It was all over in the blink of an eye. Not literally, otherwise I would be a world record holder. Looking back on Sunday, a couple of days later, each section of the run almost feels like some part of a surreal dream. I'm going to try to capture what went on on #GNRVirtual day first, and finish off the blog with some reflections on the past 6 months and what I have learnt throughout. There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic has had an impact on the world, but learning to run through this has been, well, let's just use 'interesting'.
So Sunday, Great North Run Day...in a way. I had long since got my head around the cancellation of the race, and reconciled this with the plan I had for a Ribble Valley route. My initial idea was to get up into the hills and really challenge myself, but when I looked at the actual GNR route, it bears no relation to Pendle Hill. Anyone who has driven, cycled or walked from Pendleton to Sabden up past The Ski Club will know that taking that route would be madness. I wanted a comparable route to the GNR, not a punishment! I settled on a route that would constantly undulate, some steep climbs, some nice flat sections and even one or two gentle downward inclines. It needed to be a peaceful route. I am still making every effort to maintain social distancing and therefore heading into the countryside was a priority for me. Part of the joy in running is the solitude, a big part to be honest, so a jaunt towards the Trough of Bowland was in order. I am conscious that people who do not live round here (hello to the Argentinian readers by the way) will not know any of these places, but for fellow Lancastrians, some familiar names help to put this into a context. So... Billington, Whalley, Barrow, Clitheroe, Edisford Bridge, out towards Bashall, back towards Chaigley, head back to Whalley via Mitton. The main loop itself is around 20k, so I had to put some extra little sections in (more of that later).
The morning arrived and the weather forecast was excellent. I was not going to use the ViRace App, but go with Fitbit and Bluetooth on trainers for timings, splits etc. My routines don't change on a long run like this. Well hydrated for 2-3 days beforehand, loads of energy drinks (Science In Sport Electrolytes - not Red Bull or Monster!) and plenty of lean proteins and carbs. On the morning of the run, I don't overeat. A single protein flapjack (I like Pro2Go, although Graze also do some excellent ones), a strong coffee and the secret magic ingredient just before setting off. A 250mg caffeine pill so stave off any muscle fatigue. Managed to allow time for plenty of core work to protect and strengthen my weak areas and by 8.10am, I am ready to go. This morning the stretching was doubly important. Not only was I running further than ever before, but over the past couple of weeks, some tightness in the left calf and hamstring had been apparent and in recent runs, I had also had some twinges in my lower back. These are all connected, so making sure the preparation was right is really important.
So how did it go? Well...let's start with good news, my initial pace was good, nothing was hurting and as I hit the 1 km mark, the time seemed about right. The first km has more down than up, so anything below 4:30 is fine and on Sunday this was 4:15. That was when the first strange thing happened. I had no energy and my legs felt like they didn't want to move. No panic, I've got 4 gels with me, maybe I'm not as hydrated as I should be. I tell myself to crack on, and keep running at this point, as I didn't want to waste a gel so early on, but a couple of minutes later, I succumbed. 7 minutes in and I've had the isotonic gel I was planning on consuming at the 3k mark. Not to worry, if I leave a decent gap after this one, it'll be fine. So the gel consumed, I get into what feels like a good rhythm and after about 4km, I'm feeling pretty strong. A glance at the watch tells me my time is decent and as I hit the 5k mark, I look to see the time that has elapsed. At under 23 and a half minutes, I am concerned that I am going too fast and won't be able to maintain this. I go back to March, when I first started this adventure, and 5k was taking me over half an hour. The other little voice in my head is telling me to speed up, keep going, run at this pace and I'll be done in 1:40, even allowing for some tailing off at the end.
I am absolutely thrilled, amazed, shocked and many other adjectives to think that I could do this (although this was, to use my own words, never about the time) I have learnt so much, not only the science behind running, but about what we are capable of, about how to push limits without taking risks. Most importantly, the core reason that I took on this challenge was to make a difference. I am going to do the Great North Run for real next year, once my feet have had a good rest, and will continue to do all I can to raise much needed funds for my chosen charity Shelter. So far, through kindness and the generosity of many, between us all, we have raised approximately £2000 when Gift Aid is built into the calculations. If you wish to support this and make a donation, please click the link below, share as widely as you can via Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or any other social media platforms that you use!
Thanks for reading, supporting, encouraging and donating. The kindness of others has really helped to motivate me to do this. :-)