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.


Great North Run 2012

Me at the finish of the Great North Run 2012 with T-shirt, medal and Red Arrows fly past
Celebrating my fourth half marathon finish at the Great North Run 2012

This is probably going to be a bit of a jumble, as I try to sort out my thoughts and impressions of an amazing day. But that’s what the Great North Run is like. It takes you through highs and lows, brings smiles and tears, pain and pleasure. Even after four years, I still find it a bit overwhelming and need a bit of time to process it.

Let’s go back a bit. Last year I ran my target time like my life depended on it. I was on a sub 2 hour mission and nothing was going to stand in my way. This year, I deliberately didn’t set out with a time target in mind. Recent runs have suggested that with a bit of luck and on a good day, I could go close to 2 hours, but I didn’t really feel the desperate urge to prove anything over this distance again.

So my watchwords were relax and enjoy. And relax and enjoy meant that I did some other races in the lead up to this race that I loved doing. It also meant that I ran the day before the race – which I wouldn’t normally do. But when Tony the Fridge asks you to join him for his last mile before the big day, you don’t say no.

And so I found myself soaking up the sunshine, running the last 1.1 miles of the route behind a man carrying a fridge, a junior football squad and a dozen Harley Davisons. The traffic coming the other way tooted  their horns, we clapped and sang and it was just a mad unforgettable moment.

And the people at the Great North Run finish were kind enough to open up the finish line a day early for us to run through. So technically I got there a lot earlier than even the elite runners!

Anyway, onto the big day. And so much was different this year. I felt nice and relaxed and barely nervous at all. I went through the usual routine of breakfast, kit and getting a lift to the start line.

One of the first people I saw as I made my way to cross the media bridge was Anne Wilson, one of the few women to have run every Great North Run, usually dressed as she was today as Minnie Mouse. Now she doesn’t know me, but she stopped for a chat, and I was thrilled to wished well by such a lovely lady. Hope to see you at parkrun soon Anne.

Then something really unexpected happened and I saw my Fetch friend Mark Willett at the start. For the past three years we have managed to say hello to each other at the finish, and Mark was one of the first Fetchies I ever met. It was really good to see him. It doesn’t feel like a Great North Run unless we see each other, so I’m glad that tradition continues.

I continued wandering, not sure whether to get into the starting place already or whether I’d need the loo a couple more times (I did). And then I found myself a bit adrift as Eric Robson began to speak over the microphone and I knew what was coming.

It’s the moment that always gets me. In many ways, it’s what the Great North Run is about. It’s soppy and sentimental. But that’s Geordies for you – big on heart.

Before all the elites get introduced to the crowd, before the mass warm up and the hullaballoo, there is a moment of reflection, a moment to remember why we run and the people who can’t be there to see us do it. They play Abide with Me and I have a little cry. Do it every year. Some years more than others. My first run for Ava – well, that was very emotional.

This year, I just went a bit wobbly bottom lipped and looked around a bit lost, not knowing what to do. And then I heard a bloke, obviously quite upset saying, “I haven’t got any tissues”, and I knew I had (essential start line kit). So I passed him one and the lady with him, seeing I was a bit upset, asked if I was on my own and gave me a big hug.

And that’s why this isn’t just a race. The Great North Run isn’t just a mass half marathon. It’s something a bit special. Something that brings strangers together to share in a moment. To be human and decent and amazing. And I’m a soft old (adopted) Geordie too.

So thanks Steve, running for Cancer Research for your mum. I hope you had a brilliant day and finished smiling.

Crumbs, I better get on and tell the tale of the run hadn’t I?

It was a longish walk back from the start to my starting pen in White Zone F, but I did get to see Mo Farah being interviewed on TV from a distance. Then it was into the starting pen and warm up as usual, except this year I couldn’t see the screen or hear what was going on down the front end so well.

The Red Arrows flew over, which is always a great moment, but unlike previous years, I didn’t really start to get excited until we started to move forward, walking towards the start of the race. That’s when I got really lucky and spotted an Elvet Striders vest just ahead. I nipped through and tapped Jacquie on the shoulder and then realised I was in among a group of runners from the friendliest club in the North East, including Alister Robson and Greta Jones. And that’s how I ended up running the first few miles with the Striders 2 hour pace bus.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. For first we had to start, and with 55,000 runners this can take some time. Normally I’m not that bothered about high fiving the starters and just want to get on with the run. But this year we had Olympians at the start  – Mo Farah, Nicola Adams, Greg Rutherford and Ellie Simmonds.

