A PB, a late start and a ride to nowhere

The PB
There’s a keen batch of runners where I work. Most of them faster and more experienced than me. But they’re a good bunch and really supportive. Every month throughout the summer, the managers of the onsite gym have organised a 1 mile handicap race for us to compete in and this week was the last race of the season.

I ran the first one not long after my storming Fetch mile, and have never quite managed to match that performance. The handicap system means that normally me and a girl called Jill are the first to set off, with the rest coming at intervals behind us. We inevitably get overtaken by the faster runners towards the end.

There were, I think, 6 races, with the top 5 performances to count. And you got points based on your placing in the race, rather than your time. The idea being that the handicap system should see us all finishing around the same time.

My tactics for the series were just to turn up to as many as I could make and see how I got on. And if I could score first female, so much the better, especially as I knew my friend Kathryn wouldn’t be running many as she’s been injured.

I made all but one of the races. And I actually won the August race as there was a grand field of two competitors and my follower set off a good way behind me.

I hadn’t looked at the results for the September race which was the one I missed, but someone mentioned I was near the top of the leaderboard. All I knew was that this time I was handicapped 30 seconds behind Jill, so I set off with the goal of trying to catch her by the end.

I sprinted off way too fast to try and make up some of the distance and quickly got in a mess with my breathing. So I eased back and just resolved to run steady, trying to stretch out my legs. I felt uncomfortable, tight chested with the remnants of a sore throat and flat footed in my new trainers.

But it was a gorgeous day for a run. Bright, not too cold and barely a breath of wind – a rare occurrence for this stretch. At the turn onto the home straight I could see Jill in the distance and just determined to try and break that down to something less than 30 seconds and then when I got to the final corner push into a sprint.

Along the back straight, I could hear one of the speedy male runners approaching. I made him work for his overtake, grinding out a little more speed and trying to hang onto him as I approached the final turn.

I’d narrowed the gap to Jill quite a bit, but I knew she’d give it a good kick in the last couple of hundred metres too. Around the last corner and up through my gears again, conscious that more runners were fast approaching and determined not to be overtaken.

Head down, arms pumping, really powering through my legs. This was hurting, but there was still more to go. Jill was kicking on too, sensing me coming closer. Push on all the way to the finish and just about clip her heels on the line. We finish less than a second apart.

And I’m gone. Desperately fighting for breath. Head down, gasping in air. I actually feel a bit wobbly and have to put my hands on the damp tarmac to steady myself wondering if I really do feel sick. I crouch down trying to get myself back together. I have no idea who else crosses the line and in what sequence.

Gradually I begin to settle and I look at my watch – 7.10 you beauty! That’s a new PB for a mile. It may only be a second off my Fetch Mile time, but a PB is a PB and it’s my best time for this course by far.

I think I’ve placed third and scored some more valuable points. As we walk and jog back to the office, Jill says she thinks I’ve won the series. I know I’ll be the top placed female as only Jill and I have run enough races to count, even though there are much faster runners than we are. I await the official results with high anticipation.

The late start
It’s all about tyres. I took my car for its MOT a couple of weeks ago and it cost me two new tyres and some other bits and bobs. Gary’scar has just developed a flat and he needed to be in Northumberland to help our friends prepare for a harvest supper at the farm.

So we had an early start on Saturday, with me dropping him off in Longframlington and then making my way back to Newcastle for parkrun. Gary laughs at me when I set out all my running or training gear the night before, but I was ready to go and he had a last minute ‘where are my keys?’ moment. So consequently we were on the road a little later than I’d have liked.

It was still possible to make it, but it was going to be tight. No luxury of a chat and a warm up. As I dove into the car park and threw my money into the machine, the timer ticked over 09:00am. Oh no – I was going to be late.

I ran up the hill and through the gate to see the parkrunners taking off into the distance. I didn’t really think. I just hit go on the Garmin and started to chase them.

It was a bit depressing at first being so far behind, but as I started to reel in the backmarker marshall, I thought to myself, let’s pretend to be Sonia O’Sullivan on the Great North Run and see how many I can overtake.

I was flying by now, and probably going a bit too fast, overexhuberant after an unexpected start. As I turned into the gate back onto the moor, it took me a second to realise that Dave was being the gentleman and holding it open.

I’d passed the 2k marker, but my Garmin didn’t beep until some point afterwards. And of course I realised, I’d run a short course. So what to do? I knew no one would notice. I knew I wasn’t on for a PB or anything close, but I also knew that I would know if I ran short.

I was continuing to have fun chasing down runners ahead and trying to keep to my pace. Although I’m sure it was a bit demoralising to some as I went past. I hope I managed to spur some on.

