101 miles

I haven’t run since last week’s parkrun and don’t plan to until after I see the physio again on Tuesday. I’m into my second week of properly treating this plantar fasciitis and I think it’s going okay. I’m attacking it on all fronts, with stretches, rolling, icing and I’ve had it taped up this week. I’m also working on strengthening, balance and hip stability with my PT. I am attacking it with a golf ball as I write.

I admit to a wobbly lip moment when I asked how long before I could start running again and the physio said 6 weeks. But he meant 6 weeks until I am running like I expect to be. Not 6 weeks with no running at all. When I go back this week, I hope to get a running prescription, probably of the run/walk variety.

Recently I’ve read some inspirational stories about people dealing with really tough times. And through the kindness of a Wallsend Harrier, I learned about the death of Terry O’Gara, club chairman, running legend and the man who lead the few sessions I ran with the club last year.

I can’t say I knew Terry well, but you didn’t have to be in his company for more than a second or two to know he was something special.  And it didn’t take much longer than that to sense his love of running and his enjoyment of it that spread to encouraging others. Another Wallsend Harrier, Stacey Rogers, puts his influence into context better than I can.

I’m sorry I didn’t get chance to know him better or learn more from him. But I’ll always be proud to say I ran with him, even if it was just trying to catch him up Swan’s bank. And my thoughts are with his family and the club who will miss him hugely.

I felt bad about my wobbly lip. So perspective realigned, acknowledge and move on. This week,  I’ve cycled and swum, flung kettlebells around, punched my way through a boxercise class, stretched and strengthened and even got up early to spend a rather uncomfortable half hour with the foam roller.

I’ve learned that running shorts make for a rather uncomfortable session on the gym bikes and that wetsuit socks will help keep my feet warm and dry on a bike ride outside, but they do get rather sweaty. And actually, yes, by Friday I had managed to wear myself out and be glad of a rest day.

On Saturday I’d hoped to meet up with my buddy Peter and take the road bike out for her first session of 2012. But the  forecast was frosty and foggy, so we decided discretion was the better part of valour and look forward to riding out in better weather.

But I was porridged up and ready to go, so I dug out my thermals and layered up for a ride at the coast. I had a few ingredients to pick up from the supermarket for a meal Gary was planning to cook. So I pottered out on my bike with my backpack, figuring if it was too cold and icy, I’d just do an errand run.

It was cold, but bright and clear, the sun cutting through the china blue sky and just taking it easy on the bike, I began to wish the road to the shops was a bit longer. I whizzed back home and dropped off my bags, before getting back out and on the bike for a longer ride.

Plans to recce a route that could take me to work were ditched in favour of flying up the coast to the dunes and the windmills at Blyth. There were plenty of people out enjoying the winter sunshine. Lots of smiles and nods from fellow cyclists and runners as I passed.

The route is pretty flat, and with barely any wind to speak of I felt like I covered the miles easily. I wasn’t pushing for speed, not consciously ‘training’, just enjoying the feeling of fresh air on my face and the sights and sounds around me.

I was also smiling to myself at my bike gear. It really is a cobbled together collection of kit. The only bike specific bits are my helmet and new warm gloves that I bought last weekend. The rest is old running gear. But I was plenty warm enough and it was dry, so I was perfectly contented.

View of Blyth beach between the sand dunes
View of Blyth beach between the sand dunes

There’s a splendid path between the dunes near the beach. It’s one of my favourite rides. But in the past it’s always seemed to take ages to get there, so that by the time I do, I only enjoy it for a short while before I have to turn back. This time, I was there before I knew it, making short work of the slight rise up towards Seaton Sluice.

I had to watch my path as there were plenty of people taking dogs, children or just themselves for a walk. And I stopped to take a few photos by the beach, caught by the crystal clear beauty of the day. And I had to remind myself to keep something in reserve for the long journey back. But I went further than I have before along this path.

Eventually I did turn for home, picking up speed on the downhills, spotting the lighthouse in the distance and then suddenly passing it by. Speeding along in top gear, or shifting down to make it easy it was a breathtaking ride. Just towards the end, I began to feel it. A little twinge in my hip and back that said “That’ll do.”

