The Scribbler

31 August 2014

Tynedale 10 mile ‘Jelly Tea’ road race

The traditional warm-up race for the Great North Run put on by Tyndale Harriers, is a well organised run along quiet and closed roads between the outskirts of Hexham and Ovingham in the Tyne Valley. It gets its nickname from the excellent sandwich and jelly served at Ovingham School at the end – a brilliant incentive and reward after a long run.

I was a bit nervous. Even though I had a plan to run at a sensible pace and use it as a test for next week, there’s something about it being a race. I was further unsettled by a couple of changes to the usual instructions for parking due to an out of action bridge and realised I’d been dreaming about getting lost and turning up late to the race.

In reality, I found the parking spot in plenty of time to catch the first of the transport buses to Hexham. It was sunny and warm, so I left my extra layers in the car, but took my sunglasses and a pocket full of jellybabies to the start. Once I’d collected my number and chip from the sports centre, there was a good deal of waiting around before the start of the race.

I saw a few people I know from parkrun, but far fewer than in previous years. With so many great local races on at this time of year, we tend to spread out a bit. I wasn’t really in a very talkative mood. I find other runner’s nervousness infectious and wanted to just keep myself right in my own head today.

It’s a good walk to the start of the race, on the edge of a slightly less than picturesque industrial estate. But once off and along the country roads it soon opens up into a really pleasant course.

It felt like I was barely among the running pack as the colourful club shirts stretched away into the distance and the crowd soon thinned out. My goal was to go steady, see if I could feel 10 min miles, just using my watch to check now and again, but not being a slave to it.

I ran the first couple of miles near to a group of Saltwell Harriers girls. They kept me amused with their chatter as I ran mostly just in front of them, or sometimes just behind a leading pair, one of whom was called Helen. We were near the back of the pack, but I make it a rule never to look back in a race, and it was clear from their chat that they were targeting 10 min miles too.

The pace felt nice, just right actually, not too slow, just steady and easy on the breathing. I did feel like I was holding back, but knew I’d have to do that to keep going strong. The sun had come out hot, so we took what shade we could by the road sides and I got asked a couple of questions about my shirt after putting ‘The Scribbler’ on the back.

As we came round into Corbridge, we were a bit held up by a combine harvesting machine in the road. Even running alongside it on the pavements felt narrow. Helen ran beside me for a while at this point and I learned she was just coming back after a a long injury lay off and using the run as a test to see if she was up to doing the Great North Run. I thought she was a strong runner. As we left the village, she dropped back to run with the others in her group, and I kept expecting them to come past me, but they never did again.

There’s a long slow climb at about four miles, but at this point I was feeling strong. I just kept my legs turning over at the same pace, but took smaller steps and focused on keeping my heart rate and breathing nice and even, not powering through and burning myself out. I suspected my pace target would have dropped a bit, but that was okay.

There were some good patches of shade and trees around this section and a welcome water station between 4 and 5 miles. I dropped my first bottle, but managed to grab a second and keep moving, drinking on the run, practising for next week.

Now I was running on my own, slightly aware of the group behind me, but feeling like I’d pulled away from them. Over the next mile or so I managed to reel in the two other runners in immediate sight – a guy and a girl in a Tyne Bridge Harriers vest.

One of my running friends recently paid me a compliment about being a ‘thinking runner’. That’s very true, but sometimes it’s been to my detriment, in that I think too much, or endlessly ponder the ‘what ifs’. Some of my best runs have been when I’ve stopped consciously thinking and just focused on the immediate now, a bit like meditation I guess.

I was trying to do that today. Keeping it simple, having a plan of 10 minute miles and jelly babies at 3, 6 and 9 miles. When I could feel my mind wandering, I just kept saying to myself, ‘keep going like this’. I had confidence in my pace, it felt nice and I was relaxed, so ‘keep going like this’.

As the watch clicked over from mile 5 to mile 6, I stole a glance at my pace and saw 10:01. Lovely, bang on target. As I saw the 7 mile marker, I thought to myself ‘just a parkrun to go’ and dug in up a little rise.

It was hot now, and the hedge-lined lanes alongside the fields didn’t offer much shade. My thoughts had become a bit knotty, my breathing heavy and the effort to keep the same pace, all the more harder.

I started to break down the rest of the race, took another jelly baby and told myself, ‘water at mile 8, jelly baby at 9, and then you’re in the last mile.’ I thought I’d got myself out of a tricky spot, but later my splits will show I had started to lose pace. A cheery and unexpected shout from a running friend helped lift my spirits around this point too.

But, yes, I really was starting to feel it and at mile 8, I let my mental drive go and gave myself permission to slack off if it meant I just kept moving. My feet were really hot and I was no longer running with good form. I tried a couple of times to move more onto the forefoot, but couldn’t sustain it, so drifted back to a flat shuffle. ‘Just this’, I told myself, ‘just keep going like this’ – keep it simple, accept the moment and just keep moving forward.

Up ahead there was a girl with a blonde pony tail walking. Slowly, slowly, I reeled her in, then gave her an encouraging shout as I passed. I was really pleased when she started running again, even though she soon outpaced me. Sometimes we all need a little boost and she was obviously a better runner than me, maybe battling her own mental demons or the heat.

Into mile 9 and it’s almost done. Apart from the hill. Yeah, it’s a killer at this stage of a 10 miler and although I remembered it was to come, I couldn’t exactly remember where it was. As I peeled up out of a tree covered section, it became unmistakable.

It really was a shuffle. The teensiest, tiniest steps that were barely any faster than walking, but I was determined I was going to run every step, even if it was horribly slowly. The marshals near the top were brilliant, no doubt having seen many pained faces that day. I managed to get to the top without blowing up and then I knew it was as good as over.

