Busy times

This week I have:

  • Visited Dublin
  • Encouraged my nephew (aged 9) to try his first oyster in The Temple Bar
  • Delivered a writing workshop with a new colleague
  • Taken photos for a fashion blog
  • Finished a large writing project at work
  • Had my car MOTd (expensive)
  • Been to my first ever ‘swish’ clothes swap
  • Written copy for a friend’s photography website
  • Blitzed an amazing PT session on the beach
  • Finished my fourth parkrun only a second slower than last week
  • Got some bits for my bike so I can go out for longer rides without fearing a puncture – and discovered it has a quick release wheel

Just about any of those is worthy of a blog post on their own. And I’m already looking forward to a packed week ahead which promises lots of nice things.

I’m heading up to Scotland for a writing course in a very posh country house. The accomodation looks fab and I’m really looking forward to spending some quality time writing and meeting other people who do a similar job to me. I like being the expert at what I do where I am, but sometimes it can get a bit lonely, not having other people around who really ‘get it’. I’m lucky that work will pay for me to do training like this.

On the way back home I’m planning to take in another parkrun. This time in Edinburgh. And that will be a chance to meet some great  friends from Fetch Everyone and have a blast. I think I might break out the new shoes for that one.

Being away for a few days means I have to be a bit flexible with my training. Although I have a great new plan which really mixes things up a lot and includes swimming, cycling and running. Hmmm, what can that mean?

A running friend at work was asking me about winter racing and what my goals were. I explained that I only plan to run twice a week and do lots of other stuff and just see how I go at my next 10k race in November. I’d like to do well, but I’m not going to train specifically for that race and pile the pressure on again. And she said “Well you’re at that level of fitness now where you can just turn up for a 10k and run it well.”

And that was a real moment of revelation. Because she’s right. And that’s pretty amazing. That was beyond imaginable two years ago. To be able to run just over six miles and enjoy it. To be able to run six miles fairly easily, just pushing myself and making it hard because I want to go faster. Wow, that’s cool!

And I don’t say that to make you jealous, or to make you feel like your efforts are unworthy in comparison. Many people do far more – run faster, further, harder than I can even comprehend. But I do remember what it felt like to start out and how hard it was. And I hope I never forget that. I’m enjoying the journey so much, sometimes it’s good to be reminded of how far I’ve come.

So if you’re bimbling or plodding along, run/walking or pushing your self to go just that little bit faster; if you’re just starting out, or coming back from injury, take a small moment and look back. Look how far you’ve come and give yourself a wee pat on the back. And then turn your eyes forward and keep going.


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Parkrun – take 3

Another Saturday and another Parkrun. So what keeps me coming back to these events? Well they’re friendly, inclusive, fun and free. And at the moment, without a definite training plan, they give me a fixed point in my week for a run.

Grey and drizzly this morning, but not too cold – just my kind of running weather, so I was up and out of the house in super quick time. My legs were feeling the effects of a tough Friday morning PT session, but I hoped to put on a good run, and possibly turn it into a long one.

I met my Fetch friend Lesley and her boy, Kieron, barcoded up and ready for his first Parkrun. And then as I headed to the start, I spotted Dave, who introduced me to Kate. That’s one of the nice things about Fetch Everyone – it’s like a virtual running club, and races are a good chance to catch up with your club mates.

A quick warm up and stretch and we’re off away over the moor. I tried to keep it steady at the start after running some quick first kilometres in the last couple of races. Stretching out my stride to level with and pass another female runner as the field started to spread out and Dave goes past with a spot of cheery encouragement. And then, as in so many runs I found I was running a lot of this one in my own space.

I pass another couple of runners out the back along Grandstand Road. I really like this stretch, probably because I’ve got into a nice pace and rhythm by this point. Back in through the gate and a quick shout from Rob who is on marshall duty and holding it open. I’m so focused on my run, it takes me a second to recognise him.

There’s a very slim girl in a blue and white top and another man running well ahead and I think they’re too far away to chase down, but gradually, gradually I gain on them and go past. And now I’m approaching the point of the course I’ve found hard. The stony ground between the 3 and 4k markers always seems to unsettle me and mentally I can allow myself to drift off the pace. But today I’ve gone a bit more slowly at the start, so I want to try and keep it steady here.

