Poem for Newcastle parkrun’s 5th birthday

In the wind, in the rain, in the snow,

Even in the sunshine

We come.

In shorts and vests,

Tracky bottoms and tatty trainers,

Hats, scarves, coats and boots,

We come.

In superhero capes, fairy wings and wedding dresses,

Like lambs and tigers, or Scooby Doo

We come.

When the circus is in town,

We’re the clowns who dodge the dodgems.

And if we’ve been good boys and girls

Santa even brings his sleigh.

We greet companions and strangers alike,

Laugh, smile, make our excuses about the night before…

But by nine o’clock, we’re focused,

Ready to start our watches.

We huddle like penguins,

Applaud like seals,

And chase those green shirts like a husky pack

Faster faster, on, on.

We stand. We smile.

We shout. We  wave.

We stamp our feet.

We wear our high viz and wish we’d brought another layer.

We dive and weave and watch our elbows.

We dodge puddles and pats

And start a stampede.

We are mums and dads, sons and daughters, locals and just visiting.

Our colours spread out like a rainbow,

Across the moor to Malsgate and on beneath the trees.

We sprint. We wobble. We walk. We run.

We breathe. We pant. We fight. We pound.

We are fit. We are fat.

We are freezing.

We are over forty and feeling it.

We carry fridges, push buggies, lead our hounds, give piggy backs.

We come with doubts and fear, hopes and dreams.

We keep on coming.

We click the button and pray the timer works.

“Well done. Keep moving. Stay in line.”

We sweat. We shake hands, slap shoulders.

We try not to be sick.

We fumble for tokens with frozen fingers,

Scan soggy barcodes

And say breathless thank yous.

We stick around for cake and chat,

Or head off for breakfast

Our victory over those who stayed in bed.

By 10am, it’s like we were never here at all.

We are fierce.

We are fabulous

We are friends.

We are family.

We are Newcastle parkrun.

[I’ve taken a bit of a break from this blog while I’ve been training for a charity cycle trek in Vietnam and Cambodia for Lend with Care. You can find out more about that on cycleforcare.co.uk. But it was nice to pay tribute today to all my friends and the volunteers at Newcastle parkrun, which plays a big part in helping me stay fit, healthy and has given me the confidence to take on new challenges like the cycle ride, and reading my poem in public.]

Whitley Bay parkrun 11 October 2014

“Aren’t we lucky?” said the lady who finished today’s parkrun at Whitley Bay around the same time as me as we walked away from the hubbub of the finish line. And today, under bright blue autumn skies with the sun on my face and the sound of the waves in my ears I did feel very fortunate indeed.

Here in the north east, we’re lucky enough to have a great number of parkruns from Middlesbrough through to Sunderland, Gateshead, Newcastle and right on up to the new route at Druridge Bay. My home run is actually Newcastle, although geographically, Whitley Bay is my closest. It’s close enough to allow me to run there and back, should I fancy a long run and take it steady, which is what I opted to do today.

I gave myself plenty of time to jog along to get there, so I’d had a really good warm up, before I huddled among the gathered runners ready for the start. The sun was in our eyes as we negotiated the first few twists and turns along the course and the number of runners helped make sure I kept my starting pace steady.

Once down onto the lovely flat promenade, we start to spread out and it’s easier to dodge past a few runners, or to be overtaken myself. I’m going easy today, it just feels nice to be out for a run.

At every turn or junction there’s a smiling marshal and a small chorus of thank yous from runners like me who have the breath to utter them.

Off the prom and up the small rise, I pick up my feet and use my arms to power up the incline, then cruise down the yellow stone path and over the bridge, before the second climb back up and round towards the road. I watch my feet over the cracked tarmac along the top path, heading back round towards the skate park and up another little rise to circle around the first lap.

Along the prom for the second time and the fastest runners have already crossed the finish line. How I wish I had their speed! But I’m feeling good, just enjoying being out in the fresh air today, and I start to catch a few runners in front of me. Reeling them in, slowly, one by one takes my mind off my legs which are starting to ache now and as I increase my pace, my breathing gets heavier and louder.

Still here I am again, about to climb the small set of rises and head back round to the road. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a lady running with a bright red buggy. That must be hard work up that hill!

By the time I’ve made it down onto the promenade for the final stretch, she’s caught and overtaken me, inspiring me to put a bit of a spurt on in the last few hundred metres and finish with a sprint.