Just a long, slightly twisting road to the finish. Tantalising in that you couldn’t quite see where the end would be, although I could sense it was soon as runners started to appear running back up the road from the finish. With encouragement all round, I tried to pick up my feet again and push on for the last little bit. One guy said, just 1/4 mile to go, and I believed him, and he was right.

But still you can’t see the finish as it’s round a right turn. But as I approached, a girl appeared from nowhere at my shoulder and overtook me. I was done, I just wanted to finish. And then, no, I wasn’t having it. Spotting a narrow path along the verge that I thought I remembered as being within sprint distance of the finish, I put the pedal down. She came with me for a bit, pushing on, but I found another gear and saw the inflatable finish line and went for it. Thank you, whoever you were for getting a sprint finish out of me today. That really wasn’t on the cards.

I crossed the line in 1h47 by my watch (official time to follow). Not quite 10 min mile pace all the way round, but I was very happy with my run. I’d kept my head, run to plan, not lost myself in ‘what ifs’ or stressed too much about pacing. I’d tested out my race kit and water and fuelling and it all went pretty well.

I shake my head at the thought that I ran that course in under 1h30 3 years ago. How well was I running then! I don’t think I ever realised. But back then I was mainly running and had much more specific training and mileage in my locker.

Today, I’m feeling positive, mentally and physically strong and as ready as I can be to give the Great North Run a good shot next weekend. But advice and encouragement is always welcome.

Splits and stuff:
10 miles 1:47:00
1. 10:02
2. 10:01
3. 10:13
4. 10:52
5. 10:34
6. 10:02
7. 10:08
8. 11:04
9. 11:40
10. 11:54

24 August 2014

Pacing myself on a last long run before race day

Filed under: Great North Run,run,training — The Scribbler @ 18:08
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Aside from last weekend’s tri, I’ve been focusing more on running recently, building up my long runs week my week to get ready for the Great North Run.

I didn’t run it last year, preferring to focus on triathlons instead. And for most of the summer, I didn’t miss those long runs at all. But as the event approached and I heard friends talking about doing it, and reports on the local news, and the excitement building, I did start to feel a bit left out. And when I stood on the Tyne Bridge, just after the first mile to see the elites and then everyone else come through, I did feel like there was a huge party going on, and I hadn’t replied to the invitation.

So, yes, I know, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. It’s expensive, crowded and not pretty. But it really was my first big challenge. It’s in my home-town and yes, it means something to me. So this year, I’m back in.

I’ve found it quite hard to increase the running mileage, and often struggled to fit in the longer midweek runs, which for me, mean waking early and getting the miles in before work.

This week  I’ve made an effort to get all the weekday runs in too. I ran 12k (7.4 miles) before breakfast on Wednesday and then another 14k (8.8 miles) on Friday, and today, I managed 12 miles – which I’m very happy with.

I opted for a route I haven’t run in years. It takes in the coast, then heads inland along trails through Holywell Dene, to emerge on a long straight stretch of a former coal waggon way, before emerging out on the coast again.

Today there was no pace, just easy, easy. This was all about time on my feet after a week of long runs. I listened to music again for the first two and last two miles along the tarmac I have run so many many times before. Then I let my ears free in the woods and trails, greeting every runner and walker I passed on my way.

My feet felt tight at first, with a worrying pull in my right calf that I hoped would ease as my muscles warmed up. Easy, easy, easy I kept telling myself. You have a long way to run today. But I kept thinking of my friend Susan Lynch, doing Ironman Copenhagen today. I’m sure she’d have loved  only to have to run 12 miles!
The sun shone and I was glad of the sunglasses, that later sat atop my head as I drifted in and out of the trees’ shadows and sun drops. Some of the paths needed my full attention to keep sure footing as they undulated up and down, with a couple of styles and gates forcing changes of rhythm at regular intervals. I ran all but the last climb out of the Dene, which came at about 7 miles.

I’d made the switch to miles for distance and pace on my watch, and taken jelly babies to give me a sugar boost. I  tried to anticipate my usual dips in mood, at around 3, 6, 9 and 11 miles and they seemed to work very well.

When I hit the coast again just short of 9 miles, I knew I’d calculated the route distance well. At 10 miles, I was in unknown territory, at my furthest distance since 2012, but I felt good. Yes, my legs were aching, but my head was in a good place, and I was ready to finish a good week’s running. I pushed on a little beyond the 12 miles to reach my favourite stretching spot by a shelter overlooking the beach, and congratulated myself on having achieved what I’d set out to do.

I do still have that focus and determination that marked my early runs if I choose to apply it. And I’ve added to that both my own experiences and the collective wisdom of my running friends. Right now, I feel much readier and more confident than I expected to be.

Of course, lots could happen in the next couple of weeks. And you never really know until race day how you’re going to feel, how the weather will affect you. But I’m starting to get a bit excited, and a bit hopeful that I could have a decent race after all.

21 August 2014

Kit review – Tune Belt

Filed under: kit review,run,training — The Scribbler @ 21:29
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In the early days of starting running, I often used to listen to music. It helped block out the sound of my own heavy breathing as much as anything. But as I got more experienced, more confident, and started taking part in races, I stopped relying on it as a crutch to get me through a run.

Tune Belt

The Tune Belt I tested out on my run

These days, I very rarely choose to take music with me. But I’ve been having a hard time recently, increasing the mileage as I prepare for the Great North Run. As my long weekend runs get longer, I’ve reminded myself that 13.1 miles is a long way. And I’ve struggled to find both the time and motivation to fit in the midweek runs of 10k and more that are on my training plan.

So, time to shake things up a bit. And this week I received a Tune Belt to test out. The Tune Belt is basically an arm band with a pocket for your mobile phone. It has a plastic cover, so you can still see the screen and holes at the bottom where you attach your headphones.

