What it’s like to run the Great North Run in too small shoes.

It’s a week ago today that I ran the Great North Run to raise money for Tommy’s . Tommy’s fund research into stillbirth, miscarriage and premature birth, all of which I have experienced. It meant a great deal to be running for them, I was running in memory of my daughter, Matilda, so it was quite emotionally charged.


I’d wanted to run last year but then during a training session, about a two weeks before the date, I injured my knee as I was running down a hill, and it put me out of action, running wise, for a good four or five months. However, Tommy’s were brilliant, they allowed me to put my name down for the following year and all my sponsors were moved. I was gutted, but determined to be there this year.

Training went reasonably well to start with, I was walking a lot anyway as a dog walker, and started running short runs, building up over time. My training plan included a variety of different work outs alongside the running: Monday Yoga, Tuesday Kettlebells, Wednesday a short two mile run, Thursday spinning, Friday a five KM (3.2 mile run), Saturday rest day and Sunday a long run, extending the route each time by a little way.

I’d managed to get up to around six miles of walking and running when I went to Mexico in July. It was all inclusive, there was booze, food, and the heat was incredible. I’d taken my kit to continue my training, but after getting a migraine after one session in the hotel gym, I decided to just enjoy the holiday and get back to it when I returned. Only, when I returned it took me about two weeks to recover, I’d been bitten mercilessly by mosquitos and my leg had swollen, and then there was the jet lag. By the time I got back to training it was like starting all over again and the panic began to set in. This was August, I got up to around 7.5 miles, but that was the furthest I managed. However, one thing that did improve my waining confidence was meeting someone in the pub who was a runner. She was late fifties early sixties and she had recently run her first 10km, she’d run all the way without stopping. I almost begged her to tell me what the secret to running without stopping was. Turns out it’s to run slower. She told me to just slow down, don’t think about what everyone else is doing, the only person I’m competing against is myself. It was a lightbulb moment, and the following week I managed my first 5km without stopping even once. Suddenly my confidence was up again. However, work conspired against me and my training suffered yet again as I couldn’t fit it in. And then, suddenly, it was the day before and I hadn’t even gotten my Tommy’s vest out to check I could run in it. I’d hoped to lose weight before the race, but in fact, thanks to Mexico, I’d gained an extra stone. In a bid to feel better about myself I decided to go to Sports Direct and grab a new T-shirt and leggings to run in. Possibly the worst thing you can do is to change your kit for a race, if you’ve trained in something it’s best to stick with it. However, it didn’t matter, because even though I’d taken the biggest size they had on the rails they didn’t fit when I got home. I was mortified. And even though I KNOW that Sports Direct have weirdly smaller sizes, I was mortified and cried. And when my friend rang me to see if I was prepared for the race, I cried. I locked myself in the bathroom and cried and cried and cried because I already felt like a failure. What on earth was I doing? I was the only person ever to GAIN weight while training for a half marathon. I was going to let my sponsors down, I was going to let Tommy’s down and worst, oh far worst than that, I was letting Matilda down. I could not pull myself together.

I decided to order a big carb loaded Chinese takeaway and have a couple of pints of beer. I got my kit out, I shoved the crappy tiny Sports Direct clothes into the back of the wardrobe and I got my Tommy’s shirt out. I sat and filled in the back panel with Matilda’s name. I went to bed. I was resigned to walking the thirteen miles. I did not sleep a wink. Or rather I dreamt the whole night through. I dreamt I’d run it in flip flops, I dreamt I’d run it in a heavy rain coat with an umbrella, I dreamt I’d run along a crumbling cliff top, and then the alarm went off. And suddenly, all that nervous energy poured into me like fire. I got up and I KNEW I could do it. I don’t know what changed, I just felt entirely different. I looked at myself in the mirror and thought ‘I have done more taxing things than this, I’m running this because once I went to hell and I came back again. Thirteen miles is nowt.’

I got my stuff together, I took a photo for my Instagram account and I got in the car. I was doing it, and I was excited. The sun was just coming up over the moors and the sky was the most beautiful shade of blush pink, the heather was the most purple I’d seen it and Chris and I chatted to each other and joked and laughed, it felt like a day out, rather than something looming horribly.

It took a while to get there, to get the metro, which was packed, and to find where we were going. But it seemed to all go so quickly, before I knew it I was waving at Chris on the other side of the barrier and waiting to get started. There is an incredible feeling to the Great North Run; everyone is on the same side, there is banter on the cramped metro, complete strangers cheer you on from the sidelines. It’s an incredible feeling to be a part of it.

I cried quite a lot before and during the race, first when they played music in memory of the people that the charity fundraisers were running for, then when the count down started, once when someone, a complete random person shouted to me and told me I could do it, that I had come so far. This was at a point when I thought I couldn’t do it, when I felt I couldn’t finish. It spurred me on.

It took about an hour to get to the start line, once the racee had started, so far back was I in the slow slow group, and then we were off and I was trying to start my fitbit and panicking and then I was jogging and smiling and trying to slow my pace a little as I knew I was going faster than the pace I had trained at. It was exhilarating, enjoyable, the course was not unlike the hills around my home town and I felt confident. I missed the first mile marker, the first time I realised I’d gone anywhere past it was when I realised I was about to run over the Tyne bridge, and that fission of excitement and pleasure went through me, I was really doing it! After watching it on TV for years, I was doing it and I was doing it for Matilda. Around about the five km point it started to become much more uphill, and I started to struggle with the hills, but I kept on going, trying to slow myself down because I knew that slowing my pace meant that I would run much further. At around four miles my hamstrings felt tight, but not impossibly so, and I noticed a slight tug on my toes. I wondered, briefly, if my shoes might be too small, but dismissed the thought immediately because I’d been training in them for over a year, surely I would have noticed if they were too small?