Now, I am a bit of an Ellie fan. They are all awesome and I would be proud to shake the hand of any of them, but Ellie is my girl. I think it’s because she’s a swimmer and she seems to really enjoy competing and isn’t afraid to show her emotions. She surprised us all at the Beijing Olympics and then went and proved she is just a class act in London.

And I high fived her. And Greg Rutherford. And shouted like a loon “I love you Ellie! I love you Greg!” And it absolutely made my day. (Told you I was a soft old Geordie). In fact I was so distracted by it, I didn’t start my watch until I was over the line.

But now we were running, our race had started and I stuck with the Elvet crew, listening to Alister’s sound advice on pacing, taking it easy on the ups and not going off to fast, enjoying the downs and keeping our heads up, looking for the cameras.

It was brilliant. Giving over the stress of pace to the group meant I stayed relaxed and running easy. In fact, I clocked my slowest ever first mile of the race. This may not sound like a good thing to non runners, but it’s easy to get carried away at the start of a long race like this one and run too fast, only to pay for it later. Pacing can be really important on longer races and I have traditionally done the first one of this one too fast.

This time we were spot on target (or just a bit under) and heading for the Tyne Bridge, enjoying the crowds gathered up around the Central motorway. Over the bridge and I was watching out for Ian and Kelda, but failed to spot them. But I did see my friend Penny and Paul and gave them a shout. Sometimes it’s easier for runners to spot spectators than the other way round!

Anyway, on across the bridge, smiling and enjoying the best bit of the run as the band play The Blaydon races and we turn onto the Felling bypass. Somewhere along here I saw Tony the Fridge, and ran in front of him, blowing kisses to him and his wife Janita. I was on a high!

The miles were ticking over nicely with the Elvet crew. We weren’t saying much to each other, but it was nice to run with a small group. Some miles felt easy, others I thought  the pace was getting a bit tasty. My plan, such as it was, was to run at about 9 min mile pace for as long as I could stand it, then back off if I needed to.

Almost from the start, I had a sense that it wasn’t going to be a great run like last year. Despite the company, despite feeling nice and relaxed, I just felt it wasn’t there today. No particular reason, other than, I didn’t have the heart for it today. I wanted to run, to run well, to push myself. But I didn’t have the burning desire to go and really have it.

At between 4 and 5 miles, I dropped a bit behind the Elvet crew. I kept them in sight for a good while, but then at one of the roundabouts or water stations, they disappeared from view and I was okay with myself to let them go.

I was still running well, I just needed to take control of my own race. I tried to sing my songs in my head to keep pace, but they slipped away as I was distracted by the bands, the runners, the spectators on route. I kept cheerful and easy, chatted with another Sands runner for a few steps and told her to look out for Tanni Grey Thompson at the water station at 8.5 miles.

I hadn’t been tracking my pace running with the Elvets, but now I took a glimpse at my watch as I clocked up another mile and started to make some calculations. I went through 10k in around 57 mins and surprised myself thinking it’s still on, I could still do sub 2 hours. But I knew there were some tough miles approaching.

The supporters were out in force, despite the rain. Oh I forgot to mention it was raining, didn’t I? Practically perfect running weather, with a bit of light drizzle throughout the race, not too hot and not too windy. But this is a testing course and today it tested me.

I know there’s a tough mile 8-9 and I was still using Alister’s advice of taking little steps and easing up the slight inclines. But I was finding it increasingly hard to stay focused. My mind was darting all over the place, trying to take things in, hear things, see things, calculate how I was feeling, how far was left to run.

At the bottom of the John Reid Road I saw Krayg from the work choir and shouted and gave him a wave. I kept trying to pick myself up with every boost zone or cheering bus. And they really helped keep a smile on my face, but I was drifting and I knew it.

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

I told myself to run for my good pals Scotty and Lesley, who I knew would be keenly waiting to hear how I’d got on and sent me lovely messages of encouragement. I told myself to run for Ian who puts so much into my training and really believes in me, and who even thought I could get a PB today. And that kept me going a bit further too.

I stumbled into the water station at 8.5 miles, waiting for the last minute to see Tanni Grey Thompson, looking rather damp but still handing out the bottles. That’s three years in a row, she’s been my water girl. I absolutely love that she does it and have so much respect for her for supporting the runners in a role that’s not glamorous or high profile.

Somewhere around here, or maybe it was a bit further on, I saw Tove just ahead and shouted out to encourage her. I’d just clocked my watch and I knew that I was still in the margins of a sub 2 hour run, which is the time Tove wanted. I think she was surprised to see me. I don’t really remember what I said, but she offered me a gel and I said I was okay. and then I put my stern voice on and said something like, “Don’t let it get away from you now!” And she was gone.

