Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Journey to the Great North Run....complete!

Twelve months ago I started running.  A year ago today I joined a running ‘group’ in Cramlington. Those of you that have been following my journey will know that the use of inverted commas is due to the fact that I was the only person dedicated (daft!?) enough to take up running just as Autumn was arriving. It was therefore not actually a group. It was just me and the coach, Steve. (Read about it here) I was extremely lucky in that Steve said he would run the Couch to 5K sessions for just me, until I was able to move up to the intermediate group. I am still more grateful than words could ever express that he did, as without Steve’s coaching I would not have kept running over the winter and would probably never have started again. Thanks to Steve I completed the Great North Run 3 weeks ago!!

I am generally a positive person (hence my nickname ‘Jolly’) but if I had written about my experience as soon as it happened I doubt I would have had a single positive thing to say. I have now had time to reflect on the whole experience and feel more able to write about it without it being pessimistic.
Without a doubt, the Great North Run had broken me. It was the most difficult thing I have ever done in my life. I knew it would be hard, but take that and times it by 10 and that’s how difficult I found it. The heat made it almost unbearable and I still don’t know how I made it to the end. I truly admire anyone who goes back and does it year on year!

I’ve been saying for months that I wouldn’t be doing again as I have not enjoyed long runs one single bit. Everybody kept saying I would change my mind after I experienced the Great North Run so I was hopeful that I’d love it so much that they might be right. I am glad I did it, but even now, three weeks later, I have no desire to do it again. I definitely won’t give up running but long distance just isn’t for me. I will be back on the sidelines cheering everyone on and giving out jelly babies next year!

I had a brilliant day on the Saturday of the Great North Run weekend at the Mini and Junior North Runs on the Quayside. It made me really excited for the big day as the atmosphere was great. I hadn’t been running since the previous Monday and I think this rest was good for me as I was excited to get my trainers back on again on the Saturday morning.

I ran the Mini North Run with my friend’s son, Joshua,  who was excited to be running with Auntie Julie. He was fantastic and really he enjoyed it. I loved sharing in his first running experience and it made me excited for the Great North Run. My sister ran the Junior North Run with my niece. I really enjoyed seeing all the children running and cheering on Toni as she approached the finish. Seeing Joshua and Toni with their medals made me feel proud.

Joshua and I, with Joanne and Toni

The Saturday’s excitement was still with me on the Sunday morning when I woke up and got ready for the big day. My parents left early to go to South Shields to look after my niece and take my sister (Joanne) and brother in law (Craig) to the metro station.

Rachael and her dad came to pick me up and dropped us off in Newcastle. I got my photo taken outside the university with some of the team I was running for (the North East Trust for Aphasia – NETA). It was a lovely start to the day and made me feel proud to be running the Great North Run in their name. Joanne and Craig were stuck on the metro so missed the NETA photo but met us at  university (where we all used a proper toilet before we began! Luxury!!)
Some of the NETA team
The four of us then headed up to the baggage buses and Craig very kindly carried our rather heavy bag. The sun was beginning to get warm and I began to wish for some clouds. It concerned me that it felt so warm at 9.30am when surely it would just get hotter?! Any other day of the year and I’d be more than happy that the sun was shining at that time in the morning, but not on Great North Run day!

The four of us took photos on the grass and soaked up the atmosphere. I was surprised that I didn’t feel nervous, but I felt nothing but excitement! A year’s worth of training all for this big day!

I began to feel hungry (it had already been a while since my early breakfast) so I ate a banana as we were wandering around. We then left Craig at his zone and we walked to ours.

We walked. And we walked. And then we walked some more. We were in the last green zone (I) (a couple of zones from the back) and I thought we were never going to get there! I was so pleased when we finally did (about 20 minutes after saying goodbye to Craig).

Still feeling excited!
As we entered our zone, I saw my friend Charlie (who sang beautifully at my NETA charity night earlier in the year), before proceeding to stand squashed like chickens in a pen!

While we were waiting to start, we watched the big screens and I was still feeling pretty excited, but I began to feel too hot, and a tiny bit lightheaded. I ate my first energy gel and drank some of my isotonic drink. I felt like I was beginning to burn and hadn’t even thought about putting sun cream on.

