Great North Run 2019

Can you spot me on the Tyne Bridge?

The last time I ran the Great North Run was in 2015 and to be honest I didn’t really enjoy training for or running it as much as I had in previous years. I wasn’t in a great state mentally, and training and running got mixed up in a whole load of a mess around stuff that was going on at work, low self-esteem and anxiety.

Anyway, onto 2019 and I’d decided I wanted a challenge to help me focus on run training. I wanted to have another go at a half marathon and ended up doing two. Edinburgh Half Marathon in May was excellent. The training was hard work, I questioned why I was doing it often, but eventually I had a few good runs and on the day, smashed my expectations out of the water, had a fantastic race and felt pretty epic.

So I had nothing to prove at Great North Run 2019. It’s a different type of course with , different conditions, so I didn’t feel under any pressure to try and beat my Edinburgh half time. My plan was just to run and enjoy it and remember what I loved about this race.

Training had gone okay. I’d done a few 10 milers in the build up to the race, and run consistently 2-3 times a week. I skipped one long run in favour of a lovely weekend cycling and enjoying the Edinburgh Book Festival. And I ran one race distance event two weeks before, on a lapped run where I stopped for water and food after each 5k lap.

I had a bit of a panic when I pulled something in my back a couple of weeks ago. But I managed to reduce the pain quite quickly and got a good sports massage on it in race week. It caused me no problems on race day.

I slept really well and woke up a little excited and just ready to get out there. My plan was to use the same approach as I had in Edinburgh, run at easy effort, not pay too much attention to my watch and just see how I felt. No pace bands, no pressure.

Race prep was standard, porridge with banana and honey, a small bottle of water sipped between walking over to the start line. It was bright and sunny, but not forecast to be too hot – around 16-18C. I remembered to slap on the sunscreen just before setting off.

I wandered through the gathering crowds and saw local legend Minnie Mouse (aka Anne) who is one of the few GNR all-timers. I’ve seen her at just about every GNR I’ve ever done, so that felt like an auspicious omen and after bumping into her, I made my way down towards the starting pens. I had loads of time before the hullaballoo started but didn’t want to waste energy wandering round too much. As I was walking down I spotted a Fetch pal from Scotland, Paul, sitting on the bank beside the central motorway. Perfect company for a bit of chat and chill. Just what I needed.

I left with my good wishes and hugs at about 10am and made my way further back to my white starting pen, where I watched the start of the elite races, the usual warm up and all the razzmatazz that goes with this race on the big screen. I was still feeling pretty relaxed and excited.

It took just over 20 minutes before I reached the start, pushed the button on my Garmin and was off. Under the flyovers, trying to keep it steady , enjoying the oggy oggy oggies through the tunnels.

On the Tyne Bridge I ran along the left hand side and got loads of shout outs from the spectators. I thought they were people I knew until I remembered my name was printed in big letters on my number. I tried to smile or thumbs up every one as they all gave me a real boost. There were loads of cheers and smiles from younger folks too who were pointing out the guys dressed in furry penguin suits running beside me. I hope that means I’m easier to spot in the traditional masses on the bridge photo!

Once over the Tyne Bridge, there’s not a lot in terms of scenic highlights. There was a sign on one of the bridges near Gateshead stadium that said something like “settle into your pace and enjoy the race” and that’s what I was doing. I got a shout out from my parkrun pals Angela and Jules and was feeling good.

It was pretty hot and sunny, so I had decided I would take on water when I could, with the first station being at 3 miles. I grabbed a bottle and kept moving and sipping.

At 4 miles I was feeling a bit tired in my legs. But the course goes uphill between 4 and 5 miles. It’s one of those deceptive long drags that you can’t really see, so I just put it down to that and pushed on.

But I could sense I was slowing down, even as my effort levels stayed the same. No real worries, maybe I had gone off a bit fast, although I didn’t think so. I ran through my mental checks – feet, knees, hips, core, shoulders, head. Yeah – all okay, although mentally I felt a bit vague and unfocused. I counted up to one hundred to engage my brain. Fine, I’ve slowed down a bit, it will come back to me.

I pushed on to 6 miles and then thought that the 10k sign took forever to appear. Half way and not feeling any more fluid or faster in my running. I gave myself a mental note to pick my feet up, get the cadence going, run light. The message didn’t seem to reach my legs.

