This is an honest report of my own race, which I have to say I found to be a very mixed bag. Most of all, because 57,000 runners is really quite something to experience! Getting on the Metro, getting off the Metro, finding the starting pen, actually getting into the starting pen...these were all mini adventures in and of themselves.
10.10am—The starting gun is fired for the wheelchair racers, followed by the elites, the orange guys, and then eventually the white pen, containing me. Mo is long gone, I doubt I'll catch him now. It starts raining as we shuffle towards the start line, and I'm wearing sunglasses. I decide to embrace my inner Blues and just go with it.
Mile 1—I have a plan, I have a pocket full of Cliff Bloks and spare Tailwind, and I think I have started well. Not too fast, just banking the downhill sections for when I know it will get tough later, and steady on the flat. It's really surprising to find people have already started walking though, despite being many starting groups from the back. I overtake a man dressed in huge cardboard boxes painted like a world war plane. He's still running, good job unwieldy cardboard plane man.
Mile 2—The rain stops, a rainbow unfolds across the steel sky, the Red Arrows fly overhead as I run and I feel a bit emotional. This is a bucket list event for many but for me more of a salute to an absent friend, and at that point it feels really quite special and surreal.
Mile 3—The sun comes out. Eesh it's hot suddenly, I need to start drinking my water. Why is this so hard, I can run this distance in my sleep usually! It's nearly lunchtime, perhaps I should have had the second banana. Why were no coffee shops open before the start, I miss having a coffee. My legs feel heavy. I'm getting a bit fed up of weaving in and out of big clumps of walkers, it's really tiring and rather tricky in such a huge crowd.
Mile 4—I've drunk all my water! How did that happen. That means I've also drunk all my fuel for later. I take a bottle from the eager Aquapura reps, but evolution has (incorrectly) determined two hands are enough and I have to physically pitstop to get the lid off my bottle, decant the new water into it, fiddle with the zip on my pocket, sprinkle in my spare Tailwind and seal it all up again. Curses. There's a bit of inertia in my legs when I start up again but I'm still just about on target.
Mile 5—A marshall halts the race. Murmurs flow through the crowd that someone has taken poorly and can't be moved. After what feels like an hour but can only have been a few minutes we file slowly past a stricken runner, unconscious, t-shirt ripped off, and covered in defibrillator pads. It's sobering to see the ambulance crew working away and truly horrible to simply run away from him, a diminishing dot in my peripheral vision hopefully not becoming a news story later in the day. It plays on my mind hereafter.
Mile 6—There's really not much to look at, we are just packed in tight and running on wide, grey, hot tarmac. I think of us all like tiny cars on the carriageway, tiny flesh vehicles. Flesh vehicles?! What on earth is my wandering imagination on about. I think overhead sunshine with no shade makes me delirious, this is like the giant blimp bumblebees all over again. Periodically people simply flop to the ground, unable to continue, and St John's Ambulance crew sweep them to the pavement for medical attention. My target time needs evaluating, I didn't factor in stopping on two occasions. I'm still finding this a good deal tougher than I expected, and thoughts of the man receiving CPR make me slow my pace. I could go faster, but I feel I shouldn't. I'd rather finish in one piece. I take more water and overtake a sparkly unicorn in white hotpants.
Mile 7—A kind stranger gives me an ice pole, a little red one with Dad Incredible on it. I'm very grateful, but did I even say thank you?! That's not like me. I fret a little about my impaired manners. But I'm over halfway now! A small boy flosses on top of a bus stop. I wonder how long he's been doing it for.
Mile 8—Everyone gravitates to the left, towards the shower tunnels. I move very firmly over to the right, I have a terrible phobia of getting water splashed in my face and a shower is not going to make me at all happy. A helpful bystander sees me looking warm, opens a bottle of water and splashes it in my face. I remember my manners and thank them, inwardly screaming in horror.