When the red arrows flew overhead, I felt goosebumps all down my arms. It was seeing these planes, that made the reality of the situation truly sink in and the nerves started to appear. I was actually about to run 13.1 miles. As my mam said that morning – it’s the only day of the year that anyone thinks it is sensible to go from Newcastle to South Shields on FOOT! Even though I was nervous, I knew I could do it. I had trained so hard for this day and I could finally give it everything I have!
Waiting to begin!
It took us more than half an hour to cross the start line,  but I enjoyed soaking up the atmosphere and sharing in the experience of the build up with Joanne and Rach. Once we crossed the start the line they ran ahead, as planned, as they are both faster than me and I was determined not to start off too fast.

With lots of people’s recommendations we went ‘left and under’ (rather than right and ‘over’). As soon as I went under the first bridge the ‘Oggy! Oggy! Oggy!’ began. The echo was good and the atmosphere electric, but the mass of people and the heat and noise made me feel a bit dizzy. I had to slow down to almost a walk and I was glad when I was back out in the fresh air again. (I realise I may be the only person that has gone left and not enjoyed the ‘Oggy!’ experience. In fact, I was quite disappointed that I didn’t enjoy it! I think the sheer amount of people and the covered in space was just too much for me)

By the time I reached the Tyne Bridge, I was struggling. I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy experience, but I was hoping I would have got a bit further before I felt like I wanted to give up! There were lots of children offering their hands for a high five, which kept me going a bit longer!

I knew my Uncle and Cousin were going to be in Gateshead. I’d asked my Uncle Stephen where he would be and he told me he’d be where he always stands - after the big first aid tent on the bypass. I saw a first aid tent and when I didn’t see them just after, I was quite disappointed, thinking I’d missed them.

I kept running and kept looking in case they were standing in a different place. Further along, I spotted another first tent and felt hopeful. Sure enough there was my uncle, cousin and cousin’s daughter. I have never been so pleased to see a friendly face. I stopped briefly and they told me that Joanne was ‘miles’ in front of me. I high-fived my cousins daughter and started running again – telling them that I wasn’t trying to catch Joanne up! Haha.

I still had the water bottle that I got at the start and was reluctant to get rid of it, despite not liking running with a bottle, as it was just too hot. When I could see there was a station ahead I dropped the bottle to run without one for a bit, before picking another up. I had a drink at every station as I needed to keep cool. I also took advantage of everything else on offer, including oranges, jelly babies and even an ice lolly!! Thank you so much to everyone who was out there cheering us all on, it means so much!

I enjoyed hi-fiving the children on the route and it was great that people were calling out my name. I felt that the morale of the runners was really low where I was as it was just so hot, and even though I was surrounded by people I felt rather lonely at times. I also had to keep weaving between people who were walking and tripped over a few bottles.

I began to feel hungry and found it difficult to keep going. My legs were heavy and I was really struggling. I took half a rich tea biscuit from another kind spectator and kept focussing on putting one foot in front of the other. I knew my dad and eldest nephew were going to be at 11 miles so I kept focussing on that. I was so pleased to see them, and Darius offered me a jelly baby from his bowl.  I was disappointed I didn’t stop to see them for a minute but I felt that if I stopped now I wouldn’t get going again. I’d ran this final stretch with Joanne in training a few weeks before, so I knew I could do it (although during training, I didn’t have so many miles behind me!)

Approaching Dad and Darius
I saw Hippie Lee just before 12 miles and shouted of him, and he took my photo J It was good to see another friendly face on my way round.
Smiling through the pain
The live music on the route made it more bearable and I tried to catch the musician’s eye and gave them a thumbs up at each one I passed, to let them know I appreciated them.

My legs and feet were so sore as I approached Marsden bank and I didn’t know if I would even be able to run down it. Once at the bottom, I knew I really was on my final stretch and the finish was in sight, albeit still a mile away. I felt quite emotional seeing the soldiers and everyone cheering us on.

