Great North Run 2019

Can you spot me on the Tyne Bridge?

The last time I ran the Great North Run was in 2015 and to be honest I didn’t really enjoy training for or running it as much as I had in previous years. I wasn’t in a great state mentally, and training and running got mixed up in a whole load of a mess around stuff that was going on at work, low self-esteem and anxiety.

Anyway, onto 2019 and I’d decided I wanted a challenge to help me focus on run training. I wanted to have another go at a half marathon and ended up doing two. Edinburgh Half Marathon in May was excellent. The training was hard work, I questioned why I was doing it often, but eventually I had a few good runs and on the day, smashed my expectations out of the water, had a fantastic race and felt pretty epic.

So I had nothing to prove at Great North Run 2019. It’s a different type of course with , different conditions, so I didn’t feel under any pressure to try and beat my Edinburgh half time. My plan was just to run and enjoy it and remember what I loved about this race.

Training had gone okay. I’d done a few 10 milers in the build up to the race, and run consistently 2-3 times a week. I skipped one long run in favour of a lovely weekend cycling and enjoying the Edinburgh Book Festival. And I ran one race distance event two weeks before, on a lapped run where I stopped for water and food after each 5k lap.

I had a bit of a panic when I pulled something in my back a couple of weeks ago. But I managed to reduce the pain quite quickly and got a good sports massage on it in race week. It caused me no problems on race day.

I slept really well and woke up a little excited and just ready to get out there. My plan was to use the same approach as I had in Edinburgh, run at easy effort, not pay too much attention to my watch and just see how I felt. No pace bands, no pressure.

Race prep was standard, porridge with banana and honey, a small bottle of water sipped between walking over to the start line. It was bright and sunny, but not forecast to be too hot – around 16-18C. I remembered to slap on the sunscreen just before setting off.

I wandered through the gathering crowds and saw local legend Minnie Mouse (aka Anne) who is one of the few GNR all-timers. I’ve seen her at just about every GNR I’ve ever done, so that felt like an auspicious omen and after bumping into her, I made my way down towards the starting pens. I had loads of time before the hullaballoo started but didn’t want to waste energy wandering round too much. As I was walking down I spotted a Fetch pal from Scotland, Paul, sitting on the bank beside the central motorway. Perfect company for a bit of chat and chill. Just what I needed.

I left with my good wishes and hugs at about 10am and made my way further back to my white starting pen, where I watched the start of the elite races, the usual warm up and all the razzmatazz that goes with this race on the big screen. I was still feeling pretty relaxed and excited.

It took just over 20 minutes before I reached the start, pushed the button on my Garmin and was off. Under the flyovers, trying to keep it steady , enjoying the oggy oggy oggies through the tunnels.

On the Tyne Bridge I ran along the left hand side and got loads of shout outs from the spectators. I thought they were people I knew until I remembered my name was printed in big letters on my number. I tried to smile or thumbs up every one as they all gave me a real boost. There were loads of cheers and smiles from younger folks too who were pointing out the guys dressed in furry penguin suits running beside me. I hope that means I’m easier to spot in the traditional masses on the bridge photo!

Once over the Tyne Bridge, there’s not a lot in terms of scenic highlights. There was a sign on one of the bridges near Gateshead stadium that said something like “settle into your pace and enjoy the race” and that’s what I was doing. I got a shout out from my parkrun pals Angela and Jules and was feeling good.

It was pretty hot and sunny, so I had decided I would take on water when I could, with the first station being at 3 miles. I grabbed a bottle and kept moving and sipping.

At 4 miles I was feeling a bit tired in my legs. But the course goes uphill between 4 and 5 miles. It’s one of those deceptive long drags that you can’t really see, so I just put it down to that and pushed on.

But I could sense I was slowing down, even as my effort levels stayed the same. No real worries, maybe I had gone off a bit fast, although I didn’t think so. I ran through my mental checks – feet, knees, hips, core, shoulders, head. Yeah – all okay, although mentally I felt a bit vague and unfocused. I counted up to one hundred to engage my brain. Fine, I’ve slowed down a bit, it will come back to me.

