I first decided to do the Great North Run at the beginning of 1990. It was a daunting challenge, but I was determined to train and complete the course, irrespective of how long I took.
I was living in Nuneaton at the time and the race was to take place in July. I entered as a normal applicant as I wasn’t using a racing wheelchair.
13 miles seemed daunting, but I put together my own practice programme pushing around the streets near where I lived. The course was relatively flat with a few challenging slopes. I started doing 3 miles a couple of times during the week after work and on a Sunday morning. After a couple of months I stepped the Sunday push up to 6 miles.
As race day approached, I was sent my pack with a five digit race number, which meant I was due to start near the back, just down from Grandstand Road roundabout. At least it was downhill to the starting line.
While I became comfortable doing 6 miles, doing 13 still seemed a long way off. I was going to have to increase the distance. Fortunately, the weather on the Sunday before the race was good as I set off on a planned 10 mile push.
I completed that in just under 3 hours, but learnt a very important lesson during that practice, which would serve me well the following week- you get blisters on your hands when pushing so far. I had seen the racers taping their hands in addition to wearing gloves as I was and I did the same on race day.
The weather was favourable on race day as I was dropped off at the top of the Grandstand Road slip road on to the Central Motorway. The atmosphere was fantastic as nearly 40,000 of us assembled for the mid morning start. As the gun went off in the distance it was a slow crawl as we made our way towards the start line.
About 20 minutes later I crossed the line and made my way towards the Tyne Bridge on the Southbound carriageway. This passed under the Northbound carriageway, which also carried a mass of runners. Pushing on the road proved much easier than on the pavements where I had practiced and I made steady progress over the Tyne Bridge and along the Felling By-pass towards the long gradual climb from Gateshead Stadium to Heworth Roundabout. It was a slow climb, but when I reach the top at the 4 mile marker, I felt quite relieved as I knew there were some downhill and flatter stretches as I headed towards the A19 crossing near the Tyne Tunnel.
I was in full flow now and the watching crowds made the event extra special as they cheered me on. It’s something you have to experience to really feel what taking part in the Great North Run means to those of us who have done it. The race continued on up John Reid Road and on towards the steep hill at Marsden. I was well past the 10 mile mark and certainly up for the final challenge to go down that slope into the final stretch along the sea front.
I decided to cope with Marsden hill in a zig zag pattern and turned left to see there was still over a mile to go. By this time, there were thousands lining both sides of the road in the final mile. I was now running on the reserve tank with adrenalin driving me on.
Finally, the finishing line was in sight as I turned right on to the now flattened grass to cross the finishing line.
Although absolutely thrilled to have completed the event, I felt a little disappointed that it was over. I could have done a bit more, I’m sure.
Soon I was in line with other finishers to receive my medal and t-shirt. My unofficial time was around 2 hours 45 minutes, which I was delighted at, given it was the first time I had covered the full half marathon distance.
Like just about everyone else in the race, I had decided to raise money for a good cause. As a child, I had spent three years at Pendower Hall School from the age of 8 after my various spells in hospital. They were significant years in my life, so I had decided to raise funds for them to buy some computer equipment. I can’t recall the exact amount raised, but it was a significant amount that would enable them to get a new printer, which were much more expensive in relative terms than they are today.
A few weeks later, I visited the school to present a cheque to Miss Danskin, who I was delighted to see. She had been my class teacher for the final two years I spent there and was now headteacher at the school.
I completed the Great North Run again in 1991 and 1992, but that’s a story for another day. Will I do it again? I’d love to!