It felt very comfortable as I adjusted the velcro strap to fit my arm. The material is soft but strong, like a very flexible neoprene. With an old running playlist lined up and my headphones in, I hit the road for an early morning run, with a target of 12k before breakfast.

Having some get-up-and-go music in my ears certainly encouraged me to head off at a good pace. And with the weather being pleasantly cool and still, I was enjoying one of my usual routes along the coast.

A couple of miles in, I decided the playlist really was a bit cheesy and I’d prefer to run without it.  I was able to stop the music by using my phone’s touch screen through the plastic cover and found I could tuck the headphones away under a little flap beneath the Tune Belt logo at the side of the pocket.

I carried enjoying a good run on towards the lighthouse, just taking in the still morning and listening to the sound of the waves. As I turned back, the early morning light was perfect for me to take a snap of the famous Spanish City Dome in Whitley Bay, where I took part in a triathlon last weekend.

I had to take the phone out of its pocket for this, but it was a great chance to capture my lovely running scenery.  I only paused for a few seconds – enough to take the picture and choose some classic Bowie as my get me home playlist.

Spanish City, Whitley Bay

Early morning at Spanish City, Whitley Bay

“We are the goon squad, and we’re coming to town…”

I bounced along  managing 12k or just short of 7.5 miles relatively comfortably before heading home for a shower, breakfast and then the rest of my day.

I like the Tune Belt. It’s neat, simple and does its job. It was very comfortable to wear. I always felt like my phone was secure in its pocket and didn’t bounce around at all, so there was no rubbing or chafing on my arm. In fact, when I didn’t have my headphones in, I could almost forget it was there.

Of course, you don’t have to use your phone to listen to music when you’re on the go. But if you want to carry a phone when you’re training, running or cycling, this could be a good way of freeing up a pocket and giving you easy access to it if you need it. Although it has a plastic cover, it’s not designed to be waterproof, so you’d be taking a risk in a heavy downpour, but otherwise it would seem to do a good job.

I was sent a Tune Belt as an accessory for my Apple iPhone 5 to test out how it would benefit my training. You can find out more here: http://www.three.co.uk/Discover/Devices/Apple/iPhone_5s

17 August 2014

Spanish City Triathlon

This is a brand new event for 2014, brought to us by Total Racing International, the same team behind the popular Castles triathlon that I did last year. Being as it’s just down the road from me, and would be the shortest distance I’ve ever travelled to take part in a triathlon, I signed up early and got number  18.

Spanish City, for those of you who don’t know, is a now abandoned amusement park in Whitley Bay, famous for its building with a white dome, which still stands. It’s mentioned in the Dire Straits Song ‘Tunnel of Love’.  And the lyrics “Girl it looks so pretty to me / Like it always did / Like the Spanish City to me / When we were kids, ” featured on the back of the race T-shirt.

Triathletes enter the water

Warm up before the swim start. Photo by Claire Wynarczyk

I was a little nervous about it being a sea swim. Especially as the weather forecast was full of wind warnings. Now, I don’t mind swimming in the sea, but once it gets a little choppy, I get a bit nervous. And this year I’ve barely managed any sea swimming at all.

The original swim route had been to swim along beside the shore, entering onto the beach near it’s northerly point and exiting at the end beside a ramp and the beach cafe. But it was changed to being an out, along and back from near the ramp.

Having set up in transition, and got my wet suit on, I picked my way gingerly over the rough tarmac down to the beach. The water was clear and calm, barely a ripple of a wave. That was good. The two marker buoys didn’t look that far away. Excellent. I could do this.

I really welcomed the chance to get into the water before the race started. It was alarmingly cold. Much more so than when I’d last been in off Tynemouth Longsands on Tuesday evening. But I did my usual gasp and floated around, getting used to it. Then stuck my head under and blew bubbles and even swam a few strokes to make sure I was warmed up and ready.

Swim start at Spanish City triathlon

The swim start at the spanish City triathlon. Photo by Claire Wynarczyk

We were all called out before the mass beach start. I positioned myself off to the side and at the back, with my main aim being to keep out of the worst of the thrash as we got underway. It was a good move and worked well, as I only got a couple of arms or legs brushing against me.

I started swimming well. The water was clear, although I couldn’t see much beyond the bubbles churned up by 200 other swimmers hitting the sea at the same time. I kept it nice and relaxed and just held my nerve in the dash to the first buoy.

Then something went in my head. I really don’t know what it was. But something about swimming away from land, being out of my depth and feeling the sea start to grow choppy and I felt my chest grow tight and my breathing grow shallow.

I took a moment, swam heads up breast stroke to gather myself and pushed on. As I approached the first buoy, it seemed like the wind had picked up a little, sending little wavelets out over the water and it was spattering up as though rain was falling. I swam a little more breast stroke to get round the buoy.

And then at the turn the chop grew worse, with it hitting the side of my face as the second buoy looked as far away as the first. I tried to break back into front crawl, but I’d lost my rhythm and my confidence. All I could hear was my own shallow breathing echoing back in my ears.

I’d been glad of my neoprene swim cap to keep out the worst of the cold, but covering my ears it blocked out the sound of everything else except my own, panicky sounding breathing.   I kept trying to bring it under control, to lower my heart rate by taking some deep breaths, swimming breast stroke and then getting back into front crawl, but mentally I’d lost it.

And despite the fact that my feeble heads-up breast stroke meant I was getting more splashed in the face by the waves and the chop and when I did swim front crawl I moved quickly and easily through the water, I just couldn’t get it to stick.

I really wish I could get a grip on this mental aspect of swimming. So often in races, something happens and I get a rush of adrenaline and it all goes a bit awry. Today, I should have stopped, given myself a time out, floated on my back and then got on with it. But I just kept on struggling onwards, feeling like the last stretch back to shore was more about floating and surviving than swimming with any kind of style.

