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
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)
I’d taken Friday afternoon off work originally intending to use it for a long run. But my cake selling efforts had rather taken it out of me and I really didn’t feel like doing a long run. As I’m usually just twitching to get training, when I feel a bit tired, I do tend to listen to myself and slack off a bit.
After a chat with Kathryn – star baker and fellow runner at work – I decided I would still get out and run, but maybe 6 miles at target race pace, rather than the 12 I’d earmarked for a long run and I still had a long weekend to get the miles in. The rain was lashing down as I drove home, passing another supportive running colleague, heading back to work, soaked through but running strong. It was all the inspiration I needed to get out there.
Damp, grey and drizzly, I set out on my familiar coastal route, paying attention to the pace and trying to stick to 9 minute miles. I struggled at first to find my groove, but as I settled into a rhythm I let my thoughts wander, thinking of the first time I ran 10k on this route at a time when I was angry and needed a sense of release. Of being overjoyed when we hit a certain landmark on the return leg, absolutely knowing that without fail I could do this. And then grinning from ear to ear when we finished.
That confidence, that certainty has come and gone many times between now and then. But I’ve never really looked back from that first significant run that took me with confidence into my first race. That also lead me to thinking of other friends and Fetchies I’ve run with and all the good times I’ve had training and racing.
Still my 6 miles weren’t easy, and a couple of them I dropped off the pace, but I picked it up when I could and towards the end really pushed for the finish in a bid to get a sub 2 hour half marathon prediction on Fetch. I didn’t quite make that, but I enjoyed the run, and the bath and the stretch afterwards. It makes such a difference when I run and don’t have deadlines to meet.
So now I had the option of long running Saturday or Sunday. I was still undecided as I turned up to volunteer at a soggy Newcastle parkrun. It was great to catch up with some of my parkrun buddies including Rob, Sue, Penny and the newly married Mark and Davina.
We had some challenging conditions on the moor. Lots of muddy legs and some soggy barcodes that wouldn’t scan. I hope the paper registration is legible among the raindrops. At the start of the race I was fired up thinking I’d get my long run in, but by the end, getting chilly in the rain, I wasn’t so sure. But Kathryn had turned up and we had a bit of a chat and I said I was thinking of doing some of the Great North Run route. I think she convinced me to get it done today, so it was out of the way.
So I came home, got changed and drove out to the other coast, parking up near the end of the Great North Run route with a plan of running to the Lindisfarne roundabout and back (about 9 miles) and adding a couple more on at the end to take me up to 12 miles and my longest run before race day.
It was grey and damp, but the rain had stopped and it wasn’t cold. Perfect running weather. I set out in the aim of 9:15 min miles. For once, I settled quite quickly. The little aches from yesterday’s run eased out or forgotten and my mind nicely calmed by the long straight strip of road ahead.
Beep – the Garmin showed 09:13 for the first mile. That’ll do nicely. Up the steep bank was a bit of a pull but I dug in and kept going. A couple of roads to negotiate, but nothing to really hold me up. 09:20 for the second mile – good. I dodged the shoppers and street furniture around the Nook and kept on going.
When I checked my pace, just about every mile and occasionally in-between, I noticed it starting to creep into 9min/mile territory. But it felt good. Easier than it had on the previous day. So I told myself to keep it going. it would be good to get some race pace miles in the middle of the run and I could always ease back if I needed to. And I knew when I turned round all the downhill stretches would be up. But I was unlikely to get better conditions to run in.
I’d hoped to get at least 4.5 miles from the run back to the Lindisfarne roundabout and Gerty Garmin beeped 5 just as I got there. So I knew I had to get at least 10 in to get back to my car. A bite of dried mango at the turnaround point and back the way I came, ready to tackle the John Reid Road the right way around this time.
And yes, there’s a long rise, and another one. But I picked my feet up, shortened my stride and kept moving, putting in a little more effort when it was needed. Up to mile 6 and I was starting to feel it, so took another bite of mango and told myself that this really was the half way point and I wasn’t going to drift off at 10. I really wasn’t fretting over the pace. I was running well, in the zone. Not easy, but not too hard. Just rhythmical. One foot in front of the other.
