Busy, bikes and a round up

It’s been a jam packed weekend and a fairly busy month, although ‘tapering’ for races has meant I’ve fallen behind on my 300 hours training in 2011 target for the first time. But it’s only a couple of hours and the plan ahead has lots more long runs as I prepare for my September half marathon.

Yesterday we went clambering among the tree tops at Go Ape! A really good, friendly set up and great fun climbing up and tackling all the obstacles in the trees. Of course the best bits are the zip wires down again. Geronimo!

We also dropped in on the local county show. Gary was in his element sizing up the cows and sheep. He’s a real farmer at heart. On the way home we stopped at the bike shop so I could show him what I’d been looking at and he could satisfy himself that I wasn’t going to get ripped off buying my first road bike.

I still haven’t quite taken the plunge yet, but the guys at Edinburgh Bicycles were really helpful. I took a couple out for a quick test ride and asked loads of questions (still have a few more I’ve thought of). Basically I’m looking at either a Specialized Secteur, Specialized Allez or a Giant Defy.

I tried all of them (as far as sitting on them) in the shop last time, and took the two Specialized out for a short spin this time. They didn’t have the Giant in the right frame size for me to try and the Allez was one size too big. So they’ve ordered me one in to try and I should be able to test it out at the weekend.

Needless to say they feel very different from my current ancient hybrid, but I felt quite comfortable on them all. I even started to get to grips with the gears, although I couldn’t handle the toe clips at all – I only managed to get one foot in at a time!

I’m not looking for anything spectacular – just a good basic road bike that will get me round my next triathlon a lot quicker and see me right next year when hopefully I’ll be doing a few more.

On Tuesday morning I did an interval session before work and managed to get my run pace much closer to the target I’d been set, even though my recovery was a lot more leisurely. 4 miles on a beautiful still spring morning out along the coast made me feel great and like I’m back in run training properly again.

Here’s a quick round up of training in May:
Swim: 1.4 miles 1:04
Bike: 54 miles 5:53
Run: 53 miles 8:05
Cross training 5:50

That includes:
1 triathlon
2 x 10k races
1 x parkrun
1 x Pier to Pier
and lots of fun!

I’m already missing my bike and swim sessions a bit, but am just focusing on running for a couple more weeks to get set for the Blaydon Race on 9 June. Then I’ll add a couple of sessions a week back to the mix again. I do still enjoy my cross training. And I can’t wait to get my new bike!

Druridge Bay 10k

Am I getting better at relaxing over this racing lark or do some races mean more than others? I was really ambivalent about this one this morning. Not feeling like I didn’t want to do it, but not really revved up for it either.

I was still a bit stiff and achey after a week of training and some changes to my plans. I ran intervals on Tuesday morning and then a 3 miler on Wednesday – neither of which quite hit the pace I was looking for, but still counted as decent training.

My usual Thursday morning PT session got shifted to Friday afternoon as I’d booked a half day off work. I ended up rushing to get there, struggling to get away from work, but I made it. This is always my toughest and most testing session and Ian really put me through a tough whole body workout. By the time he said ‘Right, that’s your warm up’, I was already fighting for breath. But I made it through, with a couple of new exercises thrown in for good measure.

Then off home for a shower and a bit of a relax before a night out at the Stadium of Light for Pet Shop Boys and Take That. It was a fantastic show, but I’m not sure bouncing up and down like a loon for the best part of two hours, followed by standing in a queue for another two before standing on a Metro to get home is the best way to recover from a tough session. My hips were not happy.

Hence, no Saturday parkrun. I had thought of getting up and volunteering, but opted for a restful morning, knowing that I had to give myself a chance to recover before my race today.

I ran this last year. It’s all off road, trail and tarmac, looping round the lake at a country park and out under tree lined paths alongside a beautiful stretch of beach. Not a PB course, but after feeling like I took it relatively easy at the Pier to Pier last weekend, I’d said I wanted to give this one a good blast. When I woke up this morning, still feeling the aches, I wasn’t sure what would be on the cards.

Last year it was damp, grey, windy and dreary, but I loved the race which offered something a little different, but wasn’t too testing underfoot for a road runner like me. Getting  a fly past from a Sea-King helicopter was an unexpected bonus too.

I was a little sad to miss the Nissan Run for Japan 10k and wasn’t expecting to see anyone I knew, so it was great to bump into Tove and Jules from parkrun before the start. And as I lined up and did some stretches, a runner smiled and said hello and then “You must be a proper Fetchie with the shirt and the bandanna.” (I’d wrapped my buff round my wrist). And so it was I met Mick. Nice to meet you!

After some announcements we couldn’t hear due to the wind, and with a quick exchange of good lucks, we were off. I wanted to at least give it a fair shot, so dived off ahead finding my way through the field which thinned out nicely very quickly. Out along the tarmac paths through the park, a bit twisty turny through the trees, but a decent first kilometre to find my rhythm and check the pace at 5:05. Good I haven’t gone haring off too much, but I’m running okay.

As we turned towards the lake and a little more uphill, I could feel the effort pulling on my abs. Each footstep was like a mini crunch on muscles that reminded me of Friday’s hanging knee lifts and weren’t amused. I had my usual silly ‘This is too hard, why don’t you slow it down, walk and settle’ conversation somewhere between 1 and 2k. It is totally daft, it doesn’t last long and thank goodness I’ve learned to ignore it.

Just after the lake, Glenn, a guy who used to work with my husband, came past me and I said hello. We chatted for a few strides before he overtook me and he told me this year the route was different and we wouldn’t be running along the beach. I was a bit disappointed as that was one of the highlights last year (and I’d taped up my toe hole in preparation to avoid picking up too much sand). But it spurred me on, knowing that I wouldn’t have that slog up from the beach to sap my legs.

I don’t know if it’s just something I’ve got in my head, but I seem to end up running a lot of races on my own. Never part of a pack or a group, not sticking with any runner for long. Those in front a little too far to catch in a matter of minutes and those behind not breathing down my neck. It was the same on this run. And I tried to get myself in the same mental mindset as I had at the Clive Cookson 10k, just running my own race, pushing on over the gravelly trails.

At around 5k I think Mick came past me with a friendly greeting and I tried to keep with him for a while, but my pace had dropped a little. Up ahead I could see the bobbing white cap and blonde pony tail of Tove from parkrun, tantalisingly catchable if I just kept pushing.

