Monday, October 6, 2014

The Great North Run, Newcastle, UK half marathon

Stock picture from the website

    The Great North Run in Northern England is one of the biggest races in the world. Since it started in 1981 with its first 12,000 runners, over 1 million finishers have crossed the line. It is the first IAAF race to reach this milestone.
Picture from the paper. The runners were thin at this point!

       The 13.1 half marathon route runs from Newcastle, over the Tyne Bridge and, after some surprising hills, ends in South Shields on the coast. The route was lined with spectators the whole way and seemed to fulfill the descriptions I have read of the top marathons in places like London, Chicago, and New York.
So British to have red, double decker buses as our baggage transport :-) 

Patient bus drivers that gave up their Sunday morning
off to haul bags for us
   It was amazing being in that big of a field and despite the crowds I was able to stay on pace pretty well. There is always a few walkers to get around, but for the most part I was seeded extremely well in my corral and felt like I was just carried along on the tide. There were a couple of bottlenecks, but we never came to a complete halt.
Entertainment in the start corrals
   My pace was the best it has been in years. Although it wasn’t a PR, it was my fastest finish in 3 ½ years and my second fastest over all. I supposed if it had been cooler, the course had been flatter, or the crowds had been thinner, it might have been a PR, but I don’t really care, it was my 3rd sub 2-hour finish out of 14 half marathons, I wasn’t going to worry about the details.
He actually finished the race in that!

Wondering why all the crazy people
are on his street

   I didn’t take pictures on the course since I don’t take walk breaks in half marathons, but I wish I could show everything some of the crazy people and things I saw. There were costumes, funny signs, and fantastic spectators, (especially the ones handing out orange slices!) Everything from “Elvis” in full regalia crooning as we passed and the Pink Lady for Breast Cancer, to a 7 member steel drum band without a drop of ethnic blood amongst them. They all whizzed by as I pressed myself to maintain my heart rate, basing my pace off of that, rather than how many minutes it was taking me to cover a mile.
    By the time we hit the finish, the crowds had really not thinned out. I was in the thick of it as hundreds of runners crowded to get across the finish line. Owing to the chip collection, there was already a backup bad enough that we were having to wiggle in like sardines to actually get our body over the final timing mat!  I guess crossing it slowly is why my Garmin and my official time agree to the second.
                I went through the usual steps; turned in my chip, got my goodie bag, stopped for my finisher photo, and followed the crowd on our march to the baggage busses. Along the way I managed to score a pint, and a seat on a hay bale in front of a live band playing American Western Music, long enough to cool down and enjoy my tasty beverage. 

    One big cultural different that surprised me was that British runners are even less body conscious than American runners. I’m used to runners being a bit more comfortable, women stripping down to sports bras, everyone in revealing compression shorts, but I was caught a little off guard by women stripping naked to the waist in full public view and guys stripping down to less than a Speedo. Not that I mind, but my run-addled brain took a little more time than usual to process the images. “Did I just see that?” “Did Winnie the Pooh just disrobe to a thong?” 
Hard to see here, but there are solid people all the way to the finish arch and beyond

  Eventually I made my way to the bus that would carry me back to my car in Leeds. It was a long day, but well worth it to have been part of this great race! 
The calm beyond the storm

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