Sunday Race Memories: Great Winter Run 2017

In 2017 I did the Great Winter Run for the second year running, as Geth was by that point in his first year of running and wanted to try out all the races I’d done the year before. I was quite a bit slower than I had been in 2016 – I didn’t have a total running slump that winter, as I was still doing parkrun every weekend (our custom was to get up, go out to the Town Moor to do a freezing cold parkrun and then come home and ‘hibernate’ for the rest of the day!), but I wasn’t really doing any additional running and so definitely wasn’t as fit as I could have been. I was also back up at my heaviest, as I’d decided to have one last ‘fat Christmas’ of eating and drinking everything in sight before starting Slimming World in the new year…

Great Winter Run 2017
Post-race happy faces! (c) John Cooke 2017.

This was the last 5k race I entered, as you don’t really need 5k races when you have parkrun providing the same thing for free every week. 2017 would end up being a great year for longer races, though!

Sunday Race Memories: Great North Run 2016

I was a bit nervous about signing up for the Great North Run in 2016, having only just recently run my first 10k. It felt a bit like biting off more than I could chew. Nevertheless, that spring I found myself a charity place – it was the very first race I ran for the RNLI! – and started planning my summer of training.

The longer training runs were tough in the summer heat, and I inadvertently made them tougher by doing boring three-lap courses of a particularly dull loop near where we live. On my final twelve-mile training run, I was so slow that Geth was able to keep up with me walking, and carried several bottles of water to see me round. That was a long day, but it meant I knew I could do the distance.

I did the race itself in 3:46:45 – a time I have now beaten by more than an hour and twenty minutes and hope to cut in half by the time my half marathon days are done. On that day, though, finishing was the most important thing, and though I had to take a lot of walk breaks, I got to the end, very sunburnt from the ever-reliable GNR day sunshine. I mostly remember my feet hurting so, so much on the long stretches of dual carriageway between Gateshead and South Shields!

At the end of the race, as an RNLI runner, I had the option to visit the lifeguard hut on South Shields beach and have a shower. This was vital for recovery, as I was pretty much dead on my feet after the long day of running! I spent the rest of the afternoon celebrating in South Shields and discovering the atmosphere of the big post-GNR party that takes place in all the pubs along the route back to the Metro station 🙂

Great North Run 2016
Pre-exertion on the start line!

I’ve run every Great North Run since – including the virtual version last year. The atmosphere of the world’s biggest half marathon is like nothing else, and I still find it incredible that it’s right here on my doorstep in Newcastle. I can’t wait to get back on that start line this September (fingers crossed!).

Sunday Race Memories: Great North 10k 2016

Ah, the Great North 10k 2016. Known in my world as ‘the one where I came last out of thousands of people’, and also ‘the one where that was actually a good thing because being last in a race of that magnitude turns out to be a special experience in itself’.

Great North 10k 2016
Out on my own at the back of the race. Photo by Ian Harman Photography.

I finished this race in 1:40:38; this was within the cutoff time so I avoided the ignominy of the sweeper bus, though it came perilously close at times. I realised as soon as I set out from the start line, with everybody else zooming off at a much faster pace than me, that I was going to be among the last finishers, but I didn’t expect the course to look so empty so quickly. By about 1k in, there were only about five other runners in sight. ‘That’s what happens to the hare!’ joked one of them as we passed a dead rabbit. We were most definitely the tortoises on that day.

Another kilometre in, and I had lost sight of the remaining runners in front of me; those behind me never reappeared, so they must have dropped out. However, the majority of the Great North 10k route is an out-and-back, so there were plenty of runners coming back the other way, many of whom gave me encouragement as I struggled along the first half of the course. I even got a high five from local fundraising hero Big Pink Dress! As I approached the turnaround point, though, the crowd quickly thinned out and it became apparent that I was a long way behind everyone else. I kept glancing around to see how much space was between me and the sweeper bus, and started to get a bit nervous.

For the rest of the race, I was accompanied by the back markers on their bikes, so it wasn’t a totally lonely experience. I had to take quite a lot of walk breaks as my hip was really hurting (I had a lot of problems with it before I lost weight), but eventually I made it to Gateshead Stadium, where the finish line was waiting for me on the track. As I staggered into the stadium, I heard my name announced, then the opening bars of ‘Chariots Of Fire’ sounded over the speaker system… and I found that somehow, I did have a sprint finish in me after all, haring down the track towards the finish line to the sound of the Vangelis classic. Nobody was more surprised than the back markers who’d been patiently watching me trundle along for the last hour or so!

I don’t think I’ll ever be last in a race again (or I hope not at least – I have improved quite a lot since those days, even if I am still pretty slow!). However, I’m really glad that I was, once. It’s a special experience that most runners won’t have.

Sunday Race Memories: Sunderland 10k 2016

A few months after the freezing Great Winter Run 2016, I did my first 10k race. The Run Sunderland event in May is a nice flat course, and these days I get a PB there every year (when it’s not cancelled for pandemic reasons). However, the first time I did it, it felt pretty tough!

Sunderland 10k 2016
Looking a bit apprehensive on the start line.

It was a fairly miserable wet day (during my early days of running, the trend seemed to be that all my training runs took place in glorious sunshine and all my races in bad weather!), and I found the distance really tough going. I had run 10k in training (about a week before the race), and that had gone okay, but the day of the race was tougher (perhaps due to the weather) and at 6-7k in I was really struggling and plodding along.

Still, I made it round in about an hour and a half, and so because the half marathon runners set off about half an hour after the 10k runners, I got to the finish before the half marathon winner – which I took as a victory that day!

These days 10k feels like a relatively easy distance (I meandered round it in a much faster time at ‘exploring’ pace last weekend), but back in 2016 it was hard. Just needed a bit more practice 🙂

Sunday Race Memories: Great Winter Run 2016

My second ever race, four months after my first, was also a 5k – but a much tougher route than Newcastle and Gateshead Quayside! The Great Winter Run in Edinburgh (now defunct sadly as it was a side event to the Great Edinburgh Cross Country for elite runners, which was moved to Stirling in 2019 and then scrapped altogether – incidentally the other Stirling event instigated by Great Run at the same time, the Stirling Marathon, has been taken over by another company and is still going strong! Anyway I digress…) was a steep climb to the top of Arthur’s Seat, followed by an enjoyable coast downhill back to the start. It’s the same route as that of the EMF 5k and 10k, so given that I’ve done two Great Winter Runs and three EMF 10ks, I’ve run up that hill five times in total… which is more than enough!

Great Winter 5k 2016
Relief on the approach to the finish line! (Photo © John Cooke 2016)

That first time I ran up it, however, was notable for being SO COLD. The organisers, to their credit, gritted the route six times so that nobody would slip, as the ice that morning was killer. You can see in the photo that I’ve got a hoodie round my waist – I had to start off wearing it because it was too cold to stand on the start line without it! (Being a hoarder I am not the sort of person who is able to throw away a hoodie at the start of a race, no matter how old and cheap it is. If it’s a proper item of clothing, it’s coming with me the whole way and then going back home with me. Start line warmth is what foil blankets from previous races are for!)

I was a lot slower in this race than my previous 5k attempt – I finished in 43:40 – but given that the first 2k are steeply uphill, I was okay with it!

After that I went back to Mum and Dad’s and watched the Great Cross Country on TV while enjoying my goodie bag. The best part!

This wasn’t my last ever 5k race, but it wasn’t long after this that I plucked up the courage to try parkrun… and when you’ve got parkrun, you don’t really need 5k races anymore.