In superhero capes, fairy wings and wedding dresses,
Like lambs and tigers, or Scooby Doo
When the circus is in town,
We’re the clowns who dodge the dodgems.
And if we’ve been good boys and girls
Santa even brings his sleigh.
We greet companions and strangers alike,
Laugh, smile, make our excuses about the night before…
But by nine o’clock, we’re focused,
Ready to start our watches.
We huddle like penguins,
Applaud like seals,
And chase those green shirts like a husky pack
Faster faster, on, on.
We stand. We smile.
We shout. We wave.
We stamp our feet.
We wear our high viz and wish we’d brought another layer.
We dive and weave and watch our elbows.
We dodge puddles and pats
And start a stampede.
We are mums and dads, sons and daughters, locals and just visiting.
Our colours spread out like a rainbow,
Across the moor to Malsgate and on beneath the trees.
We sprint. We wobble. We walk. We run.
We breathe. We pant. We fight. We pound.
We are fit. We are fat.
We are freezing.
We are over forty and feeling it.
We carry fridges, push buggies, lead our hounds, give piggy backs.
We come with doubts and fear, hopes and dreams.
We keep on coming.
We click the button and pray the timer works.
“Well done. Keep moving. Stay in line.”
We sweat. We shake hands, slap shoulders.
We try not to be sick.
We fumble for tokens with frozen fingers,
Scan soggy barcodes
And say breathless thank yous.
We stick around for cake and chat,
Or head off for breakfast
Our victory over those who stayed in bed.
By 10am, it’s like we were never here at all.
We are fierce.
We are fabulous
We are friends.
We are family.
We are Newcastle parkrun.
[I’ve taken a bit of a break from this blog while I’ve been training for a charity cycle trek in Vietnam and Cambodia for Lend with Care. You can find out more about that on cycleforcare.co.uk. But it was nice to pay tribute today to all my friends and the volunteers at Newcastle parkrun, which plays a big part in helping me stay fit, healthy and has given me the confidence to take on new challenges like the cycle ride, and reading my poem in public.]
I’d forgotten I’d signed up to this race way back in March, but it’s a popular event and places are soon snapped up, so I guess I must have got caught up in the enthusiasm and put my name down. I’m very glad I did.
After a morning of thundery downpours, runners may have been expecting a wet race, but by the evening, the sun was out and the air was warm as we gathered at the Tyne bar to pick up our race packs.
Along with race number and timing chip, there was an excellent race goodie bag with a nicely designed tech T-shirt , Natural Hero goodies and money off vouchers for Sweatshop. I’m already a fan of Natural Hero’s hot ginger muscle rub and soak, so it was nice to try their cool peppermint spray – very welcome on hot and tired legs after the race.
I caught up with a few runners I know from parkrun and club members from Durham’s Elvet Striders before the start, but with so many people waiting to pick up their numbers and a good walk to the start line, there really wasn’t too much time to chat.
I found a place towards the back of around 400 runners for the start on the Newcastle Quayside, and soon bounded off at quite a lick, excited to be racing.
I had no expectations or targets for this run. I really didn’t know how I would go after a week of holiday and little training. And for the first few hundred metres I felt good, bouncy and fast.
But it was hot. The air felt thick and I was soon breathing hard to suck in oxygen, feeling like I was chewing on it like a mouthful of marshmallows. I consciously eased up a little, looking for a more reasonable pace that I could sustain.
With marshals at every jink in the out and back route and a chance to spot the faster runners on the return leg, I soon found myself shouting encouragement. I was very happy to spot local running star Aly Dixon, easily first lady and mixing it up with the fast lads and give her a good shout.
And then a little further on, just before the turn around point, I spotted a teddy bear wearing a familiar running vest and then saw my friend Sue poised with camera in hand. Cue a spot of showboating from me, proving I really was relaxed and enjoying the run.
Back along the river, getting encouragement at every marshal point helped keep my legs turning over as the effort began to take its toll. I started to try and chase down runners ahead, reeling in the gap between us, hoping that by easing off a little to find my rhythm at first, I could finish strong.
