My Great North Run

Over the last few months I’ve been a lot better at doing the running than I have about updating the blog about my running! But I did it. Great North Run 09/09/2018, 13.1 miles, half a marathon, along with 57,000 other runners, the furthest I’ve ever run and my big goal for the year. Exactly one year after my first 5k race.

I’d felt really positive about it in advance. I’d done the training, getting past 10 miles several times and over 11 on my last long run. I had my kit all ready, all stuff I’d run in many times. I’d identified my biggest problem as setting off too fast, and had a plan to try and stick as near to 11 minute miles as I could.

I’d said all along that I was hoping for cloud, and the forecast said I’d get it. I’ve struggled so much to run in this summer’s heat, and my pace had picked up so well since it cooled down a bit. When I started walking to the race it was not just cloudy, but drizzling, and I knew I could run really well in this. I might even get under 2 hours 30 minutes, my fantasy race time!

The walk in is where things started going wrong. The socks and shoes I’d trained in a million times chose this morning to rub my feet to bloody blisters, and the wonderful clouds vanished to be replaced by brilliant blue skies and rapidly increasing temperature.

Ready to go!

I met up with my running group for photos and chat, was given blister plasters and sun screen, found the loos, and marvelled at the sheer mass of humanity waiting to run. I’d heard the number 57,000 over and over, but until I was there amongst them, trying to make my way to the pink pen at the back, I really didn’t understand just how many people that was.

There was a lot of hanging around. It was about 40 minutes between the start of the main race and my crossing the start line, but the excitement of actually being there carried me through. I’ve watched the Great North Run so many times as a spectator, never thinking I’d do it – now here I was! I was really glad to be waiting with a friend from running group, also taking part for the first time, who was equally excited. She helped me navigate through the crowd to run where I’d see my family, who were waiting to cheer me on shortly after the start.

I lost her quite quickly, once we were moving it was so crowded with runners of all different paces, but I got going well. I managed to keep to my target time for the first few miles, which passed in a blur. When I first looked at my watch I’d already done 2.5 miles and passed the Tyne Bridge and the Sage. It was hot but I kept going, even running the uphill sections, until well past the 8 mile mark. A couple of times we all had to move to the side of the road to let ambulances through, and there was a lot of concern for the runners who’d collapsed.

By mile 9 I was struggling and had to stop and queue for a toilet, which I was painfully aware was adding minutes to my time (7 minutes if you’re interested). I found it hard to get going again after that, and by mile 10 my legs were shaky and I was struggling even to walk. I felt awful, that I was letting people down, that I’d stupidly taken on something I just wasn’t capable of. I slowed, even walked eventually, and genuinely considered pulling out. This photo, one of my official ones, shows how bad I felt. I’d seen the camera, but couldn’t even summon the energy to look up or smile.

As well as official water, jelly baby and gel points there were thousands of ordinary people all along the route, cheering us on and handing out sweets, water, cake, fruit and more. Some even had garden hoses to help hot runners cool down. At my lowest point, somewhere around 11 miles, a small boy handed me a slice of orange and said, with complete sincerity, “You CAN do this.” And I remembered how sure I’d been that I could.

So I forced my legs to run again. I kept telling myself there was less than a parkrun left, a distance I run regularly, that I could do it. It was hard, really hard. While the first miles had flown by the last two dragged. Every step was a conscious effort. The last 800m have a distance marker every 200m, and they felt miles apart, but I was determined not to walk so close to the end. I was actually talking out loud, telling my legs to keep moving.

And then the end was in sight.

Thank goodness it’s nearly over!

I’m smiling in my finish photos. I don’t remember smiling – I remember struggling not to cry.

I’d done it.

But it wasn’t over.

My legs and feet were in agony. I wasn’t sure I could keep upright to collect my medal and goodie bag. I stretched as I queued.

My phone wasn’t working. So many people and media all transmitting from the same place was causing blocked signals, so I couldn’t find out where my family were waiting. I was too tired to worry about that! I had an ice cream and a sit down and took in the atmosphere while I waited.

