The Scribbler

13 June 2017

Blaydon Race 2017

Filed under: run,running — The Scribbler @ 18:28
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Runners preparing for Blaydon race 2017

The Fetch Everyone Blaydon Race 2017 team

Two realisations ran through my head as I caught the metro to take me into Newcastle for the start of the 2017 Blaydon Race. The first, that I hadn’t run anything more than 4 miles since Easter Sunday, and the second, that I’d never worn that particular pair of  trainers over that kind of distance before. Not exactly race fit and prepared then.

But it’s the Blaydon Race. My favourite running race, and the one I try hardest not to miss. The race I’ve done every year since I started running in 2009.

I wasn’t expecting it to be fast. I was expecting it to hurt a bit, but I had no doubt, that  barring a disaster, I’d have another memorable run.

Why do I love the Blaydon Race?

Why do I love the Blaydon Race so much? It’s not a beautiful or inspiring course. In fact, it takes in some of the dullest and least scenic parts of my adopted home town. But I do like its history, the fact that it takes place on the same date every year. And that, despite being a large event in terms of runners, it maintains a local feel, rather than having been swamped by corporate marketing.

I love seeing runners gather in the city centre, flooding the narrow streets around the Bigg Market with colour and noise. Taking over the usual haunts of pubs and clubs and exchanging stories of other runs, plans for the race, hopes and expectations, and of course, remembering the year there was a deluge. If you were there, you’ll never forget it.

Runners take over the city streets

I spotted the great crew from Newcastle Frontrunners, out in force for this race, and took their team photo before the start. They returned the favour and snapped me, Karen and her mum – a small gang representing Fetch Everyone this year. Sadly some of our regular running pals are injured, so missed this race. It’s always a great excuse to catch up with one another.

The excitement builds as the band plays the Blaydon Races down the street. I’m so far back I can barely hear it, but I  sense that we’re almost ready to start. I chat to some of the runners around me, excited nerves starting to bubble.

A secure and reassuring presence

Police presence at Blaydon Race 2017

Keeping us safe

One thing that’s different this year is the visible presence of armed police. There are two standing nearby as we line up. I’m sad, but grateful they are there. A sign that recent events in Manchester and London mean we are all more aware of potential threats.

Personally I feel no fear being among this crowd of runners. Running, racing and being part of this very special, joyous community is one of the touchstones of my life. Running brings me happiness and a feeling of togetherness that has a value that far outshines the darkest fears.

The start

And so, to the race itself. There is the usual walk, then jog, then run over the start line to the sound of the ancient handbell. I wish runners around me ‘Enjoy!’ as I bounce off through streets that are normally sluggish with traffic.

In previous years, I have tanked my way through the first mile, buoyed up by adrenaline and over eager. This time I am more cautious, knowing I really do not have the miles in my legs to go off like a rocket and hope I can hold on.

I run at an easy effort, thinking of how I last ran with my sister at her first ever parkrun, trotting along at a pace not far off my usual speed, but just a little bit more comfortable.

It’s a warm night as the sun sinks low in the sky over the hard concrete and tarmac. After the tight twists and turns of the city centre, the long wide straight of the Scotswood Road offers space to run freely and I settle into a nice rhythm.

Spectators along the side of the road offer welcome support and encouragement. I’ve already had a shout out from Angela Kirtley at the Centre for Life, and continue to drink in the shouts and cheers from the roadside and bridges along the way.

Bands on the run

Familiar landmarks approach and the sound of the band playing at the Fiat Garage on Scotswood Road is always a welcome lift. It’s ‘Honkey Tonk Women’ as I approach and then ‘500 miles’ as I pass by, clapping along in appreciation. There may even have been a bit of singing.

Blaydon Race 2017 - photo by Ian Harman photography

The Scribbler in action, Blaydon Race 2017 – photo by Ian Harman photography

At this point I’m feeling good, strong in my legs, sensible in my pace. I don’t feel the urge to surge onwards, knowing there are couple of  climbs to come.

I hit three miles and feel that there’s still more in my legs. I spot Claire from Newcastle parkrun ahead, recognisable from her cap and shout encouragement as I pass. She really does look strong in her running.

There’s a police car at the bottom of Blaydon Bridge, signalling the start of the first climb. Runners ahead start to slow and walk as the sun beats down on the climb. I power on, determined to run every step. I  shorten my stride, and use my arms to add a little more effort to ease on up. At the top, as well as the usual cheering spectators, there are two more armed officers. I smile and shout ‘cheers’ and get a nod of recognition. You are here for us tonight.

