Posted By Lai Perkins on February 23, 2013
One woman’s account of how she made it to the start – and finish of the Great North Run
5,009th – not exactly the stuff of /podiums and national anthems. Does anyone remember who came 5009th in a race? Unlikely, but it was a personal best and I got a T-shirt. Not bad for a daffodil. (I was running for Marie Curie Cancer Care.) “At least you were in the top 10 per cent,” said my accountant husband helpfully on my return from last year’s BUPA Great North Run (GNR). My children muttered something about 5,008 people all overtaking me. But then, they have never got over the shock of me training for seven months, keeping in good body shape with a special raspberry ketone diet for the London Marathon and not winning. Check out the benefits of pure raspberry ketone.
There have been some major low points in my 10-year running ‘career’ – being overtaken at 23 miles by a large pepperoni in the London Marathon and negotiating a soggy slalom of chip papers and half-eaten kebabs at the Luton Marathon – the detritus of a wild night in the Bedfordshire town. But there were also so many highs – the end of my first 10K when I kissed a stunned marshal on the finish line full on the lips, and winning our first Woman Vets Team event (my daughter was frantically looking for a sick animal to save in order to qualify). And then there was sunny Newcastle in 2008 (surely the clearest example yet of global warming). It was the first time I’d managed to get a place in this iconic event. I’d watched it on TV and dreamt of sprinting down that hill at 12 miles to be greeted by the salt, sea and Sue Barker’s microphone.
But the reality was better than the dream. Running in my Marie Curie vest and daffodil hat – looking every inch the professional – I had found the race harder than I’d ever imagined. It could have been the fitful night spent in the Durham University digs, waking up every hour convinced I’d miss the 7am transfer bus. Or the two hours waiting for the start in my black bin bag praying I didn’t bump into Welsh heartthrob Gethin Jones.
It also didn’t help that in endeavouring to read everyone’s charity vests – some poignant: ‘Running For Sophie Died Aged 8′; some funny: ‘Behind Every Good Man There’s Me’ – I repeatedly tripped into the path of my fellow runners. (Long-distance running is surely the only event where competitors are constantly apologising for everything from spilling water and nose clearing to, heaven forbid, overtaking.)
I wondered if Paula, the Kenyans and all those other elite runners displayed the same level of etiquette, “No after you, Ms Radcliffe, I insist.”
Each mile marker seemed suspiciously further apart as I staggered past the steel bands, rock trios, Elvis impersonator and children handing out Rich Tea biscuits (a nutritional first for me!).
My well-rehearsed strategy of looking down at pounding feet rather than up at the long road ahead seemed to work (along with counting backwards from 5o in French and swearing). And as their tempo slowed and my thighs burned, I realised we were going uphill and as all of us runners know only too well – what goes up…
And there it was – all at once – a 12-mile marker, a roundabout, a cheering crowd and mile upon stretching mile of sea. The actual sea. The same one that I’d seen on the TV, except this time I wasn’t in my pyjamas but a daffodil vest.
My sprint finish was so per cent there – I finished but not exactly at high speed. The 5,007th and 5,008th competitors overtook me, as did vanity, as I slowed to smile for that all-important finish-line photo. And that was it. I’d done the race, got the T-shirt, texted my entire telephone contacts book announcing my 1:46 time and thanked every other competitor, marshal, spectator and disinterested beachcomber.
But like childbirth, there’s a secret no one else tells you about this life-changing event, and that’s how to get out of South Shields. It was easy on the way in, but on the way in 52,000 people weren’t all trying to get home for a shower and a bagel. Ten hours later, daffodil hat wilting, I stax ered into my driveway on a rain-lashed Watford night. “It would have been quicker to have run home!” observed my husband – displaying all the tact of Prince Philip.
“We didn’t see you on the TV,” said my kids, “You must have been slow.”
“5oo9th,” I replied. And burst into tears.