What a week!

On Sunday, I watched in awe as thousands of runners and supporters took to the streets in the London marathon. I was impressed by being able to track those I knew running, watching their 5k split times appear on the screen. A flurry of facebook, TV watching and keeping eyes on the stats. And as they approached the finish, I switched to the digital channel showing the finish line, scanning the split screens for familiar faces and spotting some of my friends come through the line in amazing times.

And no, I still have no urge to put myself up for that particular challenge. But to all of you that do, I salute you. You are all amazing.

Four people with bikes
Lesley, Al, Lucy and Me, ready to head off on our bikes. Thanks to Bob for the picture

I have had a jam-packed week, full of training and fun. A busy week with a long day tucked in travelling to Winnersh to deliver two of my writing workshops, getting up even earlier than usual and home rather later.

A week trying out a killer new training session that had me speeding along on a treadmill and almost running off the back trying out pyramid intervals.

A week with a 10k that I treated as a long slow run that set my glutes screaming, but my foot, not a murmur.

A week where I’ve re-evaluated things again. I’ve lost some speed. I’m not as fast, nor as fit as I was at this time last year, and yet in some ways I am stronger. I am more self aware, have more experience and more endurance fitness than I did. But I still feel a bit flabby, not sharp and focused. But you know, I’ll take that for now.

If you asked me in January would I take a pain free 10k at any speed, I would have said yes. so I really don’t have to worry about the time I ran it in. And the speed will return.

And I sang. My choir performed for the first time in public on Friday. First in our workplace at lunchtime and then in the evening in the concourse area of The Sage, the prestigious music centre on the Gateshead side of the Tyne. It was quite nerve wracking, particularly when we walked out into our central atrium at work and there were hundreds of people gathered round and looking down from the walkways waiting to hear us. But there were a couple of moments where the hair on the back of my neck stood on end and well, it just felt amazing to be able to share some of the joy we’ve experienced in rehearsals.

On Saturday I drove north for one of Lesley’s tri days and had the most wonderful time. Off to the pool with coach Zuzi keeping a sharp eye on our swimming and writing report cards for us all to work on. I need to drop my head lower to raise my legs, work on my kick, keep my elbows high and get my hand into the water more quickly.

I tried lowering my head and could feel the difference, but it did mean I have to concentrate on my breathing again. So I’ll work on that. After a leisurely transition, change into bike gear and obligatory photo we were off again on the lovely quiet country roads.

Still nervous about my clips, I was in a complete panic when I really couldn’t get my left foot out of the pedal, but I managed to stop safely. With a bit of cleat adjustment and then untightening my pedals to the loosest, it was like riding a brand new bike. Thanks to Al, Lesley’s son, for his patience with my bike faffing and adjustments.

It was a ride that gave me a massive confidence boost, even as it showed me I’m far from bike fit, especially on the hills and stand no chance of chasing Lesley or Lucy. But I got into top gear, dropped and tucked and flew down a couple of downhills – the first time I’ve dared to drop clipped in.

I was definitely tiring in the last few miles, but it’s the longest bike ride I’ve done all year and off the back of a decent swim and a 10k the day before I really can’t be too hard on myself.

We did manage a notional run to make it a brick session, all of us opting for a short route as stiff legs and hunger took over. We were astonished that it was almost 4pm by the time we got back and had our lunch!

Thankfully the Marshalls are great hosts and soup, bread and cake was the order of the day. We demolished a table full. Just a brilliant day. And the weather was kind. Can we do it again soon?

Further adventures in cycling

So last week, I had a ‘wake up and smell the coffee’ moment, realising that I have my first tri of the season coming up fast. I also got my PLAN, thanks to Ian at Inspire Fitness. And you know me and my plans – I do love them – and this one’s particularly exciting, with lots of variety and some new sessions for me to try.

I haven’t  felt that I’ve been running very much as I’ve dealt with my plantar fasciitis trouble, but I’ve realised that getting back to running has pretty much dominated my head space when it comes to training.

