Druridge Bay 10k

I entered this race a while ago, in a flurry of race entering, with my focus firmly on improving my 10k time. But I soon realised that would be optimistic over this course, which promised a mixture of trails and sandy beach to contend with. Besides, I need to learn to run and relax, enjoy the experience and not stress myself out too much by focusing on arbitrary numbers. The pace will come. I’ll have to work for it, sure. But I’ve only been doing this for a year, give it time, enjoy the experience.

I was pretty confident I knew where I was going, but took the sat nav. I began to get suspicious when it was directing me another 20 miles before I had to turn off and it was only about 30-odd to the Scottish Borders. A quick stop and a phone call; a bit of choice talking to the sat nav lady and I was back on track again. But I hate being anxious about getting places on time.

There was rain on my journey north, and the skies were threatening grey and cold. As I turned into the field being used as a car park, I worried about getting stuck in the mud. There’s always that nervous chill as you step out of the car, looking around at the other runners. ‘You’ve all been doing this for years..’ is my thought today as they shiver in woolly caps and fluorescent jackets, tights, skins and compression socks.

I’m alone today, no one else I know doing this run. Sometimes being alone makes me garrulous and brave, the shared experience of running, gives me the courage to open up a conversation, make small talk. But not today. Today I just want to focus on me, get my head right, relax and prepare for a good run. So I jog a couple of laps around the car park and decide to Geordie up and discard the light jacket keeping the wind off and do my stretches on the start line.

I love the huddle and the anticipation at the start. The warmth, the protection of being surrounded by other bodies, but the sense that we’re all uniquely in our own place. Some nervous, some laughing and joking, some quiet and reflective. A quick round of applause to warm ourselves up and we’re off.

An unknown course and a bit of dodging and weaving to begin with. Tuck in behind a slow moving group and look for an opportunity to pass. Trying not to go off to fast, too hard. This is an unfamiliar course and there will be trials ahead.

The trail paths are smooth underfoot as we head off around the lake. I try to remember to look around me and see a swan dipping its head in the water. But mainly I’m watching the runners, trying to judge my pace and keep moving forwards. There’s a woman in an Elvet Striders vest ahead, with a lovely holiday tan. She’s got that tight little running style and high elbows that seems to suit trail runners and is deceptively quick. I stretch out to see if my longer strides can meet her pace and slowly, slowly I gain ground until a small incline up through the trees where I power on and pass her.

I concentrate on running smooth, keeping it steady. My breathing chokes up a couple of times and I find myself coughing to catch it and smooth it out. Concentrate, focus, control it.

The route twists and turns through the country park. Pleasant trails through the trees, narrowing and widening. Somewhere along the way I see a woman and man running together. She’s wearing a white club vest with bands of red, yellow and black and encouraging him on, chatting all the time. I work to overtake them.

I take a slug of water as we approach the dunes and wave as the RAF rescue helicopter gives us a fly past. Now that’s not something you get in every race!

On to the beautiful expanse of Druridge Bay. The sands are flat and wide and the ribbon of runners stretches ahead as far as you can see. This is my space, my place, and even though I know the surface will suck the power from my legs, I vow to run here, keep going. I look out to sea and I could be back home running along my beach and the clean golden sands. Picking my way over the harder packed sand, pushing on, keeping it steady. Ahead the runners turn up into the dunes and the soft sand sucks at tired ankles, pulling me back, back, slowing me down on the climb away from the beach.

And this is where the course throws everything at me. Up off the sand dunes, and the steepest rise of the course, straight into a head wind. At least the breeze is cooling, even though it makes me fight for breath. The sign on a gate says 5k. Half way point, time for some mango and keep on pushing.

Back on the trails and pathways again, and it seems every time you get to the top of an incline, there’s another ahead. The club vest and her companion overtake me and start to pull away, but I vow to keep them in my sights.

Relax, focus, stretch out the legs and push on. Remember, those 50 min 10k runners live with the pain. Does anything hurt? No. Are you breathing okay? Yes? Legs okay? Yes. Well push on then…show me what you’re made of.

Through the fields and up the long slow inclines, I focus on the next group of runners ahead, and inch by inch close the gaps. This isn’t about sudden spurts, just steady, steady winding it in, stretching it out.

