[Found this in my notebook today. It’s about a run a couple of weeks ago that I didn’t write up online. And seeing as my planned run today was snowed off, I thought I’d post it.]
Up early and setting off into the darkness for a rendezvous with my running buddy. Despite doubts and a certain reluctance to leave the warm cocoon of my bed, this feels right.
Cold and clear along the river, our route lit by street lamps, we run. Exchanging stories, sharing insights, listening, responding, shaping thoughts and feelings into narrative.
As the light swells, shapes emerge as landmarks. The heart of this magnificent city is stirring. But for a while longer we enjoy its quiet side. The calm flow of the water, the ebb and flow of breath and conversation, the pattern of footsteps on paving.
Keeping pace, synchronised footfalls in time. Darting around lampposts and returning to fall back in step together, we dance along the quayside, fleet and fluid as the river beside us.
The effort starts to tell, with fewer tales told on the return journey, but it’s a companionable silence. As the last mile beckons I fight the urge to slow. My legs grow heavy, breathing cough like. I frown and push on. But there is no respite. This does not get easier.
My buddy senses me drifting away from his easy pace and encourages me on. I draw on pride and determination. Here’s one I would not let down.
The last mile is the longest. I block my ears to that wheedling voice begging for a break. Landmarks lengthen and remain stubbornly out of reach.
But by the width of my pinched and shallow breaths, the road approaches. Just one last push, one last effort up that cruel incline.
I force my arms to propel my body forward, turn off the pain in my thighs, shut out the screaming in my brain. For a second I think I’ve overcooked it, but momentum keeps me going. An arbitrary finish line and I’m gasping, doubled over.
The moon a spotlight in an ink black sky, casting dancing shadows on monochrome waves. The world stripped down to basics. Pools of light illuminating the path ahead.
Out into the cold. The North Sea blast provokes a second’s pause, but there’s something I’ve set out to do and it won’t stand around waiting.
The quiet morning punctuated by puddle splashes and steady breaths. Easy, easy, warming into the rhythm. There’s a long way to go.
Out along these familiar pavements, recently neglected for inner city pathways. The sea to my right as I push on into the wind.
The stillness is calming. No need to push or fret. Just run. Just enjoy the freedom and space. The world is still waking. This is my time.
A new pair of running tights, close fitting and toasty warm. A high viz bib that keeps slipping from my shoulders. Small totems against the darkness.
Steady, steady. I know I’m slow, that there’s more if I want it. But today I take it easy in my head, rebuild my confidence, just enjoy it.
Did I decide on an hour or 10k? At this kind of pace, there won’t be much between them. My legs begin to protest and remind me of last night’s squats and deadlifts.
An icy shower hits my head at a nominal half way point and I turn my back on the rain. Running now into the growing sunrise. Dark shadows lifting as the winds softens and stills.
Back along the seafront, tag the sandcastle and just head for home. Pick up my feet and lift my knees a little more, envisioning Sunday’s marathon leader.
Reeling in the last few miles now. An easy run and I’ve done so much more than this. But for today it is enough. This is the base I do not wish to drop below. This is the distance I always want to be able to run.
10k, six miles – I’ve said for a long time that this is my distance. But recently I’ve begun to doubt that, distracted by the shackles of meaningless numbers. Today’s effort will win me no trophy, no glory, but it’s a small victory in getting out there. I’m no longer scared of the darkness.
I remember all the miles I’ve travelled, all the goals I have achieved. And respect what I do. It’s no small thing to step out of your door and run six miles at any pace. A couple of weeks ago I said that I was fitter and happier, with more friends than this time last year. It’s just as true today. And those are good reasons to be content.
There’s no doubt running has changed me. Who would have thought that standing on Newcastle Town Moor for five hours on a cold, wet November Sunday is a memory I will cherish?
I stood and cheered on brave and brilliant runners as they took on the five lap course of the Newcastle Town Moor marathon. In the rain, in the cold, we yelled, we clapped, we sang and offered jelly babies even to the vegetarians (sorry!).
I loved experiencing my first Fetchpoint as a runner at this year’s Great North Run. I think I loved being part of one even more. What a fabulous day!
