2012 – a review of my training and racing year

It’s been a good year has 2012. I started with a run on New Year’s Day – a great way to see in the Olympic year, bounding through the mud and clambering up the hills on the Town Moor. I’d see a lot of this landscape throughout the year.

Me on the Resolution Run
Resolution run on New Year’s Day 2012

But I was carrying an injury and not really doing enough about it. By the time I saw a physio and started properly managing my plantar fasciitis, running had to take a back seat and I returned to walk/run to get my feet and calves fit and strong.

I turned it to my advantage by focusing efforts on my swimming, joining in club swims and clocking up my highest swim mileage month of the year. I logged my second highest bike mileage this month too.

I continued to recover and treat my plantar fasciitis throughout February, logging my lowest monthly run distance since I started recording such things. But it was the right thing to do and I learned a lot while I was doing it.

It actually really got me thinking about what I wanted to do and how I wanted to use my accumulated knowledge of training. Talking to and getting such good treatment from my physio and sports massage girl helped push me in the direction of looking at getting some training qualifications – convincing me I could do it.

I was recovered enough to take part in arguably the year’s A race – The Olympic Park Run. On 31 March 2012 I donned a red T-shirt and smiled all the way round the five miles of the Olympic Park, touching the side of the velodrome, and eventually emerging from the long corridors underneath the stands to run on that track.

On the route of the Olympic Park Run
Running with the Olympic Velodrome in the background

I still remember the bounce, the energy, the absolute thrill of entering the bright glare of that arena. On a cold grey day, with only a few thousand spectators, I could only imagine the roars that would fill it come July.

But the whole experience of being in London, of taking part in a warm up event absolutely convinced me that we would make a wonderful job of hosting the Olympics. And didn’t we!

I took a break in April – a few days in France and my first run in continental Europe. And I finished off the month with great day in Scotland tri training with Leslely and friends, finally getting to grips with my clipless pedals.

It was good timing, as May was full of tri activities. My first triathlon of the season and a return to the scene of my first EVER tri at Ashington. With a still nigglesome foot and little focused training, I failed to improve on last year’s time, but I was off and running and my enthusiasm for crazy multi-sport events was as high as ever.

My real triathlon focus of 2012 was to be my next race, the QE2 sprint triathlon, where I’d tackle my first open water swim. So that meant open water training, and I first donned my wetsuit and got in the lake in May. Pretty scary at first, I did seriously wonder whether I’d ever be able to get myself calm enough to be able to swim proper front crawl, but little by little, session by session, I built my confidence and began to enjoy the open water experience.

And I was back north of the border again for another fabulous tri day, swimming, cycling, running and generally messing about in the sunshine on the best day off work ever with Al, Ann and Lesley. I got some serious inspiration that day. A real dose of ‘you can do anything if you believe in yourself’ magic. It works.

For those who only remember the wet summer, I can assure you we did have some super sunny days. That tri day was one, and our Fetch ladies cycling day, when me, Karen, Penny, Lisa and Lesley Anne took on part of the C2C route, was another.

me crossing the finish line at the QE2 sprint triathlon
The moment I felt like Chrissie Wellington – finishing my first open water triathlon

Which brings me to June – an absolutely action packed month, starting with my big event, the QE2 triathlon – my first time swimming 750m in open water. I was seriously nervous getting in that lake. So it felt very reassuring to have a couple of friendly faces nearby in the form of my PT, Ian and Lesley’s son Al.

The rest of that experience is blogged at length. But if I had to pick a moment of the year, it would be that one. Crossing the finish at a sprint, hearing my name over the tannoy system, race face captured on camera, falling into the arms of my very best tri buddy Lesley. Oh, and the best finish photo ever courtesy of Bob Marshall.

I’m sure it felt harder, I had more doubts, and I know I seriously asked myself what I thought I was doing going into the water. But I don’t really remember that now. I just remember the sense of achievement, the elation and the joy of finishing and being surrounded by friends and eating cake in the car park!

I’ve already mentioned the weather, and Saturday 9 June was a day of sunshine and showers in Newcastle. As I made my way down to the Bigg Market for the start of the 150th Blaydon Race, people were sitting outside the restaurants and cafes, watching the world go by, enjoying the sunshine.

But as the race started, so did the rain. And less than a mile in, the roads were rivers and we were drenched through. I’d been drier in the lake. It made for a memorable race. Still a fun one as always, but definitely my wettest yet.

