Further adventures of the distressingly accident prone

No snow at parkrun this Saturday, but it was bitingly cold on the town moor, so I jogged off across the grass to warm up.

‘Hmm, must tighten my shoe laces before I start. Oh, this grass is about softer than I expected. I’ll run that way to get back on the path. Oh no, that’s even worse!’

The town moor claimed my left trainer. And less than a second afterwards made sure that sock could never be described as white again.

‘Now what? Wet muddy sock inside the wet muddy shoe? Or sockless on my left side?’ The muddy accessory was turned inside out and dumped with my fleece by the fence as I tested out my new barefoot trainer. I was very glad I hadn’t worn my brand new shoes.

Not quite the start I imagined for my first time out in my 50th parkrun shirt, but we were soon off and I was on a mission to chase down a fast run. I pelted off, too fast at first in truth, into the wind and towards Gate 1.

Runners at Newcastle parkrun
Running along Grandstand Road at parkrun

The turn along Grandstand Road, sheltered by the trees and showered by the warming sunshine saw me swipe off my hat and enjoy my favourite part of this route. I recently watched a video on barefoot running and one of the bits of advice that stuck in my head was a subtle thinking about lifting the hips. So I gave it a try, and felt like I really covered the ground more quickly, overtaking a couple of runners.

I kept turning on the power, then easing it off, conscious of keeping my feet light and hoping my sockless state wouldn’t mean blisters. But shortly after 2k and the return to the moor paths, I got a stitch high up in my ribs. I hardly ever get a stitch, so I reflected on a tough week of training, eased back a little and concentrated on my breathing. I managed to shift it, but I knew I’d lost some pace going into the tricky 3rd kilometre.

Back into the wind over the roughest part of the course and it was tough going, so it was a relief to turn back onto the smooth tarmaced path and know there was just 1km to go. I kept thinking lift the hips and used the lamp posts as markers, picking a spot to power on to.

There were a couple of girls close by me who had overtaken me and I managed to catch and pass them. Into the final corner and one of them was close by again, but I knew I still had the push and I powered down the last few metres, overtaking another couple of runners to cross the line in just over 27 minutes.

I was hoping for something closer to 26, but can’t really complain after a fantastic week’s training. The tri day on Tuesday really kicked things off and I’ve enjoyed every session this week.

On Thursday, I trained with Ian on the beach as usual and it was a tough session, but so nice to finish in daylight, with the sun peeking over the rocks. At the other end of the day, I hit the pool for my second swim of the week.

I don’t normally double train on a PT day, but I hoped the swim would help me avoid aching muscles and it meant I could have a complete rest day on Friday. I fell into bed on Thursday night, with the satisfying tiredness of a great set of training.

On Friday morning, I got into work early to do a practice gym session with Simon, one of the instructors from the work gym. It’s the first time I’ve tried my instructor mode, and it gave me loads of confidence ahead of my final assessment in a couple of weeks’ time. Still loads to think about and make sure I cover on the day, so I hope to get a few more practice sessions under my belt. But it’s fantastic to have such great support.

On Sunday, I explored a new route on my bike. It felt fantastic to be out, just enjoying a fairly easy effort, but out for a fairly long ride and finishing off with a rather steep hill. Next time I’ll ride it in reverse!

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Happy birthday Newcastle parkrun

Like many parts of the UK, we had a decent snowfall last night, leaving the roads and pathways covered in, as they say around these parts, ‘propa sner’.

Tony the Fridge and me at Newcastle parkrun 20 January 2013
Tony the Fridge and me at Newcastle parkrun 20 January 2013

But while this meant a couple of local parkruns had to cancel, the blanket of white stuff on the Town Moor was arguably safer than wet and icy paths and Newcastle parkrun was declared on.

So, off I went. Wrapped up fit for an arctic expedition, unsure whether to run or to marshall, but prepared for both. I wasn’t there for the very first event, but three years ago, the very first Newcastle parkrun took place in very similar conditions. A select few runners and a hardy bunch of volunteers turned out in the snow to ensure the free 5k timed run went ahead. It’s grown in support hugely since then and lately has had record attendances of over 400 runners.

All parkruns have their own individual character. Some are hilly, some are muddy, some are multi-laps, some just the one. Newcastle has the reputation of being a ‘fast’ course as it’s largely flat. But conditions on the Town Moor can be testing, and it can be more like a cross country run at times.

