Great North Run 2019

Can you spot me on the Tyne Bridge?

The last time I ran the Great North Run was in 2015 and to be honest I didn’t really enjoy training for or running it as much as I had in previous years. I wasn’t in a great state mentally, and training and running got mixed up in a whole load of a mess around stuff that was going on at work, low self-esteem and anxiety.

Anyway, onto 2019 and I’d decided I wanted a challenge to help me focus on run training. I wanted to have another go at a half marathon and ended up doing two. Edinburgh Half Marathon in May was excellent. The training was hard work, I questioned why I was doing it often, but eventually I had a few good runs and on the day, smashed my expectations out of the water, had a fantastic race and felt pretty epic.

So I had nothing to prove at Great North Run 2019. It’s a different type of course with , different conditions, so I didn’t feel under any pressure to try and beat my Edinburgh half time. My plan was just to run and enjoy it and remember what I loved about this race.

Training had gone okay. I’d done a few 10 milers in the build up to the race, and run consistently 2-3 times a week. I skipped one long run in favour of a lovely weekend cycling and enjoying the Edinburgh Book Festival. And I ran one race distance event two weeks before, on a lapped run where I stopped for water and food after each 5k lap.

I had a bit of a panic when I pulled something in my back a couple of weeks ago. But I managed to reduce the pain quite quickly and got a good sports massage on it in race week. It caused me no problems on race day.

I slept really well and woke up a little excited and just ready to get out there. My plan was to use the same approach as I had in Edinburgh, run at easy effort, not pay too much attention to my watch and just see how I felt. No pace bands, no pressure.

Race prep was standard, porridge with banana and honey, a small bottle of water sipped between walking over to the start line. It was bright and sunny, but not forecast to be too hot – around 16-18C. I remembered to slap on the sunscreen just before setting off.

I wandered through the gathering crowds and saw local legend Minnie Mouse (aka Anne) who is one of the few GNR all-timers. I’ve seen her at just about every GNR I’ve ever done, so that felt like an auspicious omen and after bumping into her, I made my way down towards the starting pens. I had loads of time before the hullaballoo started but didn’t want to waste energy wandering round too much. As I was walking down I spotted a Fetch pal from Scotland, Paul, sitting on the bank beside the central motorway. Perfect company for a bit of chat and chill. Just what I needed.

I left with my good wishes and hugs at about 10am and made my way further back to my white starting pen, where I watched the start of the elite races, the usual warm up and all the razzmatazz that goes with this race on the big screen. I was still feeling pretty relaxed and excited.

It took just over 20 minutes before I reached the start, pushed the button on my Garmin and was off. Under the flyovers, trying to keep it steady , enjoying the oggy oggy oggies through the tunnels.

On the Tyne Bridge I ran along the left hand side and got loads of shout outs from the spectators. I thought they were people I knew until I remembered my name was printed in big letters on my number. I tried to smile or thumbs up every one as they all gave me a real boost. There were loads of cheers and smiles from younger folks too who were pointing out the guys dressed in furry penguin suits running beside me. I hope that means I’m easier to spot in the traditional masses on the bridge photo!

Once over the Tyne Bridge, there’s not a lot in terms of scenic highlights. There was a sign on one of the bridges near Gateshead stadium that said something like “settle into your pace and enjoy the race” and that’s what I was doing. I got a shout out from my parkrun pals Angela and Jules and was feeling good.

It was pretty hot and sunny, so I had decided I would take on water when I could, with the first station being at 3 miles. I grabbed a bottle and kept moving and sipping.

At 4 miles I was feeling a bit tired in my legs. But the course goes uphill between 4 and 5 miles. It’s one of those deceptive long drags that you can’t really see, so I just put it down to that and pushed on.

But I could sense I was slowing down, even as my effort levels stayed the same. No real worries, maybe I had gone off a bit fast, although I didn’t think so. I ran through my mental checks – feet, knees, hips, core, shoulders, head. Yeah – all okay, although mentally I felt a bit vague and unfocused. I counted up to one hundred to engage my brain. Fine, I’ve slowed down a bit, it will come back to me.

I pushed on to 6 miles and then thought that the 10k sign took forever to appear. Half way and not feeling any more fluid or faster in my running. I gave myself a mental note to pick my feet up, get the cadence going, run light. The message didn’t seem to reach my legs.

Somewhere between mile 4 and mile 7, an ambulance went past and runners split to the sides of the course. I used it as an excuse to walk for 20-30 seconds in a bid to reset my head and get back into something that felt more like my usual running flow.

The vague feeling in my head continued. I grabbed water from another station and drank some, poured some over the back of my neck. I ran through a shower to cool down. I can’t tell you what order those things happened.

For a few brief moments I felt a bit wobbly and faint. I can only remember that because I’d stepped to the kerbside to walk for a bit and when I started running again, I was that annoying runner who steps out into someone’s path. I apologised and she was fine about it, but it was a sign for me that I wasn’t really paying attention to things as I usually would.

I walked again. I checked my watch and told myself I could walk for 1 minute, and started to shuffle again after about 50 seconds. I did a 10 min shuffle/run to 1 min walk option a few times and then the walking breaks got longer.