I pushed on to 6 miles and then thought that the 10k sign took forever to appear. Half way and not feeling any more fluid or faster in my running. I gave myself a mental note to pick my feet up, get the cadence going, run light. The message didn’t seem to reach my legs.

Somewhere between mile 4 and mile 7, an ambulance went past and runners split to the sides of the course. I used it as an excuse to walk for 20-30 seconds in a bid to reset my head and get back into something that felt more like my usual running flow.

The vague feeling in my head continued. I grabbed water from another station and drank some, poured some over the back of my neck. I ran through a shower to cool down. I can’t tell you what order those things happened.

For a few brief moments I felt a bit wobbly and faint. I can only remember that because I’d stepped to the kerbside to walk for a bit and when I started running again, I was that annoying runner who steps out into someone’s path. I apologised and she was fine about it, but it was a sign for me that I wasn’t really paying attention to things as I usually would.

I walked again. I checked my watch and told myself I could walk for 1 minute, and started to shuffle again after about 50 seconds. I did a 10 min shuffle/run to 1 min walk option a few times and then the walking breaks got longer.

I bypassed sweeties and ice pops offered by the supporters who were out in droves. But I grabbed an orange segment and ate it like a flesh-devouring zombie, then tried to get back into a running rhythm again.

Crossing the finish line after 13.1 miles

The run never really came back to me. Mentally it was a bit frustrating. I couldn’t pinpoint anything that was wrong, or injured or hurting. When I did run, I felt like I was shuffling along at a very slow pace. My legs just felt like they had no power in them.

I’m really pleased that I didn’t allow this to become a stick to beat myself with. I have been ridiculously, stupidly hard on myself when my head has gone in other races. No pressure, really meant no pressure this time and I just plugged on as best as I could.

At around 10 miles I got my phone out to record something for the Fetch Everyone podcast as a welcome distraction and a way of me making the positive mental action real.

After struggling with running and letting go of any sense of pace, I found it easier to deal with what are traditionally the hardest bits of the course. My breathing and effort was relaxed and although I felt some muscles in my legs starting to seize up, I kept going. All along the John Reid Road, past the Nook and onto Prince Edward Road blurred into one. I took some encouragement from a runner from Cheshire who was urging a runner called Becky on. It was nice to hear a North West accent.

There was the sea at last. Just down the hill, turn left and run the longest mile of your life to the finish. And I did run. Or at least what passed for running by that point. It was a point of pride not to walk and to smile and thumbs up and thank everyone who called out my name again.

I know this is a long mile, but still the 20k banner almost caught me out and that last kilometre went on forever, but finally I saw the guys and girls in uniforms that really mark the end of the course. What a welcome sight. They lifted my spirits as I made a bit of a dash for the line, remembered to throw a winning pose and smile for the cameras and stopped. 2:50:17 – 30 minutes slower than I ran at Edinburgh Half Marathon.

Post finish was a bit of a blur. Got my bottle of water and headed for the medals, remembering to stick to the lane nearest the sea where parkrun friend Sumanth presented me with my bling and had a bit of a chat. Picked up my goodie bag and dove towards a space on the grass where I could dig into it and find something to eat. The Clif bar vanished in seconds. The tub of tuna… maybe not!

As I posted on various social media, it wasn’t my day for a good run but I did have a good day and I’m pleased about that. But I’m still puzzling out why I feel a bit dissatisfied, like I have unfinished business with the half marathon/GNR. I guess I’m looking for reasons why there was such a big drop off between my performance at Edinburgh Half and GNR. A couple of days on I’m resigning myself to the fact that there may be many small reasons or none at all. It’s just one of those things.

I am very proud that I’ve now completed 7 Great North Runs and on this one I was supported not just by all those brilliant people who stood at the roadsides cheering on over 50,000 runners, but by friends and family who always wish me well and who have helped me raise funds for CARE International UK.


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

Great North Run 2015 coming soon

Today I ran my 7th Great North Run. It was, as always, an amazing and surprising experience. It wasn’t my fastest or slowest, but probably one of the ones I’ve most enjoyed.

