Race Review: Virtual Great North Run 2020

Finally getting round to reviewing a virtual race from last September – one of the highlights of my running season in 2020!

I keep referring to this race officially – in Strava logs and the like – as ‘Virtual Great North Run 2020’, as it keeps things neat. However, I fervently hope that there will only ever be one ‘Virtual Great North Run’, that the race can go back to normal(ish) in 2021, and that appending the ‘2020’ will forever be unnecessary!

GNR 2019
A picture from happier times, in South Shields after the Great North Run in 2019.

For most of 2020, despite the fact that in-person races had to cease along with everything else when we went into lockdown in March, I avoided virtual races. Virtual races have been a thing since long before the pandemic – the idea is that you pay the ‘race entry’ fee, run the distance wherever you like, send in your Strava log or similar as proof, and receive a medal in the post for your medal hanger/kitchen drawer/wherever you keep your medals. I’ve never been keen on the idea, because in normal circumstances I don’t see the point. If I’m paying a race entry fee, I want the experience of a real race – the crowds, the adrenaline, the excitement, the music, the fact that I automatically go faster when running with other people, the cheering spectators, the sights along the route, the atmosphere of the finish line… I could go on and on. I really, really miss real races 🙁

For some people, though, virtual races are ideal. There are people who can’t attend races on Sunday mornings due to other commitments, or who don’t like being in crowds – so it’s great that virtual races exist and can cater to these people. I’m just not the target audience, in normal circumstances.

However, we are far from normal circumstances.

The big coronavirus-related anxiety for me over the summer was the question of whether the rescheduled October date for the London Marathon would be going ahead. In a nutshell, as I already blogged lots and lots about this at the time: they took ages to announce; they eventually announced it was going virtual for 2020; I was able to defer my ‘real London Marathon’ place to 2021; I also accepted the invitation to run the virtual race in 2020 as I wanted to do it as a ‘mile(ish) every hour for 24 hours’ challenge. Sorted. I had signed up for my very first virtual race.

Virtual GNR bib
There was the option to print out your own race number. Now framed with all my others!

The Great North Run had cancelled their in-person race and announced they were going virtual for 2020 quite some time before the London announcement. When this announcement was first made (in June, I think?), I didn’t expect to do the virtual. Every cancelled race I had originally been signed up for in 2020 had invited me to do a virtual version in exchange for a race entry fee, and I hadn’t taken any of them up on the offer – because, as explained above, I don’t normally see the point in virtual races.

However, after signing up for the Virtual London Marathon, I felt that it would be a good idea to commit myself to a half marathon length run, as it would be good training – even though I knew I would be running the marathon in a different way that wouldn’t require quite as much all-in-one-go endurance. I had kept meaning to run half marathon length runs over the summer, but none of them had ever transpired due to lack of motivation, so I decided to sign up to the Virtual GNR in order to make sure that I actually did it.

The other reason was that the excitement of planning my 24-hour challenge had made me realise how much I was missing races. A virtual race, while still a glorified training run in my world, would at least help to give some structure to my running over the next couple of months.

GNR t-shirts
T-shirts from previous Great North Weekends (2015-2019). I did the 5k the first year we lived in Newcastle, and have done the full GNR every year since.

A few days after signing up, I happened to bump (not literally, I am a good social distancer) into a running friend while out on my Sunday long run, and as a result was invited to join the informal Sunday GNR training runs that were being organised by members of the local social run group. I’d attended a couple of the group’s formal runs around late February, just before everything shut down, but hadn’t realised that there were still some informally-organised socially distanced runs going on. (They’ve had to stop again since the lockdowns have become stricter over the autumn and winter, sadly!)

Virtual GNR outfit
All set for the Virtual GNR. Club vest and special Lucy Locket Loves GNR leggings on!

I enjoyed the Sunday training runs, which were at a pace that was a bit faster than my usual solo bumbling, but manageable for me, and decided to run the actual race with the group as well. It was a great atmosphere at our ‘starting area’, with perhaps fifteen or twenty people from the group all running in a socially distanced way (this was before even the ‘rule of six’ came in, let alone the return to full lockdown… so much has changed again in the last few months!).

