A guest post on JustGiving

Me running
Running in the rain

As you may have noticed, I’ve been publicising my Great North Run fundraising on social networking sites, Twitter and Facebook. It’s been a great way to connect with fellow runners and wish them luck too.

JustGiving has been a very convenient way for me to collect money on behalf of Sands, so I was thrilled when they contacted me to ask me to guest post on their blog.

Like so many aspects of my running and training, I had help with this too. I gatecrashed Emma’s regular fashion photoshoot, dragged her and photographer Pete across some rather muddy fields in the rain and then ran about near some trees, all in the name of publicity. Well, it is for a good cause.

I’m really pleased with the pictures, especially given the conditions and the time constraints and I hope that getting a wider audience for my fundraising and running story may just inspire someone else to take on a challenge.

Approaching the final furlong

My countdown to the Great North Run is now being measured in long runs and after this weekend’s effort there are only two left. Two more chances to test myself against the miles and see how they run.

I’m starting to think about all the things I still want to fit in. Like a run along the end of the route to defeat the demons of the John Reid Road before race day. Like a session with hills in it and another one with at least a few miles at race pace.

There’s also a sense of ending, of the summer turning to autumn, of winding down the cross training. My last PT session finished with the triumph of perfecting the snatch with a 12kg kettlebell, but also a sadness that it won’t be part of my Thursday morning routine for a while.

I have a sense of time speeding up, pushing forwards to race day, and there still being much to fit in – a friend’s wedding; my nephew’s birthday; someone coming to stay; our wedding anniversary and a number of runs that can now be counted on fingers.

But in truth, I am well prepared, I think. My danger, as always, would be a tendency to do too much. I kid myself that I’ve got this planned, that I know how it’s going to go. But in truth it will be a race like other races, where I just have to roll with whatever happens on the day.

I battled against the wind at the start of my long run this Sunday. Three miles that felt like ten out along the coast, working hard for a slow pace. I turned to the trails. They have been a real find this year. Slowing me down when I’ve been tempted to speed, giving me shade from the sun and now relief from the wind.

The peace and stillness without the wind buffeting my ears came as a relief, but my head was still pounding from the efforts to get here. For once I’d brought water and took regular sips to fight off the tension. A couple of cyclists directed me down a new path and I headed off exploring.

At the half way beep I had the choice to carry on and see where it took me or turn back and retrace my steps. I ploughed on, rewarded with some downhill paths and finally a road I recognised leading back to the sea.

All along the sea front I was accompanied by cyclists taking part in the Great North Bike Ride and, like me, taking advantage of the wind at my back. My nemesis turned turbo boost, feet back on tarmac and charge to the finish. Another 10 miles in the bag and feeling remarkably well at the end – probably because I was forced into a sensible pace.

Stats and stuff: 10.6 miles/ 17.06 km in 1 hr 40.48
mile splits:
1. 09.33
2. 09.48
3. 10.09
4. 09.38
5. 09.34
6. 09.40
7. 09.14
8. 09.05
9. 10.10
10. 08.54
11. 04.56 (0.6 mile)

And so to back to back runs. The lure of a free day, rather than an early morning, run, shower, dash to work and the prospect of company was enough to tempt me from my beloved plan and the Rendezvous was on.

Once again into the headwind on the beach, running alongside Anna and struggling to catch every word of the chat. Grey waves pounding the shore line and cormorants huddled on the rocks. Thoughts turn to winter running. Long sleeves, hats and gloves will be here before you know it. But today it’s the first outing for my Fetch Everyone top.

Once into the dene, we’re sheltered and the sun comes out. It’s like a different day through here. This time I power up the hill that had me the last time I ran this route and we regroup ahead of the last run down back towards the coast.

On the home straight, but the stops, though welcome have taken a strain on my legs and my calves are tightening up. So I do the opposite of what I’m feeling, stretch out the strides and pick up the pace to run with Dave and Adam up front.

Back onto the coast and I’m beginning to regret my speedy pick up as we turn once again into the wind. But this is my turf, my much trod route, and the waves greet me like old friends as we head down along the promenade. So from somewhere I pick up a sprint finish. No clock watching, no attention to pace, and technically around 0.5 miles shorter than what’s on my plan, but what’s half a mile betwen friends? Today it was just good to be out.

