Adding up and looking forward

Me running at the Christmas Eve parkrun
Sprinting for the parkrun finish on Christmas Eve

I volunteered at parkrun this morning to save my legs for a New Year’s Day 10k. It was great to see so many friends and  talk to a few new parkrunners too. The race was won by a junior for the first time and there were some cracking sprint finishes even without me running!

I’ve been tracking my total training hours this year, and reached my goal of 250 hours in December, but noticed when checking my training log that I was on 269:24 for the year. And, well, I like a nice round number, so I decided to go for a swim to make up the time.

That session in the pool, trying out my new kickboard and pull buoy means I clocked up 270 hours of training and racing in 2011.

I ran 640 miles, cycled 540 miles, swam 23 miles and did 109 hours of cross training including pilates, boxercise, weights and my brilliant PT sessions.

I’ve completed 3 triathlons, competed in 43 races, including 23 parkruns. And scored PBs at 5k, 10k and half marathon distances, not counting distances I haven’t raced before including 5 miles and 10 miles. And I had loads of fun pacing two 30 minute parkruns.

Runners line up at the start of the Northumberland Coastal Run
Fetchies at the Northumberland Coastal run

I’ve done some new races this year, the highlight of which was the Northumberland Coastal Run. It really is a beauty and this year it was made all the more dramatic by the sudden change in the weather which saw me running the last mile along the beach watching the thunderstorms inland that struck just after I finished. Meeting lots of friends at the start and having great company in Penny on the run, it was one to remember.

It has been an amazing year for me. I have achieved so much – everything I set out for and more. And I’ve learned a lot about myself along the way. The goals and times are exciting, but what stays with me now are the people I’ve met and the friends I’ve made and got to know even better.

Even when I run on my own, I’m often thinking of someone running with me, spurring me on or hearing their words of advice in my head. Thinking of Ian, keeping easy pace with me on one of our Quayside runs, encouraging me to be the best that I can be. Hearing Jeff shouting, encouraging me on to another sprint finish. Or Al just saying ‘relax and enjoy’.

I’ve had some great runs and rides and even swims this year. I did my first 750m swim in the pool on one of Lesley’s tri days and Peter has been more than generous with his time, taking me out to recce my first tri route, and encouraging me with my cycling. I have managed to get out on my bike and cycle every month this year, even if the mileage has been small. That’s something I’d like to do more of in 2012.

And as we’re looking forward, what have I got planned? Well 3 races entered so far, or they will be:

Resolution Run – 10k on the Town Moor. This will be a long slow run, steady pace, not 10k racing. I’m a bit worried as it’s mainly on grass and there are a couple of muddy hills and I only have road shoes. But it’s just a run – no times or targets.

The Olympic parkrun – if this isn’t my race of the year in 2012, I don’t know what will be. Just the thought of running through the Olympic Park and into that stadium – wow! No time targets for this one, it’s just about enjoying the experience. Oh and sprinting hell for leather down the finishing straight on the athletics track.

Great North Run – yes, I’m in again. But I’d really like to see how I go without making this a PB target race. I may very well train less and just tootle round further back in the pack and enjoy the atmosphere. Then again, I may feel like I’m having another amazing year and might just go for it again. We’ll see.

But 2012 is really all about triathlons. My first one at Ashington this year was the biggest buzz ever. I loved it. And now I have my road bike and have drowned my water demon, I know I can get better at these.

My big target challenge will be to complete my first Open Water event, which I aim to do at the QE2 triathlon in June. It’s a sprint tri, so 750m swim 20k bike, 5k run. The new bit for me will be the longer, lake-based swim. And then really I want to do as many sprint tris as I can get to and fit in, including the new Weardale event.

As far as running goes, I definitely prefer the shorter and faster distances, so I won’t be stepping up from the half marathon in 2012. I’d like be running sub 25 minute parkruns consistently and get that sub 50 min 10k. I need to find a nice flat course somewhere around April/May for that I reckon.

