Sorry, it’s been a while

Apologies for being so quiet over here at The Scribbler. There’s been a lot of action going on in my running blog, the highlight of which was the 2010 Great North Run.

I had an amazing day, involving a beer bottle, an Olympic champion and a Radio DJ. And thanks to some amazingly generous donations, I also raised over £1,300 for Sands in memory of my baby sister, Ava. That’s over £100 per mile.

You can read about my fabulous race, and see some pictures here.

And I promise I’ll be back with some word stuff very soon. I’m heading off to Scotland to join the Dark Angels, so hope to report back on that and much more.

My first Parkrun

Me on Newcastle Parkrun
I remembered to smile for the camera

Every week I’ve looked in envy at the pictures from Newcastle Parkrun. I’ve stalked the message board and become a fan on facebook, but I’ve never actually run it until now. Focusing on training for the Great North Run meant that I opted for a long run at the weekend and didn’t want to risk my legs on a short fast blast. But boy do I love a short, fast blast! And I love racing. Even the good natured, just competing against yourself racing of parkrun.

It’s suddenly turned to winter here in the North East. We’ve had storms, torrential rain, and today it was cold. Cold on the windswept exposed moor. Bye, bye summer shorts. Hello hoodies, buffs and gloves. But today it had to be my Fetch top. And it was a great race to introduce it.

I zoomed into town and headed to Exhibition Park, still keeping my hoodie on, but discarding it at the start as I chatted to Jeff and Rob. I was introduced to the legend that is Mr Henderson senior, still a youngster compared to the other vets preparing to run on some cracking looking legs. I want that to be me, still running and enjoying every minute when I’m in my 80s.

Jogging back to the start line, trying to keep warm, chatting with some of the other runners, comparing experiences from last weekend. And then a few quick stretches and trying to keep my legs warm, set the watch and, we’re off!

Crikey, they go off like the clappers don’t they? I feel like I’m passed by the whole field by the first turn, and part of me wants to give chase. With one thing and another, I haven’t run since the big race last Sunday, and the adrenaline’s up, but their pace is much too fast for me.

Just run your own race I tell myself and start to settle. I really don’t know how I’m going to feel today, shaking off the remnants of a cold and still needing to warm up my legs. But that’s one of the beauties of a first time out on a course, or a distance. No expectations and a guaranteed PB.

I overtake a couple of runners as we head out towards the gate, which boots my confidence a little, and I settle into a rhythm that feels tough, but manageable. I can hear my breathing, quite sharp and harsh, and I need to clear my throat a fair few times in the cold air.

I’ve forgotten to switch my Garmin back to km splits, but glance at the first marker and see 5.10. Crikey, that’s almost target 10k pace. Keep going girl.

The field thins out very quickly and I’m soon in my own space, no one running close behind me and those ahead too distant to target at this stage. I look into the distance and see a ribbon of runners streaming ahead. It feels good to be running again.

The 2nd kilometre’s quick too and I overtake a couple more runners as we turn down Grandstand Road. Warmer and more sheltered here, I love running beneath the trees in the dappled sunlight. As we turn in at the next gate, a girl over takes me, but doesn’t sprint away and I think, ‘I’ll have you at the finish’.

It’s starting to hurt a bit around now and I ease up a little to get my breathing back into order. I remember this stretch from last year’s 10k over the gravelly path. Then I was desperately hanging on to a runner wearing a Welsh Dragon on his shirt. Today, I’m just running and it feels good – tough, but good.

The 4k marker arrives just as I’m starting to drift off the pace a little and I think only 5 more minutes to run and try to push on. But this is a tough bit of the course, into the wind and I don’t seem to make much headway.

As the route snakes round and I start to understand where the finish is, I tell myself I’ll push after the last turn, but my legs have other ideas and kick up a gear before it comes. I start to stretch out, making the most of each stride as I start reeling in runners.

Pass the girl in the pink top and she’s not coming back at me. That couple up ahead – they’re too far away too catch aren’t they? Legs kick in another gear and the distance closes quickly. Power down, arms pumping. Where is this coming from? I don’t know, but it’s a race and I do like a sprint finish. A quick smile for the camera and over the line in 25.39. Wow! I hadn’t expected that.

Head down to catch my breath, and Jeff comes over to say well done. I look up, but can’t reply, and have to put my head down again to get my balance. What a great, exhilarating run.

Well it was a guaranteed PB, as I’d never timed myself over that distance before. And it’s confirmed what I pretty much decided in my head after this year’s Great North Run. I’m a speed demon. I like the short fast runs. And although I’d purposefully not set any expectations for myself for that run, after a week shuffling off a cold and no other training. I am very happy with that – particularly as the official time was 2 seconds faster.