The Great North cake fest

It is a truth universally aknowledged that runners like cake. We all have our favourites and some of us insist on gluten free, but running and cake seem to go together. I associate both with good times and good people. I’ve never yet met a good person who would turn their nose up at cake.

So, when I was thinking of ways to boost my Great North Run fundraising for Sands, cake seemed like a good option. And when I raised the question of holding a cake sale at work, it got a resounding ‘Oh yes’ from my colleagues. Which tells you a lot about the people I work with.

Selection of cakes
Look at all those tasty treats

So on Wednesday 25 August, cunningly timed to coincide with pay day, I held the Great North cake fest. I’d emailed my team, other people I work with around the business and fellow runners and told them of my plans, and set up an events page on facebook. But I never in my wildest dreams expected the feast of goodies that turned up on the day.

We had carrot cake, coffee and walnut, tea bread, chocolate cake, coconut and lime, banana bread, caramel shortcake and six different types of muffins and buns.

My running friend Kathryn, who has something of a reputation as a baker had made three different types of cake during her week off, in between painting her kitchen. Jo who works in marketing made a three layer carrot and walnut cake that was devoured by 11am. Joanna made her famous caramel shortcake which the boys couldn’t get enough of. My friend Zeinab made cupcakes that I collected from her house first thing in the morning, before she set off baking another batch of 50 for a wedding. And Erika, who is my PT’s sister-in-law to be, made the most beautiful chocolate cupcakes – everyone kept asking where I’d bought them from.

I started off well, with a couple of very generous donations from my boss and my colleague Pete that could have bought them most of the table.

Then I sliced, served, and cajoled people into eating cake. Cakes went to the legal team and up to the Exec offices. I roamed the canteen at lunchtime with plates laden with treats. I tortured people trying to eat healthily with the whiff of a caramel slice and hit the R&D department in the tea-time slump at 3pm. And people who weren’t in the office made donations online.

By the end of the day, I felt like I’d completed one of those tasks on The Apprentice. My throat was sore from talking. My legs were aching from walking around the offices and my head was just a whirl. But it was a fabulous way of raising £230 and smashing my £1,000 fundraising target well ahead of the Great North Run.

Sunday girl

“What a difference in you,” remarked Gary this morning. “Yesterday you were lolling around, today you’re up like a shot.” Ah yes, that’s because Sunday is run day.

The familiar routine of porridge, route check, kit check, Garmin, go gives my day shape and purpose. The plan is for ten miles, my longest run of the year. So it’s out for stretches by the railings, runners already passing by in both directions, overcast, grey and still… just how we like it.

Off and running. Steady, steady… there’s a long way to go, remember. I’ve had a day’s more rest and a lot less cross training this week. I’ve been told I’ve got good legs (from a professional’s point of view) and today I just want to use them.

Out along the coast, off on the familiar route. The miles pass by quite quickly, just a regular beep to remind me to check my pace. The first one’s a little fast, the second is closer to training pace, but I could still ease up a little. A couple of road crossings check the third.  I opt for my new trail route again, hoping to find the turn that will take me on a loop this time.

I love the green calmness that passes over me as I run through the tunnel of trees. A cyclist rings his bell to remind me that I don’t have these paths entirely to myself.

Indeed it’s a veritable highway this morning with walkers, dogs and cyclists. Everyone is cheery and smiles, or steps aside and says good morning. There’s a sense that it’s good to be outdoors.

I reach the turn and travel up towards the road. But this won’t do. It’s just road with no pavement or verge to run along. I venture a little way to crest a hill to see if there’s a safer way ahead, but there’s no sign of a path. So I retrace my steps and continue a little further along the trail.

A runner and his cyclist sidekick pass me and lead me to another trail. A narrower path, but still straight ahead and easy to follow. Dodging the odd clump of overgrown nettles I begin to explore.

Here and there through the muddy footpaths you can spot the wooden railings of the old waggonways that once brought coal down these routes. Hard to think of the dirty old wagons in this clean green sanctuary now.

The halfway beep and I’m really in my stride now. I won’t repeat my venture up the cross trail, so I can afford to run a little further. I push on a little spurt to pass another runner on the narrow pathway and hope I she’s not discouraged as I pull ahead. She’s running well, but I’ve really settled into this now.

The road goes ever on and on and there’s no obvious landmark at which I can appoint a turning spot. The Garmin’s six mile beep finally limits my exploring and sets me back on the return route.