Chalk start line
Start line marked in chalk on the pavement!

The group’s starting pace on the day was a little fast for me, it turned out. The first 5k of the race was the fastest I’d run since before parkrun shut down, and the first 10k of the race was a lifetime 10k PB for me of 1:03:30. This is really promising in terms of my aim to manage a sub-hour 10k in 2021… but was absolutely not something I should have been doing in the first half of a half marathon! I was focusing too much on keeping up with the group rather than running at my own pace – and, as I did know the route, I should maybe have told them to go ahead and fallen back to a more comfortable pace for me.

As a result, I burnt out and fell apart a bit in the second half of the race. The rest of the group gradually disappeared, and at about ten or eleven miles in I told group leader Alan (who was lovely and kept waiting for me) that he could go ahead and I’d finish a bit later. The last couple of miles were pretty difficult and slow and I kept taking walk breaks, which I hadn’t needed to do in a half marathon for some time. Geth came to meet me at about twelve and a half miles, and I just about managed to run-walk to the end of the planned route. My official time as measured by the GNR app was 2:25:29 – only a couple of minutes slower than my PB from the Inverness half in the different world that was early March, so I had to take that as a victory given everything that had happened in 2020! I stopped my watch at about 2 hours 29 minutes once it said I’d done the full half marathon distance, and I think I ran over the planned route finishing line at about 2 hours 32 minutes. All of those times were faster than any other half I’ve done apart from Inverness, so in terms of finish time, I can’t complain.

Virtual GNR t-shirt
The Virtual GNR t-shirt is one of the nicest yet.

I was a little disappointed with myself about the pacing as I like to finish strong in races, but to some extent it was out of my control. I originally planned to do another half marathon distance run before the end of the year, just to see what I could do when completely in charge of my own pacing, but I ended up needing a couple of months to recover from my 24-hour challenge/Virtual London Marathon. I need to build up again over the first few months of 2021.

Virtual GNR medal
Nice heavy medal for the effort too!

Besides, I’ll also be focusing on 10k training for the next couple of months, with the aim of being ready to get that sub-hour result later this year. It doesn’t look likely that I’ll be doing any real races any time soon… but it turns out a virtual race isn’t the end of the world, so I’ve signed up to do a virtual 10k later in January.

I still can’t wait to get back to real races!

Race Review: Great North Run 2019

I’ve had a week to digest this year’s Great North Run now!

First of all, it feels like it was absolutely the right decision for me to make the Great North Run the final race of my running season for 2019. I’ve finished on a high, at a point when I’m still really enthused about running, so I really feel like I have a good chance of avoiding the winter running slump this year, as I won’t be burning myself out training for races later in autumn.

The weather was ridiculously hot for the fifth year running. What is up with that? I first noticed it in 2015 when it poured down as I was doing the Great North 5k on the Saturday and then got stupidly warm in time for the main event on the Sunday. It’s the north-east of England – it shouldn’t be guaranteed hot weather in September!

However, it was the first time I felt properly in control during a half marathon. I went out too fast in the first two or three miles – probably due to starting in a faster wave – and I did slow down a little during miles eight to eleven, but I had planned for that, and I knew I was still on track for a PB. In the end, my time was 2:36:32, which was four minutes and seven seconds off my previous best. I was really happy with that! Next target: sub 2:35.

Great North Run 2019 medal
This one gets a little weightier and more colourful every year!

I will definitely be back next year for the 40th Great North Run!

Another GNR done!

I had a great GNR today and got a half marathon PB! Will do a full post about it in the next couple of days.

Absolutely knackered now, and am somehow still hungry even after demolishing a Domino’s pizza order. Looking forward to a recovery day tomorrow!

OOTD 8th September 2019
OOTD: tired but happy in my newest addition to my wardrobe! Glasses Emporio Armani (2017), t-shirt Great North Run (2019).