I usually try and write my blog on the day of the run, but tonight I need to rest and recover, and that means letting my brain wind down from all the sights, sounds and sensations of a brilliant day to.

So I will be back. I will tell the story of a great day, and I do have some tales to tell.

10 things I’ve experienced at every Great North Run

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

1. Cry on the start line

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

Me holding my Great North Run 2010 medal
Me at the finish with that very special medal

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

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

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

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

3. Say hello to someone from BBC Radio Newcastle

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

4. Can’t believe I need the loo again

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

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

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

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

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

7. Get a bottle of water from Tanni Grey Thompson

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

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

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

10. Ask myself could I turn round and run back

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

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

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

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)

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

The further adventures of Tony the Fridge

Tony the Fridge made an appearance on the Chris Evans Breakfast Show on BBC Radio 2 this morning. And since then, I’ve noticed people searching for him and finding my blog. So I’m giving him a bit of a bump.

In case you don’t know, Tony is running 30 Great North Runs in 30 days carrying a 40kg fridge on his back to raise money for the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation which funds cancer research. His last one will be on the day of the race – Sunday 16 September.

You can listen again to Tony’s interview online:

Find out more about his challenge on his charity fundraising page or follow his daily pictures and updates on twitter @tony_the_fridge.

I’ve been lucky enough to run part of the route with Tony twice now and will do again before race day. You can read about my experience of running with him on Day 13 and Day 20 of his challenge. He’s doing an amazing thing, so if you can show him your support, I know he appreciates it.

Meantime, my own race preparation continues to go well. I did my last training run this morning and caught myself thinking of it as ‘just’ 6 miles. 6 miles is a good distance, it’s just that running much longer training runs now makes it seem relatively short and easy.

I’ve also been for a fantastic sports massage, a little treat to myself to make sure my legs are in fine fettle for race day. So  the plan now is to rest well, eat well, sleep well and stay well ready to smile on the start line and sprint for the finish.


The best sun rises are the ones you share

I ran with Tony the Fridge again on Thursday morning. The sun was coming up over the silver curves of the Sage music centre on the banks of the Tyne. As we crossed the bridge beneath the Great North Run banner, we stopped for a photo and Tony tweeted the title of this blog post.

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

Tony was in fine fettle, full of banter. He’s so connected to this place, every corner holds a story, a memory, a person loved and remembered. I drifted along listening to his stories. I didn’t want the run to end.

Just four miles, but I learned so much. I am building my own memories of this place, this region that has notched itself into my heart, but I’ll never have that depth of connection to the big river. It made me reflective but joyful all day.

I have, in my inevitable way, lined up a string of treats and excitements, days so full of promise that I’m afraid I might burst looking forward to them all.

On Tuesday I took a day off for a long run and indulged myself by running it over much of the Great North Run route. It was a glorious running day, with sunshine, a slight breeze and a lightness in my mind that pleased me.

I had my music to help me keep tempo and pace, but much of the time I turned it off. Jeff passed me in his car and stopped to give me a shout as I just started off.  I caught him again later on and as always, he was full of encouragement. He said I was looking good, running well, and I knew it was true.

I ran most of the 11 miles easy and light, feeling well within myself, apart from a sticky fretful mental patch about 8 miles, but even that didn’t take too much wrestling. With a 10 miler behind me on Sunday I’d given myself permission to ease off if I needed to in the last mile. And as I turned onto the Leas at South Shields I was hit by a head wind and decided not to fight it.

I slowed my pace and cruised down to finish the set, a useful reminder that I will need mental focus to keep me going in the race, as once I stepped down, I could not find the pace to step back up again.

This weekend I go to race my last triathlon of the season with my fabulous friend Lesley. I’m surprisingly relaxed about it, even though it’s two months since my last tri. The race is almost irrelevant other than the excuse it gives me to spend time with my friends. I feel like I ought to be taking it more seriously. I know I will enjoy it whatever the result. We always have the best time together.

Then there’s the big run, which has, despite all my efforts and protestations, become the big run again. I feel that it’s all coming together just in time for me to give the Great North Run another good blast. And that it will mark season’s end for me.

