Making progress – reaching 8 miles

I’ve really enjoyed focusing on running as I build up the distance of my long run for the Edinburgh half marathon. I’m enjoying being mindful about planning sessions, running the mile I’m in and making my plan work for me.

But whatever’s on the plan, life does sometimes get in the way. I had booked a trip to Rwanda to do some volunteering with the charity Lendwithcare, and knew that with travel time I’d be losing 3 weekends of run training possibilities.

So I ramped up my long run distance a bit sooner than strictly necessary for a half marathon at the end of May. And scheduled a 14k run (just over 8 miles) at the beginning of February.

Another thing that I’m making an effort to do is to run different routes and on different surface, not always tarmac, so when I saw a local low-key off-road ‘race’ of around 8, it seemed like too good an opportunity to miss.

The ‘race’ is the Run for Bob, managed by North Shields Poly running and triathlon club and takes place over a route popular with one of their former runners. It follows a path from Whitley Bay, up the coast to Seaton Sluice, then turns inland through Holywell Dene and along an old Waggonway to finish on the track at the clubhouse.

It’s a really lovely route with a mixture of footpaths, grass, sandy beach and decent trails. And it’s a race insofar as you get a number, all start at the same time and marshals are on hand along the route(s). But there’s no timing, other than your own watch.

We started off in fog as we headed out from the war memorial towards St Mary’s Lighthouse. The coastal paths were empty apart from us runners and a few dog walkers, and the field soon split off into the faster and slower paced so that I was running on my own, with just one shirt visible in the distance ahead of me.

There is something about attaching a number to my shirt that makes me run a bit faster, even when I’m trying to keep the pace easy. I felt like I was bouncing along the first couple of miles over familiar ground along the seafront at Whitley Bay.  I planned to just run comfortably and whatever pace would get me through 8 miles and this was an optimistic start. 

There’s a bit of undulation along the coastal paths and a choice of running down along the beach or up along the top. At the turn in towards Seaton Sluice, some nice trail paths take you into Holywell Dene, an area of woodland with a burn or river at the bottom.

In the woods, the route diverges, with two options, one low along the river and another up and over the top. A marshal shouted directions for either route and I figured it was a choice of hill now, or hill later. I was just over 4 miles in, so I opted for hill now and separated off from the only other runners I could see or hear.

I was breathing heavily by the top of the climb, but my legs felt strong and I knew that was the hardest part of the route completed. I felt confident and happy as I turned onto the Waggonways for the last 2 miles and then onto the track for 3/4 of a lap to finish the race. And because I wanted to complete the designated distance on my plan, I added a cool down lap and a bit to clock up 14k exactly.

It’s easy to get a bit misty eyed and look back on a run with rose coloured glasses once you’ve completed it, but I genuinely did feel like this was a good one mentally and physically. Physically it was a bit more challenging than a standard training run, but I had confidence in my training and my strength in my legs.

Mentally I felt relaxed, happy, enjoying the experience, thanking all the marshals and not putting too much pressure on myself. I don’t remember any negative thoughts or down talking in my head. It would be good to stay mindful of that and to try and tap into those feelings next time I’m struggling on a run.

It feels pretty amazing to me to have clocked over 100 miles of running before the end of February. Especially when I remembered that only a few weeks before I was talking about reminding myself how to run longer distances. I know I still have a long way to go and 8 miles is still a good way off the 13.1 of a half marathon, but I feel like I’ve made a good start.

Mile splits

1: 10:18
2: 10:37
3: 10:41
4: 10:45
5: 11:29 (guess where the hills were)
6: 10:50
7: 10:43
8: 10:39

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What’s on my half marathon training plan?

I’ve had a couple of questions about my half marathon training plan, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to explain it in a bit more detail.

There are lots of running plans that can help you start running, keep running, run further and run up to a marathon and beyond. If you’re starting out then a couch to 5k plan is a good way to get going, challenge yourself and track your progress.

For a half marathon (13.1 miles) like I’m doing, there are also plenty of free plans available online. My plan was specially put together for me by my trainer from Inspire Fitness.

Like most running plans, mine has a mixture of different kinds of run throughout the week. I run 3 or 4 times a week, gradually increasing the distance I cover on my ‘long run’ and doing a couple of other shorter distance runs that focus on speed, or help me build a cumulative distance throughout the week.