The wind can seem to change direction as you run, and the exposed nature of the course, can leave hands and toes tingling with cold – and that’s just the runners, never mind the volunteers who stand out in all weathers, directing turns or holding gates. Oh and we must be the only parkrun that has to issue regular cow warnings in the summer months.

Today was a special event to mark the 3rd anniversary of this run. And there’s a nice tradition, started by its original founder Niyc Pidgeon, of celebrating Newcastle parkruns anniversary with a bit of a get together and award presentation afterwards.

Me and Tony the Fridge on Day 20 of his Great North Run challenge
Me and Tony the Fridge on Day 20 of his Great North Run challenge

The special guest presenter was inspirational North East runner and passionate fundraiser for the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation, Tony Phoenix Morrison, better known as Tony the Fridge, who this year completed the route of the Great North Run 30 times, whilst carrying a 40kg fridge on his back.

Now, I know Tony a bit, in that I’ve had the privilege and pleasure of running a few miles with him during his incredible challenge. So when I started running, I said hello and we fell into step for a while. I hadn’t intended to go out and race hard given the conditions today, but finding he didn’t have anyone running with him today, I thought, why not stick with him.

Because it is always a pleasure running with Tony. He’s not what you might expect and he always makes me think as we chat. He’s easy to listen to and talk to. And today, running over the fresh snow under the beautiful bleak skies of the moor, it just felt effortless ( but I wasn’t carrying an extra 40-odd kilos of metal on my back).

Afterwards at the awards presentation, he shared his story with fellow parkrunners who had gathered in the warmth of the Royal Grammar School to enjoy tea, coffee and cake and celebrate some of the achievements of parkrunners.

The awards are very much in the spirit of parkrun and not only celebrate the consistently fast and impressive performances of the speedier runners, but also give a chance for the volunteers and others to have their moment in the spotlight.

Amongst the awards I was really pleased to hear my mate Jeff’s name, after he’s run every Newcastle parkrun this year and put in some impressive times too. And there was a big cheer for Eric Appleby, our 80-year-old runner who still turns out and inspires everyone to be the best they can be. It was nice too, that Paul  Davison was recognised for always being among the first to thank the volunteers that make it possible for this free run to go ahead.

Parkrun really is inclusive. From the fastest to the slowest, old to young, from babies in buggies to teenagers, dads, dogs, and grandads, everyone’s welcome. Running or volunteering both have their own rewards, from chasing a new best time, to simply getting a smile on a grey day. So if you’re thinking of taking up running, just starting out, or even if you’ve been doing the mileage for years, check it out.

I got a couple of very welcome compliments today. My ultra tough, speedy, never-give-up, running pal Rob said, “Your blogs are always worth reading.” Although he did also admit that if we’ve had a chat, he likes to see if he gets a name check – so there you go Rob 🙂 But it was nice to hear, and it came just at the right moment, so thank you my friend.

A tale of two parkruns

With a cold snap in the air, there were understandable doubts about parkrun being safe to run on 1 December. Indeed, a number of north east runs had to cancel due to icy paths, but Newcastle was still on.

The race director reported the run to be marginal, but made the decision to keep it on, with the extra help of the marshalls who did double duty directing runners away from the iciest sections and over onto the soggy grass, then came back to the finish to take numbers and scan tokens. It was bitingly cold on the moor, and the volunteers were in for a cold job.

I went to do my usual warm up in all my layers, including my Fetch hoodie and had a quick chat with a runner visiting from Edinburgh and staying nearby. And then it was time to line up at the start.

Some quick steps over the grass and negotiating the turns and icy sections kept the pace steady through the first kilometre, but I was able to pick it up again through the gate and out along the road. I felt good and strong when my footing was sure, even over the rough path back onto the moor, where the low sun provided another challenge, making it hard to see the icy ground.

The new running style has definitely started to stick. The only times it dropped during this run were when I had to divert over the grass and I found myself plodging or when I was skipping over the ice, uncertain of my footing.

I was out on my own between 3-4kms and felt my pace drop over this tricky section. But once back on the path, I gave it a good kick in the last km and tried to keep the pace up even over the grass. The final sprint to the finish line was painful and I needed a few minutes once over the line to stop the spinning feeling in my head. But I was pleased with my time which was only 7 seconds slower than last week. Without the ice, I feel it would have been faster.