Eventually I found my family and began the long slow journey home. I’d thought 57,000 was a lot of people earlier, it was nothing to 57,000 elated, tired people and all the friends and family supporting them. Public transport managed well, but it was a slow process.

After despair during the race elation had taken over. I did it! I pushed myself absolutely to my limits. I had sunburn, chafing, blisters, pain in my feet and legs, but I felt great. Part of me already wanted to do it again.

I couldn’t have done it without so many people supporting me, from friends and family throughout my training, everyone who sponsored me, to all the people lining the streets who cheered me on. Although I’m sure a less crowded run could be quicker I’m not sure I’d get round it without the support on the day.

For now, recovery. But I’m already signed up for a 10k in November and a 10 mile race in February. I’m not stopping running any time soon. And I still absolutely believe that if I can do this, there’s something for everyone, no matter how inactive you are now.

I’ve raised over £700 for my charities, over £800 with Gift Aid, which is way beyond my target. They’re both charities that have made a massive positive difference to my family, and I know they’re grateful for every penny and will put it to good use. If anyone has not yet donated and can spare a £ or two you can contribute here.

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No offence, but…

Well I’m doing rubbish at keeping the blog up to date! Let’s just acknowledge it and move on rather than me launch into the reasons/excuses, shall we?

Since I last wrote I’ve run much more, managed to buy clothes from the ‘regular sized’ section of the store rather than the fat-shaming section, and even worn clothes that don’t have an X in the size!

And the TV series Britain’s Fat Fight featuring the Newcastle Can project has aired – for a few Wednesday nights my phone was buzzing as people spotted me in my blink and you’ll miss me screen appearances. I’m not sure how well it was received outside of Newcastle, but it’s really got people talking about their health and weight again here.

And that’s brilliant, mostly.

But I have had a handful of comments which, as I’m in a positive frame of mind at the moment, I’m choosing to file under “Not quite as supportive as they’d intended to be”, although next time the depression and anxiety kicks in they’ll probably be upgraded to “Things to worry about incessantly when I can’t sleep.” I imagine other new and/or obese runners will have heard similar, those comments where you wonder whether to take offence or not.

For example:

  • “10k. Will you be running it? Really? All the way?”
  • “Well it’s nice you got a place, but I think it’s a shame for the proper runners who miss out on places.”
  • “You’ve dropped another dress size? I suppose it goes to show that you can eat whatever you want and lose weight so long as you exercise.”
  • “The Great North Run’s a brilliant experience, even though you’ll have to walk, and don’t worry about being near the back.”
  • And so on…

My partner and I forgetting parkrun isn’t a race!

Recurring themes in these comments are:

Surprise. Starting with surprise that I can run at all, followed by surprise at how far I can run, then surprise at the speed I do it in. I’m not offended by that – I know I don’t look how most people image a runner – although I’m definitely far leaner than I was. The surprised people are usually then impressed and interested.

Failure to take me seriously. Comments implying I’m “not a proper runner”. Which of course begs the question “What am I doing that’s improper?” 😂

I’m not offended by these comments either – it’s taken me a long time to get my head around the idea that I am a runner, even after several months running regularly and knowing the running community is made up of people of all shapes, sizes and speeds. If I struggle to believe it myself why would I be offended that other people think the same?

Ringing the PB bell the only time to date that I got sub 30.

Implying I’m not trying hard enough. The “eating whatever you like” comments. I’m not offended by this, in fact I think it’s mostly my own fault. I have made dramatic changes to what I eat, but I haven’t banged on about as it half as much as I have about the running. And there are photos of me running all over the place, no photos of me refusing snacks or chopping vegetables! But for the record I’m not eating whatever I want…

I didn’t want to go on “a diet”, because to me that implies prohibiting things and is a temporary change. If I prohibit things I’ll just crave them more. If I just revert to my old eating habits when I reach a healthy weight I’ll just pile the weight back on.

So I aimed to make small, incremental changes to how I eat that mounted up to a big positive difference – and I’ve succeeded, or just about. Stress eating is still a problem.

