Great North Run 2014

Start at the beginning. There’s a lot to tell. So get yourself a cuppa… And if you fancy a prologue, skip over to Running Up Top Down Under for my race preview. But please come back…

I was really relaxed about this race. Good night’s sleep, no worries getting ready or getting there, just nice and calm and easy. I’ve no expectations that I’m going to run anything like PB pace, so it’s just a case of go out and enjoy it.

Fetchies at the start of the Great North Run
Fetchies at the start of the Great North Run

For the first time ever, I make it to the Fetch photo. And for the first time for this race, I’m wearing my Fetch T-shirt. I have a nice chat with Paul, before assorted Fetchies assemble. A smaller gathering than previous years, but nice to have company all the same.

We went our separate ways, me heading for a wander back over the media bridge and a loo stop, then making my way to the starting pens. The sun was beating down at this point, and it felt far hotter than had been forecast.

Time seemed to have speeded up and as I walked back from the start towards the white zone, I heard the dying strains of Abide with Me. I’d missed the moment of reflection – something I really like about this race. No matter. I had my own little moment of thoughtfulness just before the start, when I recited the names of runners and others who are no longer with us and dedicated my race to them.

Walking back, it was great to see the stars of the race. Not the elite athletes who I didn’t catch a glimpse of, but the very special people who have run every single Great North Run. I had a quick chat with a couple of them, including Ann, one of the few women to have run all 34, dressed as she usually is as Minnie Mouse. What a lovely, lovely lady.

The pens seemed particularly well packed this year, as I joined in the warm up. Normally, by this time I’m starting to get excited and nervous, but I was still quite low key. I chatted to a few runners nearby as the races got underway, but wasn’t near enough to see any of the action on the screens. We gave Mo a massive cheer though!

And then we were off. Well walking forward towards the start at any case. I reckon it took 15 minutes to get to the line and, I almost missed it! I seem to remember it being more prominent in previous races, but there was the mat, so I hit the Garmin start button and began to run.

The plan was to go steady – 10 min miling for as long as I could manage. I had high hopes of sustaining that kind of pace for at least 8 miles after trying it out last weekend, and maybe going a little further if I could. I felt nice, bouncy, light of heart, no pressure on. And despite the thousands of runners around me, in my own little running bubble.

I ran to the right hand side, down under the motorway passes and started an oggy, oggy, oggy. I knew the first mile had been a bit quick, but figured I’d settle once I was over the bridge. As it approached, I realised, I was on the wrong side to spot my top running buddy Jo Shewry  who had said she would be there. I managed to squeeze across to the left and give the whole family sweaty, smiley hugs.

I kept getting shouts on the bridge – not sure if they were people I knew, or just enthusiastic race vest readers, but it was brilliant. One guy turned round and said “You’re popular!”
“Welcome to my city,” I replied with a massive smile. I love running across the Tyne Bridge and that was a moment for the scrapbook.

The band on the roundabout were playing ‘Blaydon Races’ and I was very happy, beginning to settle and find the right pace. But blimey, it was hot. And this course, on tarmac and concrete roads, is unrelenting. There is no shade.

I grabbed water at 3 miles and had my first jelly baby. I was still very much in my running bubble, just following the lines in the centre of the road, managing, as I always seem to do at this race, to find space and not be too jostled or held up. But people were walking. They started walking really early on. People who looked like good runners, walking the inclines, or just looking to get some respite from the sun.

At 5 miles I wasn’t feeling so bouncy. I hadn’t paid much attention to my watch, but I knew my pace had dropped. At 5 miles, there’s still a long way to go. And I knew then that I didn’t have the desire, or the fire in my belly to push hard. Given my run training and race times this year, I was never going to be in with a shout of matching my best, and suddenly any kind of time target didn’t seem to matter.

I didn’t collapse or despair or beat myself up. I just said ‘so what?’ And decided to go easy on myself by running at whatever pace my legs felt like. But I would run. I wouldn’t walk.

I started breaking the rest of the race down into chunks – 6 miles and another jelly baby, halfway and then another water station.

After a second good gulp of water I did pick up a little, felt happier in myself, and realised that I needed to come out of my bubble and start drawing support from the crowds.

There were some great kids out on the course, shouting things like “You’ve done really well to get this far”, or pointing out all the costumes and fancy dress. “Look daddy, a boy in a dress…!”

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

My breathing was easy, too comfortable for a race really, but I just didn’t have the desire to work any harder and at times my hips were giving me warning twinges, telling me to go easy. The briefest bit of cloud cover, or the shadows cast on the ground from motorway barriers was a welcome respite from the sun.

I sort of lost track of where I was on the route as I was just in ‘ keep moving and get to the finish mode’. And I actually thought I’d missed a water station at mile 8, but actually it’s mid way between 8 and 9. I really wanted to hit this station, even though I’d taken on water at 6 miles, because I knew this is where Tanni Grey Thompson would be.

