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Sqkr's not so Great North Run

Sqkr's not so Great North Run

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.

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I feel tired just reading it. But you did it, and can chalk it up to experience. My 10k event the other week, I had similar issues with narrow paths and too many people, and also loads of people walking after 10 minutes!... but nowhere near to your level.

Congrats on getting through it. 🎉🏃‍♂️👍❤️

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Yes, and I learnt many things 😊 It's never a wasted opportunity if you can learn things I think, both about yourself, and about surviving giant, massive, humongous events!

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Wow ... that is some race report... and some day out and some half marathon .. you did amazingly well and completed it .. you should be very proud .. Well done seems a little inadequate .. but well done 👏👏👏👏👏

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Thank you! 😊

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What a read , thank you.Helpful and honest.

Sorry for your experience.

Your a star.🌟 Competent and talented.👍👏👏

I will not being making the effort to participate in the GNR.

I am a very long way off your pace and achievements, but oddly I think I can empathise.

I know I can run every step and certainly would not be entering if I could not.If you cannot run to the Tyne Bridge 🙈. So much for ordinary people doing extraordinary things.🤔

Take good care of you.💥🏃‍♀️👑💥

I just love runners like you and so many, many others on this forum.

Running is a no hiding place.Thats what you get from runners.The simple facts and truth.I thank my lucky stars when I found running and this forum and discarded all the bull to where it belongs.

Well done the latest Brillant Administrator and runner.💥🏃‍♀️💥

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I do feel I should say of course I have absolutely nothing against people who walk, any or all of the way—especially not in a big charity focused race like the GNR, it was just frustrating that with so many people you just didn't have anywhere to put your feet to get by safely or easily. Maybe I was just unlucky in my starting position, I know most people had a really positive response to their day and I don't mean to be such a Debbie Downer about it 😂 There were things that were great too, all the support and stories. It just got a bit eclipsed for me by the negatives, and my own bad run too.

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I agree entirely, Jeffing is a completely different matter and a well practised and trained routine.

Walking due to lack of fitness and training at an early stage is unacceptable.

Take good care of you and your honesty has certainly helped me.

I was putting pressure on myself to catch-up with my wife and two daughters who have completed it some years ago now.

Thank you Sqkr.👍💥👏🌟

The clue is in the title.🙈🤔😂😂

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Wow! That sounds like an insane amount of people!!! And still managed a great time!!

I had a similar experience during my second HM (the Gun Run in Cape Town) ever with a man going down on the big uphill and passing him as they were doing CPR... not a great experience, especially with my father having a triple bypass a few month prior... definitely slows you down!

I have decided not to do that race this year and rather enter a 15km trail run with less people a beautiful views!

Completely agree with you on the commercialization of some races, people start strong and then walk from less than 5km mark... very frustrating for those that have trained for it! But as you say it is a bucket list race, hopefully there will be less of those people at my first marathon next week!

Again big congrats and keep on going! Soon you will get a sub 2!!

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Oo goodness, it shook me to see the poor collapsed man (who did make it to all the news articles, but thankfully to say he pulled through, with a thanks from the police to the runners and marshalls for waiting whilst the medics assisted him), I can't imagine what it must have felt like to be able to refer it to a real life situation so close to your own heart. It made me feel very thankful to be able to run, but also very aware that I'm only human and we are all very breakable!

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Yours is far, far from bad run. You ran half marathon without stopping, show me anyone who’ll say that’s bad and I’ll explain to them what l think. ;) l agree with you, no issues with anyone who part walks the distance but l do understand your point. Hey, that’s life! You’ve done your part, stay up and proud!

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On reflection, I do sound awfully bratty in my report up there don't I—and that's clearly something else I need to work on! I am proud, and so impressed by everyone's resilience too. It was a tough day to be running, and I can't begin to imagine how much money will have been raised from the day for charities far and wide.

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You don't sound bratty at all. You ran a steady hard race, emotions were running high, your adrenaline was pumped up. Given the circumstances I'd say you were remarkably composed. Don't go hard on yourself.

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I loved that, honesty and all! As you point out, there's too much glamorising already and a good, honest race report is far more intriguing than glorified sugar-coated BS!

I totally got your comment regarding the walkers. It isn't about people walking so much as clearly being in the wrong pen that organisers work so hard to get right to ensure all runners enjoy their race.

The numbers seem out of control and it was quite harrowing reading about runners collapsing left and right. Just awful.