Today’s earworm playlist:

Van Morrison – Brown Eyed Girl
Chesney Hawkes – The One And Only
Matthew Wilder – Break My Stride
Coldplay – Viva La Vida
Dua Lipa – New Rules
Oasis – Wonderwall
Mark Ronson and Amy Winehouse – Valerie
DNCE – Cake By The Ocean

The running begins

I went for a shakeout parkrun this morning, which was nice – it’s always a good atmosphere at Newcastle parkrun on GNR weekend. Felt really comfortable and absolutely ready for the race tomorrow now.

After catching up with some admin, Geth and I played a couple more missions of the Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle Earth boardgame, and I’m now settling in for an evening of Strictly and Puzzle Pirates.

I’ll update about the race tomorrow evening!

Lord of the Rings: Journeys in Middle Earth
Not an OOTD: gratuitous token shot for the boardgame.

Today’s earworm playlist:

Philip Bailey and Phil Collins – Easy Lover
Mike & The Mechanics – The Living Years
Duran Duran – Girl Panic!
Rizzle Kicks – Mama Do The Hump
Muse – New Born
Michael Land – Jojo The Monkey

Great North Weekend

I’ve spent all day doing editing work for clients and sorting out my to-do list, but I’m finally done and Great North Weekend is here! It won’t be as intense as it usually is as there’s no CityGames athletics to watch on the Quayside this year (they’ve moved the event to Stockton-on-Tees for some reason), but I’m still looking forward to a shakeout parkrun tomorrow morning, eating all the pasta (may have started already) and watching the Strictly launch show before getting an early night ready for the race on Sunday.

In the meantime, it’s another evening of escaping into my videogames. I’m finding that it’s really helping me to relax at the moment.

Not an OOTD: Geth has found a version of Tetris on the Switch that has the best upbeat dance version of the classic theme tune. Can’t watch the screen, though, ’cause I just keep getting frustrated by his placement choices!

Today’s earworm playlist:

Michael Land – Woodtick
Arcadia – The Flame

Still escaping

It’s been an okay-ish day. I had a good loss at Slimming World this morning (not sure how, but I’m relieved to be losing again after a few consecutive weeks of gain!) and have been writing all afternoon. Geth is out boardgaming this evening, so I will be going back to my videogames.

Work all day tomorrow and then it’s Great North Run weekend!

OOTD 5th September 2019
OOTD: my favourite top for weigh-in. Glasses Emporio Armani (2017), hoodie Uneek Classic for Mesh (2016), vest top Primark (2018).

Today’s earworm playlist:

Timecop1983 and The Bad Dreamers – Back To You
Duran Duran – Rio
Disney – Prince Ali*
Shakin’ Stevens – Green Door
Pretenders – Back On The Chain Gang
The Beatles – Drive My Car

*Still the 1994 videogame soundtrack version 🙂

Bouncing ahead

I know I shouldn’t wish my life away, but today is the day I always start to get excited about autumn, my favourite season of the year.

It’s the first of August – just a month away from meteorological autumn – and while I know most people are still enjoying the summer (I’m not sure how, given that after last week’s brief heatwave the weather has since returned to a constant cool, grey dampness that means Geth can’t mow the lawn), I’m already dreaming of darker evenings and Hallowe’en chocolate and getting my ’80s jumper collection out again.

The BBC are starting to announce the first few Strictly contestants, and I’m stepping up my training for the Great North Run, and I’m already busy planning out my writing for all the fiction and poetry competitions I’m going to be entering from September to November. I’ve got a lot of gigs lined up for that period as well – it’s going to be a really great autumn this year!

In the meantime, I’ve got one last summer trip away to enjoy this month. It is Shetland, though, so I’m not hopeful for the weather (last time I was there, it rained the whole time).

A nice normal Thursday today now that we’ve got the internet back – Geth and I went to the earlier Slimming World group today so that we could be in when the new router arrived, and we’ve got boardgaming guests coming round this evening for more adventures in the Lord of the Rings universe.

OOTD 1st August 2019
OOTD: weigh-in top with added cosy hoodie due to the cooler weather. Glasses Emporio Armani (2017), hoodie Gildan for Resistanz (2016), vest top Primark (2018).