Tanni Grey Thompson – 16 times an Olympic medallist, eight times winner of the Great North Run and one of the UK’s best known disabled athletes – hands out bottles of water at the station between 8 and 9 miles on the Great North Run.

She’s handed me my water 4 times now. The first was totally unexpected, but in subsequent year, I’ve made a point of looking out for her. And there she was again.

Not caring about my time, and running with my phone in my Tune Belt arm band, I stopped for a selfie and a chat. Tanni was lovely, gave me a big smile and kept talking and handing out bottles as she said it was hellishly hot and even the elites had looked like they were suffering. I said thank you, told her it meant a lot to me and I’d tweet the picture. Best Great North Run picture ever!

I really picked up after that. Getting to 8 miles had been a bit of a struggle, but now, even with 5 still to go, I felt more confident that I could manage it without completely breaking myself. 5 miles is still a long way, especially when you know that your race plan is out the window, but I lifted my head and tried to pull support from the crowds.

Heading into South Shields, I kept my eyes out for the next cheering point manned by a couple of Elvet Striders.  I’d been told it would be where it would e, but my brain couldn’t keep track of the course and I wondered if I’d spot them.  No fear of that when there’s a huge banner over the road sign! I ran over to the left hand side of the road, waving and shouting and got a high 5 from Dave.

That took me to 10 miles. And at 10 there’s just a parkrun to go. It was going to take me a while, but I was going to run every step of the way.  My mood was positive, even if my pace was, by my standards, barely a shuffle.

People all around me were walking now. And I was running so slowly it would take me a few paces to overtake them, but I just kept on moving. I tried not to look too far ahead, just focusing on being in the moment and moving forward.

Me on the last mile of the Great North Run 2014
Smiling on the last mile

And then I saw the sea and my heart lifted again. It’s a nasty little sharp downhill before the left turn onto the coast road, but I was smiling as I ran down it and headed over to the right hand side, ready to spot my supporters.

Loads of shouts and high fives as I came into the last mile and a bit. I know this is a long road and I was in no shape to push it, so I just kept it steady and smiled and gave a thumbs up to everyone who yelled my name.

I was scanning the crowds for Gary, knowing I was already beyond the time I’d said he could expect me, but hoping he’d hold on a little longer. I heard him shout, saw the camera and waved and smiled. By this point, I was running so slowly, he was able to run behind the crowds and catch me again along the last mile.

800m to go and in the past, I’ve started to up a gear here, but not today, there’s not a lot left in my legs and I really don’t care what time I finish in. Even at 200m, I only rustle up a slight knee lift and then give it a sort of pathetic sprint over the grass and Mobot over the line. I stop my watch at 2:30:50 – my slowest ever time at this race by a good 20 minutes.

But I’ve made it, and I’m okay, and I get a great big Strider shout from Angie, collecting finisher’s chips before making my way through the goody bag pick up and to the collection point where Gary is waiting.

Refuelled, rehydrated on trying to make sense of my experience by writing this blog, here are my reflections on this year’s race:

I’m pleased I kept my head and didn’t let my ambition to be better beat me today. I don’t really give myself a great shot at half marathons anyway – only entering this one and not really doing the consistent running mileage throughout the year.

Will I go further? I said I’d ask myself the question at the end again this year, but I knew before the start, that the answer was no, not next year, and not in future unless I burn with the desire to do it, like I did for my first Great North Runs. For now, I’d rather get lean and strong and faster over shorter distances again. And next year I want to make the most of my potential in triathlon and get a decent standard distance done.

But I don’t think I’m done with this race just yet. I’d like to enjoy it again, and not necessarily try and race it. I’d like to come back and maybe help someone else enjoy it too.

Thanks to Gary for supporting me and making it so easy for me to get to and from this race, and for buying me fish and chips. Thanks to Ian Turrell for giving me the training plans, fitness and encouragement to take on these challenges. Thanks to all the supporters, those who know me and those to whom I was just a name on a shirt. And special thanks to Tanni for being my water carrier again. Moments like that make this a very special run.

Stats (the splits are good for a laugh)
13.1 miles 2:30:50

1. 9:06
2. 10:31 (hugged my buddies on the Tyne Bridge)
3. 09:54
4. 10:56
5. 11:25
6. 11:39
7. 11:06
8. 11:41
9. 13:25 (Tanni Grey Thompson water stop)
10. 11:54
11. 12:15
12. 12:48
13. 11:47


Bridges of the Tyne 5 mile race 2014

I’d forgotten I’d signed up to this race way back in March, but it’s a popular event and places are soon snapped up, so I guess I must have got caught up in the enthusiasm and put my name down. I’m very glad I did.

After a morning of thundery downpours, runners may have been expecting a wet race, but by the evening, the sun was out and the air was warm as we gathered at the Tyne bar to pick up our race packs.

Running along beside the Tyne Bridge
Running along beside the Tyne Bridge – photo by George Routledge

Along with race number and timing chip, there was an excellent race goodie bag with a nicely designed tech T-shirt , Natural Hero goodies and money off vouchers for Sweatshop. I’m already a fan of Natural Hero’s hot ginger muscle rub and soak, so it was nice to try their cool peppermint spray – very welcome on hot and tired legs after the race.