Down the bank on the other side and watch for runners along the out and back section beside the river. I shout at my friend Karen, miles ahead of me tonight with solid marathon training miles in her legs.

Despite the heat, I dodge the water stop, but relish a refreshing splash on my legs from the discarded cups. I am still running well within myself, enjoying the experience, playing games of catch the runner ahead, spotting familiar club colours and listening to the odd bit of chat and encouragement around me. I hear what I think is thunder, then realise it’s a band of drummers. It feels like miles before I see them, but their beat encourages me onwards.

Towards the finish

At around 5 miles, my lack of distance training starts to tell. There’s a heaviness in my legs now and a weird pull low down in my stomach. In previous races I have really had to dig deep here, after a speedy star, telling myself not to let that hard work go to waste. Tonight I am just focused on keeping moving, staying steady and not dropping too much pace. It is easier mentally, but part of me longs to be really putting myself out there, striving for speed, feeling the exhilaration of the extra effort.

There’s a last little kicker of a rise before the finish, well supported by friends and family. It’s a tough ask at this stage in the race, but it’s over before it really saps my legs and now all I have to do is get to the end.

Around me I feel the sense of excitement, a surge of speed as we know we are close to the finish. The route jinks round an industrial estate so that although you know the finish line is approaching, you really cannot see it until the last few hundred metres.

I get a shout out from Lesley, who would love to be running this and has turned out to support. I’m so grateful I give her dog a shout out – but not her!

And then, there it is, the finish line. I put a bit of a spurt on, sprint over the grass, and smile arms aloft over the finish. Another Blaydon Race completed and thoroughly enjoyed.

The usual brilliant organisation and bevy of marshals sees me through to collect my goody bag and much prized T-shirt. I’m through and out into the crowd of finishers in double quick time, smiling, congratulating finishers and drinking in the great carnival atmosphere.

The Blaydon Race may not be the prettiest or fastest run. For me, in 2017, it’s my slowest time ever over this course. But it retains a charm and atmosphere all of its own. It’s bold and crazy and a little bit anarchic, just like the song that inspired it. And that’s why it remains my favourite race.

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17 April 2017

North Tyneside 10k 2017

Filed under: run,running — The Scribbler @ 12:04
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North Tyneside 10k photo by Ian Harman photography – I’m in the red and yellow Fetch T-shirt

It’s been a long time since I wrote a race report, but then it’s been a long time since I’ve raced. September last year saw my final triathlon of the season at the Brownlees event at Harewood House and I haven’t done a competitive race since then.

Easter Sunday was to be the day I stuck a number on my shirt, a timing chip on my trainers and ran 10k along the North East coast from North Shields to Whitley Bay in the annual North Tyneside 10k.

This is my most local race and the first one I ever did back in 2009, so it has good memories for me. It’s always on Easter Sunday, which means that the conditions can be very variable. I’ve run it with snow and hailstones lashing down, and then another time got sunburned shoulders and plodged in the sea at the finish. But there’s always the promise of some chocolate indulgence afterwards.

I’ve been focusing on building up Wordstruck, my freelance writing and training business over the past few months, so haven’t done anything like the volume of training that I’ve done in previous years. One or two runs per week, and a weight training session is about all I’ve managed with any kind of consistency.  I also hurt my back a few weeks ago, luckily not badly, but it has meant I’ve been easing back into running and other training.

So, those are all my excuses. But really I don’t need to make them, because like everyone else running, I was prepared to get up, get there and give it a go. My aim was to run harder than I would do in training, run every step and to enjoy it. And I did.

In a well practised routine, I dropped my car off near the finish and got a lift to the start at the Parks Leisure Centre in North Shields. There was a great sense of anticipation, seeing lots of running club vests and runners all gathering together for a big race. The air was chilly, and the forecast rain and wind were being kept at bay.

My pal Peter Brooks spotted me and said hello and we had a nice chat before the start. I only saw a couple of other runners I know, which was surprising given the crowds. I remained quite relaxed as we made our way to the start.

Wearing my new Garmin Fenix 5S for its first race, I got set to press start as I stepped over the line, with a chorus of beeps showing our timing chips had been activated. I was off and running! And it felt great.

The first section of the course is pretty crowded as runners find their way through the streets of North Shields and then turn down the hill towards the Fish Quay. I didn’t have any problems running among the crowds though, just finding my own space and really picking up some speed on the down hill.

Along the Fish Quay, it felt quite sheltered and even warm, and there was plenty of space as runners in brightly coloured shirts streamed in a ribbon along beside the river. We all knew there was a hill coming, and as it got closer, there was an almost palpable sense of tension. I focused on shortening my stride and just keeping going, up, then a little left turn and up again, before the road opens out beside Tynemouth Priory and another steep uphill, crowned with supporters.