Stats and stuff:
5k 27:32

1) – 0.62m – 5:45(9:17/m) – 63cal
2) – 0.62m – 5:26(8:45/m) – 64cal
3) – 0.62m – 5:20(8:36/m) – 65cal
4) – 0.62m – 5:49(9:23/m) – 65cal
5) – 0.62m – 5:08(8:14/m) – 63cal

So when this Saturday dawned ice cold again and ice threatened to make the Town Moor course a cross country fest, I opted for parkrun at Whitley Bay. It’s a long time since I ran this course, and in fact, they’ve changed the finish, so I hadn’t run this version before.

I warmed up as usual and found myself a spot, ready to give it a good run. Not knowing the field, I very much ran to feel, finding my own pace and enjoying the steady footing of the tarmac paths and the drop down onto the promenade.

Not too windy or too cold, I was on a mission to improve my run time after an encouraging chat with my PT. I’m enjoying my new running style and feel like it’s working, so I wanted to prove that and I’m using parkrun as my push it session in the week.

I made the mistake of glancing at my Garmin after 1k and noticed the pace was hot for me. In truth I was feeling it a little in my breathing and trying to relax into the run. The next part of the route has a couple of sharp inclines, that weren’t as long or as steep as I remembered, but I cut my stride and eased up them and onwards.

I was on my own for much of the run, with few targets to chase, but after the initial surge I tried to cling on to anyone that overtook me and I managed to outpace a couple of guys just by keeping my rhythm and reeling them in.

Back round past the starting point, I knew there was less than a lap to go and started mentally calculating the time left to run to distract me from the effort. 10 minutes of bright winter sunshine and clear skies, then less than six and keep pushing, keep the head, keep the desire.

It was tough, but I knew there wasn’t much further to go, even though my head hadn’t quite got the measure of the new course. Once more over the little bridge and up the incline, then back round along the road and onto the cliff top path down to the promenade for the finishing stretch.

A male runner in a blue top had run beside me for a while and I’d stuck with him, pushing my pace, but here he showed his form and stretched ahead. I knew I still had a kick, but it’s a short and fast one, so I picked my spot to really pick it up, all the time willing my legs into a faster turnover. Just after the Rendezvous I hammered it down, less than 100m to the finish.

Token collected, watch stopped, I stuttered away from the line, head down to catch my breath and it felt like minutes before I could look at my time. Target for today was faster than 27:25 which I’d run in Newcastle two weeks ago on a dry course. The figures on the watch face read 26:26 (official time 26:32)

Not only is that the best part of a minute faster, it’s my best time of the year so far, beating the 27:02 I ran in August. So, I think I can safely say that I’m seeing improvements from my new running style.

Stats and stuff:
5k 26:26
1) – 0.62m – 5:09(8:19/m) – 63cal
2) – 0.62m – 5:34(8:59/m) – 65cal
3) – 0.62m – 5:21(8:38/m) – 64cal
4) – 0.62m – 5:17(8:31/m) – 65cal
5) – 0.62m – 5:05(8:14/m) – 63cal

A good start to training

This has been the first week of my new exercise plan from my PT, Ian. I do love having a plan and a focus for my training. It stops me fretting over the best thing to do, makes sure I have plenty of variety in my training and pushes me on a bit. It also stops me doing too much. Rest and recovery is just as important as exercise, as that’s when you get the benefits of the workout.

Me at Newcastle parkrun
Both feet off the ground at parkrun. Photo courtesy of Mick Durnion

Anyway, this is a great plan that should help me build a great base to be fit and ready to race some great triathlons next year. As far as running goes, I’m continuing to concentrate on my technique, changing my style to become a more midfoot, forefoot runner.

That’s because I believe it’s a more natural way to run and less likely to cause injuries. But I’m hoping it will help me go faster too. At the moment, I’m just focusing on getting it right and not worrying too much about how fast I’m going. But it’s good to see some improvements there too.

I have to really consciously concentrate on my new running style, thinking about how I place my foot on each step, making sure I’m kicking back, keeping my hips aligned and turning my legs over quickly. But I had a bit of a breakthrough  moment this week on a technique session when I realised I’d been singing one of our choir songs in my head to help me keep a good rhythm. That means I wasn’t consciously thinking about how I was moving.