The white dome approached at last, and in a desperate effort to save some pride and determined not to be last out of the water with the rest of the breast stroking stragglers, I did manage a spot of decent swimming by counting my strokes and yelling at myself to do another 6 and then another.

I stumbled up among the pebbles and over the sand, totally out of breath and just pleased to have reached dry land. I could not even force myself to run up the long ramp back towards the transition area at first, my feet protesting at the rough ground and my lungs just bursting for air. I  only broke into a trot once I got to the grassy section at the top and started to think about the bike.

With hardly any bikes left in transition, mine was easy to spot as I wriggled out of my wetsuit. Less obvious was my helmet, which wasn’t where I’d left it on top of my shoes. It had blown or been kicked away along on the other side of the rack and I had to duck under and run along to retrieve it. I managed to find all the rest of my kit, including my number belt and headed out to hit the bike course.

Having had such a relatively poor swim, I took a little time to settle into the cycle, focusing on composing myself, getting my breathing back into some kind of order and taking a drink to was the salt water taste from my mouth. By now the sun was out and although it was breezy, I welcomed it as a chance to dry out after the swim.

The bike course was relatively straightforward. After a well marshaled right turn onto the main road it was straight up along the coast towards St Mary’s Lighthouse, then a left turn by the caravan park and up towards Seaton Sluice.

The wind was gusting from inland to offshore, so it was mostly a cross wind, apart from that slight uphill drag by the caravan park. The route is very familiar to me and one I do quite often. I was quickly through lap one and round again, feeling stronger and more settled, so putting more effort in on this lap.

I managed to overtake a couple of people on the slight gradients heading away from transition and again moving along back up the slight drag towards Seaton Delaval Arms. But I was overtaken by many more who came screaming through with aero bars and pointy helmets at the front of the field.

At times I felt the cross wind gust and push the bike sideways and I had to pedal against it even going downhill. But I always felt in control and actually enjoyed the bike course.

Back round to the roundabout near the Rendezvous cafe for the second time and this time it was straight on to transition. I jumped off the bike early at the turn, halting a runner who wasn’t part of the race and was probably wondering where all these people were coming from.

Off the bike and even running into transition, my legs felt wobbly. I managed a fairly quick stop, though I opted to put socks on, as my feet had felt chilly on the bike, so that added a little to my time.

Finally onto the run and I did wonder whose legs I’d picked up in transition as mine felt Bambi-like beneath me. But I knew that feeling would pass. More worrying was the fact that I couldn’t actually feel my feet.

As sensation returned, it felt like I was running on sandpaper as pins and needles burned the whole sole of each foot. I wriggled my toes trying to encourage the blood to flow faster and it was agony. But I’ve been here before and the only way is to keep moving, keep the muscles moving and get that warmth back into my poor feet. I used my arms to push on, thought about my leg muscles carrying me forward, kept my head up and kept moving, helped by shouts of encouragement from the marshals, including regular parkrun volunteer Claire Wynarczyk.

The route took in the coastal paths along the sea front and twisted and turned through some of the Whitley Bay parkrun route, although we ran it in the opposite direction, before dropping down onto the lovely wide promenade along the seafront and past the Rendezvous Cafe.

The ups and downs and turns made me wince as I put more pressure on my feet. But slowly, slowly I started to get the sensation back in them, and by the time I reached the seafront , I’d finally banished the pins and needles. Just in time for the steps…

Oh yes. The course designers took us back up from the promenade towards the War memorial via two flights of steps. A loud and enthusiastic bunch of supporters stood at the turn and encouraged us up. And it was back round for lap two.

By now I was feeling much more like my usual running self, so I pushed on and made an effort to pick up my feet more, now that I could feel them.  I started chasing a guy who had powered past me on the steps and we played cat and mouse, taking and then re-overtaking each other along the route. I finally made my last move to overtake him as we came back round to the promenade for the second time, feeling all the exhilaration that I normally get when sprinting this section on parkrun.

Up the steps again and this time a left turn towards the finish on the newly created plaza area in front of the Spanish City dome. I used the acceleration of the down ramp to power me up the other side and onto something like a sprint, so at least I finished strongly.

Chip removed and water thrust into my had, I sat on the steps to get my breath back and congratulated the guy who came through just behind me, thanking him for playing a key part in keeping me pushing onwards in the later part of the race.

I was just glad to have finished. To have completed my last tri of the season. And a little bit sad that this was my last multi-sport event of the year. Because for all that I find it tough, and for all that I’m frustrated that I’ve not really improved in my tris this year, I do enjoy them.

I know for many people this was their first triathlon, and for others it was their first open water, or sea swim. It is a big challenge and I hope you coped with it better than I did. The sea wasn’t really that choppy and the wind, although challenging, could have made it even more difficult. So I hoped you enjoyed it.

And if you’re reading this, thinking ‘That sounds horrible, why would you want to do that’, it really wasn’t. I finished with a big grin and a huge sense of achievement. It’s true I’ve done tris where I’ve been more relaxed, in control and raced harder. But I’ve never done one I haven’t enjoyed.

So yes, triathlon is a challenge. But it’s still a buzz and a thrill. And as I work out how I deal with all the challenges they throw at me, both mental and physical, I know they’ll help me be stronger, faster and more able to deal with anything. So I’ll keep on tri-ing.

My results:

Swim: 26:41
Bike: 49:42
Run: 30:57

Race results

Race photos by Derek Grant

22 July 2014

Because a bike’s not just a bike

Filed under: bike — The Scribbler @ 18:06
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When I first got my shiny new road bike, I posted a picture of it with the caption ‘ Say hello to my new adventure machine’. Because that’s what it is.

Me and my friends about to head off on a bike ride

Cycles at the ready

A bike is a means to freedom and fitness. A cheap form of transport; a means to get a job; an environmentally aware decision.

