Tuesday, 9 October 2007

sounds, sights, sensations

From the minute I got out of the taxi to make my way to the Central Motorway, to the start of the race, the sound of helicopters overhead was the only constant. I kept looking up, keeping bearings on where they were.

I hadn't planned on getting a taxi; I'd left in time to get the bus into town, but it didn't show up. Twenty minutes later, ten minutes before the next one was due, I cracked and called a taxi. It showed up two minutes later and took me into town in half the time the bus would've. The later bus probably would still have left me enough time, but I just wanted to be there already. I couldn't stand the wait any longer.

I stopped into a coffee place to go to the loo on the way. I'd been drinking little and often, the way you're supposed to to keep yourself hydrated before a race. All very well but that mixed with the nerves left with me with a constant need to pee.

I made it to the Central Motorway for about 10.30am. The elite women had left half an hour before; they would be six miles in by that point, but I wasn't due to be crossing the line til 11.36am, nearly an hour after the race started. I couldn't stand to have to wait around for hours beforehand, so I got there later. As I walked down the sliproad to make my way back to my starting point, I noticed Sir Bobby Robson standing on a stage between the two carriageways and realised that this was it, the starting line of the race. Just a few minutes to go before the elite men and the masses started. I waited to see him fire the pistol. I was standing level with him as he did it. It was amazing.

I walked up the hard shoulder, further and further. I was nearly at the Cowgate junction by the time I found the entrance to my pen. It meant I had a mile or thereabouts to cover before the start of the race. A mile I'd already covered to join the pen. A half marathon is bad enough, but I think in total I covered about 16, even 17 miles that day. It's a long, long way.

I wasn't even over the start line when the Red Arrows did their fly past. I'd wondered what the sudden rumble of sound was and suddenly they appeared, were out of sight almost as quickly. In the event, it was 11.08am by my watch when I crossed the line. Paula Radcliffe and her nemesis Kara Goucher had already finished before I started.

Running over the Tyne Bridge was amazing. There aren't words. It's such an icon of Newcastle... to run over it in the blazing October sunshine (far hotter than it should ever have been) was more of a buzz than I can explain. From there to the roundabout where you turn left to Felling; at that roundabout one of the official bands was playing 'The Blaydon Races', the unofficial anthem of the North East. Another amazing moment in a day of amazing moments.

It was very hot out there. I didn't discover my sunburned shoulders til bedtime that day. I kept my fluid uptake before and during the race, but didn't really keep it up well enough afterwards. Bad B.

There were... lots of spectators around at the beginning of the race and on the Tyne Bridge. (Hundreds? I'm terribly at judging numbers like that.) The numbers tailed off a little going into Gateshead, but as the race went on into more residential areas the crowds really picked up again. Some of them must have been out there for hours, cheering everyone on. One man stood on top of a bus shelter with a hosepipe, spraying those who wanted cooling down. People stood out there with orange sections, cups of water, cups of juice. Biscuits, ice pops. And all that in addition to the official water stations. In all, hundreds and hundreds of people must have been involved in supporting runners on the day, to say nothing of all those working behind the scenes. Don't get me wrong; I realise it's a business and the Great Run people will get paid, but not all of them. One lady interviewed in the Chronicle had spent £75 of her own money on refreshments for us. People in the North East really love supporting their sportspeople.

I ran a good proportion of the beginning of the race, but as time went on and the weather got hotter and my legs got more exhausted, I ran less and walked more.
The Red Arrows started their display at 1.20pm. I was somewhere around mile 9 or 10, and they were just what I needed. Something to focus on other than how on earth I was going to keep going, how much my left leg had started to hurt (it was fine by the end of Monday), what on earth had possessed me to put myself through this torment, this abuse of my own body. They made me smile again, while looking at my watch, debating with myself whether I'd really be able to complete the race in less than 3 hours. I thought so, but I wasn't sure whether I'd still be able to keep pushing myself that far, that long.

As I reached the sea front I heard helicopters again, saw them hovering over the finish, a constant sound once more. But that just made me realise how close I was to the end, and I knew I had to run as much as I could of the last mile. I started as I passed the 12m sign, only to decide to conserve my energy. That last 1.1m is a killer, I'd heard. After what seemed like forever, I passed the 800m to go sign, started running, slowly, painfully. But then I saw how far away the 400m sign was I stopped, walked again til I reached that sign. And then I ran again. And I didn't stop til I crossed that line, ready to drop, but triumphant.

(I have seen my photos on marathon-photos.com. You can see in my face just what a struggle it was.)

I kept walking, knowing that it was still going to be a long time before I could stop moving. The pain on my face must have been evident to the marshall, because he said 'you can smile now, you did it!' as I walked past. And I smiled.

I managed to take my own timing chip off (there had been a note in the magazine to say there would be people to help if you weren't able to do it yourself), put it in the bag. Hobble to the stand for my goodie bag, medal and t shirt. Keep going til I'd found the loos (yet again) and made my way to the charity tent where my parents and D were waiting, prouder than I've ever seen them. (Possibly even on my wedding day. I mean, all I did then was stand up and pledge to spend my life with D. Amazing, but hardly a test of my physical ability.)
I texted friends and family; everyone was impressed. (Coming in under 3hours helps; that seems to be the cut off point for what people think of your achievement.)

I changed, drank, ate. Then had some chips. They were loaded with salt and the tastiest chips I've ever had, from outside a South Shields pub. We made it back to my dad's car and back home. I watched the coverage from that morning that D had taped for me, then switched over and saw the highlights on BBC 2. And D spotted me, waiting to cross the start line. God knows how he could see me; I'd had no idea I was there until he pointed me out on the screen.

The front of the Evening Chronicle the next day had a picture of the Red Arrows flying past hundreds of runners on the Tyne Bridge. I bought it, thinking 'I was there. I did it'.

Would I do it again?

If I can get my own place, rather than having to run for a charity?

You betcha.


Imperatrix said...

That was fantastic. Congratulations on a job well done!

b said...

Thanks imperatrix! :)

pierre l said...

A lovely description of what sounds like a great, if rather exhausting day. I enjoyed reading about it, and I am very pleased for you. The photographs were nice as well, although it was difficult to find you in that big crowd scene on the bridge (but I see a possible match).
I is great that you have written a lot this week, B, but it will take me a few more days to catch up. It is also nice to keep meeting you in other peoples' comment boxes.

b said...

Thanks pierre :) no match in the photo on the main page of marathon-photo.com; I didn't get onto the Tyne Bridge til well after the Red Arrows had passed unfortunately. I was still behind the start line at that time.

I've turned very prolific this week haven't I?! I'm trying to keep it down to a post a day, which means I have half-written posts saved which is also good. Don't worry, though, I won't keep this up forever :) I have a deadline of 2nd Nov for the new course I'm doing, so I'll DEFINITELY slow down round then!