After a couple of fuelling issues this week, I’ve brought a gel with me. I’ve promised it myself at the half way point, but I’m way beyond that now and feeling good. I do a deal to take it at seven miles, a wee boost to keep me going and a good test for race day.

Back towards the playing fields and an old guy on his bike says “Well done you,” as we pass. I must look like I’m on a mission today, as a couple of walkers and a cyclist stop and move to one side to let me through.

I suck down the gel at seven miles and even though I don’t feel like I need it, it tastes fantastic, a real sugar rush. I pinch the last dregs out and spot the bins beneath the road bridge – perfect timing.

I’m feeling strong and confident now. I can do this run. In fact, my extra exploring will probably leave me a bit short of home. The feeling doesn’t last very long and I start to dip a little soon after. Hard to know exactly what, but it doesn’t feel the same. It’s all taking a little more effort.

Maybe it’s a sugar crash after the gel or just boredom setting in, retracing my steps along this long straight path. I convince myself that I’m not really feeling bad (and in truth I’m not), it’s just the euphoric high and adrenaline rush levelling itself out.

As I emerge from the playing fields I almost collide with another couple of girls heading out towards the coast and we side step each other good humouredly along the narrow paths. I emerge ahead, but I’ve already clocked this pair are running well and my competitive instinct kicks in as I pick up the pace a little to stay ahead.

They’re chatting away and we’re keeping pace. I don’t want to seem unfriendly and hold them up, so I ask what they’re training for. One’s going for the Kielder marathon and the other’s Great North Run training like me. They’re both members of the North Shields Poly club.

We share a little running chat which is a nice distraction for me and sets me back on my familiar coastal paths. They break for a pit stop and I carry on, wishing them luck with a smile on my face.

Closing in on home I glance at my watch to see I’ve been running for just over 90 minutes, which must put me close to my ten mile target. I opt to pick up the pace for the last stretch and almost as soon as I do, the Garmin beeps to signal the end of the workout.

But this has been a good run and I’m still a way from home. I’m not ready to stop yet. And so I push on for another glorious mile. And yes, now I start to feel a bit achey, and now the calves begin to pull, but I’m still running and at a good pace, and I’m free and easy and everything just feels wonderful.

At 11 miles I call it a day. No sense in overdoing it. There are still five weeks until race day. I stop the clock at 1hr 41 minutes and stretch. My calves and hips protest a little as I pick up a jog again to take me home, so I stretch a little more and walk. There’s nothing in those aches that won’t be soothed by a little rest.

My recent running companions pass me and shout out “Well done!” as they carry on their way. I hope they had as good a run as I did. Boy, does that fill me with confidence.

11 miles 1 hr 41.45
mile splits:
1. 08.59
2. 09.19
3. 09.39
4. 09.13
5. 09.20
6. 09.18
7. 09.14
8. 09.20
9. 09.19
10. 08.58
11. 08.55

Golden day

Waking before the alarm clock to bright sunshine and blue skies. A deserted beach. A swathe of golden sand dusted by white foam.

Working out in the sunshine. Discarding the hoody. Revelling in strength and control. Hearing more than one ‘well done’. Closing my eyes and losing count on the final challenge.  Thinking 20 more, just as I hear the countdown.

Stopping to stretch and relax. Looking forward to another special day.

Coasting through the work day. Sun and adrenaline warmed through the rain. Making an early escape to visit another good influence. Skilled hands smoothe muscles, unwrinkling small knots. A balm to mind and spirit as well as body.

Talking, planning, imagining a bright and hopeful day to come. Reflecting on all that’s fallen right to get me to that place. Good friends, good professionals; the right words at the right time.

Paying tribute to the ones who’ve helped me change myself. They may never know how much it means to me, but their influence continues to be a precious and lasting gift.

Don't think, just run

I’ve found training quite hard this week. And I’ve been torn between acknowledging that and getting too hung up on it.

Writing sometimes helps me make sense of things, work out the puzzle in my own brain. At other times it’s like a waste chute, a place I can dump the thoughts that scutter around and around. But sometimes it just feeds those thoughts and encourages even more questions.

I spend a lot of time in my own head. And I do overthink things. So sometimes I just need a bit of space and quiet.

I ran intervals this morning, stressing and fretting a little at first until I fixed on my mantra. Don’t think, don’t analyse – just run.