Cycling’s probably still my weakest discipline as I’m very much a fair weather biker and only really get the chance to get out on a weekend. I’ve also done quite a lot of riding on my trusty mountain bike and not so much on my lovely shiny roadie. So last weekend was another chance to get out and give it a try.

I readjusted the cleats in my shoes and loosened the tension on my pedals and went out to test clipping in and clipping out near my house. This time I was so much better at getting my feet unclipped and coming to a controlled stop. So after a few laps, I decided to head out for a planned 30k.

It was bright and sunny, with a stiff wind when I set out, so I’d layered up and was enjoying my ride. I’ve got some pace targets for cycling now, but decided today was just about getting my confidence with the pedals and doing the distance. I motored along some nice cycle paths round by the river and marina, unclipping every time I approached a situation where I might have to slow down or stop.

As I took to some more exposed paths, I felt a spot of rain. And as I looked ahead the sky was grey and lowering. There were still blue patches, so I figured it was just a shower and pushed on. But the rain turned to hail and the wind picked up. Then as the icy drops stopped stinging my cheeks, I saw they’d turned to snow.

At this point I began to think maybe it wasn’t sensible to keep going, given it was my first time clipped in for a while and I was on a road bike with skinny tyres. I pulled over to the side of the road, to consider my options, slowing down and unclipping with my right foot. Why my right, I don’t know – I’m trying to get in the habit of unclipping the left. I had one foot free, and then I don’t know if my wheel slipped or I was just plain old clumsy old me, but I managed to lose control and fall over onto my left side with my left foot still clipped in and the bike on top of me.

It wasn’t a bad fall, just a bit of a bump on the knee. But it did leave me with a bit of a problem trying to get back up again. I started to take my shoe off to release my left foot, but somehow managed to unclip myself in the process. But not before a guy down the street had shouted down to check I was okay.

By now the snow had turned to rain, but it was still icy cold and I’d already decided to play it safe and turn back. As it was that took me into the wind and my hands were freezing as I cycled, taking it steady, not wanting to risk another fall or slip.

Eventually the shower passed over and the sun came out again, and I warmed up. I briefly thought about continuing my cycle to make up the planned distance out at the coast, but a turn into a sharp head wind soon reminded me of how damp I was from the snow shower, so I took the short cut home and called it a day.

Back inside, I was surprised to see I’d managed to skin my knee and had a nice looking bruise coming up. I treated myself to a medicinal dose of jaffa cakes and logged on to catch up with my friends out racing.

It’s very infectious when you hear about buddies running marathons and half marathons or just events that mean something to them. Events they train for, plan for, get nervous about. I guess it’s because I know what that feels like.

It felt like quite a big weekend, with Penny at Brighton marathon, Katy at Lochaber and Scotty at the Edinburgh half. And I know there’ll be quite a few more I’ll be virtually cheering on at London next Sunday. But it was great to hear that everyone seems to have had enjoyable races.

And so I’m rattling on with another week of training. A busy week for me, with work projects, running a couple of writing workshops and our first choir performance on Friday.

But I’m confident that I can do what I need to do, enjoy my training and get myself set for Ashington triathlon on 7 May and then look forward to a couple more triathlons and some speedy runs this summer.

The problem with cycling is…

There’s a lot of faffing around before you start.

The forecast wasn’t very favourable for a bike ride today. But when the all day showers failed to show, I thought I’d take my chances and get out to loosen off my legs after yesterday’s race. Cue, checking the tyres and trying to get a little more air in. As I clipped on the hand pump, I noticed the valve was at a bit of an angle and as I took it off, yup, I managed to snap the end off.

Luckily my local Edinburgh Bicycles is open, even on a Bank Holiday, so a quick trip in the car, a new inner tube and a track pump purchase and 45 minutes later, and I was ready to try again.

