Bridges of the Tyne 5 mile race 2014

I’d forgotten I’d signed up to this race way back in March, but it’s a popular event and places are soon snapped up, so I guess I must have got caught up in the enthusiasm and put my name down. I’m very glad I did.

After a morning of thundery downpours, runners may have been expecting a wet race, but by the evening, the sun was out and the air was warm as we gathered at the Tyne bar to pick up our race packs.

Running along beside the Tyne Bridge
Running along beside the Tyne Bridge – photo by George Routledge

Along with race number and timing chip, there was an excellent race goodie bag with a nicely designed tech T-shirt , Natural Hero goodies and money off vouchers for Sweatshop. I’m already a fan of Natural Hero’s hot ginger muscle rub and soak, so it was nice to try their cool peppermint spray – very welcome on hot and tired legs after the race.

I caught up with a few runners I know from parkrun and club members from Durham’s Elvet Striders before the start, but with so many people waiting to pick up their numbers and a good walk to the start line, there really wasn’t too much time to chat.

I found a place towards the back of around 400 runners for the start on the Newcastle Quayside, and soon bounded off at quite a lick, excited to be racing.

I had no expectations or targets for this run. I really didn’t know how I would go after a week of holiday and little training. And for the first few hundred metres I felt good, bouncy and fast.

But it was hot. The air felt thick and I was soon breathing hard to suck in oxygen, feeling like I was chewing on it like a mouthful of marshmallows.  I consciously eased up a little, looking for a more reasonable pace that I could sustain.

Me running along beside the Tyne
Enjoying the Tyne Bridge 5 miler in the sunshine – photo by Sue H

With marshals at every jink in the out and back route and a chance to spot the faster runners on the return leg, I soon found myself shouting encouragement. I was very happy to spot local running star Aly Dixon, easily first lady and mixing it up with the fast lads and give her a good shout.

And then a little further on, just before the turn around point, I spotted a teddy bear wearing a familiar running vest and then saw my friend Sue poised with camera in hand. Cue a spot of showboating from me, proving I really was relaxed and enjoying the run.

Back along the river, getting encouragement at every marshal point helped keep my legs turning over as the effort began to take its toll. I started to try and chase down runners ahead, reeling in the gap between us, hoping that by easing off a little to find my rhythm at first, I could finish strong.

A little way ahead I spotted Malcolm who volunteers to hold the gate open at Newcastle parkrun almost every week and he became my target to chase down in the last mile and a half. Keeping my focus on the small distance ahead, trying to reduce it, and not letting it increase, was a great way to keep my mind of how hot, tired and achy my legs were, as i could feel my calf muscles tightening.

Just as I was within a couple of strides of my quarry, an encouraging shout from another parkrunner, Sumanth, meant Malcolm knew I was approaching. So, I had to make it stick and I pushed on a little to move past. Encouragingly he shouted that I could make 45 mins if I pushed on.

Me running
Race face on for a sprint finish – photo by Lee Cuthbertson

Now I hadn’t paid much attention to my watch, and felt like I was running way slower than that kind of pace, so it really spurred me on to give it a try. With the finish arch approaching along the quayside, I’d already increased my effort and with a couple of hundred metres to go, really kicked into sprint mode.

With a small crowd of purple clad Elvet striders giving me a good shout in the dying metres, I kept on pushing, found yet another gear and crossed the line in 46:21.

It’s a measure of the quality of the field, that it wasn’t a particularly fast time, and I have run the course faster than that a couple of years ago, but I was really pleased with my efforts.

After a bit of banter and more cheering of the Elvet crew, who were very well represented at this race, I walked back down the course a little way to see my fellow Fetchie Sarah coming in to finish.

Getting a return shout of encouragement from Aly Dixon as we approached the line, and she was completing her warm down, was a really nice bonus. Aly’s a class runner and will be representing team GB n the marathon at the Commonwealth Games. I’ve seen her at a few local races and follow her progress on her blog and she’s always really generous with her support and insights into her training. So good luck Aly – I’ll be cheering for you and all our team GB athletes.

Bridges of the Tyne 5m results


Tony the Fridge and the 24 hour challenge

Remember Tony the Fridge? The guy who ran the Great North Run route 30 times with a fridge on his back? He was back with another crazy challenge, this time running for 24 hours with an even heavier fridge along Newcastle and Gateshead Quayside to raise money for the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation.

My best work buddy was leaving and having drinks in town. So I dashed out for a couple of hours in the bar, wishing her well and left just after 9pm, via a superhero costume change into my running gear and headed down to race HQ.

Tony’s run had started much earlier, live on local TV at 18:20. The hullabaloo of  press attention had gone, and it was dark, but he was still supported by his faithful crew and other runners turning up to clock up a few miles.