At the gate just after the 4k marker I shouted to the marshall that I’d run a short course so would do a couple of turns to make up the distance. Keeping out of the way of the runners coming through I turned and ran back to make up the estimated 200m I figured I was short. Another turn and my Garmin beeped just as I hit the 4k marker. Spot on, I was back on track and heading for the finish.

It was another one of those, ‘have I got the legs for a sprint at the finish?’ moments. But having been chasing runners all race, I was like a dog with a stick. I focused on a few ahead and thought I’d see how many I could pass before the line and raced through to applause from birthday boy Jeff (already finished in a stonking time). My time for my 5k 25:57 – not too shabby but a personal worst on this course and my official time would be a good bit slower.

But never mind. It was a great day for a run and there was a fab Fetchie turn out. It was lovely to be able to wish Jeff a richly deserved happy birthday and pose for a photo at the end. 

Dave, Lesley, Steve and I went off to scope out possibilities for the Town Moor marathon Fetchpoint. I had high hopes for the steps of the museum, but the shape of the building means the runners really are on top of you before you know it. The bandstand promises to be breezy, but it will at least keep us and any goodies dry and gives us approximately 15 seconds warning of Fetchies approaching. I’m sure we’ll work it all out on the day.

A ride to nowhere 
Gary borrowed my car again today to help our friends tidy up after last night’s harvest supper and bonfire at Christmas Farm.

We had a lovely evening watching the stars, warming cold hands on the bonfire and tucking into some great home grown grub to celebrate the completion of the shed.

Our friends Lee and Beth have worked so hard over the past two years to turn a 30 acre patch of marshy land into a viable organic farm that supports their box scheme business. It was great to see so many people there celebrating a special moment in the farming year and catching a glimpse of the turkeys, geese, cows, sheep and pigs that may one day make it onto their dinner table.

My plan was to get out on my bike for a decent ride and to get more confident about riding it. I also wanted to try out the pool where I’ll be swimming my aquathlon next weekend. So I plotted a route on my local cycle map that would take me there, using mainly off road tracks and part of the national cycle network.

I knew how to get to the start of the path, so off I set, feeling a lot more confident than last week. But I was still glad of a breather by the first set of traffic lights and although I braved a right turn at the first roundabout, I hopped off to walk my bike straight on at the major junction.

Soon I was off and away along the long straight paths of the waggonways and cycle network. It was a great day for a ride and I found myself grinning as I passed walkers, runners and other cyclists enjoying the autumn air.

I was taking it relatively easy as I wanted to save some energy for a swim and the return journey, but I was pleased to find myself progressing up through the gears and vowed not to free wheel too much but to keep the legs ticking over.

As I turned away from the cycle route in a nearby village I stopped to check my progess on the map and a couple of cyclists asked if I needed any help. But I’d worked out I was on the right route, so I hopped back on thinking not far to go and working out the next sequence of turns.

Unfortunately my confidence in my navigation skills was somewhat misplaced as soon afterwards I took a turn too soon and went off track. I realised what I’d done pretty quickly, but consulting the map saw another way to get back on track. But I was foxed by a large road junction, which although well set up for cyclists with crossings and signposted cycle paths, I couldn’t work out which road I needed to take.

I’d been cycling for 45 minutes by now and was beginning to think maybe my plans were a bit ambitious. I decided to back track, but then got myself confused trying to find the road I’d come from. Luckily I had a fair idea of where I was,  so I opted for a direction I knew and decided it was time to head back home.

Navigating by following tracks parallel to major roads and local signposts took me through some muddy spots and I had great fun bouncing around on my mountain bike tyres. It was like being a kid again, exploring the area where I lived on my bike, finding ponds full of reeds and fields full of tall grass.

The scary bit was when my path brought me out into a generic housing estate, and I only had a rough idea of where I was. The danger here was getting lost in the maze of little streets with near identical houses. I tried to pick the main roads and headed roughly in the direction I wanted to go. I’ve never been so grateful to see the logos of a retail park that told me I was on the right track.

Back on the home stretch and a good downhill home towards the sea. I let myself off with the most straightforward route, powering through the pedals and enjoying the fresh air on my face. I felt like I could have kept going forever. But even without the swim, I was hungry and aware it was approaching lunchtime. So home with my muddy bike and keen to explore again another day.

Stats and stuff:
parkrun 5k in 25:57
1. 04.59
2. 05.07
3. 05.18
4. 05.27
5. 05.04

bike ride: 14.16 miles in 1 hr 25 mins

Of writing and running

I have had an amazing, inspiring and humbling week. I have sung, read, listened, thought and written at high volume. I have given my writing the same focus, energy and passion as my running.

In two days at Toftcombs, I have been whalloped by words, lambasted by language – Russian, Swahili, Arabic, Spanish; flailed by the feathers of a parakeet, smothered in spices and chocolate, bombarded by beetroot.

I have exhausted my mind, my memories, my emotions. Delighted in discovery and found the quiet confidence of belief.