Bag packed with dry warm clothes, more dry warm clothes, spare dry warm clothes, soup, sandwiches, jelly babies and cake, I was ready for a long day. But the time has never passed so quickly.
Meeting Lesley in the car park and lugging our worldly goods over to the bandstand. Blowing up balloons, getting dressed up and ready to cheer with Helen. Runners arriving, dropping off bags, bottles and more sweeties.
Fixing my Garmin around Ann’s wrist, willing him to behave and strangely proud that a piece of my kit was going to do a marathon.
Walking to the start line, scanning all the faces, wondering how they feel and how the story of this day will pan out for them. Hoping it’s a good one for some very special running buddies who have helped me so much this year, listening, inspiring, offering the right words at the right time.
And with no fuss at all, they’re off. And no, I have no desire to be running this. My running feels like it may be in a little dip at the moment. But that’s okay. It’s just a blip and it’s time for me to ease off and change focus.
Marathon is definitely not my distance in any case. But I’m proud to have something in common with all those brave and bold and fleet of foot today. The passion to run, to challenge yourself. To get out when other people are tucked up under duvets, to see and experience something of the world, right here, right now, with all its colour and greyness, its rises and falls, all its passion and pain.
How can hours go by in a blur? The leader comes through in a flash, kicking up his heels as he passes. And then it’s a stream of runners at regular intervals.
It’s a smallish field, with about 150 runners in total. So each one gets a shout as they come round to the end of a lap, a ‘well done’, ‘looking good’, ‘still smiling’.
We watch for the first Fetchie and cheer loudly at the first sign of a red and yellow shirt. But there are far more than I realise. I spot a 100 marathon club shirt and recognise Anna from her picture on the website. And someone else says, ‘That’s Ruth’. And pretty soon I’m looking for faces and coloured shirts and trying to snap photos.
Jeff looks strong. Focused but smiling every time he comes through. We even get a little birdie dance on one lap. You have a big heart fella. And I wouldn’t have missed your marathon for anything. It was an honour and pleasure to support you.
Rob comes flying through from the back of the field. And here are Kate and Ann, just looking like they’re out for a jog in the park (you are two amazing mammies).
Scotty aeroplanes past. Then a girl with a sunny smile as bright as her yellow top. Big Al with his fetching tutu. Ruth looking slinky in a little black number. Santa with Chanel ribbons in her plaits.
Anna running strong as ever and not showing too many signs that she’s hating this as much as she said she would. Dave smiling as always. And who was the guy in the ridiculous tartan shorts? You always raised a grin when you came past.
When the rain falls I break out the umbrella and start singing. It’s that kind of a day.
So many people, so many stories. It’s been great to meet some of the runners from Fetch Everyone in real life this year. But many I only know as rather strange names on a running website. You’re almost like mythical creatures to me with your running achievements and triumphs. And here you are, running on my patch, in my adopted home town and I am so chuffed for you all.
Even for those of you whose run doesn’t quite go to plan. Actually, especially for you. I won’t try to tell your story. It’s yours to tell. But know that I felt for you when it was too tough. When the right decision was to stop. It puts my brief mental challenges and head down moments in much shorter challenges into some perspective.
We’ve lost count of laps hours ago. But time tells us that things are starting to wrap up and we watch for those coming round to the end of the last lap, offering a final boost and seeing the smiles and stumbles as we know you’re going to make it.
We cleared up all the leftovers, packed up the bandstand and went on our way home to hot baths, food and reflections. But my brain is still processing all the emotions and experiences, just as my body is dealing with the sugar.
I’m surfing on an adrenaline and sugar high, my brain buzzing with sights, sounds and feelings. Circuits overloaded with a rush of emotions. I’m punchdrunk, reliving an amazing day, sitting at my desk with my heart still out on the moor somewhere, enjoying a gentle recovery run, proud to be following in your footsteps.
The Town Moor 10k is my PB (personal best) course. I am fitter, more experienced and have done a lot more training this year than last. It was a lovely day. Bright, sunny, not too cold, no puddles. I deliberately hadn’t set myself expectations or a target time, just a good run.
