Bouncing and the Town Moor marathon

Bouncing! Yes, that was me, literally and figuratively after getting back to my PT session on Thursday. Early morning, in the dark, in the mizzle and Ian had me trying new things that should get me running more midfoot, bouncing, jumping, hopping. And my ankle is okay with it.

Elvet Striders on the Town Moor marathon
Elvet Striders on the Town Moor marathon

We just do a bit, not too much and move on to more bodyweight and weighted exercises, so I get a great workout and all the time I’m feeling stronger, happier. Buzzing with possibilities, reflecting back the extra enthusiasm that Ian brings today, fresh from part one of his triathlon coaching course and eager to try things out. I am a very willing test subject.

My ankle, I reckon is about 85% fixed, I tell him, and revise that up another 5% by the end of the session, as I’m more confident about holding additional weight on it.

And all the time I’m learning. He’s throwing out questions, I’m naming muscles, bones, movements, consolidating what I’ve learned in my studies so far. The hour goes by in a blur.

The good vibes continue with a satisfying presentation at work and a really enjoyable rehearsal with the choir on Friday lunchtime. We’ve been working really hard on some tricky songs and not really feeling very confident, but we started to see how we could bring it together in this rehearsal. I still get really nervous at the thought of singing in public, as we will be in a few weeks’ time and I know I don’t always get the pitch right, but do something that’s scares you, I say.

Ann Hood ladies winner Town Moor marathon 2012
Ann Hood ladies winner Town Moor marathon 2012

On Sunday, I went to support friends, parkrunners and everyone else running a marathon on Newcastle’s town moor. I had a couple of friends who came down from Scotland to run it, Ann and Les, who it was great to see, and there were lots of other local runners I know taking part. Penny came along and we clapped yelled and generally encouraged everyone from the bandstand.

They are a hardy lot, running five laps of a muddy moor on a wintry day, but there were mainly smiles and lots of waves as we clapped and shouted well done and I passed drinks and gels to Ann and Les.

Ann really is a fabulous runner and has achieved so much. She ran this race two years’ ago wearing my Garmin and was delighted to go under 4 hours. In London she ran 3:09 for the marathon and I tracked her times on the website. Today, she didn’t beat her best time, but still ran a great race to take the first place ladies trophy. I was very proud to see her do it as she continues to inspire me to believe in myself and go for my own goals.

More Town Moor marathon pictures here. If you’d like a high quality copy, please get in touch.

At the moment, I’m happy just to continue to recuperate my ankle. There’s still a little bit of swelling, but it doesn’t cause me any problems day to day. I’m building up to running on it gradually, with some run walk sessions and trying to train myself to run more mid foot, rather than hitting the ground with my heel. It’s a good time for me to do this and hopefully it will make me a better runner in future. Next up might be some lighter, more minimal trainers to encourage me to change my running gait, but I’ll go get some advice before I splash out.

Poetry and emotion

On Friday evening I went to hear poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy reading some of her work as part of the Durham Book Festival. She’s a poet whose work I only know a little, but what I’ve read I’ve enjoyed and I’ve been particularly struck by some of the pieces she’s written since being appointed poet laureate in 2009.

She began on a sombre note, reading Last Post, written to commemorate the passing of the last veterans of World War One. But there were moments of humour too, as in her poems she explained, she often seeks to subvert, to irritate.

Michael Gove and the handling of English GCSE results this year sparked her ire, his name spat out, pantomime villain style to the audience. It’s not the first time she’s been involved in an education row. In 2008, her poem Education for Leisure was removed from a GCSE anthology after a complaint by an invigilator about its reference to knife crime. In elegant style, she responded with a poem, Mrs Schofield’s GCSE, which cites Shakespeare in defence. The audience laughed and clapped at this one.

Accompanied by a player of assorted pipes, a sort of fool to her queen, she lightened the mood with some readings from her collection The World’s Wife. Here she takes inspiration from stories and myths and give them a feminine twist , often as giving voice to the wife or partner, as in Mrs Faust or Mrs Midas, both of which she read this evening. I was delighted to be able to get a signed copy of this collection too.

