Great North Run 2015

We were all tired but thrilled to have done it. I couldn’t quite believe I had managed it but there I was with a medal around my neck.

The day I had been waiting for and worrying about for ages was finally here. The Great North Run 2015. A half marathon. 13.1 miles. It had seemed like a good idea back in February when I booked my place!

I remember thinking that I needed a goal to work towards to make me get fit again. I had been diagnosed with breast cancer in November 2013 and the subsequent surgeries, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and hormone therapy have been like a nightmare. I’m one of those people who had an allergic reaction to nearly everything I was given and was in and out of hospital like a yoyo. I had been so ill that all I wanted to be was fit and healthy. So I decided to give myself a goal to help me keep on building my fitness again. I chose the Great North Run as I’m from Newcastle so the challenge would be on my doorstep. Given that it was a half marathon I felt that this would be more achievable than diving straight into a full marathon as I was still on Herceptin and not due to finish the treatment until the end of July. Yes, it would be unnecessary pressure on myself. Yes, people thought I was insane.

I wanted to raise funds for a breast cancer charity and I came across Walk the Walk. I was thrilled to see that it was normal to walk on their challenges rather than run which was music to my ears. I was hoping to get fit enough to walk the GNR. I knew running would be out of the question. So that was that. I signed up straight away.

I will admit to not expecting my reaction to Herceptin to get increasingly worse, not better. However I plodded on with my plan. I followed the training plan from WTW and started it early in the year to allow for the frequent breaks I would need due to feeling ill every treatment cycle. It meant I would have a ‘2 steps forward 1 step back’ approach but I believed it would work out in the end. I did look up the race rules about deferring my place till next year just in case things didn’t work out to plan. Fortunately I didn’t need to defer.

It was great to get encouraging emails and phone calls from the WTW staff. It made me feel part of the team despite not having actually met anyone. Having the Facebook group for the event was really helpful as well. It was nice to start getting to know some of the others in the team. It was great to swap bra decorating tips and also good to know that we were all worrying about the same things!

Eventually the weekend of the GNR arrived. The day before the race I prepared my kit and my bag ready for the big day. I was so nervous I really did think I was going to vomit! I felt quite ill all day with the nerves churning around in my stomach. Strangely I watched the ‘Last Night of The Proms’ on TV, ate some chocolate and then I felt fine!

I managed to sleep, believe it or not, and woke up full of excitement. It does feel odd to stand in the street at 8.30am on a Sunday morning in a neon cap and a highly sequinned bra. I think the neighbours found it quite entertaining!

I headed into town where I was meeting the rest of the team. I got near to the meeting point and there were literally thousands of people in running kit heading in the same direction. It was just brilliant. The atmosphere was building up and there was such an entertaining mixture of outfits…. from serious runners, to people in huge costumes and of course, a gang of girls in their decorated bras and neon caps.

We made our way to the start with music blasting out of the loudspeakers, big screens showing us the start of the wheelchair race and then the mass warm up began. There was a surge of excitement as the Red Arrows flew over us with the red, white and blue smoke lining the sky behind them.

It actually takes ages to cross the start line as there were 55,000 runners but eventually we were off with cheers and applause from the spectators and the cries of ‘oggy oggy oggy’ from thousands of runners.

The whole event was great. Such a fabulous atmosphere with thousands of spectators cheering us on. What a difference they make!! The entire route is lined with people shouting encouragement and handing out sweets and even ice lollies which was lovely as it was a rather warm day. Some people had brought their hose pipes from their gardens and had sprays of water for us to run through to cool down. There were bands playing and charity ‘cheering’ buses throughout the route. The Elvis impersonator was a particular favourite. I did question my sanity when I saw him. I wondered if I was going delirious with exhaustion but I was assured he was real.

I appreciated it so much when people shouted my name (it was written on my chest) and cheered me on. Let me tell you I was hurting from about mile 7 when I kept thinking things like ‘whose idea was this’ and ‘never again’. In fact walking through miles 8 to 10 I decided to turn my back on all future challenges and have an easy life. After all why would anyone sane want to feel their hips, feet and back hurt like this? I also wondered since when did the road I previously thought to be fairly flat suddenly seem like my own Everest? How come those people are running past me? Are they machines?? Has Mo Farah not only won the race but got back to London while I’m still plodding up this never ending hill?

Then I remembered… I may be feeling better than I had for a long time but let’s face it, that is not a tough ask! This time last year I was very ill. I couldn’t get upstairs easily, let alone even think about walking 13.1 miles at a fast pace. So, as my brother pointed out, I am doing this while still having cancer drugs in my system and having my training plan systematically interrupted. Just being there was an achievement and finishing the course was enough to be proud of regardless of the time it took.

So with my mental state intact I plodded on and reached the end of the ‘Everest’ hill and got to the last mile at the sea front at South Shields. People were cheering and shouting ‘you’re nearly there’ but in my view they were lying. I could see the finish but as I walked closer it seemed to be getting further and further away! That last mile hurt let me tell you but I just kept walking and smiling.

Eventually I approached the Finish Line. The race commentator jumped over the barrier to interview me as I crossed the line. I decided to blow my own trumpet and declare to the crowds that I was recovering from breast cancer and I was just pleased to finish. Honestly, I’m such an attention seeking drama queen! I got a massive cheer though which I did enjoy.

I got my finisher’s medal and goody bag and met up with the rest of the team for some photos and congratulatory hugs. We were all tired but thrilled to have done it. I couldn’t quite believe I had managed it but there I was with a medal around my neck.

I got home, had fish ‘n’ chips and champagne while still wearing my medal. I still secretly wear it when no one is looking!

So what now? I’ve done it. I achieved my goal so now it is time to set a new one. I’m not sure what that will be. Run it next year instead of walk? Stick to walking and increase the distance… a MoonWalk perhaps? Hmm… can’t decide. I know, I will wait till I’ve stopped hurting and make up my mind then!

One thing that I do know, regardless of how much I ache, is that I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this event to anyone. Not only is it a fabulous race but the help and encouragement from Walk the Walk from signing up to completing the challenge is superb.

So go on… do it! You know you want to!

Janet Forster



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