What a way to finish

I’ve had a good few days with plenty of time for training. I’ve enjoyed getting back in the pool and finding that I haven’t lost too much of my swim fitness. I’ve also realised I need to work on my bike fitness, as a spinning class proved to be absolutely punishing. And I loved my last PT session of the year, back on my beach, using the kettlebells and just feeling fitter and stronger than ever while talking over future goals and plans.

I’ve already rounded up my amazing year, so don’t want to retread old tracks. But it has been unexpectedly wonderful and unforgettable.

Tomorrow I plan to start with a run, knowing I’ll be among friends at parkrun. I’m not much of a one for New Year’s Eve in any case, so a quiet night with some good food will be just right. Especially as I have a race to look forward to in the morning. And as I run, I’ll be thinking of my fellow friends and runners who will be doing the same, or wishing they were doing the same, and just enjoying a day off instead.

I was idly browsing my running records today and noticed my total mileage for the year sat at 689. Now I’m not one for mileage targets, but that seemed like an unsatisfactory number to finish on. So I found an excuse to jog to the village shops and, nicely warmed up, dropped my purchases at home and went for a lap of the beach.

I had no real notion of distance, and kept changing my mind about what I wanted to achieve with this run. In the end I just picked a route and ran it. At my notional end point I noticed my watch tick over into another minute, so I kept on going a little longer to run 32 mins and logged another 3 and a bit miles.

And it felt good. Nice to be out, not too cold. And although my legs were a little heavy, they soon warmed through. It was nice to run too, with no real targets and nothing in mind. No berating myself to go further and faster. Just ticking over.

It’s rare that I run on consecutive days, but hopefully taking it relatively easy and being relaxed won’t put too much strain on parkrun tomorrow. It felt like a good way to round off my wonderful running year.

I’m looking forward to the next one, having learnt so much this year. I know I won’t always get it right, but I have a feeling it’s going to be another good one. All the best to my running, swimming, cycling, cake-eating buddies. It wouldn’t have been anything like as wonderful without you xxx

2010 my running year

Me running through Fetchppint at the Great North Run
A running highlight - Fetchpoint at the Great North Run (picture courtesy of Karen Wilson)

To be honest I think of my running year from one September to the next. September 2008 was when I first started working with Ian, my fantastic personal trainer, who has been the catalyst for some life changing experiences. September 2009 marked my first half marathon – an unimaginable goal when I first started. And September 2010 was really the race of my life, so amazing, memorable and emotional on so many levels. But September’s come and gone and like so many of us at this time of year I’m looking back and looking forward.

You really might want to settle down with a drink and a mince pie or piece of Christmas cake, or just tidy up the last of the chocolates for this one. But here goes…

January 2010 started with some goal setting, looking forward to my second year running and a chance to revisit some favourite races. I had in mind then that I’d like to do something different. So after a winter taking some swimming lessons, I finally succeeded in swimming 400m in one go, thanks to some excellent support and encouragement from Lesley who I got to know through Fetch Everyone. Little did I think then how important she would be to me in 2010, and what a true and wonderful friend I had found.

In February my family lost a much loved and anticipated baby. My littlest sister Ava may not have lived to hold my hand or smile at me, but she spurred me on to amazing things in 2010. In the same week we had to deal with that unexpected and heartbreaking loss, I had a moment of joy when I discovered I had a place in the Great North Run. Once again, this was to become the race that would shape my year and I’d run it for Ava.

March was tough. My running stumbled as I struggled to cope with sadness, grief and anger and I started asking myself lots of questions and getting frustrated with my running progress. But some good friends and sound advice saw me through. And when I travelled to Barcelona for my sister’s hen weekend and found the city full of marathon runners, I was inspired once again, and full of pride for those that took on this challenge.

In April my family once again gathered together for the joyous celebration of my sister’s wedding. We were blessed with a day full of sunshine, laughter and dancing. And to make sure it went with a swing, I started it with a run – my first outside the UK.


Me, Lisa and Dave at the end of the Tees Barrage 10k
Me, Lisa and Dave at the end of the Tees Barrage 10k

By May I was well into my running training, enjoying the spring weather and training plans. I’d decided to drop my start of the year goal to complete a triathlon in favour of going all out for the Great North Run. But I ran three races this month, including the Tees Barrage 10k where Dave introduced me to the fabulous Lisa and Jason – more good friends and strong supporters.