I met some friends at the start, enjoyed some birthday hugs, warmed up, felt ready to race and powered my way round to a new PW (personal worst) of 56:39. Not even as fast as my first ever 10k and certainly the slowest I’ve run the distance this year, on arguably the easiest course.
My Garmin showed low battery when I started it up. Rookie error as I hadn’t charged it since my last run. But I’d determined not to look at it in any case.
I set off feeling great, eager to be running after a couple of days rest. I actually thought I was a bit slow to start but kept it cautious because I knew there was a long way to go. It’s a really nice route and one I’m familiar with from parkrun and it was great to be out enjoying the winter sunshine.
After a lap of the lake, the runners started to thin out and I found myself running in my own space. Those ahead too far to catch. Those behind I thought offered no threat.
But somewhere along the way I had a bit of a mental battle. This is usually the thing that most upsets my running. And this was my toughest one yet. People started to pass me and I let them. And I let them pull away.
And as I tried to fix myself and get my mind back on focus, overthinking just made it worse. I was less than half way round and I was finding it hard. My head dropped, my breathing grew shallow and I was trying to come up with ways to fix it. I was putting in far more effort than my pace warranted.
Towards the end of the first lap I tried focusing on the runner in front – a tactic that brought me great success at the Blaydon Race. And on the leafy, damp slight incline around the back of the tennis courts I overtook a lady in a long sleeved blue top. I was out on my own again.
I realised that I needed to clear my head, so I just said to myself “Don’t think, just run” and began to look for the positives. A couple of shouts from supporters lifted my spirits.
“Don’t think, just run” got me through the headwind. “Don’t think, just run” got me along Grandstand Road. “Don’t think, just run” helped me catch the runner in black who overtook me for a while. “Don’t think, just run” got me to 8k.
Somewhere around the back of the museum the runner in the long sleeved blue top overtook me again. And my heart sank as she pulled away seemingly effortlessly. But I kept on pushing. I knew I could finish this now, even if I wasn’t looking at a great performance.
Back around to the leafy path and she was still ahead, with another man close by. But onto the final straight and I found a kick and another, and I didn’t care any more. I was angry with myself that I hadn’t been able to put in a better performance and I used that to fuel a final sprint finish, actually shouting out loud “I’m going to have you”. I chased her down and beat her to the line (sorry, it was nothing personal).
I had no idea of my time as my watch face had gone blank, but I took a good while to recover and a kindly finisher offered me some water.
It was great to meet my friends at the finish and congratulate them on their PBs. I enjoyed the hugs and cake and photos. And despite a slightly disappointing result, I did actually enjoy it in the end.
I know I can’t expect a PB every time and I haven’t really trained for this race. I did expect to do a bit better, but it’s still a decent run. And you just have to take what you get on the day.
Thanks to my lovely Fetch friends who always make me smile and some smashing marshalls who were full of encouragement today.
Today is my birthday. I’m 39 (I know, thank you…). And I’m going into my next year fitter, happier and more thankful than ever for some amazing friends and family who have supported and encouraged me through my challenges this year.
Last night was filled with laughter as we enjoyed the Armstrong and Miller show live. I can’t remember when I laughed so much. Some fantastically clever staging, quick changes and songs you couldn’t sing for chuckling too much. A really good night out.
For once, this morning I wasn’t training. And, strange as it may sound, that would have been a perfect start to my day. But it was nice to take a bit of time to read all my cards and open some very well chosen presents before heading off to work wearing my new jumper dress that I’ve chosen as a treat from my mum (thanks mum).
It was great too to check my facebook messages, emails, texts and tweets and see so many people wishing me a happy day. I’ve made a lot of new friends in the past 12 months, mainly through running, and it was lovely to know you were thinking of me.
But for me, a birthday isn’t a birthday without cake. And although I like baking, I knew I was going to be hard pressed for time to rustle up a treat.
Luckily my pal Erika had made some scrumptious and very professional cupcakes for my charity cake sale and agreed to make some more for my birthday. I like birthdays, but I like them even better when I share them with people that I care about. So it was great to be able to pass them on to some special people. I just hope you enjoy them as much as I have.
Tonight, I’m off for more tasty grub at a local restaurant. And then a restful day on Saturday, hoping to make a dent in some of my birthday books and work out how to use my new birthday gadget – a watch that records your swim lengths in the pool.