I bypassed sweeties and ice pops offered by the supporters who were out in droves. But I grabbed an orange segment and ate it like a flesh-devouring zombie, then tried to get back into a running rhythm again.

Crossing the finish line after 13.1 miles

The run never really came back to me. Mentally it was a bit frustrating. I couldn’t pinpoint anything that was wrong, or injured or hurting. When I did run, I felt like I was shuffling along at a very slow pace. My legs just felt like they had no power in them.

I’m really pleased that I didn’t allow this to become a stick to beat myself with. I have been ridiculously, stupidly hard on myself when my head has gone in other races. No pressure, really meant no pressure this time and I just plugged on as best as I could.

At around 10 miles I got my phone out to record something for the Fetch Everyone podcast as a welcome distraction and a way of me making the positive mental action real.

After struggling with running and letting go of any sense of pace, I found it easier to deal with what are traditionally the hardest bits of the course. My breathing and effort was relaxed and although I felt some muscles in my legs starting to seize up, I kept going. All along the John Reid Road, past the Nook and onto Prince Edward Road blurred into one. I took some encouragement from a runner from Cheshire who was urging a runner called Becky on. It was nice to hear a North West accent.

There was the sea at last. Just down the hill, turn left and run the longest mile of your life to the finish. And I did run. Or at least what passed for running by that point. It was a point of pride not to walk and to smile and thumbs up and thank everyone who called out my name again.

I know this is a long mile, but still the 20k banner almost caught me out and that last kilometre went on forever, but finally I saw the guys and girls in uniforms that really mark the end of the course. What a welcome sight. They lifted my spirits as I made a bit of a dash for the line, remembered to throw a winning pose and smile for the cameras and stopped. 2:50:17 – 30 minutes slower than I ran at Edinburgh Half Marathon.

Post finish was a bit of a blur. Got my bottle of water and headed for the medals, remembering to stick to the lane nearest the sea where parkrun friend Sumanth presented me with my bling and had a bit of a chat. Picked up my goodie bag and dove towards a space on the grass where I could dig into it and find something to eat. The Clif bar vanished in seconds. The tub of tuna… maybe not!

As I posted on various social media, it wasn’t my day for a good run but I did have a good day and I’m pleased about that. But I’m still puzzling out why I feel a bit dissatisfied, like I have unfinished business with the half marathon/GNR. I guess I’m looking for reasons why there was such a big drop off between my performance at Edinburgh Half and GNR. A couple of days on I’m resigning myself to the fact that there may be many small reasons or none at all. It’s just one of those things.

I am very proud that I’ve now completed 7 Great North Runs and on this one I was supported not just by all those brilliant people who stood at the roadsides cheering on over 50,000 runners, but by friends and family who always wish me well and who have helped me raise funds for CARE International UK.



North Tyneside 10k 2019

The North Tyneside 10k runs from The Parks sports centre in North Shields, along the Fish Quay, up the side of Tynemouth Priory and then along the coast towards St Mary’s Island at Whitley Bay. It’s a regular season starter in the calendar but as it always takes place on Easter Sunday, it can be a bit unpredictable. I’ve run it in wind, snow and hailstones, and in scorching hot sunshine.

This year was an unexpectedly hot day and, because I’ve been focusing on longer distance runs at an easy effort in my half marathon training, I really had no idea of how I would feel going at a faster pace for 6 miles.

However many times I do a race, I still get a bubble of adrenaline and flutter of nerves before an event. I sort of like that I still feel like that. It adds an extra level of excitement and makes racing different from regular training.

I did a bit of a warm up, running around the park beside the sports centre and going through some running drills before finding a shady patch to hang around in before the start. Despite the fact that I know a lot of people in the local running community, I didn’t manage to see anyone I knew to say hello to until I lined up for the start.

My plan was to run comfortably hard for as long as I could. My goal was to run faster than my long run pace throughout. That’s about as technical as I got. I didn’t set a specific minutes per mile pace and just resolved to run based on how I felt, rather than checking my watch regularly.

I knew that the hot weather could be a factor. And that it’s hard to settle into a steady pace on this route as it has a steepish bit of downhill in the first mile and then an uphill section just before mile 3.

And so, after the usual nervous chat with runners at the start, a shuffle over the line, finger paused on the start button on my watch, I was off and dodging through the streets of North Shields.

I trot confidently down the hill towards the Fish Quay and between the mouth of the river Tyne and the restaurants along the bank. Heading out towards Tynemouth priory, the sun is really beating down.

There are groans and sharp intakes of breath as the first hill approaches. A short sharp rise up from the river. There’s not enough time to recover your effort before the next longer hill up the road alongside Tynemouth Priory. I tell myself I run hill reps here regularly and just get on with it.

I grabbed a bottle of water just after 3 miles and took a couple of gulps as it was such a hot day. I made a mental promise to myself to keep pushing until 4 miles. Normally this kind of self talk is a good motivator and I go past my self-imposed limits. But this time, as I reached 4 miles I eased back to an easier effort. It was hot and people were walking, and achieving a time just didn’t seem as important as enjoying the race.

I managed a bit of a sprint on at the end. But I was still a bit disappointed that I ran a slower time than last year, despite running many more miles in training. I still enjoy this race and hope to be back a bit speedier in 2020.