I am beaten. Empty. Satiated. I have feasted well and am satisfied. I left joyful and hopeful, but craving rest.

I have never felt less like a run. My adrenaline habit had been fed by a riot of images, ideas and conversations. By simple complex human connections. After a late night that I never wanted to end and sad sweet goodbyes to my housemates of the past couple of days, I felt weary.

But a run was the plan. And a much anticipated run too. A new course promising pace. And a chance to see some old friends I’ve never met before.

Me and Alastair at the beginning of Edinburg parkrun
On my way to a new PB

Alastair met me at the appointed time and place and we drove to Cramond, catching up on his time in Tyneside. We were only parked up for a moment when Lesley arrived. I couldn’t get the car door open quickly enough. She has the best and brightest smile and the most enveloping hug.

Busy with parkrun preparation, I began to shake off my tiredness. The cold air had me pondering extra layers as we made our way down to the course.

The sea churned into mudflats. The trees glistening golden leaves, shaking off the remains of a shower. This is a course that promises riches.

Al knows everyone and introduced me to a couple of the parkrun regulars. I was keen to be moving, to warm through my cold legs. A few jumps, heel kicks and knee lifts and some perfunctory stretches and I Geordied up, ditching my hoodie and long sleeved top.

Before I knew it, we were lining up at the start. I felt small in the crowd, unsure where to place myself, not catching any eyes. An almost casual three, two, one – go. And I start the Garmin. 

Al running beside me, we set off at a lick. Two days of reading out loud, talking and discussing words around the fire have left me with a dry throat. The cold air catches my breath and I struggle to soothe it, coughing to clear my airways.

Lesley and me
Lovely Lesley and a big hug

“Are you okay?”
 “Yes!” I say confidently, resolutely. At least I’m not cold now.

We wave and smile at Lesley and the camera.

Out along the sea front and the wind whips my face, but my legs are warming through and stretching out and I sense this first kilometre is fast. The Garmin beeps and I check it at 4:44. That is fast for me and it’s the only time I look at my watch.

Al pulls ahead, running easily and I keep pushing to keep pace. But the wind’s stronger now and I start to drift backwards through the pack. Never mind, never mind. Run your own race. Keep pushing. You have a precious 15 seconds in the bag.

The runners stream ahead, impossibly distant. I cannot see the turning point. I sense I have slowed and Al is more distant still.

I feel empty. My core is hollow. There is nothing left inside. I am here running beside the sea, on a cold autumn day and I do not feel it. My heart has left me.

I always wondered what it would feel like to run cold, not caring. Just the white clean focus of a race. I do not like it. The emptiness unsettles me. I need the heat of the passion, the desire to race.

I feel my dreams of a sub 25 min or a PB are over. And I’m sad, because I feel like that’s letting Al down. But then I think, it’s Al, he’ll understand. I keep his bright red shirt in my sights and my stubborn legs propelling me forwards.

I realise I cannot feel my toes and have been clodhopping flat footed for goodness knows how many strides. I try to wriggle my icy extremities and roll through my feet.

As the turning point approaches, Al’s spotted that I’ve dropped back further than he realised and veers off the racing line, slowing down to meet me. “Come on,” he encourages, “Not far now.”

We turn and I am lifted. Is it that I am out of the wind or just that I have my good friend running beside me? I don’t know, but I feel more hopeful.

It’s hard though and my breath is still patchy. I slow to catch it, but cannot afford to lose the speed. When my breathing is like this, it’s too easy to let everything else go. I push on and try to stretch out, allowing myself a brief grunt of frustration as another runner passes, pushing a buggy, and shows us a clean pair of heels. 

Al is jogging. I can hear this pace is easy for him though it’s not for me. As we pass Lesley again, he fools around for the camera. I cannot even spare the energy for another smile.

The final stretch approaches. We are into the last kilometre and I’ve tried to pick it up, once, twice, three times. Fighting the urge to slow down. Doing the opposite of what I feel and going faster.

“Don’t go until we get into the trees,” Al advises. Even when we get to the trees I know there’s still a fair distance and I’ve learned my lesson from parkrun a few weeks ago when I tried to chase down the girl in black from 800m.

This time it’s a girl in blue who is my nemesis. She eases past as we approach the end. Marshall’s fluorescent jackets teasing us towards the finish.

“Come on!” Al cries. “You can crawl from here and still get a PB.”

Can I? I have not looked at my watch, but I sense I have picked up the pace in the last kilometre and maybe dogged determination was enough for the middle two.

Now my blood is up. Now my heart is in it. If you’re a girl, you don’t get past me this close to the prize. I start to rev through my gears. A bit faster. And again. Get the arms moving. Stop thinking, just bloody go for it. I put the hammer down and sprint for the finish. The girl in blue doesn’t stand a chance.

