Event #6 – Great North Run (The End)

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13.1 Miles – 2 Hours, 55 Minutes, 1 Second

I set myself one main objective today. To finish. To cross the finishing line under my own steam, no matter how slowly or painfully. Mission accomplished.

While my primary goal was simply to complete the Great North Run, I was also hoping to ideally get through it inside three hours, and while I wouldn’t have been hugely concerned if I hadn’t managed that, I’m really pleased that I did so with a little bit of room to spare.

Before today, I had genuine doubts about my ability to finish a half marathon these days. The ordeal of the Great North 10k knocked my confidence quite a bit, because if I struggled to complete 6 and a bit miles, how would I get through more than double that distance?

On the day, though, I never really felt as though I wasn’t going to complete the race. That hoary old cliche about the atmosphere carrying you through really is true, and I was very careful to go really slowly early on.

Even when taking it leisurely, the first few miles whizz by, with the iconic and emotional trip over the Tyne Bridge an obvious highlight, enhanced by the pleasant surprise of seeing my friend Adam spectating just as I hit the bridge.

It was also a massive boost to see my wife and eldest daughter in their usual spot about three miles in, although it’s after that bit that it becomes a bit more of a struggle psychologically, because all that’s left after I’ve seen my family is 10 miles more of slogging.

I was pretty disciplined about it though – Knowing I was never going to run the whole distance, I made sure I ran to each mile marker and gave myself a few minutes walking time afterwards, before kicking back into a run.

That strategy worked pretty well until about 10 miles in when my legs just seized up and I knew I had very little running left in me. The physical wobble triggered an emotional one, and I turned to Facebook for a bit of support (an indication of how slowly I was travelling by then!) People were very kind and supportive and by then I knew I was going to complete it, even if I had to walk the last three miles.

I shook my legs out a little and managed to run some of the last mile, that torturous (albeit raucous and scenic) stretch along the sea front. As ever, it was a hugely emotional experience getting over the finishing line, although for the first time in my four runs, I didn’t burst into tears (I guess I got that out of my system somewhere between 10 and 11 miles).

So that’s it for Run, Browno, Run. I’d hoped to do another half marathon this year, but I know I don’t have the physical capability to do that any more, so this marks the end both of this year’s events and my half marathon days in general.

In spite of the physical challenges, and even though I didn’t complete as many events as I’d hoped, I’m still proud of the ground I’ve covered this year. I joked this year was a last hurrah for my knees, and that’s how it’s turned out, but it’s been a lot of fun all the same.

More importantly, I’m unbelievably grateful for the incredible generosity shown by all who have sponsored me this year. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve been doing all this to raise as much money as possible for Bloodwise in a bit to show some solidarity to an old friend whose journey over the last year or so has been a million times tougher than mine.

If you still want to donate, the page is open for a little longer, and can be found here. All donations count for double because my employer match my sponsorship total.

Thank you all.

4.5 Miles, 51.32 Minutes

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Yesterday I posted on Facebook that I didn’t think I’d make it out for another decent run before the big day of the Great North Run in a week’s time. By that, I meant I didn’t actually think I’d get out again at all because my knees were playing up a little, so I intended to rest instead of agitate them (they’re grumpy old fuckers, just like their owner).

However, feeling surprisingly fresh-legged this morning, and having that familiar old itch in the feet to get my trainers on, I figured I might as well get out and hit the Quayside while I could.

Truth be told, I’d definitely rather have covered more distance, but the last thing I wanted was to mess myself up for next week – the order of the day was simply getting as many miles in as my legs could comfortably accommodate, and it turns out that figure was four and a half. Given that I was expecting it to be zero, though, I’m not going to grumble too much.

It’s painfully clear I’ve not been able to train as much as you ideally should for a half marathon, but one way or another, I’m determined to finish next week. Realistically, it’s extremely unlikely I’ll do the Morpeth half-marathon I’d booked in for October, so I’ll chuck everything I’ve got (whatever that may be) at next Sunday. I’m not even bothered about times – I’d definitely like to get back within three hours, but just finishing is the main goal.

This is most likely my last run until next Sunday, so I’ll see you on the other side.

(By the way, thanks again for the incredibly kind sponsorships throughout the year – Any more donations to Bloodwise are gratefully received).

Music: Martha – Courting Strong

6 Miles, 68.33 Minutes

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The problem with having favourite routes is that when it comes to trying to stretch yourself and add some extra distance, it can be quite tricky to manage. I’ve found that psychologically, when I get to my usual central point, my legs take on the demeanour of a dog who knows when it’s time to start going home from its walk, and start to pull on their metaphorical lead and resist further progress.