Out of breath, I collect my token and walk over to get my barcode scanned. Hazel who takes my token from me, says “I like your blog”, which is a really nice surprise and makes me smile.

I’m very lucky that I found running as a means to keep fit back in 2008, and that parkrun has helped me maintain and build on that fitness. I’ve used the regular weekly run as part of my training for races like the Great North Run or the triathlons I do through the summer.

But more importantly, parkrun has introduced me to volunteering and to new friends. I do enjoy running, and am currently chasing down my 100th parkrun, but I really enjoy volunteering too. It’s fun to see parkrun from the other side, to appreciate how it works and to see all the runners from the fastest to the slowest, the old to the young all taking part.

My time today wasn’t my fastest, but parkrun isn’t always about being speedy. It really is for everyone and I think you see that as a volunteer.

So, yes, I do feel lucky to have a free, weekly, timed 5k run as a motivation to get up and out and get moving all year round. Lucky to be able to run along some of the finest north east coastline. And lucky to have the incredible support of the volunteers who make parkrun happen week in, week out all over the UK and beyond.

2013 – my training year review

It’s been another good year of training and competing in triathlons and road races for me. And it’s good to look back at what I’ve achieved as well as planning for the future.

Let’s start with the numbers:

Swim: 42.1 miles/ 36 hours – only just a bit less than last year’s swim mileage
Bike:956 miles / 86 hours – that’s the most I’ve ever cycled in one year (hours to miles don’t quite add up as there were a lots of indoor bike sessions where I logged time but not distance)
Run: 526 miles / 85 hours – not my biggest yearly run mileage, but I didn’t have a half marathon to train for
Cross training: 76 hours – including boxercise, yoga, weights and PT sessions

That’s a total of 283:48 training or racing hours in 2013. It’s the most I’ve ever trained in one year.

I’ve completed 6 run races of up to 10k distance and enjoyed many more timed runs at parkrun
And I completed 6 triathlons in 2013, including my first two Olympic distance events and my first sea swim.

I studied for and passed two fitness related qualifications – Level 2 Gym instructor in March and Level 1 triathlon coaching in November

My swimming improved thanks to some training sessions with my PT early on in the year as he trained for his coaching qualification. I’ve spent more hours and done more miles on my bike than any other year and enjoyed it more than I have before, especially when I’ve had the chance to go riding in Scotland with my tri chums.

I have walloped time off in my second season of triathlons, including a 10 min PB at the QE2 sprint triathlon, with improvement in all three sections. 

There was another memorable day at the Olympic Parkrun. It was an amazing experience to do it the first time, so to go back, post the Olympics, with my expectations high … well they weren’t disappointed.

And the Blaydon race is still my favourite event, particularly as I managed to go under 50 minutes this year.

I’ve enjoyed volunteering at parkrun and I know I’ve inspired a few people to dip their toes into triathlon.

With no races longer than 10k, it’s inevitable my run mileage was down on previous years, but that will change as I take on a half marathon again in 2014.

Reflections and aims for 2014
I wanted to find a better balance in my training and to give myself a season with a true tri focus. It did pay dividends as my tri times improved and I felt more confident swimming in open water and taking on the longer distance events. But, as always, there are areas for improvement.

I did miss taking part in the Great North Run in 2013. It was lovely to see all my friends and shout encouragement from the Tyne Bridge, but I did feel like I was missing out on the party, even on a cold and dreary day.

So I’ll be back in again in 2014. The challenge will be to switch from tri focus at the end of July to get myself in shape to run 13.1 miles by the beginning of September. I’ll see how I feel nearer the time as to whether or not I set myself a time goalIn 2014 I want to maintain a good balance of training hard but not putting too much pressure on myself, and most importantly to enjoy my training. I’ll pick my key races to go hard, and others I’ll do for the experience or the fun. There will be a good mix of challenges, including my first ever river swim in the Tyne.

My first race isn’t until April – and right now that seems a long way away. But it will soon come around. I’ve entered a few popular races already and I’m sure I’ll fill up my calendar with a few more as they open up for entries. I’m looking for another standard triathlon – preferably one that I can easily travel to from the North East of England, so any suggestions are welcome.

I’m also currently on 76 parkruns, so only 24 away from 100. It would be great to achieve that in 2014, but I need to balance them out against other training and races. And of course, I’ll be doing my fair share of volunteering too.