And why all this laziness? Well it’s not because I want to take it easy. Far from it in fact. I’d love to be out for a run or a training session, despite the November winds whipping up the leaves. But I’m racing again on Sunday. And right now, that means resting.
The Town Moor 10k is my current PB course. It’s the scene of my regular parkruns and probably my last ‘blast it out’ 10k of the year. I am trying very hard not to set myself any expectations. The weather could really be a challenge on this rather exposed, windswept route.
So I’ll settle for a good run. One that I run hard, but finish smiling. And I’ll look forward to seeing some of my new friends and old at the start and finish. Fuelled by cake and with fresh legs, raring to go, it promises to be a great birthday weekend.
I just want to record some reflections on my first aquathlon before they slip away completely.
I was incredibly nervous on the day. Couldn’t help it. Just was.
I did what I could to bring it under control – deep breathing, not overthinking, positive thinking, trying to make light of it. But I was still a mixture of nerves and adrenaline at the start.
I knew that getting into a pool full of water already being churned up by other people swimming was likely to be a bit off-putting.
I didn’t expect to find myself really gasping for breath on the first couple of lengths and grabbing onto the sides of the pool so often for a breather. I didn’t find it a problem swimming with other people in my lane – largely because I was never in danger of getting close to any of them.
During the swim I did think ‘Why am I doing this? It’s not fun.’ But I did it. Something kept me going. And I’ve only recently got up to swimming the race distance of 500m in one go. Previously, the kind of spluttering, panicked breathing that I demonstrated at times during the swim would have stopped me completely.
And when it comes to annoying distractions during your first multi-discipline event – having the alarm go off and being told you’ll have to get out of the pool is a pretty good one. But I’m just treating it as an interesting and amusing anecdote. If that’s the worst that happens to me in a race – I’ll take that.
My time for the swim, including the disruption caused by the alarm, was 12:51. The last time I did a 500m swim in training, it was 12:18. So really, I didn’t do that badly. In fact, I probably need to slow down and conserve some energy in the swim when I come to do another event.
Transition wasn’t a problem. In fact I relished the chance to catch my breath. My Hilly twin skin socks were like kisses on my feet and I trusted my Nikes that have seen me through so many miles this year to get me through.
But I think I carried a bit of the anxiousness of the swim into the run. I was still uncomfortable with my breathing and didn’t push it, allowing myself to ease off to run at a more conservative pace. I think this is something I need to work on on shorter runs. I spent so long trying to slow down and take it easy on longer runs in preparation for the GNR, that I’m avoiding the chest burning, slightly anaerobic state that I can sustain on shorter courses.
For most of this run I was on my own, no one else in sight. That’s probably because I was last in my lane and towards the later end of the first wave. So I didn’t have my competitive instinct fired up. Also, I’ve got used to racing at parkrun where there’s always someone ahead to chase down or someone behind that you can make work to overtake you.
Again, that’s something to work on for triathlon and dual discipline events. It’s not about who you beat, but your overall time that counts. So you really are just challenging yourself.
Good points about the run. I was never cold, which was surprising, given it was pretty darn chilly. My new tri suit was very comfortable and dried out very quickly. And somewhere after the first lap I did start to enjoy it, mainly because I knew I could finish.
And that’s what it was about really. Finishing it. Gaining the experience and knowing what to expect, so I’ll be a bit better prepared for the next one. Because make no mistake, there will be a next one.
There will be a next one because, after having said all that, I loved it. The adrenaline buzz and sense of achievement are massive. I am really proud of myself for having tackled it and I want to do it again.
I want to do it again because I know I can do better. Even if I just avoided the long pauses at the end of the swim length to catch my breath and settle my head, I’d be faster.
But I can work on my swimming. Swim longer. Improve my technique. Try and get some more practice in a busy pool. And I wouldn’t expect to go through the fire alarm drama again.
I’ll try out some swim coaching sessions with a tri club. I’ve already had some very friendly invitations and will take up one or two of them and see how I get on. Right now I have a couple of runs that I’d like to focus on, and I don’t want to take on too much. But pool swim training over the winter would be good and I’ve already dropped my run mileage considerably.