I arrived just as he was coming in for a pitstop and shortly after set off to run a few laps. He didn’t seem quite his usual self, or not as I’ve known him when I ran with him before. He was still philosophising, still talking about being in the moment, but there was an effort of will to it. Tony never talks in negatives and has the strongest mental will I’ve ever encountered, and that was still there, but there was a subtle down beat note that seemed off key.

I was a bit worried that this was how things were early on in his run. I chatted a little with him and some of the other runners, but I sensed it was a good time for quiet focus.

It was a beautiful night. After gales and storms, it was perfectly still, dark, and peaceful. The backdrop of the Tyne, with the bridges and buildings, is a sight to gladden any heart and this night it put on its kindest face.

There’s a little bit of magic about Tony. Beautiful things happen when he’s around, like the sun coming up as we ran onto the Tyne bridge during his 30 day Great North Run challenge.

That night, the river – the great big heart of this amazing city – provided a scene of wonder. The river was still as glass. As we ran alongside, we stopped and looked over the railings to see a perfect reflection of the Tyne bridge. The world turned upside down, lights shining in the water. The ever moving river stilled in tribute to a man who just has to keep moving for 24 hours.

I ran a couple of very steady miles and then left him to plough on through the night, feeling the dull ache of the run in my hips and legs, not daring to imagine how much Tony would be hurting.

I woke early on Saturday morning and went to parkrun on the Town Moor where I had an unexpectedly fast run and took almost a minute off last week’s time, scoring a new season’s best and getting closer to my best ever pace time.

After parkrun I returned to the Quayside to run another three miles with Tony. The sun was shining, buckets were shaken, horns tooted and Tony was surrounded by runners he knows. He posed for pictures with supporters, passers by and even with a couple who were getting married  at the Baltic. He was very much more himself and after my laps,  I left knowing he was in great shape to complete his 24 hour run.

The best sun rises are the ones you share

I ran with Tony the Fridge again on Thursday morning. The sun was coming up over the silver curves of the Sage music centre on the banks of the Tyne. As we crossed the bridge beneath the Great North Run banner, we stopped for a photo and Tony tweeted the title of this blog post.

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

Tony was in fine fettle, full of banter. He’s so connected to this place, every corner holds a story, a memory, a person loved and remembered. I drifted along listening to his stories. I didn’t want the run to end.

Just four miles, but I learned so much. I am building my own memories of this place, this region that has notched itself into my heart, but I’ll never have that depth of connection to the big river. It made me reflective but joyful all day.

I have, in my inevitable way, lined up a string of treats and excitements, days so full of promise that I’m afraid I might burst looking forward to them all.

On Tuesday I took a day off for a long run and indulged myself by running it over much of the Great North Run route. It was a glorious running day, with sunshine, a slight breeze and a lightness in my mind that pleased me.

I had my music to help me keep tempo and pace, but much of the time I turned it off. Jeff passed me in his car and stopped to give me a shout as I just started off.  I caught him again later on and as always, he was full of encouragement. He said I was looking good, running well, and I knew it was true.

I ran most of the 11 miles easy and light, feeling well within myself, apart from a sticky fretful mental patch about 8 miles, but even that didn’t take too much wrestling. With a 10 miler behind me on Sunday I’d given myself permission to ease off if I needed to in the last mile. And as I turned onto the Leas at South Shields I was hit by a head wind and decided not to fight it.

I slowed my pace and cruised down to finish the set, a useful reminder that I will need mental focus to keep me going in the race, as once I stepped down, I could not find the pace to step back up again.

This weekend I go to race my last triathlon of the season with my fabulous friend Lesley. I’m surprisingly relaxed about it, even though it’s two months since my last tri. The race is almost irrelevant other than the excuse it gives me to spend time with my friends. I feel like I ought to be taking it more seriously. I know I will enjoy it whatever the result. We always have the best time together.

Then there’s the big run, which has, despite all my efforts and protestations, become the big run again. I feel that it’s all coming together just in time for me to give the Great North Run another good blast. And that it will mark season’s end for me.

But it’s not just about me. I’ll be just as excited for other friends doing it for the first time, in search of a time or just for the experience of being there. I’ll no doubt be as keen to catch up with them at the end as I will be to review my own progress. There are some this year who I will miss, but they’ll be on my mind too as I run and enjoy the day.

And after all that, I’ll get the chance to take a bit of a break, kick back, explore some new horizons and not worry too much about miles on the road, on the bike or in the pool. My amazing summer still holds much promise.

You can find out more about Tony the Fridge and his 30 Great North Runs challenge on twitter @tony_the_fridge, on facebook, or  his charity fundraising page.