The same song re-emerged as I returned to parkrun on Saturday morning. Last week, it was a big unknown. I had no clue how fast I would go with my new midfoot style. This week I knew what I was capable of, and that I’d felt I could push it a bit more.

So, into the now familiar routine of saying hello to my friends, and lining up with a couple of hundred runners at 9am on the Town Moor. A bit damper and breezier than last week, but it was still a great day for a run.

It felt great to be racing, even when a surge of runners went past and continued to pass me out on the way towards the first gate. As always, I worried that I’d gone out too fast and tried to settle into my run. A thank you to Malcolm on the gate and I was out alongside the road.

Here I felt I was picking my pace up a bit, almost with a sense of falling forward into each stride. I kept with it, enjoying the sensation and started to pick off a few runners in front.

Through the second gate and onto the muddy path, which wasn’t as bad as I’d been expecting. I still felt good here, like I was flying over the ground, and the repetitive tune in my head picked up a beat or two. I just told myself to keep going if I was feeling good.

Kilometre 3-4 is the tester on this course. a couple of turns and some uneven ground, it’s where runners start to fall away a little. I kept my focus by targeting runners ahead and reeling them in one by one. I didn’t even notice I was snapped again at the back of the museum.

There was a man in a yellow top who I played a bit of cat and mouse with as he overtook me, then I caught and overtook him only for him to catch me again. It helped keep me focused, although I found myself very much out on my own over the toughest part of the course.

Here I was starting to feel the pull on my calves from the new running style and a couple more flat footed moves came in as I negotiated the uneven ground. Once I fall away from the forefoot, it takes an effort of will to get back there. But I did it and made it through the final gate, knowing there was just over a kilometre to go.

I’d made my mind up to kick on a bit on the smooth tarmac path as we turned towards the lamp posts. But the guy in yellow made me push on a bit sooner than I planned. He eventually overtook me and made it stick, but I knew I was close to the finish now.

My breathing was becoming a bit more ragged as I tried to stretch out a little more while not losing my style and trying to make my legs turnover more quickly. I was aware the tune in my head had dropped its rhythm slightly. I picked it up before the dog leg to the finish straight and powered on down all the way through the line. I even missed picking up my timing token as I didn’t slow down enough and had to go back to collect it from the volunteer.

I’d deliberately ignored my watch, save for a quick check at the first kilometre which had told me I was on pace with last week’s run. But I was hopeful I’d done better as I felt faster through kms 2-3. I checked at the finish and I was just a few seconds under 28 mins – a whole 30 secs improvement. So, it looks as though my new running drills are working and I’m getting the hang of this new style.

Stats:

5k in 27:57

1) – 0.62m – 5:43(9:13/m) – 63cal
2) – 0.62m – 5:29(8:51/m) – 65cal
3) – 0.62m – 5:24(8:42/m) – 64cal
4) – 0.62m – 5:44(9:15/m) – 65cal
5) – 0.62m – 5:25(8:44/m) – 63cal
6) – 0.03m – 9(5:20/m) – 3cal

Improving and feeling strong

My ankle continues to improve. Last week I managed another run walk session and then, I admit, I cheated on my plan and just ran on it the next day. I went out from work with a newish runner who was just looking for some company and we ran at talking pace for about 35 mins or 3 miles.

I used it as an exercise in midfoot running and managed to keep my new technique all the way round. My calves were a bit stiff in the evening, but not unpleasantly so.

Runner wearing Newcastle United shirt
Jeff at 2k into his 100th Newcastle parkrun

I did my first boxercise session in a few weeks on Wednesday evening and got a great work out, though I was nervous of some of the jumping exercises.

And then on Thursday morning I was back down the beach first thing for a tough PT session. We started with running drills, then worked our way up to a couple of exercises with 2 x12k kettlebells, using them as static weights and concentrating on my legs. I still wobbled a bit on some of the 1 legged exercises, so I still need to build up my balance and confidence in my left leg. But it was good to take things up a notch and challenge myself.

By Friday, my ankle was a little stiff and achey, so I treated myself to a swim after work. I have been working on pull buoy drills and really feel they are making a difference, particularly in getting my elbows high and my hand into the water sooner. But for this session I just got in and swam, enjoying the feel of the water and it did the trick of easing the range of movement again.