In a bid to do some training, I will come out and run hill reps up this slope, so I’m not frightened of it. I kept my pace steady, just pushing on, counting the lamposts to emerge at the top, and keep going, knowing there’s a nice easy downhill to help regather your energy.

Now I was on familiar ground, running along the route of many regular runs, the sea on my right, a cool breeze on my face. The only difference from my training runs are the number of other runners and supporters on the course.

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St Mary’s lighthouse marks the finish line

Three miles down and I was feeling good, knowing the hardest part of the route was behind me. At this point, I was saying to myself, push on, keep pushing and don’t leave anything in the tank.

Having focused on recovering, I’ve been running at relatively easy effort, with little focus on speed, so I wasn’t too sure how I would feel picking up the pace for a race.

I was still enjoying it and high fiving the occasional supporter along the route. I got a couple of shout outs, but didn’t always see where they came from. One little lad with blond hair was doing a great job of cheering on runners and gave me a good loud “Go on Fetch” (reading my race T-shirt). That gave me at least a half a mile boost.

I deliberately didn’t look at my watch, but felt the buzz as I clocked up another mile. Knowing the route, I also had an innate sense of where I was and how far I still had to go. I glanced at the view a few times, but today was more focused on looking ahead and pushing on. I started to target runners in front to chase down and pass, but I was starting to feel it was taking more of an effort to keep up the pace.

Just before Spanish City, the path narrows sharply, and marshals directed us onto the road for a short section, before we ducked around the new hotel and back onto the footpath beside Whitley Bay links. Somewhere along here I saw a runner I recognised from parkrun, with her distinctive hair braids, and wearing a Newcastle Front Runners shirt. I went to shout her some encouragement, but blanked on her name, so burbled something incomprehensible that she didn’t hear. Sorry Vanessa!

By now I was running along the Links, knowing that there was only just over a mile to go. Nothing hurt, I still felt good, but it felt like I’d started to go backwards as my pace dropped and runners seemed to pass me on both sides. My old work pal Helen Riding gave me a shout as she passed by and I focused on keeping her in my sights as long as I could. But by now there were supporters and runners who had finished beside the paths, and I lost track of her as I absorbed energy from their support.

The signs appear for the last few hundred metres and a runner behind me encourages two girls to push on for the finish. I’m still thinking ‘leave nothing in the tank’ and pick up the pace as I round the final corner with the finish line in sight. After feeling a bit sluggish for the past half mile or so, my legs surprise me with a blast of pace and I manage a sustained sprint for the line. Wow! That felt great.

I have a chat with Helen at the finish. She thinks she’s got close to the hour and my watch tells me I’m just over 1h 1 min. I’m slower than last year when I just scraped in under the hour, but really happy with how I ran and how I felt running and racing again.

It is a glorious thing to be able to do, to just get up and know that I can run 6.2 miles. I’ve run further and faster, but 10k remains my benchmark of a decent but enjoyable challenge and the kind of run that I aim to do regularly, either training or racing.

Running it along a familiar and beautiful piece of coast line with so many fellow runners and friends is a once a year privilege, and one I hope to enjoy for a long time yet.

Stats and map

29 March 2016

North Tyneside 10k 2016

Filed under: run — The Scribbler @ 21:02

The North Tyneside 10k, is traditionally the first race of the year for me. As my first ever race, it signifies another year of running and acts as a marker for performance and progress.

I’ve been less focused on training and sporting goals this winter. Maybe that’s no bad thing, given how dominant they have been in the past. My energies have been directed elsewhere, dealing with changes at work, setting up a new website and co-creating another writing project.

I have, just about, give or take, kept a level of activity ticking over with a mixture of strength sessions, runs and a bit of cycling. But I’ve felt slow, heavy, stuck in the rut of an easy plod and going no faster, even over shorter distances.

Running has been a release, a place to settle my thoughts or simply breathe in fresh air and escape for a while. So I’ve gone easy on myself, just enjoying the activity for itself, no goals or targets.

Except there always are, aren’t there? Try as I might, I always compare against myself. And there are certain thresholds I think I should always be able to hit – like the 30 minute 5k and a sub 1hr 10k. And I haven’t been close to those for a while.

I wasn’t much feeling like racing on Easter Sunday. The weather forecast promised gusty winds and showers. But the day came bright and warmer than anticipated, and the wind, uncharacteristically from the south, promised to push all us runners along the seafront towards St Mary’s Lighthouse.

