Last weekend I had the opportunity to run in the biggest half marathon in the world – the Great North Run. The event itself is steeped in history, and this year was the 35th time runners would wind their way from Newcastle city centre down to the coast in South Shields. I’d wanted to tick this one off for a while, as I’d watched it for many years on the TV and it looked like great fun.
A week before the event work needed me to fly out to New York (you’ve busted me, I’m a spy), so I ended up landing in Edinburgh airport on Saturday morning, severely jetlagged and full of a weeks’ worth of eating out and drinking beer – not ideal preparation. With this in mind, I’d decided to just have a bit of a laugh and enjoy the day, which led me to the idea of running in some form of fancy dress.
Plans were formed and Katie got lumbered with the task of transporting my costume up to Newcastle – the Honey Monster was doing the Great North Run. If I’m honest I hadn’t thought this plan through at all – I’d never run in the outfit before and had no idea what the weather was meant to be like. We were staying in a lovely little airbnb in Newcastle, just 10 minutes away from the start.
After struggling to keep my eyes open for most of Saturday, I got an early night, and enjoyed a later than usual alarm as the race didn’t start until 10.40am. Sunday morning dawned and I felt slightly better (so still pretty horrendous) as I had a quick breakfast and changed into my outfit. After Katie told me how good I looked in tights, it was time to get the furry feet on and make my way to the start.
As I made my way through the crowds to my allocated pen, I was getting more than a few dodgy looks, even though I hadn’t even put the head on yet. Apparently I was starting quite near the front, and I got a fair number of dubious looks from some of the ‘proper’ runners who obviously thought I was going to be holding them up.
It was an immense sight to see the sheer number of people queueing up along the A167 (thankfully it’d been closed to traffic – would’ve been carnage otherwise). Once the starting gun went, I donned my head and instantly realised I’d have about 30% of my usual vision – kind of like running with half an eye open whilst losing all ability to see either side of you. It was too late for a change of outfit, and we edged towards the start-line, eventually crossing about 10 minutes after the actual start.
Now I haven’t mentioned the weather yet. I was under the impression that it was always miserable up north, and so wearing a rather large costume would actually be a plus as I’d be able to keep warm. Wrong. The weather gods had decided summer wasn’t over yet, and we had an average temperature of around 19 celsius – not ideal if you’re running in a vest, an absolute nightmare if you’re running in the equivalent of a one-piece boiler suit.
Still, the first few miles were great fun. Everyone in the crowds were absolutely loving the outfit and I was dishing out high fives left, right and centre. I ran over the Tyne Bridge just as the red arrows flew overhead, and got carried away in the excitement of the opening stages. It wasn’t until the first drink station that I realised I had a problem – how am I going to be able to drink anything?
There was a mesh wiring that let me see what was ahead of me, and for the first few stops I ended up squirting the water through this and trying to catch as much of it in my mouth as possible – quickly learning that this was not a very effective method. From then on I cheekily lifted up the head when I wanted a quick drink – being careful not to do it when any kids were around (I didn’t want them to find out I wasn’t actually the real honey monster…)
I’d done zero swatting up on the route profile – who knew the Great North Run is pretty hilly (probably everyone). Luckily, I wasn’t running flat out early on as I messed about with the crowd, so I had plenty in the tank when we came to the first of quite a few hills at about mile 5. I went through halfway feeling good, but extremely hot.
I heard a number of generic comments as I was passing people in the second half of the race;
- ‘You must be so hot in that mate’. Yep
- ‘Oh s**t, we’ve just been overtaken by the honey monster’. Sorry
- ‘It’s the cookie monster’. No it’s not.
However, I did see the cookie monster at about mile 9. I ran up to him and told him it was the ‘battle of the monsters’. We ran together for a while before I pressed on, eyeing up the next runner in fancy dress further up the road. It was a man dressed as a trainer. Katie and I had been beaten in the final few hundred metres by a guy in a trainer costume at the Brighton marathon so I was determined to turn the tables, and told him in no uncertain terms that he was going down. In the end I ‘kicked’ him into touch.
By now I knew what it felt like to be a chicken roasting in an oven, and continued to pour litres of water through my eye slit, which was refreshing but unfortunately meant I couldn’t see where I was going for about 5 seconds at a time. For me it was a welcome compromise and I somehow managed to stay on my feet until the end.
Going into the last 3 miles things were starting to get tough, and I slogged my way up a long hill that lasted for about a mile and a half, still passing a large number of runners. Once at the top, it was a steep descent, before a left hand turn onto the sea-front and a straight mile to the finish in South Shields.
I probably could have upped the paced a bit more here, but I was too busy having a good time, trying to high five everyone that had stuck their arm about. I also enjoyed a fleeting embrace with someone dressed as a giant dog standing at the side of the road, before kicking on in the last 200m, knowing that I’d shortly be able to breathe again once I’d taken the costume off.
My final time was 1.40.51 – not too bad for some idiot in fancy dress. I was really fun to do a race with absolutely no pressure and not worry about times or paces and just run along comfortably. After the finish Katie was waiting for me (refusing to give me a hug, due to the fact with costume off I looked like I’d just got out of the shower), and we caught up my mate Michael Law who’d also been running, posting a great time considering the hills and the heat on the day. He’s running about a million marathons in the next few months (including Berlin and New York coming up soon), so good luck for those fella.
Despite the horror stories we’d heard about getting back to Newcastle, there was a bus waiting 5 minutes from the finish line and we were back within half an hour – easy. Overall, a great weekend away in Newcastle. If you’re looking for a quiet race or want to run a quick time – don’t do the Great North Run – it’s far too crowded. However, if you want to do a fun race with amazing crowd support along the entire route and flawless organisation, then get yourself in the ballot for next year.