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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…!”
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.
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
2. 10:31 (hugged my buddies on the Tyne Bridge)
9. 13:25 (Tanni Grey Thompson water stop)
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.
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.
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.
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.