There’s a man and a boy just ahead. I presume it’s his son. The young lad beaming as he runs. “Just keep it going,” the man says, “it’s the hills that get them, but once you stop, it’s hard to get going again.” I give them a thumbs up as I power on past.

I seem to have found a second wind. ‘Run hard when you can,’ I tell myself and ‘Don’t worry too much if the ground takes it out of you.’ The club vest couple are close again now. I run beside them for a while, not quite tuning into their chat, but exchanging pace with them for around a kilometre, until finally I get past and pull away.

I glance at my Garmin as we pass through some trees. Around 7k gone, we’re on the home straight and I just keep chasing them down one by one. A girl in a dark pink vest puts up a good challenge and we run shoulder to shoulder for a good while. I sneak another piece of mango and power on.

We begin to retrace some of the paths around the lake where we started. But my sense of direction is never very good, and certainly not in unfamiliar races. I still don’t have a sense of where the finish will come.

Behind the trees I hear a roar of cheers. That’ll be the finish then. But I cannot see it and the paths twist and turn. The Garmin’s last beep and I push on, driving my heart rate up and my breathing into patchiness. When to go? When to sprint for it? Not until you have it in your sights. For the briefest second my head drops. Where is the finish? The girl in the dark pink top draws alongside me again and says “Come on, we’ve come a long way together…” I pick my head up and smile.

And there’s the blue plastic netting keeping the spectators off the route and the finish line just around the corner. From goodness knows where I find a sprint. And then another one. Turbo boost to overtake 1,2,3 runners before the finish line. I stop the clock at 53:25 – a good time for a tough route.

In the finish funnel I turn to shake hands with the pink vest girl. “Thank you, you really kept me going there.” “You were away and off,” she says.
“But that was my best ever time and you helped me to it.”

Stats: 10k 53:25
1. 5.13
2. 5.11
3. 5.15
4. 5.17
5. 5.21
6. 6.03 (gulp – that’ll be the sand dunes and hill I guess)
7. 5.36
8. 5.23
9. 5.11
10. 4.51

In summary this is a really lovely race, well organised, well marshalled with little pockets of welcome support along the route. A reasonably tough course with some inclines (nothing too steep) and a beautifully sandy beach to run along. I enjoyed it and had a good run.

Too few words for friendship

It strikes me that we have too few words for friend.

A friend can be someone at work that you enjoy passing time with, or a contact on your facebook profile. They may be a little more – someone you share social time with, a coffee, a chat, a movie.

Friends can be people you’ve shared an experience with, lived with, worked with, holidayed with. Maybe you were close in a former life but have drifted apart through accidents of geography or lifestyle. Or they could be the kind of friend you don’t see for years, but when you do, it’s like you last met yesterday.

A friend can be a relative, a brother, a sister, a cousin. But not all relatives are friends.

A friend can be someone you share things with, look to for advice and honesty. Someone who’ll say what you need to hear, even when you don’t want to hear it.

A friend could be someone you marry. Someone who knows all your faults and loves you just the same.

But a friend can also be someone you’ve never met – a name on a message board, a blog, an email, a text. Some of these are fleeting, mayfly friends. Friends in potential maybe. But others may well know the things that really matter to you better than the people you see everyday.

So many different shades and only one hue to name them.

Some people have large groups of friends, people they genuinely enjoy being around. I’ve been known to envy this. For my own part, my friendships tend to be close, intense. Too uncomfortable for some. And my true friends need to be of hardy stock.

In my mind I know what kind of friend I mean when I use the word. It’s like a volume switch in my brain. When I think of a true friend, my heart beats loud and strong as a lioness.

Pier to Pier race

Another Sunday, another run and for me the second running of this point to point race. Last year I found it hard. It was the furthest I’d ever run at that point. I got confused and fretful about the runners peeling off in different directions, I forgot to start my Garmin and the finish line on the soft sand was an absolute killer. So I was surprised when I checked to see last year’s time was 1 hour 4 mins. That wasn’t too shabby.

Race preparation as normal this morning. Porridge,banana, blueberries and honey. A choice of tops in my kit bag, along with safety pins, water and emergency cash. I’m looking forward to htis one, not to anxious, ready to roll. At Roker I park up and ponder what to wear and what to take. It’s not too cold, so I opt for a short sleeve T-shirt  remembering how cold it was at the Tees Barrage a couple of weeks ago and how quickly I warmed up.