So not a fast ride or a hilly one, but a great one for lifting my spirits and reminding me that it doesn’t always have to be hard work. There will still have been some calories burned, some muscles worked to make it worthwhile. And it was a reminder about how much more confident I am on my bike than when I first started taking it out last year.

My trusty old mountain bike may not be sleek and sexy, but it’s a reliable old beast and we’re sure to have a few adventures together. We don’t do much off road together, but I like the chance I get to look around when we’re out and about.

I’d wanted to do at least 20k, and in the end managed 15 miles on top of the few pootling to the supermarket and back. When I got back and totted up my bike, swim, row, walk and run totals, I was surprised to find I’d topped 100 miles for the month. And there will be a few more added today with a cycle to the pool and back. Not massive mileage by any means, but a great variety of training to keep me ticking over and to keep me in good shape for when I start running again.

The best runs aren’t always your fastest

We were celebrating Newcastle parkrun’s 2nd birthday this weekend, so any excuse for cake and celebration! And you just know that meant I had to be there.

The plan was for the run as normal and then parkrun celebrations with cake, hot drinks and presentations in the nearby Royal Grammar School afterwards, complete with special guest Mark Allison, aka Run Geordie Run.

Mark Allison - Run Geordie Run
Mark Allison - Run Geordie Run

For anyone who doesn’t know, Mark is something of a local hero. In 2011, he ran an epic 3,100 miles across America in 100 days, and raised over £100,000 for two North East charities – St Benedict’s Hospice and the Children’s Foundation. In 2013 he’s taking on the even tougher challenge of running across Australia.

He’s a real hero of mine. I loved reading his blogs and catching up on his twitter feed as he was running and was very disappointed to miss an opportunity to shake his hand when he came in to give a talk at a work event last year.

On Saturday, after his first ever parkrun, he spoke with much humour about the challenges, highs and lows of his amazing achievement. It was inspirational stuff and the parkrun crew were hanging on his every word. It wouldn’t surprise me if he’s put some thoughts in some heads. I did get to shake his hand this time. I hope some of his determination rubs off.

It’s not usual for there to be prizes at parkrun, but it was a tradition started by our first race director Niyc Pidgeon and it’s great to see it continue. There are prizes for the highest points scorers and some more light-hearted awards, nominated by parkrun regulars. I discovered we had a duathlon champion – someone who takes on the role of lead bike around the course and then runs parkrun in an impressive 36 minutes.

Parkrun regulars also showed their support to the volunteers who make our runs possible. There’s a hardcore team of volunteers at Newcastle who really are the backbone of this community and make sure a growing number of people can enjoy a weekly timed run on the Town Moor.

So what about the run? For me, it was one of my most enjoyable runs. I’d offered to pace Danielle, a runner I’ve made friends with on Twitter at sub 30 pace for a new PB. It was great to finally meet her and it gave me a chance to run, but at a sensible pace.

It’s quite a responsibility to pace another runner, especially one you don’t know very well, and conditions were rather challenging, with gusty winds making it hard going over the exposed stretches. And it didn’t help that in messing around with pace and speed on my Garmin, I’d actually switched it back to miles rather than kilometres, so I had to do some working out in my head, without letting on to Danielle.

I figured 9:30 min miles would see us right and checked my watch at the 1k sign. Even with a tough start into a headwind we were spot on at 5:55 for the first kilometre.

As we turned into the shelter of the trees along Grandstand Road, I encouraged her to pick it up a little, and actually pushed the pace a bit too hard towards the middle of the run, recording a 9:04 mile along the way, but Danielle stuck with it and was running really well. I kept offering little nudges of encouragement and positive messages.

The rough ground between 3 and 4k always saps your legs and your mental commitment to a fast time and it was made even more difficult by a ferocious headwind as we turned into the last kilometre. Still we kept going and although at times, Danielle was struggling a little with her breathing, she found a way to get it together.

