How To Get Through The Tough Parts Of The Simplyhealth Great North Run

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The world’s largest half marathon, the Simplyhealth Great North Run, is almost upon the 57,000-plus runners taking part. While there’s nothing anyone can do now to get in better physical shape for Sunday (beyond resting so you’re fresh), there are ways to prepare yourself mentally for the inevitable tough parts. We asked Paul Noble, a running physio who is working with Simplyhealth, title partner of the Great North Run, for his expert advice.

Should runners expect tough patches while running a half marathon?

Anticipating tough patches in a race and planning your physical and mental strategies will help you to get to the finish within your target time and still in one piece. Preparation is essential.

Personal, tried-and-tested routines not only provide you with a solid plan on race day but also increase your confidence, which will give you a huge psychological boost. A good training plan including running-specific exercises will help ensure you have the strength and stamina for your race. Having a well tested hydration and fuelling plan and using running gear that has been well worn will ensure you have not left anything to chance.

Inadequate training is a surefire way of setting yourself up for a difficult race. At some point in the latter third of the run you’ll hit a patch where you will start to struggle. If your training hasn’t been perfect, perhaps because of time lost to injury or other commitments, it would be wise to lower your expectations on race day.

Starting slowly and staying focused on a sustainable pace will see you to the finish line without blowing up. Once you’ve adjusted your finish time, make sure your planned split times are realistic – take note of the times you should be hitting at certain milestones along the route. If your split times start to slip on the day, try to avoid the temptation to speed up within the race to claw back lost time.

Attempting to squeeze more training in late on will leave you feeling jaded rather than fresh and raring to go. Make sure you decrease your training load (taper) in the final couple of weeks before the race, so you’ll be full of beans on the start line.

What mistakes do people make in a race that can make it tougher than necessary?

The number one error that can have disastrous effects later in the race is setting off too quickly. In 2018 the running statistics of 1.7 million recreational runners were analysed in a study that focused on the relationship between the starting and finishing times of men and women. The main findings showed that men were far worse than women for racing off at the start and this generally led to slower overall times, with an increased probability that they would go on to hit the wall later in the race.

What can people do to make tough periods as easy as possible?

First, remember you’re not alone. Many runners reach a point in their race when things get almost too tough to handle, and getting through the hard times is a runner’s rite of passage. Remember your miles of training, recall the drive and passion that got you to this point and take solace from the runners around you – your brothers and sisters all fighting the same battle.

In practical terms, do a quick check. Are you properly hydrated? Are you fuelled enough? As well as being a welcome morale booster a few jelly babies from the crowd will lift your energy levels. How is your breathing and body tension? Focus on taking deeper, more relaxed breaths, slow things down, allow yourself to walk for a while until you feel more in control. Relax your shoulders and let your arms swing freely.

Many long-distance runners practise a “yoga on the move” routine where they take stock of how each body part is feeling. This allows you to take a moment to consciously relax tired and stressed body areas.

When you’re truly in the grips of struggle and your body feels like it’s on its last legs, you’ll need to switch to the much talked-about strategy of mental perseverance. So many top athletes tell stories of races won with mental resilience. Using techniques such as distraction and visualisation can help to get you to the end of the race without falling apart.

Research has shown that when the workload starts getting tough, using distraction techniques – such as practising easy mental arithmetic – can reduce your rate of perceived exertion (how hard you think you are working). By focusing your mind away from the arduous task at hand you can trick your brain into feeling in a better place.

Visualisation, on the other hand ,allows your current state of mind to be partially distracted with implanted positive scenarios. Imagine yourself tall and strong, striding towards the finish with your own personal theme tune in the background. Repeating a mantra such as “fast, fit, fearless” to yourself will help enhance the effect.

Are there any signs people should look out for that suggest they should stop rather than battle through a tough patch?

It’s important to recognise the signs that may indicate you have reached the end of your physical capacity to run. Visual disturbances, listlessness and poor co-ordination can lead to a serious collapse and can even be signs of a medical emergency.

Always ensure you have filled in the medical history and medications section on the reverse of your race number just in case you’re ever in trouble on race day.

Simplyhealth plans help cover the cost of a range of health treatments, including physiotherapy, optician, dental appointments and more. For more information, visit

Jonathan Shannon

Jonathan Shannon has been the editor of the Coach website since 2016, developing a wide-ranging experience of health and fitness. Jonathan took up running while editing Coach and has run a sub-40min 10K and 1hr 28min half marathon. His next ambition is to complete a marathon. He’s an advocate of cycling to work and is Coach’s e-bike reviewer, and not just because he lives up a bit of a hill. He also reviews fitness trackers and other workout gear.