I remembered the second part of this route as tough, with a couple of inclines, and so it proved. The first one I tried to power up into the wind. I overtook a guy in a green top as I put in a spurt of effort, but I couldn’t sustain it all the way, and he overtook me again, asking “How you doing?” as he passed and I was barely able to gasp out “OK”.

I don’t run a lot of hilly routes. I’m not afraid of them and in races I can often power up and pass people. But these slow, gentle inclines sapped my legs and I eased back. By 6k I was feeling better, smoother, stretching out the legs, even knowing there was a bit more up to come. The paths here were more tarmac than trail and I tried to use my road legs to push on, telling myself not to leave it all to the last kilometre.

Between 7 and 8k, we’d just come up another incline and I saw a young lad walking with his head down. I didn’t have the breath to offer him a word of encouragement. But a guy behind me did. With just a few gentle words like “Keep it going…take it easy…breathe out…short breaths in, long breaths out,”

I could sense them forming a small pack behind me. And I listened to the guy coaching the young lad and started doing what he said, breathing easy, taking small steps up the last incline. All stuff I know and coach myself to do in my head, but it really helped me and I tackled the last up a lot more consistently than the first one.

As the pack went past, I told the guy I appreciated the coaching and he replied “Just trying to keep myself going,”. I’d resolved to try and hold onto them to pull me round a bit faster for the last mile or so. But they pulled ahead and the lad fell back. He was running step in step with me, so I took over and tried to keep him going. Saying nothing very different to what the other guy had done, just listening to his breathing and encouraging him to take it in when I could hear that tension and tightness. Then telling him to stretch his legs out at we came to the flatter bits.

At moments I out of the corner of my eye I saw him reach for his side, probably feeling a stitch and I encouraged him to breath. I felt like I was breathing easy myself, keeping enough to be able to offer a word or two here or there. And I didn’t want to leave him.

The wind picked up into our face and he dropped behind a bit, but there was a smattering of supporters who shouted “Go on lad! Go on young ‘un!”.  And bless him, he fought back and caught me up.

At the 9k point I said “Just five more minutes,” and pushed on a little harder. And he stuck with me, through the trees, over the trails, round the last corner. As the orange netting marking the finishing line approached, I shouted “Sprint!” and put the hammer down. And he went with me. And kept going.  And beat me fair and square.

My time as I crossed the line was 52:44. I had to check later, but it’s a course PB and I was mightily pleased with that. Tove remained ahead in those last few kilometres, but running with the young lad had taken my mind off catching anyone else. I felt like I maybe could have pushed a little harder towards the end, but today I took pride in wearing my Fetch top and being a Fetchie, encouraging someone on to run a cracking time. And you could argue that actually, I was more relaxed and ran faster anyway. The finish certainly didn’t hurt as much as my last 10k finish.

It was a lovely race. I enjoyed it, and ran well despite my aches and pains. I still get those negative moments, but they don’t last and afterwards I barely remember them. And I always get through them. And I never stop.

So, onwards and upwards. A tough week, with plenty of running lined up. And then a race I love and seem to run well in the week after. Am I ready for Blaydon? You know what? I think I will be…

Stats and stuff:

10k 52:44

1) 5:06 (8:12/m) – 62cal
2) 5:13 (8:23/m) – 65cal
3) 5:09 (8:17/m) – 66cal
4) 5:24 (8:41/m) – 64cal
5) 5:26 (8:44/m) – 65cal
6) 5:42 (9:10/m) – 65cal
7) 5:31 (8:53/m) – 64cal
8 ) 5:17 (8:30/m) – 65cal
9) 5:22 (8:38/m) – 65cal
10) 4:36 (8:28/m) – 55cal

After a race like that, what could be better than brunch at my favourite coffee shop in Longframlington? Beth (@OrganicBeth) made perfect scrambled eggs on toast and I tucked in at the same time as enjoying lots of foodie conversations with a couple of new friends I’ve made on Twitter – Maunika (@cookinacurry) and Sarah (@tentspitch). Despite being stuffed with great breakfasts, we still found room to salivate talking of Indian spices, parathas, dhosas and doughnuts.

Pier to Pier 2011

Jeff, Lesley and Stephen at the finish of the Pier to Pier
Jeff, Lesley and Stephen at the end of the Pier to Pier - always a fun filled day when Fetchies are involved

It’s a funny old race this one. A point to point along some beautiful coastline, taking in beautiful bays and a water station at a lighthouse. A challenging mix of sand, grass, stony paths and pavement, some steps and a couple of gates. And amazingly this will be the third time I’ve run it. I’ve been a runner for more than 3 years – wow!

My training’s been a bit more laid back this week (apart from my brain working overtime on the whatifs and whys). And to be honest, I sort of felt I might be ready for a bit of a break. So I had no plan how I was going to run this.

Pitching up at Roker, driving more from memory than directions and peering through the rain filled windscreen, I did question my decision to go for shorts over capris. But I had a bag full of stuff to warm up in for afterwards. As I queued for the bus to the start, I spotted Mark and Davina. As the mini buses came at irregular intervals and we were all shivering, I suggested a bit of a car pool operation to get us to the start.

A quick catch up with Jeff, Lesley Anne and Stephen and lots of parkrunner spotting in the car park before Peter came bouncing up looking far fresher than his training suggests he should be and threatening to ‘take it easy’ today.

A quick jog along the front to warm my legs up, then down onto the beach to line up on the sand. Sunshine and showers was the forecast. An icy little blast just before the start made us huddle up, eager for the off.

I spotted my good buddy Steve just in front and went to say hello. ‘Just jogged down from Roker’, he told me, ‘Just 5 mile. Easy 8s pace for me today.’ Steve, you’re way too modest mate – that’s a canny run. Easy 8s is me flat out over this kind of distance on a flat road.

It’s a tough start on the sand and there’s a good bit of uphill before this run and this runner find her feet. I’ve decided just to run this today. I can’t pick my 5k pace and try to hold on like I did in my last 10k. Besides it’s windy and tough terrain for a tarmac kid. I’ve talked myself out of racing it before I start.