She ended the evening with a poem called Liverpool,  inspired by the Hillsbrough report. The last phrases were accompanied by the melody of “You”ll never walk alone.” I’m sure my cheeks were not the only ones dampened by tears.

I love poetry for that. For its power to capture a moment and make it resonate. I think we turn to poetry at times of celebration and of loss, when there’s more emotion that we want to give meaning. Perhaps what I like best about Carol Ann Duffy is that she doesn’t use the clever words, but the ordinary, everyday language to sound that resonance.

Carol Ann Duffy was in town as part of the book festival, but also because she has been involved in writing the scenario for a  new ballet of Rapunzel, performed by BalletLorent.

During the poetry reading, she revealed that she’d seen it the previous night and someone in the audience piped up “Wonderful”. I was glad I’d got tickets for the following performance as what I saw had me in raptures and tears.

I don’t see much ballet and it’s years since I danced myself, but there is something so incredibly moving and expressive about bodies in motion. I admired it at the Olympics, the endless grace, power and control of the athletes, but perhaps in dance it’s brought even more sharply into focus by the story telling.

When we think of Rapunzel, we think of the princess in the tower and her long hair. But the roots of the story as told by the Brothers Grimm are often forgotten. This production goes back to the dark origins of the fairy tale, with a woman wasting away for want of the rampion (a kind of vegetable, known as rapunzel in German) that grows in the witches garden.

When he’s caught stealing it, the wife’s husband makes a terrible deal and promises the witch their first born child to escape punishment. The child, is, of course, Rapunzel.

This is quite simply a stunning production that draws on the emotions of love and loss, motherhood, growing up, losing and finding a child. I would encourage anyone with even the slightest interest in dance to go and see it.

The dancers tackle any number of challenges. The female costumes which have a kind of flexible hooped skirt become part of the storytelling, wrapping and unveiling. The simple metal sets are wheeled and turned to become the tower in which Rapunzel sits and swings and dances around the ironwork high above the stage like a monkey. It’s more like beautiful climbing than traditional ballet.

I was particularly struck by the talent and enthusiasm of the younger members of the cast who bring real joy and delight to the openings of the two acts.

The senior members really were outstanding, bringing to life two lizards who act as the witch’s familiars, and the witch herself who tackles whips and even skates as part of her performance.

In dance, they tell the story with the whole of their bodies, each emotion played out with movement, from the strong and powerful, to soft, loving and sensuous. In the second act, as parallels are drawn between two sets of characters who are suffering the loss of a child, the principal dancers express that loss with every movement and sinew of their bodies. The simple movement of a dancer’s foot was heartbreaking and again brought me to tears.

I consider it a sign of an excellent performance if there’s a moment of silence before the applause. It shows the audience needs a moment to adjust, to reground themselves in the here and now, having been truly immersed in the story. There were two such pauses this evening, one after Carol Ann Duffy’s reading and another after the finale of Rapunzel.

Ballet Lorent are touring with this production, currently in Hull, then returning to Newcastle next year, before taking it to London and Oxford. I’d thoroughly recommend going to see it.

Recovering and reviewing plans

I’m happy to say that after a couple of days of treating my ankle with ice and wearing a compression bandage, the swelling has almost gone and I’ve been able to walk around on it quite easily, although I’ve done my best to keep of it as much as I can.

But managing to get from my car to my desk and from my desk to where I need to be at work without too much of a limp is a long way from the kind of active lifestyle I normally enjoy. So it’s been a bit of a week off from training.

And that’s been hard at times, particularly on Thursday morning when I had to cancel my regular PT session. It’s been part of my life for so long and I so enjoy doing it, that I felt a bit bereft without my usual dose of exercise induced endorphins and encouragement from Ian. I’m afraid I was a bit sulky and low that day.

I am trying to be sensible and not make the mistake of rushing back into my usual activities too quickly and risking compounding an injury that I hope will clear up in a couple of weeks. But it feels like a waste of these splendid autumn days, and so I’m looking at things I can do.