Here’s what’s on my official Parkrun email: You finished in 88th place and were the 18th lady out of a field of 136 parkrunners and you came 2nd in your age category VW35-39. (OMG 2nd – in my category!) You achieved an age-graded score of 59.14%.

The trick now will be to do better each time. But I’m pretty confident I have that in me and it will be great training for the 10k, which will be my next target race in November. All in all, a very good day, topped off by another donation to my Great North Run fundraising for Sands

I’ve just written the cheque for all my offline donations and posted it off this morning, bringing the total raised to £1,375.50.  I’m very proud to have done that for Ava and from talking to lots of other people who have been affected by stillbirth or neonatal death, I know it will make a huge difference. So once thank you with all of my heart. Whether you gave money, or just good wishes, you helped me make a difference and remember a little sister with love.

The Great Big Thank You 2010

Okay, this is going to be a long one, so if it’s not your thing, move along and check back later when I’ve stopped channelling Gwyneth Paltrow on Oscar night 😉

My journey to the 2010 Great North Run has been a pretty epic one. It was big enough last year, when it was my first half-marathon, but this year it’s been even bigger, mainly because so many of you have joined me on it. So I need to say some thank yous.

First of all, to my family. We’ve had a tough year and a good year. We’ve had occasion to weep and occasion to celebrate and we’ve done both together. We may not be a conventional set up and we may be separated by geography, but we’re always close at heart when it counts.

When I first decided I wanted to run for Ava, it was all a bit raw and emotional, but I hope you’ve seen how this amazing event can help turn something negative into something positive. For, make no mistake about it, the Great North Run is a celebration. I know you’re proud of me. I’m proud of you too.

I also want to say thank you to that great fellowship of runners. Fast or slow, old or young, elite or just starting out; from the unknown athletes that nod and smile as I pass on the street, to those of you I’ve come to look for at local races, we do all share something. Yes, we’re all nutters.

I’ve found a great supportive community of runners in Fetch Everyone. Some of you I only know by nickname; some of you I’ve come to know quite well. It would make strange reading to list you all, and I’d be bound to miss someone out, but will you indulge me with a few special mentions?

To Dave, Lesley and the Fetchpoint crew who saw me at that glorious moment just after 10 miles. Remember me always like that and I will never grow old or tired.

To Jeff, who has dealt with his own sad loss this year with strength and grace, thank you for all the coaching tips and advice.

To Lisa and Jason who invited me to run in their woods and provided excellent sausage sarnies. And to Dave W, who it’s always a pleasure to run with.

And to my two excellent friends from Scotland, Alistair and Lesley. You have been with me all the way with your kind words, advice and encouragement. You are two very special friends and I hope to meet you soon.

I need to say a big thank you to my friends and work mates. Some of you run and some of you don’t. But you’ve all endured me going on and on about training and running for the past year. And I’m afraid you’ll have to put up with it for a bit longer, as I’ve no intention of stopping.

I hope I made up for some of the ear bending with the Great North cake sale that helped boost my charity fundraising by over £200. Thank you to everyone who baked, bought and ate their way through a mountain of cake, especially ace bakers, Kathryn, Erika and Zeinab who really went out of their way to help me. And to Pete, for having a very sweet tooth and a generous wallet.

To everyone who has commented on a blog post, tweet, or facebook update – thank you. But it just encourages me you know 😉

To the people who have allowed me to share my story with a wider audience, from the JustGiving blog to BBC Radio Newcastle and in particular, Tony Horne on Metro Radio. Thank you for helping me spread the word, tell people about my baby sister and raise awareness of the work that Sands does. Tony, it was a real pleasure to talk to you, to shake your hand at the four mile mark and to enjoy a broadcast that really summed up the spirit of this amazing run.

To Ian, who got me running in the first place. Did you ever imagine I would get this far? Your patience with my questions and dedication to my training show you to be a professional. Your support and advice throughout everything show you to be a friend.

To Gary, who is always there for me. Even at the finish line, in the rain, without an umbrella. I know you don’t always understand why I do this, but I know you understand how important it is to me.

I also need to say a heartfelt thank you to the other families that have been affected by the loss of a baby. In telling my family’s story, you have opened your hearts to me. Although, it must still be painful, I hope it gives you some comfort to know that your little ones are remembered and that in supporting me, you will help Sands help other families and may even fund research that prevents a tiny life being lost.

Great North Run 2010 – my run with the stars

Me holding my Great North Run medal
At the finish of the 2010 Great North Run

What an amazing, fantastic, wonderful, emotional day. What a great run! I am so proud to have run this race again, my home race and shared it with so many big hearted people.

If I were any kind of writer I would make you read to the end to find out my result. But I’ve dragged so many of you on my quest for a sub 2 hour half marathon, that it feels unfair to drag it on much longer.