As the Olympics drew closer, the torch came to town, gathering crowds and celebrations, swiftly followed by a brand new north east park run on my beloved coast. On Olympic opening day itself, I was a visitor at Ellem’s again, enjoying a swim in a lake near where she lives, a cycle and a run before heading home to wonder in delight at the opening ceremony.

I’ve spent a good few days in Scotland this year, which is always good news for me, and I returned to Edinburgh for a day at the festival in August. I threw in a parkrun for good measure and caught up with some of my other Scottish Fetchie pals too.

I logged my highest ever bike mileage this month (still no great shakes by the measures of this site, but still significant for me) helped by my longest ride to date on the Great North Bike Ride.

Me waving at the camera on the last mile of the Great North Run 2012
Enjoying the last mile of the Great North Run 2012

And so to September, which sort of marks the beginning and end of my running year with the Great North Run. My fourth year of running it (who ever thought I would be saying that?).

It was important in that, thanks yet again to my generous Fetch friends, it helped me raise over £700 for Sands in memory of my baby sister Ava. And it was important to me that I’d recovered enough from my running injury early in the year to be able to take it on.

But in terms of time, of challenge, to me, it was no longer the big thing it has been. I was overjoyed to high five a couple of Olympic heroes on the start line and very happy to have stumbled into the company of the brilliant Elvet Striders 2 hour run bus, but right from the start I knew it wasn’t my race this year.

I’d already had a magic moment crossing the finish line the day before in the company of the amazing Tony the Fridge flanked by a host of Harley Davisons and the lads from his junior football team. A real privilege to run with this guy and spend time in his company.

Lesley, me and Jane at the finish of Haddington triathlon
Lesley, me and Jane posing at Haddington triathlon

So by the time I reached 10 miles and I was still not feeling it, I let it go, released any sense of pressure of time or achievement and just ran easy. High fiving all the kids along the last mile, waving, smiling, giving thumbs up to everyone who shouted out my name on my shirt, just cruising to the finish and enjoying it.

It had been a bit much to ask to run an amazing race after opting to do a sprint tri in Scotland the weekend before. But I wouldn’t have missed Haddington triathlon for anything. Another sunny day in the company of my lovely friends; a perfectly run event; a swim that frankly astonished me, and a run that convinced me I could get back to previous form. That was another event for the scrapbook.

After all that I was ready for a break and I really enjoyed our holiday to Canada, where I still managed to run, cycle and swim and watch part of a half marathon.

My plans to come back refreshed, revitalised and ready to enjoy the off season were scuppered by a silly fall during the Newcastle Stampede which had me finishing the best part of a 10k with a sprained ankle.

But actually this injury turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Using what I’d learned from my physio treating my plantar fasciitis earlier in the year I rested, recovered and returned using a walk run plan to build back up. Only this time, I also revisited my running style and with the help of drills and exercises from my PT, Ian, I started to transition to a more midfoot style.

Me, Ian, Les and George the pug
The Inspire team at Newcastle Stampede 2012

It felt strange at first and I had to make sure I did a lot of stretching and foam rollering to release the built up tension in my calf muscles. But that’s made me develop more good habits and the additional stretching, running drills and warm up are now a regular part of my routine.

Not running so much also drove me back to swimming and cycling. I used some drills with the pull buoy as my ankle was recovering and they’ve helped me improve my front crawl stroke a great deal, so that I now get my hands in the water more quickly, and finish every stroke, rather than rushing through to take the next breath.

October too saw me return to support the Town Moor marathon – another race that’s become a regular on my calendar. It was great to welcome Fetchie pals Ann and Les and to cheer on a host of other runners around the course. And it was absolutely brilliant to be there for Ann’s course record breaking win. I predict more to come from this fabulous runner next year.

And so onto birthday celebrations in November, combined with a return to parkrun and each week developing confidence in my new running style and chipping away at my time.

Runners standing on the track
Fetchies do the mobot

But my biggest achievement this month was returning to the exam room for the first time in over 20 years and passing the theory papers for my Level 2 gym instructor qualification. I still have to face the practical assessment sometime early next year, but a good set of marks on the exams has given me the confidence that I can do that too. And the whole experience has fired me up to do more and to pass on some of my learning and experience in 2013.