But that’s no bad thing as I watch the runners take their favourite lines across the trails, spreading out in a glorious technicolour ribbon past people walking their dogs or taking kids out on their scooters.

I cannot settle into a running rhythm over the first mile on the sand. I struggle with the camber putting more pressure on my left leg and run up the beach a little in search of a flatter surface. But the sand is softer here and sucks at my feet wasting precious energy. I’ve made this mistake here before I think as I head back towards the damp but firmer patches.

The terrain forces me to watch my feet, picking my way over warn down patches and grassy trails. At times it makes us fall into line, one runner after another, falling into a gentle plod, plod, plod. The danger here is getting fixated on the group in front.

But although I am not racing, I want to be moving and stretch out into road runner strides where I can. Now we’ve battled our way up the two tough climbs I feel like I can get back on my own turf.

In places I put a spurt on, making a move to pass a group of runners and keep moving forwards. I sense I’ve picked up the pace a little, but I’m by no means pushing myself as hard as I can. This thought makes me fretful, berate myself for taking it easy, making excuses. The terrain is unfamiliar. Not especially rough or uneven, but it reminds me I haven’t done a lot off-road this year.

A glimpse of the blue green sea transports me out of my own head and reminds me to look up and around. To see the gulls soaring over the rocks. To see the sun glinting on the waves. Just to run and enjoy it. And that’s when I start to pass people too.

I run and enjoy the memories and legends of this landscape. Past the beaches, thinking of Lewis Carroll and his nonsense rhymes inspired by the coastline. Past the firing range at Whitburn remembering one lady’s wartime story of seeing a German bomber shot down in the water. Memories so vivid she could direct a dive team to find it many years later.

In patches I run well and easy, in others not so much. The wind buffets and drags making it hard going at times. It always seems to hit me when I’m feeling good and want to push on, but resisting and fighting it is just a waste of effort.

As usual I pick up a friendly nemesis. A girl in a red Blaydon T-shirt with her hair piled on top of her head in a loose high pony tail. We’ve passed and repassed each other a couple of times on the narrow trails. I take her on across a grassy field. ‘Come on,’ I say gently, ‘Keep it going’. And although I may move ahead for a pace or two, she comes back at me, or we run side by side until the path narrows again and she nips ahead.

I catch her again later in the race, running over leg-sapping grass into the wind. I don’t have the energy or heart to make a definitive move and we push each other on a little further. I know if she wants to, she will go ahead and I’ll be happy to see her go. But this time I think I make it stick.

After a particularly gusty and exposed gap, where my eyes stream with the wind, I hear the Garmin bleep and look to see 5 miles on the clock. How long is this race again? I know it’s advertised as 7, but it’s not as far as that. I start to think about getting a wriggle on and how much further in terms of time I have to run. I reckon on about 15 minutes and hold back a little.

As our feet hit pavement and tarmac a runner behind me says “Thank goodness for concrete” – echoing my feelings. I try to take advantage of more familiar turf and stretch out my legs. As we head out onto the promenade another runner says “You’ve still got plenty left for the last bit haven’t you?”
And I reply, ” I have on this stuff.”

But my memory plays tricks on me and I think there’s a long stretch to go where the finish line is hidden from view by the curve of the coast and I hold back just a little. So the final descent to the beach takes me by surprise. We’re nearer the finish than I thought and now I’ve left it too late to put a move on.

There are a couple of Elvet Strider girls ahead. They have been just ahead of me for a good portion of the second half of this race and I’d tried to catch them before. So, onto the beach and punching into a sprint, reckless over the rocks and pebbles, now I’m racing.

But it’s too much too soon. I cannot sprint the 600m or so of beach and I stutter back to a run, trying to catch my breath. But the Elvets catch me and for a second my head goes down. But no, not this near the finish, not when I have legs and determination. I actually shout out ‘No! as I bully my legs into another spurt and resolve to keep going until the bitter end.

Where is the bloody finish? I can see the flags, but nothing else really registers as I pound my arms and put all that I have into the last few metres, stumbling into the finish funnel to the consternation of the marshalls. They’re not used to seeing idiots finish a 6.7 mile race like it’s the 100m. But I’m fine, I’m fine. Just a wee bit daft.

I recover and stretch, then walk back to the finish to meet up Jeff and Mark to cheer the other runners in. But I’m getting cold really quickly and when a dash of rain threatens I dash to the car, hoping to be back in time to see Lesley Anne and Davina finish. As I wrestle with my key in the lock, an explosion of hail makes me glad I’m not still running and feel sorry for those that are.

I’m sorry I missed them coming over the line, but it was great to see Lesley Anne beaming after a cracking run. Dear me, you took everything this one threw at you and still came out smiling! And I’m really loving going to races and feeling one of the crowd, one of the club. I always have a fab time with Fetchies around.

A bit of chat, a class goody bag and a Mars bar then back home for the toughest part of the day. Waiting to hear how my buddies got on in their marathons, half marathons and triathlons. I don’t want to spoil anyone’s announcements just yet but it looks like a great day all round. One text message from a fabulous friend absolutely makes my day!

My own verdict on my own race? Well I was about 30 seconds slower than last year. But I’d chosen not to race it and given how windy it was, I’m really pleased with that. Could I have found 30 seconds or more? I’m pretty sure I could have with my race head on. I could probably even have found it in the last 0.7 mile on the promenade if my head hadn’t made it out to be further than it felt. But that was my decision.Just to go out and enjoy a long run.

I ran harder than I would have done in training and had a lot more fun. I’m a little nervous of pure running distance at the moment as I haven’t done a lot of it this year. Most of my 10ks have been races, rather than training distance. And it’s all there to come on my plan.

But that run fills me with confidence. Makes me realise that I should take all the endurance fitness from my triathlon training and use it to power me round those longer runs as I start the build up to Blaydon and the Great North Run. It also means I’m pretty determined to race the next one next weekend. It’s a 10k but not a PB course – too much trail and undulation for that. But I’m going to give it a real blast.