And I’d like to 1) get a place in the 150th Blaydon Race and 2) run it in under 50 mins. I’ve been seconds over on my last two attempts. I’m torn over this goal as I got upset with myself this year when I failed to PB at this race. I don’t want to fail to enjoy such an atmospheric race, but it’s so close I can taste it. So if I’m fit well and in form, I have to give it a shot.

I’d like to take on a bike challenge, maybe some longer rides and races, or simply a good day out on the bike. I’ve thought about the Coast to Coast or an option of a long ride that my work are organising, but the timings don’t work out. I think the Seahouses to Tynemouth ride may be an option, but I’ll keep my eyes peeled for others.

I couldn’t have achieved any of this without the some much valued help and support. Ian continues to be the best coach and trainer I could ever hope for, constantly focused on what’s  right and what works for me; testing my limits, never putting any pressure on me, but helping me reach my goals and finding new ways to make me the best I can be.

And my running, biking and triathlon friends are always good people to be around, always there to describe a route, cheer me on or share in some amazing experiences.

I’ll keep on supporting running and racing at parkrun and other events where I get the chance, or simply by smiling and saying hello to the other runners I pass.

I want to continue enjoying my training, stay fit and well and strong. And I know if I can do all those simple things, I’ll have another fantastic year full of fitness, fun and friendship. So I’ll drink a New Year’s toast to you all (elderflower cordial and fizzy water, if you please)- May your feet fall fleet and sure and may your friends be firm and fast.

The Scribbler’s 2011 running round up

WARNING: You my need a cuppa and some Christmas chocs to get through this blog post. It’s time to sum up an amazing year.

My focus at the start of the year was to get triathlon fit. And shaking off the festive torpor, I ran a succession of parkruns, enjoying the social side as much of the running. I also got to grips with my swimming, starting to feel more confident about doing the 400m I’d need for my sprint tri.

February marked the official start of my tri training, going from no cycling to building it into my exercise plan week by week. My ancient old mountain bike isn’t the fastest of beasts, but gradually we started to have fun together and braved a wet and muddy track one weekend. The weather was not kind this month as a small, band of fools gathered to run a Fetch Mile on Newcastle’s quayside one wet, dark evening.

I returned to the track where I’d run as a youngster, swapping the 100, 200 and relay for a 10k around the familiar childhood grounds of Stanley Park. I was pushing for a PB, which I didn’t get, but I ran well on the twisty turny course and my family turned out to see me.
Later the same month I ran a new distance and had a great day out at the Hartlepool 5 miler, thanks to two of the loveliest Fetchies you’ll ever meet, Lesley Anne and Jeff. Catching up with Jason and Lisa was a real bonus at this lovely race.

On my bike at the Ashington triathlon 2011
At my first triathlon


I couldn’t have had a better start to my triathlon experience. I was massively nervous as I stood poolside, but I conquered the swim and jumped on my bike beaming as I knew I could do the next bit. As I sailed down the final stretch back to transition, I got my own ticker tape parade as cherry blossom blew down from the nearby trees. And suddenly I was running for the line. Pounding out a sprint finish to encouraging shouts and feeling the biggest sense of elation and achievement. One of the highlights of my year.

What a busy month I had in May! I met up with a huggle of Fetchies for a Rendezvous Run on a lovely sunshiney day. And just two weeks after my first tri, I completed my second at Darlington. A much tougher, longer bike course and wet conditions meant this was a tough call. But I still finished smiling. And just a few days later, on a warm sunny evening I went and ran a 10k PB. Not the accepted training route for a 10k race – but it worked for me.

And just to round off the month there was a blustery Pier to Pier race and another 10k at Druridge Bay.

A gathering of Fetch runners at the start of Blaydon Race
A gathering of Fetch runners at the start of the Blaydon Race

In June I said hello to my beautiful road bike. Shiny, sleek and gorgeous, she stole my heart and promised lots of good times together, but not before I suffered a few scrapes trying to get used to the clipped in pedals. After I dislocated my finger in a freak non-bike-related accident, I lost a bit of confidence and returned to standard pedals.