I didn’t do it. I ran 2:02:56 – a new PB. And honestly, I am happy with that. I ran this race as a runner and as best I could on the day. And it has been about so much more than that.

So many strange little coincidences, so many little things unplanned added up to make this an amazing day.

I didn’t sleep particularly well. I wasn’t conscious of being hyped up and over excited, but I drifted in and out of sleep and finally awoke to the sound of pouring rain. I’d already decided to run in my contact lenses, and it was a good job as yesterday I managed to lose the nose bit off my glasses. For once I managed to get them in first time.

Porridge, banana, blueberries and honey. Race kit ready and off to the start line in plenty of time.

I browsed back from the elite start searching out familiar faces. I saw Liz McColgan and the Leukaemia Research team all lined up for a photo in their yellow T-shirts and Jonathan Edwards about to do an interview.

I scanned the orange pen for Alastair and Anne, running friends from Fetch, but no luck. And found myself in white Zone D just before they announced the moment of reflection for the runners and played Abide With Me. And that’s how I found myself hugging a beer bottle at the start of the Great North Run.

I knew that would be an emotional moment for me. And I didn’t really know what to do, where to stand. And as I looked around, I saw a sign on a runner’s back, saying ‘Running in memory of my son, born prematurely’. So I said hello, and explained I was running for a lost little one too and Charlie Paterson, dressed as a beer bottle, put his arm around my shoulder and we both had a wee cry.

And I remembered darling Ava, and said her name, along with Max Jacob, James, George, Molly and Indah. All precious little lives lost, but not forgotten.

Tributes paid. Time to Geordie up and on with the race. We warmed up and cheered the wheelchair athletes off. Then the women, and then a massive cheer for Haile Gebrslassie and soon I found myself moving forward to the start line. A quick good luck to a couple of runners nearby, set the watch and go.

Steady, steady on the start, don’t go off too quickly. Shouts of ‘oggy, oggy oggy’ through the tunnels and waving to the crowds on the road bridges.

The Tyne Bridge comes quickly. Spot Jolene from work and call out to her. I spot Peachy’s support crew with their banner and not far afterwards hear someone call out my name. They’ve read it on my shirt and it just makes me beam, because I know they’ll read Ava’s name too as I pass.

Check the pace for the first mile 08:09 – oops it’s fast, more like 10k pace. Never mind, you can slow it down.

Wave to the cameras on the cherry pickers and woosh, the Red Arrows zoom over. Right time to settle in and run this race right.

Steady, steady up the banking, focus just a few feet ahead. Keeping pace with a runner in an orange football shirt that says Ebits on the back. No I have no idea.

Just like last time I seem to find pace and space, not too baulked by runners, no need to weave and dodge. Just slow for a few steps and then find a gap.

My mind is already tightly focused. The spectators go by in a blur. I grab water at 3 miles, even though I don’t feel like I need it. I have too many memories of being desperate for it at the end last year. And my mouth is a little dry from the excitement.

Into my pace now, into my place. Just me out for a Sunday run. Running my own race.

And then reading a white T-shirt that says Tony Horne, running for cash for Kids. And taking a second to process it, but thinking, ‘That must be Tony Horne’.

For those of you who don’t know, he’s a DJ on Metro Radio here in the North East and a massive Great North Run fan. He did a live show all day on Saturday from the Quayside, speaking to celebs and athletes, and me actually. I told him all about Ava and why this year’s run was so special.

So, in a crowd of 50,000 runners, I spotted someone whose hand it was a pleasure to shake and someone who knew who I was. Amazing!

I was pacing myself well at this point, running strong and not looking at the watch too often, but seeing 9 min miles when I did. Around mile 5 I think I spotted a slower one and picked up my feet a little, still telling myself to run strong. That I had time in the bank from a fast start and a wee cushion for my pacing.

At one point my route is rather restricted by a few runners running and chatting together and a wheelchair. I drop behind but cannot find a gap and don’t want to waste energy, or risk upsetting the runners behind me by dodging out wide. So I just ask if I can squeeze through, and they let me. It’s only when I watch the TV later, I realise its Helen Skelton off Blue Peter, that I’ve just pushed past.

I was clocking the miles until the end of the Tyne Tunnel – an important point for me, as I’d run the route from here last Friday, so I knew it would give me a good psychological boost. That and the band at the bottom of the John Reid Road, singing Walk this Way, really put a smile on my face.

Just after 8 miles, I went to grab water again. I’d been running down the left hand side of the road, but noticed the right hand side was less congested. Trying to keep moving through the water station and reach out for a bottle, held out by the most successful Great North Run athlete, Tanni Grey-Thompson. I shout ‘Tanni’ and she says, ‘Well done Michelle’. Wow! That has just made my day. I tweet her later and get a lovely reply.

