Making progress – reaching 8 miles

I’ve really enjoyed focusing on running as I build up the distance of my long run for the Edinburgh half marathon. I’m enjoying being mindful about planning sessions, running the mile I’m in and making my plan work for me.

But whatever’s on the plan, life does sometimes get in the way. I had booked a trip to Rwanda to do some volunteering with the charity Lendwithcare, and knew that with travel time I’d be losing 3 weekends of run training possibilities.

So I ramped up my long run distance a bit sooner than strictly necessary for a half marathon at the end of May. And scheduled a 14k run (just over 8 miles) at the beginning of February.

Another thing that I’m making an effort to do is to run different routes and on different surface, not always tarmac, so when I saw a local low-key off-road ‘race’ of around 8, it seemed like too good an opportunity to miss.

The ‘race’ is the Run for Bob, managed by North Shields Poly running and triathlon club and takes place over a route popular with one of their former runners. It follows a path from Whitley Bay, up the coast to Seaton Sluice, then turns inland through Holywell Dene and along an old Waggonway to finish on the track at the clubhouse.

It’s a really lovely route with a mixture of footpaths, grass, sandy beach and decent trails. And it’s a race insofar as you get a number, all start at the same time and marshals are on hand along the route(s). But there’s no timing, other than your own watch.

We started off in fog as we headed out from the war memorial towards St Mary’s Lighthouse. The coastal paths were empty apart from us runners and a few dog walkers, and the field soon split off into the faster and slower paced so that I was running on my own, with just one shirt visible in the distance ahead of me.

There is something about attaching a number to my shirt that makes me run a bit faster, even when I’m trying to keep the pace easy. I felt like I was bouncing along the first couple of miles over familiar ground along the seafront at Whitley Bay.  I planned to just run comfortably and whatever pace would get me through 8 miles and this was an optimistic start. 

There’s a bit of undulation along the coastal paths and a choice of running down along the beach or up along the top. At the turn in towards Seaton Sluice, some nice trail paths take you into Holywell Dene, an area of woodland with a burn or river at the bottom.

In the woods, the route diverges, with two options, one low along the river and another up and over the top. A marshal shouted directions for either route and I figured it was a choice of hill now, or hill later. I was just over 4 miles in, so I opted for hill now and separated off from the only other runners I could see or hear.

I was breathing heavily by the top of the climb, but my legs felt strong and I knew that was the hardest part of the route completed. I felt confident and happy as I turned onto the Waggonways for the last 2 miles and then onto the track for 3/4 of a lap to finish the race. And because I wanted to complete the designated distance on my plan, I added a cool down lap and a bit to clock up 14k exactly.

It’s easy to get a bit misty eyed and look back on a run with rose coloured glasses once you’ve completed it, but I genuinely did feel like this was a good one mentally and physically. Physically it was a bit more challenging than a standard training run, but I had confidence in my training and my strength in my legs.

Mentally I felt relaxed, happy, enjoying the experience, thanking all the marshals and not putting too much pressure on myself. I don’t remember any negative thoughts or down talking in my head. It would be good to stay mindful of that and to try and tap into those feelings next time I’m struggling on a run.

It feels pretty amazing to me to have clocked over 100 miles of running before the end of February. Especially when I remembered that only a few weeks before I was talking about reminding myself how to run longer distances. I know I still have a long way to go and 8 miles is still a good way off the 13.1 of a half marathon, but I feel like I’ve made a good start.

Mile splits

1: 10:18
2: 10:37
3: 10:41
4: 10:45
5: 11:29 (guess where the hills were)
6: 10:50
7: 10:43
8: 10:39

Run for Bob

I had a lovely active weekend, that’s shown me I shouldn’t take my fitness for granted. I know when I’m training, focused on a race or event, I get fitter and stronger, but it’s not been quite so clear how much fitter and stronger.

I’ve wound down my training over December, taking it easy to allow myself to recover from the plantar pain in my left foot. And that’s no bad thing. So I haven’t run as much. I’ve done no distance over 10k since September and I’ve only done that once, on a flat road at an easy pace in December. And I haven’t run much during the week.

But I managed 5.5 wet, muddy and off road miles on New Year’s Day and although my foot niggled a bit immediately afterwards, I iced it, stretched and rested the rest of the week and it stayed quiet.

But maybe 7.5 miles off road was a bit much on Sunday. It certainly breaks the 10% rule. And when you add on a 45 minute bike ride on Saturday and a 6 mile easy bike commute to and from Sunday’s race… what was I thinking?