A little way ahead I spotted Malcolm who volunteers to hold the gate open at Newcastle parkrun almost every week and he became my target to chase down in the last mile and a half. Keeping my focus on the small distance ahead, trying to reduce it, and not letting it increase, was a great way to keep my mind of how hot, tired and achy my legs were, as i could feel my calf muscles tightening.
Just as I was within a couple of strides of my quarry, an encouraging shout from another parkrunner, Sumanth, meant Malcolm knew I was approaching. So, I had to make it stick and I pushed on a little to move past. Encouragingly he shouted that I could make 45 mins if I pushed on.
Now I hadn’t paid much attention to my watch, and felt like I was running way slower than that kind of pace, so it really spurred me on to give it a try. With the finish arch approaching along the quayside, I’d already increased my effort and with a couple of hundred metres to go, really kicked into sprint mode.
With a small crowd of purple clad Elvet striders giving me a good shout in the dying metres, I kept on pushing, found yet another gear and crossed the line in 46:21.
It’s a measure of the quality of the field, that it wasn’t a particularly fast time, and I have run the course faster than that a couple of years ago, but I was really pleased with my efforts.
After a bit of banter and more cheering of the Elvet crew, who were very well represented at this race, I walked back down the course a little way to see my fellow Fetchie Sarah coming in to finish.
Getting a return shout of encouragement from Aly Dixon as we approached the line, and she was completing her warm down, was a really nice bonus. Aly’s a class runner and will be representing team GB n the marathon at the Commonwealth Games. I’ve seen her at a few local races and follow her progress on her blog and she’s always really generous with her support and insights into her training. So good luck Aly – I’ll be cheering for you and all our team GB athletes.
It was the work Christmas bash on Friday night. It’s a big event with around 1,000 people all dressed up, dancing in a huge marquee and enjoying a few festive drinks.
I had planned to wear my ‘party dress’ – the outfit I wore as a bridesmaid for my sister’s wedding, but a couple of weeks ago I was wandering around the village market and spotted a second hand clothes stall, with a long black sequinned dress on the front of the rack. It proved to be my size and a bargain, so I kitted myself out, feeling very sparkly and special.
It was a good night with a lively band and I left before my work mates were too sozzled. But while others will no doubt have been nursing sore heads on Saturday morning, I was on 30 min pacer duty at Newcastle parkrun, and I had a problem…
Did you know, sequins chafe? After a couple of hours on the dancefloor, my arms were covered in tiny scratches, from my armpits down to my elbows. I’ve never had such bad chafing from any run or triathlon events.
Triathlete’s favourite sudocrem to the rescue and off I trot to parkrun. It’s a lovely day on the moor and I slot into the starting crowd near a mum and her boy who are looking to run at about 30 minute pace. Ready, steady, Garmin and off we trot towards the first gate, using the large number of runners to keep the pace steady as my legs warm up and I ease into the run.
I pay much more attention to my Garmin when I’m pacing and see the first kilometre clock through at 5:55 – perfect, just sub 30 pace. Just keep that going.
A bit of chat as we run out over the moor and back in through the second gate, and the mum and son team are still with me until he has to stop to tie a shoe lace. My legs have warmed up by now, and I’ve picked up the pace a bit. I keep trying to rein it back and shout out encouragement and coaching tips to the runners around me. A couple of ladies in pink are looking in good form, but I’m no longer running with a group.
I push on round the back of the military museum and through the out and back, willing the runners on through this tricky section between 3-4k. Pace now is nearer 5:45/5:50 and a little too brisk. I’m not running my fastest at the moment and I had been worried that I’d find 30 min pace too fast, but it’s still nice and relaxed and I do need to slow down a bit.
The wind bites as we turn back onto the tarmaced paths and through the 4k gate. “Just 6 minutes running to go,” I shout as I see the girl in pink drop her head and start to slow. She picks up her feet and stays ahead.
I spend the last kilometre trying to rein in my pace, which feels a bit weird as normally I’m pushing to hold or increase it. On the last stretch I am about 40 seconds up and call out encouragement to those ahead who will smash 30 minutes and pause at the last turn to jog on the spot and urge the runner behind me on. I sprint in just ahead, yelling all the way and hope she’s just nicked it. My official finish time, 29:58 and a very enjoyable run.