I caught up with a few runners I know from parkrun and club members from Durham’s Elvet Striders before the start, but with so many people waiting to pick up their numbers and a good walk to the start line, there really wasn’t too much time to chat.

I found a place towards the back of around 400 runners for the start on the Newcastle Quayside, and soon bounded off at quite a lick, excited to be racing.

I had no expectations or targets for this run. I really didn’t know how I would go after a week of holiday and little training. And for the first few hundred metres I felt good, bouncy and fast.

But it was hot. The air felt thick and I was soon breathing hard to suck in oxygen, feeling like I was chewing on it like a mouthful of marshmallows.  I consciously eased up a little, looking for a more reasonable pace that I could sustain.

Me running along beside the Tyne
Enjoying the Tyne Bridge 5 miler in the sunshine – photo by Sue H

With marshals at every jink in the out and back route and a chance to spot the faster runners on the return leg, I soon found myself shouting encouragement. I was very happy to spot local running star Aly Dixon, easily first lady and mixing it up with the fast lads and give her a good shout.

And then a little further on, just before the turn around point, I spotted a teddy bear wearing a familiar running vest and then saw my friend Sue poised with camera in hand. Cue a spot of showboating from me, proving I really was relaxed and enjoying the run.

Back along the river, getting encouragement at every marshal point helped keep my legs turning over as the effort began to take its toll. I started to try and chase down runners ahead, reeling in the gap between us, hoping that by easing off a little to find my rhythm at first, I could finish strong.

A little way ahead I spotted Malcolm who volunteers to hold the gate open at Newcastle parkrun almost every week and he became my target to chase down in the last mile and a half. Keeping my focus on the small distance ahead, trying to reduce it, and not letting it increase, was a great way to keep my mind of how hot, tired and achy my legs were, as i could feel my calf muscles tightening.

Just as I was within a couple of strides of my quarry, an encouraging shout from another parkrunner, Sumanth, meant Malcolm knew I was approaching. So, I had to make it stick and I pushed on a little to move past. Encouragingly he shouted that I could make 45 mins if I pushed on.

Me running
Race face on for a sprint finish – photo by Lee Cuthbertson

Now I hadn’t paid much attention to my watch, and felt like I was running way slower than that kind of pace, so it really spurred me on to give it a try. With the finish arch approaching along the quayside, I’d already increased my effort and with a couple of hundred metres to go, really kicked into sprint mode.

With a small crowd of purple clad Elvet striders giving me a good shout in the dying metres, I kept on pushing, found yet another gear and crossed the line in 46:21.

It’s a measure of the quality of the field, that it wasn’t a particularly fast time, and I have run the course faster than that a couple of years ago, but I was really pleased with my efforts.

After a bit of banter and more cheering of the Elvet crew, who were very well represented at this race, I walked back down the course a little way to see my fellow Fetchie Sarah coming in to finish.

Getting a return shout of encouragement from Aly Dixon as we approached the line, and she was completing her warm down, was a really nice bonus. Aly’s a class runner and will be representing team GB n the marathon at the Commonwealth Games. I’ve seen her at a few local races and follow her progress on her blog and she’s always really generous with her support and insights into her training. So good luck Aly – I’ll be cheering for you and all our team GB athletes.

Bridges of the Tyne 5m results

‘Twas on the ninth of Joon…

The Blaydon Race is the North East runner’s carnival. In a world of corporate mass participation events and health and safety overkill, it retains a sense of anarchy and craziness.

It sticks to its traditions. Always on the same day, no matter when that falls. Starting from a pub in an area where you might expect to find the real-life inspiration for a couple of Viz characters, it follows the route described in an ancient music hall song.

Feth Everyone runners
Fetch girls gather for pre- race photo-shoot

Or follows it as as near as anyone can make out, given that most of the landmarks are now long gone. Some still remain, like Armstrong’s factory, only it’s not called that anymore. And others have dropped out of memory all together.

But still we gather, the north east running community, from the fast lads and lasses to those happy to party at the back. For one evening, we fill the streets with colour and the smell of deep heat. Stilettoes and leopard print give way to rubber soles and club vests, packed into cobbled streets more traditionally drowning in beer and curry sauce.

We stop the traffic. Call out the Lord Mayor to ring an ancient bell. We take over the high way. And we run.

We run. We shuffle. We walk. We limp. We bound over pavements and kerbstones and watch out for sign posts. Catching elbows, tripping over feet, seeking a space, a way through the throng.

We follow the white lines. Feet pounding concrete. We think ‘Scotswood Road is a very long way’. We give thumbs up to the band playing by the car showroom and then fall into watching the endless pattern of coloured shirts and slogans down the grey slipway into the sun.

