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Monday, 6 December 2010

My Great North Run Incident 2004 (Part 2)

I ended part 1 of my account of my Great North Run experience in 2004 with a group of blokes from the army helping my brother (Andy) get my over the finish line. As I said I have no memory of this at all.

I am told (by Andy) that I was carried over the finish line and straight into the medical tent. I'm guessing that this must have been sometime around midday. I don't really know what happened immediately after this as I was unconscious. Andy doesn't really know either, as I was whisked away out of sight. I don't think Andy or my sister Helen, who was the designated driver for the weekend and who had been waiting for us at the finish, were told very much for the first hour or two.

I understand that Andy and Helen made contact with my wife Charlotte back at home in Coventry. We had a 1 month old baby son and Charlotte had stayed at home with him rather than suffer all the travelling and waiting around for the weekend. I think Charlotte was very scared during this early period. Andy and Helen were quite vague about my condition (as they didn't know anything really) and I think Charlotte even feared the worst at one point. She has since said that she half expected them to show up at our door a few hours later with really bad news.

My memory of the next couple of hours is absolutely blank. I must have been unconscious for a while, but I don't know how long for. My first memory was looking around and wondering where I was and how I had come to be there. A quick look around and seeing that I was in a large tent and then seeing all the medical equipment told me that it was a makeshift hospital. A doctor came over to me and asked me a few questions. I think they were very basic and were an attempt to find out what I remembered.

At this stage, the last thing I could remember was seeing the cameraman just before coming down the slope to the seafront. I certainly couldn't remember finishing the race. My first fear was that I had fallen unconscious and fallen flat on my face. I touched my face and felt no pain. I think I even asked a nurse if I had smashed my face in. I think she may have even laughed at me, but said "No!". Around this time I realised that I had been undressed and that I had a drip in my arm to rehydrate me. I didn't remember any of that happening.

The first question I remember a doctor asking me was, "do you recognise me?". I had never met her before in my life, so answered quite abruptly, "No, I have never seen you before in my life!". Her reply scared me, "That is about the fifth time you have said that to me!". Apparently she had been asking me every few minutes for the previous half hour and I kept on giving the same answer. So it must have been at least the sixth time that she asked me the same question when I finally remembered her. As I said, this frightened me, how could I not remember anything?

Dehydration is a very strange experience. That was what I was suffering from, severe dehydration. To this day I can't understand why. I drank so much during the build up to the race, but somehow it wasn't enough. I probably should have drunk more on the way round the course. I don't even think it was that warm on the day. Apparently the thing that suffers most through dehydration is the short term memory. The brain, being the clever thing it is, shuts down the least important functions, short term memory being one of those.

One of the questions which I struggled with the most was, "Is this your watch?". They had obviously taken my watch off when they were first dealing with me. It was a watch that I had only had for a few weeks before the run, so this apparently was short-term memory. I stared at the watch for ages and just could not decide whether or not it was mine. But it was my watch.

Throughout the afternoon I was constantly being physically sick. It seemed that any liquid they were getting into me through the drip was coming straight back out again. Apparently this was of some significant concern to the doctors.

As we reached the time where everyone had finished the race and most of the walking wounded were being allowed to leave the makeshift hospital, it became clear that they didn't want to let me go just yet. I think they wanted a period of a good couple of hours at least, without me being sick, before they would let me leave.

I was one of a handful of runners who had to be transferred to the main hospital nearby. I was taken to the hospital by ambulance which seemed ridiculous and was quite embarrassing for something self inflicted through running.

Andy and Helen had been allowed to spend time with me later on in the afternoon and had reported mostly positive news back to Charlotte. However, when they told her that I was now being moved to the main hospital I believe she became very scared about how serious it must be. If I put myself in her position I can understand that.

I'll finish off this account of my Great North Run experience in another blog post very soon.


  1. Harrowing stuff! Fair play for revisiting it. (Fair play also to Charlotte for letting you go out running again!)

    Hydration's such a vexed issue: dehydration is the most obvious danger, but there's also the chance of drinking too much and peeing a lot of important nutrients out of your system (hyponatremia).

    I don't tend to go too wild on the morning of a race - I just drink well the day before and take a bottle of Lucozade with me from the start. It seems to work pretty well.

    (Expect my obituary in a forthcoming edition of the Coventry Telegraph.)

  2. I took me a while to want to run again. It took Charlotte a lot longer to be able to bear to think about me running a half marathon again - over 5 years!

    It is a tricky one isn't it. I think I got it wrong that time anyway, but hopefully never again!


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