I tried walking on the treadmill at the gym and a short swim on Wednesday night, not really enough effort to raise my heart rate, but I felt the effect enough to know that I shouldn’t push it to do any more.

Even swimming put a bit of a pull on my ankle, so when I went back to the pool on Friday morning, I took my pull buoy with me so I could eliminate my legs and swim mainly with my arms. A pull buoy is just a kind of float. In this case I stuck it sort of between my knees to keep my legs up without the need to kick with them. It’s a good tool to use to help you concentrate on parts of your swim technique, so I used it to focus on my head position in the water.

As I can’t run so much at the moment, it will be good to work on my swimming for the next triathlon season. A very good swimmer on Fetch Everyone has sent me some ideas for exercises I can practise in the pool to improve my stroke.

It may sound strange, but I am missing the hot sweaty buzz that I get from a good cardio session such as a fast paced interval run. Particularly as before I hurt my ankle I was just starting a new programme with a lot of this kind of activity in it. And if I want to keep my fitness up, I need to do something that will get my heart rate up. So I’m going to go back to doing some sessions on the indoor rowing machine and bike. They should also fit in well with next year’s triathlon plans.

Today I volunteered at parkrun and enjoyed meeting up with my friends, shouting encouragement and taking photos of the runners on Newcastle’s Town Moor. It’s such a friendly and social event and today was simply a lovely day to be outdoors.

I also picked up an exercise that I haven’t done since the beginning of the year, trying out a pilates class at my gym. It was a good test of my flexibility and core strength, so I’ll try to make time to continue some of those exercises at home too.

I’ve been making progress with my Level 2 gym qualification too. I’ve now worked my way through all the anatomy and physiology sections and am starting to learn about working with clients. It’s really interesting stuff. Luckily I’ve had such great experience with my PT, Ian from Inspire Fitness that a lot of it seems like second nature or common sense to me and it would just be the way I’d do things. But I want to take my time to take it all in and not take anything for granted.

I need to do a bit of revising, but I hope to take my first assessment in anatomy and physiology in the next few weeks.

All this is helping me keep a positive note on my injury as it’s really not the end of the world and people have far worse to deal with. But when you love what you do, like I do, you miss it when things change. Reading the notes on changing behaviours and setting goals for clients as part of my studying today made me realise I need to do a few of these things myself . And actually changing the way I do things could be good in the long term, as working on my cycling and swimming skills will really help me improve my performance during next year’s triathlon season.

Newcastle stampede 2012

This was meant to be a fun race. A chance to get wet, muddy and throw myself over silly obstacles on a run. Which it was, and a lot of fun too. But I’m paying the price for it now, with a sprained ankle 😦

But let’s start at the beginning and try and give you a flavour of what this rather daft event is all about. Hundreds of people gathered at Gosforth race course in Newcastle on Sunday morning, ready to take on the challenge of a 10k obstacle course  in aid of the British Heart Foundation.

Me, Ian, Les and George the pug
Go Team Inspire!

There seemed many, many more than when I did this event last year and spirits were high as I met up with the rest of Team Inspire – my PT Ian, and Big Les and spotted my friend Erika in the queue for registration. We’d been promised a harder challenge this year, after last year’s course was deemed to have been too short and too easy. After heavy rain during the week, it certainly promised to be muddy, so we prepared by taping up our trainers in the hope of keeping them on our feet.

Out onto the race course and we started to be directed towards the start. Someone yelled that if you were after doing a good time you should move into the front section. Well, Ian and Les were off, and after a moment’s hesitation I followed. I had no illusions that I’d manage to keep up with them, but it would be good to start together.

A quick warm up lead by a couple of guys standing on top of hay bales and then we were off over the grass and the mats to start our timing chip. The first section was a run across the grass and onto the ambulance track that runs around the race course. I was keeping it steady, trying to conserve my energy for the obstacles ahead and on the first bit of an uphill, Ian and Les pulled away from me.