I keep coming back to my experience of my first race, the North Tyneside 10k in 2009 . Now when I think about it, I remember the buzz, the sense of achievement and the sheer joy captured in a photograph as I crossed the finish line.
But I was incredibly nervous then too. I did get a stressed head on. I didn’t like running in a crowd of people, being jostled, being passed, hearing others’ heavy feet and heavy breathing.
At the end of that race I was pleased to have finished but had a sense there was more in me if I looked for it. At that point I was projecting forward to my goal of completing my first half marathon. And I had a sense that it was going to be hard. That it would take some serious training and commitment. But it wasn’t impossible.
That’s how I feel about taking on a triathlon next year now. Struggling a bit and being at the back of the pack in the aquathlon has been a useful reminder that this will be a challenge and I shouldn’t take it lightly. I should respect it and celebrate that achievement when it comes. But it’s not an unrealistic challenge. It is possible. It is within me.
3am. “You’re doing what this morning?!” My brain shouts me awake.
“I’m doing a swim and a run. 500m swim, 5.7k run,” I reply. “Now shut up and let me get back to sleep.”
Individually neither of those two feats feels that difficult to me now. But putting them together is a whole new challenge. And one I hadn’t been able to practice.
Last November I took some swimming lessons to learn to breathe doing front crawl. Back then I had a triathlon in mind. I still do. But 400m was the goal. And it was hard getting there. It was hard enough swimming one length breathing properly. Far easier to continue thrashing about turning my head from side to side than to suffer the choking shock of getting it wrong and filling my nose and mouth with water.
But I learnt, with the help of a patient teacher, to quell the panic, swim slowly, breathe. And gradually I began the link the lengths together. 20m, 40, 60 then 100. It took more time, practising on my own, getting frustrated and stopping in the middle of the pool when my body wouldn’t do what I needed it to. Until one day I did manage to string 400m together. Oh frabjous day! Callooh! Callay! It would be months before I could string it out to 500m – race distance for Killingworth.
I’m shaking as I make my porridge in the dim early morning light. The now familiar race day routine is not quieting my nerves.
As I drive towards Killingworth, the car dings an ice warning. “Hell’s teeth, it’s less than 3 degrees out there. What are you doing?”
I take Ian’s advice and begin long, slow pilates breaths. In through the nose, out through the mouth. I keep it going through the whole of the journey.
Into the Lakeside centre and follow a group of four women who don’t know where to go at first either. We laugh nervously and say it’s our first time.
Into the sports hall to register. Number 20 marked on my arm. We’re in the first wave, so we’ll need to be ready to go in time for the race briefing.
Spotting a friendly and familiar face in the briefing room, I acknowledge my nerves and am calmed for a minute or two. Ian has led me to this place with his passion and enthusiasm and his expertise in getting the best out of the people he trains. I’m reassured for a minute or two. And then it’s really on.
I feel like a fake in my tri-suit. All the gear and no idea. “Who the hell do you think you are?” I block out my brain. I’m not listening.
Calm down I tell my reflection on yet another trip to the bathroom. I check off what I’ll need carefully, methodically, pinning my race number to my Fetch shirt. Deep breaths.
The pool is wide and clear and it has a deep end. That’s something unfamiliar of late too. At the end, I fold my shirt so I can see the red and yellow clearly. No new dubbed knight ever placed his armour with so much care and reverence. That is my standard, my courage, my pennant today.
Lining up at the start, I’m last to go in my lane. Good, there’ll be no-one tickling my feet, unless I’m really slow. Close my eyes and breathe some more.
The first swimmers are in the water and off we go in 10 second intervals. I jump in, sink down and the whistle goes. I’m off.
Panicky, panicky breathing. My chest is tight. I’m thrashing around like a fish on a hook. At the end of the first length I cling to the side for a moment and take a deep breath. “Slow down, deep breaths,” but my brain’s gone off in a huff. Serves me right for ignoring it earlier.
I carry on, determined to keep my head down, keep trying to find the smooth easy lines of training. I bash up against the lane ropes and swim a few strokes with my head thrashing from side to side, trying desperately to bring my breathing under control.