Over the line. Stop the watch. Collapse, fighting for breath. 

Al keeps me moving through the funnel. I just want to keep my head down and recover. Eventually I scroll through to today’s time –  24:43. You beauty!

The demons of doubt and tiredness have been beaten. This run was good. This run had heart. This run did matter. It would still have been a glorious run, because my friends were there. But to break that magic 25 minute mark for the first time is very special.

We escape to extra layers and warm ourselves with hot drinks and cake in the nearby cafe and another cuddle from Lesley. It is a fitting way to finish a brilliant few days and I feel incredibly lucky.

I’m lucky I have found running and it has found me. I’m lucky it’s brought me new friends and unimagined experiences.

I’m lucky too that my first love has not left me. Through running I began to return to writing for myself again after too long away. Two days at Toftcombs in the company of some stunning Dark Angels has reminded me of writing’s richness and the power it has to speak to my heart, if I let it.

I have returned to my neglected love and been welcomed with open arms. We have vowed not to take each other for granted again, but to spend more time together, working on this relationship, and enriching each other’s company.

Busy times

This week I have:

  • Visited Dublin
  • Encouraged my nephew (aged 9) to try his first oyster in The Temple Bar
  • Delivered a writing workshop with a new colleague
  • Taken photos for a fashion blog
  • Finished a large writing project at work
  • Had my car MOTd (expensive)
  • Been to my first ever ‘swish’ clothes swap
  • Written copy for a friend’s photography website
  • Blitzed an amazing PT session on the beach
  • Finished my fourth parkrun only a second slower than last week
  • Got some bits for my bike so I can go out for longer rides without fearing a puncture – and discovered it has a quick release wheel

Just about any of those is worthy of a blog post on their own. And I’m already looking forward to a packed week ahead which promises lots of nice things.

I’m heading up to Scotland for a writing course in a very posh country house. The accomodation looks fab and I’m really looking forward to spending some quality time writing and meeting other people who do a similar job to me. I like being the expert at what I do where I am, but sometimes it can get a bit lonely, not having other people around who really ‘get it’. I’m lucky that work will pay for me to do training like this.

On the way back home I’m planning to take in another parkrun. This time in Edinburgh. And that will be a chance to meet some great  friends from Fetch Everyone and have a blast. I think I might break out the new shoes for that one.

Being away for a few days means I have to be a bit flexible with my training. Although I have a great new plan which really mixes things up a lot and includes swimming, cycling and running. Hmmm, what can that mean?

A running friend at work was asking me about winter racing and what my goals were. I explained that I only plan to run twice a week and do lots of other stuff and just see how I go at my next 10k race in November. I’d like to do well, but I’m not going to train specifically for that race and pile the pressure on again. And she said “Well you’re at that level of fitness now where you can just turn up for a 10k and run it well.”

And that was a real moment of revelation. Because she’s right. And that’s pretty amazing. That was beyond imaginable two years ago. To be able to run just over six miles and enjoy it. To be able to run six miles fairly easily, just pushing myself and making it hard because I want to go faster. Wow, that’s cool!

And I don’t say that to make you jealous, or to make you feel like your efforts are unworthy in comparison. Many people do far more – run faster, further, harder than I can even comprehend. But I do remember what it felt like to start out and how hard it was. And I hope I never forget that. I’m enjoying the journey so much, sometimes it’s good to be reminded of how far I’ve come.

So if you’re bimbling or plodding along, run/walking or pushing your self to go just that little bit faster; if you’re just starting out, or coming back from injury, take a small moment and look back. Look how far you’ve come and give yourself a wee pat on the back. And then turn your eyes forward and keep going.

Parkrun – take 3

Another Saturday and another Parkrun. So what keeps me coming back to these events? Well they’re friendly, inclusive, fun and free. And at the moment, without a definite training plan, they give me a fixed point in my week for a run.

Grey and drizzly this morning, but not too cold – just my kind of running weather, so I was up and out of the house in super quick time. My legs were feeling the effects of a tough Friday morning PT session, but I hoped to put on a good run, and possibly turn it into a long one.

I met my Fetch friend Lesley and her boy, Kieron, barcoded up and ready for his first Parkrun. And then as I headed to the start, I spotted Dave, who introduced me to Kate. That’s one of the nice things about Fetch Everyone – it’s like a virtual running club, and races are a good chance to catch up with your club mates.

A quick warm up and stretch and we’re off away over the moor. I tried to keep it steady at the start after running some quick first kilometres in the last couple of races. Stretching out my stride to level with and pass another female runner as the field started to spread out and Dave goes past with a spot of cheery encouragement. And then, as in so many runs I found I was running a lot of this one in my own space.

I pass another couple of runners out the back along Grandstand Road. I really like this stretch, probably because I’ve got into a nice pace and rhythm by this point. Back in through the gate and a quick shout from Rob who is on marshall duty and holding it open. I’m so focused on my run, it takes me a second to recognise him.

