Life as a trainer

Most often when I write about training, it’s in the context of physical training for the sports that I do, but today I’m thinking about the other training that I do in business writing.

I run writing and tone of voice workshops, to help people connect with their customers with communications that sound like they come from human beings rather than nameless, faceless organisations.

As many of the people who attend are in customer support roles, these sessions are always about how we speak as well as how we write. And increasingly I’m being asked to offer advice on things like webcasts and social media platforms as the range of ways of communicating expands.

Coloured post it notes laid out  on a piece of paper
My low tech approach to workshop planning helps me structure and balance the session

I’ve had the benefit of some really excellent training throughout my working life. At the BBC it was often technical and skills based as I learned how to edit, first on tape and then digitally; how to ‘drive’ a studio desk; how to interview and construct radio packages quickly. Later I would learn digital skills, working on websites, using basic HTML, photo manipulation, and content management skills.

It was at the BBC that I started training other people. At first, it was just about passing on what I’d learned, helping someone put together a radio report, as someone had once helped me. But again, someone showed faith in me, and actually took the trouble to say “You’re good at training.”

I realised that I really enjoyed it too. I was there long enough to see people I’d trained passing on what they’d learned to others. I get a real kick out of that.

I have a little training mantra: “See one, do one, teach one.” I probably stole it from a medical drama, most likely ER. But I’ve found it really works, as you really know and have confidence that you know how to do something when you  can teach someone else.

In my last blog post, I talked about having doubts and insecurities as a writer. When I’m doing a training session or workshop, if I have any, I can’t let them show. I have to have confidence in my knowledge and ability to deliver the materials and to make them interesting.

Not every workshop is perfect. Some are better than others. But the participants will never know if I rushed through an exercise because we were short of time, or handled a question differently the next time I was asked it.

Sessions can be tricky when I’m expecting a room full and only a handful turn up. I have to mentally rejig how I’ll manage small group discussions as they take their seats and adapt as I go.

Or  when I get the sense that people have been told to come to a workshop, but don’t know why. Sometimes I feel like a stand-up comedian in front of a tough crowd. I just have to believe in my material and keep going, while trying to find the level of the room.

The best sessions are when people are really engaged and ask questions or challenge points I make. When they ask ‘Why?’ or say “But we have to do it like this…” I know they are taking an interest and I have a great opportunity to make that session really relevant.

Most writers are magpies. We steal inspiration, words, phrases and ideas from anywhere and everywhere, then make them our own.

I do the same with training courses. And once again, I’ve had the benefit of some excellent ones, from Dark Angels, 26, The Writer and Scarlett Abbott, to name just a few.

From classroom based to online learning – as well doing my own learning, I take notes and reflect on the content later. Was there a good ice-breaker? How was the session structured? How was the information presented? And when I can, I’ll pick the brains of other people who do training sessions. They are always very generous.

I’ve got some sessions with finance teams coming up. So right now, I’m gathering materials, thinking about aims and objectives for the sessions and looking forward to putting them together.

No one taught me how to be a trainer, or how to put together a workshop. I’ve learned by watching, listening, thinking and doing; through experience and analysis. I’m always looking for things that I can learn from, so I can improve my skills as a trainer.

What are your top tips for training?

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Training as a writer

Why writing is like physical exercise and how I’ve trained to be a writer.

I’m training quite hard at the moment, running, cycling and swimming in preparation for a triathlon in a few weeks’ time. It’s tricky sometimes fitting it all in around my working hours and all the other things I need to do, cooking, cleaning, general chores. But I enjoy it, and so I make time for it.

Cyclist on Newcastle's Quayside
Cycling along Newcastle’s quayside

I’m making more time for my writing too. Time to explore more than just work commitments. Time to try new things and to just enjoy writing for what it is – an important part of me.

I believe writing’s a form of exercise too. You get better as you practice, learn new skills, gain confidence, or just a better understanding of what works and what doesn’t.

Most writers start out mimicking their heroes. I know I did. Somewhere there’s an exercise book filled with adventure stories in the style of C.S Lewis and tales of knights on horseback, battling dragons.