Somewhere between mile 4 and mile 7, an ambulance went past and runners split to the sides of the course. I used it as an excuse to walk for 20-30 seconds in a bid to reset my head and get back into something that felt more like my usual running flow.

The vague feeling in my head continued. I grabbed water from another station and drank some, poured some over the back of my neck. I ran through a shower to cool down. I can’t tell you what order those things happened.

For a few brief moments I felt a bit wobbly and faint. I can only remember that because I’d stepped to the kerbside to walk for a bit and when I started running again, I was that annoying runner who steps out into someone’s path. I apologised and she was fine about it, but it was a sign for me that I wasn’t really paying attention to things as I usually would.

I walked again. I checked my watch and told myself I could walk for 1 minute, and started to shuffle again after about 50 seconds. I did a 10 min shuffle/run to 1 min walk option a few times and then the walking breaks got longer.

I bypassed sweeties and ice pops offered by the supporters who were out in droves. But I grabbed an orange segment and ate it like a flesh-devouring zombie, then tried to get back into a running rhythm again.

Crossing the finish line after 13.1 miles

The run never really came back to me. Mentally it was a bit frustrating. I couldn’t pinpoint anything that was wrong, or injured or hurting. When I did run, I felt like I was shuffling along at a very slow pace. My legs just felt like they had no power in them.

I’m really pleased that I didn’t allow this to become a stick to beat myself with. I have been ridiculously, stupidly hard on myself when my head has gone in other races. No pressure, really meant no pressure this time and I just plugged on as best as I could.

At around 10 miles I got my phone out to record something for the Fetch Everyone podcast as a welcome distraction and a way of me making the positive mental action real.

After struggling with running and letting go of any sense of pace, I found it easier to deal with what are traditionally the hardest bits of the course. My breathing and effort was relaxed and although I felt some muscles in my legs starting to seize up, I kept going. All along the John Reid Road, past the Nook and onto Prince Edward Road blurred into one. I took some encouragement from a runner from Cheshire who was urging a runner called Becky on. It was nice to hear a North West accent.

There was the sea at last. Just down the hill, turn left and run the longest mile of your life to the finish. And I did run. Or at least what passed for running by that point. It was a point of pride not to walk and to smile and thumbs up and thank everyone who called out my name again.

I know this is a long mile, but still the 20k banner almost caught me out and that last kilometre went on forever, but finally I saw the guys and girls in uniforms that really mark the end of the course. What a welcome sight. They lifted my spirits as I made a bit of a dash for the line, remembered to throw a winning pose and smile for the cameras and stopped. 2:50:17 – 30 minutes slower than I ran at Edinburgh Half Marathon.

Post finish was a bit of a blur. Got my bottle of water and headed for the medals, remembering to stick to the lane nearest the sea where parkrun friend Sumanth presented me with my bling and had a bit of a chat. Picked up my goodie bag and dove towards a space on the grass where I could dig into it and find something to eat. The Clif bar vanished in seconds. The tub of tuna… maybe not!

As I posted on various social media, it wasn’t my day for a good run but I did have a good day and I’m pleased about that. But I’m still puzzling out why I feel a bit dissatisfied, like I have unfinished business with the half marathon/GNR. I guess I’m looking for reasons why there was such a big drop off between my performance at Edinburgh Half and GNR. A couple of days on I’m resigning myself to the fact that there may be many small reasons or none at all. It’s just one of those things.

I am very proud that I’ve now completed 7 Great North Runs and on this one I was supported not just by all those brilliant people who stood at the roadsides cheering on over 50,000 runners, but by friends and family who always wish me well and who have helped me raise funds for CARE International UK.


Back to running

Me running through Fetchppint at the Great North Run

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.

Running challenges

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.

The plan

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

Losing the gremlins in the woods

I’m focusing on running at the moment, trying to make the most of four run sessions a week – usually a couple of 10ks, a 30 min interval set and a long, slow run. It’s hard. It’s been a long time since I’ve focused on just running, but in a way, it’s good to go back to where it all started. I’d just forgotten how much it takes to get out and do it, to tackle to tough sessions and push myself further and faster.

The plan was to run 10k , so I set out under grey skies and light drizzle with around an hour’s running in mind. It being a longer run, I was kind to my feet and chose my old trainers, ones I knew would get me through the distance without my toes feeling like they were being blitzed by fire and ice.