And so to mile 8. So often my troublesome mile. And it’s no different here. I feel good. I feel strong. But the clock is starting to tell and I’m slowing down. I notice a slower pace mile, but tell myself not to worry. Just run to the finish line.

But the next mile’s hard too. Pulling on my calves and I’m starting to waver. I’m beginning to struggle and I know it. The dark thoughts don’t overtake me for long, as I know Fetchpoint’s not far away. Just run how you feel I tell myself. Today the time is not important.

Me running through Fetchpoint
The fabulous Fetchpoint

Let me explain Fetchpoint. You may remember that I log my runs and chat to other runners on a site called Fetch Everyone. It’s like a social networking site for runners – a bit like belonging to a virtual running club. And when they’re not running and there’s a big event on, like the Great North Run, sometimes Fetchies arrange a cheering zone along the route. They are usually stocked with jelly babies and hugs and always guaranteed to be noisy.

As I approach,  I yell ‘Fetchie’ with all the breath in my lungs. And I high-five Dave, Jeff, Lesley and a runner I only know as Geordiegirl. I’m beaming and put on a good show for some good friends.

But a few hundred metres past my fabulous chums and I start to pay for my exhuberance. I’m slowing. I bloody will not stop. The legs fall more slowly and slowly. I’m plodding.

Do the opposite, dig in. It’s the sodding Nook again isn’t it? Push on. But hopes are fading. Just keep looking forward, pushing forward. Ignore the walkers. You’re not going to walk today.

Just like last time I grab some proferred orange segments on Prince Edward Road and keep going. My mango treats and gel have long been used up. It’s just stubbornness and adrenaline now.

And then there it is, that grand vista. It’s the sea, the sea. ‘Just over a mile to go’ I say to the runner beside me. ‘We can do that’. And we smile.

I pile down the bank picking up the pace and push on just a little bit into the roar of the crowds at the sea front. I don’t have the same speed in my legs as I’ve had on training runs, but I manage to pick it up a bit.

I feel a brief twinge of cramp in my calf and grimace. Someone calls out my name from the sidelines. It happens again. And I’m just pushing on, overtaking runners, desperate to see the 800m sign.

Another shout out and another. You are lovely people. I will finish this smiling. 800m and tell myself to finish in 10k pace if I can. It’s so close, I can taste it.

Past the marker. I can see the 200m sign ahead. And then there he is. Gary, in the crowd. I cannot believe I’ve spotted him again. I call out and he sees me.

At 200m I no longer care, hammer down, arms pumping, who needs to breathe anyway? Spotting the elite finish and turning to run over the grass. Stopping the watch, knowing I haven’t done sub 2 hours, but not caring. Feeling a bit wibbly in the funnel, but welcoming the stretch to tear off the timing chip.

And then away over the field, and a stretch by the fence. And a few tears. Because it’s been emotional. But not many, because it’s been so amazing and full of so many memories.

I called this a run with the stars. I don’t mean the athletes or the celebrities, although they add to the sense of occasion and I’ll always be proud to say I ran with Haile. I mean the real stars. The hundreds of thousands of people that do this. That take on this challenge for thousands of reasons. The people that come out and support it, cheering and yelling, offering biscuits, jelly babies and hose downs. And the people that make it possible. The St John’s crew holding out globs of vaseline. The army of marshalls, the people collecting chips at the finish and picking up all the rubbish at the start.

This is an amazing run. It is an amazing experience. It’s worth every ache and pain, every worry and niggle, just to say I’ve done it. And I didn’t do it alone.

Stats and stuff: 13.1 miles 2:02:56
1. 08:09
2. 08:34
3. 09.06
4. 09.23
5. 09.34
6. 09.02
7. 09.01
8. 09.07
9. 09.44
13. 08.58
14. 02.17

The last week or taper madness

Running vest and number for Great North Run
Race kit at the ready

Part of the preparation for a long distance race is taking it easy in the days or last couple of weeks before race day. The idea is that your training is done. It’s time to give your body time to rest and recover, so you arrive on the start line chomping at the bit.

I’ve been easing down my cross training over the last couple of weeks, dropping classes and weight training, just concentrating on the runs which have been getting steadily longer and longer, until this week, the week before race day. I’ve done two very short runs at a very easy pace. Plenty of stretching. Plenty of early nights. And that’s it.

It feels strange not to train hard. You would think I would be glad of a week taking it relatively easy, but it disrupts my rhythm. And I’ve been craving that great feeling I get from exercising – well it isn’t called an adrenaline high for nothing.

The other thing that happens during taper time, is something runners call taper madness. Symptoms can include feeling every niggle and twinge in your body, wondering if it’s an injury. For me, it included an extra cautiousness. Well, you know how clumsy I am. I have held firmly onto every stair rail going up or down this week. And been giving hard stares at people in the office sneezing or coughing.