Today’s earworm playlist:

Haim Saban and Shuki Levy – The Mysterious Cities Of Gold Main Theme
Ed Sheeran – Castle On The Hill
A-ha – Take On Me
Andy Taylor – Broken Window
Lizzo – Truth Hurts
Gunship – Dark All Day

Race Review: Great North Run 2018

Great day out racing today!

An early start, aided by my new Spotify playlist that collects all my favourite running-reminiscent songs!  After getting our stuff together, Geth and I headed out for a good walk to the Great North Run start line.  We put our rucksack on the baggage bus and got ourselves settled in the start pen.

GNR start line selfie
Start line selfie! I am still no good at taking these.

It was a good hour-long wait until we finally started moving, and probably another twenty minutes after that walking down to the actual start line (being the world’s biggest half marathon, it takes a good long while to get nearly 60,000 runners over the line), but before too long we were off, and I was able to settle into my comfortable pace for the first few miles.

Unfortunately pretty much all of my recurring aches and pains showed up during the course of the race, and so I didn’t get anywhere near the sub-2:30 I would have liked.  I did get 2:43:19, which is a 10 min 36 sec improvement on last year’s PB – ergo I can’t really complain!  Looking forward to the winter, though, as I will be able to train a lot better for the various races I will be doing in the run-up to the London Marathon in April.

South Shields and its pubs were as wonderful and necessary as ever.  We hung about for a while to avoid the Metro queues, but are now finally home with pizza and prosecco.  A very quiet day planned tomorrow.

OOTD 9th September 2018
OOTD: the only piece of clothing that matters today! Glasses Moschino (2006), t-shirt Great North Run (2018).

Today’s earworm playlist:

Ashford & Simpson – Solid

(Another short playlist due to a whole day of having music played at me!)

Another successful Great North Saturday!

Great North Weekend properly got started today, much the same as it did last year, with a parkrun volunteering session.  There were a lot of people volunteering due to the GNR, but luckily Geth, Ed, and I managed to snag the gate 2 spot, which meant we didn’t have to hang about for too long.  Great atmosphere at parkrun though – it’s always good on Great North Weekend.

After parkrun, Geth and I went for breakfast at Costa, and then home to collect a few things before heading into town for the Pasta Party and the Great North CityGames.

We got off at Gateshead and headed for lunch at the Pasta Party first, as the queues just get worse throughout the day.  As we’re both running this year, and I’m on my second year of membership, we had a ridiculous number (six) of pasta vouchers:

Pasta party
So much pasta. I ended up eating most of it, ’cause Geth doesn’t have the stamina for pasta-eating that I do.

We then headed over the Millennium Bridge (bumping into Ed again halfway across!) to catch the CityGames long jump, where I took the obligatory blurry photos of Greg Rutherford and Jazmin Sawyers:

Greg Rutherford and Jazmin Sawyers
People that I usually just see on the TV!

It was Greg Rutherford’s last ever competitive long jump event, so it was pretty special to get to see him.  We then went back to the Gateshead side of the Quayside to watch the sprint distance events from the seated area.  Despite the rain, it was quite comfy!

Sadly the CityGames is moving to Stockton-on-Tees from next year, so it won’t be part of our Great North Weekend again for the foreseeable future.  I’m guessing the Pasta Party will remain in Gateshead though.

A quiet evening in after that, with the BBC coverage of the CityGames, the Strictly Come Dancing launch show, some triathlon on iPlayer, and yet more pasta.  I could not be any more carb-loaded after the last three days.  Hopefully it will give me the requisite energy for tomorrow’s Great North Run!

OOTD 8th September 2018
OOTD: rain? What rain? Glasses Emporio Armani (2017), hoodie Uneek Classic for Mesh (2016), t-shirt Puma for Great North 5K (2015).

Today’s earworm playlist:

Kim Wilde – You Came

And a bonus track that Geth was humming earlier:

Baltimora – Tarzan Boy

(A short list today, partly due to spending most of the day surrounded by actual music, but mainly because after Geth woke me up for the second time by loudly singing Tarzan Boy, that became my earworm for the rest of the day too!)