There’s a spring like feeling of anticipation and excitement as I arrive at the start. Throngs of runners warming up, greeting club mates and friends, getting ready for another road race season. I spot a few Newcastle parkrunners and have a good chat with my running pal Kathryn who I rarely see nowadays. I jog along for a bit of a warm up, and spot Jacquie and Alister up form Durham for the race. It feels like old times and I’m starting to relax and look forward to racing.

We line up before the start, the tang of deep heat and the laughter of some gentle mickey taking among the gathered runners. I’ve placed myself somewhere anonymous, nearer the back of the pack than the front. I do not hear any of the announcements and only know we’ve started when the crowd begins to walk forwards.

Start the watch as the timing chips beep over the line and get my feet moving through the streets of North Shields. Careful of the curbs, dodging a few elbows, looking for space among the pack I trot into an easy run. Cadence high, small steps, light feet, don’t go off too fast.

I’m aware of runners around me putting the brakes on down the steep bank to the Fish Quay. I let myself go a little, have confidence in my footing and core to keep me upright, trying not to surge away too fast, but taking advantage of the slope. This feels good, my pace just on the right side of uncomfortable.

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St Mary’s lighthouse

I settle quickly into a nice groove, still mindful of the busy running traffic around me and my space among it. The shops and businesses pass by in a blur, and I navigate the turn around the street furniture and out along the promenade.

The multi-coloured shirts stretch out ahead in a glorious bright ribbon as far as the eye can see. A long straight before the climb gives a chance for the field to spread out before it narrows again on the path up to the Priory.

A short, steep slope, and a curve and another. I pick up my feet, use my arms but don’t try to power up too hard. I need to keep my breath knowing there’s another longer slope to come. On the main road beside the Priory, photographers snap grimacing faces, and some walk the steep bank. But I keep my cool and trot to the top and power on.

It’s warm now and I’ve regretted my choice of a long sleeve top. In my head I’ve been thinking, I’m not so fast as I was, I need to keep warm. On the descent towards Longsands, I catch a welcome breeze across my face. Not far off half way and I’m feeling good.

I smile at the stretch of golden sand, so familiar, but still a sight to lift the spirits. I sneak a peak at my watch at half way and am pleasantly surprised at my time. Half distance and the hill behind me. I just have to hold onto this pace and I’m on target for under an hour.

I keep reminding myself of coaching points, keep my feet light, lift my chin, lean forwards a little. I realise I’ve been spending a lot of time looking at feet just ahead and try to raise my gaze. Everything’s working okay, no niggles and even the usual three mile pins and needles don’t make an appearance.

I focus on keeping going, keeping up the pace. I run beside a couple of men for a while. They are chatting easily to each other, probably taking in this race as part of a longer run. Their pace feels like the right kind of push on for me, so I stick with them for as long as I can.

The advantage of knowing this coastline so well is that I soon start to count off the landmarks, and the miles passing by. With two miles to go, I give myself another mental shove to dig in and keep moving.

With a mile to go, the course is getting congested with supporters looking out for their friends and family. A driver tries to leave the car park at the Rendezvous Café and is held back by a marshal, until a break in the flow of runners.

I watch out for Ian and Kelda and wave as I see them on the bank, happy that I still feel like I’m running well and putting the effort in. It is staring to hurt a bit now, my feet feeling hot spots and by hips beginning to ache. But with the end in sight, all it takes is another mental push to abandon thoughts of easing off.

Starting to see the faster finishers walking back along the course carrying goody bags and wearing this year’s bright T-shirts. Don’t get distracted, stay focused, keep pushing.

I never really know how far along the road to St Mary’s the finish is. I started to push along the straight before the turn and power up through all the gears into a final sprint, passing a few runners as I stretch out for the line. There was still a bit in the tank after all. Over the line, stop the watch and catch my breath – 59:10. Oh yes, that’ll do.

I’ve run this route faster, and slower. Last year I was 3 minutes faster, and that’s not an unrealistic time to aim for for the future. But I’d doubted I could go under an hour given my training and lack of fast running this year. But I did it and I didn’t have to battle all the way or stress to the max to get there. I enjoyed running, racing, being out on the gorgeous coastline near where I live and sharing the experience with members of my running tribe.

I’ll take that as a good start to the season and build on it with optimism.

21 February 2016

Sunrise run

Filed under: run — The Scribbler @ 16:48

An early start. Cool and clear as I head out in the darkness. Steady, steady, run for an hour, no hassle, no pressure.

The tarmac glistened and Jack Frost had been skating over the car windscreens as I rolled my shoulders and got my legs moving along my street and out along the coast.

