Running changed my life

How I went from coming last in PE to running the Great North Run

There really was no other topic I could bear writing about this week.

If you follow me on any platform whatsoever, you’ll know I did the Great North Run on Sunday, alongside (miles behind) the wonderful Katie Thompson of Katie Lingo, who travelled up from York to join me to support Pancreatic Cancer UK - a charity dedicated to helping family, friends and patients suffering from one of the most aggressive cancers. Both my mam and Katie’s dad passed away from Pancreatic Cancer in 2019, so it was a no-brainer when it came to choosing a charity to support.

Running has never really come naturally to me

During the first lockdown, I re-downloaded the Couch to 5K app. After a failed attempt in 2019 that involved me losing all my keys on the beach, I stopped even trying to run.

It would be an understatement to say I’m not a natural athlete. I was always last or second-to-last at cross country in school, and I still have nightmares about playing high school hockey in the pouring rain. It took me over a decade to even consider cardiovascular exercise again after the trauma of PE.

Once I started diligently following C25K, I began noticing improvements in my running - but, more significantly, I saw a change in my mentality. A large part of running is mental, your body can go through extremes that your mind can’t really conceive. When you start running, that voice in your head will scream “stooopppp” but, unless you’re injured, or on the verge of vomiting, you don’t need to stop. C25K taught me that no matter how slow you are running, just don’t stop - I’m sure there’s a good life lesson there somewhere.

In August 2020, I finally ran 5K without stopping. It took me about 40 minutes, but I did it - and from that moment onwards, I was hooked. Other than the week I had sciatica, I have ventured out (or hopped on the gym treadmill) every week since.

Earlier in the summer, I took on my first ‘proper’ race at the Great North 10k - acting as a warm-up for the GNR. In spite of the belting sunshine and formidable hills, the greatest challenge for me was just getting past my own anxiety. A few years have passed since anxiety and panic ruled my life, but old habits die hard, and I sometimes fall back into my nerve-wracked self when outside my comfort zone. Nevertheless, I completed the 10K (no PB) and started preparing for the big one.

Fast forward to last weekend. As I sat on the metro venturing to town to start the Great North Run, I recalled a time where I couldn’t even travel on the famed Newcastle transport system without having to disembark to have a panic attack on the platform. And now I’m heading into the city to run 13 miles alongside 50,000 other people. This is progress.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have a few anxious wobbles. The COVID restrictions meant we had to begin the race in waves. They herded us towards the start line in huge groups (no social distancing), and it was a good half an hour before we actually crossed the line. Waves of panic hit me as I restarted my playlist for the fifth time, I realised this was it. I turned around, and the crowd was thousands deep. I couldn’t escape now, even if I wanted to. I was running/walking/crawling 13 miles whether I liked it or not.

Then I crossed the start line and the worries melted away. Echoes of “oggy! oggy! oggy!” ran through the crowds as we approached the Tyne Bridge. If I thought running over the iconic bridge was emotional, I was nowhere near prepared for the feeling of shuffling back over the Tyne through my favourite city in the world.

Seeing Newcastle in a whole new light, I passed places I hung out as a kid, coffee shops I frequent as an adult and even the Civic Centre where we got married two weeks ago. It was amazing.

With 200m to go, among the hundreds of cheering spectators, I saw Craig’s smiling face. As I huffed past, I heard him shouting “Wooo! That’s my WIFE!” and that pushed me for those last few metres to the finish line.

I know many people end a race like that with “never again!” on the tip of their tongue, but that couldn't be further from the truth for me. As soon as the aches and pains are gone, I’m getting back out there. One step in front of the other, the only way is forward.

📚 The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey

A beautifully written short novel about a fisherman who falls in love with a mermaid on an imaginary Caribbean island in 1976.

📺 You Can’t Kill David Arquette (Prime Rental)

Incredible doc about how David Arquette made his big return to wrestling, despite being the most hated wrestler in the history of the sport. You don’t have to be ‘into’ wrestling to enjoy this tale of one man’s comeback from the bottom.

📺 Woodstock ‘99: Peace, Love and Rage (HBO Max)

Another wild documentary I highly recommend. I vaguely remember hearing stories about the disaster that was Woodstock ‘99, but I had no idea how bad it really was. Serious trigger warnings for this one, it’s basically a horror film where the baddies are half a million frat boys.

That’s all from me this week, come say hello on Twitter @ContentByTheSea!

Enjoyed this? You might like these past issues:

1 September: Okay, boomer

25 August: Bridezilla returns

18 August: Find your zen

10 August: The fear factor

3 August: You shall not pass

28 July: Recharging your mental battery

21 July: How much is too much to share

14 July: We’ve got to talk about Twitter

7 July: Meet my poison parrot

30 June: Memes are the best medicine

23 June: Backup plan

17 June: The sun always shines on TV