But for all your preparation there are aways things you cannot control. I thought it could be the weather. Early forecasts predicted heavy rain for Sunday. Great I thought, I’ve run two of my best races in the rain. But hanging around getting cold and wet at the start and finish is a bit less appealing – especially if you’re a spectator. 

In the end it was that nasty cold bug. On Thursday night I went to bed with a bit of a dry throat and by morning it was positively sore enough to send me to the hot paracetamol drinks and a day off work. Not what I had planned at all. Thankfully, a lie in, a restful day and plenty of fluids seem to have shaken it.

But its a useful lesson. There are things you can control and things you can’t. And you just have to accept that. I have done as much as I can to prepare for this race. I have run, I have rested, I have eaten well. The rest will go how it goes on the day.

As a runner, I know we put pressure on ourselves to perform at any level. Run faster, run further, do better. But really it’s just about the joy and freedom of getting out there and doing it. The runners at the back of the pack have just as much soul, heart and dedication as those at the front – if not more.

I’ve had the privilege of telling my Great North Run and Ava’s story on Metro Radio today, talking to Tony Horne, a real supporter of the run and someone who has his own experience of neonatal care as his daughter Poppy was born two weeks’ prematurely.

Events and conversations this week have really brought home to me that this run is about so much more than a time on a clock. I’m really proud to have been able to raise so much money and awareness for Sands through doing this. And have been amazed by your generosity.

I feel like I’ve taken so many of you with me on this journey, through all its ups and downs. I will be thinking of so many people who have helped and supported me as I stand there at the start line tomorrow. And I know you will be thinking of me too.

So I hope I’ve given you a flavour of what it’s like to train for this amazing event. Because it is amazing. It is special. It has fantastic support and an atmosphere like nothing else I’ve ever experienced. So many moving stories, so many reasons to run.

See you at the finish line!

Last long run

I’ve read those words a fair few times this week on other runner’s blogs and tweets and gulped, thinking, that’ll be me soon. But in truth I feel ready for this. A week to go until race day and really, there’s not much more I can do.

The Sunday long run has become a feature of my summer and I felt there was one more still to do. Last week I ran 12 miles and found it hard, this week I wanted to see if I could run easy and still cover the distance. So my plan was to run for 2 hours and see how far I got, with the understanding that if anything hurt, or felt really uncomfortable, I would stop and walk, and revise my plans. I even set myself a route that meant I was never too far from an escape plan.

And so, up and prepped with porridge in my tummy and running vest on. A bright ,warm, sunny day with a welcome breeze at my beloved coast and plenty of runners smiling, waving and saying good morning as I passed by, heading towards the lighthouse.

Always that slight uncertainty for the first mile… too fast, too slow, how am I moving? 09.10 beeped the Garmin – I can slow that down a bit, there’s a long way to go.

Freedom and peace, a sense of space in my own head. How many times have I run this stretch of tarmac? But still I love it as I veer away from the road and along above the sea on footpaths used by walkers and runners.

Out and along the causeway to the lighthouse wall, tag it and turn back. There’s a wee uphill out of this section and you always seem to turn into a headwind. But by now I’m running 09.30 per mile – target training pace at last. It’s only taken me 12 weeks. A sip or two of water and some mango to keep me going and I’m off again.

Back along the front and past the Rendezvous cafe. But it’s not my usual out and return. I add a little diversion up through the Churchill Playing fields to run the end of the Run for Bob, aiming to follow the off-road but level and friendly tracks until the 8 mile point and then turn back.

These trails have been kind to me this year. Today they offer shade and sunshine, but not before I’ve nearly taken a spill at the entrance to the park. I bash my foot against the metal plate at the base of the gate, and it’s a wonder I don’t fall flat on my face. A reminder to take it easy. I walk a few paces to shake off the shock.

Along the trails and not feeling too bad, but really I don’t feel like I could go much faster than this now and keep going, yet it’s still a good way short of race pace. I go through my usual 8 mile mental dip and out the other side having once again raided my pocket for a piece of mango and more water.

Back towards the track and playing fields and I’m up to 9 miles, so that’s officially a long run as it’s further than I went on Friday. Ten miles would be good, 12 even better, but I’m still just running how I feel.

Unusually for me, in my guise of taking it easy, I’ve had a couple of brief stops already. One for a particularly slow traffic light and another to lose a stone in my shoe. So as I return to the seafront I take one more to fill up my water.

And now it really is just running for home. No heroics today, no sprint finish, looking for a landmark and anticipating the clock, but I do pick up and stretch out a little as I clock 11 miles, then 12, mentally transporting myself to that spot on the race route. At 12, I glance at the watch and notice there’s about 6 minutes to go until my 2 hours are up, and I know I have that much running in me.

