The Greatest Race Of My Life
15th September 2013 the day had finally arrived, after 9 months of training my moment to remember my daughter Jasmine was actually here.
The previous day marked Jasmine's first birthday, it was a day packed with emotions, we marked her day with a family gathering at her garden where her headstone was fitted in perfect time for the occasion, we released 15 balloons to send up to heaven along with our thoughts and prayers.
She also got a visit from her little brother Joel making it a bitter sweet point in my life, it wasn't long before I was setting off on the long journey to my hotel in Newcastle with my Mum, Dad, sister Danielle and my dad's partner, providing me with support for the big day.
After a nice sleep in my humble travelodge surroundings, it was time to make the last minute preparations for the final chapter of this journey. Waking up at 6:30am is not normally my kind of thing,but on this occasion it felt right, off I went to get drenched in as pure water you can get in my surrounding providing a source of comfort to the butterflies waking up in my stomach.
I had a custom made running shirt done special for the race, with a photo of my precious angel on my chest, it was at this point an overwhelming sense of pride kicked in, a look to the sky and I felt ready.
9am we arrived at the start of the biggest run of my life, and one of the first people i seen was the legendary Colin Jackson,
Shortly after my sister and mother secured me an interview with radio tyneside where I was able to tell my story and promote the 2 charities extremely close to my heart, I think I have finally achieved celebrity status? well if being on the radio wasn't enough I also managed to get on to BBC 1 and I think it is safe to say I definitely have a face for the big screen!!
Time waits for no man and it was time to walk the 1000 metres from the start line of the run to my starting point pink zone K, this was the last of the zones so there were at least 45,000 people in between me and Mo Farah, quite why I thought I would give him such a massive head start I don't know but next year I might do something about that!
There was a moment where runners were asked to stop and think about the people who we were running for, this almost brought me to tears, I again looked to the sky a gesture I done so much more through out day, and had a pre-race talk with my Daughter, by 10am all the participants were in place and the warm ups began, thousands of people in unison waving hands, squatting, jumping around, from the back it really was quite a sight and all finished up with a bit of gangnam style dancing amongst the masses.
10:40 arrived and Mo was off, I didn't see him and for reasons I will explain later I failed in my mission to catch him. Slowly but surely I made my way towards the start line my heart rate increasing with each meter closer.
The horizon in front of me was awash with colours, purples, pinks, greens, penguins, scooby doo and men with sinks and fridges on their backs, only in a mass event do you see inspirational people like this. You are stood in the middle of the worlds biggest story, chapters contributed by every single participant, if you could get every story into one big book, it would be the most awe inspiring read filled with love, grief, determination, blood, sweat and tears. It could be as powerful as some religious readings, it would show you can achieve anything, that the world whilst it has it's downside is filled with fantastic people, one massive community sticking together for the greater good.
I finally reached the start line after what seemed an age but what a way to start as I was lucky enough to high 5 a world and olympic champion in the form of Christine Ohuruogu, that really set the wheels in motion and I was off on my 13.1 mile journey. The Jasmine Journey.
Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot, cadence ok running? check!! Now time to take it all in, within 500 yards of the start line there were already families stood outside cheering you on, this was not what I expected at all I thought I wouldn't see anyone until I was crossing the bridge, it was amazing that despite the weather people were giving up hours of their day to make help every single runner, what fantastic spirit. It wasn't long into the race when I seen first hand the sense of family runners have with each other as an older lady tripped over when mounting a kerb, in a split second 6 other runners broke their stride and stopped to help her up and make sure she was ok and encouraged her back on the way, I guess it is things like this that really emphasise what the greatest half marathon means.
Soon enough I was crossing the Tyne Bridge, such an iconic part of the race, the crowds gathered along the paths cheering everyone one, I don't think I went 10 meters without being cheered on by the public. I felt I was coasting along everything was going fine just taking it all in lapping up the atmosphere with every stride.
By mile 5 I had to stop for a toilet break, which took at least 10 minutes off of my finishing time amazing that these things do not happen to you in training, after that I was back on my way and feeling good. At mile 6
Then I hit mile 7 and what went from 7th Heaven went to 7th Hell as my knee completely gave in, agonising pain ripped through me and a feeling of distraughtness hit me hard, why did this have to happen to me now? I still had just under half the way to go, a quick look up to Jasmine to ask her to help me through and a quick text to my wife who provided support from Northampton, installed in me a steely determination to make it to the end no matter what. With a combination of power walking and what must have looked like a comedy sketch when I attempted to run I sauntered off on my way to 13.1 mile heroism in my mind.
The miles to my astonishment felt like they were coming quick, you almost feel like they had measured the course wrong but the sheer volume of people hides the roads so you never get daunted by a long stretch of tarmac which certainly helped the cause. As each mile passed the cheers from the crowd took more effect on getting me by, I was so glad that I had my name printed in large font on my t-shirt as crowds called me out by my name really pushing me, with every bit of encouragement I would run a couple of hundred meters until it was too painful to do so, and it was back to walking pace.
I know I have mentioned the crowd so many times already but it is to me what makes the great north run, the bands on route playing steel drums, an Elvis impersonator, children as young as 4 shouting oggie oggie oggie and holding their hands out for high 5's like you are a film star or something, people stepping out of their houses with biscuits, oranges and ice pops to hand out to runners, honestly it warms your heart these kind of gestures from strangers, showing great pride in their city, It will always stay with me.
The last 2 miles were a real mix of emotions, I was so close to the end yet in so much pain, I was fighting with the quitter inside of me, luckily the fighter inside came out on top, the sight of the red arrows as they performed loop the loops and love hearts almost a signal that Jasmine was proud of me for carrying on.
as I reached the top of the last hill a nice cool sea breeze hit me, I knew then my moment was here, this was the last mile, I text my wife 1 more mile to go and she replied telling me this was Jasmine's mile, as I said in previous blog post I was saving the last mile for her. A tear dropped from my eye and I tried to run the whole mile, but I couldn't manage any more that 10 seconds a time with out the pain being too much so every minute I just ran as much as I can until the last 100 meters when I made a late dash, running through the finish line, I kissed the photo of Jasmine and pointed to the sky, that was for you I said, how I did not break down in tears I do not know, but I had done it, I was a Great North Finisher and the proudest father in all the land.
I limped off to collect my bag of goodies included my medal and t-shirt sat down on the grass and thought of my achievement, it is a hard enough challenge when fit let alone when your knee goes half way into the race, I felt satisfaction with a slight tinge of disappointment of not being able to run the whole thing.
My finishing time was 2 hours 40 minutes and 40 seconds, pretty good and that concludes my great north story. It has been a roller coaster and I am now looking forward to a few weeks of rest.
As it stands at the moment, I have raised £1281.00 or £1539.75 including gift aid, which will really go along way in supporting families struggling with the loss of a baby and I can not thank everyone enough for their generosity and their belief in me.
Until next year I bid you all farewell