The Great North Run. Fundraising for the Dog’s Trust. Part One.

Kate Shephard with Great North Run medal 2016

A month ago I ran the Great North Run to raise money for The Dog’s Trust. Not so long ago I couldn’t run for a minute, let alone even consider doing a half marathon. When I first met my husband a few years ago, he told me he liked running. ‘Me too’ I said. I wasn’t lying, even though I could only actually run for about a minute (literally).

I’d always liked the idea of being a runner, seeing people in the park in their own little world, or watching the London Marathon, which so often would fall on my birthday. I’d watch the start whilst eating my special birthday breakfast, usually chocolate croissants and buck’s fizz. Close ups of Paula Radcliffe’s long limbed lithe body and the brave souls in the fanciest of fancy dress. I was suitably jealous and impressed. But running was just something I couldn’t do.

At school, cross country was actually physically painful, always at the back in horrific navy blue gym pants, my legs red raw with cold, struggling to string a sentence together to whoever was kind enough to keep me company. I’d have to give up and walk after five minutes, every time. ‘Come on Katherine, use those long legs’ my PE teacher would shout at me, I wish my legs were the problem I thought. I just couldn’t catch my breath. I wasn’t overweight or inactive. I could walk for miles, it was just the increase in tempo that broke me.

Years later after leaving school, with the memories faded I decided that I really fancied trying to be a runner. I tried and failed so many times. Each time I’d be put off for a few months and then give it a go again. I’d be so embarrassed running down the road and only being able to run for a minute before having to walk. I tried going with the dogs but trying to get to a pace they were happy with meant I’d be out of puff even quicker. I’d read about couch to 5k and felt inspired. I downloaded the free NHS version and went off in search of the answer to my running problems. It didn’t work. It didn’t work the first 9 times I tried it.

Just under a couple of years ago I started couch to 5K for what was probably around the tenth time. My aim, not to run 5k but to run for just ten minutes non stop.

Yesterday I ran for 2 hours 20 minutes, completing the Great Birmingham half marathon. My third half marathon of the year.

It was the winter of 2014 when I started couch to 5k again. Richard had recently run 8 miles at the Dorridge fun run without doing any training for it at all (yeah he’s one of those guys, it’s really frustrating and impressive. I haven’t decided which emotion wins overall yet). He came out with me for my first couple of training sessions and immediately recognised that I was trying to run too fast for a beginner. I was doing a sort of Kate sprint (which I was also really bad at at school, I was always last in the 100 meters). I’d read about this on the couch to 5k forum, but hadn’t recognise how slow I really needed to go in order to build my time up.

Tip number one for any new runner, build up your time first, pace will come later.

I was barely breaking a walk on my next run, but I was doing it and I completed the session. I carried on doing the coach to 5k in the gym so I could use my headphones in a safe environment. I didn’t know anybody, but I was still embarrassed at my pitifully slow pace and the sweat marks that came with it. I’d gained a fair bit of weight after moving in with Richard so I had a free personal training session at the gym. They showed me a few basic strength training exercises to do to complement my new regime and gave me some diet tips; things like don’t eat two chocolate bars in a row.

After building up to running for 3 minutes I decided it was time to finally make the commitment, and buy some proper running shoes. I went to Birmingham runner who analysed my gait and prescribed neutral cushioned shoes. ‘How much do you want to spend’ they asked ‘erm £80 max’ I answered proudly, as if this would entitle me to buy any shoe in the store. I had a lot to learn. I left with a pair of heavily discounted to £80 Brookes, cheaper than on Amazon. Perfect shoes for my high foot arches, bowed legs and a toe box to accommodate the huge bunion on my left foot. I am so obviously not meant to be a runner.

D7L_1460

Not long after, the running plan jumped up to a 20 minute non stop run. Feeling nervous and sceptical that I could achieve it, I scoured the forum for advice. I went to the gym, slowed the treadmill to barely shuffling pace, and I looked at the scantily clad slim athlete next to me. I did it. I could have hugged the scantily clad athlete next to me if they hadn’t been going at 12kph. I was euphoric.

From there I just kept going and building it up, the weight I’d gained was steadily slipping away and running made me want to eat healthier, supporting my gains.

Between me and you I’m a bit of a geek (don’t tell my husband, he still thinks I’m cool). I read up on weight training, diet and running plans and with my new found knowledge I carried on. Fittingly, I did my first ever 5k with Richard. He can do a sub 25 minute 5k without having ran for months (yep, frustrating is the emotion that’s probably winning out right now) but being the super supportive person he is, he stayed with me for my 35 minute first ever 5k. He introduced me to Parkrun and I was hooked. But I still didn’t have any ambitions to run any further.

Rich mentioned once that he’d like to do a marathon, he’d even gone so far as to buy a book about it. That’s when you can tell Richard actually wants to do something. he buys the book on it. I had a vague idea that it would be amazing, but definitely not for me. Marathon runners are sub human right? Bleeding feet, sore nipples, dodgy knees, I’d read about marathon running and it was enough to put me off for life……

Richard and I ran the shorter Dorridge fun run. A little over 5k, in July 2015, a month before our wedding. We dressed up as a bride and groom and ran the whole way together in the blistering sun. It was wonderful. The next day, we climbed Snowdon. I then knew my body could take on a bit more than 5k.

I carried on educating myself about running and cross training and got a personal training session now and then. I was getting quicker, but just a few seconds each week. How was I going to break a sub 30 minute 5K? The books told me the answer. You have to run further, so I did. I got up to 10k and the times for my 5k quickly dropped to 27 minutes, I’ll never be fast but that was pretty good going in just a couple of months.