A mini adventure with #BarefootBritain

This week I ran with the amazing Anna McNuff who is currently on an adventure covering 2,620 miles running around Britain barefoot. Yes, that’s right, not just running all that way, but doing in in her bare little tootsies.

I loved reading Anna’s book The Pants of Perspective about her 2,000 mile run along New Zealand’s Te Araroa Trail, so I followed her progress as she made her way down the east coast from Scotland.

The lure of the beautiful north east beaches and shorelines meant Anna changed her original route plan which meant that she’d be running through ‘my patch’ between Blyth and Newcastle. And I just knew I had to show her the sights of the coast that I’m lucky enough to run along regularly.

You know that sensation of miles going quickly when you’re running with a friend? From the second I saw Ana’s shock of pink hair above her visor, got a hug and then started trotting along beside her, the time just flew by and I barely felt like I was running at all.

Anna had been joined by fellow runner Sophie at Blyth, but I don’t think she got much chance of a word in on the 2 miles I was along for the ride. As Anna asked questions, I shared my local knowledge and we talked about running, adventures, travelling, the North East coast, writing books and a hundred and one other things.

Anna trots along so lightly and consistently you forget that she’s barefoot. She’s upbeat, excited about the adventure, practical in her approach and just drinking in the adventure as it comes. I absolutely loved running those miles with you Anna and felt like I could have carried on all day.

I was inspired, and a bit star struck. We talked a bit about her book and I was fascinated to hear how Anna had made such a success of self publishing. I admitted my life goal of publishing a book and recording the audio book. I guess I just need to find the right adventure to write about.

I told her all about Fetch Everyone – the amazing running community and website where I log all my training and talk nonsense with so many friends.

Anna still has a long way to go on her challenge, so I hope that more of you may get the chance to say hello and run with her as she passes by.  Find out more about her run and route on her website and social media: annamcnuff.com

Running has given me some amazing experiences, from running on the London Olympic track, to being accompanied by a group of Harley Davison motorbikes at the end of the Great North Run. Running with Barefoot Anna is another unforgettable running experience to smile about.

Blaydon Race 2019

The Blaydon Race is always on 9th June regardless of what day of the week it falls on. This year it was Sunday evening.

Arguably the most difficult part is getting your place in the starting line-up. Entries open on a specific evening (usually in February) and are gone in minutes. This year had more than its usual share of challenges. The date for entries opening was announced, then put back. Then things went quiet and there was talk of there having to be a route change because of work going on at the finish line.

Entries finally opened in March – when I was in Rwanda and not sure if I could rely on having an internet connection at the precise time I’d need it. Thanks then to my fab running pal Karen who went online for me and bagged me a place.

Just a small matter of training and running it. With the date of the race falling just 2 weeks after Edinburgh Half Marathon, I felt confident that I’d have the distance covered. Speed? My race plan was to go off hard and see how long I could hold on for.

I always enjoy seeing runners converging on a place for a race, seeing the coloured club tops, numbers pinned on, all heading in the same direction. The Blaydon Race starts in Newcastle city centre and soon Grey Street was a mass of runners meeting clubmates, looking for friends.

I popped into my starting area and chatted to a few people, sang all the choruses of the Bloaydon Race song and then waited for the off. We walked slowly down to the start and started to build up to a run over the line as the ancient hand bell was rung by Newcastle’s Lord Mayor to start the race.

We’d been warned of a bottleneck at the start, with narrow roads around the train station, but it really was a walk for a few hundred yards before there was enough space to start spreading out. So much for going off too fast!But I smiled and enjoyed the mad craziness of it all. If this run wasn’t a part of local folklore, I doubt they’d get permission to hold it.

Once I had the freedom I stretched out and ran comfortably hard. My legs felt strong and I just had to live with the sense of discomfort high up in my chest. Stay focused and push on was my motto of the day.

In truth, most of the race is a blur. Westgate Road was wide and hot and I was glad of my sunglasses to shield my eyes from the dipping sun. I got a shout out from the side of the road and applauded the band playing at the car dealership. And although it never gets any shorter, I felt like I was soon approaching the bridge over the road and easing up it.

Paying no attention to my watch, just running to feel, I looked out for runners passing on the opposite side of the out and back along the river, glad of a little cool shade. Back along the road and the steel band were out lending rhythm and energy towards the end of the run. Up and over the flyover and down towards the finish.

The route had been shortened this year, to finish in the illustrious setting of Morrisons car park. I was definitely starting to feel the strain, so was glad I didn’t have to claw out another half mile or so. This was roughly the finish I remember from my first couple of events, so it seemed fitting to be back.

A bit of a Scribbler sprint over the line, smiles all round and analyse the stats later. It felt like a reasonable run and I stayed pretty focused, although fading a bit towards the end.

I still have an irrational affection for the Blaydon Race. It’s not pretty. It’s not a standard distance. It’s not even the same route every year. It’s a little bit shambolic and chaotic and despite being a ‘big’ run in terms of numbers it feels like a runners run.

Having almost missed it last year, due to a crocked shoulder, it was good to be back and give it my best shot.

Edinburgh Half Marathon 2019

When I woke just before 6am on race day, the rain was bouncing off the ground. I wouldn’t need sunscreen and sunglasses, for the Edinburgh Half Marathon, that was for sure.

