, and the nervous energy. The elation of crossing the start line quickly evaporated and was replaced with a critical decision. I’m only 800m into the race and should I stop, and go, or should I continue. In a split second my mind flashed back to the famous Paula Radcliffe incident and decision made, I had to stop. By this time I’d reached the central motorway underpass and thankfully well out of sight of the BBC cameras. I was in good company as hundreds of other runners had the same idea. This cost me a couple of minutes that I’d later regret. Next time I’ll be sure to go before crossing the start line.
Now I’m running over the Tyne Bridge as the feeling as the Red Arrows flew overhead was fantastic. I’m into a steady pace and running with a smile on my face as I pass all manner of costumed runners and cartoon characters. I remember passing a runner in a huge foam Minion costume at 6k and thought how on earth did he get ahead of me. Needless to say the Minion wouldn’t be the last.
Feeling good at 8k and time to take my first energy boost gel. The race is pretty much flat for the next 8k running is easy and the atmosphere is great with the crowd are shouting and giving high 5’s. Comedy moment alert! I’m running past a lady with her hand out which I high 5’d only to discover she was St Johns ambulance and I now had a hand full of Vaseline. Wonderful!
At around 16k its time for another gel in preparation for the infamous John Reid road. A long uphill section of the course. I’m feeling good and still running comfortably but as I reach the 18k marker the heart rate alarm on my watch start going ballistic. Whoa! Now I’m thinking this isn’t the time to be a hero so I slow down.
I’ve reached the final hill on the course and it’s already littered with casualties. Sirens are sounding and the ambulance teams seem pretty busy. Now feeling even more paranoid I’m hoping everyone is okay and I’m glad I slowed down. As I run past the 19k marker I’m feeling it. Then I hear someone shout out my name, I think it was my Physio of all people, and I feel instantly better.
This is it the last mile, a long straight run down to the finish. I’m alongside this elderly lady called Eileen and the crowd are singing come on Eileen. I speak to her and she tells me it happens all the time. Corny I know, but I couldn’t help saying come on Eileen to her myself!
Liz is waiting for me at the finish and I’m looking to find her. It’s impossible as the crowd is 10 deep and the noise has the hair standing up on the back of my neck. All feelings of tiredness have disappeared and running has never felt better. As I near the finish I overtake two guys dressed as Bill and Ben the flowerpot men and cross the line at the same time as three other guys dressed only in leopard skin trunks.
I’m over the line, I’ve done it, and the feeling is immense if not a little emotional. Juan Miguel is right behind me and we share the moment and congratulate one another. I collect my medal and meet up with Liz. She was at the finish but didn’t see me, although she did see the three guys in the leopard skin trunks. Funny that!
My goal was to try and complete the run in under 2 hours. I actually did it in 2hrs and 1 minute. The chemical break, whilst essential, was costly and hence the regret earlier. I’ll know better next time. What about the heart rate alarm? Turns out that was due to the caffeine in the gels. Only caffeine free gels from now on.
As I said right at the start a fantastic day and a brilliant experience.
During 2015 I also discovered the wonderful Saturday morning past time of Park Running. These are brilliant and very well organised. Sign up for free and get a bar code. Turn up on a Saturday morning. Run a 5k and have your code scanned at the end to register your time. I go to the Whitley Bay Park run and around 400 people participate every week. October, November and December 2015 were pretty quiet albeit I kept running. There was a special charity Park Run on Boxing Day which was great to be part of.
The wet and windy weather washed out January 2016 and the trusty old treadmill was once again commissioned.
My goal for 2016 is to go seven better and take part in 4 x half marathons and 4 x 10k races. Starting in Barcelona and ending with the Great North Run.
It’s now 16th February 2016 and looking back it’s hard to believe that a year has passed. Two days ago on Valentine ’s Day I finally achieved my ambition to break 2 hours. I ran the Barcelona half marathon in 1:50:40 a time that I would have thought impossible one year before and I loved every minute of it.
On the 16th February 2015 I ran 2.3km in 15 minutes and 40 seconds.