I’ve just bought some new pedals which allow me to ride either clipped in or just with regular trainers. I wasn’t going to risk clipping in before the Olympic Park Run, but now really is the time for me to try and get to grips with this again. So I wheeled my bike to the quiet back lane behind the house and had a practice.

I managed the right foot okay, although it was very stiff, but the left one was very difficult to both clip in and out. So, after a bit of wobbling, huffing and puffing, I really wasn’t feeling very confident and I decided I probably needed to adjust the tension and positioning.

But what I really wanted to do was get out for a ride to clear the cobwebs. So I changed into my trainers and hit the coast, working my way back along part of the C2C route then taking an exploratory path around a local park that I didn’t even know existed. I love finding new places on my bike and we really do have some great local paths and routes.

I hadn’t planned to be out for long and soon found myself heading back along the river towards the ferry landing and Fish Quay. There was quite a bit of slow moving traffic as there was some kind of craft fair going on, and I caught up with a group of around 5 cyclists whose panniers and mud smirched jackets told me they’d come from a long ride.

I assured them the traffic would thin out as we passed and found out they had indeed just about completed the whole of the C2C route. They were a bit surprised when they saw the red way marker sign by the mouth of the river and it said 1 mile to go. So I lead them along the route of yesterday’s run and up the steep bank to the final signpost marking the end of their trip.

It’s a route I’d like to do myself one day, preferably with a group of friends over a few days. Today, I was happy to welcome them to Tynemouth and take their photos at the finish marker. I think only the promise of fish and chips and meeting the man with the van got them up the last climb by the Priory though!

It also reminded me how much more fun it is to cycle with a group, even if just for a little way. I had been getting a bit bored out on my own with no plan for a destination or any real focus for my ride. Still, it blew away the cobwebs and loosened out my legs a little.

There was an entry form in yesterday’s goodie bag for another 10k race at the end of May and in my usual way, I was thinking of adding it to my race list in a bid to chase for glory. Then fretting because it’s quite close to another run I’d also thought of entering. As I was checking my calendar, it struck me that in looking at future runs, I was in danger of losing site of my real goals this year.

It’s only 4 weeks until my first sprint tri of the year, and only 7 to my A race, Open Water event. I haven’t ridden my bike clipped in, I haven’t tried open water swimming, I don’t even have a wetsuit yet!

Understandably I’ve had my focus on getting my foot better, but that’s really distracted me from my tri focus. I’m happier when I have an event to target and train for, and I’m eager to enjoy the thrill of racing again, so I think it’s time to get tri fit. And that probably means not worrying about the running too much.

Annoyingly my foot’s been more niggly after 6 miles at 10 min miling than it was after 5 at 9min miling, but it’s the last little tight patch in my heel that’s the issue and that’s better than the whole base of my foot, which is where I started. Another trip to the physio for some torture and hopefully a gradual build of speed work into my shorter runs should see me right. I only have to stumble through 5k for my tris.

Last year I managed a bit of both, running and tri-ing in the same time frame. But this isn’t last year and I’m not knocking out 10k training runs every weekend. So I’m coming round to the idea that I may be better off ditching the 10ks and fixing my thoughts on my three triathlons instead.

I’ll still run Blaydon, and with 8 weeks to sharpen up for that and maybe lose the few extra pounds I’ve been carrying since the start of the year, I might just get lucky there and have a good run. But more importantly I need more bike time, more swim time, and to dive into the unknown of the open water swim.

It’s going to be an exciting few weeks. I can’t wait to get started.

A running anniversary

The North Tyneside 10k was my first ever race and every year it rolls around, it seems to mark a change in my running story. My first time, I felt nervous, lonely, out of place among all the running vests. But I finished with the hugest grin and knew I wanted to do it again.

My second time, I knew so many more people, felt at home in the crowd and ran my socks off for a PB. Last year, I was sorry not to run it, but it fell the day before my first tri, so I stood in the sunshine and watched and cheered friends, Fetchies and parkrun pals.

Me and Danielle at the North Tyneside 10k
Me and Danielle towards the end of the race. Thanks to Rob Kirtley for the picture.