But it’s not just about me. I’ll be just as excited for other friends doing it for the first time, in search of a time or just for the experience of being there. I’ll no doubt be as keen to catch up with them at the end as I will be to review my own progress. There are some this year who I will miss, but they’ll be on my mind too as I run and enjoy the day.

And after all that, I’ll get the chance to take a bit of a break, kick back, explore some new horizons and not worry too much about miles on the road, on the bike or in the pool. My amazing summer still holds much promise.

You can find out more about Tony the Fridge and his 30 Great North Runs challenge on twitter @tony_the_fridge, on facebook, or  his charity fundraising page.

Great North Run – who are you running for?

One of the things I like most about the Great North Run is that everyone has a story to tell. About training mishaps; about injuries; about slogging it out on those long runs; about what it was like to run it way back when… and most of all they have a story to tell about why they are doing it.

Me, Al, Paul and Mark at the finish of Great North Run 2011
Me, Al, Paul and Mark at the finish of Great North Run 2011

I have a long relationship with this race, that goes back much further than my running career. When I worked as a journalist, the date was etched on my mind, as one of our biggest outside broadcast events of the year. And many times I stood on the central motorway microphone or camera in my hand, listening to the stories. It was always a long and tiring day, but it never felt like hard work. It was a privilege to hear the stories. Many a time, they made me cry.

People run in memory of their mother, father, grandpa, son, daughter, auntie, friend, work colleague. They remember those who are no longer around to see the sweat and blisters, the tears and triumph of the run.

The runners celebrate triumph over illness, disability or just the bad luck that the world throws at good people. They raise money in their thousands, to fund medical equipment and research; to bring a bit of relief to people who are in pain; to take water to the dry places; to train guide dog puppies, or help animals in distress. To do things that make life a little easier for those that need it.

Here are a few I’ve heard this year:

I’ve already introduced you to Tony the Fridge who has added the extra burden of a 40kg fridge and a 30 day consecutive run to his fundraising efforts for the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation. I hope he finishes his 30th run in as good spirits as he’s seemed to take on this challenge.

Then there’s Mark Allison, better known as Run Geordie Run, who is running across Death Valley in America before leading a team of runners taking part in the mini, junior and Great North Run to raise funds for the Children’s Foundation.

I’ve also been in touch with Frankie Aitchison, who is supporting the same charity as I am. Frankie’s daughter, Ella was stillborn. So to mark what would have been her second birthday and raise money for Sands, the neonatal and stillbirth charity, Frankie is taking on the equivalent of a half ironman triathlon over the Great North Run weekend. On 14 September she will swim a mile; the next day, she’ll cycle 56 miles and then on Sunday 16 September she will run 13.1 miles on the Great North Run.

These are just three amazing people with inspirational stories of courage, endurance, bravery and heart taking part in this iconic race. But you have your chance to tell your story too and feature your charity.

Sky Tyne and Wear wants to hear your stories of who you are running for and why. It will feature these in a special gallery on its website, along with your Just Giving link to give your charity a plug too.

You need to submit a photo and a few words about why you’re running and you could also be in with a chance of winning an all inclusive membership package at David Lloyd gym in Newcastle.

Now Sky got in touch to tell me about this competition. But they’re not offering me anything in return for telling you about it. I just thought it was a good idea, and it could help you get some publicity and boost your fundraising for your charity.

So, if you’re interested, go to, click on the “I’m Running For…” section and follow the simple instructions or email a picture or video to and put “I’m Running For…” in the subject line.  The competition is open until Monday 17 September 2012.

And if you’re not, I hope you’ve still been inspired by some of the runners’ stories I featured here.

Like Frankie, I’m also raising funds and awareness for Sands. I do that in memory of my baby sister Ava and I’ve found it’s been a great way to bring something positive out of a very sad time for my family. I have wonderful support in this, particularly from some very special friends, but also from people I’ve never met who have found out about my fundraising through doing the run.

It really means a lot to me to get a donation or an encouraging word of support. It’s like having my own crowd cheering me on and it certainly helps me if I find part of the race tough, to think of everyone who has got behind me and my charity.