61142836_2484301181601772_4417914853721636864_oMy brilliant pal Lesley who had offered me a place to stay and race support for the day got me incredibly close to the start of the race, in the centre of the city. I wrapped myself in a bin bag and walked towards the coloured flags marking the start areas. On the way I was very happy to chance across two great running friends, Kate from Edinburgh and Mungai who I know from Newcastle parkrun. With hugs and good lucks all round, we went off to our different start areas.

My only other half marathon experience has been at the Great North Run. This was very different. Runners approached from all directions, but there was no need to get there hours before the start time. We weren’t ‘penned’ into start areas either which was much more relaxing. Although it’s a massive race with thousands of runners taking part, Edinburgh Half Marathon felt much more low key – which was perfect for me.
As the minutes counted down to the start of the race, the rain had dropped to a light drizzle and the air felt warm with anticipation. Although I couldn’t see the start line fro where I was, there was a buzz of excitement and a cheer from the runners all around when it got underway at 8am. Then as we saw runners ahead starting to move off there was another cheer and lots of good luck wishes.

It took about 15 minutes before I crossed the start line and in that time I’d heard lots of different accents and languages, with Dutch, German, Spanish and French runners around me. I wished a couple of French runners ‘Bon chance’, and was off.

61051355_10157427343279047_9110524232168636416_nThrough the streets of the city, to the bottom of the Royal Mile, by the World’s End pub and then down The Mound. The first three miles or so of this route are downhill and I’d been warned not to go off too fast. But I was running to feel and I felt great. A little pause as we turned onto Princes Street and the route narrowed, but otherwise not too congested.

The light rain was welcome as in the first mile it felt warm and humid, so by the time I got to Holyrood Park, I was actually welcoming the heavier rain drops.

Four ladies in turquoise tops were chatting away, encouraging each other and saying what they were grateful for, so I joined in and discovered they were from Durham. They asked about my bright orange CARE race vest and I told them a bit about the charity.

Somewhere in the park a piper played, and beneath the trees, Jules from Newcastle parkrun spotted me and gave me a shout out. I’d glimpsed at my watch somewhere in the first couple of miles and saw that my pace was a bit faster than I intended. But hey, there was a good bit of downhill and I felt good so I tried not to worry about it and just focused on running easy. 

I broke the run down into four sections, to help me stay focused on the miles I was running, not the miles that lay ahead. The first 5k went by in a flash and I gave a huge smile as I caught sight of the sea. If this was the Great North Run, there would only be a mile to go!

I grabbed some water on the prom as it was pretty warm, despite the rain, and I didn’t want to suffer later on. I managed to keep moving through the water station and dropped my bottle in the bin. The race organisers claim this was the first race in the UK with zero waste to landfill, so I was happy to do my bit to help them clear up.

It really enjoyed running alongside the water, with the sound of the waves. It was pretty grey and misty though, so instead of looking out at the views, I drank in the support from the houses along the route.

There were great little cheering points from various charities all along the way. There were some great signs like ‘hit for more power’ and ‘where are you all going?’. My absolute favourites along the route were ‘Pain is French for bread’ and ‘Naked cheerleaders at the finish’. Little boosts and cheers helped keep me smiling and feeling positive all the way.

As six miles approached I glimpsed at my watch and saw that I’d been running just over an hour. If I could keep that up, I’d be on for an amazing time. I was pretty sure I’d gone through 10k faster than I’d raced it on a hot Easter Sunday. That did make me think I’d really gone off too fast, but I still felt in control of the effort I was putting in. Keep going then…

I kept checking in on myself, running through my own body checks – feet ok, knees ok, hips ok, shoulders relaxed, looking forwards – keep going.:-)

There was a runner wearing a black innovate back pack and an orange cap that I’d seen on and off from the start. I used her as a bit of a pace marker until about 8 miles when I felt that I was running with the same effort, but going at a slower pace. She disappeared into the colourful crowd of runners ahead.

Around here I became aware of a runner on my right hand side, and I heard a sort of catch in her breath, like she was close to crying. “You ok?” I said and gave her the thumbs up. “Yeah fine” she replied. “I’ve been there, I know…” I thought.

My memories of the route get a bit blurry after this. Somewhere along the way, we turned away from the water and started to run back along roads, where more crowds were gathered. I knew Lesley would be out there somewhere and she appeared at about 10 miles, giving me a shout out. This was at the start of a long out and back, where you couldn’t see the turn around point for miles.

There was also music pumping out from a sound system and as I was approaching it was reaching the crescendo of Pet Shop Boys “It’s a Sin” which is a stonking track to run to and felt like it was timed just for me.

61140147_10157427343289047_348493367224565760_nSo, just a parkrun to go, and I knew simultaneously that I wasn’t running as fast as I had earlier in the race, but also that I was going to run every step of the way. My strength and power were waning, but I knew I had plenty left to get to the end without walking, so I just had to focus mentally and keep pushing.

I really dug deep mentally here, saying to myself ‘relax and push on’. I didn’t look at my watch, but thought I only had about 20 minutes left to run, even if I was slowing down.  I was also distracted by chasing down a couple of runners in morph suits dressed as Deadpool and Spiderman, complete with running kilts. I thought they were great costumes.