And I was okay with that. I really wanted that sub 2, but not for me, for you Tove. I knew you had it in you. I knew you could do it if you believed in yourself. And I think I knew at that moment that today, I didn’t.

I felt every footfall of the John Reid Road. Not the unsettling but glorious blur that it was last year when I managed to blank it from my mind completely. I had no energy for Oggies, but tried to keep a thumbs up for those cheering and smiling and shouting my name. I was running but felt like I was running backwards at this point.

Unbelievably, at 10 miles I was still in with a shout of doing something around 2:01 – 2:02. I smiled my way through the boost zone, enjoying the music. And I tried again to pick up my feet and push on. But my strength or my heart had gone. If it was my strength, it was the first time it’s given up this year and I cannot be angry with it.

Prince Edward Road approached and it’s never seemed so long. Here people start to walk, to drop, to fade. It’s dangerous territory. But the good folk hand out water and oranges and shout the loudest to keep you going.  I grabbed a segment and sucked it dry, then ran alongside a group in Hawaiian party mode running for Great Ormond Street Hospice. They were having a whale of a time, playing to the crowds, waving an inflatable palm tree around. I drew on their support like it was my own.

And finally, finally, there’s the sea. It really took its time coming into view this year. And I know that means just a mile and a bit to go. And that I can run every step. I have slowed down. I’ve had to to keep going today. And that’s okay. So I make an extra effort to enjoy the last bit.

Running along the right hand side of the road, I high five the kids with their hands out stretched, give thumbs up and smiles to everyone who shouts my name along this last stretch (and there are plenty of them – thank you). And I scan the crowds until I spot Gary, whereupon I mug up for the camera, grinning, waving and generally looking like I’m having the time of my life. Which, in a weird way I am. The pressure’s off, it’s just another Great North Run.

And so to the final few metres. And I can normally conjure up a kick from about 400 to go. But it’s not there. It’s not there at 200 either. But I do manage a last gasp glory sprint over the grass and over the line as they open up the same finish funnel I passed through on Saturday, arms aloft, big daft grin and a mobot.

I’m so pleased to finish that I even forget to stop my watch until I’m at the end of the line to hand back my timing chip. It shows 2:06, but I’ll be able to knock something off that. My official result comes back later at 2:05:19 – slower even than the first time I ran it, but still a very respectable time.

There is more to say and process about this run. But I am tired and need my bed. So for now I’ll just say how very pleased and proud I am of all my friends who ran today.  I have enjoyed catching up with your stories of the Great North Run

Great North Run – who are you running for?

One of the things I like most about the Great North Run is that everyone has a story to tell. About training mishaps; about injuries; about slogging it out on those long runs; about what it was like to run it way back when… and most of all they have a story to tell about why they are doing it.

Me, Al, Paul and Mark at the finish of Great North Run 2011
Me, Al, Paul and Mark at the finish of Great North Run 2011

I have a long relationship with this race, that goes back much further than my running career. When I worked as a journalist, the date was etched on my mind, as one of our biggest outside broadcast events of the year. And many times I stood on the central motorway microphone or camera in my hand, listening to the stories. It was always a long and tiring day, but it never felt like hard work. It was a privilege to hear the stories. Many a time, they made me cry.

People run in memory of their mother, father, grandpa, son, daughter, auntie, friend, work colleague. They remember those who are no longer around to see the sweat and blisters, the tears and triumph of the run.

The runners celebrate triumph over illness, disability or just the bad luck that the world throws at good people. They raise money in their thousands, to fund medical equipment and research; to bring a bit of relief to people who are in pain; to take water to the dry places; to train guide dog puppies, or help animals in distress. To do things that make life a little easier for those that need it.

Here are a few I’ve heard this year:

I’ve already introduced you to Tony the Fridge who has added the extra burden of a 40kg fridge and a 30 day consecutive run to his fundraising efforts for the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation. I hope he finishes his 30th run in as good spirits as he’s seemed to take on this challenge.

Then there’s Mark Allison, better known as Run Geordie Run, who is running across Death Valley in America before leading a team of runners taking part in the mini, junior and Great North Run to raise funds for the Children’s Foundation.

I’ve also been in touch with Frankie Aitchison, who is supporting the same charity as I am. Frankie’s daughter, Ella was stillborn. So to mark what would have been her second birthday and raise money for Sands, the neonatal and stillbirth charity, Frankie is taking on the equivalent of a half ironman triathlon over the Great North Run weekend. On 14 September she will swim a mile; the next day, she’ll cycle 56 miles and then on Sunday 16 September she will run 13.1 miles on the Great North Run.