It also conjured quite the vision when you spoke of the wheelchairs going first. I was imagining you going head over heels over them.

I was also surprised that it all turned sour in the early part of the race...

I'm so sorry that you had such a disappointing experience, but it's a lesson as to what you want from your running and I'm sure you'll choose future events very carefully.

Thank you for a brilliant read and good luck with the next one, I can't wait to read your next chapter xx

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Thanks Sutsha, I think in truth it was really a case of me needing to learn to manage my expectations a little! So many people had a great day, I think I was feeling out of sorts from the off and all the little things compounded into a great big black cloud for me 🌧️ 😖 It will be interesting to see how the Great Scottish Run pans out by comparison, if I'm still all stroppy at the end of that one then it is just me being antisocial and I definitely need to try hill running instead of road races 😂

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I so wanted to do the Scottish one with it being local, but I'm down South that weekend for a birthday party (and not trained properly once I knew I couldn't make it!) - maybe next year.

Hope it goes better and I'm sure it will.

Good luck! 😘

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That really was an adventure of a race. You seem to have seen the good, bad and the ugly and still came through with a strong finish. You have everything to be proud of here. I am sure your friend would be proud of you too.

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Thank you 🤗 I think to be honest he'd have seen me getting all cross and sticky and emotional and laughed so hard at me 🤣 Typical.

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Haha! Sounds like some of my friends. 😁

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Yes, it's too big isn't it. Have to agree with lots you say there - including the need to avoid the showers. I've done it twice (the first time was such a rough experience I felt a need to go back and improve my feelings about it). The start isn't nice. I was in the pink pens even further back so takes forever to get to the start, red arrows - and Mo - long gone and it's all just so loud. However, I do get a real buzz from saying I've done it, but then I haven't gone beyond that distance.

Well done for battling through, must have been very sobering to pass someone that sick. Sounds as if people were falling like flies - the first one I did I think I was the sickest person I saw!!

Nice bit of bling tho'. I can have one more attempt without going through the ballot or a charity and despite everything I hate about the start am tempted to go again next year and see if I can experience it without throwing up somewhere along the way.

Hope you are well rested up now.

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That's true, I think I'm beginning to feel much more positive about it the more I look back! And I do already feel the need to go back one day and see if I can better my time. Competition with yourself is the most curious thing isn't it, 'I didn't enjoy that'... 'I want to do it again'. 😅

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Really interesting to hear your view on it. I was a bit lucky on where I started. I remember the guy telling people to walk on the left if they needed to to let people past so its a shame that didn't happen. I'm not sure I will be doing it again either, although I enjoyed it a lot and feel a bit better about knowing how to get there to the start etc. My mum and dad set off on the metro from the start and were queueing so long that I got to the end before they did. I think another factor was the heat, it felt a lot hotter than 18 for me also, there was barely any wind it felt like and the roads seemed to be baking. I could even have used more water stops than there were, and regretted throwing the bottles away. I guess statistically with 58k runners there will be some health casualties also and its really unfortunate but unavoidable. It was really interesting to read your experience and my aunties were thinking of trying next year, they don't run yet so maybe I can get them to try a shorter run or a different one. Well done on finishing though and getting through it all. You did the Great North Run :D

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Thanks KallyFudge, it was reading your own report that made me realise I was being pretty bratty about it all. So many people have such brilliant experiences of the day and there's me stamping my foot 😋 I think the overhead sun definitely exacerbated the issues, it wasn't that warm and yet looking around me people were really suffering from heat and exhaustion. It shouldn't be a surprise to have a sunny day in September but I think we were all caught off guard a bit!

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Hey I don't think your report was bratty at all, it was genuinely interesting and honest about your experience. If I had experienced that I would 100% be saying "I can now say I've done it but not again". I probably won't go again, mainly due to expense, the hotels, travel and the race, but if my family members wanted to do it I could go. Will definitely warn them though given what it was like later on and get them to read your post!

I've been thinking about the likelihood of casualties and people needing medical treatment during these events and might do a seperate post about it. But it's nothing about coming across such a situation on a run and how conflicting and emotional that must be!

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Well done! That's a great time with all the weaving, enforced walks in traffic and stoppages etc!

Great blow by blow report, warts and all! Enjoyed it! The issue of people starting off in the wrong pen really irks me too! On my recent marathon I passed runners at the 5,6,7km mark who were probably on a 5:30 or 6 hour time judging by their pace and who must have started at the head of the field! The numbers of runners in bigger events is making participation unattractive to people who are looking for a good run rather than "been there, done it" badge. The lottery angle for the bigger events is also problematic for groups of friends planning to run together on a city break + marathon weekend. Smaller is better/easier/more hassle free with a clearer track imho.