I reckon the 12 mile marker was a good bit past 12 miles but it did give me a moment of thinking ‘crikey, still a mile and a bit to go’. I tried my best not to slow too much, and kept putting in the same amount of effort, but it felt like my hips were staring to stiffen up and I couldn’t get my legs to move any faster.

A marshal shouted ‘Just around the corner now…honestly’ and I believed her. I couldn’t see the finish from the road, but I felt runners around me start to pick up the pace. I saw the sign for 26 miles for the marathon finish, but still determined not to power on until I could see the finish gantry.

A last turn and down some bouncy duck-boards over the grass towards the finish line. That was a bit of a shock to my legs, but I still managed a quick Scribbler sprint over the last few metres to the finish. I don’t think I even remembered to do an arms aloft and smile for the race photo. But I was done. And I felt great.

61524348_2484300901601800_7705545124322738176_oI felt even better when I clocked my race time: 2:20:36. That’s almost 10 minutes faster than my original target time of 2:30:00

After I finished, I saw the runners in turquoise tops. It had been an emotional run for one of them who had run in memory of a friend who died and was being comforted by her pals. I gave her a hug too. It felt like we’d made friends for a few moments on the run.

And then the lady who I’d checked in with somewhere along Portobello saw me and said thanks, I’d just given here a boost when she needed it. That made me feel good. I hadn’t needed it in that race, but there’s been many a time I’ve been grateful for a word, an acknowledgement, an encouragement from another runner or supporter. And I know I’ll be grateful for the same again.

In summary, I really couldn’t have asked for a better race. Edinburgh Half Marathon is well organised, well supported and a really good route for runners. I was really proud to run for CARE International UK in the first of two half marathons this year. I know that any money I raise in sponsorship will go to support people, especially women and girls, work their way to better opportunities.

Saturn Running Star Runs Episode IV – A New Run

59667505_2329708377314267_6461879018110058496_oSaturn Running organise various multi-lap runs around the country and this one too place along the River Wear in Durham. You choose how many laps you want to run during a a 7 hour time scale and as long as you complete 1 lap, you get a medal. It’s a great way of including everyone whether you’re a long distance running fanatic, or a relative newbie.

My training plan had me doing a 16k long run that week, so I thought this event would be a good way to achieve that, while giving me the chance to run a different route with support and running company. And it had an excellent Star Wars themed medal.

Okay, so I totally did it for the medal. But having a bit of company and drinks and snacks available at the end of every lap was a good thing too.

It bumped into my Country Durham running pal Karen in the queue to register and pick up our numbers and we had a bit of a chat about our training and race plans. She’d run the route before, so warned me about ‘that hill’. Hmm, I thought a route along a river would be flat…

It was a bit of a grey, chilly day, so I had a long sleeve top over my Fetch T-shirt for the first lap and set off at an easy effort. As I said to one of the other runners, for me this was another training run, the only difference was wearing a number. I think a lot of others had the same mindset and were using the opportunity to get long runs in for upcoming marathons, while others would use it to tick off an ultra distance.

I ran with Karen and her friend for a bit at the start, but it was soon obvious that we were going at different paces. She was targeting a longer run as part of marathon preparation and I most likely set off a little too fast.

The hill was one of those deceitful ones that seems to summit and then continues up a little further. It was a tough call on my legs which are more used to short and sharp upwards bursts. But as I knew I would be running a 10k with a tricky hill the following weekend, I gave it my best shot.

The nice thing about the hill was that when it was done, the rest of the lap was downhill or flat all the way back round to the start/finish again.

I was joined on the first downhill by Anna who pulled me along a bit faster than easy effort. It was joyful to chat with her for a while as she bounced along and I made it through the first lap comfortably.

I ditched my long sleeved top, took a drink of water from the bottle I’d left at the snacks table, grabbed some sweeties and was quickly on my way with confidence for a second lap.

Kudos for Saturn Running Events for trying to reduce their plastic waste at this run. You could leave your own bottle or reusable cup at the feed station and volunteers would fill it with water or other drinks as you came round.

I haven’t thought much about fuelling on longer runs, and am still working out what my race strategy will be for Edinburgh Half Marathon. What I learned from this run was that although I can stomach jelly babies and gummy sweets, they’re not the best for me.

I got a couple of stomach cramps on my second lap and didn’t like the excess sugar boost. In the past I’ve eaten dried mango to give me a little energy boost, so I’ll be using that again in future.

Even though I felt strong on the second of my laps, I was sensing that my original plan of 3 laps would be enough. I started running up the hill on my third lap before I really registered it but dropped to a walk when it got steeper.

My mental and physical energy had begun to drop on the third lap, so I decided not to push on and closed my race by ringing the bell and clocking out at just over 16k run. I’d also managed to park a good distance from the event HQ so knew I’d have to slog back up another hill to get to my car when I finished.

I cheered on and encouraged a bunch of other runners setting off on another lap, feeling a bit strange to be leaving an event that others would continue for many hours to come, but happy that I’d done what I set out to, and chuffed with my medal.


Making progress – reaching 8 miles

I’ve really enjoyed focusing on running as I build up the distance of my long run for the Edinburgh half marathon. I’m enjoying being mindful about planning sessions, running the mile I’m in and making my plan work for me.