But my arms are burning. The run has irritated the skin and I can’t wait to get home, showered and put something on to soothe the itch.
I look at the pattern on my skin and realise it wasn’t just sequins scratching, but judging by the welt over my left shoulder, I’ve had an allergic reaction to the metal strap of my bag. Give me a nice running T-shirt any day – I was obviously not designed for glamour.
No snow at parkrun this Saturday, but it was bitingly cold on the town moor, so I jogged off across the grass to warm up.
‘Hmm, must tighten my shoe laces before I start. Oh, this grass is about softer than I expected. I’ll run that way to get back on the path. Oh no, that’s even worse!’
The town moor claimed my left trainer. And less than a second afterwards made sure that sock could never be described as white again.
‘Now what? Wet muddy sock inside the wet muddy shoe? Or sockless on my left side?’ The muddy accessory was turned inside out and dumped with my fleece by the fence as I tested out my new barefoot trainer. I was very glad I hadn’t worn my brand new shoes.
Not quite the start I imagined for my first time out in my 50th parkrun shirt, but we were soon off and I was on a mission to chase down a fast run. I pelted off, too fast at first in truth, into the wind and towards Gate 1.
The turn along Grandstand Road, sheltered by the trees and showered by the warming sunshine saw me swipe off my hat and enjoy my favourite part of this route. I recently watched a video on barefoot running and one of the bits of advice that stuck in my head was a subtle thinking about lifting the hips. So I gave it a try, and felt like I really covered the ground more quickly, overtaking a couple of runners.
I kept turning on the power, then easing it off, conscious of keeping my feet light and hoping my sockless state wouldn’t mean blisters. But shortly after 2k and the return to the moor paths, I got a stitch high up in my ribs. I hardly ever get a stitch, so I reflected on a tough week of training, eased back a little and concentrated on my breathing. I managed to shift it, but I knew I’d lost some pace going into the tricky 3rd kilometre.
Back into the wind over the roughest part of the course and it was tough going, so it was a relief to turn back onto the smooth tarmaced path and know there was just 1km to go. I kept thinking lift the hips and used the lamp posts as markers, picking a spot to power on to.
There were a couple of girls close by me who had overtaken me and I managed to catch and pass them. Into the final corner and one of them was close by again, but I knew I still had the push and I powered down the last few metres, overtaking another couple of runners to cross the line in just over 27 minutes.
I was hoping for something closer to 26, but can’t really complain after a fantastic week’s training. The tri day on Tuesday really kicked things off and I’ve enjoyed every session this week.
On Thursday, I trained with Ian on the beach as usual and it was a tough session, but so nice to finish in daylight, with the sun peeking over the rocks. At the other end of the day, I hit the pool for my second swim of the week.
I don’t normally double train on a PT day, but I hoped the swim would help me avoid aching muscles and it meant I could have a complete rest day on Friday. I fell into bed on Thursday night, with the satisfying tiredness of a great set of training.
On Friday morning, I got into work early to do a practice gym session with Simon, one of the instructors from the work gym. It’s the first time I’ve tried my instructor mode, and it gave me loads of confidence ahead of my final assessment in a couple of weeks’ time. Still loads to think about and make sure I cover on the day, so I hope to get a few more practice sessions under my belt. But it’s fantastic to have such great support.
On Sunday, I explored a new route on my bike. It felt fantastic to be out, just enjoying a fairly easy effort, but out for a fairly long ride and finishing off with a rather steep hill. Next time I’ll ride it in reverse!
Like many parts of the UK, we had a decent snowfall last night, leaving the roads and pathways covered in, as they say around these parts, ‘propa sner’.
But while this meant a couple of local parkruns had to cancel, the blanket of white stuff on the Town Moor was arguably safer than wet and icy paths and Newcastle parkrun was declared on.