As I wait for the minibus to the start I chat to Grace from Sunderland strollers, layered up to cover any eventuality with the weather. We talk training, marathons, expectations and hopes. It seems a long way to the start line on the bus.

But the sun is shining, it’s not too cold, and although grey clouds threaten the blue skies, I’m confident it’s going to be kind weather for a run.

In the car park I’m spotted by Lisa and Jason, a couple I met at the Tees Barrage race a couple of weeks ago . Jason’s on race duty today and we swap time predictions before heading off for a warm up. We’re chatting away, just ticking over, it becomes a bit of a gallop to get to the start line. Certainly the latest I’ve ever left it. But that’s nice. Legs are warmed through, nerves quelled and there’s little time to think about anything as we head off over the sand.

Keeping it steady as I head across the beach, streams of runners surging ahead. One of the nicest things about this race is the space at the start. I’m pretty free and easy, not stumbling over slower runners right from the word go. I weave my way across the sands, for some reason heading down the beach towards the sea, sploshing through puddles and not finding the sand too taxing, but being wary of burning myself out.

Then there’s the hill and it’s a touch climb up the shifting sand. A short straight and another climb. 1 mile down and my legs begin to protest and it’s hard to get them turning over quickly again at the top. But now we’re away across the cliff tops on marked out trails and short cut grass, and I can stretch out, feeling good, feeling strong, smiling into the sunshine.

Once again I’m hit by pain running from the top of my right shoulder up my neck. This never strikes me in training, but it’s hit me in three races now. It’s not even that cold today, so I can’t blame that. I raise a hand to add some warmth and ease it, remind myself that it will pass, just like it has before.

After a bit of focus on me and getting my head straight I start to look ahead and target runners to catch. A couple of times I pass someone, only to have them come back at me moments later, but now I’m in my groove and I push on and forwards and make up the distance again.But this is a good bit, I’m relaxed, stretching out, pushing on, catching runners. I pass a red Blaydon T-shirt and gradually, gradually target a girl with a long sleeve blue shirt. It takes me a while to catch up with her, but I overtake and keep going.

The sun beats down on the dry grass as I look ahead to see the distinctive red and white of Souter lighthouse in the distance. I promise myself water when I reach the water station. I’m in a nice rhythym now, it seems a shame to slow for water, but I sense that today I need it. I make myself drink it, not just wet my lips. Slowing for water means some of those I’ve fought to overtake go past me, but I’m feeling refreshed and push on again.

The Garmin beeps out another mile – should be about half way by now. Feeling positive I enjoy a little mango boost, hoping it will kick in and keep me going before I start to fade, as I often do at the half way point.

I’m running alone now. I can’t hear those behind me and those in front will take some catching. My calves start to tense as I cross the grass behind some houses. Last year this field was all tussocky and hard work. It’s easier today, but I’m hot and finding this hard going. Look out across the sparkling sea and relax.

There are a couple of points on this route where you have to slow for steps, and a gate where I bashed my thigh last year. I opt for safety over speed and get through injury free, but each time it’s hard to pick up the pace again. There are a couple more moments when I sense I’m easing up and I do my best to push on. But my plan for this race was always to run well when I could and not fret too much when terrain and tiredness slowed me down.

Ahead I can see the lighthouse and the finish line. But now I’m looking too far forward and a couple more runners overtake as my legs start to slow. How far, how far to the promenade and some solid tarmac beneath my feet? The first paving stones are welcome. I begin to stride out, relax, move forwards again now I’m on familiar ground.

Ahead I see the Blaydon T-shirt again. I opt to keep him in my sights and grind down the distance between us, confident I can take him on a sprint finish. Along the promenade, a Marshall shouts out, ‘Just over a mile to go’ and I’m surprised, I thought it was further. I sneak a glance at the Garmin. I’m still going to have to keep pushing if I want that PB and I know there’s a sandy beach to tackle ahead.

Down onto the sand. Soul sucking for some after such a tough run. But this is my space, my place. I love the beach and the finish line is in sight. I pick off Blaydon after a few hundred yards and tell myself that I’ll really go for a sprint finish when I reach the rocks. But my legs are already turning over faster. There are no more runners I can target, but I want this for me. Lisa calls out near the finish and I find another gear, arms pumping, legs kicking for a breathless finish and a happy, happy PB of 62.39 – more than a minute faster than last year

Stats: 6.86 miles in 62.39

Mile splits:

1. 9.41

2. 9.05

3. 8.52

4. 9.28

 5. 9.09

 6. 7.23 (0.86 mile)

So what does a copywriter do?