But whatever’s on the plan, life does sometimes get in the way. I had booked a trip to Rwanda to do some volunteering with the charity Lendwithcare, and knew that with travel time I’d be losing 3 weekends of run training possibilities.

So I ramped up my long run distance a bit sooner than strictly necessary for a half marathon at the end of May. And scheduled a 14k run (just over 8 miles) at the beginning of February.

Another thing that I’m making an effort to do is to run different routes and on different surface, not always tarmac, so when I saw a local low-key off-road ‘race’ of around 8, it seemed like too good an opportunity to miss.

The ‘race’ is the Run for Bob, managed by North Shields Poly running and triathlon club and takes place over a route popular with one of their former runners. It follows a path from Whitley Bay, up the coast to Seaton Sluice, then turns inland through Holywell Dene and along an old Waggonway to finish on the track at the clubhouse.

It’s a really lovely route with a mixture of footpaths, grass, sandy beach and decent trails. And it’s a race insofar as you get a number, all start at the same time and marshals are on hand along the route(s). But there’s no timing, other than your own watch.

We started off in fog as we headed out from the war memorial towards St Mary’s Lighthouse. The coastal paths were empty apart from us runners and a few dog walkers, and the field soon split off into the faster and slower paced so that I was running on my own, with just one shirt visible in the distance ahead of me.

There is something about attaching a number to my shirt that makes me run a bit faster, even when I’m trying to keep the pace easy. I felt like I was bouncing along the first couple of miles over familiar ground along the seafront at Whitley Bay.  I planned to just run comfortably and whatever pace would get me through 8 miles and this was an optimistic start. 

There’s a bit of undulation along the coastal paths and a choice of running down along the beach or up along the top. At the turn in towards Seaton Sluice, some nice trail paths take you into Holywell Dene, an area of woodland with a burn or river at the bottom.

In the woods, the route diverges, with two options, one low along the river and another up and over the top. A marshal shouted directions for either route and I figured it was a choice of hill now, or hill later. I was just over 4 miles in, so I opted for hill now and separated off from the only other runners I could see or hear.

I was breathing heavily by the top of the climb, but my legs felt strong and I knew that was the hardest part of the route completed. I felt confident and happy as I turned onto the Waggonways for the last 2 miles and then onto the track for 3/4 of a lap to finish the race. And because I wanted to complete the designated distance on my plan, I added a cool down lap and a bit to clock up 14k exactly.

It’s easy to get a bit misty eyed and look back on a run with rose coloured glasses once you’ve completed it, but I genuinely did feel like this was a good one mentally and physically. Physically it was a bit more challenging than a standard training run, but I had confidence in my training and my strength in my legs.

Mentally I felt relaxed, happy, enjoying the experience, thanking all the marshals and not putting too much pressure on myself. I don’t remember any negative thoughts or down talking in my head. It would be good to stay mindful of that and to try and tap into those feelings next time I’m struggling on a run.

It feels pretty amazing to me to have clocked over 100 miles of running before the end of February. Especially when I remembered that only a few weeks before I was talking about reminding myself how to run longer distances. I know I still have a long way to go and 8 miles is still a good way off the 13.1 of a half marathon, but I feel like I’ve made a good start.

Mile splits

1: 10:18
2: 10:37
3: 10:41
4: 10:45
5: 11:29 (guess where the hills were)
6: 10:50
7: 10:43
8: 10:39

What’s on my half marathon training plan?

I’ve had a couple of questions about my half marathon training plan, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to explain it in a bit more detail.

There are lots of running plans that can help you start running, keep running, run further and run up to a marathon and beyond. If you’re starting out then a couch to 5k plan is a good way to get going, challenge yourself and track your progress.

For a half marathon (13.1 miles) like I’m doing, there are also plenty of free plans available online. My plan was specially put together for me by my trainer from Inspire Fitness.

Like most running plans, mine has a mixture of different kinds of run throughout the week. I run 3 or 4 times a week, gradually increasing the distance I cover on my ‘long run’ and doing a couple of other shorter distance runs that focus on speed, or help me build a cumulative distance throughout the week.

Speed focused runs help me get used to running at a slightly faster pace than I normally would. This means that even on a ‘short’ run, I get a good workout.

What does it all mean?

Runs where you focus on speed or pace rather than distance sometimes get funny names like tempo, fartlek or interval. Here’s what the terms mean in simple language:

Tempo run – a run in which you try to run at a target pace for part or all of that session.  You may target a pace of so many minutes a mile for the whole or part of the run, or you could choose to start slowly and increase your speed each mile (known as a progressive run).

Fartlek – yeah that’s a funny name. It translates from Swedish as speed play. Basically a fartlek run is one where you deliberately play around with your speed, running faster over short distances and then slowing down again. I often use lampposts or other markers in the landscape to mark out fast sections on a fartlek run.

Interval – this is a more structured session where you run at pace for a set amount of time or distance, then slow down a little, recover and repeat. For example, I might run for 3 minutes fast and then slow down for 1 minute of recovery and repeat that 6 or 7 times.