Thankfully nothing got in the way of me completing my third run of the Blaydon Race and only my own competitive stubbornness upset me when I failed to beat last year’s time. It was vastly silly to get upset at my favourite race, so that taught me a valuable lesson about tempering my competitive spirit. A 5k PB at parkrun the same week soon proved I did have it in me to run fast and not pile the pressure on too much.

I took a break in Scotland, ate well, explored some beautiful coastlines and generally had a relaxing holiday. But by now I was also building up the run miles and for the first time ever enjoyed the magnificent Northumberland Coastal Run, which marked my 50th race. That was a wonderful day. The rain lifted long enough for me and Penny to enjoy the coastlines and castles and then shift along the last sandy straight as the clouds gathered and the thunder and lightning stormed at the finish.

My new baby brother, Lewis James brought a whole heap of joy to our family. August also marked my third and probably favourite triathlon of the year at Hebburn and the first on my road bike. With another crowd of supporters, including Ian who stood alongside me at the poolside and Peter who cheered me through the finish, this was a great race and a tri PB.

Me, Al, Paul and Mark at the finish of Great North Run 2011
Me, Al, Paul and Mark at the finish of Great North Run 2011

September’s always been about one race. Even in the years before I ran I was aware of the Great North Run. And this year I really knew I could finally chase down that elusive sub 2 hour time.

Confident in my pacing with a race pace run at the 10 mile Jelly Tea; relaxed and smiling thanks to meeting up with Al and his pal before the race; and then just running, relaxed, focused and as well as I could. Picking up a bottle of water from Tanni-Grey Thompson again, starting to feel the strain at 9 miles and getting a boost from seeing Jeff and his dad.

Getting to the bottom of the John Reid Road and knowing I was on target as the heavens opened and a refreshing rainfall sped me on. Totally blanking out that long slow uphill slog and suddenly realising I was on Prince Edward Road and then turning onto the last stretch out along the coast, sure and certain I could do it. Scanning the crowd for Gary through the rain. Reminding myself I still needed to get a move on as my focus drifted and then powering on through the line in 1:57:32. Brilliant!

Meeting so many fabulous Fetchies at the finish, including my annual catch up with Mark, spotting Dawn in her fab sailor costume and hearing myself described as a triathlete, congratulating many many on PBS and everyone, but everyone asked if I’d got my sub 2. Well I did, and it was a definite highlight of my year.

Lee, Ian and me at the end of the Stampede
A muddy team Inspire

Time for some fun and some mud. There was plenty of both at two very enjoyable races this month. At the Hellhole 10k I enjoyed a lovely trail run with reminders of last year’s exploration of the woods with Lisa. This was also a memorable run in that I managed to score my first ever race place and a prize for 5th lady veteran. I enjoyed choosing some high viz gear with my vouchers ready for winter running.

Then there was the Newcastle Stampede which saw me diving over hay bales, balancing on tyres and plunging waist deep into cold muddy water. Too much fun!

But the real highlight of October wasn’t a race I ran, but a race I supported – the Town Moor marathon. Another bevy of Scottish Fetchies visiting for the day and plenty of local support at the bandstand. And it was a brilliant day. I think this is another race that will stay firmly in my portfolio, although I still don’t feel the compulsion to run it.

This month saw a significant birthday for me, which I celebrated in style with parkrun and cake and more cake and Fetchies. It wasn’t quite the day I had planned at the beginning of the year, but it was the one that suited me best.
And it was swiftly followed by another fabulous day tri training in Scotland with lovely Lesley and friends and more cake. I feel so fortunate to have such wonderful friends.

Traditionally a month of slowing down, low mileage and an ease off in training. So it has proved this year. A touch of plantar fasciitis has had me running cautiously and festive holidays have meant classes and training sessions cancelled. But I’ve still enjoyed a lovely Quayside training run that got my 10k confidence back. And a memorable parkrun relay where the coldest of cold days didn’t diminish the warm support.