I’m never quite sure how to reply when people ask ‘What do you do?’ If I use my official job title and say I’m a copywriter, they either look at me blankly or start asking questions about the little c in a circle symbol (that’s copyright – something different entirely). If I say I’m a writer, people ask what novels I’ve published.

Basically I write things and read things. ‘Great!’ I hear you cry, ‘I can do that…can I be a copywriter too?’ And yes, my job does use basic skills that most of us have. I just choose to specialise in them.

So, for example, one of the most exciting parts of my job involves working with a team of designers to come up with ideas for marketing campaigns. To develop the themes, look, feel and design that a business will use on adverts, brochures, leaflets, on emails, websites and even on boxes.

That often starts with a message, a slogan, a strapline. And that’s where I start.

I might take inspiration from something someone has said, or spark ideas from any number of discussions and conversations. But part of my skill is in recognising something that works and tweaking and refining it so that will appeal to potential customers. I want to choose something that will attract their attention and get them to read on.

And that’s just the start of it. Explaining what we do and how we do it, especially when you’re writing about business software, as I do most of the time, can be tricky. It’s my job to put myself in the customer’s shoes and ask ‘What does this mean for me?’

There’s a whole bundle of research and commercial information available, but it’s part of my job to take that sometimes technical stuff and put it in terms that everyone can understand. And, most importantly help the customers understand what a difference it will make to them.

I also mentioned that I read stuff. Mainly that’s just to understand the subject I’m writing about more clearly. But often it’s for inspiration too.

At work people often ask me to check that things are in the right tone of voice. And quite simply that means, do they sound like we want them to sound? Do they reflect the right brand personality?

Because I work with words all the time, I’m quite good at spotting when there’s one that’s spelled incorrectly, or picking up on a bit of grammar that doesn’t make sense. So sometimes I read stuff with a red pen in my hand and try to filter out any mistakes. I don’t profess to be a professional proofreader by any means (you can take exams in it and everything). I just act as another pair of eyes to check things.

I also have another role (another that I really enjoy) and that’s helping the people I work with understand and use the right tone of voice so that we communicate clearly with our customers and each other in a way that gives a sense of what we’re really like. That means running workshops, answering questions, writing blog posts and offering advice and constructive feedback.

Over on a copywriting blog I enjoy there was a bit of a debate about the term copywriter – and whether there’s a better word we could use to describe what we do.

But I kind of like copywriter. I’m sure lots of you have a similar problems describing what you do. In my case, what I call myself is just the start of the story. Keeping you interested is the clever bit.

Things that make me smile

Meeting  my favourite running buddy for a run this morning.

Starting off saying, ‘Brrr it’s chilly,’ then finishing nicely warmed through in the early morning sunshine.

A lovely 10k run along the river, keeping up the chat and the pace. Seeing some ducks on route.

Missing the rush hour traffic and being at my desk with post-run porridge before 9am.

Feeling bouncy and happy all day.

Pinning my lovely colour coded half marathon training plan up by my desk.

Thoughts of racing along the cliff tops on Sunday.

A copywriter’s top spelling and grammar tips

I really enjoy my job as a creative copywriter. I spend most of my days reading and writing things. Sometimes I’m coming up with new ideas, other times I’m just helping other people get their message across. It also means I get to see a lot of things that often confuse us when we’re writing (even me). So here’s my quick guide to some of the things I see every day that cause the most head scratching:

The apostrophe
The apostrophe ’ often seems to cause confusion. It appears where it’s not needed and goes AWOL when it is.

The apostrophe has two main uses:
1) To show something belongs to someone or something.
2) To show there’s a letter or letters missing from a word.

1) Using the apostrophe to show ownership or belonging

The client’s software (one client)
Doris’ business (in this example Doris’s is also correct, but we prefer the less cluttered punctuation)
The children’s father
My clients’ business
(more than one client)

But AVOID the green grocer’s apostrophe e.g.
The apple’s, the cauliflower’s, the carrot’s

When I see examples like this I always want to ask, ‘The apple’s, cauliflower’s, carrot’s, what?’