As we approached the last corner I reassured her that she had it in the bag and we powered for the line. It was a brilliant run in far from ideal conditions and I felt really proud that Danielle had done what she set out to do. Here’s her version of events.

As we were waiting to get our barcodes and tokens scanned, another lady tapped me on the shoulder to say that she’d tucked in behind us, listening to me and it had helped her too. Well that just made me feel 100 feet tall.

I’m not the fastest runner, but I’ve benefited from so much advice and encouragement from other runners and have, in my turn been paced to some challenging times by faster runners. So I know what it feels like to be on the receiving end. And it feels even better to be on the giving one.

I guess I just love that feeling of achieving something, knowing what it takes to do it and how positive a force it can be for boosting your confidence. And it’s great when others can feel that too.

More pictures and video of the parkrun celebrations on Newcastle parkrun’s facebook page

Stats and stuff:
3.1 miles 29:03
1) – 1m – 9:19(9:19/m) – 102cal
2) – 1m – 9:04(9:04/m) – 104cal
3) – 1m – 9:57(9:57/m) – 103cal
4) – 0.1m – 44(7:13/m) – 10cal

Parkrun, a plan and a pork pie

Sorry, I’m a bit behind on my blogging and just catching up with last weekend before i enter into the business that will be this one.

Brrrrr, it was a tad nippy on the Town Moor on Saturday and I was glad of my multiple layers from thermals upwards as I volunteered at Newcastle parkrun. I’d hoped to run it, but in a bid to keep my pace sensible, had offered my services as a pacer, only to be told they had a full set. So I was on registration duties, ready with my barcode scanner.

It meant I had a bit of time to chat before the start and it was nice to be approached by a couple of new people wondering what to do and how it all worked. As always with Newcastle parkrun, you think there’s hardly anyone there and then just a few minutes before the start, you realise runners have been arriving from all directions and there’s quite a crowd.

Soon the runners were away over the silver green grass, a multicoloured stream tracking across the moor. The first finishers were quickly through and then it was busy time, scanning barcodes and numbers and occasionally looking up to see a queue of runners patiently waiting to record their results.

I recognised names, but barely saw any faces as my chilly fingers wrestled barcode, number and scanner. A chorus of thank yous and some very cheery runners who promised they had a PB if only it would scan properly kept me smiling.

I didn’t have time to miss running it, but as the tokens kept coming it looked like we were on for a record turn out and as Fred the tail runner came in, we were up to 366 a very keen turn out on such a cold and frosty morning.

So, back home and de-layered, into another set of kit that would see me drop off something to be mended, take my mountain bike for its service and then allow me to head off for a run. Tasks done, I jogged back home, ditching my cycle helmet and jacket in the hallway, changing the settings on my Garmin and heading out for a run.

My foot’s still playing up a bit, so slow and steady is the aim. And I’ve realised I need to rethink my definition of slow. Slow is not the pace I ran my best half marathon at, not even over a shorter distance. Slow needs to be slower than that. I need to ditch my speed thinking and just do what I can at the moment.

Anyway, I ran a couple of loops locally, giving myself the option of ducking out if I felt anything not right in my foot. It was mainly road, but took in a bit of beach and playing fields too. It was nice just to have the freedom to get out and run and not know how many miles I’d done until I heard the beep of the Garmin.

In the end I managed just over 5 miles and wouldn’t you know it, only started to feel a stiffness in my foot when I was at about the furthest point of my loop, meaning I had to run just over a mile to get home. But I relaxed and tried to remember the form advice, trying not to push off with my toes and keeping my knees bent and I made it without any trouble. Stretches and ice straight away when I got in and it’s okay.

homemade pork pie
Homemade pork pie

On Sunday I tried out a new workout on my plan. You know me, I love a plan. And with needing to be mindful of my foot, but wanting to burn off some of the Christmas excess, Ian’s come up with some interesting variations. I tried some indoor tri cross training with a sort of brick session between the rowing machine and spin bike.