We issue a collective groan as we turn left, up and over the bridge then filter down to the shade of the riverside. We pass each other side by side, high fiving, shouting out to fellow friends; dodging the cups of water strewn on the grass and tarmac.

With more than half the distance run, we twist and turn onto yet more concrete. Round the back of an industrial estate. In and out of units. Not a place you’d chose to run.

But we’ve taken over. We rule the road tonight. So clear out. Keep out of our way! Or get swept along in the mad jamboree.

Just as we start to think about the finish, there’s another crest to rise and another series of corners, taunting us with an ending we can hear but cannot see. Crowds now, hanging over barriers, caught behind fences like caged animals, shouting sounds we cannot comprehend because all we can hear is the roar of our heartbeat in our ears, yelling just a few more steps…

And suddenly with a last mad gasp death or glory sprint it’s over for another year. And although we’re hot and tired and legs are weary, we’re smiling and thinking ‘when can I do that again?’

Me and Tony the Fridge - Blaydon Race 2014
Me and Tony the Fridge at Blaydon 2014

We collect our rewards, beer and sandwiches and inspect our race t-shirts hoping this is one of the years where they look decent and we can wear them proudly. And we gather on the grassy bank to spot friends, family and fellow runners to toast their success.

For this runner, this year’s run was a crazy ask, coming as it did on the back of a long, hard event. But I bounced. Far more than I expected to.

I set off too fast, as I always do. I sang and blew kisses to Tony the Fridge en route. I flew up the flyover and was genuinely chuffed to see the girl who’d been struggling a few moments earlier come past me before the finish. And even though I was expecting them to give up on me at some point, my legs kept bouncing right to the end.

It may have been my slowest time over this course, but it was still faster than I expected or had any right to run. It’s a silly distance and it’s not an attractive route. But the Blaydon race is the only event I’d even consider doing after a standard tri the day before.

From gathering with the Fetch crew at the start; to spotting parkrunners and work colleagues in the race; to hearing my name called from the sidelines. From its traditions and connections to the roots of this area, to its crazy anarchy and celebration of life as a runner, it retains a very special and unique place in my heart.

Blaydon Race results

Pictures from Ian Williamson on Flickr

Edinburgh 10k

It’s thanks to online running site Fetch Everyone that I saw a message offering a free place in the Edinburgh 10k. The same site that introduced me to my great friend Lesley who hosted me for the evening, got me to the start and looked after my bag. And it’s thanks to Fetch that I got hugs and smiles and a local’s low down on the route from the fabulous JaneyM and my old pal Scotty.

I have lot to thank Fetch for, but running this amazing route with views out over one of my favourite cities in the world is definitely among the highlights. I’d go back and run that route in a heartbeat, even with the hills.

I’d taken a half day off work on Friday, rattled through what I needed to do, desperate to get out of the door and on the road north. It pelted it down with rain. I grabbed a sandwich on the go and tried to dissolve the feeling of stress that sits in my chest when the pressure’s on and I feel like I have no time to think and reflect.

Scotty, Janey and me at Edinburgh 10k
Scotty Janey and me at the start of the Edinburgh 10k

The skies had cleared, but were still grey and chilly when I arrived at Lesley’s place, still wired and tired from rushing through my day to get there. She said ‘You’re on holiday now,’ and I was.

We talked ten to the dozen, went for a bit of a drive, ate cake, and hung out. Stress gone. Later I met Danni, a crazy bundle of enthusiastic energy, also taking advantage of Lesley’s hospitality before a mental sounding mountain bike race. Fuelled up for our exploits, it was an early night for all before alarms were set for racing.

I really had no expectations for this 10k. I kept saying I just wanted to go and enjoy it, and I meant it, but sometimes the best made plans get lost in the heat of the moment, chasing for a time. But really I had no excuse not to be relaxed. Lesley drove us up to Edinburgh, knew exactly where to park for a short walk into Holyrood Park.

Walking in was wonderful, getting a close up view of the crags of Arthur’s seat and the yellow gorse on the hills.  Did I draw strength from the volcanic rocks, the tough organic heart of this majestic city? Or from my friends, the amazing Janey fresh from ultra marathon glory, or Scotty who fooled around and made me laugh before the start? A bit of both, I’d say.

Scotty and me fooling about before the start
Having a ‘guns off’ with Scotty

I felt bouncy and fresh as I warmed up. It was overcast and cool, but not windy – perfect running conditions. So when our time came, I bounded off picking through the crowds trying to find space, heading out much too fast for the hill that was to come.

Scotty came through past me as I started to bring my enthusiasm into check just before the 1km marker and the turn to mark the start of the climb. His local knowledge and talking me through the course really helped as I reckon that’s the longest uphill drag I’ve ever run. I knew there was a false top, and then another steep bit and then that would be it as good as over.

I dropped my pace, but tried to keep up the effort. Small steps, breathing easy, not looking too far ahead, just keeping moving, not pushing too hard. There were people walking already. I told myself I was a long way off that and kept going. The steeper section almost got me, but I took some deep breaths and kept on moving, determined to run every step of this one if I could.