So, off I went. Wrapped up fit for an arctic expedition, unsure whether to run or to marshall, but prepared for both. I wasn’t there for the very first event, but three years ago, the very first Newcastle parkrun took place in very similar conditions. A select few runners and a hardy bunch of volunteers turned out in the snow to ensure the free 5k timed run went ahead. It’s grown in support hugely since then and lately has had record attendances of over 400 runners.
All parkruns have their own individual character. Some are hilly, some are muddy, some are multi-laps, some just the one. Newcastle has the reputation of being a ‘fast’ course as it’s largely flat. But conditions on the Town Moor can be testing, and it can be more like a cross country run at times.
The wind can seem to change direction as you run, and the exposed nature of the course, can leave hands and toes tingling with cold – and that’s just the runners, never mind the volunteers who stand out in all weathers, directing turns or holding gates. Oh and we must be the only parkrun that has to issue regular cow warnings in the summer months.
Today was a special event to mark the 3rd anniversary of this run. And there’s a nice tradition, started by its original founder Niyc Pidgeon, of celebrating Newcastle parkruns anniversary with a bit of a get together and award presentation afterwards.
The special guest presenter was inspirational North East runner and passionate fundraiser for the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, Tony Phoenix Morrison, better known as Tony the Fridge, who this year completed the route of the Great North Run 30 times, whilst carrying a 40kg fridge on his back.
Now, I know Tony a bit, in that I’ve had the privilege and pleasure of running a few miles with him during his incredible challenge. So when I started running, I said hello and we fell into step for a while. I hadn’t intended to go out and race hard given the conditions today, but finding he didn’t have anyone running with him today, I thought, why not stick with him.
Because it is always a pleasure running with Tony. He’s not what you might expect and he always makes me think as we chat. He’s easy to listen to and talk to. And today, running over the fresh snow under the beautiful bleak skies of the moor, it just felt effortless ( but I wasn’t carrying an extra 40-odd kilos of metal on my back).
Afterwards at the awards presentation, he shared his story with fellow parkrunners who had gathered in the warmth of the Royal Grammar School to enjoy tea, coffee and cake and celebrate some of the achievements of parkrunners.
The awards are very much in the spirit of parkrun and not only celebrate the consistently fast and impressive performances of the speedier runners, but also give a chance for the volunteers and others to have their moment in the spotlight.
Amongst the awards I was really pleased to hear my mate Jeff’s name, after he’s run every Newcastle parkrun this year and put in some impressive times too. And there was a big cheer for Eric Appleby, our 80-year-old runner who still turns out and inspires everyone to be the best they can be. It was nice too, that Paul Davison was recognised for always being among the first to thank the volunteers that make it possible for this free run to go ahead.
Parkrun really is inclusive. From the fastest to the slowest, old to young, from babies in buggies to teenagers, dads, dogs, and grandads, everyone’s welcome. Running or volunteering both have their own rewards, from chasing a new best time, to simply getting a smile on a grey day. So if you’re thinking of taking up running, just starting out, or even if you’ve been doing the mileage for years, check it out.
I got a couple of very welcome compliments today. My ultra tough, speedy, never-give-up, running pal Rob said, “Your blogs are always worth reading.” Although he did also admit that if we’ve had a chat, he likes to see if he gets a name check – so there you go Rob 🙂 But it was nice to hear, and it came just at the right moment, so thank you my friend.
This has been the first week of my new exercise plan from my PT, Ian. I do love having a plan and a focus for my training. It stops me fretting over the best thing to do, makes sure I have plenty of variety in my training and pushes me on a bit. It also stops me doing too much. Rest and recovery is just as important as exercise, as that’s when you get the benefits of the workout.
Anyway, this is a great plan that should help me build a great base to be fit and ready to race some great triathlons next year. As far as running goes, I’m continuing to concentrate on my technique, changing my style to become a more midfoot, forefoot runner.
That’s because I believe it’s a more natural way to run and less likely to cause injuries. But I’m hoping it will help me go faster too. At the moment, I’m just focusing on getting it right and not worrying too much about how fast I’m going. But it’s good to see some improvements there too.