This time, still conscious of coming back from injury, I offered to pace my twitter and parkrun buddy Danielle, who was aiming to get as close to 60 minutes as she could. It was a bit of a daunting task, as it would be my longest run since January, but after a good run at the Olympic Park last week, I felt confident I could run a nice steady pace and just enjoy it.

It was great to see so many familiar faces at the start, to fall in with a group of Elvet Striders (surely one of our friendliest running clubs) waiting in the sports centre. Smashing to chat to Adam on for a super speedy run and to catch up with Karen and Sue. Team Fetch was out in force, both running and supporting.

Grey and overcast, with barely a breath of wind, it was splendid running weather, and not too cold as Danni and I headed out to the start. My aim was to keep it steady, just under 10 min miling as we clicked our Garmins on the start line. We soon found space and kept it nice and relaxed, running along with Natalie from parkrun for a good spell in the first mile.

There’s a good down hill within the first stretch and then a turn onto the quayside and along by the river. Here I noticed my Garmin hadn’t started properly, so clicked it into action and just used the pace to guide me until the first mile when I lapped the timer to get roughly back on track.

Our first mile was a bit speedy at 9:20ish, but with the downhill and race rush, that’s almost inevitable. Danni hadn’t run this route before, so I tried to keep her ready for what was coming up. There’s a steep hill that bends round at the end of the quayside and then another almost immediately after up by the priory. We picked our feet up and powered past a couple of runners on the ups and made it to the top.

I thought Danni was running really well, as we recovered at the top and assured her that the rest was pretty flat, plain sailing. But maybe 10 min miles was a bit ambitious as she started to struggle at around 3 miles and needed a little break to get her breathing on track. We grabbed some water and pushed on along the sea front, with me pointing out my favourite spots.

I was trying to measure out the right amount of encouragement and push, but I could sense she was finding it hard and had to take a couple more breaks. I really felt for her, because I know how hard it is to push yourself for a time and the pressure you put on yourself.. So I said just to run at her pace, to keep moving forward and get to the end.

The skies were brightening as we got to 4 miles, and although I was pretty sure sub 60 was now out of reach, I thought we could still sneak her a PB. So I kept on moving, just willing her on and looking forward to some cheers and shouts along the links.

A couple of Go Fetchie shouts, and then there were Lesley Anne and Penny cheering us on, swiftly followed by Flip, Anna and Adam (finished and looking fresh faced and ready to run again). You certainly gave us a bit of a boost, as did the sight of the finish line and as we turned towards the lighthouse, Danni and I picked up the pace.

With 200m to go, she was finishing strongly and still keeping me at a decent sprint, so on we pushed for the finish. With me losing bait of time at the start, I was a bit unsure of our time, but sadly, I didn’t manage to get her that PB. But goodness knows, she tried.

The usual fab goody bag collected and I wandered back to catch up with my Fetchie friends, almost forgetting to collect my bag. But it was great to hear of so many good runs and a massive 5 min PB from one of Newcastle’s parkrunners. And just as nice to get a hug from Lesley Anne and a welcome lift back home and time to catch up with Penny.

My first reaction on finishing was that I didn’t feel like I’d just run over 6 miles, my longest run in terms of time and distance since January. But as we walked back over the Links, I did feel a small twinge of heel pain. It’s the last remnants of the plantar fasciitis and I’ve eased it quickly with ice and massage. But it does remind me I am still on a comeback. And as much as I long to go out there and blast out a fast run, I have to keep my patience.

So I’ll try to pick up bit of speed work, little by little and keep rolling, stretching and working with what I’ve got. And I really do hope this is the last race where I have to hold back. I enjoyed my run and it’s great to be covering the distance again, but I really miss the speed and push, the adrenaline rush of finding my limits.

Bits and bobs and a welcome break

A few random thoughts to record before they’re forgotten as I find myself reliving and re-remembering the Olympic Park Run, trying to make it real.