It was tricky to hold that thought, but it worked. I have my peace now, my quiet thoughts. And that warm satisfied feeling of the right kind of run.

Pace and chips

Pace, it’s a funny thing isn’t it? I mean, there I am on my long run, listening to good advice and trying to keep it slow. And that’s quite hard, but I’m getting better at it.

And then today, up and out early on my ‘short run’, when I could quite legitimately pick it up a wee bit, and I get stuck in the pace that I wanted to achieve for my long run, feeling that I can’t go any faster. ( I still don’t feel like I have enough miles in my legs to call a 7+ miler a ‘short run’).

Gorgeous, gorgeous morning for a run. Nice and cool, bright sunshine, blue skies and those wispy cirrus clouds in the sky. Quiet on the pavements, just me and my thoughts and in theory, fresh legs after I let myself off last night’s weights session.

But it’s never quite that easy is it? Last week this was an ouchy post PT session run, with my glutes complaining every step of the way. This week, the grumpy mental demons came out to play for a bit.

I felt a bit ploddy and slow on the way out, and then I started thinking about my training plan and how I’d switched things round a bit and was starting to scratch away at things I really should leave well enough alone. Just after turning at the half way point, I had a little wobble and a quick mental panic…this would happen at the furthest point out wouldn’t it…arrgh, it’s all going wrong…

Then my second thoughts took me firmly in hand and told me to walk up the wee slope, eat some dried mango, stick my headphones in, put my old running tunes on and try out my theory that sometimes when you’re feeling a bit rubbish you should wake your body up and go faster.

Cue 2 and a bit miles at nearer 9 min mile pace, feeling more comfortable than I did running at a slower pace on the way out and a sprint finish going up through the gears at the end. Net result = an average pace of what I was aiming for. So why did I put myself through the mental wringer to get there? I think, given the choice I’d rather put up with complaining glutes.

Now, I’m not a food Nazi, but I eat a pretty ‘clean’ diet. Fresh organic meat, fruit and vegetables, almost no processed foods and I’ve grown out of a taste for salty, fatty foods. But towards the end of my run, I was craving chips. Salty, vinegary, chip shop chips.

I know that would get most of you salivating, but often, when I run this route on a weekend, I pass people eating fish and chips and it’s not an appealing thought to me. So it was ironic that I was craving them when all the chip shops were shut.

I think I finally got the message that my body was demanding some carbohydrates when I got home and inhaled the remains of my porridge, then promptly made another bowl while I was in the shower.

I’ve been very drawn to cake and chocolate this week too. So with two of my runs going over an hour and a fair amount of cross training in my week, I think it’s time to look at adding a little more fuel to the tank. It just took my body screaming ‘chips chips chips’ at me for me to realise.

Stats and stuff
12k/ 7.4 miles 1hr 09.14
mile splits:
1. 09.08
2. 09.24
3. 09.32
4. 09.24
5. 09.55
6. 09.19
7. 08.47
8. 03.42 (736m)

Kit test

Running vest
What I'll be wearing all the way from Newcastle to South Shields

I gave my race gear its first run out today and I’m pleased to report there were no issues with my running vest. No chafing, no irritations – just a slight feeling of self-consciousness, having my name emblazoned on my front  But it’s for a good cause and means a lot to me.

I’m really feeling the cumulative effects of training this week, building up the runs to my long one at the weekend. My PT session on Thursday morning really worked my legs hard. Simple exercises this week, but lots of reps and some that had my legs burning. By the evening I was stretching in front of the TV, in a bid to get some of the tightness from my glutes.

So Friday morning’s 12k run was a bit of a killer. Nothing ‘hurt’ as in ‘ouch, I’m injured and in pain’, but certain areas were definitely letting me know they had been working hard and what was I doing making them run. Knowing it was likely to be a toughie, I took my iPod and treated myself to some music, choosing an old playlist that I used to use when running.

That really hit the spot, keeping me mainly distracted from how I felt and even putting a smile on my face and a sprint in my pace in a couple of places.  It was a lovely morning to be up and out running. And the satisfaction I feel getting into work, knowing I’ve already run 7+ miles is well worth the slightly zoned out feeling, generally cured by hot chocolate and a bagel.