Speed focused runs help me get used to running at a slightly faster pace than I normally would. This means that even on a ‘short’ run, I get a good workout.

What does it all mean?

Runs where you focus on speed or pace rather than distance sometimes get funny names like tempo, fartlek or interval. Here’s what the terms mean in simple language:

Tempo run – a run in which you try to run at a target pace for part or all of that session.  You may target a pace of so many minutes a mile for the whole or part of the run, or you could choose to start slowly and increase your speed each mile (known as a progressive run).

Fartlek – yeah that’s a funny name. It translates from Swedish as speed play. Basically a fartlek run is one where you deliberately play around with your speed, running faster over short distances and then slowing down again. I often use lampposts or other markers in the landscape to mark out fast sections on a fartlek run.

Interval – this is a more structured session where you run at pace for a set amount of time or distance, then slow down a little, recover and repeat. For example, I might run for 3 minutes fast and then slow down for 1 minute of recovery and repeat that 6 or 7 times.

I use a GPS watch (mine is a Garmin Forerunner XT) to help me track time, distance and pace on all my runs and I log all of my training on Fetcheveryone. This is a really friendly and accessible online community that allows you to log any kind of activity including running, cycling, swimming, weight training and much more. It allows me to see stats from all my training in all sorts of different ways, compare individual sessions and tot up how many miles I’ve logged in a week/month/year. As well as all the statistical stuff it’s also a great place to chat to other people who run, cycle, swim and get advice and support.

This week my half marathon training plan included 3 run sessions and a strength training session. I’ll also add a yoga class which I enjoy for a bit of peaceful stretching and recovery after a busy week of training and work.

This week’s run training sessions were:

  • Run intervals: Warm up, then run 3 mins fast, 1 min recovery x 6. Cool down
  • 8k run over a flattish route
  • 12k run over a flattish route

You really don’t need any fancy kit other than a pair of trainers to go out and get running, but over time I’ve invested in some kit that really helps me track my progress, stay motivated and feel good when I run. More of that next time…

Back to running

Me running through Fetchppint at the Great North Run

Hello. Sorry I have neglected this running and triathlon blog for a long time. I have done a few races and events since I last wrote, but mainly I’ve been pootling along with no real focus to my running.

That’s already changed as in 2019 I decided that I’d like to run a half-marathon again. So in January I signed up for the Edinburgh Half Marathon and entered the ballot for the Great North Run in Newcastle. This week I found out that I have a place in the Great North Run, so I’ll now be running 2 half marathons in 2019 and I thought it was time to get back to writing about running again.

For those who don’t know, a half marathon is 13.1 miles. It’s likely a wee bit further than your run to the bus stop. And unless you’re a dedicated distance runner, it takes a bit of training to be able to run that distance comfortably.

The last time I ran that distance was in 2015. I didn’t really enjoy the training for it and by that time I was more focused on doing triathlons, so running took a back seat to swimming and cycling.

But I feel like I’ve been drifting along, getting slower and not really doing anything much with my running for a couple of years. So I decided I needed a challenge, to shake things up a bit and to push myself to run at my full potential.

Running challenges

Whether you’re a new runner feeling nervous about calling yourself a ‘runner’ and or an experienced runner who has run hundreds of miles and loads of races, there are always challenges, both physical and mental in the act of running.

Motivation, training, setting goals and expectations, where to run, when to run, how to run, how fast, how far, what to eat, what to wear, where to find a toilet… These can all be thoughts on the mind of any runner at any time.

The plan

I’ve been running fairly consistently now since 2009, so I have a few things that I know help me. As a kid I delighted in a smart school timetable with subjects colour coded so I knew where I had to be and when.

It’s the same now that I have a half marathon to focus on. I have a plan of 3 or 4 runs a week of varying distances to help me build up to the big race. The first event I’m doing is Edinburgh half marathon on 26th May, so I’ve got a good few weeks to get ready for it.

So far I’m three weeks in and really enjoying the fact that my runs have a bit more focus to them. It’s really easy, especially over the winter when it’s cold, dark and rainy to decide not to run ‘later’ or find an excuse not to run at all. But so far I have managed to persuade myself to run all my planned sessions, even when that means getting up at 5.30am and running on frosty pavements before work.