December saw us get together for a Fetch track mile – a great chance to meet up, run a bit and eat some cake before Christmas. And I ended the year with a very wet but enjoyable 10k race at Saltwell.

Track training obviously suits me, as I returned there for a session with my PT this week and have just clocked my fastest parkrun of the year at Whitley Bay  in a time of 25:49.

Now I may not have managed to run faster or PB at any distance I’e run before this year but I have:

  • Swum over 20 miles further than in 2011 (including my first open water swims)
  • Cycled over 100 miles further than in 2011 (including my longest single cycle ride to date)
  • Ran fewer miles than I’ve ever logged in a year
  • Cross trained a little less than I did in 2011, but not by much
  • Still trained for more hours than any other year – over 270 of them 🙂

There’s still a bit of time left to go, but I doubt I’ll get much time to train.  I’m enjoying spending a bit of time off, relaxing and getting stuck into my studies again.

I have plans and goals in mind for next year already, but I think that’s fodder for another post, as this has been a long one already. It’s been great to look back at another tremendous year, to reflect on the achievements and to cherish the friends with whom I’ve enjoyed some magic moments.


New workout, new focus

I’m trying a new approach to my exercise routine at the moment. I think it’s good to make a change, shake up your exercise routine every so often. And after a period devoted to running and getting the miles in for the Great North Run, it’s good to do something a bit different.

The new workout, designed by my PT Ian is designed to blitz fat. It focuses on tabata  or short bursts of high intensity activity, interspersed with short periods of rest. So I do a series of exercises with the kettlebell on a 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off  repeat. Then I follow that up with a series of short sprint intervals.

Boy it’s a tough workout that really got my heart rate up and had me sweating.  But I really enjoyed it, and it felt like a great value workout for 40 minutes’ effort.

I haven’t officially set any new goals yet, but this time of year is when I traditionally take a bit of a training review and look ahead to what I want to do next.

I have a few ideas, and triathlon is definitely the focus again for 2013, with the challenge of moving up to standard distance. But it’s off season for triathlon, and while I can do some good base building on my swim and bike fitness, I think I can also afford to have some fun and enjoy winter training.

Another thing I want to focus on is getting my studying done for my Level 2 Gym instructor qualification. I’ve already worked through some of the reading and online sessions and am really enjoying it. But I need to make it a priority to make time to do it properly. I hope to be ready to take one or two of the assessments by Christmas or early in the New Year.

But one thing I have started is to get back on track with healthy eating and to try and lose a few pounds. I put on a bit of weight last year, with the usual post Christmas indulgence. Nothing really noticeable, but after having to ease back on running earlier in the year with plantar fasciitis, I never really shifted it.

It’s not so much the weight I’m bothered about as the bad habits actually. I have a sweet tooth that it’s easy to indulge, especially when training for a half marathon. But the chocolate treats were becoming a daily habit, often fuelled by boredom and inactivity. And that’s not a healthy attitude to food.

So I’m back from a fab holiday where I ate out at every meal, didn’t deny myself anything and enjoyed it all. Which is a much healthier attitude.

But to stop myself falling back into the thoughtless grazing, I’ve drawn a line in the sand, and I’m cutting out as much sugar as possible for the next two weeks. No cakes, biscuits, chocolate or sweeties and even cutting down on the amount of fruit I eat.

So far, so good. I even managed to resist temptation when faced with four types of home made cake at the farm open day on Saturday. Although being given the task of putting warm tray bake onto plates was a test of my resolve.

I’ll still be running (I have plans for that too), but I don’t need the long miles so much, so it will be good to change focus from time and pace and enjoy some shorter runs. And I’m really looking forward to testing myself through the mud and obstacles at the Newcastle Stampede this weekend.

I’ll also be supporting runners, by volunteering at  Newcastle parkrun and cheering on everyone taking part in the Town Moor marathon. It’s great fun cheering runners on in a race, and I know how much I always appreciate a shout out, especially on the Great North Run. And without the help of marshals and volunteers, I wouldn’t have the chance to take part in so many races and fun events.

A wee bit clarty

Me getting muddy on the Newcastle Stampede
Swamp monster emerging!

So this weekend was all about the Newcastle Stampede, or the ‘daft race’ as I’d called it. Billed as a 10k with obstacles, I’d seen a couple of people do this last year and it sounded right up my street. It promised mud, water and a challenge that I couldn’t predict a time for. So I was in.