Reading was how I first learnt the elements of stories, about heroes and conflicts, quests and returns. Writing my own taught me about structure – beginnings, middles and endings.

As I got older, I’d learn techniques, hints and tips in my English lessons, such as using all the senses, and the power of metaphor and simile. And more about structure, rhythm and making words dance through poetry.

At University one of my tutors used to set tasks to write essays in the style of the works we were studying – Philip Sidney, John Milton, Alexander Pope… You may think that was a cruel and unusual form of undergraduate torture. But in mimicking the rhetoric, or manipulating my thoughts into rhyming couplets, I became even more conscious of the skill and technique of the writers, and I understood their work at a deeper, more personal level. Of the hundreds of essays I wrote in my University terms, those are the only ones I remember.

As a copywriter, the ability to adopt another’s style is a very useful skill. It helps me sound like the brand or company I’m writing for. But to make it sound authentic, it’s not really enough just to mimic. I believe you have to be able to add something of yourself. And in analysing the work of literary writers, I’ve learned to spot styles and forms that I can adopt and adapt in more commercial and contemporary writing.

Running, cycling and swimming all take some discipline and commitment if you want to improve. The same is true of writing. But just as you don’t know how far or fast you can go until you really try, you’ll never realise your writing potential on a blank page – sometimes you just have to fill it.

Always learning

So there I was with a nice new training plan, full of long slow paced runs to build endurance. And then I got up from my chair in the office to walk across the floor and felt it in my left heel. That little nudge, nudge tightness that said plantar fasciitis.I tried to convince myself it was a spot of cramp, shrug it off. But massaging the base of my foot over a golf ball (still got one in my desk drawer), it was just the same tight and uncomfortable feeling as last time. Harumph! Not what I wanted.But I had the advantage this time. I knew what it was and even though it was the merest hint of painful, around a 1 on a scale of 1-10, I knew not to ignore it. Home and on the ice packs and as good a calf massage as I could give myself.

I had to change my plan to pace 30 mins at parkrun last Saturday, volunteering for another role instead, opted for at least a week off running and booked a sports massage.But if I couldn’t run, I could still swim and cycle. I substituted parkrun for a swim and surprised myself at how easily I managed a good distance. On getting out of the pool, I had the brainwave of using one of the jacuzzis and treating my foot to a good massage with the water jets. It loosened up no end.By the time I had my sports massage on Tuesday evening, there was very little pain, and Frances spent a good 30 mins easing up my calf muscles. There’s some satifaction in being able to tell your therapist that it was your posterior tibialis that caused the problems last time, and her getting her fingers to work on the right spot.

NThis Saturday I volunteered once again at parkrun. It was the 4th anniversary of the event and a record breaking turnout of 525 runners at Newcastle. I was handing out number tokens with the smiley blonde lady who encouraged me on my first parkruns, who I now know as my friend Tove. I’m afraid we rather struggled to keep the finish line clear as the crowds came through as it was a very packed finish area, but it was great to be part of it.

By now I hadn’t run for 10 days, and there was no sign of discomfort from walking, so I kitted myself out for a test run. It was grey and drizzly, and the plan was to do a good warm up and drills, then run very easily for 4 mins and walk for 1 minute and repeat. So I made sure I had some good warm layers on and set out.

When running I kept the pace very easy, focusing on keeping good form – light on my feet, shoulders relaxed, thinking about all stages of the run. Of course, I felt like I wanted to keep on running, but the deal was to break it up with short walks and I did. These were useful as they helped me reset and remind myself to focus on form over speed or distance. I could just feel it starting to break down on the last repetition, so had a good easy warm down, stretched and hoped I wouldn’t have aggravated my niggle further. I’ve rarely enjoyed a damp, wet and cold run so much.

Today, all is well. No further pain, so I’ll build back into my running this week provided I have no more problems with my foot. But with a 25k indoor bike session and a 600m swim in the bag today after a decent week’s training, I reckon I’d be okay to get round a sprint tri if you told me there was one next weekend, so that’s not a bad place to be early on in the year.