Mile 7 to 8 felt tougher. I planned my fuelling strategy – bites of mango at 8 miles and 10. Another dodge through the shoppers and the worst part of the course was behind me. Onto Prince Edward Road and the usual welcome shelter of the trees and happy memories of the good folks out with their trestle tables and cups of water for thirsty runners.
Down the steep bank and feeling it pull on my stomach, leaning into the run and picking up some speed. Then turning onto the seafront, empty today, for a long straight mile. The adrenaline kicked in and a little voice said “You’re running well. What if you do it today? What if you go for sub 2?”.
I told it to be quiet. That wasn’t the plan. I’d already gone a bit faster than planned and would probably pay for it. I’d rather do the 12 miles I planned than push for a time and crash out at 10. It was a sensible conversation and shortly afterwards I was glad I’d had it as my legs began to ache, calves tightening and hips churning.
But I had faith my run would come back to me. This was just a blip. Passing my car I was pleased I’d accurately plotted out a 10 mile route and had another bite of mango. Just a mile out and a mile back now. I could do that.
Ease into cruise control, just keep on moving. But there was a gorgeous downhill as I headed for the roundabout near Gypsies green and I picked up the pace again. I’m going to have to run back up that in the last mile, I thought. But at the same time the little adrenaline beastie said – you could make it a mile and a half out to make it 13…
I tamed the beastie and stuck to the plan, turning around at the signs for Sandhaven beach. And oh yes, that last mile. That last pull back up the incline wrenched at my calves and sent stabbing pains through my shoulder. But I don’t care about pace now. I just have to finish this. Keep going. Pain is temporary, glory is forever. This is going to be a wonderful run.
Once back on the flat I stretch out again. The end is in sight and I can’t help it. I start picking mental landmarks for the finish line – a lamppost, a bus stop. And recklessly, foolishly, I pick up the pace again, imagining that glorious final mile on race day, borne along by the crowd. When the Garmin bleeps I stop and stop the watch. It feels like I’ve been running for hours.
01:48:xx Even in my run befuddled state I can work out that that gives me more than 10 minutes to run 1.1 miles to go for that cherished sub 2 hour half marathon. So I start the clock again and I run.
And I’m sorry, really sorry to anyone reading this thinking ‘I wish I could just throw together a 10 minute mile so lightly’. I have been there. I remember that. I haven’t always been able to do this. I still read other blogs and think ‘I wish I could run 7 min miles, or just find a sub 4 min kilometre at the end of a race’. Believe me, I do. And one day, if you really want to, you will get there. But right now, for me, a 10 minute mile shouldn’t be too much of a problem.
So what a glorious feeling. To be running, further than I planned, and faster than I’d hoped for. Knowing that if I could just keep going at a relatively easy pace, I would achieve a target I’ve been chasing ever since I first got serious about running a half marathon.
As Gerty beeped 13 I was grinning. I didn’t launch into a semi-sprint as I had when I was stopping at 12, instead I just kept my eyes on the numbers until they said 13.1 miles and 01:58:58
And I know it doesn’t really count because it’s not an official race. And I stopped and started again. And once, on a road crossing, the auto pause kicked in on the Garmin. But I don’t care. It’s good enough for me. Good enough to give me all the confidence I could ask for ahead of my next target race.
Recently I’ve had some comments on my performance in training from runners who I admire and people I trust. Not the kind of people who say ‘Well done’ to make you feel better, but who say it when it’s deserved. That’s given me a massive amount of confidence.
And success breeds success. I’ve already achieved far more this year than I set out to do. I’ve had a blast at my triathlons, surprised myself with my performances and pulled a couple of PBs out of the bag. And I think I’ve got better at managing my competitive spirit with the need to relax and enjoy and mix things up occasionally.
So I just need to do it all over again in 3 weeks time on a course full of great runners, dodging the water bottles, the fancy dress costumes and coping with the crowds and the adrenaline – never mind what the weather might do.
Have I peaked too soon? Maybe. I’ve been here before, well prepared and in fine form only to be hit by a cold and have my legs fall off to leave me running a 10:30 minute mile somewhere between Fetchpoint and the finish.
But I’ve never run a sub 2 hour half in training before. And now I’ve done it, I know I can. I’m just looking at that sentence and I still can’t quite take it in. I just did it. I just achieved something I’ve been chasing for a long time. Wow! That feels good