I kept running and there it was BOOM (800m to go!). I just kept running, knowing I could soon stop, even though I felt like crying. The loud speakers said that there was less than 500 people until the millionth finisher. I was excited and hopeful that it could be me! I kept running, hoping that I’d be the millionth finisher across the line. As I crossed the finish they said it was into the final 50! How exciting! A minute or so later I saw the confetti and fireworks as the millionth finisher crossed the line. It was exciting to be part of the event, even though I was in so much pain and I just wanted to find my family. I wanted to cry as every inch of me ached. I limped along to the water station and got herded on through the crowds. My mam and niece Toni were on a water station at the finish, but I didn’t see them. Also, I later found out that Joanne was waiting with them for me and I didn’t see her either L

I got my goody bag and just kept walking. By pure chance, I bumped into my dad and Darius. We headed down to the Beer Tent which still felt like a million miles away. I was feeling deflated and in pain. I finally made it to the tent and couldn’t see anyone I was looking for. I chatted to some beer tenters and kept looking for Joanne, Craig and Rach. I finally found Craig and subsequently got rather grumpy with him due to the fact I hadn’t known where anyone was. I realise this was not Craig’s fault but unfortunately for him he was the one standing in front of me!

Joanne had gone to get into some different clothes. I stretched my legs and then went with my dad and Darius to have a paddle in the sea to cool myself down. Well, I went paddling – my dad and Darius didn’t. It wasn’t very enjoyable as the cold water kept splashing me!! (it wasn’t as soothing as sitting in an ice bath!). When I headed to the beach Joanne and my mam were there and I gave my mam a hug and burst into tears. I was in so much pain and felt so overwhelmed by everything. I got dried and put my sandals on and we headed back to the tent. I could hardly walk.

After paddling in the sea

I had something to eat and calmed down a little but I just wanted to go home. I had a glass of bubbly with Joanne and chatted to some of our friends. I saw my dad’s cousin Sarah and we spoke to her too J I took part in a group photo of the Great North Run Beer Tent Group, which was good.
Joanne, Craig and I in our matching T-shirts!
After about half an hour I  told my mam and dad I wanted to go. I followed them to the car but they just kept getting further and further away as I was struggling to walk. My right foot was in absolute agony. Once home, I had a nice bath with a glass of bubbly and tried to feel proud of what I had achieved. I didn’t feel proud, and I didn’t feel a buzz – I just felt deflated, disappointed and in pain. It took a good few days before it even started to sink in.

Trying to look proud - you can see the pain in my eyes!
I hobbled round for the next couple of days and ended up needing to go to hospital on the Wednesday as I was still struggling to walk for the pain. They x-rayed my foot as they suspected a stress fracture. Fortunately it was just a sprain. It gradually got better as my knee got worse. I think all the limping caused the pain to defer to my knee.
I still haven’t been for a run since the GNR as my knee is still painful. I do think it is getting better as I have been resting where I can and foam rolling my legs every day. I really hope it is better soon as I want to start running again!

A couple of weeks ago my mam drove from Newcastle to Gateshead with me in the car. Some of this was the Great North Run route and it took this for me to feel proud. When I saw how undulating the route was just for this short distance, it was not surprising I was struggling by the Tyne Bridge. Slowly, since then it has begun to sink in that despite the pain, I did actually complete a Half Marathon. I do feel proud now and I am so glad that I did it, but I am still in no hurry to do it again. It’s one of those things that I am pleased to say I’ve done it and I am glad that it was the inspiration to get me running (which I certainly won’t be giving up!)

Thank you so so much to everyone that has been part of my journey to the Great North Run. We would be here all day if I named every single person who has made my journey special but there are a few people I cannot fail to mention. Thank you to Steve for coaching me from an absolute non-runner to someone who actually completed a half marathon – couldn’t have done it without you. Thank you also to the people who inspired me to run Joanne, Rachael, Tony the Fridge, and Craig (whom I have watched running, in awe, for years). Thank you to the new friends I have made, particularly those from Dynamic Personal Fitness,  and the old friends who have continued to support me through my latest adventure. Especially Katie for the leg massages! Thank you to all the kind strangers I have met along the way and to everyone at the Parkruns (especially South Shields which continues to be my favourite). Thank you to everyone who has sponsored me and encouraged me to keep going.

 And most importantly thank you to my mam and dad who have been there for me through it all -running me cold baths, supplying me with running fuel and putting up with me after my bad runs. They never stop believing in me and because of that I believe in myself.

“If you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right” Henry Ford

Anyway, if you are still here thank you so so much for sharing in my journey – it means so much! I am delighted that I raised an amazing £531for the North East Trust for Aphasia J

Friday, 5 September 2014

Encouragement and Excitement!

