Clive Cookson 10k 2015

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


Clive Cookson 10k

I really had no idea about how I was going to do this one. It was very much run it and see. I hadn’t run 10k for three weeks and last raced it at the very beginning of March. But I realised that line of thinking was rather negative, and while I didn’t want to talk myself out of a good run, I didn’t want to set unrealistic expectations either.

Would a couple of weeks’ worth of triathlons help or hinder my pace? I wasn’t going to let myself use them as an excuse, particularly as I’d given myself two days’ rest after Darlington. But equally, I wasn’t going to beat myself up if my legs still felt drained from the effort.

So, a sunny evening, not too warm with a bit of a breeze; a brand new course and a start line 10 minutes’ drive from my house. And just run how I feel.

I picked up my number 21 at registration and said hello to some familiar faces including a couple of Newcastle parkrunners. Then headed out, happy to congratulate Jeff on his latest cracking run. He gave me some useful tips about the course – a tough 2-3 km and then a nice downhill 4-5 and back round for the second lap.

As I went through a bit of a jog to warm up, I felt bouncy. My legs felt fresh. I felt good. Confident. Relaxed. A summer’s evening run on the coast. What could be nicer?

I line up in the pack near a tall guy that runs at Newcastle parkrun and is a wee bit faster than me. I also notice a tiny Heaton Harriers lady called Pam who I recognise as another runner about the same pace, but a bit better.

With a couple of ‘good lucks’, and ‘have a good runs’ we’re soon off, piling through the suburban streets, weaving our way past the parked cars, choosing pavement or road, finding space until the runners thin out.

My tactic formed in the minutes before take off is to go out at around 5k pace and see how long I can hold on. I always go off fast anyway, so I may as well try and make it count. The first kilometre is fast – under 5 minutes and I get the sense that maybe, just maybe, I could be on for something.

As the estate roads and curbs give way to a stonier pathway the air is punctuated by puffs of dust and pollen streams from the fields. I lose my nerve a little and have a short, uncomfortable conversation with myself in my head. “You’ve gone too fast. This is 10k, not 5. You’re breathing too shallow.”

The runners pass me in droves. Including the tall parkrunner.

I shake it off quickly, as I settle into my running rhythm, trampling it underfoot as the path leads steadily upwards between the fields. I don’t want to be a slave to the watch, but as we approach the 2k marker I clock 5:23. Slowing down, but still within reason. Push on I say to myself. It’s still possible.

Back onto a road between two hedgerows. Hawthorn blossom drifting like a lazy wedding day as I dig in uphill. Just keep moving forward. Pam draws level with my shoulder. I put on a wee spurt and take off for a few strides, but she comes back at me again and again. Each time I find another brief injection of speed and keep her behind me.

Out again onto narrow suburban pathways, dodging parked cars, wheelie bins and lamp posts. I draw level with a Heaton Harrier and find the space to pass. As the pathway widens, I recognise the landmarks and realise we’re heading back to the start and this bit is definitely downhill.

I stretch out my legs and begin to fly, putting space between myself and the overtaken runner. I feel strong here, running easy, relaxing my shoulders and picking up my feet. I cannot believe how fast this feels.

I cruise past the tall parkrunner and another group of runners. Why are they not keeping up with me? I am queen of the downhill and the adrenaline is rushing.

Back round towards the start. The wind catches my breath with a shock and I start to feel the jolt in my legs and chest from my downhill rush. Conscious of the chasing pack again now.

There’s a girl in a black Blaydon shirt on my shoulder. She’s tried to take me on the left, now weaved out to the right, but I’m pushing on, trying to keep her behind me.

Now it’s hurting and we’re only coming up to 5k. Jeff’s around here somewhere. Can’t let her past me while he’s watching. He shouts out, “Looking good, looking strong,” as I pass, but I am starting to struggle.

As I pass through the start line at the end of lap 1, I hear the marshall counting up the seconds – 25.12 as I pass. Well I’ve done my good 5k I think and I start to drift off the pace a little; ease up to give my murmuring breaths a break. The Blaydon girl sees her chance and scoots past on the pavement.

And then I think 25.12, sheesh, that’s not far off sub 50 pace. Could I? Can I? I push on again, knowing the hard part of the course is ahead of me, but I want to give this my best shot. And there’s still that downhill to come.

Now I’m running on my own. The group ahead too far to catch. The group behind not close enough or breathing hard enough to trouble me. My red and yellow shirt is drenched in sweat, but I must do my best to do it proud.

Behind me I sense the pack. Right now I must lead it.

I feel like I skip over the stony trail a little more quickly, although I certainly feel it more. But my legs are strong I tell myself as I struggle with a shortness of stride and breath. Be bold, be strong, I say to myself as I find it hard to stay focused, keep pushing with no one near enough to chase, knowing I’m the one they’re all chasing.

I pass the 6k marker and think 20 minutes. Can I keep this going for 20 minutes? Yes I can. There’s still a chance. But I cannot let up. I must push on.

Back onto the smoother road and a slight incline. Pam challenges me again. I manage to keep her behind me until we turn out onto the busy pavements, but she’s persistent and eventually one of her moves sticks and she’s gone.