The blessed relief of an enthusiastic cheering point at the top and then a good stretch of downhill where I let go and picked off runners by the dozen as I descended, trusting to my feet and my core muscles to keep me upright.

And the views? What views! Even on a grey day, to see the city laid out beneath you, climbing the crags, feeling like you can touch the sky, gave me a very special sense of being connected to the elements of rock, earth, water and air. It was well worth the effort of climbing. As I ran there, I sensed this would be a place I’ll return to in my dreams.

I was running to feel, enjoying the cool air on my skin, pushing on when I felt good, easing back and giving myself space to breathe when it got harder. At 5k I glanced to see 30 minutes on my watch and felt that was fair, given the terrain.

I had a dip in energy levels just after that, feeling the effort in my legs and for a few seconds trying to force more pace from them as a crowd of runners surged past. But then I let it go and just cruised until the feeling came back again and I felt free to run, stretch out and enjoy. Along the flat path of the innocent railway shaded by the trees, I began to play reel them in, latching onto the back of one runner and drawing myself past them, then spotting another and going again. 

At the end of this stretch was another tough rise, steep and unforgiving on tired legs. I started well, controlling the effort, shortening my stride, but it became a shuffle. As others walked I hunkered down, used my arms and determined not to walk a step, even if I was moving at barely more than walking pace.

My calves were tight. I got a twinge in my knee. And I swear I could have accurately placed the tibialis posterior on my right leg. I could feel it spiralling all the way up from the inside of my foot to my knee. If I’d felt like I’d been holding back a little on the run before, I was glad of it now. 

Janey, Scotty and me with our Edinburgh 10k medals
All smiles at the finish with our medals

At Raby Castle 10k last week, I’d talked myself up a stiff climb, then struggled at the top and found myself walking on the flat which was irritating. My legs had more strength or my mind had more staying power this time and I kept on moving, gathering my breath, ready for the much anticipated downhill sweep that would bring me back round towards the finish.

Swooping down and round, overtaking runners as I descended into the last kilometre, feeling my legs flying free and trying to carry that speed into the final straight. Still I was holding on, reminding myself that the finish was further on that the start line, not wanting to blow up completely before the end. Picking a spot to sprint from and going a little early, but powering on as others around me kicked for the finish. Oh how I do love a last minute sprint!

Over the line and stopped the watch. You could tell I hadn’t glanced at it since 5k. My time – 1:00:06. Six seconds over the hour. 

And there’s the real test of how much I enjoyed this run. There was a milli-second of annoyance, so close but not under the hour. And then a laugh at myself, because this was never about time, it was about the experience. 

The experience of testing legs, heart, lungs and brain over ancient rocks and trails. The experience of running in one of my favourite places in the world with some of the best people I know. The experience of being a runner, being able to do this, being alive and well and conscious of every amazing sensation. I’ll take six more seconds of that any day.

North Tyneside 10k 2014

Go hard and hold on were my pre-race tactics. And I was raring to go for the first outing of the season. Not too outwardly nervous, deliberately not setting myself a time target, just go out there, give it plenty and see where I am. That’s not quite what happened.

This is my home race. It’s the first road race I ever did. And I reckon my legs could run the second half of it on their own, they’re so used to the route.

North Tyneside 10k 2014
Me getting into my stride after the hill

Today, as I arrived at the sports centre for the start, I reflected on that first race, and how I felt so out of my depth, seeing all the club colours and little groups of people greeting each other, wishing each other luck.

Now, as soon as I pitch up, I spot parkrunners and Fetchies, and Elvet Striders who I always muscle in on, as I’ve adopted myself to their crew. I catch up with some of my running friends and I know there are more that I won’t see, but who will be there.

I do a bit of socialising, but remember I am here to race, so take myself away from the crowds to do a good warm up. High knees, heel kicks, a bit of bounding and then just a gentle run around the park paths. I wave at Kev Lister, Newcastle parkrun legend and super speedy runner, and he stops and jogs on the spot for a bit until I join him for a bit of a warm up run.

He must be at crawling pace, as he’d be twice as fast as me at my top speed, but he seems happy enough to run alongside and chat for a bit, and I relax and enjoy and look forward to the race. Eventually I slow to a walk, and send him on his way as I do some more bounding and a couple of sets of strides. I feel good, nice and relaxed, legs fell like they’re ticking over nicely.

But there’s a niggle. My right shoulder, around the trapezius has been tight and uncomfortable, like I’d cricked my neck or slept funny. It’s a niggle I’ve had before, but rarely, and never due to an identifiable cause. I put it to the back of my mind and get set to race.

Go hard and hold on, I say to myself as I huddle in with some Elvets, rather closer to the front of the line than I like, but still excited to be racing. It’s felt like a long winter and I want to remember what it feels like to be racing

This isn’t a chipped race, so I start my watch at the gun and take maybe 10-15 seconds to cross the line, only to be baulked just afterwards as the crowds navigate a roundabout. But all good, no problems, we’re off and running. It’s congested at the start and easy to get knocked or elbowed, but I always seem to get lucky and find space, without having to jink about too much.