These are just three amazing people with inspirational stories of courage, endurance, bravery and heart taking part in this iconic race. But you have your chance to tell your story too and feature your charity.

Sky Tyne and Wear wants to hear your stories of who you are running for and why. It will feature these in a special gallery on its website, along with your Just Giving link to give your charity a plug too.

You need to submit a photo and a few words about why you’re running and you could also be in with a chance of winning an all inclusive membership package at David Lloyd gym in Newcastle.

Now Sky got in touch to tell me about this competition. But they’re not offering me anything in return for telling you about it. I just thought it was a good idea, and it could help you get some publicity and boost your fundraising for your charity.

So, if you’re interested, go to sky.com/tyneandwear, click on the “I’m Running For…” section and follow the simple instructions or email a picture or video to tyneandwear@bskyb.com and put “I’m Running For…” in the subject line.  The competition is open until Monday 17 September 2012.

And if you’re not, I hope you’ve still been inspired by some of the runners’ stories I featured here.

Like Frankie, I’m also raising funds and awareness for Sands. I do that in memory of my baby sister Ava and I’ve found it’s been a great way to bring something positive out of a very sad time for my family. I have wonderful support in this, particularly from some very special friends, but also from people I’ve never met who have found out about my fundraising through doing the run.

It really means a lot to me to get a donation or an encouraging word of support. It’s like having my own crowd cheering me on and it certainly helps me if I find part of the race tough, to think of everyone who has got behind me and my charity.

My Great North Run blogs:

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.


On Wednesday night I dashed home from work dodging the rain showers, stopping off to pick up a load of cupcakes from Erika ready for my charity cake sale at work the next day. Erika had done her usual fabulous job despite only just coming out of hospital that day after a very painful sounding operation.

After a sweaty boxercise session at the gym, I came home and got to work in the kitchen, finishing off my offerings of brownies, cookies and cakes. Sticky with icing, on a sugar high, I finally stumbled into bed just after 11pm and not surprisingly, had trouble winding down.

When my eager body clock bounced me awake at 5am before my early alarm call, I figured I’d just go with it and prepare myself for a crash later in the day. But I survived, even after Ian threw a tough training session at me on the beach in the rain. I think that’s my wettest training session ever, including the one where the sea almost swept me away. I dislodged a small beach from my hair into the shower tray.

cakes for sale
A feast of treats

Madcap, manic mayhem was the order of the rest of the day as I piled a spare desk at work with cakes and goodies. Thankfully, some of my more artistically minded colleagues helped out and there were some gorgeous looking creations from Lisa and Kathryn.

The smell was amazing and by the time of the morning coffee run most of my team had been past to reserve their favourites.

At lunchtime I took a tray of tempting treats down to the central area where people eat their lunches and sold dozens more cakes, my plastic donation tub rattling with pound coins. And at 3pm I trawled our IS floor. Nothing like a bunch of hungry geeks to boost sales!

It was tiring, but fun. One of the advantages of working in a large workplace means I have plenty of potential customers. And people were amazingly kind, generous and hungry. When I totted up the donations at the end of the day I’d made £138 for my charity, Sands. That takes me well over my target for Great North Run fundraising.

A bottled-out brick and a parkrun tweetup

I had such a busy but lovely weekend, I’ve had no time to blog it. It started early with a half day holiday on Friday afternoon to give me chance to get things straight for visitors coming to stay and to get out on my bike for a brick session.

The bike bit didn’t exactly go to plan. For the first time I just didn’t feel very confident on my road bike. I was worried I wasn’t going to be able to unclip my feet from the pedals and just had a nagging feeling I was going to hurt myself. This is despite the fact that I’ve been out on it a couple of times with only minor knee scrapes.

I cut short my planned route and headed for home, half thinking I might do local loops until I got my confidence back. But I got spooked again by a car pulling away from a parking place (quite safely) and got off and called it quits, wheeling my bike home, feeling cross with myself for messing up my planned session.

As luck would have it, I checked the gym timetable and saw there was a spin class. So I finished my aborted ride on the safety of an indoor machine and followed it up with a treadmill run to complete a sort of brick session.

Saturday morning, I got up early and cleaned the kitchen and bathroom before heading for Newcastle parkrun, still aching all over. I really wanted to go and run this week, as I’d arranged to meet @mumthatruns there. We’ve been exchanging running encouragment on twittter for a mile and it all got a bit ‘blind date’ as we exchanged messages about what we’d be wearing so we could find each other.