But the narrow pathways give me others to do battle with. A girl in a blue top and a Heaton Harriers vest draws level and I push on. She gets past me and I stick close to her. Draws a little further forward, but close enough I could take her in a sprint.

I’m letting out little bleats of effort now as I fight to bring my breathing under control. Heading onto the downhill stretch and I luxuriate in every inch of my legs, gliding down to take the Heaton Harriers girl and pull ahead.

2k to go. I’m going to push this as hard as I can, not leave it until the last minute, not while I’m running like this.

Into the last kilometre and I’m fighting now to find another gear, worrying that I’ve overcooked it. As the path flattens, the chasing pack eat into my downhill lead and I fight the panic in my chest. I can see the school building at the finish, but it’s still so far, so far. How far? Less than half a kilometre? The Heaton Harriers girl goes past.

Almost at the last corner and I sense someone else breathing hard on my shoulder. It’s the tall parkrunner. He’s been behind me all this time. And this time his longer legs eat up the path faster than mine.

I’m ramping up, grinding through the gears, but it’s not fast enough. As I turn through the gate onto the finish straight, the point at which I’ve decided to throw away any thoughts of holding back, my right calf pings into a sharp cramp.

But I’m already hitting the ground as fast as I can and I cannot stop. My face cries out in pain and I shut my eyes as I sprint towards the line. I’ve got enough wits about me to stop my watch as I say ‘Please, please please…’ to the running gods and almost pile into the back of the tall parkrunner in the funnel.

When I open my eyes I see 51:40. It takes a few seconds to register. That’s a new PB. Okay so it’s not the sub 50 that I allowed myself to hope for half way round, but in truth that was always too ambitious for this run. But it’s closer. And I’ve just run harder and faster at this distance than I ever have before. Been tougher, fitter, stronger in my mind. And it feels good.

Stats and stuff:
10k 51:40
1. 4:56
2. 5:23
3. 5:12
4. 4:43
5. 4:57
6. 5:27
7. 5:41
8. 5:41
9. 4:51
10. 4:49

Race results

When I catch up with the tall parkrunner after the race, I learn his name is Chris.

Post triathlon debrief

So what did I learn from my second triathlon on Sunday?

I need to sort out my bike. As I was taking it back to the car after the event, Peter asked “Why’s your saddle like that?” “Because it is?” I replied, looking at it for the first time. It’s angled downwards, quite sharply. Everyone elses was flat. I sense this is not a wise option. I am a bike newbie.

It’s also been suggested that this may be the cause of my little ITB niggle noted on this and a previous long cycle ride. A niggle I’m still feeling a little.

So sort out bike. And buy a new one (at some point – not right now, but soonish).

And maybe rethink my relaxed approached to transition. Peter stopped for a chat and a photo as he left the pool and still got through T1 quicker than I did!

I’m still not sure how much to push and how much to hold back, especially on the bike. I didn’t feel like I cycled as hard as I did at Ashington, but that was because I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Was I a bit daunted by a 16 mile ride? You bet. Was I watching those going past on their road bikes thinking I’m working way harder than you for half your speed? Oh yes.

Did I ever think let up a bit and just enjoy it? Plenty of times. Even on the run. And that was part of the fun.

The results appeared on the website today. I was 138 out of 141. Go me!

For a competitive girl, I’m actually really chuffed to be back of the pack. It reminds me of where I’ve come from and reminds me not to get too cocky.

That’s one of the nice things about triathlon. You never feel like you’re back of the pack. In fact I finished way before the winners, because the slowest swimmers went off first. And it was great to be able to see other riders and runners as I took part in my race.

Here are the results further broken down. I was:

  • 32nd lady (out of 34)
  • 2nd in my age category (out of 3)
  • Swim 109
  • Bike 138 (avg 12.5mph
  • Run 108 (8.49 min/mile)

So I guess with a faster bike and a bit more training I could aim to be around 110th next year!

I’m patting myself on the back for:

  • Getting myself and my gear to somewhere new; setting it all up and just going out there and doing it.
  • Being active for 1hr56 mins (including transitions). That’s nearly two hours. Almost the same amount of time as a Great North Run. I haven’t done a lot of long runs yet this year. That’s all to look forward to. And I know cycling’s different from running, but hey, that’s given me a whole heap of confidence. Especially when you consider my longest training session has been around 1hr 30 mins.
  • Completing triathlon number 2, when I was only planning on doing one at the start of the year.

So it’s all good. I’m a happy resting triathlete today. Slightly missing my cross training this week, but I have a 10k race on Wednesday night and I have rather greedily been pushing it after Ashington. I didn’t really give myself much of a break.

On paper I should probably be on for a decent run. But I want to get the balance right between talking myself into or out of a good race. I’ll be racing off the back of triathlon training. I haven’t run 10k since Tuesday 12 April – so it’ll be a month since I last did it. I haven’t run one hard since 03 March.

But it’s my other local 10k. And I know there will be some good support on route. So just like Darlington tri, no expectations, no time targets. Just run and see. And maybe, just maybe, it could all go right. And if it doesn’t, I’ve still got plenty more running in me.