I had to walk a tiny bit at five miles, a tiny bit at six miles, but at this point I was still running quiet well. When I passed seven miles and then the ten km marker I checked my times and was almost exactly the same as I had been for the York 10KM, I was set to achieve my target of two and a half hours. Then my knee started to tug a little, and the pain in my toes was starting to feel worse, it actually felt like I had put my toe through the end of my sock, like a tightening, but I’d passed seven miles I was doing well, I carried on, but the uphills, which seemed to be long and slow and hard as hard were wearing me out. Psychologically, I’d thought that once I reached ten miles I would be ok, because it was then ONLY three miles to the finish. I knew I could do three miles, it was nothing. But then I passed mile eight and hit the wall. The fabled wall. I pushed against it and slowed down, walked a little and actually stopped to stretch my ham strings as it was beginning to be very painful. Then I got back on it, but I was starting to weave a little and felt like I was in a dream. I swear the miles got longer at this point. I walked more, ran less, couldn’t stop thinking about the increasing pain in my toes. Mile nine just about killed me. Each time I stopped to walk the little bits I was allowing myself my toes were throbbing, I was looking at my shoes all the time, certain that I would start to see blood pooling though, and I had to stop to stretch out my hamstrings on that dodgy right leg more and more. At one point my knee felt like it had when I had injured it, but it immediately went off. I’d forgotten my energy gels, I’d left them in the car, so I substituted jelly babies that were being given out, and hoped for a sugar rush.  I drank more water, but I turned down the beers that people kept offering, yes, really! I allowed myself to walk for maybe a quarter of a mile. Then I checked my fitbit and realised I had lost the speed and momentum I’d had and my finish time was getting further away.

I finally made ten miles and didn’t get the rush of adrenaline I had counted on. I was passing the medical tents, limping a little now as my leg was so painful and my toes, oh god my toes were so painful. I found I was fine as I was running, they went numb, sort of, but I just could no longer run very far, the hills were killing me. I’d gone too fast at the beginning and burned myself out a bit, but I just kept thinking  ‘if you just keep putting one foot in front of the other, you’ll get there’.  I stared at the ground, I couldn’t bear to see the world passing by so slowly. And then someone, someone random shouted my name, they’d read it on the front of my vest, ‘You can do this, Wendy, come on!’ and I started crying a bit because I was so knackered and my feet hurt so much and my hamstrings were so painful, my knee and my glutes and my lower back were so painful and I just kept looking at the medical tents and thinking how badly I wanted to collapse into there, and imagining myself telling people “I did my best’ and then I suddenly thought – I can do this – I can do this, I walk thirteen miles a day dog walking. So what if I walk the rest. I can do this. My body can do this. And my pace picked up.

At eleven miles I started to feel a bit of a second wind and found that, actually, on the flat I could still run for a good while before slowing and walking and I did, I started over taking people, I let go of the idea of finishing in any sort of good time and just concentrated on getting my body over the line. The crowds were incredible, the Tommy’s cheering point was a massive boost. I must have just looked in so much pain. But I managed a strangled ‘whoop’ and a thumbs up as I went by. Then I saw an Elvis impersonator singing in the middle of the road and it made me laugh, and another runner called Wendy shuffled past and gave the thumbs up and I saw a bunch of girls in tutus run off into KFC and that made me laugh too and I remembered that I wasn’t a professional runner and that I had just dragged myself around eleven miles, and I was doing ok. I was doing ok. Then I was turning the corner, up up up up up this hill, up and up this hill, and suddenly there was the sea. There was the beautiful, sparkling, perfect sea and the biggest, steepest down hill, and I knew I was so close. I ran down the hill and I ran around the corner and I started seeing people with medals and shiny blankets walking back from the finish line. And then there was the sign for 800 meters, there were no more miles, just meters and I tried so hard to run the rest of it, but I couldn’t, I just couldn’t. Then I saw the sign for 200 meters, and then I heard my husband shout me and I saw him in the stand and waved and grinned, because I was so close, and I cried a bit because he loves me and was shouting for me and cheering me on. I started running, and my toes felt like they were exploding, but I could see the finish and I had wanted, forever, forever and ever to be someone who got that finishing sprint in. I ran hard as I could, big strides, big painful strides and arms in the air cheering myself on through the finish and I grinned and grinned, and staggered. I staggered, and grinned and cried. And when they put my medal round my neck I cried and cried because I’d done it for Matilda. And I’d done it for myself.

I was so pleased I’d remembered to bring my sandals with me, my most comfortable shoes, Chris had carried them for me. I felt sure my toe nails would be off when I took my shoes off, but there was nothing to see. However, by the time we eventually got home, some six or seven hours later, it was clear that my shoes had in fact been a little too small, my left foot nails are now black and blue, my right toe nail developed a blister underneath the nail bed, where the under the skin end had repeatedly been rammed into the soft nail bed. So painful. I managed to lance it myself, thank goodness. I did not want to be the person visiting their GP with a pitiful blister. It was not pretty, but strangely satisfying. I am now able to walk again after two days were I could barely get on my feet. I am actually looking forward to wearing my finishers shirt to the gym, and doing my first little run since the race.

The donation page is still open, so if you fancy donating to a chubby girl who ran thirteen miles in too small shoes, please do. The link is here: Virgin money giving

One of the first things I said when I crossed the line, to Chris, was that I would never do that again. Never ever again. By the end of the next day I had signed up for 2018 GNR, and Chris has too.

3 hours, four minutes. Boom.

2 thoughts on “What it’s like to run the Great North Run in too small shoes.

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