Getting fit, starting to run and then taking on the challenge of triathlon has really changed my life over the past six years. I’m sure I never imagined achieving a fraction of what I’ve done when I first stepped out onto the beach and tried to run a length of the sands. It’s taken me to some great places, given me some amazing experiences and brought me life-long friends. Oh, and made me fitter and healthier too!

So if you’re thinking you want to make some changes to your life, I can thoroughly recommend it. Just remember, start small – I couldn’t run a mile when I first started. Find something you enjoy, but that challenges you. Commit to make it a habit and go out and get moving!

Dressing up is more dangerous than running

It was the work Christmas bash on Friday night. It’s a big event with around 1,000 people all dressed up, dancing in a huge marquee and enjoying a few festive drinks.

I had planned to wear my ‘party dress’ – the outfit I wore as a bridesmaid for my sister’s wedding, but a couple of weeks ago I was wandering around the village market and spotted a second hand clothes stall, with a long black sequinned dress on the front of the rack. It proved to be my size and a bargain, so I kitted myself out, feeling very sparkly and special.

It was a good night with a lively band and I left before my work mates were too sozzled. But while others will no doubt have been nursing sore heads on Saturday morning, I was on 30 min pacer duty at Newcastle parkrun, and I had a problem…

Did you know, sequins chafe? After a couple of hours on the dancefloor, my arms were covered in tiny scratches, from my armpits down to my elbows. I’ve never had such bad chafing from any run or triathlon events.

Triathlete’s favourite sudocrem to the rescue and off I trot to parkrun. It’s a lovely day on the moor and I slot into the starting crowd near a mum and her boy who are looking to run at about 30 minute pace. Ready, steady, Garmin and off we trot towards the first gate, using the large number of runners to keep the pace steady as my legs warm up and I ease into the run.

I pay much more attention to my Garmin when I’m pacing and see the first kilometre clock through at 5:55 – perfect, just sub 30 pace. Just keep that going.

A bit of chat as we run out over the moor and back in through the second gate, and the mum and son team are still with me until he has to stop to tie a shoe lace. My legs have warmed up by now, and I’ve picked up the pace a bit. I keep trying to rein it back and shout out encouragement and coaching tips to the runners around me. A couple of ladies in pink are looking in good form, but I’m no longer running with a group.

I push on round the back of the military museum and through the out and back, willing the runners on through this tricky section between 3-4k. Pace now is nearer 5:45/5:50 and a little too brisk. I’m not running my fastest at the moment and I had been worried that I’d find 30 min pace too fast, but it’s still nice and relaxed and I do need to slow down a bit.

The wind bites as we turn back onto the tarmaced paths and through the 4k gate. “Just 6 minutes running to go,” I shout as I see the girl in pink drop her head and start to slow. She picks up her feet and stays ahead. 

I spend the last kilometre trying to rein in my pace, which feels a bit weird as normally I’m pushing to hold or increase it. On the last stretch I am about 40 seconds up and call out encouragement to those ahead who will smash 30 minutes and pause at the last turn to jog on the spot and urge the runner behind me on. I sprint in just ahead, yelling all the way and hope she’s just nicked it. My official finish time, 29:58 and a very enjoyable run.

But my arms are burning. The run has irritated the skin and I can’t wait to get home, showered and put something on to soothe the itch.

I look at the pattern on my skin and realise it wasn’t just sequins scratching, but judging by the welt over my left shoulder, I’ve had an allergic reaction to the metal strap of my bag. Give me a nice running T-shirt any day – I was obviously not designed for glamour. 

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.


Further adventures of the distressingly accident prone

No snow at parkrun this Saturday, but it was bitingly cold on the town moor, so I jogged off across the grass to warm up.

‘Hmm, must tighten my shoe laces before I start. Oh, this grass is about softer than I expected. I’ll run that way to get back on the path. Oh no, that’s even worse!’

The town moor claimed my left trainer. And less than a second afterwards made sure that sock could never be described as white again.

‘Now what? Wet muddy sock inside the wet muddy shoe? Or sockless on my left side?’ The muddy accessory was turned inside out and dumped with my fleece by the fence as I tested out my new barefoot trainer. I was very glad I hadn’t worn my brand new shoes.