A bike means rides out to the coast for fish and chips and ice cream. Rides through muddy puddles and ‘Would you look at the state of you!’

A bike is sunny days messing about with friends. Discovering tea shops and garden centres and where you can get really good home-made cake and a refill for your bottles or Camelbacks.

A bike is finally making it to the top of that hill without stopping and free-wheeling down the other side. Or taking a moment to admire the view, when all you can see is mist.

A bike is praying that your skin really is waterproof and that your toes won’t fall off. Or hoping that those weird looking tan lines will eventually join up.

It’s bruises, scrapes and chafing and a permanent chain tattoo on your calf. It’s saddle sores and Sudocrem and realising just how many layers you have to take off to go for a pee.

It’s exploring the countryside or speeding through a city. It’s about finding places you never knew existed. Rediscovering the intimate knowledge you had as a child of your local area with all its secret pathways and shortcuts.

It’s tech talk of carbon, cassettes and chain rings and ‘mine’s better than yours’. It’s le Grand Depart, le maillot jaune et, chapeau to you! It’s about being King of the Road or Queen of the Mountains, imagining you’re on the Champs Elysees or the Queen K Highway.

Chrissie Wellington, four times Ironman World Champion has had her bike stolen. The one she won her 2011 championship on. The one she calls Phoenix, because they rose together.

I’m sure Chrissie could have any bike she wanted – faster, lighter, more expensive, higher spec. But if your bike isn’t there any more, it’s not just a piece of metal that’s gone. There’s a bike shaped hole in your heart. Because a bike’s not just a bike is it? And Chrissie’s not just a World Champion. She’s a girl who wants her bike back.

I really hope you find it Chrissie.

20 July 2014

The Newcastle Woodhorn triathlon

This is a fabulous triathlon. It was a great race when it was the QE2 triathlon. But this year, when the powers that be decided that an iconic race through the centre of Newcastle was not to be, providing an alternative venue for any race with just four weeks notice was a big ask. Woodhorn Colliery Museum stepped in gracefully. And the guys from V02 Max Racing Events, already well known for their terrific, well organised events in the North East, stepped up, put the disappointment of losing so much of their hard work behind them and made it their best event to date.

When they announced there wouldn’t be a Newcastle based race – no river swim, no closed city roads, no run along the Quayside, they rightly gave competitors the option to get their money back. Or take part in the new race, in the alternative venue and get a partial refund. I think they expected many would drop out.

But we came. Triathletes like me, knowing the course from previous races. Triathletes who travelled from far away. And beginners, who were faced with a 24km bike ride rather than the original 10km. I don’t know what the turn out was compared to the numbers who had booked for the original race, but there were around 600 competitors who took part.

There were four swim starts. I was in the second sprint wave and anxious to get in the water so that I could manage my usual race nerves and calm myself before the start. Lake rules dictate that is a wetsuit compulsory swim, but the water was 18C, so not shockingly cold. I got in and floated on my back, letting water into my suit. Then I splashed my face a couple of times and tried breathing out with it in the water. I was a bit too hyped to get a good clear out breath, but I was okay and ready to get going.

Me on the run at the Newcastle Woodhorn triathlon

Me on the run at the Newcastle Woodhorn triathlon – photo by Tove Elander

The countdown started, the hooter sounded and we were off. I was determined not to be a wuss and hang back too much, but to put myself in the mix, albeit not right up the front. I had been frustrated with my last tri start where a bit of a panic meant I stopped and watched the entire field swim away from me.

I struck out into front crawl. My breathing was a bit ragged, but I knew I could live with that for a bit, until I found a more settled pace. Although there was a good wide starting area, swimmers were bunched together and I found myself swimming a good bit water polo style to avoid too many crashes. At the start, you really couldn’t see other swimmers under the water.

I’d gone maybe 200m and the water was starting to clear, so I could see the plants and weeds at the bottom of the lake and bubbles off the feet of swimmers in front. There was a swimmer to my right side, so I tried to draft a little off their hip. But I soon found myself caught in a bit of a pincer movement as another swimmer cut across me from the left.

And then I got a proper bash on the side of my head. It was a real thump, I guess from a hand, elbow, or possibly a kick. Not deliberate, I’m sure, just that my head was in the wrong pace at the wrong time. It floundered me, sent me gasping and desperately trying not to take in a gob full of water. I trod water and gathered my thoughts.

I knew it was enough to unsettle me if I let it. I knew I hadn’t really given myself enough time to calm down and relax in the water, hoping I could tough it out until the field spread out a little. I turned onto my back and floated, taking a couple of deep breaths, once again, being conscious of the field moving ahead of me.

But I gathered myself more quickly and ploughed back on into front crawl. A bit more heads up than I’d have liked, but gradually regaining confidence, getting my breathing calm and just thinking smooth and steady. The first buoy seemed far distant, but I made it and turned easily across to the second.

I was back among the other white capped swimmers now, but with more space and less jostling. I swam beside another girl who felt like she was at a similar speed for a while. But then sighting back to the bank, I thought she was swimming rather wide, so I adjusted my course.

Smooth and steady, I was in my swimming flow now and starting to overtake swimmers around me. In the last few hundred metres I kicked hard, stayed largely out of the scrum for the bank and headed up the hill to transition, conscious that I was far from the last of my wave out of the water.

I had a great position in the bike rack, near the end of the row. A girl with a beautiful Bianchi racked next to mine came through into transition just after me, so the race was on to make sure I got out ahead of her.

Off onto the bike course and I was feeling good. There’s a bit of a downhill start, so I was up through the gears quickly and out onto the main road. Sure, I always get passed on the bike, but I was able to get a fair way before I started being over taken.