Ahead I spot Dave, and am surprised to see he’s walking. As I draw up behind him I ask if he’s okay and he says his calf has stiffened up. Poor guy, but he still waves me on with a smile.

It’s hurting a bit now and my running feels a bit patchy, like my breathing. I’m really running on my own now and determined just to push on. The man I passed earlier catches me and goes ahead and I fight to keep my head and not let it defeat me.

As I go through the last gate, I know there’s just 1km to go and back on the smoother tarmac, I try to pick up the pace a little, watching the stream of runners ahead through the mist.

There’s a line of lampposts, then a turn down the home straight. You can see it coming and it never seems to get any closer. Last time I ran this, I spotted a girl just ahead and tried to sprint her down the finish. But I kicked in too early and had to reel it back. I know now, from looking at the results that she was running conservatively any way, as she’s way faster than me.

This time two tall guys go past me as we turn into the home straight, but there’s a girl in a red top that I target. I pick my spot and start to increase the speed. My legs protest. This hurts, but I try to keep the pedal down. And then again. Find another gear and push on. She’s close now an I’ve closed down a lot of ground. Will she take me on in a sprint to the line?

I drive on past and don’t look back, arms pumping, legs turning over really quickly now, panting for breath, but determined to keep going for the line. There’s no one to pass and I know my pace is unlikely to get me a PB, but I want to see how close I can get.

Over the line in 25.36 and it takes me a good minute or two to catch my breath. Not as good as last week, but not far off my first week’s time I think. The smiley lady who has been at the finish of all my parkruns so far, and I now know is called Tuve asks how I got on, and I barely have breath to say ‘No, PB’. But I’m not disappointed. I had a good run and kept it together through that tricky 4th kilometre.

Once I’ve recorded my time and position, I head back to the finish to see Dave walk across the line. Probably the only time I’ll ever pass him in a race. Despite the fact that he’s scheduled to run again tomorrow and do the Kielder marathon next weekend, he’s surprisingly relaxed about this setback, but I know he’s a bit disappointed. Get well soon Dave.

I’m off to Dublin tomorrow and delivering a writing workshop on Monday, so it’s a busy weekend for me. And that meant I was unlikely to find another chance for a longer distance run. So, after the 5k race, I restarted my watch and set off around the course again at a more leisurely pace to make it a 10k.

As I headed out across the moor, I spotted Lesley and Kieron heading for the finish with a run and cheered them on. And then it was just me and my thoughts in the drizzle on the moor for the next 30 minutes or so. And even though it was a much slower pace, I still don’t think my legs have quite forgiven me.

Stats and stuff
Official Parkrun results 5k in 25:36
Finished in 95th place and were the 11th lady out of a field of 137 parkrunners and you came 2nd in your age category.
kilometre splits:
1. 05.13
2. 05.17
3. 05.12
4. 05.17
5. 04.36 [Parkrun finish]
6. 05.40 [restart watch]
7. 03.14 [0.85km – think my Garmin counted a lap when I stopped to open a gate]
8. 05.44
9. 05.41
10. 05.27
11. 03.06 [0.58 km – another glitch]

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Just a lovely run

I’ve no plan at the moment, just doing what I feel when I feel like it. And today I felt like a bit of a run, but was short of time at lunch, so opted for a walk in the sunshine instead.

Home this evening and by the time I’d done a couple of chores, it was beginning to get dark. But still, my route is well lit and there are always people passing by, so I scurried into my kit and headed out.

A still clear evening, not a breath of breeze, not cold, just peaceful and relaxed. And that’s how my run felt. No real pace goal, no distance aim. Just an idea to run for about 30 minutes and to see where I got to.

Passing the other runners, high viz tops and bibs starting to appear beneath the street lamps as I head out along the coast. My calves feel a little tight to start off with, but I soon warm up and settle, just steady running and easy breathing.

It’s an out and back route, so I have to pick a turning point. I decide to go as far as the next Garmin beep, which would be about 3k. As I approach, a hoarde of runners appears up from the promenade, and then another group and another. I feel like I’m going the wrong way, that I should be joining this merry band. Soon afterwards I get the signal and turn, resolving to try and catch them.