Not quite the start I imagined for my first time out in my 50th parkrun shirt, but we were soon off and I was on a mission to chase down a fast run. I pelted off, too fast at first in truth, into the wind and towards Gate 1.

Runners at Newcastle parkrun
Running along Grandstand Road at parkrun

The turn along Grandstand Road, sheltered by the trees and showered by the warming sunshine saw me swipe off my hat and enjoy my favourite part of this route. I recently watched a video on barefoot running and one of the bits of advice that stuck in my head was a subtle thinking about lifting the hips. So I gave it a try, and felt like I really covered the ground more quickly, overtaking a couple of runners.

I kept turning on the power, then easing it off, conscious of keeping my feet light and hoping my sockless state wouldn’t mean blisters. But shortly after 2k and the return to the moor paths, I got a stitch high up in my ribs. I hardly ever get a stitch, so I reflected on a tough week of training, eased back a little and concentrated on my breathing. I managed to shift it, but I knew I’d lost some pace going into the tricky 3rd kilometre.

Back into the wind over the roughest part of the course and it was tough going, so it was a relief to turn back onto the smooth tarmaced path and know there was just 1km to go. I kept thinking lift the hips and used the lamp posts as markers, picking a spot to power on to.

There were a couple of girls close by me who had overtaken me and I managed to catch and pass them. Into the final corner and one of them was close by again, but I knew I still had the push and I powered down the last few metres, overtaking another couple of runners to cross the line in just over 27 minutes.

I was hoping for something closer to 26, but can’t really complain after a fantastic week’s training. The tri day on Tuesday really kicked things off and I’ve enjoyed every session this week.

On Thursday, I trained with Ian on the beach as usual and it was a tough session, but so nice to finish in daylight, with the sun peeking over the rocks. At the other end of the day, I hit the pool for my second swim of the week.

I don’t normally double train on a PT day, but I hoped the swim would help me avoid aching muscles and it meant I could have a complete rest day on Friday. I fell into bed on Thursday night, with the satisfying tiredness of a great set of training.

On Friday morning, I got into work early to do a practice gym session with Simon, one of the instructors from the work gym. It’s the first time I’ve tried my instructor mode, and it gave me loads of confidence ahead of my final assessment in a couple of weeks’ time. Still loads to think about and make sure I cover on the day, so I hope to get a few more practice sessions under my belt. But it’s fantastic to have such great support.

On Sunday, I explored a new route on my bike. It felt fantastic to be out, just enjoying a fairly easy effort, but out for a fairly long ride and finishing off with a rather steep hill. Next time I’ll ride it in reverse!

Trainer tart

I have 5 weeks to go until my first race of the season (a 10k) and I have no idea about what kind of running form I’m in. With one thing and another, I haven’t really settled into a consistent training routine this year which unsettles my head a bit.

But, on the positive side, I’ve kept ticking over and done some okay mileage, and more importantly, I’m not recovering from injury like I was at this time last year. Fingers and everything else crossed, but it looks like my plantar fasciitis and other bio-mechanical niggles are behaving (please don’t let that be the curse of death).

I was hoping to get out and do a fast blast at Newcastle parkrun this weekend, but a covering of snow, snow falling during the run and still slightly recovering from my cold, meant I had to dial back expectations. I still ran quite hard, given the conditions, and was happy to be within about 90s of my best time this year (run in very different conditions). A few more parkruns should give me a feel for what I can come up with on race day.

In a way, the running really just has to look after itself. I guess it just feels a bit different, that there isn’t a big run only event looming later in the year. No half marathons for me in 2013. Just a big old standard tri – and if I can find the right event, maybe 2 standard distance events.

One thing I have changed is my running style. After spraining my ankle in October, I took the opportunity to retrain myself with a walk to run plan and move to a more midfoot strike.

The initial impetus was to try and run more efficiently. So I ran for a while with a shorter stride and faster cadence, trying to land lightly. But it was only when I really went back to basics, adding in running drills and going back to walk run, that I really made the changes.

Some good strengthening work and stretching helped overcome the initial tight calves and I still need to work on mobility in my toes. But I’d be lying if I didn’t also hope that the change in style will make me faster eventually too.

This weekend was the first time that I’d been able to actually see that change in running style for myself.  There’s always been a bit of a nagging doubt at the back of my mind that changing my stride may have messed about with my running and just developed new bad habits.

