Tony the Fridge and the 24 hour challenge

Remember Tony the Fridge? The guy who ran the Great North Run route 30 times with a fridge on his back? He was back with another crazy challenge, this time running for 24 hours with an even heavier fridge along Newcastle and Gateshead Quayside to raise money for the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation.

My best work buddy was leaving and having drinks in town. So I dashed out for a couple of hours in the bar, wishing her well and left just after 9pm, via a superhero costume change into my running gear and headed down to race HQ.

Tony’s run had started much earlier, live on local TV at 18:20. The hullabaloo of  press attention had gone, and it was dark, but he was still supported by his faithful crew and other runners turning up to clock up a few miles.

I arrived just as he was coming in for a pitstop and shortly after set off to run a few laps. He didn’t seem quite his usual self, or not as I’ve known him when I ran with him before. He was still philosophising, still talking about being in the moment, but there was an effort of will to it. Tony never talks in negatives and has the strongest mental will I’ve ever encountered, and that was still there, but there was a subtle down beat note that seemed off key.

I was a bit worried that this was how things were early on in his run. I chatted a little with him and some of the other runners, but I sensed it was a good time for quiet focus.

It was a beautiful night. After gales and storms, it was perfectly still, dark, and peaceful. The backdrop of the Tyne, with the bridges and buildings, is a sight to gladden any heart and this night it put on its kindest face.

There’s a little bit of magic about Tony. Beautiful things happen when he’s around, like the sun coming up as we ran onto the Tyne bridge during his 30 day Great North Run challenge.

That night, the river – the great big heart of this amazing city – provided a scene of wonder. The river was still as glass. As we ran alongside, we stopped and looked over the railings to see a perfect reflection of the Tyne bridge. The world turned upside down, lights shining in the water. The ever moving river stilled in tribute to a man who just has to keep moving for 24 hours.

I ran a couple of very steady miles and then left him to plough on through the night, feeling the dull ache of the run in my hips and legs, not daring to imagine how much Tony would be hurting.

I woke early on Saturday morning and went to parkrun on the Town Moor where I had an unexpectedly fast run and took almost a minute off last week’s time, scoring a new season’s best and getting closer to my best ever pace time.

After parkrun I returned to the Quayside to run another three miles with Tony. The sun was shining, buckets were shaken, horns tooted and Tony was surrounded by runners he knows. He posed for pictures with supporters, passers by and even with a couple who were getting married  at the Baltic. He was very much more himself and after my laps,  I left knowing he was in great shape to complete his 24 hour run.

Blyth Valley 10k

Funny old race for me this one. I’d entered it to give myself a decent run at a 10k before tri season and because I didn’t think I’d be ready for a decent run last weekend. As it was, I raced my wee legs off last Sunday, so where did that leave me?

I woke up with a nice little flutter of adrenaline. I like a little race day nerves, I think they show it means something. Made myself my usual race breakfast of porridge and banana nice and early, even though I didn’t much feel like eating it, chilled out, and took a very relaxed approach to getting ready.

It was great weather for racing, a little sunshine, not too much of a breeze. As I made my way to the start I almost went right past my speedy pal Adam from Elvet Striders and his dad Dave. Luckily they spotted me and waved me out of my nervous distraction, so we had a nice chat which calmed me down a bit before I went for a quick warm up.

At the start line, it was all club vests. Very few without and those that weren’t were wearing race vests or just looked like club runners. I felt a bit intimidated. Which is plain daft I know as I’ve probably run a few races more than many club runners, but I was.

Anyway, a whistle blow and we’re off. Not too congested at the start although there’s a bunch up along road and pavement and I watch my footing so I’m not pushed into the kerb. I don’t really have a plan for this one, just run hard and don’t look at the watch.

Within minutes I feel hot, my cheeks are burning. Focus on the form, land light, keep the cadence up. I push on. I haven’t run this course before, but I know the ground from longer summer training runs and cycle rides. The first section is on the quayside, then skirt around a park,  past some industrial buildings

A line of metal railings strobe in sunlight and shadow in my peripheral vision, but I know just up ahead, we’ll be running on a boardwalk beside the sea, so I keep my mind focused on that.