I gain it briefly, in patches. But then I struggle again and again. The end of each length is a sanctuary. A brief respite where I try to do battle with the panic and calm myself for the next set.
And then on length 8, the alarm goes off. I hear it and catch a glimpse of the red flashing lights as I turn to breathe. What now? Keep on swimming. I expect it’s a false alarm. They’ll tell us what to do.
At the end of the length, nothing. Keep on swimming. But the alarm continues and as we reach the deep end a marshall says “I’m sorry, you’ll have to get out. Swim to the end.”
Our rhythm disrupted, the swimmers in my lane take their time. I switch to breastroke for a stroke or two thinking, “I’m going to have to do that all over again.”
But there’s another announcement. It is a false alarm and we’re back in the race. I pause for a moment to collect myself and allow the swimmers ahead to stretch away up the pool. Okay, time to start again.
It’s better this time. I’m a little calmer, making more of an effort to breathe out under water and finding my rhythm more consistently. But I still wouldn’t say it’s good.
Half way and there’s no way I’m not finishing this. It’s just survival now.
“Remember, you’ve got to get out and run after this,” taunts my brain as I count down the last few lengths. It distracts me from my usual two length sprint finish, so that I only power down the last 25m. Glance at the watch – 12:50. Duck under the ropes and up the steps out of the pool.
Goggles and hat off in one move, but I’m grateful for the walk. A chance to catch my breath. Socks on, shoes on. A chance to gather the air in my lungs. I’m still pulling down my red and yellow breastplate as I head out of the door.
I’m on home ground now. This is running. This is what I do. And it feels good at first until my legs catch up with me. Then it goes a wee bit wobbly. But nothing I can’t handle. I’d been warned about this. Control the breathing, catch your breath.
I expect to feel a smack of cold as I run out along the road. But I’m fine. My legs feel a little stiff. But I’m okay. I try to push on through the stride. Just recce this first lap and see how I feel.
Runners come whiffling through the trees, steam billowing from their noses. I will not slay these Jabberwocks today. I let them go past and galumph on alone.
I focus on the trees. Once I turn through here, it’s the home straight. Except there are five in total. I ease off the pace a little, settle the breathing to somewhere comfortable. My strides shorten, but I don’t care. This is just about finishing.
Back around to the start and down the road again. I hear a car horn beep and there’s Ian, waving. Off to his own race. It gives me a boost and I run the rest of that one with a smile.
Just laps to count now and cheery marshalls willing me on. I become obsessed with the lap number, counting 3,3,3,3 at every step to make sure I don’t miss one.
This is really hard. Harder than the Great North Run? Hmm, I’m not sure. I’m already committed to a triathlon next year. And now I really recognise what a challenge that will be. But at the same time, I know I can build up to it.
The marshall at the road crossing tells me I’ve got faster each lap. I doubt it, but push on for the last one, with a nod or a thank you to each of my loyal squires as I pass.
Finally out of the trees and a right hand turn back towards the centre. No one ahead of me to chase down, but pride will not let me finish this without a flourish. I spur on my legs for the last 50m across the damp grass and cross the line.
Back in the centre, refuelled on water, banana and a couple of squares of finest 70% cocoa, the pain and stress quickly evaporates. I actually quite enjoyed that.
The swim felt awful, but 12:50 is only about 40 seconds more than my training time and given the disruption and my panicked breathing, it’s not that bad. And the run won’t win me any records either, but I did it. I wasn’t cold. And I even managed to smile for one camera.
In the shower, I’m careful not to scrub too hard. I want to keep that number 20 for a little longer. It’s a badge of honour, a hard fought prize. I’m no Lancelot or Gawain, but I hope you deem me a worthy champion today.
Nana – that one’s for you. Sorry it was a bit of a shabby swim, but I know you would have been proud of me. Thank you for your very precious final gift. I’m making it last. Love you and miss you, always xxx
Stats and stuff (official times)
500m swim: 12:51
5.7k run plus transition: 31:45
total time: 44:36
spot prize: 1 bottle of Shloer (it will taste like champagne)
self awarded reward: chocolate brownie and hot chocolate shot at my favourite local chocolatier