It was pretty tough and I was glad I had some power tunes on my iPod to help me power through the bike section. I’m really not fond of static biking except in a spin class, so I used the music to do some intervals, faster and slower to reach 15km in just under 30 mins. And actually I got a great buzz from doing it.

I cooled down with a bit of a swim. I don’t really have a plan for swimming, but I’d like to improve my 400 and 500m swim time so, after some advice on fetcheveryone.com I swam 4x100m off 2:20 and was amazed that I was swimming 100m in less than 2 mins. A few more focused interval sets and hopefully I’ll be shaving some time off my longer swims ready for sprint tri season.

And after all that exercise, I made my first ever pork pie, courtesy of a recipe and ingredients from our friends at G&S Organics. I’m rather proud of how it turned out.

Run for Bob

I had a lovely active weekend, that’s shown me I shouldn’t take my fitness for granted. I know when I’m training, focused on a race or event, I get fitter and stronger, but it’s not been quite so clear how much fitter and stronger.

I’ve wound down my training over December, taking it easy to allow myself to recover from the plantar pain in my left foot. And that’s no bad thing. So I haven’t run as much. I’ve done no distance over 10k since September and I’ve only done that once, on a flat road at an easy pace in December. And I haven’t run much during the week.

But I managed 5.5 wet, muddy and off road miles on New Year’s Day and although my foot niggled a bit immediately afterwards, I iced it, stretched and rested the rest of the week and it stayed quiet.

But maybe 7.5 miles off road was a bit much on Sunday. It certainly breaks the 10% rule. And when you add on a 45 minute bike ride on Saturday and a 6 mile easy bike commute to and from Sunday’s race… what was I thinking?

I was thinking of one of my favourite run routes, great weather for being outdoors and catching up with some of my running buddies. And I did love getting out for a run. The feel of the cool fresh air and the astonished faces of those wrapped up to take their kids out on the scooters or throw a ball to their dog as around 100 runners dashed by along the seafront promenade and onto the beach.

The organisers stress this isn’t a race, it’s a run. We wear numbers, but there are no times. It encourages a friendly, low key feel. I was running with my friend Penny knowing she’s marathon training and had already clocked up a couple of miles before the start, so trying to keep my pace sensible – conversational pace we said. And we did have a nice chat for a while until I did my usual trick of hooning off over the beach. Sorry Penny. Thanks for sticking with me. I think I’ve proved I’m a lousy marathon training partner.

Up from the beach, we ran along the coastal path, a favourite route of mine in the summer. Today we were dodging muddy puddles and saying hello to the alpacas. At times the path was too narrow to run side by side so I struck out in front and then we caught back up by the road.

Ducking under the gate we ran downhill towards the marina and then on into the dene. The paths change shape here, muddier, narrower and more undulating. And I thought they would slow me down. But I was feeling good and strong and just enjoying the run, and Pen getting a fly in her eye dropped behind.

It was such a lovely day for a run. Cold, but not icy and in the shelter of the Dene, even the guy marshalling the stile remarked on me smiling. I knew there were a couple of uphills to come, but determined to run them.

The first passed easily on the road. The second came just after a fallen tree that we’d been warned about blocking our way. I ducked under the hollow and chose the road up a steep muddy bank to the top of the dene. I normally take the lower path alongside the river, with a hill at the end leading to the smoother waggonways.

I chased and passed a couple of runners on the upper path and despite keeping my eyes out for the path back down, I almost missed it. Running on my own now, I began to feel a bit of a tightness in my left leg and stopped for a few seconds to stretch out my hamstring and tighten my shoe laces.

I kept my eyes open for the other runners on the lower path and as I turned for the long straight route I knew would take me back to the start, I felt sure that Penny would be ahead.

The long road on the waggonways is deceptive. It’s a straightish path, and easier terrain underfoot than much of what’s gone before. But each brambly bush, each piece of vegetation hides another stretch of path ahead. And with few landmarks visible through the hedges, it seems to go on and on with no end in sight.