We enjoyed a good chat as we warmed up. My legs were feeling rather stiff after Thursday’s tough PT session and Friday nights battering on the bike and run. So when mumthatruns said she was aiming for sub 26 I heard myself saying “I could pace you to that,” and thinking ‘Oh, no – shut up, what have I just said!’ But very sensibly she said she’d run her own race.

I couldn’t hear the announcements at the start, but there was a good round of applause which I took to be Jeff getting his 50th parkrun T-shirt. With a good turn out, it was a few seconds before I crossed the line and made my usual madcap dash through the ranks to find some space.

We ran the route in the reverse direction this week, which meant the tricky stony bit around the back of the museum came first. And I was surprised at how smooth the path seemed when I was running it on fresh legs.

The payback came though as we left the moor and ran out along Grandstand Road. I normally enjoy this part of the course when it comes at 1-2km, but at 3-4km I found myself flagging a little.

I’d run out faster than I meant to on the first couple of kilometres, but had become conscious of mumthatruns running just behind and then alongside me as we went into the third. Out along the tree-lined path she passed me and I was pleased she was obviously running well.

Back onto the moor, seeing the long line of runners stream ahead, I picked up my feet and my pace again. The long slog out to the gate seems so much smoother and easier in reverse, no doubt helped a little by being slightly downhill in this direction. I shouted encouragement to mumthatruns as I passed and stretched out for the final half kilometre.

A more measured sprint finish than usual from me, with a bit of a dog leg to negotiate before the final straight, but I was able to put the power down and go for it, crossing the line in a respectable 26:39 and seeing mumthatruns come in just behind me. Never mind that Rob had already passed us after his mammoth run all the way from Bowness to parkrun!

A bit more chat and catch up at the finish, then it was time to shoot off home and throw myself in the shower before our friends and their two children aged 3 and 8 arrived for the weekend.

We had a fantastic time with the kids. We took them to the beach where we played in the rock pools and built castles and dams. I even got the 8 year old doing some of my beach exercises and then running all the way up the steps Rocky style.

The following day we took them to our friend’s farm where they delighted in feeding the pigs and going for a super fast ride on the buggy, and then we went onto Alnwick Gardens to the treehouse, fountains, ride-on diggers and maze. It was a fun-packed weekend and the kids were great, really well behaved and just lots of fun to be around.

In other news, I’ve had a very nice flurry of support for my Great North Run fundraising efforts. I’m raising money for Sands, a charity that helps families affected by the loss of a baby and supports research into neonatal death. And I’ll be running in memory of my baby sister Ava who we never got to meet.

Sadly it’s something that happens more often than people realise, with 17 babies dying every day here in the UK. Through my fundraising I’ve met many other lovely families who have dealt with this loss.

Here’s my charity web page if you would like to find out more:

Here we go again

I got my T-shirt yesterday. The confirmation that I’ve guaranteed my place in the Great North Run up until 2013. Whether I run it for another 2 years is another question. But I am doing it again this year.

Me at the end of the Great North Run 2010
At the end of the Great North Run 2010

And I’ll be running for the same reason I ran last year. My baby sister Ava, who we never got to know, but who is much loved and remembered. So I’ll be raising funds and awareness for Sands, the neonatal and stillbirth charity. They help families like ours deal with the trauma of losing a baby and support research to try and reduce the number number of babies who die.

Through my fundraising last year, I met a number of families who have been through this, so I know Sands does some great work. It’s been my privilege to meet and become friends with some truly lovely people who have dealt with their own sad losses. It’s hard for people to talk about this. To share such sadness. But I think it’s important.

And that’s why I choose to remember and celebrate Ava, and all the other babies, on the Great North Run. Because it is a celebration. An achievement. A milestone.

My fundraising will be a bit more low key this year, but I’ve set up a page for donations: http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/michelleGNR2011

The Great North Run is the biggest running event in my home town and it’s been a feature in my year even before I started running.

I love the crowds, the atmosphere, the stories. I love seeing the runners out on the streets through the summer and then the silent anticipation of the day before, when you cannot hear the pounding of rubber on tarmac.

It’s a marker for me as a runner too. When I first entered it, it seemed almost impossible. But as I trained and learned through that first year of running, I pulled it into my grasp. Still a challenge, still to be respected, but an amazing marker on my journey.

Last year the Blaydon Race marked the end of ‘short’ running and I made the move into the cycle of gently increasing the miles over the long weekend run to build up to the half marathon.

It’s a bit different this year. I still have a 10k in the mix and a triathlon in August, not to mention the Northumberland Coastal Run in July. But the Great North Run still looms large and gives me a reason to extend those weekend runs to 8 miles, 9 miles, 10… And I’m already looking forward to it.