Food changes I’ve made and (mostly) kept to:

  • No unhealthy snacks at work (except for a couple of really stressful weeks)
  • Healthy snacks ready and available – fruit in the bowl, chopped veg in the fridge, etc.
  • Have a drink rather than eating when first feeling like I need a snack.
  • Smaller portions
  • Fewer treats – e.g. one piece of cake a week, usually after parkrun (except for special occasions!)
  • No treats in the house – if I really want ice cream I have to go out and get it, if I really fancy a biscuit I have to bake them.
  • More cooking from scratch/less processed foods
  • More fruit and veg/less meat and dairy
  • More awareness of what’s in food – labels, protein/carbs/fats etc.
  • More awareness of when I need food – am I running later, will I be stuck at my desk for hours, etc.

All that mounts up to significant changes. Yes, I could restrict my calorie intake more, but I’m doing OK as I am, and the results show.

Im now far enough into my fitness journey not to wobble when someone says something thoughtless, so at the moment I’m not offended by any of those comments. And if I do start worrying about them in future I’m going to shift my focus, because the comments above are a tiny minority. Instead I’ll remind myself of the multitude of positive comments like…

  • “You’re doing so well.”
  • “Guess what I did? You inspired me. I’ve signed up to couch 25K.”
  • “You’re definitely getting faster.”
  • “Will you be doing *insert name of difficult race*?”
  • “See you at parkrun…”

– – – – –

This year I’m dedicating all my running to two charities that have made a massive difference in my life. If you can spare a £ or two please sponsor me.

Going Further and Faster #iblamejulie

I’ve been quiet here for a while, caught in that loop of too much happening to write and the longer I leave it before writing the more there is to write about. I’m stepping out of that loop here and now.

In the past couple of weeks I’ve:

  1. Run further than I’d ever run before – 8.2 miles at a cracking pace.
  2. Run my fastest parkrun without meaning to – the plan was to go steady and gentle, but my steady and gentle is now faster than it was.
  3. Run my first 10k race – thrilled to bits with my finish time of 1.01.53.
  4. Discovered why people have rest days – PB parkrun Saturday, 10k Sunday and running group Monday was not a good plan!

My target this week is to get under 30 minutes at parkrun, and I think I can do it.

The #iblamejulie is in recognition of the difference the online Scream If You Want to go Faster course by Julie Creffield has made to me. I’m now 8 months into my running journey, so not sure I can still call myself a newbie, but I had been mystified by the maze of different advice out there on getting faster / stronger / fitter / lighter. By breaking it down into manageable chunks with a different theme each week, and making me record my progress Scream has guided me through the maze. The online community of participants have compared experiences and supported each other throughout. And definitely I’m running faster and stronger for being part of it.

I’m still struggling with stress eating and seeing my weight wobble around the same amount, so Julie’s focus on accepting what my body can do now, rather than always looking ahead to reaching a goal weight really appeals to me. My body is still obese, but it can do more than I ever believed possible, and I plan on celebrating that rather than beating myself up about not losing weight faster.

Julie isn’t the only one to blame for my improvement. I have lots of other amazing people supporting and encouraging me to push myself and improve and I’m grateful to each and every one of them. There’s my running group TeamCCRG, the women of the This Girl Parkruns North East Group, everyone in the parkrun for people affected by obesity group, not to mention all the individual runners, marshals, volunteers, and even passers by who spur me on with smiles and cheers. It’s amazing the difference a smile can make when you’re struggling! And of course there’s also my family, who are not only trained to put the kettle on as soon as I start stretching but are also joining in as well as encouraging me.

The impact all of this has had on my mental health is massive. My confidence has increased beyond measure. I’m no longer worried about people seeing me run (although as discussed here the jacket stays), I’m more likely to talk to people, to try things I haven’t done before, to keep going when it’s tough. Which isn’t to say the stress, anxiety and depression have gone completely. at the moment stress levels are high and I’m aware of keeping a tight lid on the anxiety to prevent it shooting up too, but I have a whole new set of coping mechanisms to draw on when they do appear.