Stats and stuff:
6.89 miles 1:04:25
1) – 1m – 10:10(10:10/m) – 101cal
2) – 1m – 9:17(9:17/m) – 103cal
3) – 1m – 9:16(9:16/m) – 104cal
4) – 1m – 8:49(8:49/m) – 104cal
5) – 1m – 9:37(9:37/m) – 105cal
6) – 1m – 9:45(9:45/m) – 104cal
7) – 0.89m – 7:30(8:24/m) – 92cal

Off kilter or why I feel like my microwave

I feel like my microwave. The glass plate has slipped off the revolving thing and while my bowl of porridge still goes round, every so often it makes a ‘gollop’ as it tries to re-balance itself back on track.I’m just a bit ‘not right’. Usually this manifests itself in a clumsy week. A time when really it’s best to lock away the crockery and don’t let me near anything remotely valuable or mechanical (It just came off in my hand – honest!)So far this week, I have managed to get a knot in my favourite necklace and turn up at work minus two buttons (spare safety pins in your running kit come in useful not just at races). And this morning as I got out of my car, I managed to kick off one of my shoes. Cue crouching on the concrete reaching under someone’s car two along from mine in the underground car park.

And yes I did get my shoe back. I decided the indignity of lying face down in the car park and stretching under the vehicle was probably less than the indignity of walking one shoed over to security to ask them to get the person to move their car.
On Tuesday I ran my first set of intervals for a while. I struggled to reach the pace I was aiming for on the fast bits and then failed to slow down enough on the recovery. But I finished the set and was just happy to be out and starting to refocus on running again.For the first time I have pace targets on my running plan and they’re going to take some getting used to. Today’s was 4 miles at 8:30/mile. Now, that should be doable for me. I run most of parkrun at about 8:00/mile or just over and last week I did a 10k at an average pace of 8:19/mile. But I struggled. Started a bit too fast and then settled at 8:39/mile, but felt as breathless as my 10k pace.I realised I was stressing over less than 10 seconds a mile, and let myself go back to a pace where I could breathe easily for the last two miles, just relaxing into the morning sunshine. I managed 8:50 pace overall. And I’m not displeased with that, recognising that some days it’s better than others. But so much for that tough mental focus.

It also makes my race results seem rather mystical. Looking back to around this time last year, I can see my Blaydon Race result and wonder how on earth I managed that. On a good day, in the right conditions, I can fly. I think I must run better in the cold and wet, when I’m hungry and haven’t had chance to do a warm up.

Anyway, today’s run done and I know I could have pushed harder. But I’m giving myself an easier week and I think that’s why I was content just to slip back into a more comfortable pace. I know I’d have worked harder if I’d had my usual PT session.

Two day’s rest now ahead of the Pier 2 Pier Race. A week ago I was up for blasting this on the back of my triathlons and a 10k PB. Now, I shall just see how I feel. On the day I may be bouncing on fresh legs, twitching and ready for a good run. Whatever happens, I shall enjoy a scenic route and my third time racing this one. It will be great to catch up with some running chums too.

I’ll also be thinking about all my friends running the Edinburgh marathon and half marathon this weekend. So go on Scotty, Kate, Kathryn and Shaun. And give ’em your best and loudest support Anne!

There are also a some first time triathletes dipping their toes in the water. I can’t wait to hear how Sally, Ian and Katie get on. And by fab friend Lesley is doing her first Open Water tri. Brrrr! But as Lesley’s part mermaid, I’m sure she’ll be fab. I’ll be eagerly awaiting her report on that one.
You’re pretty amazing you lot. Don’t forget that. And don’t let anyone tell you any different.

The wind changes

The wind blows in a gale of grey clouds. A stormy photoshoot out by the Town Moor leaves me with a head full of angry white noise. Like the wind I am fretful, mind-tossed, unsettled.

But these are grey clouds. Not black. And simple things like silence and sleep soothe the disarray. I awake to golden stillness and creep out into the cool early daylight.

My breath comes fretful and patchy like the cloud as I push on seeking speed, then calms as I drop to a gentler pace.I try to lose myself in the run, but cannot quite shake off the tatters of old dreams and older memories. Tension has knotted them into my neck and shoulder and I cannot comb through the tangles.

I finish and stretch gratefully. Enjoy a few moments in the freshness of the new day.

Tiredness creeps in. Sets me yawning in the shower and scuttling in search of stimulants as I stumble to my desk. I stutter through a dreamlike day, soft at the edges, failing to rediscover that first bright wakefulness.

My usual bounce has deserted me and for a moment I am reminded of what it feels like not to run. To be bound to the surface, shuffling, sluggish. To drudge through the day with no hope or spark.

This morning’s effort took its toll. But the action has more than repaid me a million times over, with a lightness of heart and the promise of bright new horizons ahead.

Beat and complete

I am busy and I am happy. At times life feels like it’s rushing past a little too fast, but I’m pelting along, just about keeping up and enjoying the rush. And yet, there are periods of rest and reflection. Times when I feel the slow tediousness of looking forward to the next sprint.

I feel like I got the training spot on for that first triathlon – already three weeks ago. That I was at the peak of my fitness and enthusiasm. And that I’m managing to hold onto that, with a second triathlon, and a 10k PB.

I’m learning so much from that experience. Resilience mostly I think. And a mental focus that kept me as strong through that 10k as my legs and my heart. I felt it again at parkrun this weekend. A tough ask this Saturday, with legs still stiff from a hard run midweek 10k and a challenging PT workout on Friday.

My intention was to try and stick with the 25 min pacer for as long as possible. And I stuck to the plan even into the sharp wind over the first kilometre, when my breathing came hard, fast and tightly uncomfortable. I was just on pace at 4:59 at the first marker, but the pacer had drawn way ahead.

I let myself ease up a little, but I’m soon caught by Tove, another parkrun regular. And my competitive instinct kicks in. She can draw level, but I’ll make it hard to pass (sorry Tove). I dig in and pick up the pace for a few strides, driving onwards from my back foot.

Back onto the moor through the gate and over the rough path, dodging the circus vehicle parked on the route. I’m feeling good again now. I’ve lost the pacer, but my running feels smooth and I’m stretching out, even over the rough ground.

A few more runners approach my shoulder and every time they come close, I try to find a little more. Sometimes I win. Sometimes they pass me and I try to hold on. The Heaton Harrier I enjoyed a great chase with on my 10k says hello. This time she’s in pink and as she outstrips me, I shout ‘You’re going to beat me again aren’t you?’ But I don’t mind. She’s a good runner and I bet she didn’t do an hours worth of kettlebells and own bodyweight circuits on Friday.