I was thinking of one of my favourite run routes, great weather for being outdoors and catching up with some of my running buddies. And I did love getting out for a run. The feel of the cool fresh air and the astonished faces of those wrapped up to take their kids out on the scooters or throw a ball to their dog as around 100 runners dashed by along the seafront promenade and onto the beach.

The organisers stress this isn’t a race, it’s a run. We wear numbers, but there are no times. It encourages a friendly, low key feel. I was running with my friend Penny knowing she’s marathon training and had already clocked up a couple of miles before the start, so trying to keep my pace sensible – conversational pace we said. And we did have a nice chat for a while until I did my usual trick of hooning off over the beach. Sorry Penny. Thanks for sticking with me. I think I’ve proved I’m a lousy marathon training partner.

Up from the beach, we ran along the coastal path, a favourite route of mine in the summer. Today we were dodging muddy puddles and saying hello to the alpacas. At times the path was too narrow to run side by side so I struck out in front and then we caught back up by the road.

Ducking under the gate we ran downhill towards the marina and then on into the dene. The paths change shape here, muddier, narrower and more undulating. And I thought they would slow me down. But I was feeling good and strong and just enjoying the run, and Pen getting a fly in her eye dropped behind.

It was such a lovely day for a run. Cold, but not icy and in the shelter of the Dene, even the guy marshalling the stile remarked on me smiling. I knew there were a couple of uphills to come, but determined to run them.

The first passed easily on the road. The second came just after a fallen tree that we’d been warned about blocking our way. I ducked under the hollow and chose the road up a steep muddy bank to the top of the dene. I normally take the lower path alongside the river, with a hill at the end leading to the smoother waggonways.

I chased and passed a couple of runners on the upper path and despite keeping my eyes out for the path back down, I almost missed it. Running on my own now, I began to feel a bit of a tightness in my left leg and stopped for a few seconds to stretch out my hamstring and tighten my shoe laces.

I kept my eyes open for the other runners on the lower path and as I turned for the long straight route I knew would take me back to the start, I felt sure that Penny would be ahead.

The long road on the waggonways is deceptive. It’s a straightish path, and easier terrain underfoot than much of what’s gone before. But each brambly bush, each piece of vegetation hides another stretch of path ahead. And with few landmarks visible through the hedges, it seems to go on and on with no end in sight.

Now I started to pay for my earlier enthusiasm. Now I began to feel my form go, and my body drop. Here, where I could stretch out my legs, I could feel myself stumbling into a shuffle. I woke myself up with a shot of dried mango and told myself to pick my knees up, but it felt like I was grinding it out.

It reminded me of what it feels like to start building up distance again on the weekend long runs. For me, training for a half marathon over the summer, there’s always at least one or two that just feel like a slog towards the end. The ones where you’re really convincing yourself you have to stick to the mileage target.

Relax and enjoy, I said to myself, breaking down the remaining distance. Just about 20 more minutes to enjoy this run. Your legs will come back to you.

Even knowing the route and ticking off the markers, the underpass and the playing fields just ahead of the track didn’t make it any easier. I was afraid that trying to pick up any pace in the last half mile would mean I’d struggle to finish. Even when my feet hit the track I couldn’t wind it up.

Just 300m. I kept the same plodding rhythm down the first straight, then stuck tight to the line on the turn and forced my legs into a faster turnover. The last straight and less than 100m to go, I hit the sprint button at the relay marker and powered on for the line. A foolish trick as there was no one ahead to beat. But I enjoyed the adrenaline rush and it looks like I may be continuing TheScribbler’s sprint finishes at races in 2012. Well, it is Olympic year.

One of the best things about this run, apart from it being local, cheap and raising money for charity is the great spread of cakes and food put on by the club afterwards. I dived into the flapjacks and pop and had a lovely chat with one of the club members who had been lead bike on the course and caught up with a couple of running pals.

The ride home was quite hard work, into the wind and feeling the chill a little, but I took it steady and was soon enjoying a hot shower. My foot was niggling, so as soon as I was settled down with some lunch, I used an iced bottle to roll it and did plenty of stretching.

It does go to show the extra value that I get from training. When I’m focused on a specific event and training for it, it gives me an incentive to do the sessions, eat well and rest well. And that in turn does mean my performance improves. I’m not as endurance fit as I was in September, which shouldn’t come as any surprise, but it’s a useful reminder and another pat on the back for me for getting to that level of strength and fitness.