Whether it was because I was further up the swim, or it’s just the nature of this course, but I was never out of sight of other bikes on this course. That’s really nice for a slower cyclist like me. Within ten minutes I was overtaken by my pal Ged from work, another one I recruited to the dark side, taking part in his first open water event.

I managed a few overtakes myself, most likely from the beginners race, but still giving me the impetus to keep the pace up. At Cresswell, the course turns alongside a beautiful stretch of sand dunes, with the sea just metres away. In the last couple of years, it’s been stunning – bright blues and golds. Today, everything was grey and shrouded in a fine sea mist. Still, at least the forecast thunderstorms and torrential down pours had held off.

The girl on the Bianchi passed me just beside the caravan park. But by now I was holding my own and managed to make it through Lynemouth before the first of the speedy standard competitors came roaring past on their carbon and solid wheels.

Michelle NicolI’d been drinking High 5 juice throughout the bike, but hadn’t taken anything to eat, thinking ‘it’s just a sprint’. But actually it’s a long sprint, with a 24km bike and a 6.05km run. I got a sudden rush of cramp in my right leg at one point, totally out of the blue. Just the one crippling jolt and then it was gone, but leaving me wondering if it was going to happen again. I made sure I kept drinking for the rest of the course.

I was starting to fade towards the end. There may have been a little uphill gradient, or it may just have been me getting fed up with it, but it felt like I dropped my cadence and began to pootle a little. Fortunately, it wasn’t far to the final left turn into the museum grounds and along a long road to the dismount point.

No real issues in transition and I was off and away on the run around the paths beside the lake. My legs felt good, not too stiff or wobbly. I went off a bit too fast and had to ease it back a bit to find my rhythm.

I concentrated on my form, counted steps, thought about, feet, knees, hips and shoulders. And I waved and smiled to my parkrun friends who were out on the course marshaling or supporting. Claire was out on the run course, practising for her important role helping out at the triathlon in the Commonwealth Games next week. And my lovely friends Tove and Jules from parkrun were out round by the end of the lap where we run across a small gauge railway line.

Two laps round the lake, up a small slope around the back of the museum buildings, down a grassy slope and sprint to the finish line. I’d finished with a flourish and felt fantastic :-) I do love my triathlons.

I cleared my bike and stuff from transition as some of the standard competitors were coming through to start their run. And I was very grateful I wasn’t doing the standard distance. The long sprint was enough for me and my training this time.

There was a massive, well-attended prize giving. I’ve never known so many cups and awards at an event, with lots of age category prizes, as well as a corporate challenge, team challenge and relay races. There were also some amazing spot prizes including tri suits, wet suits and one guy walked away with a brand new Merida bike.

I had such a good race on this course last time I did it, that I hadn’t expected much from my performance. I haven’t done anything like the number of bike miles this year and my running’s not on form either. But I ended up only a minute slower overall than last year, taking 2 mins 30 off my swim, shaving 9 seconds off my bike time and only losing out on transitions and about 3 mins on the run. So I was pretty surprised and pleased about that. I think it shows I can still improve and have something to ficus on next year.

I’d still love this city to have an iconic race – one that would look great against the background of the river and its bridges. But there’s something quite special about a tribe of triathletes descending on a visitor attraction in a country park and taking it over with our carnival for the day. Woodhorn Colliery Museum did a great job of hosting at short notice and ensuring there was an event we could all enjoy. Three cheers, bravo to everyone who made it happen.

Swim: 18:38
T1: 01:47
Bike: 54:41
T2: 1:17
Run: 39:51
Total: 1:56:14

Results

Photos

14 July 2014

Barcelona dreaming

Filed under: words — The Scribbler @ 20:04
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

I have been away to Barcelona. A few days’ welcome holiday, a break from the usual routine, a chance to enjoy warm sunshine and discover a new part of the world.

Chimney pots at La Pedrera

Chimney pots at La Pedrera

I took my notebook, but for once I did not keep a travel journal.  It will be a place not easily forgotten. And though the fine detail of what and where and when may slip over time, I did not want to be distracted from the sheer experience of absorbing all I could.

We walked for miles. Used the metro and our feet to find our way around, venturing as far as the shoreline of La Barceloneta and up the mountainside to Montjuic.

We ate spectacularly well. From multi-course tasting menus, to simple chicken and vegetable skewers, we sampled plenty of the local cuisine, fish, fruit, pastries, jamon, tapas, rice, ice cream…

My memories are already a heady salsa of sensations. Sunshine and city streets steaming after a morning thunderstorm. Sunburned legs climbing metro steps and fruit juices all the colours of the rainbow in the market.

Friendly greetings and an international array of accents, French, American, Arabic, Australian. The language of Catalonia itself a beguiling mix of French and Spanish, that I could begin to read but had not the ear to catch more than a few common phrases.

Days spent exploring the sights, the architecture, galleries, museums, parks, squares and twisting streets. We explored the creations of Antoni Gaudi, learning more and more about his masterpiece architecture as we explored the buildings he designed.

I’ve come to a new appreciation of this man’s work; his genius. I had previously thought it was all about the showy facade, using shapes and forms to strike a pose on the city’s streets. But as we looked inside and found out more, it became clear that the design was functional as well as beautiful. The inspiration of nature’s form can be found in every small detail, from the wood carvings and tile designs to the lights and chimney pots.

Rooftop at Casa Batllo

Rooftop at Casa Batllo

Barcelona is a place of dreams. Where the chimneys of Casa Mila, or La Pedrera become guardian knights on watch in their roof top battlements. The gingerbread gatehouse of Park Guell becomes an elephant with its trunk raised to the sky.

The cathedral of stone looks like melting candle wax under the city’s heat. Turn a corner and the forms become angular and cubist. Open the door and you’re in the heart of the Tardis.

In Casa Batllo, a trick of the light seen through a dappled glass screen pitches you up through an underwater world to the roof, where a dragon rests, its skin a shimmer of green and browns, while its backbone winds down through the snaking stairwell.