There’s a 5k route that I use quite often, away from traffic but over decent paths and light trails. I set along it feeling heavy legged and bodied. No bounce, more a shuffle. I made a conscious effort to think about my form, land light, pick up my feet, ease into the run, relax.

I grumbled round the loop, negative thoughts floating through my synapses. ‘Why am I doing this? It’s meant to be fun? This doesn’t feel like fun. I’m so much slower than I was. I expect too much. I’m not getting any younger. This will keep on getting harder.’

Sometimes they threatened to stick and form goals ‘I could just go and run my home race for fun… I should drop Alnwick tri… I should pull out of that standard tri, just do the sprint’. Of course, I could do all of those things, I just need a better reason than mental gremlins made me do it.

Rather than completing my usual 5k loop and running it twice, I extended it on through to a nature reserve.  The trees alongside the narrow path are woody and spindly, not showing their spring greens yet. But the shade and the renewed focus on finding my feet along the trail seemed to lift my thoughts and before I knew it, I’d outpaced the gremlins and left them stumbling through the woods, unable to follow me.

I started to breathe a little easier, feel the flow of movement a little more naturally. The path continued and I was enjoying myself, so I followed it, hoping that I’d remember a route from years ago as I came across the landmarks.

I didn’t. I thought there was a style. There was a gate and a main road. I thought I could run alongside on the verge for a little way and then turn in by a big tree. I didn’t find the tree, but I did find a sort of path at the edge of a field, heading in the right sort of direction, so I followed it.

I wasn’t lost. Just exploring. At any point I could have retraced my steps and found a familiar path. But I didn’t want to go back. I wanted to go forward. My route took me over some rather rough ground, and eventually back onto a tarmaced footpath pretty close to where I first entered the nature reserve.

Earlier thoughts of cutting the run short had been banished. I’d come so far and enjoyed my little off road adventure, I would see out at least an hour’s running or more. I found something like pace. Legs which had grumbled and begged me to slow down at the start seemed willing to push on after an 8k warm up and I completed my distance target.

As always, I felt so much better for doing it. And reflecting on my run, there were far more positives than the gremlins could throw negatives at me.

My first race of the season is a 10k road race. I can run the distance. I’ve done it a few times recently and will do a few more before race day. I can do it after a heavy week’s training on legs tired from weight training. And I can lose the gremlins along the way, and actually enjoy a run that didn’t start out that way.

Now to find a bit more pace and my racing head…

Long run Sunday

There are plenty of us at it at the moment. Working out the when, the how, the where. Where’s a good place to meet? How long will it take? Of course, there are those who will do it on a weekday, but for most of us, it’s the weekend or bust.

The long run is the feature of many a runner’s weekend. A chance to test the legs over an increasing distance; to make sure your trainers are well worn in;  to try out strategies for eating and drinking on the run; or just to get the miles in.

There are always runners a-plenty at the North East coast where I run. But at this time of year, they seem to increase in number. Like migrating birds, they are drawn to feats of endurance, travelling further and further towards their summer breeding ground of the Great North Run, their plumage a rainbow of charity T-shirts.

Last weekend, I ran on legs already wearied from a day enjoying the sights and sounds of the Edinburgh festival. I set out later than usual and paid the price in heat and sweat and hard work. It was not one of my most enjoyable runs and it did make me question why I want to do this half marathon.

This weekend was better planned. With the weather threatening to be hot again, I was up and out to make the most of a cooler morning. I’d changed my mind about driving to run a different route and stuck to the coast, where I knew the air was likely to be cooler.

I took my iPod, but for most of the first part of the run, I was just happy to be out with my own thoughts and enjoy the relative quiet of the morning. I started by heading out towards North Shields Fish Quay and ran along by the mouth of the river. It’s a route with a steep down hill and then a little sequence of uphill stretches before you hit the flat at the coast again.  But I figured I’d get the hills out of the way early.

As I passed by, a couple were looking out over the rocky foreshore with binoculars. The lady called out for me to see something wonderful and I stopped to see a curlew, wading in between the rocks with its long curved beak. I often see oyster catchers and gulls, and this year has been rich with swifts and swallows, but I don’t think I’ve seen a curlew here before.

So, onto the run and a slow climb up by Tynemouth Priory and then out along the coastal path in the sunshine, under blue skies. I began to pass more runners and see more cyclists here, most with a wave or a smile.