My legs are creaking at the seams as I turn into the tough stretch over the stones, into the wind, out on my own again. My strides have shortened over the rough ground, and this is traditionally where I lose my head and will to go on. Pick your knees up, pick your knees up I say just to keep myself moving forward.

Through the gate and into the last kilometre. The smooth path here is welcome underfoot and I try to pick up a gear. I manage maybe half of one. The runners come at me again. I do not look, but I sense them. I think it’s Tove again as a tall man comes past me. A sixth sense tells me she’s still in the chase.

Sub 25 has gone. Even without looking at my watch I know that and then I see the green shirt of the pacer impossibly distant. But let’s see how good I can make this one. It’s a tough race, there’s no doubt, but I’m finishing strong and there’s not far to go.

The last but one turn and I’m stretching out, gearing up, the wind behind me now. Onto the home straight and thinking I’ll leave it to the last minute for the sprint. And then a voice yells ‘Go on Michelle!’. It’s Jeff – not at his best today, but still encouraging me on. And so I go. Far earlier than I planned. Far earlier than I thought I could.

In the closing straight I catch and overtake two runners and power through the line in 25:22. Not my fastest time on this course, but today I will take that. I’ll take that for the mental focus that got me through the rough ground; for the experience of running on tired legs that made me try to go fast when I could have just taken it easy; for the slightly swimmy feeling at the finish that tells me I’ve gone as hard as I could today. And for a well timed shout of encouragement.

Stats and stuff:
5k 25:21
1. 4:59
2. 5:12
3. 5:01
4. 5:29
5. 4:41

In the afternoon, Emma from Dailyclothesfix took me charity shopping and we picked up some great bargains. A trip worthy of a separate post of its own (when I get round to it).

Today I had a very kind invite from Peter Brooks to join him for a cycle. After a bit of bike fettling with a recalcitrant saddle, were were off over some lovely tracks and cycle ways towards Lanchester. A decidedly gentler pace than most of my rides, we actually decided we could have run at least some of the miles more quickly, but the conversation made them fly by. And I rode a little more of the C2C route!

I think he’d have liked to have gone a bit further, but with a stop at a gate and the beginnings of a slight pull on my left thigh, I thought I was better to head back than to hold him up. A break at an excellent farm shop for hot drinks and warm scones helped fuel me up to enjoy a little more downhill and a quick sprint to finish.

So now I’m nicely shattered. Ready for some good food and good rest. But not before I put my latest training plan into my calendar. My plans for the summer involve a half marathon, another sprint triathlon and a few more races. So my focus is now shifting back to more running and building up some distance.

I’ve also been challenged to go for a sub 50 10k by the end of June. So today I entered the Sunderland 10k in the hope that it will be fast and flat. I don’t want to set myself up for any one race in particular, because I’ll put too much pressure on myself, but I think that’s probably my best shot. We’ll see how I go on the day.

One thing’s for sure, I’m going into the summer races on a wave of success and confidence. I’m learning something from every race, from every training session. And I’m enjoying the inspiration. So many of my running buddies seem to be doing so well – whether that’s taking on a new challenge, beating an old one, or just getting back after injury. Long may it continue. I have already achieved more than I set out to at the beginning of the year. And I am loving it.

Clive Cookson 10k

I really had no idea about how I was going to do this one. It was very much run it and see. I hadn’t run 10k for three weeks and last raced it at the very beginning of March. But I realised that line of thinking was rather negative, and while I didn’t want to talk myself out of a good run, I didn’t want to set unrealistic expectations either.

Would a couple of weeks’ worth of triathlons help or hinder my pace? I wasn’t going to let myself use them as an excuse, particularly as I’d given myself two days’ rest after Darlington. But equally, I wasn’t going to beat myself up if my legs still felt drained from the effort.

So, a sunny evening, not too warm with a bit of a breeze; a brand new course and a start line 10 minutes’ drive from my house. And just run how I feel.

I picked up my number 21 at registration and said hello to some familiar faces including a couple of Newcastle parkrunners. Then headed out, happy to congratulate Jeff on his latest cracking run. He gave me some useful tips about the course – a tough 2-3 km and then a nice downhill 4-5 and back round for the second lap.

As I went through a bit of a jog to warm up, I felt bouncy. My legs felt fresh. I felt good. Confident. Relaxed. A summer’s evening run on the coast. What could be nicer?

I line up in the pack near a tall guy that runs at Newcastle parkrun and is a wee bit faster than me. I also notice a tiny Heaton Harriers lady called Pam who I recognise as another runner about the same pace, but a bit better.

With a couple of ‘good lucks’, and ‘have a good runs’ we’re soon off, piling through the suburban streets, weaving our way past the parked cars, choosing pavement or road, finding space until the runners thin out.

My tactic formed in the minutes before take off is to go out at around 5k pace and see how long I can hold on. I always go off fast anyway, so I may as well try and make it count. The first kilometre is fast – under 5 minutes and I get the sense that maybe, just maybe, I could be on for something.

As the estate roads and curbs give way to a stonier pathway the air is punctuated by puffs of dust and pollen streams from the fields. I lose my nerve a little and have a short, uncomfortable conversation with myself in my head. “You’ve gone too fast. This is 10k, not 5. You’re breathing too shallow.”

The runners pass me in droves. Including the tall parkrunner.

I shake it off quickly, as I settle into my running rhythm, trampling it underfoot as the path leads steadily upwards between the fields. I don’t want to be a slave to the watch, but as we approach the 2k marker I clock 5:23. Slowing down, but still within reason. Push on I say to myself. It’s still possible.

Back onto a road between two hedgerows. Hawthorn blossom drifting like a lazy wedding day as I dig in uphill. Just keep moving forward. Pam draws level with my shoulder. I put on a wee spurt and take off for a few strides, but she comes back at me again and again. Each time I find another brief injection of speed and keep her behind me.

Out again onto narrow suburban pathways, dodging parked cars, wheelie bins and lamp posts. I draw level with a Heaton Harrier and find the space to pass. As the pathway widens, I recognise the landmarks and realise we’re heading back to the start and this bit is definitely downhill.

I stretch out my legs and begin to fly, putting space between myself and the overtaken runner. I feel strong here, running easy, relaxing my shoulders and picking up my feet. I cannot believe how fast this feels.