The first real obstacle was a field full of hay bales which you had to pull yourself up and over. The double height ones took a bit of a jump! Then it was off the field and into the first water drop and up a muddy bank with the help of a couple of ropes tied to the trees. The cold muddy water got a few gasps, but I knew there was much more to come.

The first of the tunnels soon followed. A dry one to start and get us used to crouching down and heading through the darkness. I was a bit tentative of these last year as I’m not fond of confined spaces, but this year i knew I’d be able to manage them.

Then a run up another grassy bank. Here people began to walk, but I kept going, determined to run all the bits I could, even at a slow pace. It was worth the effort to get to the top though as what followed was my favourite obstacle on the whole course, a long stretch of black plastic hosed down with water for a mammoth waterslide!

I made it down in one piece and then proceeded to fall flat on my face about three steps afterwards. A girl in front of me asked if I was okay and offered me a hand up as I laughingly found my feet.

To give you an idea of what I went through, here’s a video.

More muddy trails and then onto a second field of hay bales and tyres that you had to step through. I negotiated a few of these and then on the second set of tyres I lost my balance, went over hard on my left ankle and came down.

I knew as soon as I’d done it, that I’d hurt it and it wasn’t just a case of carrying on and brushing it off. I stepped away from the tyres and started to assess the damage. Immediately a marshal with a radio came over to see how I was. I managed to stand on my sore leg, so I figured I hadn’t broken it, but the pain wasn’t subsiding quickly. She asked if I wanted to get checked over by one of the medics and I said yes.

I was doing my best to walk around, willing the pain to subside, wondering whether I would have to pull out or if I could continue. A guy came over to speak to me, asked if I could move my foot. I managed to circle it and felt like the initial shock had died down.

I thought, if this guy advises me to drop out, I will, but he basically said “It’s up to you. If you feel okay, carry on. And if it’s painful later on, you can drop out anytime, just find one of the marshals. But take it easy – complete it – don’t compete it.”

I wish I’d had the presence of mind at this point to ask how far I had to go. but stoked up on adrenaline and never really believing I can properly hurt myself, I was off again, walking this time and avoiding the rest of the obstacles. Over the uneven ground I sometimes winced and yelped a little, but I managed to keep on moving and after about ten minutes, tried a little jog trot.

After a while, I found the jog trotting on the flatter trails was actually less painful than walking and concentrated on keeping light on my feet. And while the sunshine was coming through the trees, it was an enjoyable day to be out in the woods.

I was actually looking forward to the next water obstacle, as I hoped the cold water would ease my ankle. It came soon enough and although I stepped down into the muddy ditch with some caution, I was able to wade through fairly easily. I only struggled getting back out the other side, and generally managed to grab a helping hand.

The next obstacle I remember was a crawl wire, where we were forced onto hands and feet in the mud. After all the bear crawls I do in training, I made short work of this one.

But when it came to the muddy tyre filled ditch, I opted out, not wishing to risk my ankle again. I explained to one of the marshals that I was skipping this one and he jokingly said “Okay, give us 10 press ups then,” but I duly obliged and then headed off along the trails.

It was a bit frustrating not being able to run properly and I gingerly picked my way through the mud, cautious of doing more damage. More muddy drops, each one deeper than the last, a sheep dip of three skips in a row and then the final tunnel and mud bath. Here I saw the guy that had helped me when I hurt my ankle and he was pleased I had made it and was still smiling a he helped me up and out the side.

Me and Ian at the end of the Stampede
A muddy looking pair

The last little run over the field into the race course was actually one of the more challenging bits as the ground was ridged in waves and the last cold dip made it hard to catch your breath. And then there was one last obstacle before the finish – three guys with rugby tackle pads who shoulder barged you off track as you headed for the finish. Once past them, I heard someone shout my name, broke into a wincing kind of run and crossed the finish at last!

I caught up with my patient friends who had hung around getting cold, waiting to see me come in. Ian had managed to lose one of his trainers in the last water obstacle and was standing barefoot on the grass. We snapped a couple of pictures and then, shivering, decided we’d better head to the cars for some warm clothes.