I plugged in my headphones for a bit of a musical boost, trying to increase the turnover of my legs and pick up the pace a little. It worked quite well, and there are a couple of faster miles that I attribute to listening to Eminem, Lose Yourself, which always makes me pick my feet up to the driving bass beat.

Mindful of the temperature, I had a couple of brief stops to slurp a few drops and splash my face with water, but I never felt particularly thirsty. And I actually felt like I eased into the run as I got a few more miles in. By the time I turned at the lighthouse, I was feeling relaxed, running easy and in control.

A couple of times on the way back I picked up the pace, but really I wasn’t paying any attention to my watch or how fast I was going. I was just running to feel and listening to the bleeps that told me I’d clocked up another kilometre.

A couple of girls passed me as I stopped for another splash of water and later I used them as a target to chase down, keeping my pace up as I approached the end of my run. I had planned to run 20k, and was a bit short of that target as I reached the turn off for home, so I backtracked for about a kilometre or so and we passed each other again with a smile of recognition.

Last week I was grinding out the distance, willing the watch to countdown to the end. This week I felt strong and in control on rested legs, so I pushed just a little further, allowing myself a last kilometre at warm down speed before stopping and stretching.

For all the running and training I enjoy, a half marathon is still quite a challenge for me. And even though I’ve run the distance before, I still take a deep breath before taking it on. Now I know I have the endurance, both physically and mentally to cover the distance this year, I’ll be looking to see if I can pick up something approaching last year’s pace in the next four weeks before race day on 16 September.

So, why do I do it? Well partly because it’s the world’s biggest half marathon and it has an enormous atmosphere that’s unlike almost any other race I’ve ever done. I do it because I like a challenge, a purpose for my training and because it isn’t easy. And in 2012 I’ll be doing it in Olympic year in the company of two athletic legends, Mo Farah and Haile Gebrselassie.

And I do it, like so many of those other runners I saw out today, putting the miles in, getting hot, sweaty and uncomfortable, for charity. To give something back, to raise money for a good cause, and to remember someone who meant something in our lives.

In my case, it’s for Ava, the baby sister we never got to know, much anticipated and loved before she got here. There’s been a bit of discussion and awareness of stillbirth in the news just recently, with the sad news that Gary Barlow and his family lost their little girl Poppy. It’s horribly sad news for them and I do wish them happier times in future. But I welcome the awareness that this happens, and happens all too often in the UK.

Every day in the UK 17 families go through the grief of losing a baby at birth or soon after. Through my own experience, I’ve had the privilege of meeting or hearing about some of their experiences. And that just makes me more determined to do what I can, however small, to support Sands who not only support families through these sad times, but also fund research and make recommendations about healthcare practices to help reduce the number of deaths. So, here’s a link to my fundraising page. I’ll not go on about it, but if you can support me, I really do appreciate it. And if you can’t make a donation, leave me a message, because that will spur me on too.

Bridges of the Tyne 5 mile road race

It’s always fun to try out a new race, and this was a brand new addition to the North East’s racing calendar. New and fast growing club Tyne Bridge Harriers did a fantastic job of their inaugural race, getting all the ingredients right for an event that I hope will become a regular on the calendar.

I made my way down to Newcastle’s quayside straight after work, under grey skies and a persistent drizzle. Meeting up at the race HQ at the Tyne pub, I saw lots of familiar faces from parkrun and local running clubs, and it looked like it was set to be a very speedy crowd.

Runners hanging around before the start of the race
Catching up on running gossip ahead for the race (Photo: Mick Durnion)

I caught up with some friends and was able to wish good luck to Karen and her mum Isobel, running her first race in preparation for the Great North Run in September. And I caught up with a couple of girls I’d met at the start of the Blaydon Race. Running really is a very friendly sport.

I picked up my race pack, complete with number, and a very nice technical T-shirt and took advantage of the plentiful safety pins to get myself ready for a quick warm up, before a good walk back down to the Quayside to find the start line.

I hadn’t actually worked out where the start would be, and it was a good bit further along than I thought, but the walk, even in the drizzle was a nice warm up and the rain sodden skies weren’t dampening anyone’s spirits. Goodness knows what those drinking in the Pitcher and Piano thought of a stream of lycra clad runners passing by though.

No sooner were we all together than we were off and racing along the flat pavements of the quayside towards the Tyne Bridge, complete with Olympic rings.