I cruise past the tall parkrunner and another group of runners. Why are they not keeping up with me? I am queen of the downhill and the adrenaline is rushing.

Back round towards the start. The wind catches my breath with a shock and I start to feel the jolt in my legs and chest from my downhill rush. Conscious of the chasing pack again now.

There’s a girl in a black Blaydon shirt on my shoulder. She’s tried to take me on the left, now weaved out to the right, but I’m pushing on, trying to keep her behind me.

Now it’s hurting and we’re only coming up to 5k. Jeff’s around here somewhere. Can’t let her past me while he’s watching. He shouts out, “Looking good, looking strong,” as I pass, but I am starting to struggle.

As I pass through the start line at the end of lap 1, I hear the marshall counting up the seconds – 25.12 as I pass. Well I’ve done my good 5k I think and I start to drift off the pace a little; ease up to give my murmuring breaths a break. The Blaydon girl sees her chance and scoots past on the pavement.

And then I think 25.12, sheesh, that’s not far off sub 50 pace. Could I? Can I? I push on again, knowing the hard part of the course is ahead of me, but I want to give this my best shot. And there’s still that downhill to come.

Now I’m running on my own. The group ahead too far to catch. The group behind not close enough or breathing hard enough to trouble me. My red and yellow shirt is drenched in sweat, but I must do my best to do it proud.

Behind me I sense the pack. Right now I must lead it.

I feel like I skip over the stony trail a little more quickly, although I certainly feel it more. But my legs are strong I tell myself as I struggle with a shortness of stride and breath. Be bold, be strong, I say to myself as I find it hard to stay focused, keep pushing with no one near enough to chase, knowing I’m the one they’re all chasing.

I pass the 6k marker and think 20 minutes. Can I keep this going for 20 minutes? Yes I can. There’s still a chance. But I cannot let up. I must push on.

Back onto the smoother road and a slight incline. Pam challenges me again. I manage to keep her behind me until we turn out onto the busy pavements, but she’s persistent and eventually one of her moves sticks and she’s gone.

But the narrow pathways give me others to do battle with. A girl in a blue top and a Heaton Harriers vest draws level and I push on. She gets past me and I stick close to her. Draws a little further forward, but close enough I could take her in a sprint.

I’m letting out little bleats of effort now as I fight to bring my breathing under control. Heading onto the downhill stretch and I luxuriate in every inch of my legs, gliding down to take the Heaton Harriers girl and pull ahead.

2k to go. I’m going to push this as hard as I can, not leave it until the last minute, not while I’m running like this.

Into the last kilometre and I’m fighting now to find another gear, worrying that I’ve overcooked it. As the path flattens, the chasing pack eat into my downhill lead and I fight the panic in my chest. I can see the school building at the finish, but it’s still so far, so far. How far? Less than half a kilometre? The Heaton Harriers girl goes past.

Almost at the last corner and I sense someone else breathing hard on my shoulder. It’s the tall parkrunner. He’s been behind me all this time. And this time his longer legs eat up the path faster than mine.

I’m ramping up, grinding through the gears, but it’s not fast enough. As I turn through the gate onto the finish straight, the point at which I’ve decided to throw away any thoughts of holding back, my right calf pings into a sharp cramp.

But I’m already hitting the ground as fast as I can and I cannot stop. My face cries out in pain and I shut my eyes as I sprint towards the line. I’ve got enough wits about me to stop my watch as I say ‘Please, please please…’ to the running gods and almost pile into the back of the tall parkrunner in the funnel.

When I open my eyes I see 51:40. It takes a few seconds to register. That’s a new PB. Okay so it’s not the sub 50 that I allowed myself to hope for half way round, but in truth that was always too ambitious for this run. But it’s closer. And I’ve just run harder and faster at this distance than I ever have before. Been tougher, fitter, stronger in my mind. And it feels good.

Stats and stuff:
10k 51:40
1. 4:56
2. 5:23
3. 5:12
4. 4:43
5. 4:57
6. 5:27
7. 5:41
8. 5:41
9. 4:51
10. 4:49

Race results

When I catch up with the tall parkrunner after the race, I learn his name is Chris.

Post triathlon debrief

So what did I learn from my second triathlon on Sunday?

I need to sort out my bike. As I was taking it back to the car after the event, Peter asked “Why’s your saddle like that?” “Because it is?” I replied, looking at it for the first time. It’s angled downwards, quite sharply. Everyone elses was flat. I sense this is not a wise option. I am a bike newbie.

It’s also been suggested that this may be the cause of my little ITB niggle noted on this and a previous long cycle ride. A niggle I’m still feeling a little.

So sort out bike. And buy a new one (at some point – not right now, but soonish).

And maybe rethink my relaxed approached to transition. Peter stopped for a chat and a photo as he left the pool and still got through T1 quicker than I did!

I’m still not sure how much to push and how much to hold back, especially on the bike. I didn’t feel like I cycled as hard as I did at Ashington, but that was because I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Was I a bit daunted by a 16 mile ride? You bet. Was I watching those going past on their road bikes thinking I’m working way harder than you for half your speed? Oh yes.

Did I ever think let up a bit and just enjoy it? Plenty of times. Even on the run. And that was part of the fun.

The results appeared on the website today. I was 138 out of 141. Go me!

For a competitive girl, I’m actually really chuffed to be back of the pack. It reminds me of where I’ve come from and reminds me not to get too cocky.

That’s one of the nice things about triathlon. You never feel like you’re back of the pack. In fact I finished way before the winners, because the slowest swimmers went off first. And it was great to be able to see other riders and runners as I took part in my race.

Here are the results further broken down. I was:

  • 32nd lady (out of 34)
  • 2nd in my age category (out of 3)
  • Swim 109
  • Bike 138 (avg 12.5mph
  • Run 108 (8.49 min/mile)

So I guess with a faster bike and a bit more training I could aim to be around 110th next year!

I’m patting myself on the back for:

  • Getting myself and my gear to somewhere new; setting it all up and just going out there and doing it.
  • Being active for 1hr56 mins (including transitions). That’s nearly two hours. Almost the same amount of time as a Great North Run. I haven’t done a lot of long runs yet this year. That’s all to look forward to. And I know cycling’s different from running, but hey, that’s given me a whole heap of confidence. Especially when you consider my longest training session has been around 1hr 30 mins.
  • Completing triathlon number 2, when I was only planning on doing one at the start of the year.