There’s a very slim girl in a blue and white top and another man running well ahead and I think they’re too far away to chase down, but gradually, gradually I gain on them and go past. And now I’m approaching the point of the course I’ve found hard. The stony ground between the 3 and 4k markers always seems to unsettle me and mentally I can allow myself to drift off the pace. But today I’ve gone a bit more slowly at the start, so I want to try and keep it steady here.

Ahead I spot Dave, and am surprised to see he’s walking. As I draw up behind him I ask if he’s okay and he says his calf has stiffened up. Poor guy, but he still waves me on with a smile.

It’s hurting a bit now and my running feels a bit patchy, like my breathing. I’m really running on my own now and determined just to push on. The man I passed earlier catches me and goes ahead and I fight to keep my head and not let it defeat me.

As I go through the last gate, I know there’s just 1km to go and back on the smoother tarmac, I try to pick up the pace a little, watching the stream of runners ahead through the mist.

There’s a line of lampposts, then a turn down the home straight. You can see it coming and it never seems to get any closer. Last time I ran this, I spotted a girl just ahead and tried to sprint her down the finish. But I kicked in too early and had to reel it back. I know now, from looking at the results that she was running conservatively any way, as she’s way faster than me.

This time two tall guys go past me as we turn into the home straight, but there’s a girl in a red top that I target. I pick my spot and start to increase the speed. My legs protest. This hurts, but I try to keep the pedal down. And then again. Find another gear and push on. She’s close now an I’ve closed down a lot of ground. Will she take me on in a sprint to the line?

I drive on past and don’t look back, arms pumping, legs turning over really quickly now, panting for breath, but determined to keep going for the line. There’s no one to pass and I know my pace is unlikely to get me a PB, but I want to see how close I can get.

Over the line in 25.36 and it takes me a good minute or two to catch my breath. Not as good as last week, but not far off my first week’s time I think. The smiley lady who has been at the finish of all my parkruns so far, and I now know is called Tuve asks how I got on, and I barely have breath to say ‘No, PB’. But I’m not disappointed. I had a good run and kept it together through that tricky 4th kilometre.

Once I’ve recorded my time and position, I head back to the finish to see Dave walk across the line. Probably the only time I’ll ever pass him in a race. Despite the fact that he’s scheduled to run again tomorrow and do the Kielder marathon next weekend, he’s surprisingly relaxed about this setback, but I know he’s a bit disappointed. Get well soon Dave.

I’m off to Dublin tomorrow and delivering a writing workshop on Monday, so it’s a busy weekend for me. And that meant I was unlikely to find another chance for a longer distance run. So, after the 5k race, I restarted my watch and set off around the course again at a more leisurely pace to make it a 10k.

As I headed out across the moor, I spotted Lesley and Kieron heading for the finish with a run and cheered them on. And then it was just me and my thoughts in the drizzle on the moor for the next 30 minutes or so. And even though it was a much slower pace, I still don’t think my legs have quite forgiven me.

Stats and stuff
Official Parkrun results 5k in 25:36
Finished in 95th place and were the 11th lady out of a field of 137 parkrunners and you came 2nd in your age category.
kilometre splits:
1. 05.13
2. 05.17
3. 05.12
4. 05.17
5. 04.36 [Parkrun finish]
6. 05.40 [restart watch]
7. 03.14 [0.85km – think my Garmin counted a lap when I stopped to open a gate]
8. 05.44
9. 05.41
10. 05.27
11. 03.06 [0.58 km – another glitch]

A question of grammar

marker pen adding an apostrophe to a sign
The Scribbler in action

Yesterday, as I was getting ready for work, I half-heard a news story about a business bemoaning the poor grammar skills of their recent graduates. It seems bosses at Leeds Building Society are so concerned about workers’ written English that they have hired a teacher to give them grammar lessons.

As I arrived at the office I spotted a prominent poster with a grammatical error that would no doubt have irritated one of their senior executives. The poster exclaimed ‘Its here’. And it should have read ‘It’s here’ – with it’s being a shortened form of it is.

And my question is – does it matter?

In the case of the poster, the message can be understood, so you could argue that it’s irrelevant. But as in the argument about the building society employees, does an inattention to detail here mean sloppiness elsewhere?

As a writer I have a foot on both sides of the fence. As someone who works with words every day and who has a good understanding of the conventions of spelling, grammar and punctuation, something inside me screams out, “But it’s wrong”.

I’m aware that people can get very passionate about what’s ‘wrong’ and ‘right’ when it comes to grammar. But as a writer, I’m also aware that language changes. It evolves. And things that were perfectly acceptable to a writer like Charles Dickens for example would seem rather formal and verbose if I were to use them today.