It’s a running club, I learn as I pass the back markers, with a runner jogging back to make sure they’re okay. They appear and disappear throughout most of the rest of my run, diving down the steps and pathways to the lower promenades and across a beach, then back up again and around behind the fisherman’s cottages.

Why haven’t I thought of that on all my runs along this stretch? There are numerous paths down towards the beach and up to the roadside. I’ve always thought of my route as flat, but there are any number of hills if I choose them. Ah well, some new training tactics to try once I’m planning regular runs again.

Tonight it’s just about keeping it easy and enjoying the sensation of the evening air in my face, watching my shadow with its bouncing ponytail and rolling the tarmac beneath my feet.

In a way it’s one of those runs I don’t want to end, but it’s getting properly dark and I said I wouldn’t be long. So I pick up my pace a little and practice my sprint finish to a predetermined bus stop. My target is spot on as the Garmin bleeps as I pass. I slow to a jog and stretch at a nearby bench before returning home refreshed and peaceful as the evening sky.

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Alternative aquathlon and brick session

I was still bouncing around on an adrenaline high after Saturday morning’s parkrun, and I thought my legs would benefit from a bit of a stretch, so I decided to go for a splash in the pool in the afternoon.

I’ve missed swimming. I used to get a bit fretful if I didn’t get in the water on a regular basis, but since I started running and training regularly, it’s not so bad. Still it was a shock to discover I only made one swim session in September. It would have been my activity of choice as a recovery from the Great North Run, but blocked sinuses put paid to that.

I also have this theory that since I learnt to swim with proper bilateral breathing, I actually swim better when I’m a bit tired. I’m less like to thrash around and use my legs to propel myslef along and more likely to be steady, smooth and slow, which helps make sure I have time to breathe.

So off into a nice empty pool, a couple of warm up lengths and I was dying to challenge myself. In November, I’m doing my first aquathlon – a 500m swim and 5k run. So I wanted to try 500m and get a feel for how long it would take me.

Now 500m may not sound a lot, but it took me quite a while to get to 400m in one go and, as I said, I haven’t swum for a while. 

So off I went, slow and steady, breathing every third stroke. My first error was failing to calculate how many lengths I needed to do in the 20m pool. And when you’re trying to count breaths, and keep tally of how many lengths you’ve done, simple mental maths can be a bit tricky. But I settled for 25 and kept counting them down.

And I don’t know if it’s because I’ve taken a break from swimming, or because I was relaxed from running that morning, but mostly it felt easy. Just a nice rhythm and a push off the sides at the end of each length. I did suffer a breathing malfunction that had me spluttering and swimming head out of the water for about half a length, but even that’s progress, as previously it would have stopped me completely. I got to the end and stopped the watch at 12:02.

A bit of a breather and a length of breast stroke and I wasn’t ready to call it a day. So I decided to try and swim it again, with the option of stopping at 400m if I was really tiring. And off I went.

Now, I did lose count of the lengths at one point and realised I was wrong when I was counting an odd number when I was travelling up the pool and it should have been an even one. So I glanced at my watch and worked out I’d probably done 11 lengths and carried on to complete another 500m set (I think) in 11:56. I was either an awful lot slower and two lengths down, or spot on and a teensy bit quicker. I did go hell for leather in the last two lengths.

In any case a 5k parkrun followed (after a wee bit of a break) by a 1km swim should mean next month’s aquathlon will be no bother. And with an evening meal at our friend’s coffee shop to look forward to, I felt like I’d built up some credit ahead of the syrup sponge pudding.

My good friend Katie ran a 10k for Cancer Research today. We’ve been exchanging messages over facebook and twitter and if we lived closer, I would have gone and run it with her. As it was, I said I would run on Sunday and think of her.

After Saturday’s Parkrun and the swim, my legs and glutes definitely knew they had worked hard, but I wanted to do something to get the heart racing again. So, back to the gym for Ema’s tough spin class, new trainers in my bag ready for their first rumble on the treadmill afterwards.

When training for triathlon, as I hope to do next year, one of the things to practice going straight from a bike ride into a run.  It’s called a brick session. So my spin class followed by a quick run would give me a sort of taster.

I’m liking the spin class. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, you basically exercise on static bikes in the gym, simulating rinding up hills by increasing the level of resistance on the bikes. They are normally accompanied by thumping dance soundtracks to help you get some rhythm in your legs.