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Yes, I've definitely decided smaller is good 😁 I'm glad I did it, and I think in some ways in glad it was my first HM as now I know exactly what not to enter in future! I'm just too mardy and antisocial for these big runs.

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First of all Sqkr Well done on your great achievement! What a fab race you ran and I think your time was great. Congratulations. Second of all thank you for a brilliant detailed post. I did feel I was right there with you but I think I may have got frustrated with all of those people walking so soon in your journey!. I did feel exhausted just reading it!

So that has given me an in sight and I think that I will retrace my thoughts and ideas of running it next year. I think being a Geordie I felt a certain nostalgia about the old place as I left Newcastle 40 years ago ( I’m 60 now). I thought that maybe I could do this.I think now though it probably isn’t for me although I know I would train hard and do all the right things,but for me it would probably take longer and I think all the masses of runners and crowds would put me off.

So I think that I’ll just keep to the odd park runs etc and just run for myself without the added pressure.

I salute you Sqkr as you like so many on this forum have done a brilliant job and you should be well chuffed with yourself 👏👏👏👏💐🏅🍾

Whoop! Whoop! 🏃‍♀️🏃‍♀️🏃‍♀️🤗🤗🤗

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Thank you Peggy, and please don't let me put you off your own Great North Run in the future! Especially as a Geordie, it's surely a rite of passage! Think of it more as a 'sqkr makes the mistakes so you don't have to' sort of a report. And when you hear of other people's good experiences mine is very much in the minority, too. I do genuinely think there are issues with overcrowding, but perhaps that is specific to the middle pens—I guess people within those will have really varied goals for their run. I'm really glad I did it, and if I do it again (and I probably will, although I said 'never' to begin with) I'll know what to expect and I'm sure enjoy it much more. (Unless it's raining. Then I'd be double miserable..!)

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"Irresponsible" was what I was thinking too, it's the same with the London Marathon, and that's double the distance ffs. Kallyfudge made some good points though.

Still, what an amazing report!!! I love reading your stuff 😊 Traumatic scenes, but I think I may yet try this one someday (a bit of a jaunt for me!)

Aaaaand... extremely well done!!!!!! I know it's hard not to be disappointed, but that was an amazing achievement!!!!!!! 💪💥

xxx

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Thank you, I do realise reading that back now I sound like a real cowbag 😅 'This race is all about me! Me me me!' I think really my main issue—outwith with my own not great run—is that it's promoted as a jolly Race For Life type affair, all costumes and camaraderie, which quickly descends into chaos when people start finding it tough going. I imagine the London Marathon must be even more like that, though possibly slightly helped by the fact it's so hard to get a place. I do wonder if there should be more emphasis placed on the fact that sure, anyone can run a half marathon, but that doesn't mean it's easy..! Even more so for a flipping marathon, I can't even entertain the idea myself just now, but people do seem to launch into it with enthusiasm in place of training. On the one hand I admire their optimism, on the other I'm really glad I'm not in their shoes at the halfway point! 😧

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Well, it's your race report, so it seems reasonable to me that it's about you 😊

Good to see the word 'cowbag' in use, though 😂

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Any HM run is a great acheivement, so well done. You did it, you got the medal and there are many other HMs that are less hassle than these big ones.

I love doing these runs too, but there is a fine line between crowd and a crush.

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Absolutely, I started big and will just get smaller until I find my comfortable place 😁

Well, I don't get smaller personally, I mean the size of race. If I got smaller I'd have to work double hard and I'm not into that at all.

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Or run shorter distances!

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Great report, gave a great flavour of what it would be like, and good to hear the balance of the negatives of such a big race instead of just the positives. Bucket list race, so great to be able to say you’ve done it.... which you have! Go you 👍

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Thank you! 😊 My own gripes disappear into a sea of positive reports from others so I know a lot of it was me having a bit of a bad day 😋 And I'm very glad to have done it.

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Well done on a fantastic run Sqkr!

One of the coaches from my running group was right behind the man who had a cardiac arrest and he started doing CPR before help arrived. We were so proud of him and he was so chuffed that the man survived!