I was weary, feeling the effects of a tough training session the day before, and then the stiff, creeping stillness of a day sitting in front of a screen. But I’d put my kit out ready, roused myself to the alarm and got out of the door before my brain really cottoned on to what was happening.

There is something quite special about an early morning run. I love the quietness. The solitude. The sense that I’m experiencing something that others miss.

My thoughts drift easily as I head out towards the lighthouse, wondering if I’m in the right time frame to spot the International Space Station in the clear sky.

I warm into my stride, try to pick up my feet when I hear them slapping down and feel the pull on my calf muscles. Easy, easy, call it base training.

The familiar tingle of pins and needles in my right foot. No matter how gently I ease my laces, I get this on longer runs until my trainers are well worn in. As I turn back, I walk a few steps and shake it out.

I’m wrapped up in long tights, long sleeved top, gloves and a hat, but as so often on this route, if I feel warm in one direction, I’m glad of the layers in the other. Today it’s as I turn, I feel there is a chill wind after all and now it’s in my face.

photo (1)But the light is lifting as I run into the sunrise, and even out early along this stretch I’m never alone. Runners pass with good morning greetings, recognising the shared experience of braving the darkness and finding this time.

I stop for a few seconds and take a photo as the gold begins to lift over the North Sea – flat, calm and gentle against the cold sands today, a contrast to the churning grey of recent days.

Back home for a warm shower, porridge and my day proper to begin. Already it’s been a success. My legs may ache and my body may stiffen as I spend much of the rest of it in a chair in front of a screen, but it started with a run with the sunrise.

9 September 2015

10 things I’ve experienced at every Great North Run

Filed under: Great North Run,run — The Scribbler @ 19:06
Tags: , ,

Inspired by the Evening Chronicle’s 36 things you only know if you’ve done the Great North Run, here’s my personal reflection on the things that always happen to me, ahead of this Sunday’s epic event.

1. Cry on the start line

Years before I ever ran it, I reported on the Great North Run for BBC Newcastle and the local website. I mingled with the runners, took their photos and asked them why they were running. Every year, someone’s story broke through my professional mask and I had a little weep, and usually a hug.

Me holding my Great North Run 2010 medal

Me at the finish with that very special medal

It’s been the same since I started running it. In 2010 when I ran in memory of my baby sister Ava, I spotted a bloke dressed as a beer bottle with a sign on his back saying he was running for his son who he lost at birth too and we stood and hugged each other all the time Abide with me was playing.

Now, I take tissues, and I always have a couple spare.

2. Spot someone who’s run every single Great North Run

There are 103 of these very special runners who have done this race every year since it started. I usually see Anne Wilson who dresses as Minnie Mouse. They now get a special number.

3. Say hello to someone from BBC Radio Newcastle

Usually on the bridge over the start line. It’s always nice to get a wave from one of my former colleagues. I know they’ll be having a busy day!

4. Can’t believe I need the loo again

Honestly, talk about nervous race bladder. I always need to go at least one more time before the start.

5. Set off too fast and shout out oggies in the underpass

Even when I know I really should be trying to run a sensible first mile and save my energy, I get carried away by the atmosphere.

6. Miss people looking out for me 
With a stream of coloured shirts passing by in their thousands, it’s often easier for runners to spot familiar faces in the crowd that the other way round, but every year I’ve missed seeing someone who later says they gave me a shout!

Me and Tanni Grey Thompson

I get my water bottle from 16 time Olympic Champion Tanni Grey Thompson

7. Get a bottle of water from Tanni Grey Thompson

The first time this happened was a complete fluke. I ran to the end of the water station just after 9 miles and took a bottle from a lady in a wheelchair, did a double take and realised who it was. After that, I knew she was there and made a point of looking out for her, even on my PB or bust run in 2011. Last year I stopped for a chat and a selfie

8. Thank the good folks of South Shields
By South Shields, you’re really flagging and locals know that climb up the John Reid Road is hard on tired legs, so they turn out in their thousands to urge you on. They shout, cheer, clap, spray hoses of water, anything to help you through the last few miles. Bless the mammies who hold out plastic boxes of jelly babies and orange segments. There have been times when I could have kissed you.

9. Sprint for the finish line
It’s a race, and I can’t help myself. No matter how tired my legs are and how much I’ve suffered and slowed down before I get there, I’ve always managed a death or glory spurt over the line.

10. Ask myself could I turn round and run back

I consider myself a runner. And I’ve not yet done a marathon. Would I? Never say never. But at the end of the Great North Run, the answer so far has been a resounding ‘no’.

And something that’s only happened once:
I got spotted on the TV coverage, running towards the finish line and waving for the camera last year.