It’s a great cardio vascular workout, with a fun, tough and energetic instructor and a good introduction to bike skills for me, particularly as there aren’t a great many hills where I live. So this is a sure fire way to get my adductors burning.

I was saying to Ema how I expected it to hurt after my run and swim, and she mentioned she does another class called Yoga-lates – a mixture of Yoga, Pilates and a bit of Tai Chi, if I wanted a stretch. And well, I had no plans for the afternoon…

So a sweaty spin, quick mile and bit in the new shoes on the treadmill, then off home to grab a bite to eat, change into some less sweaty kit and off to a brand new class. It was busy, which was a good sign, and there were some very limber bodies in there.

I do a regular pilates class, and I like to make sure I stay pretty flexible, but this really showed me how my flexibility has changed since I stopped my yoga class. Some of the positions I recognised from yoga, and although my sideways movement remains good, my hips felt really tight, probably from the concentration on running. It was good to do some balance and core work too. All in all a great class and a nice way of mixing up my training.

But I that’s enough for this weekend. I may even take a day off training tomorrow. I think I’ve earned it.

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Newcastle Parkrun – take 2

Waking early Saturday morning, my mission to make it to Parkrun number 2. It’s bright, with no sign of wind. A good day for a good run.

So much milder on the moor this week, but I jog a little further to warm my legs through and spot a couple of friends from Fetch Everyone before the start.

A good day for another PB? The weather says yes, but my legs are still feeling the effects of Friday’s PT session, so I’m not sure. I can actually hear the starter’s announcements this week as there’s no wind carrying the voices away. And we’re off!

I don’t quite get the sensation of the whole field passing by me at the start this time. Maybe I’m a bit further back; maybe I know what to expect. I get a little blocked in behind one of the Veteran runners but manage to find a space just after the first turn and dodge the cow pats  to head out onto the long straight path across the moor.

Just run your own race, I tell myself, trying not to go off too fast, but targeting as close to 5 min kms as I can, with one eye on a future 10k race. Through the first km in 4:51. That’s good – stick there or thereabouts.

There’s a male runner on my right shoulder and at first I think he’ll push on past, but we stay level for a while and I sense that he may be pacing himself with me. And if there’s one thing I seem to be able to do, it’s run at a fairly consistent pace.

At the gate out onto Grandstand Road, he gallantly gestures me through ahead, and we continue to keep in step below the trees. We pass Hannah Bayman who I recognise from Look North and I call out ‘Keep going Hannah’ as much to check my breathing as anything else.

Turn back onto the moor, dodging the muddy bits and onto the stony path and the bit of the course I don’t like as much. I start to drift a little here, pushing on, then pulling back. But my pace setter is sticking with me. I resolve to stick with him as long as I can and tell myself to relax into my stride.

Just like last time, kilometre 3-4 is where it starts to slip. I can really feel my legs starting to get heavy and my breathing start to stumble and somewhere along the path, my pacer moves ahead and I cannot catch up. It’s a bit of a head down moment. A bit of a mental letting go. It’s hard to keep going as the group ahead moves off into the distance.

But that’s what these short races are all about, keeping going, keeping pushing the pace and although I know I’ve dropped off a little, I try to make sure it’s not too much and hope for a sprint finish to pull it back. I look ahead to the line of lampposts marking the last section of the course and resolve to kick in when I reach a certain point.

There’s a girl in a black T-shirt ahead as we approach the finish. I know I have a good kick, can I reach her? It’s a bit too fast too soon and I can’t sustain it. I kick through two more gears and close the gap, but I have to reign it in again. Oh well, just running for me and my time now. With less than 100m to go I push on for a sprint finish, hoping to be lucky and shave a few seconds off last week’s time.

I collapse breathless over the line, stop the watch and collect my token. A smiley lady with blonde hair asks, “Did you do better than last week? You had a good run last week.” And I reply that I haven’t looked at my time yet, then ping up the screen on my watch to see 25:22.  A new PB by 15 seconds. Get in!

It’s all so effortless after that. Stand in line to get your barcode and your token scanned for your results later. Parkrun really is a well organised event. I spot my pacer in line in front and thank him for getting me round in a new PB and he thanks me for keeping my pace which he says was ‘spot on’.