We joined up again at the Pier to Pier, with Jason providing my longest ever warm up, that led to a new PB! And at Druridge Bay 10k I enjoyed a great but tough run and was buzzed by the RAF rescue helicopter as I ran across the sand.

June was the month I had set to switch my focus from 10k to the half marathon, but I was determined to go out with a bang. And I did on a glorious summer evening on South Tyneside when I ran my first ever timed mile on Jeff’s precisely measured course.

That confidence spurred me on to a dream run at the Blaydon Race. It was my favourite run of 2009 and my best performance of 2010. The weather may have been damp and dreary, but my spirits were high and I flew round that course.

One of those glorious, precious runs when it just came together, when my legs strode out beneath me and my breath stayed strong. Where it almost felt easy and I smiled all the way to the finish. I must be the only person who wishes that course was a teeny bit longer, as I’d have been tantalisingly close to a sub 50 10k. Memories of  Jeff and Hayley standing on Scotswood Bridge cheering us on beneath their umbrella make this one of my best moments of the year.

Runners on a race track
Fetchies at the Run for Bob

So Blaydon over and my thoughts turned to the long run. No more 10ks, just a bid to bring the speed down and focus on half marathon training. 2010 was the year I got confident enough to go off road too, first with the Run for Bob – another gorgeous day and then when I was invited to run in the woods with Lisa T. More fantastic running experiences shared with new friends.

Throughout August I remained focused on my Great North Run training plan. Maybe a bit too focused, but I was determined to give it my best shot. And as well as aiming for that sub 2 hour half marathon I was in a fundraising frenzy, promoting my efforts on Twitter, facebook and a couple of appearances on local radio. A massive cake sale at work boosted my fundraising efforts for Sands and gave me the chance to share Ava’s story.

Me holding my Great North Run 2010 medal
A most amazing day

September began with a beautiful wedding on the last glorious day of the summer. A privilege to share a day with two special people who deserve all the love and happiness they will bring to one another.

It also brought my last long runs, including a trial run along the John Reid Road and some well timed and appreciated advice from my long time Fetch buddy Alastair, who I hoped to meet on the big day.

And so to the Great North Run. I’ve already told its story and will continue to tell it again and again. For it was an amazing, emotional day and one I’ll always remember for so many reasons.

After that it would have been easy to slide into a post race slump, but I swapped long and hard for short and fast at my first ever parkrun and found I’d lost none of my speed demon tendencies.

Runners in a park
Me and Al on my way to a new PB at Edinburgh parkrun

Having missed Al at the Great North Run, it was fabulous to finally catch up with him once in my (adopted) home town and then again in his in October. After a week indulging my other love of writing, I jumped for joy at the chance to finally get a hug from Lesley at the Edinburgh parkrun, then celebrated with cake, more cuddles and a good chat after Al paced me round to a new PB and my first sub 25 min 5k.

As the weather began to turn in November, I proved beyond all doubt that this running thing has made me even more crazy than I ever was, by completing my first ever dual sport event at the Killingworth aquathlon. A 500m swim punctuated by a fire alarm, followed by a 5.7km run in temperatures hovering around freezing and I was pumped full of adrenaline and on an achievement high.

And then came the marathon. Not running it, but supporting it on Newcastle’s Town Moor. What started as a casual mention on a Fetch forum came together as a plan thanks to the lovely Lesley who arrived complete with yellow tutu. And I found myself wrapped in a hundred layers of clothing, sporting a red wig and getting hyper on jelly babies cheering on some amazing runners.

How many highlights are you allowed in one year? This was definitely one of mine. To see so many of my running pals including Jeff, Al, Katy and Anne smash their PBs on such a wretched and challenging day… well it made me really proud to be part of this very special group of nutters.

Runners dressed in Red and yellow Fetch Everyone shirts
Fetchies ready to run and support the Newcastle Town Moor marathon


And now we’re into the last month of the year. Challenged by the weather and a sense of times changing. I’ve swapped my shorts for running tights and have even been known to break out the gloves. And although I’m running far less than the heady miles of August, I’m still keeping things ticking over and enjoying a few last gasp chances for runs, races and fun.

My planned last race of the year, The Pudding Run was cancelled earlier this week. So that means that my last race of the year was the Saltwell 10k (unless I make it to Sunderland for parkrun on New Year’s Eve), but Saltwell was a great way to bow out. And I still kept my tradition of a Boxing Day run going with three miles on the beach.