Note Possessive pronouns like yours, his, hers, ours, its and theirs are not followed by the apostrophe.

2) Using the apostrophe to show there’s something missing

There are lots of examples of this. Some we use everyday without really thinking about them:

I’m; you’re; we’re – I am; you are; we are
Don’t, won’t, haven’t, isn’t – do not; will not, have not, is not

Others sometimes seem to cause confusion:
Let’s for let us

Common mistakes
There are four common cases where it is easy to get confused.

It’s has an apostrophe when it means it is. When you want to show possession, the correct form is its.
It’s a long way to Tipperary.
Every business has its challenges.

Who’s stands for who is or who has. When you want to show possession, the correct form is whose.
Who’s running the company?
The manager, whose business was doing well, booked a well-deserved holiday.

If you can replace the word with “you are”, then the word you’re looking for is you’re. If you want to indicate that something belongs to someone, you need your.

You’re going to have a busy month.
Is this your tax return?

They’re stands for they are. The possessive is their.

They’re the people who bought our business.
It’s their business now.

If you want to show where something is, the correct form is there.

The business is over there.

Still confused? Check out this humorous, comic style guide to how to use an apostrophe.

Words that sound similar but are spelt differently

license (v) / licence (n)

practise (v) / practice (n)

advise (v) / advice (n)

To get these right, you basically have to know your nouns from your verbs. Remember from your English lessons, a noun refers to a thing and a verb is a ‘doing word’. Then use this sentence to help you choose the right spelling:

Stop the crocodile.

Any time you want the verb, use ‘s’ – like you do when you say ‘stop’. If you want the noun, it’s a ‘c’, as in crocodile.

license and licence:

He may be licensed to kill, but James Bond was still booked for driving without his driving licence.

practise and practice:

Mr Jones likes to practise his juggling at his accountant’s practice.

advise and advice:

You can advise people as much as you like but you can’t get them to listen to your advice.

Words that sound similar but mean different things

compliment / complement

A compliment is a nice thing said about someone. So if you say, “I like your new dress”, you’re paying someone a compliment. Something that’s given away free is also complimentary.

Complimentary drinks with every meal.

Complement has a number of meanings associated with matching or completing.

If you’re ordering business cards, why not choose some complementary letterheads?

stationery / stationary

It’s easy to remember the difference between these two. Just remember ‘e’ is for envelope and ‘a’ is for ‘at a standstill’.

affect / effect

To affect something is to change or influence it.

The computer failure affected her business.

Effect has a lot of subtle meanings as a noun, but it mostly refers to something that’s happens as a result of something else.

The new layout had a positive effect on the magazine’s circulation.

Effect is also a rather formal way of saying to make it happen.

The Government has effected a change in policy.

Most of the time affect is a verb and effect is a noun.

Some other places to go to if you get stuck
Online dictionaries
(check out their better writing section too)

Online thesaurus (for when you’re short of an alternative word)
(watch out for US spellings though)

More grammar resources and style guides:
Daily Writing Tips
Economist styleguide
Guardian styleguide

A walk in the rain

Itching to run or itching to write? I can no longer differentiate the source of the scratch.

Or maybe it’s just a longing for connection. For in both seemingly solitary pursuits I find connections to myself, to my thoughts, to the things I do not even whisper outside my own head.

I could just run. Just write. Neither fleeter nor further. Without ambition or focus. Just do it. And that sounds good. And it will be part of it. But is that all? Would I really be happy with that?

My running goals have pushed me, frustrated me, added to the mess in my head, and taken it away in equal measure. But nothing great is easy. And, not so secretly, I relish the challenge.

That’s why there’s a small grey demon, shivering in my mind next to my last race. Because I didn’t really push it. I didn’t focus. I didn’t really make it hurt. So what could I do if I did?

Part of me thinks these goals are arbitrary, meaningless. I mean we’re not talking world records here. Just a given value of good.

Mentally I’ve already shifted. The 10k’s bust because I didn’t do it at the race that fitted the film script. And once again the half marathon takes focus.

Maybe it’s marathon fever. I certainly hang around in the right places to become infected. But I’ve had that conversation with myself and others and the answer is still, ‘Wait and see.’