I’d lost nearly 4 stone when we got married, I’d never felt so energetic. Being heathy and fit had became part of who I am. I was a runner.

I carried on running after the wedding, I was now going out on my own, road running 3 or 4 times a week with my new basic Garmin watch to keep track of my runs and progress. One long run, one speed work run and 1-2 shorter runs every week, plus a couple of weight training sessions at the gym. The winter was hard, having lost weight I felt the cold more than normal, but after warming up I’d be boiling and have to strip off the extra layers, hats and gloves. I was on a steep learning curve still, even after all my ‘education’. I built up to ten miles on my long runs, loving the time to clear my head. I’d think about new photography projects or website designs. I’ve always enjoyed my own space to think and clear my head, running is perfect for that. It’s also the time when I feel my most creative and free. The winter was hard, but I carried on regardless. I found out about a local half marathon in April, the Shakespeare Half, one of the flattest courses in the UK. Only 3 miles off the mileage I knew I could do it.

Not long before the run, I went for an 8 miles run before my Sunday job. I rode my bike to work, got off and then I could hardly walk. My first injury, and it was pretty bad. I saw three physios and a personal trainer. It was either IT band, tight hamstrings or glute weakness, or maybe it was all three. Three weeks off training and it started to subside, I tried to go for a small run, but my leg gave way again. Rolling, icing, stretching and glute exercises meant that I could just about do a run walk half marathon at the Shakespeare Half. I finished in a time of 2.36. I got the medal, but I still didn’t feel like I’d really achieved it. I’d been on course for sub 2 hours half marathon before the injury.

I started to improve and decided I’d like to do something good with my new found passion. I approached the Dogs Trust, a charity obviously close to my heart, and they offered me a place in The Great North Run. I’d heard about it, but didn’t realise what a prestigious event in running it is. The fundraising target was £250 and the run was 6 months away, plenty of time to fund raise and train up again. However my injury had other plans. The longest run I managed all summer was 5 miles, but after reaching my fundraising target I was determined to do it, even if I had to walk the whole way.

Sadly Richard couldn’t come as he was photographing a wedding that weekend (he’s an awesome wedding photographer) but luckily my mum came to support, hold bags, provide protein bars at the finish and video my one second for the day. We had a wonderful day in Newcastle the day before, the atmosphere at the pasta party was unlike anything else I’ve ever experienced. Thousands of people, all different and yet all the same. All runners.

I was excited and nervous and didn’t sleep a wink. My foot was sore from exploring the city the day before, it was surprisingly hot and I’d taken carb loading to a new found extreme. I’d only ran 5k’s recently and I’d had to stuff my jelly babies in my bra after forgetting my pocket wasn’t big enough. I felt on a running level, I wasn’t prepared for this race at all.

Being a geek (ssshh) I was however super prepared for our trip. I’d printed maps, bought metro tickets, took my mum to the start and finish line the day before and worked out times for getting to the start line and when and where I’d meet my mum at the end. We got to Newcastle hours early, had breakfast and made our way to the start line. The number of people was overwhelming, the atmosphere electric. We spent about an hour mulling around, soaking it all in and queuing for the toilets. ‘I’d better go and get in my zone, 20 minutes before it closes, wish me luck’. Plenty of time to get warmed up and ready…

I didn’t realise how far back I’d be. Pink zone K, the last zone. It’s hard to imagine over 50,000 people running a race until you see it in person. I missed the cut off for getting the right pen, not so well prepared after all. I started to panic and started jogging to the end of the runners. A kindly stranger helped me climb over the fence to get into the middle of my pen. I was almost at the back by this point anyway.

Mo Farrah was on the big screens and the red arrows flew over head. ‘I cant believe I’m part of this’ I told the stranger next to me. I felt myself welling up already. I don’t often feel the need to cry. It took 40 minutes for us to get to the start line, I’d already done over 5k of walking that morning before my chip was set off by the starting gates. My strategy was to get to 5 miles and walk run the rest, somehow I ran all 13.1 miles without stopping. I don’t quite know how, I do know that I’m a pretty determined stubborn madam (my mum and husband have told me so). I do know that the crowd and atmosphere also kept me going. Strangers shouting my name, seeing the other Dogs Trust runners and giving each other a thumbs up, getting overtaken by men with fridges strapped to their backs and the bands who played along the way. All this helped me going.

I put my head down and carried on. I thought about the Dogs Trust and all the generous donations I’d received. I thought of how proud my family would be when I’d finished.

I got to 10 miles and thought ‘Bloody hell, I might actually do this’. I’d read somewhere that Paula Radcliffe would count to 100 three times and know that another mile had passed, I don’t know if that’s true, but for the last mile I counted to 100. I kept losing count as I was so tired, but I think I probably had to do it about 6 times. I saw the last 200 meters sign and I could feel the tears coming. I sprinted to the finish and felt like I’d just won the whole damn thing. My longest run ever. I felt like I could have gone on.

After meeting my mum, we went to the charity village and met up with the Dogs Trust team who very kindly provided us with a cup of tea. ‘Where do I sign up for next year?’ I asked. ‘How about a place in the London Marathon?’ he replied……….

 

Great North runner 2016 with dog

A huge thank you to everyone who supported me, sponsored me and helped me raise £269 for the Dogs Trust. The money is going to such a worthy cause. Part two, why I ran for The Dogs Trust and my next fundraising mission will be up on the blog soon.

 

 

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