I was talking to my dad on the phone recently and, understandably there’s a good reason why my family will be glad to see the back of 2010 and welcome in the promise of a new year. But though punctured by sadness, this year has given me strength and hope and moments of absolute joy. Most of them, it has to be said are in some way connected with running and the good friends I have met through it.

So thank you. I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating. Thank you to those of you who’ve read, commented, sponsored me, smiled or cheered on a race. And to my good friends who have done so much more – you know who you are, and I hope you know how much I appreciate it. It has been an amazing year.


Me running at Newcastle parkrun
A good run at Newcastle parkrun

I have so much to look forward to next year. I’ve entered five races already and will be trying some new things, including a triathlon and the Rat Race. I’ll also be racing in the town where I grew up, on the track where I once ran 100m and the relay.

I’m sure I’ll have plenty of opportunities to run with my running friends, and hopefully meet some new ones. I’m sure there will be ups and downs again, frustrations and joys. But most of all I intend to train well, rest well and enjoy my running, swimming, cycling, boxercise, weights and PT sessions.

I have changed so much since I started on this adventure and I can’t wait to see what the next chapter brings. I know I will enjoy sharing it with you all again.

Running by numbers 2010

I’ve promised myself a nice long blog over the Christmas break to reflect on my amazing running year, but in the meantime, here are some interesting numbers:

18 races completed (including 6 parkruns)
2 cancelled/postponed
1 dual event
1 run outside the UK
7 PBs
5 PBs at distances/races I’ve run more than once (1 mile, 5k, Blaydon Race, Pier to Pier, Great North Run)
3 radio interviews
1 picture in Running Free magazine
£1,433.60 raised for Sands in memory of baby Ava

4 races entered in 2011 already (and lots more planned)

But the most important is the number of friends I have made through running and Fetch Everyone this year. And that’s more than I care to count.

Thank you and Merry Christmas one and all.

Saltwell 10k

Run number, minature whisky and glass tumbler
Saltwell 10k mementoes

I felt I owed this race after it became the first one I didn’t start last year. I’d slid the length of my back yard on the ice, and although I didn’t hurt myself, I figured if it was like that at the coast, the race would be called off. I later learned the park paths had been cleared and gritted and the race was definitely on.

I enjoy its sense of history as one of the UK’s oldest road races. After all if you have a wonderful and quirky park in your town, what better to do than to arrange a run around it.

I said I had no expectations going into this race. And I meant it. I haven’t been training for 10ks and the last one I raced in November was a bit of a disappointment. Besides, I had been warned time and again this was a hilly one, and to take it steady. A couple of messages of encouragement from Steve and Kathryn set me off with a smile. And today’s race was just a good excuse for a long run in a new location.

After all my time in the North East, I’ve actually never been to Saltwell Park before, so consequently didn’t really pick the closest parking spot. I meandered into the park looking for runners and soon saw a Durham Harrier also looking a bit lost. Directed towards the registration hut by a marshall, I was keen to get my bearings but distracted by the sculptures and the frozen over rose garden. I shall have to come back here and explore.

I bumped into Susie from Fetch and dumped my bag of warm layers for after the race at registration. Picked up my number 4 (blimey I was keen to enter this one!) and said hello to Ian and Kelda who arrived just as I was deciding how many layers to shed. I turned my Fetch buff into a beanie and kept my gloves on, opting for a base layer and a long sleeve T.

With tales of snow and travel chaos further south and some dramatic temperature drops here in the last couple of days, I’d say we got off quite lightly. Blue skies and a keen, but not too biting nip, in the air and I lined up for the start next to Flip (another Fetch buddy).

It was just great to be running, with no sense of what lay ahead, what twists or turns the course would take, just running, free and easy, warming through my legs.

I reminded myself to take it easy, but it felt good to stretch out my legs and run the first section, enjoying a downhill dash, but thinking what goes down must come back up. Twisting and turning on pathways through the park, I resolved to keep it steady to get a feel for the course on the first lap.

The Garmin’s first mile beep showed 8.30 something and I told myself I could afford to slow it down a bit if I needed to. But today was about running by feel. Fast when I wanted to, slow when it got tough.
As we turned up the twisty path through the trees, I was glad I’d given myself the okay to just run and enjoy this one. The incline just kept on coming. I gasped a huge breath of relief as it levelled out and thought, ‘well that wasn’t too bad’. But there was more to come.