2013 – my training year review

It’s been another good year of training and competing in triathlons and road races for me. And it’s good to look back at what I’ve achieved as well as planning for the future.

Let’s start with the numbers:

Swim: 42.1 miles/ 36 hours – only just a bit less than last year’s swim mileage
Bike:956 miles / 86 hours – that’s the most I’ve ever cycled in one year (hours to miles don’t quite add up as there were a lots of indoor bike sessions where I logged time but not distance)
Run: 526 miles / 85 hours – not my biggest yearly run mileage, but I didn’t have a half marathon to train for
Cross training: 76 hours – including boxercise, yoga, weights and PT sessions

That’s a total of 283:48 training or racing hours in 2013. It’s the most I’ve ever trained in one year.

Races
I’ve completed 6 run races of up to 10k distance and enjoyed many more timed runs at parkrun
And I completed 6 triathlons in 2013, including my first two Olympic distance events and my first sea swim.

Qualifications
I studied for and passed two fitness related qualifications – Level 2 Gym instructor in March and Level 1 triathlon coaching in November

Highlights
My swimming improved thanks to some training sessions with my PT early on in the year as he trained for his coaching qualification. I’ve spent more hours and done more miles on my bike than any other year and enjoyed it more than I have before, especially when I’ve had the chance to go riding in Scotland with my tri chums.

I have walloped time off in my second season of triathlons, including a 10 min PB at the QE2 sprint triathlon, with improvement in all three sections. 

There was another memorable day at the Olympic Parkrun. It was an amazing experience to do it the first time, so to go back, post the Olympics, with my expectations high … well they weren’t disappointed.

And the Blaydon race is still my favourite event, particularly as I managed to go under 50 minutes this year.

I’ve enjoyed volunteering at parkrun and I know I’ve inspired a few people to dip their toes into triathlon.

With no races longer than 10k, it’s inevitable my run mileage was down on previous years, but that will change as I take on a half marathon again in 2014.

Reflections and aims for 2014
I wanted to find a better balance in my training and to give myself a season with a true tri focus. It did pay dividends as my tri times improved and I felt more confident swimming in open water and taking on the longer distance events. But, as always, there are areas for improvement.

I did miss taking part in the Great North Run in 2013. It was lovely to see all my friends and shout encouragement from the Tyne Bridge, but I did feel like I was missing out on the party, even on a cold and dreary day.

So I’ll be back in again in 2014. The challenge will be to switch from tri focus at the end of July to get myself in shape to run 13.1 miles by the beginning of September. I’ll see how I feel nearer the time as to whether or not I set myself a time goalIn 2014 I want to maintain a good balance of training hard but not putting too much pressure on myself, and most importantly to enjoy my training. I’ll pick my key races to go hard, and others I’ll do for the experience or the fun. There will be a good mix of challenges, including my first ever river swim in the Tyne.

My first race isn’t until April – and right now that seems a long way away. But it will soon come around. I’ve entered a few popular races already and I’m sure I’ll fill up my calendar with a few more as they open up for entries. I’m looking for another standard triathlon – preferably one that I can easily travel to from the North East of England, so any suggestions are welcome.

I’m also currently on 76 parkruns, so only 24 away from 100. It would be great to achieve that in 2014, but I need to balance them out against other training and races. And of course, I’ll be doing my fair share of volunteering too.

Getting fit, starting to run and then taking on the challenge of triathlon has really changed my life over the past six years. I’m sure I never imagined achieving a fraction of what I’ve done when I first stepped out onto the beach and tried to run a length of the sands. It’s taken me to some great places, given me some amazing experiences and brought me life-long friends. Oh, and made me fitter and healthier too!

So if you’re thinking you want to make some changes to your life, I can thoroughly recommend it. Just remember, start small – I couldn’t run a mile when I first started. Find something you enjoy, but that challenges you. Commit to make it a habit and go out and get moving!