So, back next week? Yes please. Three PBs in a row might be asking a bit too much, but if I can eliminate the fade between 3 and 4 kms then it’s a possibility. Of course, conditions on the Town Moor can always throw the wind in your face or a cow pat under foot. But if I can book the same weather again for 14 November and the 10k race, that would be fantastic.   

Stats and stuff:
5k in 25:22
km splits
1. 04.51
2. 04.56
3. 05.16
4. 05.24
5. 04.54

Official email from parkrun:
“Your time was 25:23 . You finished in 74th place and were the 19th lady out of a field of 109 parkrunners and you came 3rd in your age category VW35-39.
Congratulations on setting a new Personal Best by 00:14 seconds at Newcastle parkrun!
You achieved an age-graded score of 59.68%.”

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It’s good to be back

I’d always intended to take a bit of a break after the Great North Run and shake my training up a bit. In the last few weeks before the race I dropped a lot of cross training in favour of fitting quality miles and recovery into my week.

I haven’t felt the urge to go for a long run, which has formed the pattern of my weekends since the end of June, but I wanted to see how I felt over 10k. In my Great North Run training I’ve run over and above this distance time and time again, trying to aim for 9:30 min miles, with the aim of running 9 min miles throughout the race.

On a cool Monday morning, with no pressure on to get to work, I headed out on my familiar coastal route, enjoying the damp drizzle. The chill air reminds me of winter runs, just wanting to get moving to keep warm, wondering when I’ll be forced into long sleeves and extra layers. I’ll hold off as long as I can. For someone who normally feels the cold, I seem to be quite hardy when I run.

Even with a Sunday spinning class in my legs and cold air in my lungs, it feels good to be stretching out and running again. Not a fast blast, but not feeling like I have to hold back either. I take my time to settle and warm my legs through on the first mile. Always the mile of doubt. How’s it going to feel today, how far will I go?

The familiar landmarks pass and I’m keeping to my half marathon race pace. Strange how 9 min miles feels relatively easy now. The pressure’s off, I’m just running for me. No crowds, just my inner thoughts keeping me going.

There are moments when it feels hard and I puzzle through it, knowing I can go much further or faster than this. At the half way point I allow myself to slow to a jog, while I pull out my headphones and grab a mouthful of dried mango. The tunes kick in with a welcome boost on the way back and I almost overblow it to an Eminem track.

But that’s the joy of running, pushing faster and further, the surge of adrenaline making you feel like you’re invincible. I have to reign it back a little to finish the distance and the backs of my legs tell me they’ve worked hard as I finish and stretch. No goals for time today, but I’ve been working out what would be good. 56 minutes I tell myself, secretly hoping for 55. I stop the watch at 53:30 :-).

A couple of days away in Scotland and no chance for training, just plenty of good home-made food and sleep. Lots of sleep. It leaves me feeling indolent and lazy, eager to burst out of this resting bubble.

And so Friday morning sees the return of my much-loved PT session on the beach. It’s been five weeks since I tackled anything that Ian had to throw at me and I’m ready to test myself. A good catch up and warm up with the med ball and it’s like we’ve never been away. Burpees, pushups, squat jumps, lunges, bear crawls. Short bursts of activity and shorter rests make up some tough interval style workouts.

A couple of times we get to rep 3, and I think, I’ll never make 8. But something in me won’t let me be beaten, even when I’m finding it hard to catch my breath and my ears are popping (signs I still haven’t completely shifted my cold). I make it to the end, feeling muscles I haven’t used for a while, jog up the steps and stretch while planning the next challenge. I have lots to look forward to.

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My first Parkrun

Me on Newcastle Parkrun

I remembered to smile for the camera

Every week I’ve looked in envy at the pictures from Newcastle Parkrun. I’ve stalked the message board and become a fan on facebook, but I’ve never actually run it until now. Focusing on training for the Great North Run meant that I opted for a long run at the weekend and didn’t want to risk my legs on a short fast blast. But boy do I love a short, fast blast! And I love racing. Even the good natured, just competing against yourself racing of parkrun.

It’s suddenly turned to winter here in the North East. We’ve had storms, torrential rain, and today it was cold. Cold on the windswept exposed moor. Bye, bye summer shorts. Hello hoodies, buffs and gloves. But today it had to be my Fetch top. And it was a great race to introduce it.