With me limping and Ian barefoot we made a right pair and just about got to the car as it started to rain. So there was no hanging about and I went off to find my car and get out of my wet gear and into some warm socks and dry shoes. Everything I was wearing was soaked and very muddy.

Giving my feet a rough clean with some wet wipes I was able to review the damage and saw that my ankle was quite red and swollen, but it didn’t look too bad. So it was home quickly, into the shower and ice pack on my ankle while I soaked my muddy gear.

I then spent the rest of the afternoon with my foot up on a chair in the farm kitchen watching Beth get on with the week’s baking. I felt very guilty not being able to help, but was very grateful when they invited us to stop for dinner as it meant I didn’t have to stand on my feet and cook.

Back home, I got out the ice pack again before bedtime and managed to sleep with my ankle propped up on a couple of pillows.

Today the swelling and bruising has spread, but after a bit of stumbling around, I managed to get enough movement to be able to drive to work, where I got it strapped up by one of the staff at the gym.

Right now I’m feeling rather foolish. Foolish for pushing on in a race that really didn’t matter. For thinking I could get away with it. I’ve reset my expectations about how quickly I’ll bounce back from this. I’m hoping a couple of weeks, but am prepared to sit out any serious running this winter if I have to.

New workout, new focus

I’m trying a new approach to my exercise routine at the moment. I think it’s good to make a change, shake up your exercise routine every so often. And after a period devoted to running and getting the miles in for the Great North Run, it’s good to do something a bit different.

The new workout, designed by my PT Ian is designed to blitz fat. It focuses on tabata  or short bursts of high intensity activity, interspersed with short periods of rest. So I do a series of exercises with the kettlebell on a 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off  repeat. Then I follow that up with a series of short sprint intervals.

Boy it’s a tough workout that really got my heart rate up and had me sweating.  But I really enjoyed it, and it felt like a great value workout for 40 minutes’ effort.

I haven’t officially set any new goals yet, but this time of year is when I traditionally take a bit of a training review and look ahead to what I want to do next.

I have a few ideas, and triathlon is definitely the focus again for 2013, with the challenge of moving up to standard distance. But it’s off season for triathlon, and while I can do some good base building on my swim and bike fitness, I think I can also afford to have some fun and enjoy winter training.

Another thing I want to focus on is getting my studying done for my Level 2 Gym instructor qualification. I’ve already worked through some of the reading and online sessions and am really enjoying it. But I need to make it a priority to make time to do it properly. I hope to be ready to take one or two of the assessments by Christmas or early in the New Year.

But one thing I have started is to get back on track with healthy eating and to try and lose a few pounds. I put on a bit of weight last year, with the usual post Christmas indulgence. Nothing really noticeable, but after having to ease back on running earlier in the year with plantar fasciitis, I never really shifted it.

It’s not so much the weight I’m bothered about as the bad habits actually. I have a sweet tooth that it’s easy to indulge, especially when training for a half marathon. But the chocolate treats were becoming a daily habit, often fuelled by boredom and inactivity. And that’s not a healthy attitude to food.

So I’m back from a fab holiday where I ate out at every meal, didn’t deny myself anything and enjoyed it all. Which is a much healthier attitude.

But to stop myself falling back into the thoughtless grazing, I’ve drawn a line in the sand, and I’m cutting out as much sugar as possible for the next two weeks. No cakes, biscuits, chocolate or sweeties and even cutting down on the amount of fruit I eat.

So far, so good. I even managed to resist temptation when faced with four types of home made cake at the farm open day on Saturday. Although being given the task of putting warm tray bake onto plates was a test of my resolve.

I’ll still be running (I have plans for that too), but I don’t need the long miles so much, so it will be good to change focus from time and pace and enjoy some shorter runs. And I’m really looking forward to testing myself through the mud and obstacles at the Newcastle Stampede this weekend.