Out alongside the road beside the park and another uphill incline. Less steep but more treacherous on weary legs. Little steps and pick your feet up. Adam’s advice on hill running from my first off-road run still sticks on my mind. On the first lap I just resolved to keep running, no matter how much I slowed down. My triumph would be just to keep going.

Back round to the start and I can honestly say I’m still no wiser about the course, just running and following the runners in front. A smallish, well spaced out field meant I ran most of this one on my own. Sometimes I had someone in front I could target for a pass and sometimes I felt someone gathering pace behind. But mostly it was just me, running in the sunshine, mind as clear and fresh as the winter landscape.

On the second lap, I heard a marshall shout, ‘The leader’s coming through’ and I kept off the racing line as a speedy young whippet whizzed past, knees high, powering through his stride.

I felt my shoe slipping a bit as I relaxed down a hill and looked down to see my lace coming loose. I pushed on a bit further, but could feel my foot starting to rock. So I stopped for the first time ever in a race to tie my shoelace. I think I lost around three places as I stepped to one side, but I know I made at least a couple of them up again later, and it stopped me becoming fixated on my feet.

The second time the uphill sections were more challenging. It was just a case of dig in and get through, then enjoy the relief of bounding downhill with the exhilaration of a seven year old flying with their coat out behind them like a cape. Superhero boost!

Round for the last time and I managed a couple of thank yous to the marshalls who had played such a great part encouraging us on lap after lap, including Mark (another Fetchie and parkrun regular) just before a nice bit of downhill; a very smiley lady by the icy lake and the guy who had his radio out on the road. I’m afraid the chap at the top of the last hill just got a grimace as by now I was teetering up the inclines on sheer bloody mindedness.

Back round to the start for the last time and I had no idea how far I had to go once back in the park. I knew the hills were over, but they’d taken it out of my legs and I couldn’t wind up the speed on the flat. There was a small group of ladies ahead of me and I fought to grind down the distance with a view to a sprint finish, but they stayed strong and tantalisingly just too far ahead.

A turn towards the finish and a marshal shouted, ‘Only 100m to go’. I wish I’d have believed him as I tried to put the power down a bit more. Another corner and there were the finish flags. I charged through my sprint finish, but although I could not catch the group ahead, i will have shaved a few seconds off.

Over the line, stop the watch and hear my number called out. Look to see 55.15 on my Garmin and cannot believe it. I had no expectations for this race, no goals, no targets, but quite frankly I was expecting to be closer to an hour, so anything less than that was going to put a big smile on my face. A faster time than my last flat 10k was totally unexpected.

Through the finish to collect my goody bag and catch up with Flip. I seem to recover quickly from this one and we walk back down to the last corner to see Susie come in smiling after a great run.

I’ve been thinking of this race as my last one of the year, and yet I still have one more left to go on Boxing Day. But a race I thoroughly enjoyed, relaxed in and didn’t work myself up over is one to be remembered.

I know I run better when I relax and take the pressure off myself, but it’s not always easy to do in a race. I still don’t quite believe that I’ll be faster on race day than I have been in training. This one just proved to me that the potential is still there. That my speed hasn’t entirely left me. And that 2011 will be a good year for new challenges and enjoying even more runs and races with good friends.

Stats and stuff:
10k in 55:15
mile splits:
1. 08.24
2. 09.32
3. 08.46
4. 09.23
5. 08.52
6. 09.23
7. 01.28 (0.2 miles)

Haven’t felt like that for a while

Winter, snow, icy stuff, festive stuff… despite the festive changes to routine, I’ve managed to keep on a decent amount of training over the last couple of weeks. Cycling and swimming have pretty much disappeared off the radar, but I’m still running a bit, enjoying my weekly PT sessions and doing weights or gym classes during the week.

This week a change of plans had me doing my usual PT session on Wednesday morning, which lined me up nicely for a double dose adrenaline shot with a round of boxercise later that evening. Ian put a festive spin on our session with a 12 days of Christmas theme, and it was a cracking workout as always.

It’s really easy to look at my running achievements and see faster, longer runs in there and to measure myself against them. But it’s less easy to do with my PT sessions. I know I’m stronger, could lift heavier weights or do more repetitions of exercises. I keep on moving, pretty much without stopping for an hour and recover really quickly now during my minute or so rest breaks between sets.

I enjoy tackling whatever Ian throws at me and feel good when he says it’s been a tough session. And all that strength and muscle building will feed back into whatever challenges I set myself in future. But even if it did nothing more than bring a smile to my face every week, it would be well worth it.