Mile 9—The constant shouts of oggy oggy oggy under every single bridge and sometimes just at random get a bit grating as we moved towards the tenth mile. People have stopped responding, the oggies simply tail off into faint vocal tumbleweeds. Runners are dropping like flies all around. This isn't quite the fun angle they promote on the telly—the cameras linger on the high fives and smiles, not the girl with a ponytail on the ground, curled into the foetal position crying. My Clif Bloks are drenched and stuck to my pocket, I decide to leave them in there and hope I absorb them through my skin. A girl with a green number who must have been doing really well—at least until this point—slips on one of the many, many discarded water bottles and screams as she crumples to the ground. Trench mentality, we all soldier onward unflinchingly as a high viz jacket crosses the stream to help her.
Mile 10—Jelly baby genocide, the result of 53,000 hands grabbing at proffered tubs of the fruity wee fellows. Hundreds upon hundreds of them stamped into the ground, leaving little colourful sugar shadows behind. I momentarily feel sad for them. But then hey, look, it's Elvis! Crooning at the passing runners on a karaoke machine. About 40% of people are walking by this point, it's baffling, and so draining having to duck and dive to get past as they spread the width of the road.
Mile 11—Counting on my fingers because despite my maths degree, basic arithmetic seems hard at this point. It may only be 17*C but with the sun relentlessly shrieking down it feels an awful lot warmer. I am still scared of gels but I take a couple from the SIS reps nonetheless, I've never been one to look a gift horse in the mouth. I feel beyond fatigued by now and for a split second consider trying one out for a boost of energy, but remember Mikael Ekvall and decide now is not the time to test my GI tolerance. I run on, juggling a handful of gels, two water bottles and my own fading expectations.
Mile 12—The ground falls away into a wonderful, welcome steep hill, my legs are delighted. They love going downhill and manage to pick up the pace a little, spinning in circles like Roadrunner. Then there's a sudden corner turn into a seafront corridor of cheering folk. I get two messages on my phone, one from Mr Sqkr saying he's at the 200m marker looking out for me and another from a pal who sends me a gif of a horse running like a maniac. Clearly the app allowing people to track me is working!
Mile 13—The Red Arrows roar over again! Barrelling and wheeling and generally showing off as I follow the final stretch along the coast. Things feel less dire, there's a lovely breeze. A neighbouring runner spits. It lands unceremoniously on my left foot.
500m—Switching to metric suddenly, make up your minds, race markers! Was that really only 500m since the last marker? It felt like a lot more.
200m—I can't see Mr Sqkr
100m—Wait, there are about five finish gates up ahead. Which do I choose?! Panic sets in.
I'm the end I lurch at the finish with the least amount of bodies and hit the button on my Garmin, 2hrs 13m. I'm a bit disappointed, I don't feel I ran a good race at all and I'm annoyed at myself for finding it so hard. I still don't really understand why, but I guess I have to accept some days just aren't good running days! I'm burnt to a crisp down one side, I am covered in other people's spit. I have learnt many lessons about the unglamorous world of half marathon running. I collect my medal and regale Mr Sqkr with my tales as we make the slow, labourious journey back to Newcastle.
On the way home we stop at a lovely pub in the Borders for a pint and a homemade cheese and apple pie, with all the Sunday trimmings. I feel a lot more cheerful, it wasn't a bad event—just very different from any I've entered before. I question how much longer it can grow by so many thousands of people every year though, I think I'd have enjoyed it a lot more with the benefit of a time machine set to a decade past. I also feel quite strongly that pushing a half marathon as this big, fun run that anyone can do is kind of irresponsible. It's all just a jolly party on the telly and in the promotional pictures, and so many people seemed unprepared for it and that took a high toll. I wonder how many people actually finished? And on top of that, of course I don't expect to be able to run my best race at the world's largest half marathon, but I do have to question the safety of packing so many people in. There was just so little room to manoeuvre and it made running pretty unpleasant.
As I'm eating my pie my pal sends me a picture she took from her telly showing the moment I matched Mo's 10k split. Well, OK, it wasn't me, but he does share my name so I'm taking it. My first proper half marathon, and I nearly beat Mo. That's not so bad.