In July last year when I started running I couldn’t make it to the first lamppost and thought 5k was an impossible goal. Now I’ve done 10k and more. 5k is the shortest distance I run in a week. I will run a half marathon in September. And honestly, if I can do it anyone can. Just start with tiny changes and who knows where you’ll end up.

– – – – –

I’m running this year to raise funds for two great charities, it would be great if you could sponsor me.

What a difference a year makes #thisgirlcan #iwd2018

A year ago I battled my anxiety to walk the Active Newcastle This Girl Can International Women’s Day 5k. It was the first organised exercise I’d taken part in for years, and my mental health nearly stopped me. At the time I wrote:

It challenged me physically and soothed me mentally. By half way round I was smiling, and by the end I felt great. Sweaty, muddy and tired, but great.

How far I’ve come since then!

At this year’s event I ran the full 5k, and it wasn’t a problem because I regularly run that far. This year I was looking forward to it rather than dreading it. This year I saw lots of faces I knew, and was joined by women I’d cajoled/inspired into coming along for the first time.

This year I’m more relaxed about the name This Girl Can, which I’d initially misunderstood (I’d still rather be called a woman than a girl though!)

This year my whole family were with me, daughter running again, son and partner cheering us on. My son coped well with the challenge of of noise and crowds, and I coped with running off leaving him in a place I knew was challenging for him. I’m not sure I could have done that a year ago.

Last year I had no idea where my fitness journey would take me, this year I have goals: first 10k, Blaydon Race, a sub 30 minute parkrun, the Great North Run…

I can’t wait to see where I am next year 😁

– – – – –

I’m dedicating my running this year to two charities that have helped me a lot. I’ll be writing more about this in a future post. If you would like to sponsor me that would be lovely.

Snow, speed and two parkruns.

After my sickness bug I took things easy for a week. No running, no gym, not as much dashing around as usual. I let other people do things for me, which I’m not always good at.

I returned to running at last weeks parkrun. It felt hard, I couldn’t keep up with the 30 minute pacer past the first k, and I really struggled to keep going, even after slowing down a lot, in the last k. So I was astonished when my official time was a new PB.

photo from Newcastle parkrun’s Facebook page.

Only by 3 seconds, but progress is progress and it so contrasted with how I thought I’d done, I was delighted.

Also that weekend I signed up to SCREAM if you want to run faster, online running training by Julie Creffield of the fabulous Too Fat To Run. This has been one of my go to websites since I started getting fitter. I am just slightly too old to be comfortable with the idea of online training, but so much of the advice on Julie’s website has served me well that I thought I’d give it a go. I’m using my parkrun PB as my base time, aiming to improve it by 5% over 8 weeks, which would see me break that 30 minute barrier. And it’s another really friendly and supportive running community helping keep me going.

I started this week well, with an early morning run on Monday, knowing I’d miss running group through working late. Following the #TFTRScream guidance I included lamppost sprints, which I managed for roughly a mile, although the sprints were coming less often towards the end of the mile.

…I don’t want to give away all the #TFTRScream guidance. I’m sure the course will run again in future for those who want to take part. So let’s just say following it all certainly spurred me on…

Then on Tuesday the snow hit. Wednesday the roads were chaos, no chance of even getting to the gym. But the Facebook running groups I’m part of were discussing running in the snow. So on Thursday, as I was working from home, I went for a lunchtime run. It was bitterly cold, so I found a sheltered street and ran up and down it. But it felt great. And I felt positive about doing three runs this week again.

My running shoes were purchased ignoring every bit of advice written. I went for what was cheapest, not even understanding the different types available. As chance would have it I ended up with trail shoes which have never given me a single blister and have really good grips in the snow.

Yesterday my local parkrun was one of the few still on. But the police were still saying essential travel only (Is parkrun essential? Discuss) And the buses weren’t operating a full service. So I ran to parkrun. Then I ran parkrun. Then I had a cup of tea, but after that I ran/walked home. (I would have liked to have got the bus home, but none came).

What a difference a week makes!photo from Newcastle parkrun’s Facebook page.