Now I started to pay for my earlier enthusiasm. Now I began to feel my form go, and my body drop. Here, where I could stretch out my legs, I could feel myself stumbling into a shuffle. I woke myself up with a shot of dried mango and told myself to pick my knees up, but it felt like I was grinding it out.

It reminded me of what it feels like to start building up distance again on the weekend long runs. For me, training for a half marathon over the summer, there’s always at least one or two that just feel like a slog towards the end. The ones where you’re really convincing yourself you have to stick to the mileage target.

Relax and enjoy, I said to myself, breaking down the remaining distance. Just about 20 more minutes to enjoy this run. Your legs will come back to you.

Even knowing the route and ticking off the markers, the underpass and the playing fields just ahead of the track didn’t make it any easier. I was afraid that trying to pick up any pace in the last half mile would mean I’d struggle to finish. Even when my feet hit the track I couldn’t wind it up.

Just 300m. I kept the same plodding rhythm down the first straight, then stuck tight to the line on the turn and forced my legs into a faster turnover. The last straight and less than 100m to go, I hit the sprint button at the relay marker and powered on for the line. A foolish trick as there was no one ahead to beat. But I enjoyed the adrenaline rush and it looks like I may be continuing TheScribbler’s sprint finishes at races in 2012. Well, it is Olympic year.

One of the best things about this run, apart from it being local, cheap and raising money for charity is the great spread of cakes and food put on by the club afterwards. I dived into the flapjacks and pop and had a lovely chat with one of the club members who had been lead bike on the course and caught up with a couple of running pals.

The ride home was quite hard work, into the wind and feeling the chill a little, but I took it steady and was soon enjoying a hot shower. My foot was niggling, so as soon as I was settled down with some lunch, I used an iced bottle to roll it and did plenty of stretching.

It does go to show the extra value that I get from training. When I’m focused on a specific event and training for it, it gives me an incentive to do the sessions, eat well and rest well. And that in turn does mean my performance improves. I’m not as endurance fit as I was in September, which shouldn’t come as any surprise, but it’s a useful reminder and another pat on the back for me for getting to that level of strength and fitness.

Stats and stuff:
7.47 miles 01:13:53
1) – 1m – 9:21(9:21/m) – 102cal
2) – 1m – 10:14(10:14/m) – 104cal
3) – 1m – 10:14(10:14/m) – 104cal
4) – 1m – 10:08(10:08/m) – 106cal
5) – 1m – 10:20(10:20/m) – 101cal
6) – 1m – 9:53(9:53/m) – 105cal
7) – 1m – 9:44(9:44/m) – 106cal
8) – 0.47m – 4:00(8:29/m) – 48cal

Resolution Run

Me on the Resolution Run
Muddy, tired, but still smiling. Picture by Melanie Hudson

I’d given up running the New Year’s Eve parkrun in favour of this race, so I was very relieved to thoroughly enjoy it. After my worries about road shoes and running on a muddy Town Moor, I was kindly offered a loan of some trail shoes on the day, but decided in the end not to risk aggravating my plantar problems trying out new shoes. So I stuck my old Saucony’s on, taped up the gaping toes and hoped for the best.

And so I found myself being warmly greeted by Jane (a Fetchie I haven’t seen for a while) at the deserted cafe where I lined up to pick up my number. A quick pop back to the car to lose a few layers and decide what I was running in, and then back to see hundreds of runners arriving, including Dave, Peter and Mark as well as some other familiar faces from local clubs and races.

Trying to keep warm and regretting opting for short sleeves and no gloves, I chatted to Ian, Les and Kelda and finally got to meet George the pug who is gorgeous. I could have just picked him up and snuggled him under my vest, but instead settled for some ear tickles, snuffles and a good lick.

It was a bit of a delayed start as runners were still turning up to register and there was a short children’s race beforehand. But soon we stood, looking at the hills that lay ahead, the horn sounded and we were off along the path and over the grass.

My goal was just to treat this like a training run. Relax, enjoy and don’t think about time targets. Certainly nothing like a road 10k. And so it proved with people foolishly trying to skip the puddles out on the rough path and then stopping to get through the narrow gate.