So it’s all good. I’m a happy resting triathlete today. Slightly missing my cross training this week, but I have a 10k race on Wednesday night and I have rather greedily been pushing it after Ashington. I didn’t really give myself much of a break.

On paper I should probably be on for a decent run. But I want to get the balance right between talking myself into or out of a good race. I’ll be racing off the back of triathlon training. I haven’t run 10k since Tuesday 12 April – so it’ll be a month since I last did it. I haven’t run one hard since 03 March.

But it’s my other local 10k. And I know there will be some good support on route. So just like Darlington tri, no expectations, no time targets. Just run and see. And maybe, just maybe, it could all go right. And if it doesn’t, I’ve still got plenty more running in me.

Another weekend, another tri

You know me, I like to be prepared. In fact, some would say over-prepared for races sometimes. So it was a gamble, putting in a late entry for the Darlington triathlon.

It was a gamble because I knew the night before the race I’d be out late, not exactly painting the town red, instead enjoying an evening of laughter, learning and wonders with The Uncaged Monkeys at Newcastle City Hall. Uncaged Monkeys are Dr Brian Cox and Robin Ince, taking science on the road with the help of Dr Ben Goldacre and Simon Singh.

It was, quite simply, brilliant. Part science show, part comedy and an opportunity to poke fun at Brian Cox’s sexy science geek label. But Dr Cox isn’t the first scientist to inspire a loyal following. During the show they introduced us to Carl Sagan, an American who had a series called Cosmos that I don’t remember. But I’m going to check him out online, because, like Dr Cox, he seems to have had the gift of making the infinite wonder of the universe understandable through his gift for language. As a science geek and word bird, he’s my new hero.

At the end of the show, they played a clip of him talking about a picture of the earth taken from one of the early Voyager space probes. In it Earth appears as the tinest blue dot. It’s so beautiful, it brought tears to my eyes.

So a top night out, but a later one than I’d have liked given a 05:30 start to give me chance to get to Darlington for my triathlon.

It was a gamble because this time I was on my own, without my excellent support crew. I had to drive myself and my gear to a location I haven’t visited before, and prepare to tackle a course I knew next to nothing about. Oh and it was raining.

It was a gamble because I was doing it off the back of my Ashington triathlon training, with no specific focus on this race. So my preparation in the week before involved a long leisurely paced bike ride with plenty of breaks, a long leisurely run with similar, some cross training and two days’ rest. Oh well, here goes nothing!

I walked straight past Peter Brooks as I went to register. Lost in my own little world of what I had to do and when. But it was great to see a friendly face.

Happy I knew what I was doing, I went to faff with the bike and got chatting to another couple of girls with their bikes racked near mine. A bit of nervous banter and some friendly good luck wishes, then I went to sit in the car until just before my swim. Taking myself away from the nervous energy, going through the deep breathing, some yoga rolls and a little jog to get myself ready.

The pool was very small, so no spectators. And with swimmers being set off at 1 minute intervals, not too crowded in the lanes. I got set up to go, into the water as instructed, with a few seconds to do some sinking out and blowing bubbles, when the guy in charge looked at my number and realised there was another swimmer due off before me. So I had to get out of the pool, the other guy got in and set off and I had about a minute to wait until my turn.

That’s why I know I’ve conquered my swim demon. I was fine. I actually thought it had done me a favour, allowing me to get into the water and prepare. I went through the briefing again and this time I was off.

Swimming slowly and steadily, in my own space right from the start. There was none of the panicky feeling, just breathing out bubbles and snatching in air. My swim style could do with some improvements, one of which is looking forward a bit more. I found myself stumbling across the end wall sooner than I expected. I later worked out this was because I have blue lenses in my goggles and the pool had blue walls. So everything was a bit blurry.

I had a couple of minor rests, but just kept it controlled and easy. There was even an alarm went off briefly. And I thought ‘Oh no, not again.’ But it didn’t last long and we weren’t told anything, so I just ignored it.

As I was coming up to my last few lengths, I gained on the guy in front and tapped his feet. But the girl behind me on her first lap had gained on me and got me too. So in letting her past, he went back ahead and we all slowed down at the end of the lap.

The guy got out, his swim done and the girl went ahead, but then stopped suddenly after a couple of metres, saying sorry as I swam past. I’m guessing she went off a bit quickly or had a bit of a panic. I hope she was alright. But it did mean I had clear water ahead for my last two lengths and I powered on through.

Stopped my pool mate at the end of the swim at 09:15. My official time is longer as it includes getting out of the pool, walking alongside and then out along the path into the bike area. Major faffage at T1 – socks, shoes, gloves, helmet, number belt, quick swig of water then unrack the bike.

Out of transition putting my sunglasses on as I went and a long wheel over the grass to the mount point on the road. And then off out into the great unknown of the bike course.

I’d been told it was flat, which it was, pretty much. Certainly no steep hill like at Ashington, but there were a couple of gentle rises. And on a two lap course I opted to keep it easy at first, taking some time to get my breath and pace myself. Peter passed by, going in the opposite direction and gave me a cheery call out.

There were mile markers along the route and I groaned when I realised I’d only reached the first one. I had a bit of a niggle along my left tib band and was already finding it hard going. But opting for easy gears, just taking it easy, telling myself I was out for a cycle through the countryside on traffic free roads, I began to enjoy listening to the birds in the hedgerows and the bright pop of yellow rapeseed in the fields.

At mile four there was a right turn and a bit of an uphill. Quarter of the way there I told myself and was rewarded with some more pleasant flat and downhill sections, before returning to the road. It took some getting used to having the roads closed off and I was instinctively slowing down for the turns.

Somewhere out along the return Peter passed me again. I had a long way to go on this bike. At times the speedy road bikes coming up behind me sounded like cars. I didn’t see another hybrid or mountain bike at all. But I did get plenty of encouragement from the other riders. ‘Keep going,’ they shouted as they zoomed past.

Somewhere along the way I also realised this was my longest uninterrupted cycle ever. I’d done a 21 mile route last Sunday, but that was at conversational pace, involved several stops for map checking and a halfway picnic break. I think mentally that meant I eased back on the cycle, wanting to save my hard working legs and avoid the cramping I’d suffered on the Ashington run.