It’s a fast first kilometre with a steep downhill. I know to stick to the road and avoid the risk of turning an ankle on the curb at the side. I spot parkrun regulars Penny and Paul and pass them on the downhill. I’m tempted to try and stick with them as I know they’ll run a good even pace, and they’re regularly ahead of me at parkrun. But this is my race and it’s go hard and hold on, remember. And I do love a downhill.

Left turn onto the Fish Quay and the run opens out a little. There’s a good stretch of flat space here, a chance to pick up ahead of the hill. I normally find my feet and blast out along the promenade beside the water. But not today.

A sharp jab between neck and shoulder shocks me to actually cry out. And every footstep jolts and jolts again. The nearest I can describe it is like having a stitch. The pain, stabs suddenly sharply, then retreats to a dullness before jabbing again and again.

My mind runs to experience. I’ve had this before. It’s nothing serious. It goes if you let it. Just believe. It will go. It will go. I reach across and put pressure on the sore spot, hoping that an extra degree or two of warmth might soothe it. But it takes a while. And all the time, the hill is approaching.

I talked another parkrunner up this hill yesterday. Spoke of its twist and then the downhill and then the real climb up the road beside the Priory. Nothing to fear. Just short and sharp, face it and forget it.

But I need rid of this stabbing shoulder before I tackle it. So I let myself ease back just a little, breathe deeper, consciously relax my shoulders, rather than letting them tighten anticipating the pain. The jolts really hurt now, but I just have to have faith they will stop. I’m up the first rise and running the downhill before I realise they have gone.

Little steps, little steps, keep the heart rate down, ready to push on at the top. I pick up my feet, keep my cadence fast and top Priory Hill feeling stronger than I have at this point in the race before. Around me runners are gasping, breathing heavily, dropping back. I push on.

“It’s all downhill from here,” I hear someone nearby say. I know that’s not strictly true, but there’s nothing approaching that steep slope in the next three miles. But the damage to my pace has been done. Easing back to save my shoulder, I’ve drifted into my hard but sustainable groove.

I look for positives. I spot Gary and wave and smile for a photograph. Tell myself to dig in for the second half of the race. keep believing. Don’t let your head drop.

There is a headwind. But I’m not feeling it hurting my pace, just welcoming it keeping me cool. I know I’m battling my mental demons and am happy that I’m just about keeping them in check. Run your own race I say to myself. Believe.

That becomes my mantra for the next few miles. Believe. It would be easy to give up. To use the excuse of a jabbing shoulder to write off this race. To cruise round, high fiving the kids. But that would be the easy way out. You never know what the run’s made of until the finish. It ebbs and flows. Keep believing, keep looking for the flow.

In my running reverie, I realise I’ve turned myself into the lone runner of my training runs again. Head into the wind, tackling this coastal path on my own. When in reality, I am surrounded by other runners. Time to get selfish. Time to start using them, picking them off, overtaking.

I hone in on a target just ahead and cruise past him. And then another and another. Mile 4 to 5 passes and I’m in the last part of the race now. I become aware of a girl on my left shoulder in a red North Shields poly top. We cat and mouse a little over about half a mile, first her just a stride in front, then me. This is good, I think. Now I’m racing. Finding a focus as my legs start to tire.

A gaggle of club runners go past us and she shouts encouragement to one of them. I try to latch onto the group as protection from the wind, but there’s a little rise up and they pull ahead, and at the same time I feel my shoulder throb.

Come on, come on. It’s the last mile, I say to myself. Push on, push on. I feel a pat on my back and a cheery ‘Hello smiler!’ from Peter. He’d said he’d be taking it it easy. And although I know his taking it easy, would be a good pace for me,  I honestly think I’ve really dropped off the pace and have a moment of feeling down hearted.

Then I spot the North Shields Poly girl who had been running alongside me off to the side, looking a bit distressed. I’m clearly in better shape than her. “I was running with you,” I shout “Come on! Come on!”. Probably not the most helpful thing I could think of, but still I don’t want everyone to have a miserable race and I feel guilty about being grumpy as Peter passed me. She shakes her head, but I can see she’s trying to dive back into the run. I hope she finished and feels okay.

There are crowds lining the links and faster runners walking back along the course. I see the buses lined up waiting to take runners back to the start. The sign says 300m to go. Then the 6 mile marker, partially obscured. Then 200m and I try to wind it up. Then there’s a crowd of Striders and Alister giving a great big shout and it’s the last corner, and bugger the shoulder, I’m going to sprint finish.

Someone’s breathing down my shoulder for once and coming with me. Not now, mate. You’ve got to really try to catch The Scribbler in the death or glory final yards. I overtake one runner before the line, stop my watch and manage to keep moving, before looking at my watch – 57:41. That’s not so shabby.