Tonight, conscious of my need to really stretch myself and cover some more ground less than three weeks before the Great North Run (gulp), I decided to try and hoodwink my legs, on the assumption that they’re as stupid as the rest of me and likely to fall for a simple grift.

Instead of heading straight down to my beloved Quayside route after parking the car, I did a warm-up lap of Newcastle Business Park, taking in a bit of Scotswood Road (oh, me lads), so I was already a mile deep by the time I arrived at my usual start point.

I was hoping my auto-pilot instincts were strong enough to take me past the usual landmarks on the way out and back in without recognising that my muscles had absorbed an extra (secret) mile.

It worked pretty well. By the time I got to my usual turning point, the Pitcher and Piano, a pub replete with people who consider a fiver a reasonable price for a pint, and who have precious little desire to GET THE FUCK OUT OF MY WAY as I’m running past, I was 3.5 miles in, rather than 2.5 and still feeling okay.

I was reasonably comfortable hitting the home stretch (ok, my left knee and right thigh were typically sore, but bearably so), and I felt fantastic at the end to have covered 6 miles.

Now I guess I just need to find a way to trick my legs into doing two miles without thinking about it next time out. If you speak to them, don’t give the game away, okay?

Music: Idlewild – 100 Broken Windows

5 Miles, 55.12 Minutes

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I’ve seen it suggested that running is as much about the mental as the physical. I’ll be honest, I’ve often felt that this applied mainly to those whose bodies functioned better than mine, so I’ve ignored this adage for the last few years.

That said though, I’m slowly starting to come round to the idea that this might still be a truth universally acknowledged which might actually have some relevance to my own little situation.

This evening I tried to set myself up for as ‘easy’ a ride as possible for a long(ish) run by heading to the Quayside (it’s been a while), my go-to blend of the picturesque and the flat. However, as is so often the case, those joints midway down my legs which shall not be named were at their most mischievous right from the off. As soon as I wearily plonked one foot in front of the other, they sent me an unmistakable message along the lines of ‘Sorry, Browno, we’re not up for this tonight pal. Take us home and put us down on your recliner, there’s a good lad’.

So what did I do? I ignored those boney, tangled, cartilage-deficient little fuckers. I just pushed on. It was slow, it was uncomfortable, but sheer weight of will carried me five miles, and I feel absolutely fantastic. (albeit pretty sore).

I needed this. Because I’ve made such a public spectacle of my efforts this year, people often kindly ask me, ‘how’s your training going?’ I respond to this with a furrow of the brow, a gentle inclination of the head and say ‘it’s not, my knees have had it, so I’ll just have to get through it as best I can’. That’s all still true, but maybe if I focus my mind properly, getting through it to a reasonable level might be a bit more feasible than I’ve previously feared.

Chill. I’ve got this.

Music: Weezer – The Blue Album

3.55 Miles, 40 Minutes

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Oh dear, oh dear. Last time I moaned at not having been out for 11 days. This time it’s been 14. Two runs in twenty five days isn’t such good training for a half marathon in less than a month, is it?

It can’t really be helped, though. I’m far more grown up than I’d have you believe – I have two children, a busy job, and I’m in the process of selling my house and buying a new one. Oh, and did I ever mention my knees are a bit creaky?

As ever, it felt great to get out though. I knew it was going to be challenging after another lengthy gap, which is why I took it fairly easy with a gentle pace from the off, but the benefit of that approach is that I’m actually reasonably free of pain right now. (Oh, God, I hope I don’t live to regret that and wake up with knees of fiery chalk tomorrow)

It was quite a nice little trot, taking in my tried and tested route straight from work, and I’m pleased to have resisted the very strong urge to slow to a walk on the steep climb up on to the Scotswood Bridge (both ways). The only lowlight was making a bit of a spectacle of myself when a cyclist’s bell startled me and I nearly jumped into the bloody Tyne in fright, which would’ve been canny disastrous – there’s a very good reason this blog isn’t called ‘Swim, Browno, Swim’.

By now I know better than to say ‘Hey, I think this might be the start of some real momentum guys’, because, dear readers who have stuck with me through thick and thicker, we all know that’s not how this stuff tends to pan out with me. Let’s agree, though, I’ll try and make sure I don’t wait a fortnight before I next lace up my New Balances, eh?

Music: Sleater-Kinney – Dig Me Out

4 Miles, 44.34 Minutes

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Yes, I know, I’ve been quiet. That’s because I haven’t run in 11 days, which is definitely pretty rubbish. Still, no point fretting about it – Life’s a bit nuts at the moment because we’re trying to sell the house, so time is at a premium.