These surreal and dreamlike landscapes make perfect sense when you walk among them. But once out of the sun, my senses shift back to black and white, to the linear realities of basic geometry.

So my Barcelona journal is like the trencardis – the mosaic ceramic fragments Gaudi used to decorate his buildings. Old materials recycled and brought to life as something new. A kaleidoscope of broken pieces, slotted together to fit natural curves and contours.

I’m left clutching slivers of heady sensations. The tapas taste of Barcelona as a tango in a cobbled square, the swirl of arabic poetry and a sharp, minty mojito in a small dark bar, that we enter as strangers and leave as friends.

We visited:
La Pedrera

Casa Batllo

La Sagrada Familia

Park Guell

Our favourite place to spend the evening, with the best mojito in Barcelona is:
Ziryab

9 July 2014

Bridges of the Tyne 5 mile race 2014

I’d forgotten I’d signed up to this race way back in March, but it’s a popular event and places are soon snapped up, so I guess I must have got caught up in the enthusiasm and put my name down. I’m very glad I did.

After a morning of thundery downpours, runners may have been expecting a wet race, but by the evening, the sun was out and the air was warm as we gathered at the Tyne bar to pick up our race packs.

Running along beside the Tyne Bridge

Running along beside the Tyne Bridge – photo by George Routledge

Along with race number and timing chip, there was an excellent race goodie bag with a nicely designed tech T-shirt , Natural Hero goodies and money off vouchers for Sweatshop. I’m already a fan of Natural Hero’s hot ginger muscle rub and soak, so it was nice to try their cool peppermint spray – very welcome on hot and tired legs after the race.

I caught up with a few runners I know from parkrun and club members from Durham’s Elvet Striders before the start, but with so many people waiting to pick up their numbers and a good walk to the start line, there really wasn’t too much time to chat.

I found a place towards the back of around 400 runners for the start on the Newcastle Quayside, and soon bounded off at quite a lick, excited to be racing.

I had no expectations or targets for this run. I really didn’t know how I would go after a week of holiday and little training. And for the first few hundred metres I felt good, bouncy and fast.

But it was hot. The air felt thick and I was soon breathing hard to suck in oxygen, feeling like I was chewing on it like a mouthful of marshmallows.  I consciously eased up a little, looking for a more reasonable pace that I could sustain.

Me running along beside the Tyne

Enjoying the Tyne Bridge 5 miler in the sunshine – photo by Sue H

With marshals at every jink in the out and back route and a chance to spot the faster runners on the return leg, I soon found myself shouting encouragement. I was very happy to spot local running star Aly Dixon, easily first lady and mixing it up with the fast lads and give her a good shout.

And then a little further on, just before the turn around point, I spotted a teddy bear wearing a familiar running vest and then saw my friend Sue poised with camera in hand. Cue a spot of showboating from me, proving I really was relaxed and enjoying the run.

Back along the river, getting encouragement at every marshal point helped keep my legs turning over as the effort began to take its toll. I started to try and chase down runners ahead, reeling in the gap between us, hoping that by easing off a little to find my rhythm at first, I could finish strong.

A little way ahead I spotted Malcolm who volunteers to hold the gate open at Newcastle parkrun almost every week and he became my target to chase down in the last mile and a half. Keeping my focus on the small distance ahead, trying to reduce it, and not letting it increase, was a great way to keep my mind of how hot, tired and achy my legs were, as i could feel my calf muscles tightening.

Just as I was within a couple of strides of my quarry, an encouraging shout from another parkrunner, Sumanth, meant Malcolm knew I was approaching. So, I had to make it stick and I pushed on a little to move past. Encouragingly he shouted that I could make 45 mins if I pushed on.

Me running

Race face on for a sprint finish – photo by Lee Cuthbertson

Now I hadn’t paid much attention to my watch, and felt like I was running way slower than that kind of pace, so it really spurred me on to give it a try. With the finish arch approaching along the quayside, I’d already increased my effort and with a couple of hundred metres to go, really kicked into sprint mode.

With a small crowd of purple clad Elvet striders giving me a good shout in the dying metres, I kept on pushing, found yet another gear and crossed the line in 46:21.

It’s a measure of the quality of the field, that it wasn’t a particularly fast time, and I have run the course faster than that a couple of years ago, but I was really pleased with my efforts.

After a bit of banter and more cheering of the Elvet crew, who were very well represented at this race, I walked back down the course a little way to see my fellow Fetchie Sarah coming in to finish.

Getting a return shout of encouragement from Aly Dixon as we approached the line, and she was completing her warm down, was a really nice bonus. Aly’s a class runner and will be representing team GB n the marathon at the Commonwealth Games. I’ve seen her at a few local races and follow her progress on her blog and she’s always really generous with her support and insights into her training. So good luck Aly – I’ll be cheering for you and all our team GB athletes.

Bridges of the Tyne 5m results

23 June 2014

Triathlon from the other side

Last weekend I had great fun helping out my friend Peter who was race director at the Weardale triathlon. A sprint distance event, it took place in Stanhope, starting in the heated outdoor pool where I was one of the lane counters.

It meant an early start, but that’s typical for a triathlon weekend, and it was great to see the event and help out as a volunteer. I’m always really grateful to the organisers and marshals who give their time so that I can enjoy a fantastic race, and I know that triathlon in particular takes a ready crew on hand to get things organised and make sure things run smoothly.

Marshal at Weardale tri

At the poolside for the Weardale tri – photo by Jason Allison

A smile, or a friendly face can help calm nerves and an encouraging comment or ripple of applause can really help lift you in a race. Marshals are most likely there earlier and staying out on the course later than most of the competitors, so next time you’re out racing, give them a thumbs up or a thank you, if you have any breath left!