Saturday I layered up for a morning on the Town Moor, volunteering at Newcastle parkrun. I was dispatched to Gate 2, just after the 2k marker, so got a good walk there and back and a chance to see just how muddy and plodgy the paths are now. I managed to snap some pictures as well as directing runners through the gap. It was great to see Lesley Anne back running and smiling as she bounded along the tree lined road and to cheer Jeff on for his 100th Newcastle parkrun.

Halloween lanterns
Halloween lanterns – picture courtesy of Katherine Wildman

Then it was a quick turn around to get home and out again for G and S Organics Bonfire night on the farm. We arrived early to lend a hand chopping and peeling vegetables for the soup, fetching and carrying things over to the outdoor events area and stringing up fairy lights.

There was a great display of carved pumpkins, turnips and little squashes and by the time the other guests arrived it was growing nicely dark, so we were glad of the heat of the bonfire and a few sparklers. No fireworks because of the animals, but that suits me just fine.

The food was, as always, delicious. Soup and burgers when everyone arrived, then after a bit of bonfire chat, a plate full of pheasant au vin and leeky mash with three different types of cake for pudding.

As the evening drew on we looked up at the clear skies to see millions of stars. No sign of the Northern lights, but you could see the Milky Way. Steeped in woodsmoke, we drank cocoa as we cleared up and made our way home. It was a splendid way to spend the day.

Bouncing and the Town Moor marathon

Bouncing! Yes, that was me, literally and figuratively after getting back to my PT session on Thursday. Early morning, in the dark, in the mizzle and Ian had me trying new things that should get me running more midfoot, bouncing, jumping, hopping. And my ankle is okay with it.

Elvet Striders on the Town Moor marathon
Elvet Striders on the Town Moor marathon

We just do a bit, not too much and move on to more bodyweight and weighted exercises, so I get a great workout and all the time I’m feeling stronger, happier. Buzzing with possibilities, reflecting back the extra enthusiasm that Ian brings today, fresh from part one of his triathlon coaching course and eager to try things out. I am a very willing test subject.

My ankle, I reckon is about 85% fixed, I tell him, and revise that up another 5% by the end of the session, as I’m more confident about holding additional weight on it.

And all the time I’m learning. He’s throwing out questions, I’m naming muscles, bones, movements, consolidating what I’ve learned in my studies so far. The hour goes by in a blur.

The good vibes continue with a satisfying presentation at work and a really enjoyable rehearsal with the choir on Friday lunchtime. We’ve been working really hard on some tricky songs and not really feeling very confident, but we started to see how we could bring it together in this rehearsal. I still get really nervous at the thought of singing in public, as we will be in a few weeks’ time and I know I don’t always get the pitch right, but do something that’s scares you, I say.

Ann Hood ladies winner Town Moor marathon 2012
Ann Hood ladies winner Town Moor marathon 2012

On Sunday, I went to support friends, parkrunners and everyone else running a marathon on Newcastle’s town moor. I had a couple of friends who came down from Scotland to run it, Ann and Les, who it was great to see, and there were lots of other local runners I know taking part. Penny came along and we clapped yelled and generally encouraged everyone from the bandstand.

They are a hardy lot, running five laps of a muddy moor on a wintry day, but there were mainly smiles and lots of waves as we clapped and shouted well done and I passed drinks and gels to Ann and Les.

Ann really is a fabulous runner and has achieved so much. She ran this race two years’ ago wearing my Garmin and was delighted to go under 4 hours. In London she ran 3:09 for the marathon and I tracked her times on the website. Today, she didn’t beat her best time, but still ran a great race to take the first place ladies trophy. I was very proud to see her do it as she continues to inspire me to believe in myself and go for my own goals.

More Town Moor marathon pictures here. If you’d like a high quality copy, please get in touch.

At the moment, I’m happy just to continue to recuperate my ankle. There’s still a little bit of swelling, but it doesn’t cause me any problems day to day. I’m building up to running on it gradually, with some run walk sessions and trying to train myself to run more mid foot, rather than hitting the ground with my heel. It’s a good time for me to do this and hopefully it will make me a better runner in future. Next up might be some lighter, more minimal trainers to encourage me to change my running gait, but I’ll go get some advice before I splash out.