We often talk about the ‘rules of grammar’ – but what are they? Where is the book that tells me what they are? The truth is, there isn’t one.

There are grammatical conventions that help us understand, for example, that although there, their and they’re sound the same, they have different spellings to help us understand that they have different meanings.

But discussions about grammar rules often lead to misconceptions, like “You can’t start a sentence with and or but”. Yes you can. And I often do. In fact I’ve done it in this paragraph.

I was lucky to have good teachers, plenty of encouragement at home and a certain amount of natural interest and aptitude for written English and I work with words every day, so I keep my skills fresh. That’s not true for everyone.

So is it fair to recruit a sales person, for example, to test them at interview on how they handle a telephone call and whether they’ll fit with your team and then criticise them when they write a customer email littered with grammatical mistakes?

Even if you were taught well, how much do you remember from your school days? If you asked me to add up a string of figures or work out a percentage, I’d be a bit stuck without a calculator. That’s partly because I prefer words to numbers, but mostly because I’m a lot out of practice.

So while it’s true that most of us use the English language every day, many of us don’t have to write it down. And just criticising someone for making a mistake, or thinking they’re stupid because they got something ‘wrong’ doesn’t help either.

If you can understand the message, does it matter? It does to me. But what about you?

Just a lovely run

I’ve no plan at the moment, just doing what I feel when I feel like it. And today I felt like a bit of a run, but was short of time at lunch, so opted for a walk in the sunshine instead.

Home this evening and by the time I’d done a couple of chores, it was beginning to get dark. But still, my route is well lit and there are always people passing by, so I scurried into my kit and headed out.

A still clear evening, not a breath of breeze, not cold, just peaceful and relaxed. And that’s how my run felt. No real pace goal, no distance aim. Just an idea to run for about 30 minutes and to see where I got to.

Passing the other runners, high viz tops and bibs starting to appear beneath the street lamps as I head out along the coast. My calves feel a little tight to start off with, but I soon warm up and settle, just steady running and easy breathing.

It’s an out and back route, so I have to pick a turning point. I decide to go as far as the next Garmin beep, which would be about 3k. As I approach, a hoarde of runners appears up from the promenade, and then another group and another. I feel like I’m going the wrong way, that I should be joining this merry band. Soon afterwards I get the signal and turn, resolving to try and catch them.

It’s a running club, I learn as I pass the back markers, with a runner jogging back to make sure they’re okay. They appear and disappear throughout most of the rest of my run, diving down the steps and pathways to the lower promenades and across a beach, then back up again and around behind the fisherman’s cottages.

Why haven’t I thought of that on all my runs along this stretch? There are numerous paths down towards the beach and up to the roadside. I’ve always thought of my route as flat, but there are any number of hills if I choose them. Ah well, some new training tactics to try once I’m planning regular runs again.

Tonight it’s just about keeping it easy and enjoying the sensation of the evening air in my face, watching my shadow with its bouncing ponytail and rolling the tarmac beneath my feet.

In a way it’s one of those runs I don’t want to end, but it’s getting properly dark and I said I wouldn’t be long. So I pick up my pace a little and practice my sprint finish to a predetermined bus stop. My target is spot on as the Garmin bleeps as I pass. I slow to a jog and stretch at a nearby bench before returning home refreshed and peaceful as the evening sky.

Alternative aquathlon and brick session

I was still bouncing around on an adrenaline high after Saturday morning’s parkrun, and I thought my legs would benefit from a bit of a stretch, so I decided to go for a splash in the pool in the afternoon.

I’ve missed swimming. I used to get a bit fretful if I didn’t get in the water on a regular basis, but since I started running and training regularly, it’s not so bad. Still it was a shock to discover I only made one swim session in September. It would have been my activity of choice as a recovery from the Great North Run, but blocked sinuses put paid to that.

I also have this theory that since I learnt to swim with proper bilateral breathing, I actually swim better when I’m a bit tired. I’m less like to thrash around and use my legs to propel myslef along and more likely to be steady, smooth and slow, which helps make sure I have time to breathe.

So off into a nice empty pool, a couple of warm up lengths and I was dying to challenge myself. In November, I’m doing my first aquathlon – a 500m swim and 5k run. So I wanted to try 500m and get a feel for how long it would take me.

Now 500m may not sound a lot, but it took me quite a while to get to 400m in one go and, as I said, I haven’t swum for a while. 

So off I went, slow and steady, breathing every third stroke. My first error was failing to calculate how many lengths I needed to do in the 20m pool. And when you’re trying to count breaths, and keep tally of how many lengths you’ve done, simple mental maths can be a bit tricky. But I settled for 25 and kept counting them down.