Anyway, I really enjoyed my stint as a length counter, despite apprehensions that I’d mess it up and miscount. I find it hard enough to keep track of my own lengths when swimming, let alone being responsible for other people’s. But there was a good system with a check sheet to tick off every two lengths, and with only a maximum of four in the lane at one time, it went very smoothly.

It was good to see all the different swim styles and to hear people nervously admitting this was their first tri as they were getting their poolside briefing. Seeing the first swimmers in reminded me of my first events where I spluttered through with a mixture of front crawl and breast stroke and held on for dear life to catch my breath every time I got to the side. Thankfully, these swimmers were somewhat better prepared.

Once the pool had cleared, I stepped over to the transition area where competitors were still heading out on the bike and run and cheered a few over the finish line. The people who run the pool had put on a fantastic spread of cakes and had been frying up bacon and sausage butties all morning, so I was well fed for all my hard work, sitting and counting.

I still think of myself as a tri tiddler, and know there are many more worthy of interest achieving great things in this multi-sport event. But I guess my enthusiasm comes through. So it was great, and long overdue to be able to give a little something back and to help out at a fantastic and tiddler friendly event.

With my enthusiasm for triathlon, I was very disappointed to learn that my next event, the Newcastle triathlon, has had to be moved. Originally conceived as a new city centre tri with a swim in our iconic river, closed bike route and flat course, it had attracted a lot of interest and was set to be a real highlight of the season. But, after two years’ hard work, securing permissions and negotiating with all the relevant authorities, it seems that permission for the river swim was rescinded.

The organisers, V02 Max Racing Events are massively disappointed too. They put on fantastic local events (including the Northumberland tri which I last raced at), all as well as holding down full time jobs. But they have found a way to offer a great alternative and are focused on making it the best event it can be.

I know it will be a fantastic event , as the alternative course is at the QE2 lake, beside Woodhorn Colliery Museum, where I took part in my first open water event in 2012. I’m working on building up my run mileage in training now to give myself a good shot at the Great North Run in September, but I really feel like I want to give this triathlon my best too, as a way of recognising the effort that goes into organising the events I enjoy.

11 June 2014

‘Twas on the ninth of Joon…

Filed under: run — The Scribbler @ 21:25
Tags: , ,

The Blaydon Race is the North East runner’s carnival. In a world of corporate mass participation events and health and safety overkill, it retains a sense of anarchy and craziness.

It sticks to its traditions. Always on the same day, no matter when that falls. Starting from a pub in an area where you might expect to find the real-life inspiration for a couple of Viz characters, it follows the route described in an ancient music hall song.

Feth Everyone runners

Fetch girls gather for pre- race photo-shoot

Or follows it as as near as anyone can make out, given that most of the landmarks are now long gone. Some still remain, like Armstrong’s factory, only it’s not called that anymore. And others have dropped out of memory all together.

But still we gather, the north east running community, from the fast lads and lasses to those happy to party at the back. For one evening, we fill the streets with colour and the smell of deep heat. Stilettoes and leopard print give way to rubber soles and club vests, packed into cobbled streets more traditionally drowning in beer and curry sauce.

We stop the traffic. Call out the Lord Mayor to ring an ancient bell. We take over the high way. And we run.

We run. We shuffle. We walk. We limp. We bound over pavements and kerbstones and watch out for sign posts. Catching elbows, tripping over feet, seeking a space, a way through the throng.

We follow the white lines. Feet pounding concrete. We think ‘Scotswood Road is a very long way’. We give thumbs up to the band playing by the car showroom and then fall into watching the endless pattern of coloured shirts and slogans down the grey slipway into the sun.

We issue a collective groan as we turn left, up and over the bridge then filter down to the shade of the riverside. We pass each other side by side, high fiving, shouting out to fellow friends; dodging the cups of water strewn on the grass and tarmac.

With more than half the distance run, we twist and turn onto yet more concrete. Round the back of an industrial estate. In and out of units. Not a place you’d chose to run.

But we’ve taken over. We rule the road tonight. So clear out. Keep out of our way! Or get swept along in the mad jamboree.

Just as we start to think about the finish, there’s another crest to rise and another series of corners, taunting us with an ending we can hear but cannot see. Crowds now, hanging over barriers, caught behind fences like caged animals, shouting sounds we cannot comprehend because all we can hear is the roar of our heartbeat in our ears, yelling just a few more steps…

And suddenly with a last mad gasp death or glory sprint it’s over for another year. And although we’re hot and tired and legs are weary, we’re smiling and thinking ‘when can I do that again?’

Me and Tony the Fridge - Blaydon Race 2014

Me and Tony the Fridge at Blaydon 2014

We collect our rewards, beer and sandwiches and inspect our race t-shirts hoping this is one of the years where they look decent and we can wear them proudly. And we gather on the grassy bank to spot friends, family and fellow runners to toast their success.

For this runner, this year’s run was a crazy ask, coming as it did on the back of a long, hard event. But I bounced. Far more than I expected to.

I set off too fast, as I always do. I sang and blew kisses to Tony the Fridge en route. I flew up the flyover and was genuinely chuffed to see the girl who’d been struggling a few moments earlier come past me before the finish. And even though I was expecting them to give up on me at some point, my legs kept bouncing right to the end.

It may have been my slowest time over this course, but it was still faster than I expected or had any right to run. It’s a silly distance and it’s not an attractive route. But the Blaydon race is the only event I’d even consider doing after a standard tri the day before.

From gathering with the Fetch crew at the start; to spotting parkrunners and work colleagues in the race; to hearing my name called from the sidelines. From its traditions and connections to the roots of this area, to its crazy anarchy and celebration of life as a runner, it retains a very special and unique place in my heart.

Blaydon Race results

Pictures from Ian Williamson on Flickr

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