This year I’m running as part of #TeamSage and raising money for Cancer Research UK.

16 August 2015

Running and writing

Filed under: run,writing — The Scribbler @ 20:27
Tags: , , ,
My 2011 trainers

A selection of my running shoes

I was very honoured when my writing mentor John Simmons asked me to guest post on his blog 26 Fruits. I frequently refer to his books on writing, including 26 Ways of looking at a Blackberry in my job as a copywriter, and always look forward to his weekly posts.

So this week, having made a return to writing about running, it feels very appropriate to redirect you to John’s blog, where you’ll find my guest post on the connections between running and writing.

12 June 2015

Blaydon Race 2015

Filed under: run — The Scribbler @ 18:44
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‘Ah me lads, ye shud only seen us gannin’’

The Blaydon Race. My favourite road race and my sixth time running it. Logically, it’s not a great contender for a favourite race. It’s an irregular distance. It’s a congested city centre start, and most of the route is on tarmac roads, with nothing in the way of scenery, unless you like flyovers. But there’s something about this race.

Runners gather for a photo before a race

Meeting parkrun and running pals before the Blaydon race

Maybe it’s the way runners takeover part of the city centre usually known for beer and kebabs. Maybe it’s because it marks the start of summer. All I know is that it has a great atmosphere and it always makes me smile.

Coming into it just two days after smashing my PB at Northumberland Standard Triathlon, I really wasn’t focused on getting anything from this race, other than turning up and enjoying it. My legs were still feeling the impact of cycling and running and muscles were tight. But still, changing into my running kit after work and pinning on my number, I felt a thrill of excitement.

It’s a bit of a tradition that there’s a group photo before the start. And within minutes of arriving in the Bigg Market I’d spotted a collection of runners I know from parkrun and Fetch Everyone. We smile and pose for the phone cameras.

The atmosphere is building as we’re corralled into the narrow streets leading down towards the start line. I feel like I want a bit of time to gather my thoughts, so slip away from the group and head towards where the band is playing the usual rendition of ‘The Blaydon Races’ and snap a couple more pictures of the crowds.

Runners

The Fetch crew gather at the Blaydon race

There’s a bit of a delay to the start. We don’t know it at the time, but there’s been an ambulance on the course, helping a non runner, and we’re waiting for a clear road.

Then comes a surge and a bit of a cheer as the crowds start to move, walking forwards at first, approaching the start line marked by the ringing of a hand bell with a couple of surges and stops. Just before the line, I spot parkrunner Tove and give her a joyous high five. Then I’m off and running through the streets of my adopted home city.

4,000 runners dodging each others’ feet and elbows as we navigate the twists, turns, kerbs and bollards must look like the most bizarrely colourful flock of starlings in full flight. I manage to weave my way through the space comfortably, despite squinting into the low evening sunshine. I wish I’d worn my sunglasses.

I’m feeling good. Relaxed. No thoughts about times or targets, just ready to enjoy this race. I’m bouncing along feeling surprisingly fresh, like I’m running well within myself, but not deliberately slowly, like I would be on a long run. It’s a great feeling, like I’m flowing along the road.

Along the Scotswood Road, runners spread out, finding space, falling into a more consistent pace after the flurry and scurry of the first mile. There’s a constant stream of coloured shirts and sounds of breathing as I pass and am passed in turn.

I continue feeling relaxed and strong, able to shout out club names and recognise runners as we run the new out and back section after the Blaydon bridge. The route here used to run along the riverside path, but now it’s on road and it feels a little wider and less congested.

I haven’t looked at my watch at all. I have no idea of what pace I’ve been doing, but it’s felt good and steady. By the time my legs start to feel a little heavy and the pace starts to feel harder work, I calculate there’s less than a mile to go and push on.

Through the industrial estate, I pass a lady wearing a small back pack who I’ve been targeting for a while. The supporters start to gather in droves and there’s a real sense of the finish line approaching. I find a little more in the tank and stretch out my stride, but I resist really picking up until I can see the blue finish funnel.

With less than 100m to go, I surge into a sprint across the grass playing field. The man beside me comes with me and I say ‘all the way to the end!’ He takes me on and beats me fair and square as I cross the line, breathless but smiling. We shake hands and grin.

I step aside to catch my breath before heading to pick up my goody bag and the much prized race t-shirt. I look at my watch and can’t believe it when it says – 50:25. On tired legs and with the relative effort I felt I was putting in, I’d easily expected to be a good 4 or 5 minutes slower than that.

A good running pal of mine often says ‘relax and enjoy’ before a race. Well i did just that at Blaydon and came away with a really decent run. I hope I can do that again in future races.