Just as I reach the surf shop a lovely old lady walking her spaniel calls out, ‘Keep going, keep going,’ with a smile and I say ‘Thank you’. And I’m reminded of the one thing I haven’t experienced yet on my training runs. One thing that will keep me going faster and further with a smile on my face. All the fabulous people that turn out to cheer on the Great North Run. 

And so, I’m ready. I’ve trained. I’ve prepared. Everything else will just be what happens on the day. All I can do now is stay well and injury free. Eat well, sleep well, hold the railings on the stairs and try not to put too much pressure on myself before race day. If I can hold onto this calm, content and relaxed mood I have today, that will be a good place to be.

Stats and stuff  12.5 miles/ 20.1km in 2 hours
mile splits:
1. 09.10
2. 09.30
3. 09.35
4. 09.24
5. 09.49
6. 09.20
7. 10.10
8. 09.57
9. 09.26
10. 09.41
11. 10.00
12. 09.18
13. 04.33 (0.5 miles)

The battle of the John Reid Road

I’ve had it in my mind to run the last part of the Great North Run route since before last year’s race. And again in training this year, I’ve wanted to make it part of my preparation. So on Friday, on a day off, I drove through the Tyne Tunnel, parked up by the Lindisfarne roundabout and ran to the coast and back.

I’ve been looking forward and looking back a lot this week. I went to visit the Great North Run exhibition at the Hancock Museum in Newcastle today. It’s well worth a trip if you’re in the city. For me it captures the sense of history and the people that make this such a great event, along with those iconic pictures of thousands upon thousands of runners streaming down the central motorway or over the Tyne Bridge.

I enjoyed some wry laughter with John Gray who shares his thoughts on the run in one of the films, talking about going off too fast in the first mile and shouts of ‘Oggy, oggy, oggy’ as you pass under the road bridges. I got quite emotional watching some of the clips from 30 years, seeing the different people who started it and those who’ve taken part.

I watched a film of people speaking directly to the camera about their experience, their hopes and fears for the race. And it was amazing to feel those connections.

I stayed on to watch another film called ‘Runner’ – silent in the most part, but representing the journey of one runner, training on the beach and then in the race itself. At times the images blur into senselessness. At others he’s there, alone running the strip along the coast to the finish line. I thought it was a wonderful representation of what it feels like to run it. The sense of being in a vast bewildering crowd of people, but at the same time, lost and alone in your own run.

That sense of senses blurring and being lost is very true of my first experience of the run. I desperately wanted to drink it all in, experience every moment to its full. And I think it overwhelmed me.

There’s a big section of the route that I don’t remember. I can recall passing the bottom of the Tyne tunnel and I remember a great rock band playing on a roundabout, which I think was at the bottom of the John Reid Road, but may have been before that around Gateshead somewhere. And then there’s nothing.

Just a vague sense memory of being hot, hot, hot. Looking for shade. Following a pair of runners in Cystic Fybrosis shirts, just plodding, plodding.

When I tell this story, I say that if you’d have asked me my name at this point, I wouldn’t have known the answer. And I think that’s true.

My next clear memory is the blessed shade of some trees, deciding I had to let those two CF guys go and slowing down. And then the explosion of taste that was an orange segment, held out in a Tupperware box by a lovely South Shields Mammy. I could have kissed her.

After that I picked myself up again and re-engaged with the race and the crowds and the atmosphere until I saw the blue of the sea and knew I was going to finish.

So on Friday I ran that missing section, on fairly fresh legs and with my mind fully focused. Almost at once I was nervous, running away from familiar ground, deafened by the fast moving cars and lorries on the busy road beside me.

Up the long rise, looking for landmarks. Passing signs that loom so quickly when you’re driving, pointing the way to South Shields, Marsden, Sunderland and the coast. The sun, bright and burning on my cheeks.

On the ground I spot blue markers with those magic three letters GNR and think to myself, that’s a water point, or a shower spot. Past the hospital. I probably didn’t see that for the crowds.

On and up towards the parade of shops at the Nook. I remember the people here, and thinking briefly that I was okay, that everyone said this was the toughest spot and I’d made it. Then onto the tree lined coolness of Prince Edward Road.

I’d gone further than I thought before I had that moment of backing off and backing down. And somewhere not too much further along here I was revived and picked myself up again.

And then that glorious stretch of road where suddenly the sky opens up and you can see blue. And you think, is that the sea? Yes it’s the sea. And it rushes up to great you as you skip down the last steep little bank onto the front before the turn for the last mile.