I was sad to miss the Saltwell 10k, but happy that Jeff took my place and I got to cheer on some incredible performances from among others, Claire and Sue who ran amazingly well to PB on that course. And I enjoyed trying my hand as race photographer too.

A Christmas Eve parkrun and a Boxing Day 5k dash have fulfilled my need for speed and burned off some of the festive excess. And there are still a few more days to go before I wish a fond farewell to 2011.

For this has been a grand old year for me. At the beginning, my aims were to complete a triathlon, and go sub 25 at Newcastle parkrun. I did that and more, picking up a 10k PB and finding some new and enjoyable races. And although it only became a goal later in the year, when I felt it was possible, I did run that sub 2 hour half.

There have been ups and downs, good moments and bad. But it’s been my best running year to date. So I look forward to 2012, Olympic year full of hope and excitement for the possibilities ahead. 2011 will take some beating, but I think 2012 may just do it.

Last two races of the year

And I didn’t run either of them. And it didn’t matter a jot.

Newcastle parkrun was always looking doubtful after a smattering of snow and rain and a temperature drop below freezing overnight. But I’d casually volunteered so I wrapped up warm and headed out onto the moor. Even as I made my way across to the start, I learned the run had been called off and the icy paths gave evidence that it was absolutely the right decision.

But still, quite a few hardy souls were out for their Saturday morning fix and decided to do a freedom parkrun. I was surprised how many still turned out in good cheer and how many ran.

Ever faithful Malcolm, our gate guardian had headed out to stand at his usual post, so as I walked towards the start line, I decided to head out to the little gate on the moor to help the runners coming through. I got lots of waves and smiles and thank yous and I even managed to take a few pictures. And it was great to see a couple of youngsters toughing it out in the cold. What a great opportunity and community parkrun is building all over the UK.

A quick dash home to do some chores and have some lunch, before wrapping up again to go out and support the Saltwell 10k. I really enjoyed this race when I did it last year. It’s a tough hilly course that laps round a park, so it’s quite pretty, very wintry and well supported.

I’d entered again this year, but having taken some time off running to sort out a niggly case of plantar fasciitis on my foot and coming down with a stonking cold that kept me off work and in bed most of the day on Monday, I decided maybe it wasn’t wise to run it. So I was very happy to be able to transfer my place to Jeff.

I’d been hoping to blast out one last 10k, with a target of beating last year’s time for this course. And having been twitter stalking Claire, half having in my mind trying to keep her in my sights as long as possible as she’s running well, consistently and just a good bit faster than me.

But it wasn’t to be. I could have just run it as a training run. But I know my competitive spirit and it didn’t feel right. Besides, I’d risk making my injury worse pounding up and down the hilly course. I did get my compensation with a quiet, still, early morning 10k along the quayside on Thursday with Ian. Just a steady pace, talking all the way, stretching at the halfway point and totally shaking off my anxieties about running.

So at Saltwell I was a spectator, and despite being a bit sad that I wasn’t running, I had a great time. I met up with Claire and her lovely support crew, and cheered on Fetchies left right and centre, including Penny, Sue, Jeff, Flip, Anna and Paul, plus loads of parkrunners and random club runners. If you’re an Elvet Strider, you’ll always get a shout from me. I took my serious camera and managed to get a few decent shots:

It was fffffreezing, so shouting and cheering people on was a great way to keep warm. At one point, one of the other spectators asked if I was taking pictures of everyone as I seemed to know so many people. I do enjoy running, but I do enjoy supporting too, and it’s always good to be among friends, especially those you know have supported and encouraged you.

And, it’s not quite the last race of the year. There are still a couple of parkruns that are possible and a Boxing Day race that I’ve never yet managed to run as it’s been called off. I will run on Boxing Day whatever happens this year. It was the first day when I just went out for a run because I wanted to. Not because it was on my exercise plan, just because I felt like it. The first day I knew I was a runner.

Old shoes, meet new shoes

Hello shoes. Here you all are together. My third year of running and my first year of three pairs. And yes I know, new Asics, you’re still waiting the moment when I lace you up and take you outside. But be patient my dears, your time will come.