Blaydon race results
Blaydon race photos
Chronicle Blaydon race gallery

After I finished the race I heard that a runner had had a heart attack and collapsed in the first mile. I’m really glad that he’s now recovering, thanks to the quick work of three nurses who were running and gave him CPR, then finished the race. I always say runners look out for each other. Those nurses did a great job that night. Read the full story on The Chronicle website

24 May 2015

Clive Cookson 10k 2015

Filed under: run — The Scribbler @ 14:20
Tags: , ,

It’s fair to say I wasn’t best prepared for this race. But sometimes they’re the best ones.

I’d spent the early part of the week working in Dublin, a city I always enjoy visiting and where I’m always made to feel welcome. I flew in and did a couple of writing workshops, then flew back the following day, feeling rather tired, having not slept well in an overly warm hotel room.

But my legs were well rested, having done nothing much more than a few decent walks and a bit of a swim, and it was a pleasantly warm summer’s evening, so I headed off to Monkseaton High School for the start of the race.

This is one of those great local club runs, well organised by North Shields Poly. Not a big corporate or charity fundraiser, just a good chance for a decent fast race. I picked up my number and timing chip in the school and headed out to do a bit of a warm up.

Me running the Clive Cookson 10k

On the trail section on the second lap. Picture by David Johnson

There’s a good sampling of club runners at this race, with Saltwell, Tyne Bridge, Wallsend, Derwentside and Elvet Striders‘ vests in evidence. It’s a two lap route, mainly on tarmac and pavements, but with a small section on a hard gravelly trail, to form a big circle around the school.

As usual I bounced off way too fast, realising as I ran alongside Alister from Elvet Striders that I was in danger of making things difficult for myself. He gave me a pace check and I dropped back as I caught my breath and settled into a more realistic rhythm.

I really didn’t have a plan for this race. I wasn’t consciously pacing or looking at my watch. I just ran to feel and my legs felt strong and my stride firm as we ran out up Rake Lane toward North Tyneside hospital. It’s a bit of a gradual uphill, but barely noticeable, and I didn’t notice it on the first lap.

Smiley and encouraging marshals kept us on track all the way round. Special mention goes to the chap who stood in front of the bench holding up arrows to make sure no one went clattering into it. I found a nice bit of space and just settled into my own race, passing people and being passed throughout the run.

Last time I ran this course, it was in the other direction and I thought there was more off road, on trail surface. As I turned away from the main road, the sweet thick buttery smell of the fields full of yellow rape flowers and local farms hit my nostrils and I spotted a clump of blue harebells tucked into a grassy verge.

There were a few km markers and as we came round for the end of the first lap, I stole a look at my watch, to see how I was faring at the half way point. I was surprised to see a time not too much slower than this year’s fastest 5k, and to feel that I was still running strong.

Although runners were never out of sight in this race, I was out on my own for good sections, concentrating on reeling in a group in front and hoping those behind didn’t catch up to me. Whenever anyone approached to pass, I tried to stick with them to push my pace on as hard as possible.

I slowed unconsciously the second time up Rake Lane, still not really aware of the slight incline until another runner came past and said, “I’ll be glad when this hill is over.” Turning the corner away from the main road, I found another burst of pace as the path levelled out again.

At the 7km marker, I was still feeling strong and comfortable. A quick check through my form, making sure I wasn’t hitting the ground too hard, picking up my feet and keeping my shoulders down and I started to work out the minutes left to run. I could feel a slight tightening through my left hip and quads, but nothing to worry about.

I played catch up with a couple of other runners through this last section, passing and then being passed by them in turn. At 9km, I made sure I picked up the effort a little, trying not to leave everything to a last desperate sprint finish.

A shout out from the sidelines as I turned the final corner and I picked up into a sprint for the last couple of hundred metres. Over the line, stop the watch and boom! I was pleasantly surprised to see 54:27 – my fastest time over this distance since 2013.

Although not a keenly anticipated and targeted race, I felt like I’d had a really good run. Time to focus on cycling and swimming for the next couple of weeks in preparation for my big race of the season, the Northumberland Standard triathlon on 7 June.

Clive Cookson 10k race results

5 April 2015

North Tyneside 10k – first race of the season

Filed under: run — The Scribbler @ 15:22
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It’s always good to be back at this race, the first one I ever did in 2009. Traditionally one of the first events on the calendar, it has a celebratory atmosphere, with a chance to catch up with friends and runners, and no pressure, because it’s the first race.

It felt good to be fastening on a number and preparing to race. The sun was shining and the coast had put on its most welcoming face. My aim was just to run and see where I was at.

