Simplyhealth Great North Run 2019

5 min read

On Sunday 8th September 2019, I ran the Simplyhealth Great North Run 2019 in 01:33:57.

It was a negative splits race and an 8 minute PB. I ran the course 25 minutes faster than my time from GNR 2018 and 1 hour 19 minutes faster than my GNR 2017 time.

However, this race meant so much more to me than a time.

This post revisits the training process and race day experience in the hope that sharing what I learnt can be useful to others.

Training Plan

Following the successful progress made in training for Manchester Marathon, it made perfect sense to continue using a Ben Parkes Training Plan and build on the momentum.

My marathon training plan was a Level 2 Improver Plan.

In the lead up to Great North Run training, I spent a month considering which training plan level to choose. I knew I could step up from Level 2, but how far?

I purchased both of the following plans so I could review them closer and see which would be most suitable:

I learnt from this experience to believe in myself more. Often self-doubt can play a part. So it’s important to back yourself, believe in your greatness in order to push beyond the comfort zone and see what happens. I’m glad that I eventually chose Level 4.

My main concern was that the Level 4 plan had a few of the mid-week sessions that went up to 13K and a 10 mile long run. These distances would not be possible to achieve within my available lunch break.

On these sessions, I ended up splitting the distance in half and making up the total by a double run day commute to and from work.

Completed training block

Here is summary of the training that was completed in the 12 week plan, taken from my Strava Training Log:

VO₂ max Testing

12 days before race day, I took a VO₂ max Test at Teesside University. This would be instrumental in determining a race strategy.

I wrote a detailed blog post on my VO₂ max Test experience & results, including video footage which is linked below:

Pre-Race Pacing Strategy

The Lactate Threshold & VO₂ max Test results showed my heart rate started to drift at 177BPM or 4:24/km pace.

These results were used to create a pacing strategy for race day. I aimed to run negative splits, where the second half of the race would be faster than the first half.

It was important to run the first 5K conservatively (4:36/km pace), then increase slightly for the next 5K (4:30/km) and reach the half way point of the race at approx. 48 minutes.

I would then look to settle in at a faster pace (4:28/km) for the majority of the second half. Before going all out for the final 2K / last mile.

This meant I kept the pace under that point of no return (4:24/km) and run comfortably, only breaking through the lactate threshold point for that all out finish.

The most helpful thing on race day was an A6 pocket-sized card with a breakdown of my pace strategy which I prepared, printed and laminated a couple days before. During the race, I referred to the card regularly and it helped to keep my pacing on track, as well as a reminder of up-coming inclines and refueling with gels.

A6 pocket-sized pace strategy card

Race Day


When I originally discovered meditation, the thought of doing it in a public place was daunting. However, now it is a comfortable habit that can be enjoyed at any convenient time.

On the bus to the start line, I made the most of the time available to close my eyes and be present. A short 10 minute meditation was the perfect anchor to reconnect with my body. I observed how I was feeling about race day and settled in to a calm, quiet confidence.

Box Breathing

I practiced some box breathing exercises in the start pen, after the warm up.

Box Breathing allows you to control and lower your heart rate:

  • Big breath in through the nose for 4 seconds, 
  • hold for 4 seconds, 
  • breathe out for 4 seconds, 
  • hold for 4 seconds 
  • and then repeat the cycle (or box shape).

This is helpful when the adrenaline and excitement of race day can easily carry you away with the crowds and before you know it, you have set off too fast, which could have a negative effect on your performance.

I was introduced to the concept of box breathing, in this excellent Lululemon Running video series, featuring Charlie Dark & Artur Paulins:

Controlling your breathing before the start line, helps to sharpen focus & clarity on the task in hand; thinking about the race strategy and visualise what you are going to do.

I now use box breathing at the start of every race.

Anna Harding

Within the first 5K of the race, I bumped into Anna Harding who was running and recording a video for The Running Channel.

Anna was the first Inspiring Guest to appear on Run With Less, shortly after the blog was launched: Check out her great Q&A interview here.

Great running, well done Anna and enjoyed the footage on the Running Channel:

Running with Less

I ran the race without my phone or headphones. I did use a SPI Belt to carry my gels – was worried if I kept them in my pockets they would fall out – which would be a disaster and impact my performance.

I’m not an expert and every race is a new learning experience, where you can see what works and what didn’t. This helps refine preparations for future running events.

After I took my second gel, the SPI belt was empty but was uncomfortable around my hips and causing a distraction. At around 18K-19K (11 miles), as I approached the last substantial incline of the course, I took the belt off and threw it to a young boy with his dad cheering at the side of the road. It was like a physical and metaphorical releasing of the shackles. I immediately felt free, lighter and increased the pace, leading to an all out sprint in the last mile.

I will look at alternative solutions for carrying the gels in future races – please feel free to share any suggestions in the comments.

Actual race splits

The execution of the race went better than expected. The first 5K were slightly faster than my pre-race strategy but on the whole, I felt comfortable throughout and was able to carry the momentum of the final downhill bank into the final mile with a sprint to the finish.

The actual splits from my Strava race activity:

The finish

That final mile sprint to the finish line feeling. I finished the race in 01:33:57.

Simplyhealth Great North Run 2019 – (01:33:57)

It was a negative splits race and an 8 minute PB.

I ran the course 25 minutes faster than my time from GNR 2018 and 1 hour 19 minutes faster than my GNR 2017 time.
My Great North Run progress

However, this race meant so much more to me than a time. Achieving 1:33 meant I surpassed my Dad’s Great North Run best of 1:35.

This meant a great deal because my Dad inspired to me start running. He ran the very first Great North Run in 1981 and London Marathon in 1982, among other events.

My Dad finishing the first Great North Run in 1981.


After the race, it was great to see Joel & Jonny from Run Dem Crew and grab a team photo. Great running guys!

Running Contentment

Manchester Marathon, earlier in the year, taught me you can achieve running contentment by lowering expectations & raising standards.

Instead of chasing PBs on a never-ending cycle, you can step off the treadmill and simply enjoy the training process and the joy of running.

Read my blog post about the Hedonic Treadmill and the new normal.

During training for the Simplyhealth Great NorthRun 2019, I worked so hard to remove emotion, significance and any attachment to the race outcome and focus purely on the training process and giving my best effort on the day.

Now the race is finished, I can embrace the emotion and significance of the outcome.

Achieving 1:33 meant I surpassed my Dad’s Great North Run best of 1:35. This took on greater meaning and significance, as I hope to inspire my daughter in the same way as my Dad inspired me to start.

This weekend my daughter also took part in her first 2K running event and I was able to share my Great North Run race day experience with my wife & daughter, who gave amazing support.

This is running contentment. Thank you to everyone who made Today possible.