I shuffle forwards and my shoulder gives me another jolt, pain kicking in after the adrenaline surge. But a swig of water and a walk back up the finish straight, soon takes my mind off it. There’s always a decent goody bag for this race, and this year, the T-shirt is very nice, branded up for the 10th anniversary, and there’s a pair of socks the right size for me.

I join the Elvets at the last corner in time to give a shout out and high five to Sue and Karen and to be sufficiently adopted to be offered malteser traybake. I LOVE the Striders.

I’ve probably made the thing with my shoulder sound worse that it is. It just threw me a bit at the start of the race. I did want to go and put it all out there. To run as hard and as fast as I could, even if that meant blowing up and shuffling to the finish. I didn’t do that today. As I remarked to the girls in the car on the way back, my legs didn’t hurt enough. So that’s there for another race.

I finished and in a decent time given the conditions. And I’ve set my benchmark for 10k this year. I enjoyed seeing my friends and hearing of happy runs and some cracking performances.

And I’ve had a sharp dose of perspective, reading  Nicki’s blog post today. She didn’t have a great time on a 42k run this weekend. She still finished, and knowing Nicki, she’ll be smiling and laughing about it over a beer or two. So really, I have nothing to moan about.

But still, I have unfinished business with this distance. I know I can run it faster. So, reflect, regroup. Stuff face with Easter chocolate. Lessons will be learned and experience gained. I just feel like I’m due a really good run.

Triathlon training in sunny Scotland

Saturday, sunshine, blue skies and a trip north, over the border to Scotland for the first tri day of the year, hosted excellently as ever by my fab tri buddy Lesley.

These often happen midweek, so despite it being the weekend, I still felt like I was skiving off as I put my bike in the car and drove north on a practically traffic free road, casting admiring glances at the calm blue seas off the coast. I must have had about three complete changes of outfit packed in my huge tri bag, in anticipation of any kind of weather, but it was very kind to us.

Four runners in red tops
On the run with my tri buddies (Photo Bob Marshall)

With me, Lesley, Al, Lucy and Cat  all arrived safely, we headed off for a pool swim at Haddington. With the pool shortened, it was a good chance for me to try out some of my coaching and Swim Smooth tips and to suggest drills that would help improve the efficiency of swimming strokes. It’s amazing what you can learn from watching other people swim and see all the different styles and learning techniques.

I had them doing doggy paddle, sculling, torpedo push offs and swim backs, and I did some 6-1-6 and catch up drills using a High 5 tube, which I passed from hand to hand. It worked very well, but I’d forgotten how hard those drills are. I need to make sure I spend a bit of time doing them.

I did get a bit of a swim in, but no great distance. It was just lovely to be in such a bright, airy pool. And reminds me I do need to make time for my swimming as I do enjoy it.

After a bit of a refuel with flapjack from the cafe, it was back to base and change into cycling gear for the main part of the day. Much faffage and discussion about how many layers and pumping up of tyres, but we were soon on our way out onto the quiet and largely traffic free roads around North Berwick.

Cyclists ready to roll
No one gets dropped on a tri day (Photo Bob Marshall)

The best thing about these rides is that no one gets left behind. We all enjoy a nice cycle, stop and regroup at junctions, push on and fall back when we need too. This time everyone seemed to be at a similar level of cycling and it was very pleasant just moving along, spotting swathes of yellow daffodils, passing a couple of horses and chain-ganging down a lovely smooth stretch of road.

Last time I rode this route, we got hit by a horrendous head wind in the last 3 miles, which was so bad one of our party actually got off and walked. It wasn’t quite so bad this time, but still tricky enough to slow us down and send me rattling down to my lower ring. I can still feel a flush in my cheeks and on my forehead today from the wind burn!

But we all made it back in one piece and us girls did a quick change around for a bit of a run while Bob took some great photos and Al made sure we’d have soup ready for our return. It was great all running together in our Fetch tops and we stuck together for one lap of the trail loop and did our best Runner’s World pose at the end for another photo.

How could 4pm have come round so quickly? It felt like we’d only just got started, but we were all hungry and soon devouring soup, bread, spreads and cake and flapjacks. Yum!

They say time flies when you’re having fun. It certainly did for me. Even cycling, which I usually get bored with in less than an hour, felt relatively easy and carefree. The chat flowed, the sun shone and it was all over too soon. But, as always, it was just one of the best days.

Blaydon race 2013

This race stands as the one I’ve done most often and the one I’ll keep returning to. The addition of chip timing and a very speedy online results service has only improved one of my favourite races.

Fetch girls at the start of the Blaydon Race
Fetch girls at the start of the Blaydon Race

And so I found myself in the centre of Newcastle on a sunny Sunday afternoon, photo bombing a line up of Fetchies in their distinctive red and yellow shirts, smiling, laughing, catching up with friends and meeting some new ones.

I didn’t know how this race would go. I had very few expectations, having focused my training on triathlon and leaving running to look after itself. But after feeling like I was wasting a weekend of beautiful weather resting up, I wanted to give it a good bash.