My Great North Run blogs:

Tynedale Jelly Tea 10 mile race 2012

This race, a traditional warm up for the Great North Run, goes from Hexham to Ovingham along country roads, through the village of Corbridge in the Tyne Valley. It’s really popular with local club runner and about 500 people take part in it. It’s well organised, marshalled and they serve you jelly, a sandwich and a cup of tea at the end. I think more races should serve jelly at the finish, it’s a great recovery food.

Anyway, this was to be my second time running this race. Like last year I was using it as a guide to my pace for the Great North Run, the main difference this year being that I wasn’t sure what that pace was. I’ve had a couple of good runs recently where I’ve been able to do a few 9 min miles, so I wanted to see if I could make that stick over a longer distance.

I’d said I’d pace Tove, my friend from parkrun, who won’t believe that she’s actually a good bit faster than me on her day. This gave me a whole new level of responsibility and a great incentive to keep digging in and keep the pace up.

I met up with Sue and we drove over to the finish together, to catch the bus to take us back to the start. We spotted and chatted to a fair few people we know from parkrun and other events and someone came over to say that they’d read my blog of last year’s race to get some tips. It’s always nice when someone says they read my blog, but it always takes me a bit by surprise. I mean, I know it’s public and out there, but I sort of forget that you lot read it 😉

Anyway, I wish I had gone back and read it as I remembered very little about the race other than the fact that I did well and enjoyed it last year.

This year was pretty much a repeat performance. We walked down from the leisure centre, over the bridge and along a country lane. We only just joined the back of the pack when the hooter went off and the race started. I reckon it took about 20 seconds for me to cross the line and get away.

It’s not a crowded start, as the roads are wide enough to manage all the runners and I soon slipped into an easy pace, focusing on keeping my stride short and turning my legs over quickly. I was conscious of not setting off too quickly and trying to keep a moderate pace. It was perhaps a little too sedate as Tove and I had agreed on 9:15 and we went through the first mile on 9:26.

I picked it up a bit for the second mile and here I felt I really settled into the run, trotting out the miles feeling very comfortable in my breathing and steady with my feet. We went through the next couple at close to 9 minute miles.

It was warm and sunny again, which made us stick to the side of the roads in search of shade and weave across the tarmac to be in the tree line. The route is quite rural and under blue skies in the sunshine, it’s a lovely run. I’m afraid we slowed down some of the cyclists also enjoying a great day out, but most were cheerful and encouraging as they freewheeled their way through the field.

The first point of notice came as we went through Corbridge, where people and a very cute dog watched us run by from the village pub. As you leave the village there’s a long incline where we overtook a Sunderland Stroller and Tove used her long legs to push on ahead. I was expecting this as she’s much faster up the hills than I am. I was also trying to focus on keeping the effort easy and not trying to power up the hill only to emerge breathless at the top. It was a good strategy.

There’s a steady climb around the 4-5 mile mark, but there’s a nice bit of downhill to counterbalance it soon after. Lengthening out my stride and just letting my legs go long, I caught back up to Tove soon after a downhill and we were back running together again.

The inclines and my conservative uphill strategy cost us some time here, but we were back to a fast couple of miles again soon after and mile 6 was my fastest of the race.

I’ve been running with music recently, picking tunes with a good BPM to try and get me to pick up my pace a bit more. It’s been particularly noticeable that when Eminem’s ‘Lose Yourself’ comes on the playlist, I run to its driving beat and clock around a 9 min mile.

So today I was using it to try and pace myself, thinking the words and the rhythm in my head. It’s quite hard to do and I tend to get the words jumbled or repeat the same bits in my mind, but it definitely helps. As we were passing another runner called Hillary, I said ‘d been using it to pace myself and she mentioned that Jessie J’s ‘Price Tag’ is another one with a 9 min mile beat. Well, we’ve sung that with choir, so I belted out a breathless half chorus and used that on my mental jukebox for a while.

I’d been pretty confident about doing 5 miles at about 9 min mile pace as I’d managed that at the Tyne Bridge Harriers race, but beyond that I didn’t know how long I would last. Tove was sticking with me and I felt good and strong, with the same easy breathing as at the start, so I just kept going, focusing on the short strides and trying to say relaxed.