I zoomed into town and headed to Exhibition Park, still keeping my hoodie on, but discarding it at the start as I chatted to Jeff and Rob. I was introduced to the legend that is Mr Henderson senior, still a youngster compared to the other vets preparing to run on some cracking looking legs. I want that to be me, still running and enjoying every minute when I’m in my 80s.

Jogging back to the start line, trying to keep warm, chatting with some of the other runners, comparing experiences from last weekend. And then a few quick stretches and trying to keep my legs warm, set the watch and, we’re off!

Crikey, they go off like the clappers don’t they? I feel like I’m passed by the whole field by the first turn, and part of me wants to give chase. With one thing and another, I haven’t run since the big race last Sunday, and the adrenaline’s up, but their pace is much too fast for me.

Just run your own race I tell myself and start to settle. I really don’t know how I’m going to feel today, shaking off the remnants of a cold and still needing to warm up my legs. But that’s one of the beauties of a first time out on a course, or a distance. No expectations and a guaranteed PB.

I overtake a couple of runners as we head out towards the gate, which boots my confidence a little, and I settle into a rhythm that feels tough, but manageable. I can hear my breathing, quite sharp and harsh, and I need to clear my throat a fair few times in the cold air.

I’ve forgotten to switch my Garmin back to km splits, but glance at the first marker and see 5.10. Crikey, that’s almost target 10k pace. Keep going girl.

The field thins out very quickly and I’m soon in my own space, no one running close behind me and those ahead too distant to target at this stage. I look into the distance and see a ribbon of runners streaming ahead. It feels good to be running again.

The 2nd kilometre’s quick too and I overtake a couple more runners as we turn down Grandstand Road. Warmer and more sheltered here, I love running beneath the trees in the dappled sunlight. As we turn in at the next gate, a girl over takes me, but doesn’t sprint away and I think, ‘I’ll have you at the finish’.

It’s starting to hurt a bit around now and I ease up a little to get my breathing back into order. I remember this stretch from last year’s 10k over the gravelly path. Then I was desperately hanging on to a runner wearing a Welsh Dragon on his shirt. Today, I’m just running and it feels good – tough, but good.

The 4k marker arrives just as I’m starting to drift off the pace a little and I think only 5 more minutes to run and try to push on. But this is a tough bit of the course, into the wind and I don’t seem to make much headway.

As the route snakes round and I start to understand where the finish is, I tell myself I’ll push after the last turn, but my legs have other ideas and kick up a gear before it comes. I start to stretch out, making the most of each stride as I start reeling in runners.

Pass the girl in the pink top and she’s not coming back at me. That couple up ahead – they’re too far away too catch aren’t they? Legs kick in another gear and the distance closes quickly. Power down, arms pumping. Where is this coming from? I don’t know, but it’s a race and I do like a sprint finish. A quick smile for the camera and over the line in 25.39. Wow! I hadn’t expected that.

Head down to catch my breath, and Jeff comes over to say well done. I look up, but can’t reply, and have to put my head down again to get my balance. What a great, exhilarating run.

Well it was a guaranteed PB, as I’d never timed myself over that distance before. And it’s confirmed what I pretty much decided in my head after this year’s Great North Run. I’m a speed demon. I like the short fast runs. And although I’d purposefully not set any expectations for myself for that run, after a week shuffling off a cold and no other training. I am very happy with that – particularly as the official time was 2 seconds faster.

Here’s what’s on my official Parkrun email: You finished in 88th place and were the 18th lady out of a field of 136 parkrunners and you came 2nd in your age category VW35-39. (OMG 2nd – in my category!) You achieved an age-graded score of 59.14%.

The trick now will be to do better each time. But I’m pretty confident I have that in me and it will be great training for the 10k, which will be my next target race in November. All in all, a very good day, topped off by another donation to my Great North Run fundraising for Sands

I’ve just written the cheque for all my offline donations and posted it off this morning, bringing the total raised to £1,375.50.  I’m very proud to have done that for Ava and from talking to lots of other people who have been affected by stillbirth or neonatal death, I know it will make a huge difference. So once thank you with all of my heart. Whether you gave money, or just good wishes, you helped me make a difference and remember a little sister with love.


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