I have to really consciously concentrate on my new running style, thinking about how I place my foot on each step, making sure I’m kicking back, keeping my hips aligned and turning my legs over quickly. But I had a bit of a breakthrough moment this week on a technique session when I realised I’d been singing one of our choir songs in my head to help me keep a good rhythm. That means I wasn’t consciously thinking about how I was moving.
The same song re-emerged as I returned to parkrun on Saturday morning. Last week, it was a big unknown. I had no clue how fast I would go with my new midfoot style. This week I knew what I was capable of, and that I’d felt I could push it a bit more.
So, into the now familiar routine of saying hello to my friends, and lining up with a couple of hundred runners at 9am on the Town Moor. A bit damper and breezier than last week, but it was still a great day for a run.
It felt great to be racing, even when a surge of runners went past and continued to pass me out on the way towards the first gate. As always, I worried that I’d gone out too fast and tried to settle into my run. A thank you to Malcolm on the gate and I was out alongside the road.
Here I felt I was picking my pace up a bit, almost with a sense of falling forward into each stride. I kept with it, enjoying the sensation and started to pick off a few runners in front.
Through the second gate and onto the muddy path, which wasn’t as bad as I’d been expecting. I still felt good here, like I was flying over the ground, and the repetitive tune in my head picked up a beat or two. I just told myself to keep going if I was feeling good.
Kilometre 3-4 is the tester on this course. a couple of turns and some uneven ground, it’s where runners start to fall away a little. I kept my focus by targeting runners ahead and reeling them in one by one. I didn’t even notice I was snapped again at the back of the museum.
There was a man in a yellow top who I played a bit of cat and mouse with as he overtook me, then I caught and overtook him only for him to catch me again. It helped keep me focused, although I found myself very much out on my own over the toughest part of the course.
Here I was starting to feel the pull on my calves from the new running style and a couple more flat footed moves came in as I negotiated the uneven ground. Once I fall away from the forefoot, it takes an effort of will to get back there. But I did it and made it through the final gate, knowing there was just over a kilometre to go.
I’d made my mind up to kick on a bit on the smooth tarmac path as we turned towards the lamp posts. But the guy in yellow made me push on a bit sooner than I planned. He eventually overtook me and made it stick, but I knew I was close to the finish now.
My breathing was becoming a bit more ragged as I tried to stretch out a little more while not losing my style and trying to make my legs turnover more quickly. I was aware the tune in my head had dropped its rhythm slightly. I picked it up before the dog leg to the finish straight and powered on down all the way through the line. I even missed picking up my timing token as I didn’t slow down enough and had to go back to collect it from the volunteer.
I’d deliberately ignored my watch, save for a quick check at the first kilometre which had told me I was on pace with last week’s run. But I was hopeful I’d done better as I felt faster through kms 2-3. I checked at the finish and I was just a few seconds under 28 mins – a whole 30 secs improvement. So, it looks as though my new running drills are working and I’m getting the hang of this new style.
On Saturday I made my return to running Newcastle parkrun. I knew it had been a while since I’d run 5k what with Great North Run training, going on holiday and then recovering from a sprained ankle; and when I looked it up, I hadn’t run one since August.
Easing back after my injury with run walk sessions and trying to make changes to my running style to land more midfoot, forefoot, I really haven’t been running a lot, so I was a bit nervous when I woke up, especially as my ankle felt a bit stiff. Should I give it another week to recover?
Pottering around, getting ready, it soon eased up and I decided to just go with my plan of trying to get round midfoot/forefoot landing and to make that my goal. It meant I had no idea of what time I would do or how to pace it, it would just be run it and see.
Happily it was the most beautiful day for a run on the moor. Bright, crisp and cold, but with barely any wind to speak of and as the sun came out it soon warmed up. And as I’ve been volunteering quite regularly it felt like situation normal to meet up with other parkrunners and say hello to the usual crew.
This was to be one of the monthly paced events, and after saying hello to Sue sporting the 35 min pace shirt and catching up with Penny, I went off to do my running drills warm up. Some heel kicks, knee lifts, bounces, bounds, side shuffles and high kicks later, I was ready to start.