But I’m feeling really hot and sweaty now and I haven’t really been running that long. My stomach feels strange, sort of sloshing and churning around, then giving me little stabs every now and then. My brain gives me the line ‘and my stomach is sick’ from the Killers, Mr Brightside, so I use it, singing it in my head to keep my rhythm and distract my focus.

It works for a while, but my mind is racing, jumping from one thing to another, trying to find ways to distract me from the fact that I’m not feeling my best.

Onto the seafront and sand dunes. This really is a lovely spot, but today I barely notice it, battling with my hot head and churning stomach.

Still I try to race, picking off people ahead of me, putting in a little extra effort on the wee bumps over the sand dunes and cruising down the other side. This is not a hilly course, but I try to make the most of every little advantage I have.

Even the sea air has not cooled my face. My legs are still going strong, and I’ve gone back to my old shoes today in the hope of avoiding pins and needles. I can feel that I do hit the ground more heavily with my right foot.

I’m not clock watching, but I know it’s basically an out and back course and just before half way I start feeling like I’m going backwards. The runners I’ve worked hard to pass are now coming back at me and getting away ahead.

I fight it for a while, but in truth, not hard enough. My stomach is still uncomfortable. I feel hot and sick, like a summer Sunday stuck in a car on a long journey unable to open the windows.

I let it go in my head. I know I’m not quite feeling right. I’m not really ill or sick, just uncomfortable and hot and a bit queasy and mentally I give up.

At the turn, just after half way, there’s water. I grab a bottle even though I don’t need it. Anything to signal a change, break the mindset. I wet my lips and throw it away after a couple of sips. A long straight road now along beside the dunes, and there’s air on my face. I breath in great lungfuls and finally my stomach settles.

There’s patches of support from club members along the road here, and I take every shout for every club member as my own. I spot Eric from parkrun on his bike and Jooles who gives me a wave and I begin to pick up.

My hips loosen up and I feel the run stride come easier, more bounding, more open as the breeze cools my forehead. I’ve just had a mid race dip, I tell myself. I can bring it back and I do a little, focusing on my form, starting to pass runners once again. I kick up my heels, keep the turnover fast and lean forward.

There are Tyne Bridge Harriers out in their hundreds. I hear one being supported close behind me. It’s a guy and he draws level with me as I’m about to make a move on another girl. He’s been breathing pretty heavily on my left shoulder for a while and I know he’s worked hard to close the distance.

‘Okay,’ I think, ‘you can pass me if you want, you’ve worked for it, but you’ve got to want it too.’ I swear I don’t pick up or make it difficult, but I don’t make it easy either. He doesn’t go past.

We’re into, I estimate, the last mile and a bit and my brain’s finally set in race mode, but I sense I’ve let my pace drop to settle there. I push on and take at least one of the people who passed me when I was struggling.

At the end of the dunes now, and just the dock industrial area and a quick blast along the quayside to go. A blast of diesel fumes as we run past a lorry, sends my stomach flip flopping again.

A Tyne Bridge Harriers girl draws level just as my watch beeps. “What’s that?” she asks, “is that 5 miles or 6?” I honestly don’t know. It’s the first time I’ve registered a beep from the start. I say “I don’t know, but I think it’s kilometres.” She drops back. I’m still conscious that Tyne Bridge man may be close by and I push on.

As we turn past the park, with the quayside approaching, she draws level again, and I apologise, saying, “I don’t mean to be rude, I’m just not looking at my watch today.” I rarely have this much conversation with anyone when I’m racing, so I know I’m going easy.

She says it’s okay and then gets a shout and a cheer from some supporters on the grass and leaps ahead. But there’s still someone coming up close behind me and I get in my head that it’s Tyne Bridge man. There’s the 6 mile sign. I know I can finish this strong now, but I’m not going to really go until I know I can sustain it. I pick up my knees and push on the pedal another quarter.

He’s coming with me. I can hear him. Good man. He obviously doesn’t know about the Scribbler sprint finish. I wind it up another quarter. And still I can hear him. I do like a challenge. I rarely get one down a finishing straight.

As we walk through the finish funnel, I turn to shake his hand and we compare race notes. 54:01 for me off my watch time (official will be a little more as I was well back from the start). Both just a bit slower than we wanted. But hey, still an okay run.

