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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.

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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.

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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.

Northumberland triathlon from the other side – a marshal’s point of view

How does it feel to marshal rather than compete at a triathlon?

Competitors at the Northumberland triathlon - photo by Sports Photography Northumberland
Northumberland triathlon run – photo by Sports Photography Northumberland

I’ve taken part in enough VO2 Max Racing Events in the north east to know that I’m guaranteed a great day, a safe race and a fantastic sense of encouragement as a triathlete. I’m happy to say that I had the same great experience as a marshal at the Northumberland triathlon.

I’ve raced this event a few times, both at sprint and standard distances, so I know it’s a great location, and with a spot of clear sunny weather forecast predicted that everyone was in for a good day.

It did feel strange with only me and a bag to load into the car for the early drive up the coast. No need to  add my bike and wetsuit and all the gear I need to take part in a triathlon. I kept thinking I’d forgotten something.

Marshals rewards

There were plenty of competitors there already as I arrived in plenty of time for the marshals briefing at 07:30.  These guys really look after everyone who races or volunteers.

When I signed up to help out, I got the option of a free entry to another one of their events. On the day, I had all the information I needed, picked up a race T-shirt and was offered snacks, drinks and given a hot meal voucher to use once my marshalling stint was over.

I had a short walk around the lake to my first spot as a swim marshal, backing up the kayak crew, keeping an eye out for any swimmers in difficulty and potentially offering an early exit point from the swim.

The swim

My stomach did a nervous flip flop as the first competitors entered the lake, as I imaged my own race nerves and adrenaline building up for the start. With the first wave off, it was amazing to see how quickly the swimmers spread out as they lapped the buoys, with the fastest cutting streamlined wakes through the water. The noise of the splashes as arms hit the water was incredible!

With the second wave off soon after, there was sometimes a bit of congestion, but from my view point everyone seed to be okay. I was surprised and encouraged by how many swimmers I saw doing what I do and taking a little time to settle or switching to breast stroke to keep out of trouble around the buoys. I could even hear a couple of guys chatting to each other and encouraging each other on the way round.

With no problems on the swim, I left the last few competitors with the kayak safety crew and walked a little further around the lake to my marshaling spot for the run. My job for the next couple of hours was generally to shout, encourage and direct runners as they completed two laps  of the lake for sprint distance and four for the standard.

The run

Competitors at the Northumberland triathlon - photo by Sports Photography Northumberland
Northumberland triathlon – photo by Sports Photography Northumberland

The sun had warmed up by now and as runners started to appear, I knew they would be finding it tough, so I did my best to be encouraging. When I could see it, I tried to check their race number against the competitors list and give them a personal shout out. With those doing the standard distance, I started to recognise who was coming up next.

As a triathlete and runner, I know how important a bit of support can be along the route. Even if marshals and spectators are saying nothing more than ‘well done, keep going’, it can be a real boost. And getting your name shouted out is always encouraging.

I got some nice shouts back from those taking part, including one guy who said he was very happy to not see me again on his last lap! I knew exactly what he meant as it’s always a relief to know you’re almost at the end of a big race. I enjoyed all the smiles and waves and thank yous.

There was a brief shower before the final runner came through on his last lap and then I was done with my marshaling for the day. The chief run marshal walked back to check on me and I collected some of the signs on my way round to the finish, where I welcomed a hot pork bun from the catering team.

I’m a big fan of triathlon, both as a competitor and as a supporter and I know that these events just couldn’t happen without willing volunteers. I’ve enjoyed their support in many, many races, so this weekend it felt great to offer something back. I thought I’d feel more disappointed not to be taking part, but I really didn’t. I had a great morning out and will look forward to my next race in July with even more excitement.