So you would have thought I would have been glad of a rest on Saturday, wouldn’t you? But I was in a really irritating mood. Everything was irksome. I went out and everyone was annoying me. It was too noisy. I came home and it was too quiet. I thought I should get something to eat because that might make me less irritable, but I wasn’t hungry and didn’t know what I wanted… Honestly, it’s a good job I was on my own as I would have driven anyone else to distraction. As it was, I only had myself to annoy.

So I decided to go for a swim, to shake off the tightness in the tops of my legs and see if the water would help relax me. I left my watch at home deliberately and even tried a couple of lengths without my hat and goggles, but I’ve got too used to them to ditch them now. I just swam a good few lengths of front crawl, not counting, stopping when I felt like it. All in all I was probably in the pool for about 30 mins and it did the trick.

And so to Sunday’s long run. I’ve been going out a little later each week, trying to run at around race time, trying to get used to running when it’s that bit warmer. Today I headed out on my new route, taking in a fair chunk of nice flat, wide trails.

It was a good choice as it was warm and sultry and the trees provided some much needed shade. But even so, away from the coast the air was still and humid and I found myself wiping sweat from my eyes at regular intervals.

I was trying to keep to 9.5 min miles, after the success of last week’s longer run at a slower pace. But I found it really hard. My legs felt heavy and the slightly slower pace made it feel like I was plodding wearily and heavily. But I kept moving and once on the trails it was easier to keep the pace conservative.

It was lovely to see so many cyclists, dog walkers and other runners out on the trails. I passed a family with three gorgeous black labradors, all with red collars and and a dad and his little girl out for a cycle ride.

I’d been intending to try out a bit of a loop, but I missed my turning and when the Garmin beeped for the halfway point, I decided just to turn back and retrace my steps. It was nice to be out and running and free to think my own thoughts, but I was definitley not feeling as fresh and energised as last week’s long run, so there would be no extra mileage today.

Once back out onto the pavements along the coast, I knew I’d have no problem completing the distance and I allowed myself to pick up the pace a little with a mile and a half to go, to get the adrenaline buzz of a faster run. And after I had to speed up to get past a collection of parents and kids pootling on their bikes, I kept it going for a sprint finish and another 9.5 miles in the bag.

I’m feeling the effects with a few aches and niggles now, but they’re the kind that I’ll sleep and rest away. And I’m taking a lot of positives from a tough week’s training. If I can run 7.5 miles on a Friday on tired legs and another 9.5 on Sunday on slightly less tired ones, then come race day I should be flying on fresh ones.

Someone said that I’d become a lot stronger runner recently. I think they’re right. I certainly feel it both physically and mentally. And a lot of that’s come down to keeping things simple, relaxing and not trying too much all the time. So that’s my aim, to continue improving little by little and to save my best for race day. Six weeks and counting.

Stats and stuff:
9.5 miles/ 15.29 km in 1hr 29.08
mile splits:
1. 09.16
2. 09.18
3. 09.53
4. 09.31
5. 09.24
6. 09.21
7. 09.35
8. 09.28
9. 09.07
10. 04.09 (800m)

An update and thank you

I’ve posted an update on my Great North Run fundraising for Sands, the stillbirth and neonatal death charity, over on my running blog.

It’s just a chance to say thank you to the amazingly generous people who are supporting me on my quest to pay tribute to my baby sister and take on the challenge of the world’s biggest half marathon.

Amazingly generous

I just wanted to post a little update on my Great North Run fundraising. In case you don’t know, this year I’ll be running  in memory of my baby sister Ava. As a tribute to her, I want to raise as much money and awareness as I can for Sands, a charity that supports families who lose babies at birth or in their early days of life. You can find out more and support me on my JustGiving page.

I’ve had amazing support since I announced I was doing this, from people I know well and, perhaps more touchingly, from some I’ve never met. And this week, I’ve had some incredibly generous donations that have taken my fundraising total to almost £850. I’ve been really touched by the encouraging messages that people have left.

I know a lot of people do sponsored things and a lot of people do the Great North Run, so it can become a bit of a chore, not to mention a drain on your pocket to keep shelling out for this kind of thing. But it really does mean an awful lot to me and my family to be able to do something positive for Ava. And I know, from talking to other people who have been affected by similar losses that Sands really does fantastic work to support families and health care professionals.

So I just want to say thank you to everyone who is supporting me. To those who have dipped their hands in their pockets, and to those who have read and taken the time to comment, or spread the word. Also to all my running friends who offer so much advice and encouragement. I have been astounded by your generous spirits.

Thank you.