I’m really pleased to have got myself back out tonight though. I’ve been absolutely itching to get my legs pumping again, and while it was akin to torture, it was increasingly necessary to get through it.

Quite predictably, my left knee is pretty stiff and sore, but I knew that was going to happen. I pushed on (slowly) for a bigger distance than I’ve been doing lately, and I was pleasantly surprised to have managed four miles, but there’s no way old lefty was going to let me off scot-free. I’ll just rest it for a few days and try and get out again early/mid next week.

On a vaguely related note, it really feels like Facebook Memories has been taunting me a little of late. I’m reminded on a daily basis at the moment of how awesome my training was going  time two years ago, I was training like a man possessed, doing 7-8 milers comfortably at this stage. One day I actually had the gall to complain that my 8 miles wasn’t a very good time – oh the folly of youth.

That was an awesome summer. I did so much running, it was crazy – I topped 120 miles in July 2015, reaching levels I never thought I’d manage. I’m still very proud of what I achieved that year. There’s a small part of me which thinks ‘you’ve done it before, you can do it again’, but if I’m honest, I know my legs aren’t capable any more.

Realistically I now know that this was as good as it’s every going to get. I beat myself up about it for a while, but there’s no point in that, is there? If anything, the sense of achievement as I collapse over the Great North Run finishing line again in 6 weeks or so will probably end up being bigger than in any of my previous 3 attempts. I’m already really looking forward to that feeling, and it’s part of what’s keeping me going.

(The other, far more significant thing keeping me going though, is the aim to raise as much money for Bloodwise as I can. Thanks so so much for all the support. Donations are still gratefully received here)

Music: Johnny Foreigner – Waited Up ’til it Was Light

2.27 Miles, 23.30 Minutes

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Last time out I ended with about the closest you’ll ever get to a cliffhanger from a blog about a chubby plodder chronicling his attempts to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Would our hero defiantly pull on his stretchy shorts, lace up up his New Balances and manage to get back into his not-that-impressive-really groove, or would our leitmotif of the wear and tear plaguing the troublesome chunks of bone and cartilage halfway up his legs mean the end of our enthralling saga?

Well, the reality was a little bit of both, and a little bit of neither. I did manage to pull on my stretchy shorts, I did lace up my New Balances, and I got a couple of miles done in absolutely blistering heat. I even ended up accidentally doing it quite quickly, much to my surprise.

There wasn’t any dramatically adverse reaction in either knee, although it’s clear to me that neither feels ‘quite right’, with the left being a bit worse than the right. (What cruel irony – a Labour man like me being derailed by his own left). What I think I have to acknowledge now is that ultimately, these creaky knees have taken a lot of strain down the years and the countless twists, tweaks and tears of cartilage and ligament have taken their toll.

Faced with this realisation, I’ve got to accept that my next event (the Durham City Run 10k on Wednesday) simply isn’t going to happen for me. I’m still not sufficiently recovered from the set-back of the Great North 10k, so I think another one so soon would pose too great a risk of really screwing myself up.

I’m absolutely determined not to give up on the remaining two events I have left (the Great North Run and Morpeth Half Marathon), though. I’m definitely going to need to manage my training pretty carefully to have any kind of chance of surviving them.

Godspeed, old knees.

Event #5 – Great North 10k

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6.38 Miles, 1 Hour, 12 Minutes, 7 Seconds

The Great North 10k is an ideal warm-up event for the real deal, which is now not much more than two months away (Yikes). It also serves as a pretty good sense-check as to how someone is progressing in their training for the big day.

For me, today was a real race of two halves. The first 5k was a dream, although it got off to a worrying start when two minutes in I turned my ankle over in a pothole and thought for a second that I’d blown it right at the beginning. Thankfully that was a false alarm which I think was more scary to those around me than it was to me, and besides a little tenderness on the top of my foot, I didn’t do any real damage.

From that point, I felt strong and confident, in spite of the blistering heat. (One water station in this heat, though – Seriously?!) The course is a funny set-up, given that halfway through you turn back on yourself and start running back the way you’ve just come. The effect of this is that if you’re towards the back of the pack at the beginning, from very early on you’re parallel to a stream of traffic on their way back in, which is a bit disconcerting when you’re only a couple of kilometres in. Still, it was nice to give my misleadingly fast mate Andy a high-five, as well as seeing various other pals heading homeward, not all of whom saw me. (Hi Suzy, Tom, Bob and Pete!)