My 2011 trainers
My 2011 traners l-r Saucony Pro Grid Triumph, new Asics Gel Nimbus, current Asics Gel Nimbus

Saucony’s, you’ve really weathered the tough runs this year. You’ve been taped up to tackle sand, mud and puddles; trecked your way along the coastline past castles and climbs; changed your laces and slipped on my feet for three triathlons of bike and run. You have done me proud.

It took a little while to settle with you. You were stiffer and harder than last year’s Nike’s but I soon broke your skin, gaining toe glimpses as I ran. Your support remained steadfast, even when I changed my allegiance to another pair.

You were there for my 50th race and returned from retirement without faltering to plodge through the mud and leap haybales at the Stampede.

For workhorses you were fast. A couple of close to 25 minute parkruns before we broke through that marker. And on one warm summer’s evening, a glorious, unexpected 10k PB. Thank you for some amazing adrenaline filled moments.

Asics Nimbus, do you remember that day when I tried all those different shoes on the treadmill and chose you, knowing you’d be the ones to take me round my third Great North Run? What a weight of expectation on your soles!

You slipped on so easily. We were soon in step and increasing the miles. Through the summer we ran out along the coast, to the lighthouse and back, a little further each weekend. And just two days after the Blaydon Race you sped me to a parkrun PB, sub 25 and a time not matched since.

But you always knew what you had to do. The goal I returned to as, step by step, you made me see it was in my reach. You kept my pace, kept me steady, took the strength and endurance built from cross training and gave me the faith in myself that I could do it. I could run a sub 2 hour half marathon.

We always understood each other you and I. So you knew my strange ways, my little habits and superstitions. You knew I’d run better with the pressure off. So on that day when I ran part of the course; on the day when I was meant to run 12, you gifted me the numbers and a 13.1 mile training run in less than 120 minutes.

And then we did it again. On a day marked by great friendships and amazing support, we carried each other. Focused, certain, confident. Just you and me doing what we knew we could. Running from Newcastle to South Shields, pace perfect in 1:57:32. You know how much that meant to me. Thank you.

New shoes, sister Asics, learn from your companions. Learn their strength, endurance, speed and reliability. And this year, their sensible side. Draw from the quiet confidence and self belief, the support and hope placed in you. There’s no need to fear the expectations. We have time to get used to each other’s quirks and rhythms. And although I’d hoped to race with you this weekend, be patient for our time will come. The Olympic Park is calling and we will run.

Newcastle parkrun – the Fetch relay

The Fetch relay team for the 100th Newcastle parkrun
The fabulous Fetch relay team and friends

I was so chuffed to be asked to be part of a Fetch team relay for the 100th Newcastle parkrun. And to be pitched as the final leg (must be that famous sprint finish).

I’m afraid my fellow team mates had to put up with me being a bit gloomy about my running prospects this week as I continue to take a cautious approach to what I think is a touch of plantar fasciitis in my left foot. Thanks to everyone who has offered advice, sympathy and support, especially Lisa  and Gav. Touch wood, I’m getting off lightly.

But after an easy couple of miles on Tuesday and no further real niggles, I woke up Fetch Ed, made a baton out of the inside of a roll of kitchen foil, baked post-race gluten free brownies and headed off to meet Penny, Rob, Martyn and in a late substitution, Lesley Anne – back running parkrun.

You know how some people make the day better just by being around? It was like that x 100.

Lots of crazy batons including a stick of bread and some Christmas crackers and some fancy festive headgear among the relay runners. It felt strange to set off at a steady pace ahead of the rest of the parkrunners as we dropped off relay team members around the course. As the numbers dwindled, I began to feel nervous. It wasn’t far to run, but I’ve barely run at all for a couple of weeks, what if I can’t turn on my speed? My team would have worked hard to get the baton to me, I couldn’t let them down.

There was nowhere to shelter as we stopped at the 4k marker, nervously trying to keep warm, awaiting the runners to come. We started to see them streaming across the path and then the first through, close behind the lead bike, carried a baton. And we were off.