I use a GPS watch (mine is a Garmin Forerunner XT) to help me track time, distance and pace on all my runs and I log all of my training on Fetcheveryone. This is a really friendly and accessible online community that allows you to log any kind of activity including running, cycling, swimming, weight training and much more. It allows me to see stats from all my training in all sorts of different ways, compare individual sessions and tot up how many miles I’ve logged in a week/month/year. As well as all the statistical stuff it’s also a great place to chat to other people who run, cycle, swim and get advice and support.

This week my half marathon training plan included 3 run sessions and a strength training session. I’ll also add a yoga class which I enjoy for a bit of peaceful stretching and recovery after a busy week of training and work.

This week’s run training sessions were:

  • Run intervals: Warm up, then run 3 mins fast, 1 min recovery x 6. Cool down
  • 8k run over a flattish route
  • 12k run over a flattish route

You really don’t need any fancy kit other than a pair of trainers to go out and get running, but over time I’ve invested in some kit that really helps me track my progress, stay motivated and feel good when I run. More of that next time…

Back to running

Me running through Fetchppint at the Great North Run

Hello. Sorry I have neglected this running and triathlon blog for a long time. I have done a few races and events since I last wrote, but mainly I’ve been pootling along with no real focus to my running.

That’s already changed as in 2019 I decided that I’d like to run a half-marathon again. So in January I signed up for the Edinburgh Half Marathon and entered the ballot for the Great North Run in Newcastle. This week I found out that I have a place in the Great North Run, so I’ll now be running 2 half marathons in 2019 and I thought it was time to get back to writing about running again.

For those who don’t know, a half marathon is 13.1 miles. It’s likely a wee bit further than your run to the bus stop. And unless you’re a dedicated distance runner, it takes a bit of training to be able to run that distance comfortably.

The last time I ran that distance was in 2015. I didn’t really enjoy the training for it and by that time I was more focused on doing triathlons, so running took a back seat to swimming and cycling.

But I feel like I’ve been drifting along, getting slower and not really doing anything much with my running for a couple of years. So I decided I needed a challenge, to shake things up a bit and to push myself to run at my full potential.

Running challenges

Whether you’re a new runner feeling nervous about calling yourself a ‘runner’ and or an experienced runner who has run hundreds of miles and loads of races, there are always challenges, both physical and mental in the act of running.

Motivation, training, setting goals and expectations, where to run, when to run, how to run, how fast, how far, what to eat, what to wear, where to find a toilet… These can all be thoughts on the mind of any runner at any time.

The plan

I’ve been running fairly consistently now since 2009, so I have a few things that I know help me. As a kid I delighted in a smart school timetable with subjects colour coded so I knew where I had to be and when.

It’s the same now that I have a half marathon to focus on. I have a plan of 3 or 4 runs a week of varying distances to help me build up to the big race. The first event I’m doing is Edinburgh half marathon on 26th May, so I’ve got a good few weeks to get ready for it.

So far I’m three weeks in and really enjoying the fact that my runs have a bit more focus to them. It’s really easy, especially over the winter when it’s cold, dark and rainy to decide not to run ‘later’ or find an excuse not to run at all. But so far I have managed to persuade myself to run all my planned sessions, even when that means getting up at 5.30am and running on frosty pavements before work.

How’s it going?

I’m going to use a technique I learned when I did some triathlon coaching to help me keep track of my running progress. It’s a good way to measure more than just time and distance and is based on answering 3 simple questions – what went well? what could be even better? what do I need to pay attention to?

What went well:

  • Ticking off all the sessions and mileage on my plan
  • Running in weather (wind/rain) and doing some hill and speed work
  • Starting slowly (mostly not having much choice) and allowing myself to warm up
  • Persisting with a run when it felt difficult at first and then feeling like I could have carried on at the end
  • Being on target for my goal of running 500 miles in 2019

Even better if:

  • I space my runs out throughout the week to allow recovery time
  • I increase my effort levels on at least one run by including more faster efforts
  • I add in another strength training session

Watch out for:

  • Niggle in my shoulder/neck
  • Warming up my feet
  • Do my post-run stretches and get up from my desk regularly at work

Blaydon Race 2017

Runners preparing for Blaydon race 2017
The Fetch Everyone Blaydon Race 2017 team

Two realisations ran through my head as I caught the metro to take me into Newcastle for the start of the 2017 Blaydon Race. The first, that I hadn’t run anything more than 4 miles since Easter Sunday, and the second, that I’d never worn that particular pair of  trainers over that kind of distance before. Not exactly race fit and prepared then.

But it’s the Blaydon Race. My favourite running race, and the one I try hardest not to miss. The race I’ve done every year since I started running in 2009.

I wasn’t expecting it to be fast. I was expecting it to hurt a bit, but I had no doubt, that  barring a disaster, I’d have another memorable run.

Why do I love the Blaydon Race?

Why do I love the Blaydon Race so much? It’s not a beautiful or inspiring course. In fact, it takes in some of the dullest and least scenic parts of my adopted home town. But I do like its history, the fact that it takes place on the same date every year. And that, despite being a large event in terms of runners, it maintains a local feel, rather than having been swamped by corporate marketing.

I love seeing runners gather in the city centre, flooding the narrow streets around the Bigg Market with colour and noise. Taking over the usual haunts of pubs and clubs and exchanging stories of other runs, plans for the race, hopes and expectations, and of course, remembering the year there was a deluge. If you were there, you’ll never forget it.