I didn’t run all of the last mile on Friday. I didn’t feel right to anticipate that glorious finish. Besides, I knew I’d have to turn back and retrace my steps. But my plan said 14k, around 8.7 miles, so I expected to run some of it. As I ran I spotted a bus stop and thought to myself ‘Is that the same bus stop that’s the end of the NE Fetch mile?’ Then I saw the countdown markers on the pavement and I knew it was.

Last time I ran here, my running friend Jeff’s girlfriend Hayley was waiting, with a smile at the finish line. None of us knew then that sadly, she wouldn’t be with us much longer. Just as I reached it, my Garmin beeped for the half way point, so I said out loud “Hiya Hayley,” with a smile and a wave as I turned around. It’s good to remember people in happy times and happy places.

The run back up Redworth Lane was a bit rough for a flat runner like me, but I managed it, though I slowed down a good bit when I got to the top. And I continued back along the route, pace slowed by the odd road crossing, roundabout and pedestrian, but nothing that delayed me too much.

Once again I played the games in my head. At 5 miles I felt good, running smooth, relaxed and easy. Somewhere between 7 and 8 I felt muddled and slow again and boosted myself with dried mango and sips of water. I got through it and picked up the pace again for the last mile and a bit, but around 8 miles seems to be a sticking point for me. I always seem to go through a tough patch around then. But knowing that, and knowing that I do come out the other side means it gets easier to deal with.

And so back to the car, stretch and another run done. Another run closer to my final goal. Another battle, not so much battled as tackled and done. Strange to think that next time I get to this point, I’ll already have run almost as far as I did on Friday. But I’ll be able to say to myself, “Come on girl, you did this bit there and back just over a week ago…”

Stats and stuff 14k/8.7 miles 1 hr 21.34
mile splits:
1. 09.16
2. 09.03
3. 09.15
4. 09.06
5. 09.39
6. 09.37
7. 09.36
8. 09.51
9. 06.07 (0.7 miles)

Winding down and winding up

I am oddly, quietly unsettled. The rhythm of my week subtly altered into indolent mornings.

I eke out the adrenaline fix delivered in three precisely measured doses. Make it last.

My body instinctively wakes early to lately unfamiliar brightness.

Taunted by the cool crisp morning, I slip out silently. Breathe the promise of fresh air, clinging to the fading days of summer.

A taut twitch of absence. Core deep. Delicious pain.

I retreat to torpid dozing. Hibernate in my waiting state.

Wind assisted and resisted

One of the advantages of dropping my cross training in the last couple of weeks leading up to the Great North Run is that I now have more options for when I can fit a run in.

Squally, wintry weather this morning with horizontal rain and howling gales meant I scrapped the idea of an early wake up call and settled for an extra snooze. Well, rest is very important too.

But that still meant there was a run to do. And with the sun making an appearance at lunchtime and the wind dropping, an early evening jaunt along the coast was just the thing.

Three runners passed my way as I was stretching and as I set off I fought the urge to catch them. Just steady, steady – a nice, relaxed evening run. A recovery run if you like from Sunday’s 12 miler.

My strides felt bouncy. It was good to be out, fresh and clean in the storm tossed air. The grey waves lashed up a fine mist into the chill, coating my glasses with a smear of salty soft-focus.

Easy breathing, easy pacing, but don’t kid yourself that’s a cross wind. It’s behind you.

A sub 9 minute first mile. It’s going to hurt on the way back. Another race pace mile and another, and it’s feeling free, easy and relaxed. The trick now is to maintain this effort and this pace. Not to go faster, even though my legs say they have it in them.

And then at the lighthouse comes the turn. Into the wind. It will slow me, but I stay calm against its buffeting, stay relaxed and focus on maintain the same level of effort as those easy first miles, resisting the temptation to take on the battle.

Runners, runners everywhere tonight. Free and easy, working hard, working fast. I catch one on the return leg and pass her. But she’s not having it and overtakes me again within a few hundred metres. I tell myself to stick with my run. She might be doing intervals.

My aim is to keep the same effort even though the wind is whittling away my pace. But I’m close to home now, just over a mile to go and my racing blood is up. I’ve kept this steady and easy so far. Can I turn it on into this force of resistance?

Stretch out the stride and make every inch of those legs count. I catch her again with around half a mile to go and turn up the gear a notch. Another gear, and another and I’m flying into the wind, smiling into the sea-spray.

Running with the wind in my hair and feeling faster than ever, right up to the finish line. 7.5 miles done and feeling good. You know the training’s paying off when you can run that distance on a week night and it feels relatively easy. It wasn’t always that way, and I’m sure that after the Great North Run there will come a time when I’ll wonder how I did it.

Stats and stuff:
7.5 miles/ 12.07km 1hr 09.42
mile splits:
1. 08.52
2. 09.06
3. 08.56
4. 09.05
5. 09.57
6. 10.01
7. 09.11
8. 04.31 (0.5 miles)

And so to the long run

It was nice to have a lie in this morning after feasting well at the monthly evening meal at the coffee house in Longframlington. Mackerel and beetroot salad with horseradish cream, fish pie and summer pudding – delicious!