Despite the snow and having already run two and a half miles I did parkrun in 34.46, which I’m really pleased with. And including the run/walk home I did eight and a bit miles, which certainly makes up for missing my run commute. But next time I run home from parkrun I won’t break for tea in between and let my body cool down!

The best laid schemes…

Today should be my first 10k race. I was looking forward to it. I was confident I could cover the distance, not fast admittedly, but at a run all the way. I did a deliberately long run commute on Wednesday lunchtime, then the plan was parkrun on Saturday before the race on Sunday.

Wednesday evening I didn’t feel great, and had to scrap my gym session. I just figured doing the gym the same day as a long run had been a bad plan.

Wednesday night I started throwing up.

Thursday and Friday are a blur of bathrooms and sips of water, until finally, on Friday evening I proved I was on the mend by stomaching Lucozade. Any other 70s kids out there who still believe Lucozade cures all?

Saturday I made it out of bed, but the trip downstairs to the sofa left me feeling more exhausted than I usually feel after a run of miles! I knew I wouldn’t make the race, it would be stupid to try.

My partner thinks I’d pushed myself too hard with that lunchtime run across the icy moor, too much effort with too little fuel in my tank, but I don’t think it’s all that. In hindsight I realise I’d been finding it increasingly difficult to get out of bed in the morning for a few days. I think this was something I’d been fighting off for a while.

Exploring on my day off earlier in the week.

I’m disappointed, but there will be other races. I’m disappointed that I couldn’t make a family trip to the cinema too. That I missed so much of half term with the kids, we’d had fun on the one day off I did get with them. I’m disappointed that I missed a friend’s first parkrun (she smashed it 😁).

Some days go to plan, some days don’t. I’m not going to stress over it. I’m going to make a new plan. I need a new first 10k.

image from scottishpoetrylibrary via Pinterest.

Friday not wanting to, Saturday parkrun…

I didn’t want to go for a run on Friday. It was sleeting and windy, the sort of day for staying in the warm with a book and many mugs of tea. I got dressed in my running gear to try and convince myself.

I almost froze taking the dogs for a walk, the sleet was trying its best to turn into snow and the wind was almost painful. I had second, third and fourth thoughts about going for a run.

I can only assume Ranulph Fiennes is not plus sized! (Image from Pinterest)

I am large, large with Xs in front when buying running gear. Sportswear manufacturers seem convinced large people either don’t run or don’t run in bad weather – I have tried in vain to find a running jacket that fits me and is weatherproof. Thus when it rains, or sleets or snows, I get wet and/or icy. Why would anyone subject themselves to that?

I went anyway. As I set out my iPod shuffled to “Can I Play With Madness?” And I pondered coincidence.

My aim was to run 10k. My first 10k race is next weekend, and although I’ve gradually been increasing the distance of my run commutes I still hadn’t done a full 10k. So the plan was go steady and see how far I could go on a relatively flat route.

It was cold and wet and the first couple of miles were hell. I only saw one other runner and three cyclists, everyone else was sensibly in warm cars, buses or metros.

After the second mile I settled into a rhythm and hit that all too infrequent zone where I feel like I could keep going forever. I even deliberately took a longer route back to see if I could make it to 7 miles.

And I did.

Bring on the 10k next weekend 🙂

– – – – –

Saturday morning was just as unpleasant, but parkrun beckoned. It was the monthly session with pacers and I was hoping for a PB. I was meeting friends from running group and my partner was running for the first time. Not only did I want to go for a run, I even had a backup plan in case it was cancelled due to the ice!

At some point this year I’ll manage parkrun in under 30 minutes. This week wasn’t it. I kept up with the pacer for the first 2.5k, but then my legs reminded me how far I’d run the day before and it was all I could do to keep moving. Despite that I only missed getting a PB by 5 seconds, 31.23. My best time this year. I know I can do better.

My partner described his first parkrun as “not terrible” which I consider high praise. He did it in under 36 minutes, much faster than my first time. I’m sure he’ll be back.

Image from Pinterest, by parkrun.