Runners take over the city streets

I spotted the great crew from Newcastle Frontrunners, out in force for this race, and took their team photo before the start. They returned the favour and snapped me, Karen and her mum – a small gang representing Fetch Everyone this year. Sadly some of our regular running pals are injured, so missed this race. It’s always a great excuse to catch up with one another.

The excitement builds as the band plays the Blaydon Races down the street. I’m so far back I can barely hear it, but I  sense that we’re almost ready to start. I chat to some of the runners around me, excited nerves starting to bubble.

A secure and reassuring presence

Police presence at Blaydon Race 2017
Keeping us safe

One thing that’s different this year is the visible presence of armed police. There are two standing nearby as we line up. I’m sad, but grateful they are there. A sign that recent events in Manchester and London mean we are all more aware of potential threats.

Personally I feel no fear being among this crowd of runners. Running, racing and being part of this very special, joyous community is one of the touchstones of my life. Running brings me happiness and a feeling of togetherness that has a value that far outshines the darkest fears.

The start

And so, to the race itself. There is the usual walk, then jog, then run over the start line to the sound of the ancient handbell. I wish runners around me ‘Enjoy!’ as I bounce off through streets that are normally sluggish with traffic.

In previous years, I have tanked my way through the first mile, buoyed up by adrenaline and over eager. This time I am more cautious, knowing I really do not have the miles in my legs to go off like a rocket and hope I can hold on.

I run at an easy effort, thinking of how I last ran with my sister at her first ever parkrun, trotting along at a pace not far off my usual speed, but just a little bit more comfortable.

It’s a warm night as the sun sinks low in the sky over the hard concrete and tarmac. After the tight twists and turns of the city centre, the long wide straight of the Scotswood Road offers space to run freely and I settle into a nice rhythm.

Spectators along the side of the road offer welcome support and encouragement. I’ve already had a shout out from Angela Kirtley at the Centre for Life, and continue to drink in the shouts and cheers from the roadside and bridges along the way.

Bands on the run

Familiar landmarks approach and the sound of the band playing at the Fiat Garage on Scotswood Road is always a welcome lift. It’s ‘Honkey Tonk Women’ as I approach and then ‘500 miles’ as I pass by, clapping along in appreciation. There may even have been a bit of singing.

Blaydon Race 2017 - photo by Ian Harman photography
The Scribbler in action, Blaydon Race 2017 – photo by Ian Harman photography

At this point I’m feeling good, strong in my legs, sensible in my pace. I don’t feel the urge to surge onwards, knowing there are couple of  climbs to come.

I hit three miles and feel that there’s still more in my legs. I spot Claire from Newcastle parkrun ahead, recognisable from her cap and shout encouragement as I pass. She really does look strong in her running.

There’s a police car at the bottom of Blaydon Bridge, signalling the start of the first climb. Runners ahead start to slow and walk as the sun beats down on the climb. I power on, determined to run every step. I  shorten my stride, and use my arms to add a little more effort to ease on up. At the top, as well as the usual cheering spectators, there are two more armed officers. I smile and shout ‘cheers’ and get a nod of recognition. You are here for us tonight.

Down the bank on the other side and watch for runners along the out and back section beside the river. I shout at my friend Karen, miles ahead of me tonight with solid marathon training miles in her legs.

Despite the heat, I dodge the water stop, but relish a refreshing splash on my legs from the discarded cups. I am still running well within myself, enjoying the experience, playing games of catch the runner ahead, spotting familiar club colours and listening to the odd bit of chat and encouragement around me. I hear what I think is thunder, then realise it’s a band of drummers. It feels like miles before I see them, but their beat encourages me onwards.

Towards the finish

At around 5 miles, my lack of distance training starts to tell. There’s a heaviness in my legs now and a weird pull low down in my stomach. In previous races I have really had to dig deep here, after a speedy star, telling myself not to let that hard work go to waste. Tonight I am just focused on keeping moving, staying steady and not dropping too much pace. It is easier mentally, but part of me longs to be really putting myself out there, striving for speed, feeling the exhilaration of the extra effort.

There’s a last little kicker of a rise before the finish, well supported by friends and family. It’s a tough ask at this stage in the race, but it’s over before it really saps my legs and now all I have to do is get to the end.

Around me I feel the sense of excitement, a surge of speed as we know we are close to the finish. The route jinks round an industrial estate so that although you know the finish line is approaching, you really cannot see it until the last few hundred metres.

I get a shout out from Lesley, who would love to be running this and has turned out to support. I’m so grateful I give her dog a shout out – but not her!

And then, there it is, the finish line. I put a bit of a spurt on, sprint over the grass, and smile arms aloft over the finish. Another Blaydon Race completed and thoroughly enjoyed.

The usual brilliant organisation and bevy of marshals sees me through to collect my goody bag and much prized T-shirt. I’m through and out into the crowd of finishers in double quick time, smiling, congratulating finishers and drinking in the great carnival atmosphere.

The Blaydon Race may not be the prettiest or fastest run. For me, in 2017, it’s my slowest time ever over this course. But it retains a charm and atmosphere all of its own. It’s bold and crazy and a little bit anarchic, just like the song that inspired it. And that’s why it remains my favourite race.