I was actually a bit nervous. I was looking forward to it, but not knowing what to expect gave me pre-race jitters. I turned up to race HQ at Gosforth Park race course and picked up my T-shirt, number and timing chip, stopping for a chat with Natalie from parkrun and then bumping into Peter who was on support duty. He kindly offered to look after my car key for me, but I didn’t manage to see him again after I went to get changed.

I knew it would be muddy and Penny had warned me about the sticks and stones and potential scratches from the obstacles. But by the time I saw my PT, Ian and a couple of his other clients I was just wanting to get going.

Lee, Ian and me at the end of the Stampede
A muddy team Inspire

There was talk of barbed wire and much taping of shoes and loose bits of clothing, even a plea for gloves. But I think the boys were trying to scare me and I was having none of it.

I was expecting a bit of a boot camp style warm up from what I’d heard about last year’s event, but we all just lined up on the race course and set off in rough groups of around 100 or so. We were near the front of the wave and set off at a conservative pace, running across the grass, with Ian saying he was just taking it easy to keep something in reserve for later on.

I managed to stick with Lee and Ian through some woody paths and out onto a field stacked with haybales – our first obstacles. A bit of a run and jump to get my knee on and over the lower ones and then a real run, arms up and push up to get over the tall versions. At 6 foot odd, Ian had the advantage over me and was hurdling his way over, soon leaving me behind.

Ten hay bales later and through the woods to our first dip into a cold muddy puddle up to my waist and then through a couple of tunnels that I managed to duck through quite easily. And then out into quite a good run over trails and through the trees. My feet were uncomfortable, shoes filled with stones but I managed to keep running and even stayed upright despite the muddy ground underfoot.

Climbing a steep bank with the help of a rope
Climbing a steep, muddy bank

Running through the trees over the autumn leaves and through the dappled sunlight, I absolutely felt in my element. Some of the other Stampeders were walking by now, but this was where I felt strongest and most confident, finding my feet with a nice easy paced run. I didn’t wear a watch of any sort, so I have no idea of my pace, but I was regularly catching and overtaking people and didn’t feel like I was pushing too hard.

Time to get down and dirty in the mud with a plodge through a watery ditch filled with tyres and then a crawl underneath a wire mesh, face down with just a view of muddy trainers in front of me.

More water obstacles, getting deeper and longer each time and a bit of a delay where people were going one by one through a water filled pipe and being papped by photographers as the shock of cold water hit their chests. You never really knew how deep the dips were. You’d start off in up to your knees or waste then wade forward and drop another half a foot or so.

Me emerging from one of the tunnels
How deep is it?

It looked like the tunnels filled with water were on the same level and these scared me a bit. But each time there was a hidden step up, so you went through crouched down, still up to your chest in water. I did have to take a deep breath before each one though. There was a section of the course that ran alongside a long deep ditch and the people running behind me said they’d walked through it the year before and in general, the verdict was there was more running and fewer obstacles this time round.

Towards the end the water got deeper, muddier and stinkier and the tunnels and wire crawls got longer. And there was still another field of hay bales to come. But finally, finally after a last dip in the mud bath, I was back round to the race course and just a run over the grass to go. The last dip had rather taken my breath away and I found it hard to summon up anything like a run over the last section, but then seeing and hearing the crowds at the finish, my legs kicked in and I found a bit of a sprint for the line. A guy next to me obviously didn’t want to be ‘chicked’ so put on a spurt to finish just ahead. http://youtu.be/9LWVj553kJg

What fantastic, silly, ridiculous fun! Muddy, wet with straw scratched knees and thistle nipped palms. I was grinning all over my face as I collected my medal and goody bag and met up with Ian and Lee at the finish.

Muddy trainers
Clarty trainers

Back to the car to change, chucking everything wet into a plastic bag and revelling in the feeling of warm dry socks and trainers. I certainly didn’t feel like I’d just run 10k and it was like no 10k I’ve ever done. But I loved it.

And most of all I loved knowing that I wouldn’t have even considered it three years ago. The distance, the cold, the mud, the challenge – I would have thought they were all beyond my reach. It was great to share the day with Ian, who got me started on my journey to fitness and still keeps me going, finding new goals and setting new challenges. And that keeps me smiling.