And I don’t know if it’s because I’ve taken a break from swimming, or because I was relaxed from running that morning, but mostly it felt easy. Just a nice rhythm and a push off the sides at the end of each length. I did suffer a breathing malfunction that had me spluttering and swimming head out of the water for about half a length, but even that’s progress, as previously it would have stopped me completely. I got to the end and stopped the watch at 12:02.

A bit of a breather and a length of breast stroke and I wasn’t ready to call it a day. So I decided to try and swim it again, with the option of stopping at 400m if I was really tiring. And off I went.

Now, I did lose count of the lengths at one point and realised I was wrong when I was counting an odd number when I was travelling up the pool and it should have been an even one. So I glanced at my watch and worked out I’d probably done 11 lengths and carried on to complete another 500m set (I think) in 11:56. I was either an awful lot slower and two lengths down, or spot on and a teensy bit quicker. I did go hell for leather in the last two lengths.

In any case a 5k parkrun followed (after a wee bit of a break) by a 1km swim should mean next month’s aquathlon will be no bother. And with an evening meal at our friend’s coffee shop to look forward to, I felt like I’d built up some credit ahead of the syrup sponge pudding.

My good friend Katie ran a 10k for Cancer Research today. We’ve been exchanging messages over facebook and twitter and if we lived closer, I would have gone and run it with her. As it was, I said I would run on Sunday and think of her.

After Saturday’s Parkrun and the swim, my legs and glutes definitely knew they had worked hard, but I wanted to do something to get the heart racing again. So, back to the gym for Ema’s tough spin class, new trainers in my bag ready for their first rumble on the treadmill afterwards.

When training for triathlon, as I hope to do next year, one of the things to practice going straight from a bike ride into a run.  It’s called a brick session. So my spin class followed by a quick run would give me a sort of taster.

I’m liking the spin class. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, you basically exercise on static bikes in the gym, simulating rinding up hills by increasing the level of resistance on the bikes. They are normally accompanied by thumping dance soundtracks to help you get some rhythm in your legs.

It’s a great cardio vascular workout, with a fun, tough and energetic instructor and a good introduction to bike skills for me, particularly as there aren’t a great many hills where I live. So this is a sure fire way to get my adductors burning.

I was saying to Ema how I expected it to hurt after my run and swim, and she mentioned she does another class called Yoga-lates – a mixture of Yoga, Pilates and a bit of Tai Chi, if I wanted a stretch. And well, I had no plans for the afternoon…

So a sweaty spin, quick mile and bit in the new shoes on the treadmill, then off home to grab a bite to eat, change into some less sweaty kit and off to a brand new class. It was busy, which was a good sign, and there were some very limber bodies in there.

I do a regular pilates class, and I like to make sure I stay pretty flexible, but this really showed me how my flexibility has changed since I stopped my yoga class. Some of the positions I recognised from yoga, and although my sideways movement remains good, my hips felt really tight, probably from the concentration on running. It was good to do some balance and core work too. All in all a great class and a nice way of mixing up my training.

But I that’s enough for this weekend. I may even take a day off training tomorrow. I think I’ve earned it.

Newcastle Parkrun – take 2

Waking early Saturday morning, my mission to make it to Parkrun number 2. It’s bright, with no sign of wind. A good day for a good run.

So much milder on the moor this week, but I jog a little further to warm my legs through and spot a couple of friends from Fetch Everyone before the start.

A good day for another PB? The weather says yes, but my legs are still feeling the effects of Friday’s PT session, so I’m not sure. I can actually hear the starter’s announcements this week as there’s no wind carrying the voices away. And we’re off!

I don’t quite get the sensation of the whole field passing by me at the start this time. Maybe I’m a bit further back; maybe I know what to expect. I get a little blocked in behind one of the Veteran runners but manage to find a space just after the first turn and dodge the cow pats  to head out onto the long straight path across the moor.

Just run your own race, I tell myself, trying not to go off too fast, but targeting as close to 5 min kms as I can, with one eye on a future 10k race. Through the first km in 4:51. That’s good – stick there or thereabouts.

There’s a male runner on my right shoulder and at first I think he’ll push on past, but we stay level for a while and I sense that he may be pacing himself with me. And if there’s one thing I seem to be able to do, it’s run at a fairly consistent pace.

At the gate out onto Grandstand Road, he gallantly gestures me through ahead, and we continue to keep in step below the trees. We pass Hannah Bayman who I recognise from Look North and I call out ‘Keep going Hannah’ as much to check my breathing as anything else.

Turn back onto the moor, dodging the muddy bits and onto the stony path and the bit of the course I don’t like as much. I start to drift a little here, pushing on, then pulling back. But my pace setter is sticking with me. I resolve to stick with him as long as I can and tell myself to relax into my stride.

Just like last time, kilometre 3-4 is where it starts to slip. I can really feel my legs starting to get heavy and my breathing start to stumble and somewhere along the path, my pacer moves ahead and I cannot catch up. It’s a bit of a head down moment. A bit of a mental letting go. It’s hard to keep going as the group ahead moves off into the distance.