With potential hazards of street furniture taped up or protected by marshals, I wasn’t aware of anyone having trouble negotiating the course, which is a fast out and back along beside the river. A few cheery spectators gave us a shout or a wave as we passed and the fishermen further up river looked on with amusement.

The route basically follows the smooth riverside paths, with runners passing beneath the Tyne’s bridges up towards the business park. Here there is a small incline to round the waymarker for the sea to sea cycle route and then it’s back along the same paths, giving slower runners like me a good chance to cheer on speedier pals.

Tyne Bridge with the Olympic rings
Costa del Quayside (Photo: Mick Durnion)

After my injury in the first part of the year, and my recent tri focus, I don’t feel like I’ve raced properly on a run other than at Blaydon this year. My thinking going into it, was just to give it a blast and see how my pace is coming along. So I went out fast, with a tactic of go hard and see how long I could keep going.

After talking to Ian on Monday night at our kettlebell session, I also tried to focus on shortening my stride and turning my legs over quickly, trying to run more on the mid/forefoot, rather than stretching my legs out and braking with a heel strike.

It felt good to be running quickly and just pushing it at the edge of where my breathing felt comfortable and where it began to get a bit too stressed out. I’ve been doing a lot of ‘running easy’ as I recovered and I still enjoy just easing into a longer run, but I need to remind myself of how it feels to run when it hurts a bit. My PBs didn’t come running easy.

With the wide pavements and space on the Quayside, I found I had plenty of space to run and very much ran my own race. I deliberately kept clear of the Garmin, just giving it the odd glance, but really running to feel and trying to keep pushing at the edge of what was comfortable

I’m sure I went through patches where I eased off to catch my breathing and I know I started to drift off my fast starting pace after two miles. But I was pleased I still had the mental race focus to keep pushing, find a rhythm and stay in the race.

I was chasing a group of three Tyne Bridge Harriers girls at the turn. They came past me on the grass, then I caught them, before one put on a spurt of speed and broke away. I ran alongside one of them for a while until she too dropped back.

But I can’t remember many passing me in the last two miles and as I started to really feel the strain, particularly with just over a mile to go, I kept trying to focus just ahead and inch in the distance to the next runner.

Me and a couple of all4Ali runners
Cathcing up with the All4Ali runners post race (Photo: Mick Durnion)

The next runner in this case was a girl in a blue t-shirt with a justgiving link written across the back of it. She had a few walking breaks and each time I tried to reel her in. But she must have been a tasty runner as, no sooner had I eaten away at the gap between us, than she lengthened it out again as soon as she started running. So I never did get close enough to read the whole of the link.

With the finish approaching and a few shouts of encouragement, I kicked it up a notch for a sprint over the line and was pleased to stop my watch with 44:xx on the clock. That’s an average of 9 min miles, and considering I’ve been running at more like 10 min miles recently, I’m very happy with that.

As I cheered in some of the remaining runners, I also caught up with the team in the blue fundraising T-shirts and was delighted to find they were from a group of local running and triathlon clubs All4Ali raising money for North of England Children’s Cancer research. I knew of their fundraising efforts from my Twitter pal Adi, who I ‘met’ at the Northumberland triathlon, so it was nice to hear how they were getting on and say hello. The north east running and triathlon world is a very friendly and supportive one.

Stats and stuff:

5 miles 44:27
1)  – 1m – 8:29(8:29/m) – 103cal
2)  – 1m – 8:48(8:48/m) – 104cal
3)  – 1m – 9:00(9:00/m) – 104cal
4)  – 1m – 9:07(9:07/m) – 105cal
5)  – 1m – 9:03(9:03/m) – 104cal

Race results


Race calendar

I’ve added a race calendar to my blog, so you can see what races I have coming up and also find links to some of my old race reports.

I mainly race in the North East of England where there are plenty of great events to enjoy, including a good number of triathlons.

I find out about local races from the excellent, and through word of mouth.

Triathlons and other multisport events are covered by VO2MaxRacing events and Tri Hard

I’ve not included every parkrun I’ve done, as it would be a very long list. But I have linked to the odd one or two, particularly when I’ve run in a different location. Parkrun is a free weekly, timed 5k run and they take place all over the UK and now all over the world too.  My home parkrun is Newcastle on the Town Moor.

Pacing my recovery

Pulling together my last swimming blog means I didn’t mention a pretty good weekend of training, including my return to running at Newcastle parkrun. And now I find myself a week on and catching up.