How’s it going?

I’m going to use a technique I learned when I did some triathlon coaching to help me keep track of my running progress. It’s a good way to measure more than just time and distance and is based on answering 3 simple questions – what went well? what could be even better? what do I need to pay attention to?

What went well:

  • Ticking off all the sessions and mileage on my plan
  • Running in weather (wind/rain) and doing some hill and speed work
  • Starting slowly (mostly not having much choice) and allowing myself to warm up
  • Persisting with a run when it felt difficult at first and then feeling like I could have carried on at the end
  • Being on target for my goal of running 500 miles in 2019

Even better if:

  • I space my runs out throughout the week to allow recovery time
  • I increase my effort levels on at least one run by including more faster efforts
  • I add in another strength training session

Watch out for:

  • Niggle in my shoulder/neck
  • Warming up my feet
  • Do my post-run stretches and get up from my desk regularly at work

Blaydon Race 2017

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.

North Tyneside 10k 2017

Back to racing at the North Tyneside 10k

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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

Returning to the Great North Run

Ten miles run in training and my race number has arrived. It’s all getting very real as I prepare to run 13.1 miles on the Great North Run, supporting Cancer Research UK and some very special running pals.

Sorry I haven’t bogged much about running and training recently. In fact there are at least two races and one big cycle ride that I never got round to writing about. I’m still very much in training though and enjoying the opportunities that bright summer days give me to get out and run or cycle.

My last triathlon was the QE2 sprint triathlon at Woodhorn Colliery on 17 July. It’s a really good, well organised event. I enjoyed it, even though I knew, coming out of the swim that I wasn’t going to be breaking any records that day. A windy bike course and stopping to pass another girl my spare inner tube slowed me down, but actually helped me get the right mindset, which was about having fun and completing the lovely course.

Collywell Bay
Collywell Bay – half way point on my 10 mile run

Since then I’ve been ramping up my run training as I’m doing the Great North Run, half marathon again this year. I normally give myself about 12 weeks training to pick up from running 10k to running 13.1 miles, but this year, I’ve only allowed myself seven weeks.

So I’ve been running three times a week and doing some strength or body weight training on two days and trying to get a rest day in too. I’m enjoying running early in the mornings again, getting the best of the day as I head out from the coast.

Today I managed 10 miles along the North East coast, with beautiful views over the sea.

I’ve also been fortunate enough to combine my professional and running interests as I’ve been writing lots of content for my company blog, as there’s a large team of us taking part.

My race number arrived this week, so suddenly it all seems very real. But my approach is very much to just get round and enjoy it. It’s not my target race this year and I din’t have a target time. I’d rather not put the pressure on myself and just enjoy the atmosphere of the day.

I hadn’t really intended to run for charity this year, as I feel I’ve been so well supported in previous charity fundraising efforts. But the team is supporting Cancer Research UK and I’ve got got good reasons for supporting their work.

When I was a teenager, my mum’s best friend had cancer. It was very scary at the time to think that someone like my mum could die from the disease and leave a young family behind.

In the past year or so I’ve known three lovely and very active people who have died of cancer. A couple I knew through the online running community Fetch Everyone.

Sue lived in Devon and loved surfing, skiing and ice cream as well as running.

Jane is someone I’ve raced a triathlon with, so I was very sad to hear that her partner Alistair, another triathlete, had cancer.

And then there was Zoe, the wife of Stephen, who I got to know online as we were both fundraising and running for Sands. She was an enthusiastic parkrunner, an Olympic torch bearer and Gamesmaker.

They all leave family and friends who will remember and miss them always.

In the past 40 years, survival rates for cancer have improved enormously, thanks to the work that Cancer Research and other organisations do. But It’s still very hard to accept that it can take such fit, active and outwardly healthy people, so young.

I know that being fit, healthy and active and not smoking is about the best insurance I can give myself against cancer. And really it’s a privilege to be able to run and bike and swim and enjoy spending time outdoors as I do.

So I’m running for Auntie Alison, Sue, Alistair and Zoe and all the others who would have loved to have run just one more race.

If you’d like to support me, you can here: Link (roll over me to see where I go)