It may be grim up North, but there will always be jelly babies
The Grit Doctor is out-gritted by The Great North Run, or ‘the Great North Grit Fest’
Is the Grit Doctor a dinosaur? Of course not. She is completely unbowed. A view of runners during the Great North Run in Newcastle. Photograph: Richard Sellers/PA Wire
I’m sat on my bed, staring at two angry blood blisters pulsating beneath the middle toenails of my left foot. The only thing distracting me from the pain are the aches in my legs and hips. All courtesy of yesterday’s Great North Run, which I will always remember as the Great North Grit Fest.
The bad start from which I never recovered began with a text message from my brother 20 minutes before the run asking me to call him about something urgent, which sent me spiralling into a black hole of anxiety, certain that there had been a death in the family (there hadn’t, but I couldn’t get through to him until after the run because the phone networks were struggling under the weight of 50,000 or so users). Bless him, he didn’t know I was running or would obviously have thought better of it.
But with this thought weighing on my mind, Polly and I set off, having been told by my dear friend Alice who’d had us to stay overnight and who’d run it three times – once in a staggeringly fast 1 hour 38 minutes – that the whole thing was downhill. Had I done my homework on the race I’d have known this wasn’t true, but I took her word for it and had gone to sleep smiling, envisioning wafting effortlessly downhill for 13.1 miles bouncing off concrete.
Because of this mindset, and my expectations of the course, I experienced the race as being almost entirely uphill. If I’d known about all the inclines, I’d have been prepared for them mentally, but as it was, I felt cheated and incompetent. Polly and I talked of nothing else, ‘is it just me, or is this another bloody hill?’ I was unwilling to lose that focus – a negative one – and was unable to find my stride.
Which was such a shame as there was much on hand to alleviate the pain and relentless inclines: bands, motivating quotations and music, kids handing out jelly babies, thousands of supporters urging us all on.
The thought of a nice cold lager and a roast dinner at the end might have spurred me on. Having the shot of lager offered to me at mile 10 would have cheered me up. But I was in a running funk and I couldn’t get out of it.
Part of my brain, the dominant part, was saying “give up, you cannot do this, stop, give up, stop, give up, stop”. I felt as though I had dead weights for legs; dead weights that I was lugging around for 13.1 miles against their will. I expected my legs to hurt later on in the run, but not right from the outset. I couldn’t speak to Polly either. We’d always nattered throughout our training runs, especially during those brutal first 10 minutes to take our minds off it, but we were both speechless. Speechless with the grit and the interminable inclines.
There were two miles somewhere in the middle that passed relatively quickly, but the rest of the run was mental and physical torture. I wanted to give up during the first mile and that feeling never left me.
But here’s the thing: we didn’t give up. We kept going, we didn’t stop once, despite losing each other at the beer shots at mile 10. I never gave in to that voice, I thought of my husband and sons tracking me, and of Polly, my sister and brother-in-law and niece Rafaela, and how determined I was not to let them down.
I have never been so glad in my life for a run to be over and to see Polly waiting for me as I crossed the finish line.
All the wonder, joy and excitement marvelling at this incredible event; the grit of others; the less able-bodied people miles ahead of me; runners with photos of their loved ones RIP on their vests; the crowds; the support; the collective levels of grit being channelled; the money that’s been raised for charity – I’m experiencing in retrospect.
It’s flooding my thoughts and emotions now and will fuel my week, and the months ahead. Even more powerful than all that is the sense of possibility I experienced from saying “No” to fear and doubt and “Yes” to facing it. I looked fear square in the eye for 13.1 miles and stuck two fingers up at it by simply putting one foot in front of the other.
And that is always gold.
The Grit Doctor says: I ran GNR2017 in 2 hours, 9 minutes. Polly Whitton ran 2 hours, 6 minutes. She beat me!