I went to Sweatshop in the MetroCentre  to try out some new trainers. It’s a good place to go, as the sales staff are runners and they have all sorts of kit to help you test out your running style, including a treadmill where you can film your feet and see how you run in slow motion. When I ran, I could see I looked nice and straight with no wobbly ankles and I was definitely midfoot landing rather than heel striking.

There were lots of people waiting to be assessed when I got there, but everyone got great service from the staff, and I was very happy to have Niyc Pidgeon, who I know from Newcastle parkrun, helping me choose a new pair of running shoes.

I tried loads of different trainers, including the Nike free (towards a barefoot shoe) and some Asics racers in a stunning orange and purple. It was great to be able to compare and contrast different makes and styles so closely together. I reckon I could have run in any of them, but there a few subtle differences. Some felt wide at the front, so my feet shifted more from side to side. Others were loose at the heel, and tightening the laces to get them to a better grip put a bit more pressure on the top of my foot than I liked.

I was going purely on a research trip, but with some vouchers burning a hole in my pocket and a generous parkrun discount, I came away with a pair of New Balance 1080s. Lighter cushioning than my current Asics Nimbus, but still not really a minimal or racer. I’ll be weaning myself into them over the next few weeks and hoping we’ll be ready for our race debut together at the North Tyneside 10k at the end of March.

I’m still thinking about the Nike frees, which I really liked too, but I’d have to move into even more gradually. But they were the only barefoot style I tried and they were pink (there are places I will not go and pink is one). I’d like to try a few more barefoot/minimal trainers and maybe think about them as a second/short race pair.

But I’m laughing at myself as a total shoe agnostic. I don’t seem to have settled on a favourite brand. I started in Nike Pegasus (I still have a pair that I wear in the gym); I made a bit of an error with Saucony (too stiff and rigid for me, and I went through the toe within a month of wearing them); loved my Asics Nimbus (the shoes I ran all my 2011 PBs with before I bought another pair which saw me round the Olympic park and another Great North Run). And now I’m in New Balance and flirting with barefoots on the side.

So from saying that running needs to take care of itself, I’ve actually spent a good bit of time thinking about it . But that’s helped me work out something that I can also apply to another aspect of my triathlon training.

Changing my run style wasn’t easy and it felt awkward and unnatural and frustrating at first, but I stuck with it and now it’s second nature. In fact, I can’t imagine running any other way now.

Just like the swim drills that should improve my stroke technique (and there’s lots to improve). They feel strange, they upset my natural rhythm and I have to think about what I’m doing when I try them. But, like changing my run style, I’ll get the results I’m looking for if I stick with them and look for long term, rather than short term progress. I have 9 weeks until my first sprint tri – plenty of time to keep working and improving.

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, no one from Sweatshop or any of the shoe brands asked me to write about them in this blog. But I’d happily recommend Sweatshop if you’re looking for advice and running shoes.

50th parkrun

On Saturday 26 January, I ran my 50th parkrun. It’s taken me a while to reach that particular milestone as I only started running the free 5k timed runs  in September 2009  and I haven’t particularly made a big deal about notching them up.

But they have become a very welcome part of my weekend, giving me a chance to run or volunteer, catch up with friends I’ve made through parkrun or just see someone else enjoying the experience.

Me and Jeff at my 50th parkrun at Whitley Bay
Me and Jeff at my 50th parkrun at Whitley Bay – thanks to Mick Durnion for the picture.

I was sorry I couldn’t run my 50th at my home run on Newcastle’s Town Moor, but with snow, ice and flooded footpaths, the race director had no other option than to call it off. Doing so on Friday night meant that those of us who wanted to run could look to other venues, and with only a small dusting of snow, my nearest parkrun at Whitley Bay was declared on.

As I made my way to the start, I spotted a Newcastle regular on his warm up run and spotted  a familiar gathering of Toon run regulars, including Malcolm, Jeff, Fred, Eric and Mick who took a commemorative photo. So I felt in good company for a landmark run.

With a covering of snow being churned to slush beneath the pounding of multiple pairs of trainers and trail shoes, it was never going to be a fast run. I just focused on keeping my form as best I could and enjoying the contrast of the white ground and the clear blue skies, full of sunshine that would soon make the snow a memory.