I left the chat and photos and went for a quick warm up to get my legs and feet into running form. I could feel the nerves setting in and told myself just to run well and enjoy it.

I wriggled into the starting area near a huddle of lovely Elvet Striders and had a chat with Alister about a possible new parkrun. Anyone in the Ashington area interested in getting one set up?

I was soon joined by the fab Penny and Megan whose chatter kept me calm as we waited for the start, even though I was too geed up to contribute much. There was a half hearted attempt at a verse of the Blaydon Races, and then a few minutes after the alleged start time we started to move forward and could hear the cathedral bells.

A walk down the cobbles and turn onto the street, running before I hit the start line, I was off and away, dodging in between the crowds and feeling great.

Round the first few twists and turns, finding space and avoiding the curbs and street furniture, I was soon looking for the wide spaces of the Scotswood Road to open up my run and start chewing through the miles.

But my initial enthusiasm for a quick start soon hit me in the ribs as I felt the twinges of a stitch. I eased back a little, focused on taking some deep breaths into my sides. That’s when I decided to let go of the tension I was holding. I smiled up at the sunshine and just said to myself, ‘Run!’

No clock watching, no thinking other than checks on my form – land light, bound forward, use my arms, keep straight, lift through my hips, smile. I’m racing and it feels good.

I bounce past Tony the Fridge getting shouts and pats and hand shakes from runners all around. I wave and say hi, then turn round and ask him to run a mile for my friend Zoe, before I bound on again. I can hear him for a good while afterwards, exchanging banter with the crowds.

Last year the Scotswood Road was a river. This time it’s a desert with the heat beating down and burning up through the concrete. Runners dodge to the side, seeking shade beside the industrial buildings, opting for cool over space. I jink left and join them for a while, but dodging signs and street furniture messes with my running rhythm and I return to the sun, where all I have to think of is the road ahead.

The band’s finishing Honky Tonk Women as I pass and I manage a burst of applause and push on, driven by the music. At the end of the road, there’ll be shade by the river, I tell myself. Just push on to the end of the road.

But I’m fading a little and I know it. My feet are falling flatter, my turnover slowing. I shorten my strides and ease on up over the bridge. A shout from Kelda gives me a real pick me up. I hadn’t expected to see anyone I knew there today.

On the brow of the bridge I see a girl in a Wallsend Harriers vest stretching out what looks like cramp. I call the name before I’m even sure it’s her, but it’s my running pal Kathryn. I shout out something to encourage her on, but I’m carried away and down before I can see if she comes along. I half expect to hear her footsteps as I’m baulked at the footbridge, stopped by the volume of runners passing through the narrow gap down to the riverside.

A few more Fetchies at the start
A few more Fetchies at the start

I’m slowed again a little as we run through the out and back section, though I’m glad of the chance to regather my focus and I grab a cup of water at the station. I keep one eye out for Kathryn on the out and back, but fail to spot her.

I pick up again as I run through the industrial estates and start picking off runners one by one to take my mind off the heat and the burn in my legs. There are no thoughts now, just targets, the next one and the next.

The next mile or so blurs into heat and colours. Black shirt, blue shirt, white vest – targets taken. But I’m fading again. Fighting to stay on my toes, feeling myself roll sideways. I push with my arms and lift my knees, but start to drift backwards and my targets come back at me. I start to count down the minutes until the finish, without really knowing, but I figure 16 at most. I push on.

I know there’s another little uprise before the finish, but I cannot hold the route for this race in my head. The crowds grow as we turn close by the old finish and a girl in glasses sticks to my shoulder for a while. I push on and take some distance, spotting another target just ahead.

I hear my name shouted a couple of times, but cannot place the voices and don’t risk losing time to look. I know the finish is close now, but I’m really running out of steam and the girl with the glasses goes ahead.

Then I’m onto the field, into the green and the sunshine and I can see the black inflatable finish line ahead. It’s still too far to hammer it, I think and then I hear a shout “Sprint!” It’s Adam, come to support his Elvet team mates on his crutches – although I don’t figure that out until later when I see him after the race. And I go.

It’s a longer run up than usual and I think I’ve overlooked it, but I keep on blasting and overtake a good few runners to the line, including the girl with glasses and the one in the white vest.

I manage to keep moving as the marshals shout for us to clear the lines and the masses pour through the finish. And it’s only as I collect my T-shirt that I actually look to see my time 49:08. I’ve never gone sub 50 before on this course 🙂

In the sunshine, I drink my bottle of water and scan the colourful crowds for familiar faces. I catch up with friends who’ve also had good runs and everyone is smiling. Canny racing.

Stats and stuff
5.76 miles 49:05

Mile splits
1) 1m – 7:57(7:57/m)
2) 1m – 8:19(8:19/m)
3) 1m – 8:27(8:27/m)
4) 1m – 8:57(8:57/m)
5) 1m – 9:00(9:00/m)

Photos from Scotswood Bridge by Ian Williamson on Flickr

Online results