I’ll also be supporting runners, by volunteering at  Newcastle parkrun and cheering on everyone taking part in the Town Moor marathon. It’s great fun cheering runners on in a race, and I know how much I always appreciate a shout out, especially on the Great North Run. And without the help of marshals and volunteers, I wouldn’t have the chance to take part in so many races and fun events.

Flushing out pheasants

I sent a pheasant flying out of the tall grass by the roadside when I was out on my lunchtime run this week. Autumn’s a really nice time of the year to run. Bright, crisp air, that cools on the skin and a vast expanse of blue sky above.

It reminded me of another article I’ve written on Fetch Everyone, that was similarly sparked by a rare sighting in nature, and goes on to describe some of the unexpected benefits of running, or simply being active, especially outdoors. I thought you might like to read it.

An autumnal weekend

lovely weekend, spent largely outdoors, enjoying the autumn sunshine. We went up to Christmas Farm on Saturday for one of the G and S Organics event days.

Lee and Beth had baked and cooked up a feast ready to welcome everyone. We helped prepare, setting out tables and hay bales for seats, finding cutlery, washing cups and glasses and generally getting everything set.

The focus for this event was on game, so there was a dog display with some lovely spaniels demonstrating search and retrieve and a wire haired terrier that showed off his pointing skills.

There was also a chance to do some clay pigeon shooting, which I’d tried for the first time at this event last year and really enjoyed. The instructor was very good, calming, patient and made you feel very safe, despite holding a shotgun. I think the clays were set very easy to give us a good chance, as I hit most of mine. Although I missed the last two when he said I was sure to get them!

We caught up with friends and talked about food, wine and travelling. As the evening drew in, we watched the sunset over the hills and warmed ourselves with baked potatoes cooked in the fire and a fantastic beef stew.

As the stars came out, the talk continued around the fire, until, drenched in woodsmoke, we drove home to a hot bath and comfy bed.

On Sunday, I woke to sunshine, and met my friends Penny and Sue for a nice leisurely bike ride along the Tyne. Fine, flat cycleways, a river sparkling under the blue skies, no pressure for miles and pace, just a social ride with friends who are so easy to get on with.

Running along the river

I went for a run last  Thursday. My first since the Great North Run. Just a couple of miles, under a bright blue autumn sky, along by the river. The St Lawrence river, that is, in Quebec, Canada. Yes, I’ve been away, on a wonderful holiday

View of the St Lawrence river and Chateau Frontenac from the Plains of Abraham in Quebec
A beautiful sunny day to explore Quebec city

A slight chill in the blueness kept me moving, and numbering the days left for shorts and a tech T. This was just a run for the hell of it. A couple of miles before breakfast, exploring the waterfront of an unfamiliar place, just happy to be awake, alive and enjoying the chances of new experiences that travel throws in your way.

It was my first trip to Canada but I doubt it’s my last. We enjoyed the friendliness of the welcome, the food,the ease of getting around and the differences we found in each new place.

We have taken a trip into the mists of a waterfall, watched puffins and penguins swimming, cycled round a race track, eaten dinner in a revolving restaurant and stood atop a glass floor looking down hundreds of feet below. I hope to blog the experience in more detail now I’m back.

I did manage a small bit of exercise while I was away. A huge amount of walking to explore Toronto, Ottowa, Montreal and Quebec. And when the hotel has a heated outdoor pool that no one else seems to want to use, it would be rude not to put in a few lengths, non? In Montreal, we also hired bikes and took them for a spin on the Formula One race track, which was great fun.

It feels an age since the Great North Run. A flurry of a weekend, almost too full of excitement, emotion and busyness. And I was ready for a training break afterwards. Once again it marks the end of my training year and I’ll no doubt reflect on that more in time to come.

Right now, I’m glad to be back in familiar surroundings, catching up with what my friends have been up to, settling back into cooking for ourselves rather than eating out and tackling the mountain of washing.

But my mind is full of memories, sights, sounds and smells – another kaleidoscope of experiences for the jars in my memory store. They shine and sparkle like the touch of light on a waterfall and smell of cinnamon and pine. I’m very happy to have them.