Me in the Olympic StadiumWe were either incredibly lucky or something special was happening in London. It felt like everyone had been on a great customer services training course. I’ve never experienced that before. I like the city and its myriad opportunities, the fruit and veg stalls on the streets and the fact that you can taste a different cuisine every day of the year. But it’s not the city for me. It’s too fast. Too impersonal. Too cold and sharp and ambitious.

But last weekend I got a glimpse of its warmer side. Maybe it was the previous weeks’ sunshine. Maybe it was the Olympic spirit. Maybe it was just chance.

The mainly young people whose job was just to be there, with their foam hands directing traffic, they were smiling, relaxed, like it was the best job in the world. The guy who told us to look out for the people in ‘salmon vests’ laughed when we said they were pink and insisted they were salmon with a wry smile.

Inside the park there were signs of home. A runner with a sign saying Geordie racer on her back. A banner for Sunderland Strollers running club.

And on the way out, the guy with his walkie-talkie directing crowds, admitting they need a bit more practise at it, but thanking us for helping them test things out. And across the road, heading towards the tube station, another man in a pink vest, spotting me saying,”There’s no need to ask you how it went, look at you smiling! And look at your medal. That’s some nice bling!”

I waved like a loon and blew kisses to the crowds, enjoying my ‘victory’ lap before I hit the sprint button for the last 100m on the track. There was never any chance I was going to come out of that stadium without a smile on my face, but those little touches absolutely made my day.

Hold on to whatever that magic was and show that face to the people who will be flocking in their thousands to the games. When it’s busy and crowded and people don’t know where they’re going, keep your tempers and show those smiles and you’ll do the same for thousands of others.

The Swan Suite at Maison de Plumes
Our stunning room at Maison de Plumes

After our weekend in London, we took advantage of being so far south that popping over to France in the car wasn’t such a long haul drive. We found an amazingly stylish boutique B&B called Maison de Plumes and stayed there for a couple of nights, exploring the local area.

It’s an area we’ve driven through as quickly as possible in the past, hitting the autoroute to get further south into France or branching out to the beaches of Normandy and Brittany. The rolling pastures and windfarms didn’t seem like French countryside, but the space and time just to be and explore was a welcome break. Not to mention no chores, no cooking, no cleaning.

We were warmly welcomed by Richard and Vanessa at Maison de Plumes and made to feel very at home in their lovingly renovated house. It is an absolute masterpiece of elegant art deco style. Each room is very different, with its own character, but all are sumptuous, luxurious and incredibly stylish.

On one night we were treated to a fabulous five course meal, cooked by Richard. Great local food served with the same flair and elegance that Vanessa has lavished on this wonderful, relaxing place to stay. Highly recommended.

We explored some good museums and learned more about life under occupation during WW2 in a bunker used to launch V2 bombs. The films, footage and particularly the drawings of the prisoners of war really made me understand the war machine, the industrialisation of the processes and the human labour involved. Next time I read Tolkein, it will paint an even more vivid picture.

I ran too. Just a little bimble for a couple of miles around the local village one evening, frightening the locals with my Fetch top.

And we ate very well. Local, seasonal food. Mussels and chips served within sight of the sea. Smelly cheese and sausages. But although the French pastry is world renowned, and I enjoyed it while I was there, I don’t think I could take any more bread. Dear me, but I was craving porridge for breakfast!

It was quiet too. Unnervingly so. It’s early in the season and we stayed mainly in the Nord pas de Calais region, which is not really a top tourist destination, but we were often the only people eating in the local bistro and one of only a handful staying in the hotel in Montreuil the night before we came back.

It was a long drive back, broken up with a stop off to see our friends Bob, Carol, Sophie and William for an hour before ploughing our way North. Gary drove all the way, so I drifted into a doze and daydreamed.

And so now, here I am, back home and glad to be back, enjoying the long weekend. And getting ready for another race. My home race, my first race and a familiar 10k course along beside the sea.