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

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.


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

A race and a tough run

I keep trying to find perfection with my training plan, and I think I’m just going to have to accept that there’s no such thing. Balancing running, cross training and resting isn’t a precise science and some weeks are going to be easier than others. 

I fully intended to take it easy on Wednesday, thinking that I’d skip my boxercise class and at most go for a swim, but otherwise, treat myself to an extra rest day. But after a rather frustrating day at work, I felt like I needed to let out some of that aggression. So I zoomed home, got changed and sped off to punch out the blues.

Thursday morning, bright and early sees me hit the beach for my regular PT session – still my favourite workout of the week. A few new complexes to keep me on my toes and quite a few ‘well dones’ and I felt fantastic after this session. We never really do the same thing each session, so I can’t make direct comparisons, but I know I’m so much stronger and better balanced for doing it.

I’d actually forgotten there was a race on Thursday lunchtime. We have a gym at work with an informal running club that holds a series of summer handicap races over a mile. When the email reminder came through, I did a mental checklist of the kit in my car and decided I did actually have enough gear to be able to run.

So, I lined up on the startline alongside Jill, with a couple of minutes headstart on the next runner, wondering if it was really a good idea, and again, intending to take it easy. We’re quite evenly matched over this distance and last time I raced, my sole intention was to beat Jill (sorry Jill). This time I thought she could beat me if she wanted, because I wasn’t going to push it and I knew my legs wouldn’t be at their best straight after my session on the beach.

We set off together and I kept with her for the first section of the race. Then as the path began to straighten out, before the half way point, I began to stretch out my legs a little more to see if it gave me any advantage. Gradually it took me ahead, but I didn’t want to blow up, so I just focused on keeping the strides long and relaxed and trying to increase the distance between us.

About half way along the home straight I sensed a runner closing in, but just kept my focus ahead, running my own race. One of the guys passed me and soon strode into the distance to win. I half expected the next one to power down after me too, but I kept my pace and at the last turn pushed on for a bit of a sprint finish and came home in 2nd place with a time of 7:34. It’s not my best mile time, but it’s not far off and 2nd place points (even though there were only 4 racers) will be very valuable in the overall competition. Plus that’s my best race finish since primary school!

I made sure I did some quality stretches on Thursday night, before setting the alarm clock for another early wake up call ready for a Friday morning run. The plan said 12k – a step up from last week’s distance, and you know me, I stick to my plans.

It was pretty much a perfect morning for a run, not too bright or warm, just a hint of a breeze and the gentle sounds of the waves. But like last Friday’s run, my legs began by complaining a bit. Nothing really painful, just feeling dull and heavy, with muscles and joints creaking a bit. Once again, I tried to tell myself to keep it slow and smooth.

It was two miles before the feeling wore off, and it’s only experience that told me this was likely to be the case. Once I finally eased into it, I began to enjoy the run a lot more. A little mango boost just after the halfway point, ahead of the tiniest incline to keep me going and I managed most of the return leg okay.

My hamstrings and calves started to strain again with just under 2 miles to go. But by this point I’d spotted a runner up ahead who seemed to pick his feet up rather high in his running style. At one point we took different routes, but we came together again and I was close enough to think I could reel him in.

Unfortunately, as I got close enough to overtake we were passing through the narrowest points of this route, and I noticed a man walking a boxer puppy who was getting noticeably excited at these strange people out for an early run. The dog walker pulled the puppy in on his lead and put himself between the dog and us – no easy task on the narrow path. I said thank you as I passed, but my running nemesis was now well ahead.

Even so, the sniff of competition had been enough to distract me from my aching legs, and I was now within a few hundred metres of my distance target. I picked up the pace a little, and then a little more, focusing on a landmark, promising myself I’d do a bit of a sprint finish to that point and then jog to the end if needed. I’m not sure if my running nemesis was running intervals or fartlek, but with 200m to go I sped past him and finished almost bang on my target. What a show off – eh? Needless to say he kept going passed me as I stopped to get my breath back and stretch.

This Friday run, after a weights and whole body workout session is still the hardest one of the week, the one I have to tough it through. But I’m hoping that experience of running on tired legs is good for endurance training and mental focus. As nothing really ‘hurts’, and I’ve managed it twice now, I figure it’s just a case of Geordie up and get on with it. But I might play around with my running days again next week and see if I can give myself a more restful Friday ahead of a long weekend run.

Stats and stuff:
12k (7.4 miles) 1hour 9.38
mile splits:
1. 09.08
2. 09.17
3. 09.32
4. 09.17
5. 09.20
6. 09.21
7. 09.14
8. 04.25 (800m)