Eventually it was my turn to take on the second lap and I certainly went into it with more speed than the first. I also pushed on through the inclines, trying to keep the pace going, trying for little bursts of energy on the ups and then crouching down low to try and get some aero-efficiency on the downhills. Probably pointless, but it felt like fun.

As I came back around to the start I was able to shout out to some of the other riders just starting out and to some of the runners heading out for their run, including one of the girls I’d seen when setting up my bike. Triathlon’s such a friendly sport like that.

Finally coming to a graceful stop, off the bike and an oh so brutal run uphill across the grass back to transition. I really really wanted to walk at this point, but kept on shuffling to my bike rack. A bit less faffage this time and off out onto the run proper. Passing Peter again – finished by this time – just as my legs were screaming at me.

‘Take it steady’. That was my watch word easing into the run out along the streets of the estate. Although my legs felt leaden and plodding, I eased past a girl in a Darlington triathlon suit who had passed me towards the end of the bike ride.

But as I turned onto the cycle path, another girl came through. She was running strongly and passed me easily. All I could do was keep running my own race, easing out my legs, trying to keep my knees up when I felt like I was shuffling and trusting that my legs would come back to me. And they did.

I’d been warned about the hill. Turning into a country park and a trail and being faced with a steep uphill incline was rough. But I imagined it was the bank back up out of the Dene at the end of the Rendezvous Run and powered up, little steps, little steps, on my toes and dig in.

There were more of these little uphill and downhills on the wibbly wobbly trail and I gave them all the same treatment. And got some bemused looks from local people out walking their dogs. But it was a relief to find myself back on the cycle path and heading back towards the finish again.

This was hard. But I thought about the quality of my training and fitness. I had no doubt I could do it. And I thought of all the hard bits of other runs. Run this I thought and you’ll have no problem digging in on the John Reid Road in September.

As I turned back onto the streets of the estate, I heard the heavy breathing of another runner getting closer. I sensed it was a girl, but never looked. I just pushed on, imagining myself in the last kilometre of parkrun, stretching out and making a move; willing whoever it was to stay behind me.

Back to the entry to the field and the point at which I’d decided to go for it. Ahead was another girl. Was it the same one who had passed me right at the beginning of the run? I couldn’t be sure. But even on grass, even uphill, I knew my legs would not fail me. Arms pumping, heart racing, I beat her to the finish.

And so the gamble paid off. Paid off generously in terms of experience and confidence for future events. And it terms of a great day out. The weather wasn’t as kind as it had been for my first triathlon and the support wasn’t as vociferous, although the marshalls and other competitors were great. But with no expectations, no pressure and very little preparation I just went out and completed my second triathlon. Wow! I have come a long way since that first mile.

I definitely like these multi-sport events. I like the training and the variety and the challenge. And I’m looking forward to my next big triathlon – one I will prepare for and focus on – Hebburn in August.

In the meantime, there’s some running to be done. Including a 10k on Wednesday night. Better give my poor leggies a rest until then. It will be interesting to see how I fare on a run with no specific 10k training. I don’t think I’m in PB shape with a triathlon still in my legs, but I will go out there and give it a good run.

Thanks again for all your support. I had lots of texts, facebooks messages and tweets to wish me well. It’s great to have you in my very small corner of this precious blue dot.

Stats and stuff:
swim: 400m 09:51 (pool time on my watch 09:15)
T1 02:02
cycle 16 miles 01:16:41
T2 00:58
Run 3 miles 26:29
Total 01:56:01

Race results

Here I go again

Me on my bike at Ashington triathlon
Ashington triathlon picture courtesy of Carve photography

I feel like I’ve raced through this week at a hundred miles an hour and that lovely Bank Holiday Monday Rendezvous Run was years ago. I’ve been busy with an important project at work. Lots of writing and the challenge of keeping it fresh and writing for a different audience than usual. So it’s all good.

On Thursday, I did my usual PT session on the beach and it was a glorious morning for it. Barely a breath of wind and a pale pink hue on the horizon. Because of the high tide, we were restricted to a small patch of soft sand, making my legs work even harder. There were a couple of exercise sets that I thought I wouldn’t be able to complete, but somehow I found the bit extra and finished abuzz and aglow from another great session.

And talking to Ian, I’m happy that my triathlon plans this summer won’t interfere too much with my running goals. In fact, he recommended I do more triathlons!

I took Gary out for a very nice birthday meal that evening – so I had a treat too. He finished it with a posh knickerbocker glory. Proper birthday stuff!

Friday was absolutely manic. I was trying to pick up amends and feedback and rewrite things in between being focused and paying attention at some really important meetings. My brain got a real work out! But I enjoy that hubbub and energy. Good job I had plenty of fuel.

Selection of cupcakes in a box
Rikalicious cupcakes - totally yummy

My friend Erika made some gorgeous chocolate cupcakes for my charity cake sale last year. And I ordered some more for the Newcastle Town Moor marathon runners and support crew. Since then, she’s really got going with Rikalicious Cupcakes – her baking business.

As the business I work for is all about helping other businesses, I thought I’d order some for our team meeting to give her a bit of publicity and get some tasting feedback on some new flavours she was trying. They got a cheer and round of applause when I unveiled them.

I ended up working a bit late on Friday, and got a call from Gary wondering where I was and if I wanted to go join him spending his birthday money. So off on a bit of a shopping spree, I ended up with some nice new clothes for myself too. It was just great to do something spur of the moment.

It was a spur of the moment decision that made me enter my second triathlon this Sunday. There are only a few with pool swims locally and I knew there were another couple coming up. But knowing that I probably wouldn’t get another opportunity again until August, I took the plunge and will be competing in the Darlington sprint triathlon this Sunday.

Unlike my first one, I haven’t really had much time to think about this one. It’s a 400m pool swim, 16 mile bike and 3 mile run. I don’t know the course so I’m just going to throw myself into it and do it for the experience. I’m hoping the more I do, the less nervous I’ll be. And really, for this one, there are no expectations. It’s just a very varied training session.

But if you have time to spare a thought or a wee cheer for number 51 tomorrow, I’ll appreciate it.