Like the race itself, I’m a bit of a mix at the finish. Annoyed to be slower than last week, but then what do I expect when I know I did not run as hard? I have a good chat with Adam and Dave which settles my self critical mood a little. And I evangelise the joys of tri to a couple standing near a table with information about the Druridge Bay 10k. It’s a lovely race, but it’s too close to another event I want to do this year.

So, although I was hoping for better, it’s not a bad run and I have more experience to take into my next race. For now though, I’ll just be happy to get a few good weeks of training under my belt and look for the weather to warm up before I take part in my first triathlon of the year.

Stats and stuff:
Blyth Valley 10K 54:01

1) – 0.62m – 5:10(8:19/m) – 60cal
2) – 0.62m – 5:18(8:32/m) – 61cal
3) – 0.62m – 5:16(8:29/m) – 67cal
4) – 0.62m – 5:09(8:18/m) – 68cal
5) – 0.62m – 5:38(9:03/m) – 66cal
6) – 0.62m – 5:32(8:55/m) – 68cal
7) – 0.62m – 5:33(8:56/m) – 68cal
8) – 0.62m – 5:27(8:46/m) – 66cal
9) – 0.62m – 5:29(8:49/m) – 67cal
10) – 0.62m – 5:15(8:26/m) – 64cal
11) – 0.04m – 14(6:06/m) – 4cal

Race results

North Tyneside 10k

First race of the season and after snow, ice, hail, wind and baltic blasts the sun shone and the breeze stayed calm, so it was a pretty perfect day for it.

I love this one. It’s my local. It was my first ever race. And I know a lot of other people like it too. It’s a nice route, it’s early in the season, it’s well organised and there’s a decent goody bag.

So, off to the start, and quickly spotted Rob for a quick chat along with a couple of parkrun regulars. I also spot Lesley, Diane and Peter as I’m getting ready to race, but there are many more who I miss. It’s very different from my first time at this race, when I desperately tried to spot Ian who was the only person I knew running it and felt very lost in the crowds of runners who all seemed to know each other or grouped together in club huddles.

But I wanted to give this a good focus, so I cut the chat short, warmed up with some drills, got my head in a good space and found a place at the start. The plan was to just run to feel. Wear the watch but don’t clock it. Run hard, race focus, not a social run, see where I am.

It’s crowded at the start and it takes a few seconds to get over the line. The runners move slowly and I’m sort of boxed in. I’ve snuck myself in close to Malcolm and Nigel from parkrun who I guess will run a similar, but slightly faster pace than me, but I tell myself to run my own race. They get a clearer run around the first junction and are away and I have to forget them, stick to the plan.

It still feels slow and I have to keep my wits about me as runners bunch together and then spaces open up. There’s room on the first downhill and I take advantage, relaxing my shoulders and just going with it, trying not to brake with my feet and having confidence that I can stay upright. Down onto the Fish Quay and I settle into my stride, keep the turnover quick and keep pushing.

There’s a twisty turny jink around bollards and picnic benches at the end of the quay and I have to keep my wits about me as we’re still a bit bunched in, looking for a fast way through. Then it’s onto the lower promenade and the sound of the sea makes me smile.

I’m trying not to overthink this one. Deliberately trying not to notice too much or pay too much attention to the scenery. This is about racing. Keep the focus, I tell myself. Keep the form.

But I know at the end of this stretch there’s the hill and then the other one. The short steep climb up from the promenade to the cliff top and then the road up past the Priory. I allow myself to cruise this, little steps, little steps, keeping the power off and the heart rate low. The idea is to have the strength to push on at the top and not burn out up the hill. It works.

Now I’m up on the tops and just a straight run out to the lighthouse like I’ve done a hundreds of times before and will do many hundred times again. There’s even a slight down slope where I pick up my breath, pass some other runners and push off onto the the straight.

But there’s a niggle. In my right foot I have pins and needles. I’ve had it before in training a couple of times. It seems to come on after about 3 miles and it will not shift. It’s the same today. The good thing is that I know I can ignore it and still run. The bad thing is that it can mess with my head if I let it. Today I choose to disregard it, but really I need to deal with it and stop it happening.

But I’m practically on the home straight here. You can see the lighthouse, the finish point, still impossibly distant, but full of promise. Keep the focus, keep the form.

I start to pick off runners in small groups. Girl in pink with a long plait. Guy in a bright yellow top. I’m not allowing myself to look too far ahead, just the next target and keep moving forward.