I gave a good shout to runners I knew as I saw them come along the finish straight as I headed out to the second lap and managed a thank you to all the marshals standing around in the chill. There was even a Scribbler sprint finish, which was a fine way to mark my 50th.

Happy birthday Newcastle parkrun

Like many parts of the UK, we had a decent snowfall last night, leaving the roads and pathways covered in, as they say around these parts, ‘propa sner’.

Tony the Fridge and me at Newcastle parkrun 20 January 2013
Tony the Fridge and me at Newcastle parkrun 20 January 2013

But while this meant a couple of local parkruns had to cancel, the blanket of white stuff on the Town Moor was arguably safer than wet and icy paths and Newcastle parkrun was declared on.

So, off I went. Wrapped up fit for an arctic expedition, unsure whether to run or to marshall, but prepared for both. I wasn’t there for the very first event, but three years ago, the very first Newcastle parkrun took place in very similar conditions. A select few runners and a hardy bunch of volunteers turned out in the snow to ensure the free 5k timed run went ahead. It’s grown in support hugely since then and lately has had record attendances of over 400 runners.

All parkruns have their own individual character. Some are hilly, some are muddy, some are multi-laps, some just the one. Newcastle has the reputation of being a ‘fast’ course as it’s largely flat. But conditions on the Town Moor can be testing, and it can be more like a cross country run at times.

The wind can seem to change direction as you run, and the exposed nature of the course, can leave hands and toes tingling with cold – and that’s just the runners, never mind the volunteers who stand out in all weathers, directing turns or holding gates. Oh and we must be the only parkrun that has to issue regular cow warnings in the summer months.

Today was a special event to mark the 3rd anniversary of this run. And there’s a nice tradition, started by its original founder Niyc Pidgeon, of celebrating Newcastle parkruns anniversary with a bit of a get together and award presentation afterwards.

Me and Tony the Fridge on Day 20 of his Great North Run challenge
Me and Tony the Fridge on Day 20 of his Great North Run challenge

The special guest presenter was inspirational North East runner and passionate fundraiser for the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, Tony Phoenix Morrison, better known as Tony the Fridge, who this year completed the route of the Great North Run 30 times, whilst carrying a 40kg fridge on his back.

Now, I know Tony a bit, in that I’ve had the privilege and pleasure of running a few miles with him during his incredible challenge. So when I started running, I said hello and we fell into step for a while. I hadn’t intended to go out and race hard given the conditions today, but finding he didn’t have anyone running with him today, I thought, why not stick with him.

Because it is always a pleasure running with Tony. He’s not what you might expect and he always makes me think as we chat. He’s easy to listen to and talk to. And today, running over the fresh snow under the beautiful bleak skies of the moor, it just felt effortless ( but I wasn’t carrying an extra 40-odd kilos of metal on my back).

Afterwards at the awards presentation, he shared his story with fellow parkrunners who had gathered in the warmth of the Royal Grammar School to enjoy tea, coffee and cake and celebrate some of the achievements of parkrunners.

The awards are very much in the spirit of parkrun and not only celebrate the consistently fast and impressive performances of the speedier runners, but also give a chance for the volunteers and others to have their moment in the spotlight.

Amongst the awards I was really pleased to hear my mate Jeff’s name, after he’s run every Newcastle parkrun this year and put in some impressive times too. And there was a big cheer for Eric Appleby, our 80-year-old runner who still turns out and inspires everyone to be the best they can be. It was nice too, that Paul  Davison was recognised for always being among the first to thank the volunteers that make it possible for this free run to go ahead.

Parkrun really is inclusive. From the fastest to the slowest, old to young, from babies in buggies to teenagers, dads, dogs, and grandads, everyone’s welcome. Running or volunteering both have their own rewards, from chasing a new best time, to simply getting a smile on a grey day. So if you’re thinking of taking up running, just starting out, or even if you’ve been doing the mileage for years, check it out.

I got a couple of very welcome compliments today. My ultra tough, speedy, never-give-up, running pal Rob said, “Your blogs are always worth reading.” Although he did also admit that if we’ve had a chat, he likes to see if he gets a name check – so there you go Rob 🙂 But it was nice to hear, and it came just at the right moment, so thank you my friend.

A tale of two parkruns

With a cold snap in the air, there were understandable doubts about parkrun being safe to run on 1 December. Indeed, a number of north east runs had to cancel due to icy paths, but Newcastle was still on.