Me running for the finish at the 100th Newcastle parkrun
Sprinting for the finish at the 100th Newcastle parkrun

Scanning the gate for our team mates, watching our numbers dwindle, cheering on other parkrunners including Jeff and, then I saw Obi the dog, bouncing along, swiftly followed by Martyn. A smooth, standing changeover and I was away.

A surge of adrenaline carried me off, legs hammering. But the cold wind in my face soon checked me back to a more reasonable pace. Hard to pace a 1k distance, but just feeling good to be running again. Usual markers passed me by and soon I realised I was almost at the last corner. Encouraging my legs to kick on, I negotiated the turns and powered down the finish waving the baton to the timers.

Barcode and token checked in, hoodie on and back to the finish to cheer on the rest of the team with the biggest smile coming from Lesley Anne. Then over to the cafe for a feast of cakes and biscuits brought by the regular parkrunners. Celebrating with specially made medals and a team photo. I also caught up with the lady I paced to her first sub 30 parkrun a few weeks ago.

It was good to be back running, good to be back on the town moor, even in the wintry chill, and good to be part of a community of parkrunners and the volunteers who make sure we can have such fun.

Battling the niggles

I haven’t run since I did the double parkrun on 26 November when the post-run pain in the base of my left foot made it obvious that I needed to take some time out to rest and investigate the problem.

Plenty of rolling and some stretching seemed to ease it and I managed all my other training, including a tough PT session that really worked my quads and glutes on Thursday morning. I went for a sports massage on Thursday afternoon. Roz did some intensive treatment on my foot and calves and advised me to ice my foot to help with the inflammation.

So I spent a couple of evenings with an ice pack or rolling a glass bottle full of ice under the arch of my foot. I even took the ice pack to work (well no one can see under my desk and it’s the best chance to catch me sitting down). And it’s definitely improved. In fact, by Friday I was suffering more from post workout aches in my glutes, quads and hips after Thursday’s training.

The work Christmas party on Friday night had me in my sparkly dancing shoes and another chance to wear the beautiful dress my sister chose for me to wear as a bridesmaid at her wedding. I wouldn’t say I’ve put on weight since then, but I’ve probably stretched out across my back and shoulders, so it was a bit of a challenge to zip it up! But it went on and I felt gorgeous in it.

On Saturday we went up to Christmas Farm for a festive feast and had great fun helping get the place ready and decorated for all the organic box scheme customers. I decided not to risk a Sunday run and made do with a swim, spin and body balance class instead.

I’d managed to get an appointment with my podiatrist first thing on Monday. Part of me thought this was overkill as I was confident I was well on my way to sorting out my niggle. But she took a good look at me, watched me bend my knees and honed in on my pelvis which was jinking out of line.

I then spent a good 20 minutes with her elbowing accupressure points around my hips and calves. I wouldn’t have said there was any tightness in either, but boy, she found the tight spots. And she’s given me some stretches to do.

She suggests that speed work may have caused the problem. That changing my gait a little has unbalanced my pelvis and that the problems in my foot is linked to the nerves rather than the muscles. I haven’t been running huge mileage or more sessions. But I had been doing hill and flat sprints with the running club untiil a couple of weeks ago.

She also recommended new trainers (the heels are rather worn and softening up). And thankfully I got some vouchers for my birthday that I can put to good use. I think it may also be time to get a foam roller to massage out the muscles.

I’m glad I went if I’ve managed to treat the source rather than just the symptoms of the problem. I count myself pretty lucky that I haven’t had to struggle through long term injuries and niggles and now is a good time for me to ease back. But my eye remains on the future and if good habits now can keep me running into my 70s, I’ll take that over any amount of pushing myself to breaking point.

I’d like to run at Newcastle’s 100th parkrun on Saturday, but I’ll still be taking it easy if I do. And next weekend I’ve entered a 10k. I already know I won’t be able to blast that out as fast as I would have done a couple of weeks ago. I’ll give it another few days and decide whether it’s sensible to run it at all.