So I deny the demon. Refuse its existence. Talk about being balanced and enjoying it and feeling comfortable with my run. And that’s partly true.

But if not now, then when? When will I push it? When will I really try? When will it feel uncomfortable but fantastic?

The answer is next time. Next time I’ll get angry. Next time I’ll run red hot, desperate and determined and watch that demon burn.

In the green drizzle I slow to the pace of the raindrops on blades of grass or the whorls of a snail shell. My grey demon does not follow me back.

Tees Barrage 10k

Another 10k race, a flat one this time, but on the unfamiliar turf of Teesside. Still I’ve been here before, watched movies at the nearby cinema and got soaked to the skin on the white water rafting course.

So I’m running this one with no expectations, no promises, no targets. It’s just a training run in a new place. But my body belies my brain’s cool nonchalance and there are two pit stops on my hour journey south.

I’ve rested this week. Haven’t run since a nice 10k on Tuesday night, but kept up the usual mix of boxercise, pilates and my favourite session of the week with my PT on the beach on Thursday morning.

I also went for a sports massage on Thursday night, to smooth out some tight spots in my legs. I had problems this time last year, as I started to up my mileage, with a tight tib band. A couple of massage sessions and fitting for some orthotics to correct my feet sorted me out and got me through the half marathon and beyond.

Fortunately this time the pain wasn’t in my tib band, but came from a tightness in my quadriceps, vastus lateralis, to be precise. Roz massaged and pummeled and it loosened off, but boy, I’d forgotten how much it aches the day after. Like a really good hard run ache, but you can sense it’s getting better.

At the Tees barrage I meet some runners I know by name only from a running forum and we shiver and question our clothing choices. The wind is biting and we’re eager to be moving. Huddled like penguins at the start line, the anticipation warms us, ready for the start.

The usual mental switch to find I’m running with so many people, picking my way through, finding a place, wondering when we’ll start spreading out. I find my space, settle and let the runner in the yellow jacket with spiky elbows get past me.

Suddenly there’s a sharp twinge from the top of my right shoulder, up the side of my neck. I’m barely even a kilometre in and something’s hurting. ‘Remember, remember, this happened at Hamsterley,’ my brain kicks in. ‘You can run it off. It will pass.’ And though it lingers for a while, it does. I focus on a couple in matching black and yellow club shirts and tuck in behind them.

My thoughts are unfocused as I run, breathing’s good, stretch out a little more, relax. There’s little more than this. Maybe because I don’t know the course, can’t sense the direction. It’s a break from my own head.

I do things to remind me to relax. Say thank you to a couple of marshalls, far chiller than we are, wrapped up in coats and bobble hats. I’m warm now that I’m moving, shrug my long sleeves up past my elbows and ditch my buff around my wrist. I don’t look at my watch, but I can’t help but count the beeps.

Between 4 and 5k I can sense I’m slowing. Strides have shortened, I’m in danger of shuffling. I slow the turnover, trying to stretch out. I’m passed by a group who are chatting away as they run, and a man with a buggy. I let my mind have a weak moment, then put it away in its box. I wanted to hang on until 5k for my mango, but it seems a good point for a boost. I’m chewing as I pass the photographer.

Round by the start and the psychological boost of the half way point with spectators cheering and encouraging raises a smile. I high five a little girl who is clapping the runners as we turn again over the bridge.

Relax and enjoy. Now I’m running on my own. There’s a group ahead of me and I can sense no one near enough behind. I can still see the couple in the black and yellow striped vests a bit further ahead.

Once across the river, the wind picks up and dances with the leaves and blossoms. For a while I run alongside a guy in a yellow top who is encouraging himself on. His breathing sounds heavy, but he’s running well. ‘Just 30 seconds outside,’ I hear him say, ‘Come on!’ I hope you got what you were looking for mate, you were certainly working for it.

When to push, when to push? I know I’ve dropped off in the middle, without looking at the watch. I promise myself I’ll pick it up in the last kilometre, but the wind’s coming head on now. ‘Show me what you’re made of…’ I start to kick in as I sense a girl coming up on my left shoulder. We encourage each other over the last few hundred and I finish on an adrenaline high in 53.07.

km splits:
1. 5.04
2. 5.08
3. 5.13
4. 5.09
5. 5.13
6. 5.20
7. 5.27
8. 5.20
9. 5.26
10. 5.22