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Tips for Great North Run First-Timers

Well, the great day is nearly here – Great North Run day that is! I had my last long run (12 miles) yesterday and I don’t mind admitting my legs are pretty tired from training right now, so I’m glad to be finally tapering! I did the GNR (my first half marathon) for the first time two years ago. I’d never run that far before, so it was a bit of an unknown quantity and a massive learning curve for me. I did quite a few things wrong… like writing my mile split times on my arm in biro; unfortunately they sweated off after about two miles because it was a warm day (I didn’t have a Garmin back then!). I over-hydrated before the start, so had to stop for a pee behind a hedge after about a mile (but I wasn’t the only one!). At one point I lost the plot and couldn’t remember whether or not I’d passed the eight mile marker (I hadn’t – what a disappointment!). When I passed through the Bupa Boost Zone at mile ten I dropped all the Jelly Babies someone kindly handed to me because I didn’t want to stop running – which was a shame because at about 11½ miles I hit a bit of a wall and had to walk for a little while. At the end I was just pleased to be still standing! Even though my husband forgot where we were supposed to meet up and it took us ages to find each other I still loved the whole experience. But I loved it more last year when I knew what I was in for!

So here are a few tips that I hope might help other first-timers and non-elites like me. I learned most of them the hard way so you don’t have to! Feel free to let me know if you have any other good tips to share.

If you haven’t done any training it’s too late to start now. You can’t make up for lost time at the last minute. In fact, you’ll be doing yourself more harm than good if you try to, because you need to be rested on race day. Panicking is pointless, so just enjoy the experience and do what you can.

Take it easy during the week before the event – just have a couple of short, gentle runs to keep your legs turning. This is not the time to do lots of walking/cycling, have a big night out or tackle the gardening/decorating.

Consider having a pre-race sports massage. You don’t have to be an elite athlete to benefit from this. Even if you aren’t Mo Farah your body has still done lots of hard work! I had one a few days before last year’s event and I think it really helped.

Eat good, nutritious food in the week before the race – lean protein, good carbs, fruits and veggies. Just like a car, your body will perform much better on high grade fuel. Try to avoid alcohol – it will make a bigger difference than you think.

Get some early nights in – you want to be as refreshed as possible. Nerves may keep you awake the night before the race, and you’ll probably have an early start too, especially if (like me) you’re travelling to Newcastle on the day.

A couple of days before the event start to fuel yourself up on good carbohydrates such as wholemeal pasta and bread, beans, pulses and brown or basmati rice. There’s no need to eat loads more than usual, just adjust the proportions of your meals to include more carbs and less protein. These carbs will provide your muscles with most of the energy they’ll be using as you run. The night before the event have a meal made with ordinary pasta, as you may not have enough time to properly digest wholemeal stuff at this point.

On the morning you’ll need a breakfast that will provide you with some good energy but not take too long to digest. Different things work better for different bodies, so experiment in training. Many people favour white toast or porridge with something sweet on top like honey or jam. My personal favourite is porridge with maple syrup. Have breakfast at least two hours before the race so that it has time to leave your stomach before the start. About an hour before kick-off have a light snack such as a small banana or an energy bar if you feel hungry.

Consider carrying an energy gel or two with you to take during the race. This will prevent you ‘bonking’ (running out of steam) by giving you a temporary high-energy hit. On my recent long runs I’ve been carrying a Clif Shot Blok with me and taking half after 7 miles and the other half at around mile 10. They really do make a difference. Or of course you can stop for Jelly Babies at mile 10 and just not drop them! If you are going to use gels for the first time make sure you test them out before race day just in case they don’t agree with you.

Hydration is very important, especially if the weather is going to be warm. In the week before the race make sure you drink plenty of water. There is no set correct amount, as everyone’s body is different, but try to keep it at a level where your wee is a very pale straw colour, almost clear. Don’t overdo it on the morning of the race like I did! Water and energy drinks are available at various points along the course, so you shouldn’t need to carry a drink round with you.

Plan your travel arrangements well ahead to avoid stress spoiling your enjoyment of the big day. Think about things like where you’re going to park, how you’ll get to the start/finish and where you’ll meet up with people. There’s lots of helpful info in the GNR magazine, including how to buy bus/metro tickets online in advance. Allow plenty of time to get to the start, especially if you’re going to use the baggage buses. Bear in mind that with around 50,000 runners plus supporters and spectators all milling around at the finish the mobile phone networks get really overloaded and it’s sometimes impossible to make calls. Decide on a meeting point before the race; the best place is under the big alphabet letter signs in the finishing area. This is really important, especially if your supporters have your post-race clothes/food/drink with them and the weather isn’t good – or happen to be my husband!

Most importantly, enjoy the day – after all the training and organisation it’s taken to get there you deserve it. You won’t believe how good you’ll feel when you cross the line. I’m running for Martin House Children’s Hospice. If anyone would like to make donation you can do so on my Just Giving page.

Good luck everyone!

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