I remembered my lessons about trail running, shortened my stride and stopped trying to run like I was on tarmac. The damp grass meant I often had to pick my feet up to escape a muddy slide and the off road route forced me to take it steady.

I was on steadier ground on the rough path along the side of Grandstand road, part of the parkrun route. My hands were still a bit chilly and I got the sharp, nerve like pain in my right shoulder that I sometimes get on a cold run. Thankfully I know this will pass if I just keep on moving and ignore it.

I exchanged a cheery greeting with Jane as she caught and passed me but resolved to try and keep her light blue hat in sight for as long as I could and just settled into the run. A shout out from parkrun regulars Ian and Angela Kirkley was a welcome boost as supporters would have had a cold afternoon on the moor.

I was always keeping in mind those hills and taking on board my Ian’s advice to keep it steady, but shortly after that shout out was the toughest bit of the course – a path over a long grassy slope, a hard slog, pulling on my legs and still the hills to come.

Me stumbling up a muddy hill
Almost an oops moment

When they arrived, I said to myself I’d try to run as much of them as I was able. Up ahead people were walking, but I powered on, taking little steps and using my arms. It was hard going and my feet slipped a couple of times, until about 2/3 of the way up to keep my footing I slowed to a walk. But I’d overtaken a good couple of runners on my way and managed to stay on my feet for the downhill.

Next, another hill, not so high, but possibly even more slippery underfoot. I ran this one on the first lap then almost came a cropper on the way down. A nifty bit of speedy footwork and airplane arms saved me. A short spot of tarmac and round for the second lap.

Now I knew what to expect I relaxed a bit more and with feet already wet through went sploshing over the ground. Despite the grass being more churned up by the runners ahead, I actually felt on safer footing the second time round as my devil may care attitude settled in.

On the rough path I began to feel my foot niggle a little this time and I wasn’t sure whether I should slow down or plough on. I went for the later option, as by now I was nicely warmed through, breathing easily and actually enjoying my longest run for a couple of weeks.

Another shout out from the Kirkleys and then a marshall pointed out the figure ahead and said “You can catch her, she’s a reasonable target”. I looked up and saw Jane’s hat, still quite a distance away, but definitely catchable. Slowly, slowly over the grassy slope I ground the distance down, eking out the inches ahead of the two hills.

I knew I had a chance on the hills, using my upper body strength to power me up. But alas, my footing and the churned up ground meant I had to slow to a walk around half way up the first one and once I lost my rhythm I went slower and slower, chest almost to my knees with the effort.

Down the slope, and conscious of staying steady on my feet. I followed the path taken by another runner, slightly away from the groove taken by many pairs of other feet. And somewhere between the down of one and the up of the next I managed to catch and pass Jane. I hope she caught my breathless encouragement.

By now I knew I was close to the finish. Just a wet muddy field to cross and then a welcome bit of tarmac to the end. I managed a smile and a wave to a friendly photographer and then began to wind it up a bit, still conscious that the ground here was very wet and slippery. I glanced at my watch and saw just over 5 miles and I knew then that it would be a short course. I had I reckoned less than 5 minutes to run, so I pushed on.

As I approached the tarmac of the final straight I saw Peter who gave me an encouraging shout for the finish. And I went straight into a good wind up sprint. It was way earlier than I normally go, but I managed to keep something like 5k pace for the last couple of hundred metres and really blitzed it out over the finish.

Ian and Les came over to say well done as I crossed the line, but as I looked to reply, I had a massive head rush and went a bit wibbly legged. Luckily a quick head down and stop restored my senses and I was soon smiling and comparing mud spattered trainers. What a good fun way to start the New Year!

Stats and stuff:
5.35 miles 52:43
1) – 1m – 8:54(8:54/m) – 101cal
2) – 1m – 10:43(10:43/m) – 105cal
3) – 1m – 9:32(9:32/m) – 101cal
4) – 1m – 9:29(9:29/m) – 104cal
5) – 1m – 11:18(11:18/m) – 101cal
6) – 0.35m – 2:47(7:52/m) – 36cal