This time last year I didn’t run. I didn’t think I would ever run and I certainly didn’t think that I would be doing a half marathon in less than a year! It has been a tough 11 months of training but I am hoping it is all going to be worthwhile on Sunday!

On Monday evening I went to my running group – my final training run before the GNR! I’ve been finding running particularly difficult the last few weeks and I am so tired. I didn’t go out last Friday as I felt like I needed the rest more than the run. I felt quite guilty about this as a 3 mile run was in my training plan. I emailed my running coach Steve to ask him if I needed to amend the remaining days of my plan but he told me that it was fine that I missed a run. I felt better after Steve reassured me that rest is just as important as training.

I went out on Sunday morning with Rachael for a 3 mile run. We set off early to get it over and done with. It was uncomfortably warm, despite being early and cloudy. It was a horrible 3 miles as my legs were heavy and I felt too hot. I couldn’t have kept going if it wasn’t for Rach. There were lots of friendly people out, some of whom gave us words of encouragement. I was about to start walking when a man told us we were doing well. This was all the encouragement I needed to keep going. I just kept putting one foot in front of the other and knew that we’d soon be home!

I still can’t believe that I am actually running a half marathon on Sunday! On 30th September last year I turned up at Alexandra Park in Cramlington and met my running coach Steve for the first time. I struggled to run between two lamp posts, and found it difficult to believe Steve when he told me that it would get easier.

I persevered and I am so pleased with the progress that I have made. I have trained in the dark, the cold, the rain, the sun, and the wind. I have trained when running is the last thing I wanted to do. I have foam rolled, had ice baths and leg massages to try and reduce the pain and aches in my legs. I have modified my diet, cutting things out and adding things in (though the flies I swallowed, weren’t part of the plan!)

I can honestly say that this has been the most challenging thing I have ever decided to do. It has also been one of the most enjoyable. I have made new friends, and achieved things I didn’t even think possible. I’ve changed from a walker to a (dare I say it) keen runner! It isn’t easy. It isn’t easy at all, but I would do it all again as it has been the most exciting journey so far.

I wanted to do something to raise money for the North East Trust for Aphasia. Those of you that know me personally, will know how passionate I am about my career as a Speech and Language Therapist. Communication is such an integral part of our lives and language is the thing that makes us human. NETA do amazing work with people who have difficulty in understanding and using language, following a stroke or other brain injury. The members are so inspirational and I am truly proud to be raising funds in their name.

I didn’t think for one minute that I would develop another passion (running!) whilst on my latest quest to raise funds and awareness. I also did not think that I would find myself so passionate about something that is so difficult.

I am so proud of my journey – I think it proves that anything is possible with hard work and dedication. I am so grateful to everyone who has been a part of my journey, whether they realise it or not. The encouragement and support I have had, often from complete strangers, has been amazing.

I’ve been struggling over the last couple of weeks, partly due to the intensity of my training and partly due to the realisation that I am actually going to be running 13.1 miles. This is now coming at a time of great change in my life as I have just got a new job and I will be moving house so it feels like everything is happening all at once!

I cannot thank Steve enough for his continued support and encouragement. I would not still be running now if it wasn’t for him.
Tomorrow I am looking forward to doing the mini north run with Joshua and seeing Toni do her first junior run. I am also really starting to feel excited about the GNR (although I am still nervous too!). I have decided that the time it takes me to complete it is no longer important to me. It was a few weeks ago, but now I just want to enjoy the experience as much as possible.
I went to the Million Ceremony with my parents, Joanne, Craig, Toni and Rachael last night and had an amazing time. We couldn’t see everything from where we standing but the atmosphere was really good. I am excited that the first year I decided to do the Great North Run, is the year of the Millionth finisher. Well done to everyone who has taken part in years gone by, and good luck to everyone running on Sunday!

My journey to the Great North Run is almost complete, yet I feel my running journey is still just beginning. I cannot wait to experience the sense of achievement upon crossing the finish line! Thank you to Joanne and Rachael for inspiring me to do it, and everyone who has continued to believe in me.

If you would like to support my fundraising you can do so here....every penny counts! I look forward to updating you about my first experience of the GNR! Thank you for sharing in my journey J