Stats and stuff:
7.47 miles 01:13:53
1) – 1m – 9:21(9:21/m) – 102cal
2) – 1m – 10:14(10:14/m) – 104cal
3) – 1m – 10:14(10:14/m) – 104cal
4) – 1m – 10:08(10:08/m) – 106cal
5) – 1m – 10:20(10:20/m) – 101cal
6) – 1m – 9:53(9:53/m) – 105cal
7) – 1m – 9:44(9:44/m) – 106cal
8) – 0.47m – 4:00(8:29/m) – 48cal

Bob on!

I’d forgotten how lovely this route is. Beach, cliff top paths, muddy trails, tree-lined woods, a river, a couple of stiles and a track finish – truly something for everyone. It was a joy to run today and to experience it anew through someone else’s eyes.

It’s rare for me to run back to back and the Run for Bob would be my longest run of the year so far. In fact, it’s probably my longest since the Great North Run (I’ll have to check that). So the plan was to just enjoy a nice social run, take it steady and clock it as my long run for the week. In the end I did a bit more than that.

Brrrr it was cold out! Frosty pavements at the coast and tales of significant snowfall inland. Lessons learned from yesterday’s parkrun I double layered my legs and wore my warmest base layer beneath my Fetch top.

I thought I was quite early as I went to register, but the club house was already busy with runners sheltering from the chill wind. It was great to see Jeff just relaxing and taking it easy ahead of his third race this weekend and the one he was going to blast out. We had a good old chinwag as usual.

As I was heading out to jog down to the start, a girl in a lovely blue Gore jacket caught me at the door and asked if I was going to the start and if so could she follow me. We chatted as we jogged down to the front at Whitley Bay and stretched to warm up. I pretty soon sussed out that she’s a decent runner, with a faster pace than me, but as we lined up at the start she asked if she could run with me.

And so Caroline became my companion on the Run for Bob, keeping me honest all the way round. Swapping stories of runs done and planned and how we got into it in the first place. It was great to hear her enjoy the scenery, running along the beach and through Holywell Dene. It reminded me of how lucky I am to live in such a beautiful place. I could do this every day if I wanted to, I thought as I ran along the sands. How fortunate am I?

Of course the chat made the miles go by very quickly. We were approaching 5 before I glanced at my watch and with 45 minutes on the clock I knew I’d been running well. I was surprised at how much of the route I remembered, not forgetting the tough old hill out of the Dene. But I picked my way up, still just about running and turned onto the waggonways knowing there wasn’t much further to go.

Pushing on the wider trail paths after the hill was hard and my legs were starting to protest. Caroline said she hoped she wasn’t slowing me down. I knew she was in fact pulling me on, keeping me going and helping to take my mind off my aching legs. But my breathing was calm and the chat continued all the way to the end. The promise of cake at the club house helped a lot too.

As the track approached I seriously wondered about my goal of a sprint finish to every race. As we entered the track, Caroline said, “Shall we stretch it out a bit here?” and showed her class as she effortlessly notched up another gear. I tried to push on, but it wasn’t coming, so decided to hold it until the last corner and then really put the pedal down.

Round the last bend and I kicked into a sprint. Not enough to catch my new running pal, but plenty to overtake another chap on the track and reward Jeff who was cheering me into the finish and who told me I was 47th. Thanks buddy.

I stopped the watch at 1 hr 09.50. I’d deliberately avoided looking at my last time for this route as I ran it in July, with some Great North Run training under my belt and Dave pushing me to a fast paced last mile. But I knew it wasn’t far off my previous time, and in the cold, with a bit of ice and mud, I am very happy with that.

Happy because I did what I intended and just enjoyed a lovely run in lovely surroundings. The fact I was fortunate to have a great companion all the way round was a big bonus. Caroline definitely kept me going and probably made me race it a little more than I would have if I’d been on my own. Thanks Caroline – I hope you find me online.

Cheery smiley marshalls and the promise of cake back at the clubhouse make this a really fun run. The flapjack was as tasty I remember it and hearing how well Jeff had done while scoffing down some post run treats was a great way to round off a Sunday morning running in the winter sunshine.

Stats and stuff:
7.49 miles 1.09.50
mile splits:
03.54 (0.49 miles)

Never mind the speed – look at the consistency of those splits!