Last Saturday was as perfect as you’re likely to get on the Town Moor, a spot of spring sunshine and practically no breeze. There were certainly plenty of runners out. My plan was for a steady run. My back to run programme had a 30 minute run on it, so I figured that would be okay to get me round the course. Keeping my pace steady seems to be the key to preventing pain in my heel and plantar. So this was definitely one to treat as a training run.

I did a good 5 minute warm up with walking, knee lifts and heel kicks, just like I’ve been doing before every run. Then I got a bonus warm up as a couple of Northumbria Uni students took us through some jogging and stretches before the start.

I shuffled back through the crowds and stood with Penny, but I knew she would be off and away from the start. It felt good to be running on the moor again, among the happy crowd of parkrunners. I resisted the urge to surge off fast, and just kept telling myself easy, easy, easy as I approached the first km marker.

In two weeks’ time I’m going to be running 5 miles around the Olympic park, so I wanted to build up time on my feet and get a feel for what would be a sensible pace. It’s been tough to just run and not worry about pace too much as I recover from this plantar fasciitis. What I thought of as slow, easy pace, wasn’t really on the first couple of test runs and it made the recovery afterwards painful.

So the plan for parkrun was 9 min miles and at the first kilometre I was slightly ahead. A cheery thank you to Malcolm on the gate and off down the tree-lined path along Grandstand Road.

As I turned back onto the moor and along the rougher path, I caught up with Penny. After checking she was okay, we fell into step together. That really helped keep me going at the same pace through kms 3-4 as by now, that easy pace was starting to feel about as much as I wanted to do.

For once, the slight headwind into the last kilometre provided a bit of welcome coolness and running together, I could tell we were trying hard as the conversation dropped to a minimum. I was just happy to be out and running, not feeling any issues or problems and I think we picked up the pace a little as we approached the last turn.

I couldn’t resist giving my legs a quick turnover and putting on the power down the final straight. Not full pelt, top speed by any means, but I felt confident enough to give a quick finish a try.

A warm down and catch up over coffee rounded off a lovely morning. And it was great to get my parkrun text result. I enjoy volunteering, but it is nice to run too.

I pottered around the rest of the day, doing chores and made my first ever batch of lemon curd after getting some lovely unwaxed lemons in our veg box this week. I was a bit disappointed to feel a small tight spot in my heel by late afternoon. I rolled and stretched it, but it was still there and remained there even after my swim with the tri club, which often shakes these things out.

On the positive side, this plantar fasciitis is diminishing, but it’s a good reminder that I need to continue being cautious. Maybe 9 min miling around a 5k was a bit too much and I should have slowed down even more, but until I try it, I don’t know. And during a run, I generally feel okay.

I think that’s been the hardest part about dealing with this injury. I have never really had the kind of running fitness that would allow me to rock up and run a half marathon any weekend, but I have had enough to do a decent 10k on a regular basis for a couple of years. And now those 6 plus miles look as far away as they did the first time I ever set myself that goal.

I have the North Tyneside 10k rapidly approaching. It’s my home race. It goes past the bottom of my street and I run much of the route as part of my training. If things had been different this year, I’d have been building towards it, running fast intervals and working on my speed, pushing for a PB.

I know that’s not the case this year, and barring any drastic setbacks, I am happy just to run it for fun and the goody bag. But in my mind, running it fairly easily was still translating at around 9 min miles, which was my half marathon pace last year. Now I think that’s probably still a bit ambitious as I continue to recover.

I can’t unlearn what I know about pacing. Even if I don’t wear my watch I have a good idea about how fast I’m going and I’m quite good at finding a pace and sticking to it. So, no pressure, no unreasonable expectations, just a comeback run, but I do need a target pace to set myself off, or else I risk getting carried away and hitting it too hard.

I also managed a lovely ride out on my road bike on Sunday. I’ve been a bit nervous about getting the roadie out again, but within minutes I was enjoying the sensation of speed and the smooth transitions through the gears. such a difference from my trusty old mountain bike.

We raced together up the coast, enjoying the sunshine, into the wind. On the way back, on a downhill, with the wind behind me, I dropped and tucked and carried much of that rush all the way home again. And I knew, I’d fallen in love with Alice, my road bike again.