Notwithstanding that, once you’ve navigated the annoyingly treacherous roads around the stadium and hit the Quayside, it’s a pretty enjoyable route – I’ve waxed lyrical numerous times about how much I love this route on my training runs, although it turns out the Gateshead side is oddly hillier than the Newcastle stretch I normally hit.

It was all going pretty well up to the mid-point of the race where you start to come back on yourself and join the side of the barrier that people are jealous of. However, this is when the wheels started to come off. It started with my left knee feeling a little tender, but nothing too alarming at first. Historically, this has always been the weaker of my knees, although that’s a real classic ‘bald men fighting over a comb’ kinda contest.

By the time I got to 7k, though, I was closer to quitting an event than I ever have been before. The knee really didn’t feel good, and at that point I genuinely thought I wasn’t going to make it to the finishing line. To be honest, quitting probably would’ve been the sensible thing to do.

However, a combination of stubbornness and the thought of why I’m doing this drove me on. It was an inordinately slow last few kilometres, particularly once you hit the 9k sign and the dreaded ‘Slog on the Tyne’ uphill stretch, but the feeling once I had hauled myself into Gateshead Stadium and plodded around the running track and over the line was fantastic.

The last few kilometres was probably the most I’ve ever struggled in an event (yes, even more than the dreaded Cragside), and I think I need to spend the next few days thinking about what my body is capable of. Right now my knee is pretty sore, so I’ll rest up as best I can and see how that recovers before I make any snap decisions. Even in my pain, I’m still hopeful I can get through the last few events, although I may need to take the training easy, and I reckon this year might realistically be my last GNR.

Still, perhaps the sunburn and knee pain is worth a sponsor?

Music: Kanye West – My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy

4.0 Miles, 42.52 Minutes

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When I saw that the weather today was shitty horrible rain, I was actually kinda glad I’d brought my running stuff to work.

I’ve realised recently I love running in conditions like this. I’m not sure whether or not that’s a bit strange? I know most people probably enjoy a nice cooling shower when running, but I well and truly relish it when it’s absolutely pissing down and I’m so wet at the end that I’m not sure what’s sweat and what’s rain.

Thinking about it, that is probably at least a little bit weird, isn’t it? Maybe I’m some kinda rain perv or something, I dunno. Perhaps it’s partly ‘cos I’ve got some good historic memories of doing awesome runs which happen to have taken place in downpours.

It was probably also exacerbated by the fact I knew I was feeling strong tonight, so when I was striding confidently out in the initial stages absorbing the amplified scents of all the drenched plantlife surrounding Newburn Riverside, it felt like the elements were on my side.

Each squelch in a puddle felt like a minor triumph, every probably-not-accidental splashing I took from a car was an act of defiance and finally settling into the foisty sauna of my car at the end felt like a true victory.

Really, this was exactly the kind of confidence boost I really needed on what is realistically going to be my last run before the Great North 10k on Sunday. I’m going into it in such good fettle that even the increasingly fervent aches and pains in my legs don’t feel so important.

You’ll forgive me if I hope for heavy rain this weekend, right?

Music: CHVRCHES – The Bones of What You Believe

 

 

2.0 Miles, 20.51 Minutes

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I’ve been thinking recently about how, events aside, I tend to do the same two or three routes, and I wondered if that’s part of the reason why I’m in a little bit of a rut, running-wise. I’ve mentioned previously that I’m not as pleased with where I am fitness-wise as I’d like to be, and maybe that’s because I need to mix it up a little.

In that spirit, I decided that after a day at the Wallsend Festival with my parents, the kids and Mrs Browno, I might as well run the relatively short distance from Wallsend to their house.  It was pretty fun hitting a route I’d never run before (although one I’d driven A LOT).

It’s amazing how little you notice hills when it’s your car taking the strain rather than your legs, and it turns out that the road which effectively runs through Richardson Dees Park is way steeper than I’d ever realised, in spite of having spent the first 18 years of my life living in Wallsend(ish).

I’d actually overestimated how far the run would be too – I guess distances seem bigger when you’re a kid, but for some reason I figured it’d be 3 to 4 miles.As it turns out though I reached my parents’ house within a mile and a half and had to run to the end of their estate and back and loop their block a couple of times just to string two miles out of it.

Still, in spite of the run being a bit shorter than I’d expected, it was nice to step out of my comfort zone. It felt like a (much) smaller scale version of the time I ran home to Gateshead from Durham after a day out with the family two years ago. As ever, it was much more demanding running after a day in the sunshine with my kids than after a day in the office, but it’s given me a taste for trying new routes to keep my interest going.

One week ’til the Great North 10k, and I’m aiming to run twice before then, and at least one five miler in that time.

Music: Sleater-Kinney – Dig Me Out