I usually do a boxercise session in an evening, followed by an early morning PT the next day so it was interesting to switch it around and try both on the same day. I figured there was roughly the same amount of rest period between them.

But boy, my quads (upper leg muscles) were aching the next day! I felt it in the boxercise warm up when just running, and lunge walking were causing my muscles to protest. But it’s a good feeling. An honest feeling of having worked hard, rather than a problematic pain. An outward signal and a reward for all my efforts.

It feels good to have a great excuse for a nice hot bath and a couple of take it easy days before a last blast, baltic, hilly 10k at Saltwell Park this weekend. A race I’m really looking forward to because I go into it with no expectations of performance.

Shaking the blues

I had a bit of a rubbish day on Wednesday which saw me heading home at lunchtime, stressed out, driving in the snow. It was such a relief to get back in one piece, heat up some milk for a hot chocolate and snuggle up in my favourite hoodie.

Thursday’s normally my training session, but I knew there was no way Ian would get out at our usual time in the snow. But working from home meant we could reshedule to lunchtime. So bundled up in half a dozen layers, I met him down on the beach for a total body blast.

It was absolutely baltic, with the wind whipping up hail crystals at one point, but the only time I felt cold was walking down there. He put me through a really tough circuit on the soft sand, ending with a leg-sapping run up the steps and a Rocky style finish. I was beaming all over my face. Talk about a much needed adrenaline rush!

Man dressed as a devil
Welcome to hell
With more snow overnight, I decided to work from home again on Friday, which left me loads of time to get ready for my Christmas party. I went to get my hair put up, broke out the make up and some sparkly jewellery, then stepped into my stunning dress and wellies combo ready for the taxi. No way was I driving on those roads!

A quick change of footwear in the lift and I was ready for Hell. The rooms at St James’ Park had been transformed into Heaven and Hell, complete with stilt-walking, fire-eating devils and feather winged angel statues (don’t blink!).

Woman holding a snake
One of my colleagues, getting to know Steve, the Burmese python
I said hello to Steve at the entrance. You know Steve, the Burmese python? He was gorgeous and very friendly considering all the noise and attention he was getting – definitely a bit of a ladies man that one…

I got fixed up with some devil horns and had a great night, dancing to the live band, seeing everyone I wanted to see and leaving before everyone got a bit too messy on the free booze.

A later than usual night meant I didn’t wake up until 8am (a lie in for me) and so I missed parkrun. To be honest, I’d have still been a bit cautious about doing it. For the time being I will stick to running in the sand, where I know I won’t slip and hurt myself. Hard work, but such a great work out.

On Saturday I went into the village to collect a wreath from the new florist shop. It’s traditional pine with orange segments and cinnamon sticks and just smells of Christmas.

And as I walked past the chocolate shop, I spotted a gorgeous home-made gingerbread house in the window. Honestly we have Willy Wonka living in the village – it’s wonderful. I’ve had a bit of a comfort eating indulgence this week, so I did manage to go and look without buying anything.  Although I did  try out a delicious cookie recipe courtesy of my chum Katie ready for Christmas – I promise, I’ve only sampled.

Then Saturday night, Gary and I headed to Newcastle City Hall to see Jools Holland and his rhythm and blues orchestra with special guest Alison Moyet.

It was the most infectious and amazing music. I can’t say I’m much of a rhythm and blues expert, but the energy hit you with a blast right from the start and you just couldn’t resist tapping your feet. Little cameras that you couldn’t see showed close ups of the solos on a screen at the back, so you could see Jools’ fingers flying over the piano keys.

There was a host of amazing musicians on stage, including some very groovy brass and saxaphone. But man, the guys playing the blues guitar and bass, they were cool.

And Alison Moyet. She is even more amazing than when I last saw her supporting David Bowie on the Glass Spider tour. I really don’t want to count up how long ago that was. But she just has the most magical voice. Spellbinding.

I’ve seen some amazing gigs in my time with light shows, lazers, revolving screens, a stage full of dancers and acrobats, a million costume changes, wigs, sequins, unicycles and elephants, but I’m really beginning to appreciate the ones where the performers keep it simple. Where they just do what they do, but brilliantly.

Someone who can hold an audience enthralled by the sound of their voice, or the movement of fingers over frets and strings – that’s talent. That’s worthy of applause. And it was a glorious sound.

So from midweek blues, to weekend blues that had me smiling and dancing, I’m definitely starting to feel festive.