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I'm so glad he was OK, my mind kept going back to him all race! Despite all the crowds I couldn't believe how quickly people received attention—and it seems even more amazing when it was from other runners, such as your coach! I scoured the reports afterwards to see if the poorly runner pulled through and was so relieved to find he did. That there were no serious casualties in such a huge race when so many people were pulling up ill and exhausted is incredible, all credit to the brilliant medics, marshalls and others!

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What a superb run report. I loved reading that, so many thanks for your efforts putting it together.I have my first HM in a few weeks time but I think there may only be about 500 people so hopefully none of the razmatazz and certainly no red arrows, though as it's a trail run and hilly there may be a few breakdowns and walkers.. here's hoping i'm not walking after the first mile.

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Ooo a trail run. That sounds much more to my liking! I'd definitely swap the razzmatazz for a bit of fresh air and space for my feet.

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Well done Sqkr!! I am so sorry the experience wasn't what you had probably hoped for. All the same, many congratulations! Brilliant! You sound light years ahead of me, but I do realise that we each have ur own personal running journey.Thank you so much for your really informative post. I wonder whether you should feed back any part of it to the run organisers. I watched some of the coverage on the television and it would be hard to know that it was covering the same event. I do remember commenting to my husband about the lack of running space for the runners. All the very, very best for your onward running journey.

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Thank you 61andtrying! Lots of other people did genuinely have a great day, so I know a portion of it is just me being grumpy. And I did kind of enjoy it in a masochistic way—and certainly enjoy the feeling of completing it now a few days have passed! 😊

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Great report, thank you, and fantastic achievement. To be honest, I've only heard negative reports so far, no positive ones (although I've been away from the forum for a while), with all my friends saying it's too big and promoted as a fun run, which it really isn't. The temperature won't have helped, but I think the numbers of people now is getting to the point where perhaps they may need to think about managing it differently.

Anyway, not miserable, not a cowbag, just a great runner, having achieved a brilliant run, bringing home some fab bling, and posting some great feedback. Thank you! x

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That's really interesting to hear you say that and a bit of a relief, I did begin to wonder if I was even running in the same event! I guess we all have different expectations, and I now know that the giant runs aren't for me. And to give credit where it was due, the marshalls and medics were really proactive helping people throughout. But think I'll definitely keep to the medium and small events in future!

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Wonderful race report and gosh that must have been awful seeing the poor person being resuscitated. You look amazing in your pic, a very glamorous runner. And your time is superb, well done 😎😎😎

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I'll not lie, coming from surely the most glamorous runner out there that's quite the compliment! 😊

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Well done Sqkr! Sounds like a very testing day, so don’t be too disappointed with your time vs expectations. 🏃‍♀️❤️😎

Thanks for such a detailed race report. I did wonder what these massive events were really like to run in, now I feel I’ve got a better idea. Scary to see a guy being resuscitated... 😳❤️

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It did certainly make me check I wasn't overdoing my effort levels 😮 I'm so glad he was OK, and that people were able to help him so quickly!

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I found it freaky enough volunteering at Parkrun yesterday. First time I’d seen anyone keel over after finishing, but I then discovered at least 3 other volunteers who rushed over were Drs, so we definitely have a quick response team there! ❤️

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What a great report and we'll done on completing it.

But does make me a Never want to do the great North run or the Great South run or any race again! Why would anyone want to?

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This wasn't my intention at all 😔 I've done a great run before and it was indeed great! This one was tricky and clearly a bit controversial, and I'm absolutely in the minority with my own response on the day. I've another one in a couple of weeks, which I'm imagining will be a very different sort of affair. Not least because it is probably going to be raining 😅

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The big races do have a very different feel to the small ones, I don't mind both. But I think when they get too they do start having issues. Like the ballot for London. Don't get me started on that!

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Wow wow wow what a brilliant post, puts my own effort over on the Bridge forum to shame, it was a tough but great day I thought.

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Excellent report again - I love your writing! 30+ years ago I ran the GNR twice - I think there were 25000 runners at the time and it was my slowest HM race because of the huge numbers. Dodging around people and discarded bottles takes a lot of mental and physical energy, and prevents you being able to get into a good rhythm, so you did well!

In one run I remember someone unhelpfully throwing a bucket of freezing water over me at about 10 miles, which was an unpleasant shock and I was instantly drained of energy. It was horrible, and my legs turned to lead for the rest of the run.

How worrying for you to see so many people in physical distress too, and rather early in the run!

Well done to you for getting through it. Now I'm off to look up Tailwind! xx

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