The pins and needles send me back onto my heels a little and I keep reminding myself to lean forward and stay on my toes. It’s harder to do, but I can feel the pick up in pace.

This isn’t a day for picking out landmarks or noting mile markers. I’m only vaguely aware of my surroundings, knowing the slight undulations of the ground as well as my own skin. I’ve kept the pace to the High Point, I know we’ve been subtly imperceptibly climbing a little and now it’s almost all flat and downhill, just a wee bump before the end.

Keep the focus, keep the form. Relentless forward motion. There are gaps, when I drift, when a part of my brain says ease back, it’s okay. These are swiftly and unmercifully dispatched.

This hasn’t been easy. Not even from the start. I haven’t had that wonderful magic free flow release of the run. But I’m not tense. I’m not too fretty (maybe a little crispy at the edges). I’m not forcing this, but I am working for this and I will be mad at myself if I let it go.

Keep the focus. Keep the focus. I will not look at my watch. But I do start to calculate how far is left to go. I figure I’m into the last 2 miles, maybe a bit less. My legs are tiring. My form is fading and I have to make more of a conscious effort to keep it in check. Sometimes you just have to go through the hurt.

I’m onto the Links now and I know it’s really not far. In a side portion of my brain, I register that there are people here cheering on runners. I see some kids with a banner. I even hear my name a couple of times, but I cannot afford the effort to look to see or identify the voices calling it.

Man, this hurts now. You know how at the beginning you felt maybe you were just holding back a bit? I don’t think you were. Hard to identify exactly what hurts. The right foot, but that’s been like that since the priory. Calf muscles – yes they’re working hard. Breathing, hmm, starting to go a bit ragged around the edges. I can feel myself draining away, and yet I will not listen to it.

Early on in the race, I passed Heather from Whitley Bay parkrun. She’s a good runner, but as I passed she was chatting to another runner, so maybe she was taking it easy. As we’re edging towards the end of the links, the finish line a last turn away, I hear a spectator call out ‘Go on Heather’. She’s right behind me and as I’m trying to hold onto whatever I have got left she’s gone past me.

I pick up and push on. Stay close. Stay focused. There’s the 6 mile marker. This really is the end game now. Mere metres to go and I cannot pick up. 200m – come on, you used to blast this at school. My legs are still winding it up. And so I leave it all to to the very end, the last gasp 100m. Power on, arms pumping, who needs oxygen anyway?

I think I beat Heather to the line. I know I took a few down and a guy tried to go with me in the last 40m. But I don’t care. I just know I ran my hardest today. I stop my watch and stumble forward only vaguely aware of any place in the line. The numbers 53:10. That’ll do.

I wanted a good run here. In the past couple of weeks I’ve started to feel my training is paying off and I got some of my belief back. It’s been a long winter and my focus has been divided between training and getting my qualification finished. Now that’s all done I can get set for some great events over the spring and summer, starting with my home race which will act as a marker for where I am now.

I’ve been wary of setting myself up for disappointment here. Of naive targets and hopeful dreams of resurrecting my best form to date. It’s early in the season and my focus has not been about running or speed work. I’ve barely run any 10ks and nothing over distance. I can put too much pressure on myself.

Today was about running pure. Putting it out there and seeing what I had. Finding my race focus again. Disciplining myself not to be distracted, even by this most beautiful and personal of courses. I think I did that.

Of course, me being me, I’m still thinking there’s a bit more. Some slight, small improvements that could help me edge off a few more minutes. Luckily I have another 10k next weekend to give them a try.

North Tynesdide 10k
Split Summary
1) – 0.62m – 5:12(8:22/m) – 63cal
2) – 0.62m – 5:05(8:11/m) – 62cal
3) – 0.62m – 5:09(8:17/m) – 66cal
4) – 0.62m – 5:49(9:21/m) – 67cal
5) – 0.62m – 5:19(8:34/m) – 67cal
6) – 0.62m – 5:18(8:32/m) – 65cal
7) – 0.62m – 5:30(8:51/m) – 66cal
8) – 0.62m – 5:19(8:33/m) – 66cal
9) – 0.62m – 5:24(8:41/m) – 66cal
10) – 0.61m – 5:06(8:24/m) – 65cal