Ready to go

So, my triathlon season starts on Bank Holiday Monday, which means I’m starting to wind down ahead of the race. And I’m already enjoying the familiar flutters of excitement and anticipation.

I’ll be going back to the scene of my very first triathlon and it will be my third time at this event. That thought sends my senses tingling, remembering the smiles, the exhilaration and massive sense of achievement I had from completing it the first time and immediately thinking I had to do another one.

Training’s been good. Ian put together a great plan for me and I’ve been reaping the benefits of his triathlon coaching. This is the first year I’ve really had a solid triathlon focus with a bit of running, rather than in previous years where I’ve run and then added tri stuff in nearer the time.

On my bike at the Ashington triathlon 2011
My first triathlon where I rode a mountain bike.

As always there are things that could have been better. I haven’t managed to get out on my bike as often as I’d have liked, but I have mopped up more spin and indoor turbo sessions, thanks to Chrissie Wellington’s audio training. There’s nothing like a 4x world champion telling you to imagine you’re racing at Kona to conjure you out of a sweaty gym. So I have spent more time on a bike than in previous years and in the last couple of weekends, getting my road bike out and doing a couple of bike to run sessions (including one on the actual bike route) has perked up my confidence.

I have questioned my sanity as I replaced a couple of spin sessions with pre-breakfast bike rides in the past couple of weeks. But quiet, traffic free roads and knowing I can get out there and survive when it’s freezing cold are quite good training sessions for race day.

My running’s coming good. I’ve done some fast times at parkrun recently and to be honest I know it’s always the part I can manage. Running’s where I started, so it feels like coming home.

My swimming is reliable. I’m swimming consistent times in training and covering much more than the distance I need for a pool based sprint tri. I still have the unknown of how I’ll react to race day nerves and swimming in the churning mass of bodies, but I’ve managed that before and swum well, so it’s just a case of making sure I go through my mental preparation and get myself as ready as I can be.

I swam a 4x400m set at the pool last night, just getting straight in the water without a swim warm up to replicate race conditions. Of course, with no one else in my swim lane I didn’t have the choppy water, but as I started my first set one of the cleaners came round with the machine that looks like a giant hoover. The hum, together with the watery acoustics of the pool made for a really unpleasant kind of white noise and all I could think was that I hoped she would be gone quickly. When she came down the side of the pool where I was swimming, I really wanted to get away from the din and was conscious that my heart and breathing rate had increased a lot. So I used it to simulate the adrenaline rush of the tri swim and battled my way through it. That was the fastest 400m of the four I swam.

In the past I’ve focused on keeping the swim controlled and smooth, often thinking ‘slow down’ to help avoid having to take a time out at the end of each length. But I’ve also managed to pull some quick times out of the swim in competition, when I’ve felt anxious and out of breath. So I should have enough experience to cope with how I feel in the water on race day.

I also did a spot of transition practice with my PT this week. It’s always a balance between keeping moving and managing to stay upright and in one piece, particularly getting on and off the bike. Because I’m a bit of a klutz I usually opt for safety over speed, but even just thinking about getting on the bike and practising putting on all the kit a few times helped me shave a few seconds off.

I can’t do much about the weather, but it is looking like it’s improving. I certainly felt a lot warmer on my bike this morning than I did last week and I know I can battle through some pretty windy conditions. I have the back up option of putting a jacket on before I get on the bike if I really feel like it’s going to be a cold one, but at the moment, I think it’s just Geordie up and get on with it. I’m normally so full of adrenaline I don’t feel the cold anyway.

The sunshine will no doubt taunt me as I take it easy the next couple of days before the race. But I’ll be catching up with my running friends, volunteering at parkrun, and spending time on the farm seeing all the new animals, including a pair of alpacas and two pet lambs I’ve named Bonnie and Clyde.

So that’s it. The training’s done, bar giving the legs a gentle tickover tomorrow. There will no doubt be the usual last minute anxieties, but I’ve coped with them before and know I can again. This isn’t even a target race, but it does feel good to be getting ready to start my multi sport season. Triathlon = 3 x the sport = 3x the fun.

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.

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.