The race director reported the run to be marginal, but made the decision to keep it on, with the extra help of the marshalls who did double duty directing runners away from the iciest sections and over onto the soggy grass, then came back to the finish to take numbers and scan tokens. It was bitingly cold on the moor, and the volunteers were in for a cold job.

I went to do my usual warm up in all my layers, including my Fetch hoodie and had a quick chat with a runner visiting from Edinburgh and staying nearby. And then it was time to line up at the start.

Some quick steps over the grass and negotiating the turns and icy sections kept the pace steady through the first kilometre, but I was able to pick it up again through the gate and out along the road. I felt good and strong when my footing was sure, even over the rough path back onto the moor, where the low sun provided another challenge, making it hard to see the icy ground.

The new running style has definitely started to stick. The only times it dropped during this run were when I had to divert over the grass and I found myself plodging or when I was skipping over the ice, uncertain of my footing.

I was out on my own between 3-4kms and felt my pace drop over this tricky section. But once back on the path, I gave it a good kick in the last km and tried to keep the pace up even over the grass. The final sprint to the finish line was painful and I needed a few minutes once over the line to stop the spinning feeling in my head. But I was pleased with my time which was only 7 seconds slower than last week. Without the ice, I feel it would have been faster.

Stats and stuff:
5k 27:32

1) – 0.62m – 5:45(9:17/m) – 63cal
2) – 0.62m – 5:26(8:45/m) – 64cal
3) – 0.62m – 5:20(8:36/m) – 65cal
4) – 0.62m – 5:49(9:23/m) – 65cal
5) – 0.62m – 5:08(8:14/m) – 63cal

So when this Saturday dawned ice cold again and ice threatened to make the Town Moor course a cross country fest, I opted for parkrun at Whitley Bay. It’s a long time since I ran this course, and in fact, they’ve changed the finish, so I hadn’t run this version before.

I warmed up as usual and found myself a spot, ready to give it a good run. Not knowing the field, I very much ran to feel, finding my own pace and enjoying the steady footing of the tarmac paths and the drop down onto the promenade.

Not too windy or too cold, I was on a mission to improve my run time after an encouraging chat with my PT. I’m enjoying my new running style and feel like it’s working, so I wanted to prove that and I’m using parkrun as my push it session in the week.

I made the mistake of glancing at my Garmin after 1k and noticed the pace was hot for me. In truth I was feeling it a little in my breathing and trying to relax into the run. The next part of the route has a couple of sharp inclines, that weren’t as long or as steep as I remembered, but I cut my stride and eased up them and onwards.

I was on my own for much of the run, with few targets to chase, but after the initial surge I tried to cling on to anyone that overtook me and I managed to outpace a couple of guys just by keeping my rhythm and reeling them in.

Back round past the starting point, I knew there was less than a lap to go and started mentally calculating the time left to run to distract me from the effort. 10 minutes of bright winter sunshine and clear skies, then less than six and keep pushing, keep the head, keep the desire.

It was tough, but I knew there wasn’t much further to go, even though my head hadn’t quite got the measure of the new course. Once more over the little bridge and up the incline, then back round along the road and onto the cliff top path down to the promenade for the finishing stretch.

A male runner in a blue top had run beside me for a while and I’d stuck with him, pushing my pace, but here he showed his form and stretched ahead. I knew I still had a kick, but it’s a short and fast one, so I picked my spot to really pick it up, all the time willing my legs into a faster turnover. Just after the Rendezvous I hammered it down, less than 100m to the finish.

Token collected, watch stopped, I stuttered away from the line, head down to catch my breath and it felt like minutes before I could look at my time. Target for today was faster than 27:25 which I’d run in Newcastle two weeks ago on a dry course. The figures on the watch face read 26:26 (official time 26:32)

Not only is that the best part of a minute faster, it’s my best time of the year so far, beating the 27:02 I ran in August. So, I think I can safely say that I’m seeing improvements from my new running style.

Stats and stuff:
5k 26:26
1) – 0.62m – 5:09(8:19/m) – 63cal
2) – 0.62m – 5:34(8:59/m) – 65cal
3) – 0.62m – 5:21(8:38/m) – 64cal
4) – 0.62m – 5:17(8:31/m) – 65cal
5) – 0.62m – 5:05(8:14/m) – 63cal