I’ve been trying to push these runs a bit later in the morning to get as close as I can to race day conditions, but normally I’m chomping at the bit to be up and out. I could hear the wind had picked up and it looked a little grey out, so I opted for a T-shirt and soon found myself wishing I’d picked a vest instead as it was so warm, but breezy.

Looking for a longer route and determined to stick a hill or two in there, I set off on a short loop around North Shields and down a steep bank to the fish quay, following the path of the first part of the North Tyneside 10k.

My first mile was fast, under 9 mins. But I told myself that was because of the downhill and to take it easy, that the hill ahead would slow me down. And so I powered up Priory hill, a deceptive steep little stretch that goes up and then bends round and goes up further, then flattens out for a few paces, before a nice steep climb up to the coastal paths along the beach. It’s steeper than anything I’ll tackle on the Great North Run route, so it was a good little mental boost to crack that and keep going. And I was still a little speedy.

I stuck mainly to the tarmac today, trying as far as I could to replicate race conditions. I was glad it was hot. Race day is likely to be warm and I need to know I can cope with that, even though I always have the advantage of a bit of a breeze at the coast.

For once I was nice and relaxed, just running, trying to pace myself, not particularly thinking about anything. There were lots of runners out today and everyone smiled or nodded or acknowledged my good morning. We’re all in this together.

I felt good, running quite smoothly. I had a clear thought that I was going to run 12 miles today and it would be easy. But I checked my thoughts and said to myself that i would run 12 miles, but that it may not be that easy.

I’ve been struggling a bit with hydration on my longer runs. I really don’t like carrying a water bottle in my hand and when I tried a bottle belt it bounced around so much that I ran back home after 5 mins and ditched it.

Last year I managed to do all my runs without water, just relying on the fact that I’m generally pretty good about drinking it. But I’ve had a couple of headaches and the threat of cramp on longer runs recently, so I’m trying to make life easier for myself.

So today I tried a Swiggie – a small water bottle that sits on your wrist. It doesn’t hold much – only 100ml, but they come in pairs. With my Garmin, I only felt comfortable wearing one, but I was able to fill it up on my return leg. I think it helped, even if it was just psychological. When I felt I was starting to sag, I took a sip and after an hour, I took a good glug to help me wipe the stickiness of a gel from my mouth.

By about 6.5 miles I was off tarmac and onto some nice wide trails. Not a lot of shade or shelter here, but nice to be away from the road. I had been trying to work out where best to turn round, as I didn’t really want to repeat the loop at the start of my run and I think I made a mistake thinking about too early. I settled in my head for around 7.5 miles and as I came across a gate just before that it seemed a good point to turn back.

Now the narrower paths seemed more uneven, and the surface was pulling at my legs. The wind was in my face. I welcomed its coolness, but resented the way it made every step so much harder.

I wanted to stretch out and be away, to fight the weariness and threat of tightness in my calves and that tiny niggle at the top of my right leg that I always fear will be an ITB flare up. I thought I’d learned just to take it steady on trails, to allow the surface to slow me down. But today I fought it and tried to chase them down, desperate to return to familiar tarmac and mile 8-9 was a toughie.

I was starting to plod, heavy footed, so had a quick dried mango boost. Then I made a conscious effort to pick up the pace and stretch out the stride, by singing to mysef in my head. The chorus of All these Things that I’ve Done by The Killers has a great beat for driving you forward.

Just running home now, just churning out the miles to the end. Come on girl, you can run 4 miles. I stopped briefly near the Rendezvous cafe to fill up on water. Barely seconds, but having my comfort blanket of water when I wanted it meant that I knew I’d finish without losing the plot.

I passed a workmate running in the opposite direction at about 10 miles and was pleased that I’d got back into my stride and was running more easily and calmly again. Having noticed a couple of close to 10 minute miles on the trails, I tried to pick up the pace little for the last couple of miles, but really I’d gone off too quickly and there was too much of a headwind for a negative split.

I toyed briefly with the idea of carrying on, pushing to a confidence boosting 13 miles or even race distance. But instead I went for the adrenaline rush of picking up the pace for a faster finish. My breathing had been beautiful and untroublesome throughout the run, so it was good to give a rush to my heart rate and push for a landmark, imagining it to be the finishing line.

Stats and stuff:
12 miles 1hr 53.57
mile splits:
1. 08.51
2. 09.14
3. 08.54
4. 09.31
5. 09.10
6. 09.14
7. 09.41
8. 09.52
9. 09.48
10. 10.02
11. 09.59
12. 09.13