The last four weeks I’ve focused on run and speed training. I’ve been pushing myself to go that bit faster over shorter distances, running intervals, to try and break my habit of always running at a comfortable pace. I think it’s been working as the faster paces always feel uncomfortable, but I’ve been doing some decent parkrun times and could feel myself becoming used to pushing on a bit harder.

I bumped into lots of running pals at the start, did a bit of a warm up and felt quite nice and relaxed as I waited for the start. As i crossed the timing mat, I told myself to ‘go hard and hang on’ and bounded away to find some clear space.

I managed to negotiate the crowded start really well, without having to dodge and weave about too much. My feet felt light and I was enjoying running in the crowd, but very much in my own space.

Running up Priory Hill on the North Tyneside 10k

Running up Priory Hill – picture by Flip Owen

As I came down the bank onto the fish quay, I got a bit of a stab of a stitch in my right upper rib, so I focused on taking some deeper breaths and eased back on the pace a little. I had the feeling I may have gone off a bit too fast. As a couple of speedy runners I recognised cruised along from behind me to pass, I knew I’d most likely over cooked that first mile.

Along the quayside, I tried to find a better pace, one that was sustainable, but still hard. It took a while for my stitch to disappear, but I’d shaken it off before the steep incline up towards the priory.

For once, I didn’t try to power up the climb, but just kept the pace consistent, and tried to keep my breathing easy. It worked. I was very happily powering up the second incline and feeling strong when I was spotted by running pal Flip, taking photos of us toiling up the hill.

Definitely one of my better runs up that hill. Last week’s hill reps on the same route gave me a real psychological boost, and at the top, I just kept going, with no real need to recover, taking advantage of the slight drop down towards Longsands.

Almost half race distance as I passed the water stop and I was feeling good. Now I started to pull myself along by targeting runners in front,  to catch and overtake. My usual run route was passing in a blur and I was barely paying any attention to the scenery.

Some people watching made a comment about it being easy, along the lines of, “You could beat most of them..”. Hmm, I thought, I’d like to see you try. Sure we weren’t going as fast as the really speedy runners who would be approaching the finish by now, but we were by no means slow.

All along the course I kept getting shout outs. I wasn’t always able to spot who they came from, but they always helped put a smile on my face and an extra bound in my step. I also took the chance to high five a few kids standing watching. I don’t think it slowed me down very much, and it did boost my attitude and enjoyment.

I was avoiding my watch, just running to feel, but I started to feel the strain on my legs somewhere around 4 miles. I think I stopped focusing on runners to pass, and became conscious that my legs and hips were starting to feel the strain. It was costing me more effort to keep the pace.

Still I pushed on, reminding myself to keep my feet light. Sometimes it felt really serene, like I was floating, and I tried to hold onto that, but I was definitely feeling the strain.

I passed a couple of runners who had stopped to stretch or slowed to a walk. I knew that even though I was working hard, I wouldn’t have to stop, so I used that to push on again, hoping to make the most of the closing stages.

There’s a bit of a incline again around 5 miles. Not really noticeable, but a pull on your legs as you pass by the links and the crowds start gathering close to the path. Here I was watching out for my trainer Ian and his wife Kelda and was pleased to spot them and give them a wave. Ian shouted ‘Dig in’ – which is just what I was doing and just what I needed.

Despite my best efforts, I could feel I was slowing down a bit. There was a runner in a long sleeved pink top who had been near me at the start of the race, and who I’d clocked as I passed a little way before. She came through on my right hand side and try as I might, I couldn’t keep pace with her and lost her in the distance.

North Tyneside 10k T-shirt

Nice race T-shirt in the goodie bag

Still, run your own race, I told myself, knowing there was less than a mile to go, and preparing to push for a sprint finish. At the 6 mile mark, it gets a bit crowded with people watching the run and faster runners making their way back to cars and buses. I tried to push on and found another gear, but was still keeping something back until I could see the line and power down for the finish. A good shout from the Elvet Striders finish line posse and I was over the line!

My time on my watch was 56:05 and I don’t think I could have asked for much more than that today. I don’t like to set too many time targets for races, because I think they become self limiting. But I had hoped to run at around 9 min mile pace for as long as possible. With my first mile being well below that, I averaged out at 9:02/mile. So I am very happy with that, and the nice race T-shirt we all got in our goody bags.

It was great to see some of my running friends at the finish and hear of their good races and to hear of some terrific PBs. It’s not the fastest that I’ve run that route, but it’s more than 30 secs faster than last year. I’m feeling strong and confident in my training at the moment, so it’s a really promising start to my run and tri season.

17 January 2015

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.]

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