I’d been riding with flat pedals after losing my confidence with clipped in last year, but after such a brilliant ride, I took her to the bike shop and got her fitted out with some new ones. I’ve gone for mountain bike style clip ins this time and a dual option pedal which will allow me to ride with or without bike shoes. They may not be the sleekest or lightest pedals, but they should allow me to build up my confidence again and get used to clipped in riding before my first tri of the year in May.

So a weekend of running, swimming and cycling. Can’t wait for tri season!

What I’ve learned about plantar fasciitis

What is plantar fasciitis?

The plantar fascia is a thick band of tissue (like a ligament) that stretches from your heel to your toes. It supports the arch of your foot and acts as a shock-absorber when you walk or run. Plantar fasciitis is inflammation of this band of tissue.

It’s most likely caused by repeated small injuries over time, so if you do a lot of walking, running or spending time on your feet. It’s sometimes called ‘policeman’s heel’ as officers walking the beat were said to be commonly affected and the pain is usually felt on the underside of the foot near the heel.

Typical symptoms include pain which is worse first thing in the morning or after a period of rest. It often eases off as you move around, but can be triggered again by a long walk, run or just being on your feet.

My experience
I first felt a bruised sensation in the heel of one foot after training and running which didn’t go away after a couple of days. It was more noticeable first thing in a morning.

I hadn’t been pounding out lots of miles or running much more than I usually did. But I had been running with a club and doing hill sprints and short sprints – both of which would naturally force me more onto my toes. I am a bit of a speed demon and enjoyed the sensation of the sprint sessions, but they may well have contributed to my injury. Or it may just have gradually built up over time.

It’s a pretty common and frustrating injury among runners, so I quickly found plenty of sympathetic and useful advice.


  • Don’t keep running on it
    Pretty obvious really. An injury caused by impact is unlikely to improve if you keep pounding the pavements or trails. The problem is that it can seem to come and go.In my case, it never hurt enough to really make me wince. And it very rarely hurt when I was running. So I would rest for a few days and try a run again, find that it hurt afterwards, rest again and repeat.
  • Rest it
    The words runners hate to hear. Resting is what you do after a long run, ahead of your next run. Resting feels like wasting time when you could be training.The problem with the plantar fascia is that it’s slow healing and because of where it is, you’re unlikely to be able to fully rest it. It took me a long time to realise that even a short lunchtime walk could upset it.Some gentle movement, exercise and stretching can help loosen up the plantar fascia and encourage it to heal.
  • Get some advice and treatment
    There are simple things you can do to help treat plantar fasciitis at home. Icing the area intensely can help reduce the inflammation and ease the pain. But it’s a case of getting an ice pack on for 20 minutes at a time 3 or 4 times a day, not just 5 minutes with a pack of frozen peas.Other home-made treatments include rolling your foot over a bottle of iced water, or giving yourself a foot massage with a golf ball to really get into the sore spots and break down any patches of stiffness.One useful exercise for stretching the plantar fascia was to put a towel on the floor and try and pick it up with my toes. I’d often do this one standing at the sink brushing my teeth in a morning. 
  • Cross train
    You can keep your fitness up with non-impact exercise like cycling and swimming. I learned to enjoy the cardio effect of an indoor row bike row session instead of a run. Just watch out for those exercise classes where you might be jumping or hopping and putting impact on that foot.

What I learned:
I did all of the above, but also made the mistake of trying to keep running at the kind of pace and intensity I had been used to after a few days’ rest.

But I realised that a cycle of run, hurt, rest… run, hurt, rest was ultimately fruitless and eventually I went to seek advice from a sports physio. That really marked the start of me better understanding and beginning to treat it. He looked at the way I stood and walked, did some manipulation on my foot and generally prodded around until it really hurt.

In my case, it’s linked into the fact that I pronate (in simple terms, my knees pull inwards a little). I already wear orthotics, special insoles that help position my feet to correct this. But that same instability meant that I was putting added pressure on my plantar fascia.

I’ve had several weeks of treatment and been given lots of exercises to do to either loosen up the plantar fascia or strengthen the muscles in my calves and foot to try and get them pulling in the right direction. Because of the tightness in my plantar, my calf muscles also became very stiff and tight and I had to have some deep sports massage to loosen them up too.

The key for me has been to persist and to be patient. So I keep doing the exercises and stretches, even when there’s no pain. I keep a golf ball in my desk drawer and try to roll my foot over it once a day at least.

