It’s always good to have a plan B but why stop there?
The A plan would have seen romping home at the Bupa Great North Run in a new personal best of somewhere shy of 2:56:14 but when I failed to lose the 2 stone accumulated since the last PB I knew it was unlikely.
Plan B was somewhat of a compromise and had the 3 hour mark as the line in the South Shields sand. Plan C was a must and would see me finishing ahead of Gladys, the unsuspecting 80-year-old I have been stalking since the 2010 Great North Run. It may be considered unsporting to race against someone who is completely unaware of the wager but I need every legal advantage.
It was a grim start to the day. We took rather too long in the hotel room considering whether to join in Dan’s impromptu warm up session and that meant a rather tardy arrival at the start. I had secured a place in the green pen (one up from the end) and although Dan and Michael were supposed to start in super speedy orange zone, they hung back with me. I know they regretted that when we were refused entry at every opening due to overcrowding. We had to join the back – behind the sweep van.
The race started some kilometres ahead of us and the clouds opened in celebration. 45 minutes later we shuffled our soggy bodies over the start line and so began the relentless weaving.
I’m sure this year’s event must have been bigger than ever. I just couldn’t get into a zone that enabled me to run free. I was surrounded by walkers 3 or 4 abreast and veered this way and that trying to find space to put one foot in front of the other.
I’m afraid to say I didn’t really feel the joy of GNR for much of this year’s race. I don’t know if it was the weather dampening spirits all round or the overcrowding on the course. I overheard some spectators in the bar at the end of the day saying they thought the runners were a bit flat this year and weren’t so appreciative of the support. That’s a shame as we all feed off each other and I was genuinely grateful for everyone who gave me a cheer down that last gruelling mile of coast.
I might not have looked so jolly from miles 8-11 though. From mile 8 onward, my Garmin’s virtual partner overtook me and started kicking sand in my face. I was sure I’d programmed him to pace me to the 3hr mark and I felt miserable to be failing on my plan B. I pushed on but my heart wasn’t really in it.
The steel bands and the Bupa Boost Zone complete with Jelly Babies, raised a hint of a smile but that was a tough section.
At some way past 11 miles I looked at my watch and noticed I was at 2hrs 40mins and decided that I surely had a chance to rattle off less than 2 miles in 20 mins and just then the sea appeared – that wondrous apparition that appears like a beacon and melts away the gloom of sodden pounding along dreary dual carriageways.
That sight has brought me to tears on each of the last 4 runs. It figuratively marks the end of the pain – we’ve reached lands end and can surely go no further. Although it seems we can as it actually marks the start of an extremely steep descent on to an extraordinarily cruel mile-long stretch up to the finish line.
I had a target to beat though so couldn’t weep and philosophise for long. I took full advantage of my Hoka One One’s superhuman descending properties and fair sprinted down the slope. I had to call out for a path to be cleared as I was a little wayward and my arms might have been wind-milling.
Then I pushed on and on up that coast. I felt I was going to come a cropper some way short of the finish line but I was prepared for the worst and pushed on. Here the supporters helped me along and each calling of my name sprung me forward at least a centimetre.
Thank god for Plan Cs.
I didn’t actually see Gladys but I’m reading her stats now and I’m glad to say she was there and a good few minutes behind me. Ah the joy of beating 80-year-old speed walkers.
I don’t think I can rest on my laurels though, Gladys was 5 minutes faster than her 2010 time and at that rate will be breaking my PB next year. Bring it on.