Good run, good company

The first thing I saw as I pulled into the car park was a runner wearing a red t-shirt with Hayley on the back. It’s my friend Jeff, who is running today in memory of his lovely girlfriend who passed away suddenly and unexpectedly this week. There’s plenty of support for him today in the shape of other North East runners who know each other from races and the Fetch Everyone website. I know many of us has been thinking of him, so it’s good to see him have a cracking run that she would have been so proud of.

Runners on a track
Some of my North East running friends

This run was originally scheduled for January, so today’s sunshine was a pleasant difference, even if the wind threatened to be brutal. The organisers stress that this isn’t a race. There’s no one taking times and numbers. It’s just a nice run in company over a route of varied terrain. A low key start and away we go, over the footpaths and down to the promenade by the Rendezvous Cafe – part and parcel of my regular weekend run.

Last time I ran this route was in November, and then Dave kept me company all the way round. So it was nice to repeat that on a sunny day, matching each other for pace, making sure I didn’t go hooning off and keeping me going for pride’s sake on the last stretch when the legs were tiring.

Down to the beach and across the sands, we fall into the easy rhythm of run and chat, keeping things relaxed and easy. But it does mean I’m still not paying much attention to the route. Up the steps off the beach and towards the lighthouse, and we’re still on familiar ground for me, until we take off down the coastal paths and trails towards Seaton Sluice.

Here the long grasses brush my ankles and the soft dust blows up from the trails as the wind picks up and challenges me to keep both pace and breath. But I’m running strong and easy, just enjoying being out.

Down towards the King’s Arms and along the road, picking up the pace a little on more familiar tarmac. Then off on the trails again towards the water and the Dene. A short burst takes us past a couple of female runners on the narrow paths, but I soon pay for my cockiness as we enter the woods, and I stumble, lose my footing and career down a bank into a tree.

No damage done, save my pride. A couple of scratches to my elbow to match the one I picked up on my leg yesterday. I pick the sticks from my hair and try to get back on the pace. More running, less talking. I bring my breathing back under control and try to smooth out my running style again.

There are small rises here through the shade of the trees and I dig in and push on through most of them, remembering Dave’s son’s advice for hills – little steps and pick your feet up. I nearly baulk again at a style. Man, do I really shuffle me feet so low along the ground? Maybe I’m a bit too keen to keep pushing forward.

But this is a lovely run with a bit of everything. Today the ground is dry, bar a few stubborn puddles that are easily avoided. And the sunshine dapples through the trees as we seem to take a pretty straight route through the Dene.

There are a couple of paths where I’m very glad to have someone beside me who knows the route, as by now the smiling marshalls have petered out, and if we followed the pair just in front of us, we’d have gone the wrong way. But it’s all good, just running on nice trails through the woodland by the stream.

I’m pretty much a flat road runner, so I admit the last steep rise defeats me and I walk it. I have powered up this one on a much muddier day, but that was with a few rest and catch up stops along the way and by now my calves are feeling the effects of the last few miles. Dave, like the gent he is, slows down so I can catch him at the top.

I barely acknowledge the watch. I think in all I register a beep for 3 and then 6 miles. I notice the 6 mile pace is around 9.20 and I try to push on down the long wide stretch that will take us to the finish. But that last mile is tough. I’m hot and I’m flaking and losing my focus. Just breathe, keep it smooth, don’t let the niggles get to your head.

My niggly right shoulder rears its ugly painful head again. I know there’s not far to go, and I can run this off. Keep stretching out, get more from each pace, relax.

We pass a group out walking, enjoying this sunny day as much as we are, along the seemingly endless long stretch back to the clubhouse. Where’s the tunnel, the underpass? It appears suddenly and that’s the last I remember of my neck niggle.

I’d been warned before the start about the long run to the bottom of the track, so I was ready for it. But I was also thinking that I wasn’t sure if I did have a sprint finish in me after all.

Even so, with the clubhouse and finish in site, we’ve shifted up a gear and once on the track my old sprinter sense tackes over. Stick to the white line on the inside. It’s less than 300m. I decide to see if I can push it at 100.

Boom! Power down and we’re off. And suddenly there’s another gear and another. Arms pumping, no longer thinking about breathing, who says this isn’t a race? We power over the line 1 hr 07 mins 32 secs. The distance, by my Garmin is 7.49 miles.

Into the clubhouse for refreshments and cake and catching up with fellow runners and new friends – that’s my kind of run!

Stats: 7.49 miles 1 hr 07 mins 32 secs
Mile splits:
1. 08.32
2. 09.05
3. 08.56
4. 09.13
5. 09.11
6. 09:20
7: 08.58
8. 04.13 (0.49 miles)