Losing the simple freedom and adrenaline buzz of even a short run, did affect my mood and made me more likely to reach for the comfort food. And self massaging your foot or calves with a foam roller, golf ball or iced bottle hurts. Sometimes you really don’t want to do it. But afterwards it does feel better.

I’ve also had to ease back into running again. My physio wrote out a plan to help me return to running and it was just like starting over with a 5 minute walk and a 1 minute run. Unfortunately, my speed demon tendencies had me trying to run that minute at my fastest pace and by the end of the session, I’d really aggravated my plantar again.

So I learned to slow down, run easy. And to take note of the drills I’d do in the running breaks, knee lifts and heel kicks, fast feet and lateral shuffles – designed to switch on the running muscles, especially the glutes and to encourage me to pick up my feet quickly.

I’m not sure if I’ve managed to change the way I run in only a few weeks. But I’m more conscious of trying to land lightly and pick up my feet, but avoid pushing off my toes.

It is getting better. But it is a frustrating injury that can seem fine one minute day and then be back again the next. I’m very much hoping that I’ll be back to running regularly and building up time on my feet again soon.

Sources of information:

Running by numbers 2010

I’ve promised myself a nice long blog over the Christmas break to reflect on my amazing running year, but in the meantime, here are some interesting numbers:

18 races completed (including 6 parkruns)
2 cancelled/postponed
1 dual event
1 run outside the UK
7 PBs
5 PBs at distances/races I’ve run more than once (1 mile, 5k, Blaydon Race, Pier to Pier, Great North Run)
3 radio interviews
1 picture in Running Free magazine
£1,433.60 raised for Sands in memory of baby Ava

4 races entered in 2011 already (and lots more planned)

But the most important is the number of friends I have made through running and Fetch Everyone this year. And that’s more than I care to count.

Thank you and Merry Christmas one and all.

Wind assisted and resisted

One of the advantages of dropping my cross training in the last couple of weeks leading up to the Great North Run is that I now have more options for when I can fit a run in.

Squally, wintry weather this morning with horizontal rain and howling gales meant I scrapped the idea of an early wake up call and settled for an extra snooze. Well, rest is very important too.

But that still meant there was a run to do. And with the sun making an appearance at lunchtime and the wind dropping, an early evening jaunt along the coast was just the thing.

Three runners passed my way as I was stretching and as I set off I fought the urge to catch them. Just steady, steady – a nice, relaxed evening run. A recovery run if you like from Sunday’s 12 miler.

My strides felt bouncy. It was good to be out, fresh and clean in the storm tossed air. The grey waves lashed up a fine mist into the chill, coating my glasses with a smear of salty soft-focus.

Easy breathing, easy pacing, but don’t kid yourself that’s a cross wind. It’s behind you.

A sub 9 minute first mile. It’s going to hurt on the way back. Another race pace mile and another, and it’s feeling free, easy and relaxed. The trick now is to maintain this effort and this pace. Not to go faster, even though my legs say they have it in them.

And then at the lighthouse comes the turn. Into the wind. It will slow me, but I stay calm against its buffeting, stay relaxed and focus on maintain the same level of effort as those easy first miles, resisting the temptation to take on the battle.

Runners, runners everywhere tonight. Free and easy, working hard, working fast. I catch one on the return leg and pass her. But she’s not having it and overtakes me again within a few hundred metres. I tell myself to stick with my run. She might be doing intervals.

My aim is to keep the same effort even though the wind is whittling away my pace. But I’m close to home now, just over a mile to go and my racing blood is up. I’ve kept this steady and easy so far. Can I turn it on into this force of resistance?

Stretch out the stride and make every inch of those legs count. I catch her again with around half a mile to go and turn up the gear a notch. Another gear, and another and I’m flying into the wind, smiling into the sea-spray.

Running with the wind in my hair and feeling faster than ever, right up to the finish line. 7.5 miles done and feeling good. You know the training’s paying off when you can run that distance on a week night and it feels relatively easy. It wasn’t always that way, and I’m sure that after the Great North Run there will come a time when I’ll wonder how I did it.

Stats and stuff:
7.5 miles/ 12.07km 1hr 09.42
mile splits:
1. 08.52
2. 09.06
3. 08.56
4. 09.05
5. 09.57
6. 10.01
7. 09.11
8. 04.31 (0.5 miles)