I positioned myself firmly mid pack, chatted to a couple of nearby runners, heard some of the 50 shirts being given out and set my Garmin on the sound of the starting air horn. And then it was away and off over the paths and into the sunshine.
Steady, steady, steady I coached myself, small steps, kick back, land under the centre line, keep it light and turn your legs over. Picking my way through the usual crowded start I soon found my space and powered on, hoping my natural enthusiasm hadn’t taken me away too quickly.
But my breathing felt good and I was stepping lightly, listening for the sound of my own footsteps, trying to stay relaxed and focused. I said a cheery hello to Fred (our usual tail runner) as I passed and really started to enjoy the sensation of running at a decent pace.
Then out of the corner of my eye, I spotted a green pacers shirt right next to me. It was today’s 30 minute man and two thoughts simultaneously went through my mind – ‘30 mins would be good’, and ‘time doesn’t matter, it’s about technique today’.
I stuck with him for a while as I thought the pace felt about right, but as we approached gate one, I decided to take off my gloves and stick them in my back pocket and he pulled ahead.
Through the gate with a shouted thanks to Malcolm and onto the tree lined path along beside the road. I like this stretch, I always feel good here, although today I was conscious of the slight camber and rough edges of the path, so chose my footing carefully.
Through the second gate, and onto the slightly muddy paths on the moor. Again I picked my way through carefully, looking for the smoothest path. Somewhere between 2-3km I passed the 30 minute pacer and did a mental check to see how I was feeling, but I was good, not pushing too hard, just feeling elated to be running and strong.
Strong was my mantra through the rough ground behind the Military Museum. Strong kept me straight on through the puddles, ignoring the heavy breathing of the runners around me. Strong pushed me up the gravelly path, running out ahead, on my own towards the turn, knowing I had not much more than a kilometre to go.
Back onto the tarmac path and through the gate, it’s a real relief to know that it’s a smooth surface from here all the way to the end. I just focus on keeping my form and look ahead at the groups of runners, telling myself to reel them in bit by bit.
At the last left hand turn I make a conscious effort to pick up the turnover again and try to put a bit more into the last half a kilometre or so. I begin to reel in runners ahead. There’s a girl in a fluoro pink top who makes herself nicely conspicuous. I think she’s maybe too far to catch, but she makes a good target.
Round the last little dog leg and onto the finish straight and I push for a sprint, hearing Jeff shouting me on, but thinking I can only sprint if I keep my form. It’s the first time I’ve tried it. But power down, legs and arms pumping and I just pip the girl in pink on the line.
I feel briefly embarrassed. That doesn’t feel like parkrun sportsmanship. I turn and shake her hand and say “Sorry about that,” but she takes it in good spirit and congratulates me on my sprint finish. We share injury stories as we collect our tokens and wait to get our barcodes scanned. I’m pleased I haven’t upset her. We’ll have the same time anyway. It was a very close finish.
Quickly processed with our tokens and barcodes, I wander off to stretch and then catch up with some other familiar parkrun faces, including the legendary Eric Appleby, our 80 year old former champion. Then I go to stand on the last corner to cheer on the runners with Jeff and compare race notes from today.
Jeff is full of positive encouragement as always and today I really start to believe it. In terms of performance, my running this year hasn’t been a patch on my glorious 2011 season. But there are good reasons for that and I’ve learned a lot about myself, my training and my focus by having to take a few steps back.
Next year will be all about triathlon in any case. But that doesn’t mean I shan’t be looking to do well at a few select 5 and 10k races. For now, I’m just happy to be running again, finding a bit of pace and feeling like there’s more to come. But yes, at parkrun I also saw a glimpse of the possibility that, given time, I could get back to where I was and possibly even better it next year. It’s an exciting prospect.
My Saturday continued in fine form too, as I met my friends Ian and Kelda for a sunny walk along the beach with their gorgeous pug.
And in the evening we went out to our favourite Newcastle restaurant, Cafe 21 for a pre-birthday meal with Lee and Beth. Food, service and atmosphere was, always, absolutely spot on. And, after radically cutting back on the sweet stuff over the past four weeks, I really enjoyed my indulgent dessert of knickerbocker glory.