I was happy I’d got to 5 miles at around target pace, and mentally decided if I could take it to 7, then I’d have done a decent pacing job.  Mile six clicked over into 7 nicely and then Tove said she was finding it hard. I was conscious that, apart from the hills, I’d been closer to 9 min miles than 9:15, but that was the speed my legs seemed to stick to. It doesn’t sound a lot, 15 seconds a mile, but it can be a big pace difference over a longer race.

But soon after that she passed in front of me, so I figured she got a second wind. I had some mango at this point as I could feel I was beginning to tire a little, especially in the heat and I was grateful for a mouthful of water and a splash on my face as we ran through the water stations.

By mile 8, Tove had fallen behind a bit and I just kept pressing forward in the hope she could see me and use me as a target. I was feeling the distance by now too, with my calves starting to stiffen and a couple of times I felt myself run off balance, so I knew my form was beginning to tire too.

But in my head I knew it was just 2 miles to go. That’s less than a parkrun and just about 18 more minutes to enjoy running in the sunshine in the countryside. For a second I felt like easing back, but I told myself I’d regret it with just two miles to go. I could stand a little discomfort if I needed to. My breathing was steady and everything was in good order, so there was really no excuse not to press on.

The thing that everyone mentions about this race is ‘the hill’. It’s at 9 miles, which is a bit of a shocker in a 10 mile race. opinions differ. It’s one to be walked, one to be powered up, or one just not to think about, depending on who you ask. Although steep, it is relatively short, despite a bit of a false summit and a turn.

Last year I tried to power up it and left myself breathless at the top. This time I shortened my stride to baby steps, used my cycling experience to determine that the middle of the road was likely to be a bit less steep than the sides and managed to pass a couple of runners on the way up. My pace was barely above walking, but it was a matter of pride to run the whole lot and I was happy to emerge at the top without feeling I was going to collapse.

Now you know there’s less than a mile to go and there’s a bit of downhill to pick up some speed. My legs were really tiring by now, but I took one last bite of mango and struck out for home. There were people out supporting their club runners on the final straight and I took a bit of their encouragement for myself. It’s not easy to judge where the finish is, but being funnelled onto a narrow path over the grass and towards the school, I picked up some last gasp speed and powered on to overtake a Wallsend Harrier girl and sprint down the finish line.

I’d barely got my thoughts together and hadn’t got my breath back enough to get a drink of water when I saw Tove cross the line, so she really hadn’t fallen very far behind.

Your reward for this race isn’t a medal or a T-shirt, instead Tynedale Harriers do a fine job of feeding you in the school at the finish, with a spread of jelly, sandwiches tea and cake. I think it’s a great idea and the jelly in particular is a fine post race treat. It’s cold and sweet and easy to eat. I don’t know why it isn’t a regular feature at more races.

I really enjoyed this race. It’s well organised, marshalled and attended – although it does tend to attract more club runners than the more casual running crew. As a result, it’s pretty fast, with the last finisher this year coming in under two hours.

My own time was a good bit slower than last year, but I’m not unhappy with that. I was in brilliant form in 2011 and had the advantage of a pacer for the second part of the race who slyly pushed me on to go sub 1h30. This year’s stats show that I was slower every mile, but that I’m faster than I have been for much of the year. So it’s all coming good in time for the Great North Run in two weeks’ time.

Stats and stuff:

10 miles 1:33:56 (official time 1:34:15)

1) – 1m – 9:26(9:26/m) – 53cal
2) – 1m – 9:06(9:06/m) – 46cal
3) – 1m – 9:09(9:09/m) – 65cal
4) – 1m – 9:42(9:42/m) – 95cal
5) – 1m – 9:46(9:46/m) – 66cal
6) – 1m – 8:56(8:56/m) – 37cal
7) – 1m – 9:06(9:06/m) – 33cal
8) – 1m – 9:17(9:17/m) – 99cal
9) – 1m – 9:27(9:27/m) – 78cal
10) – 1m – 9:36(9:36/m) – 85cal
11) – 0.08m – 27(5:37/m) – 2cal

Race results