But that’s what these short races are all about, keeping going, keeping pushing the pace and although I know I’ve dropped off a little, I try to make sure it’s not too much and hope for a sprint finish to pull it back. I look ahead to the line of lampposts marking the last section of the course and resolve to kick in when I reach a certain point.

There’s a girl in a black T-shirt ahead as we approach the finish. I know I have a good kick, can I reach her? It’s a bit too fast too soon and I can’t sustain it. I kick through two more gears and close the gap, but I have to reign it in again. Oh well, just running for me and my time now. With less than 100m to go I push on for a sprint finish, hoping to be lucky and shave a few seconds off last week’s time.

I collapse breathless over the line, stop the watch and collect my token. A smiley lady with blonde hair asks, “Did you do better than last week? You had a good run last week.” And I reply that I haven’t looked at my time yet, then ping up the screen on my watch to see 25:22.  A new PB by 15 seconds. Get in!

It’s all so effortless after that. Stand in line to get your barcode and your token scanned for your results later. Parkrun really is a well organised event. I spot my pacer in line in front and thank him for getting me round in a new PB and he thanks me for keeping my pace which he says was ‘spot on’.

So, back next week? Yes please. Three PBs in a row might be asking a bit too much, but if I can eliminate the fade between 3 and 4 kms then it’s a possibility. Of course, conditions on the Town Moor can always throw the wind in your face or a cow pat under foot. But if I can book the same weather again for 14 November and the 10k race, that would be fantastic.   

Stats and stuff:
5k in 25:22
km splits
1. 04.51
2. 04.56
3. 05.16
4. 05.24
5. 04.54

Official email from parkrun:
“Your time was 25:23 . You finished in 74th place and were the 19th lady out of a field of 109 parkrunners and you came 3rd in your age category VW35-39.
Congratulations on setting a new Personal Best by 00:14 seconds at Newcastle parkrun!
You achieved an age-graded score of 59.68%.”

It's good to be back

I’d always intended to take a bit of a break after the Great North Run and shake my training up a bit. In the last few weeks before the race I dropped a lot of cross training in favour of fitting quality miles and recovery into my week.

I haven’t felt the urge to go for a long run, which has formed the pattern of my weekends since the end of June, but I wanted to see how I felt over 10k. In my Great North Run training I’ve run over and above this distance time and time again, trying to aim for 9:30 min miles, with the aim of running 9 min miles throughout the race.

On a cool Monday morning, with no pressure on to get to work, I headed out on my familiar coastal route, enjoying the damp drizzle. The chill air reminds me of winter runs, just wanting to get moving to keep warm, wondering when I’ll be forced into long sleeves and extra layers. I’ll hold off as long as I can. For someone who normally feels the cold, I seem to be quite hardy when I run.

Even with a Sunday spinning class in my legs and cold air in my lungs, it feels good to be stretching out and running again. Not a fast blast, but not feeling like I have to hold back either. I take my time to settle and warm my legs through on the first mile. Always the mile of doubt. How’s it going to feel today, how far will I go?

The familiar landmarks pass and I’m keeping to my half marathon race pace. Strange how 9 min miles feels relatively easy now. The pressure’s off, I’m just running for me. No crowds, just my inner thoughts keeping me going.

There are moments when it feels hard and I puzzle through it, knowing I can go much further or faster than this. At the half way point I allow myself to slow to a jog, while I pull out my headphones and grab a mouthful of dried mango. The tunes kick in with a welcome boost on the way back and I almost overblow it to an Eminem track.

But that’s the joy of running, pushing faster and further, the surge of adrenaline making you feel like you’re invincible. I have to reign it back a little to finish the distance and the backs of my legs tell me they’ve worked hard as I finish and stretch. No goals for time today, but I’ve been working out what would be good. 56 minutes I tell myself, secretly hoping for 55. I stop the watch at 53:30 :-).

A couple of days away in Scotland and no chance for training, just plenty of good home-made food and sleep. Lots of sleep. It leaves me feeling indolent and lazy, eager to burst out of this resting bubble.

And so Friday morning sees the return of my much-loved PT session on the beach. It’s been five weeks since I tackled anything that Ian had to throw at me and I’m ready to test myself. A good catch up and warm up with the med ball and it’s like we’ve never been away. Burpees, pushups, squat jumps, lunges, bear crawls. Short bursts of activity and shorter rests make up some tough interval style workouts.

A couple of times we get to rep 3, and I think, I’ll never make 8. But something in me won’t let me be beaten, even when I’m finding it hard to catch my breath and my ears are popping (signs I still haven’t completely shifted my cold). I make it to the end, feeling muscles I haven’t used for a while, jog up the steps and stretch while planning the next challenge. I have lots to look forward to.