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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Disability, anxiety & Gannin’ along the Scotswood Road…

The last couple of weeks have been, to say the least, stressful. It started with me dashing home from work after a hysterical call from my 16 year old son. He’d been the target of a local gang of young louts who don’t like disability or difference, and think an adult sized person who’s as easily frightened as a small child is hilarious. Luckily a neighbour had seen this, called the police, and stayed with my son til family arrived.

The fact that this had happened on the day that most of my Facebook feed was applauding the country’s recognition that disabled people have talent rankled. I think Lost Voice Guy is great, he’s a local comedian who I’d seen before he entered Britain’s Got Talent. But his win is not a show of how well respected disabled people are in this country.

Sadly my son’s experience is more typical of what people with disabilities face on a daily basis than Lee Ridley’s acceptance by the nation. And it didn’t stop on Monday. I don’t want to go into details, but it’s ongoing, immensely stressful, the last thing my family needed during both kids’ exams, and utterly heartbreaking. I will say that the police recognise hate crime when they see it and are taking it really seriously, and everyone I speak to is sympathetic and supportive, but the damage one gang of stupid kids can do is immense. Even when they inevitably get bored and move to a new target it will take a long time to restore my son’s confidence and rebuild the small measure of independence we’d worked so hard to build for him.

It’s got me rattled too, since defending my son the same gang is yelling abuse at me when I see them around the estate. It’s had me questioning including photos on this blog, recording my activities on strava, even walking to the local shops on my own. I feel constantly on the verge either of tears, or of losing my temper so badly I’m afraid of what I might do.

It’s amazing how quickly long held values disintegrate when your own family comes under attack. I didn’t like the level of surveillance we all face day to day, now I want cameras everywhere. I’m firmly opposed to violence against children, but I want to retaliate to these kids violence against my son. I didn’t believe locking kids away was a solution, but I want these kids off the streets.

But mostly I want my son to feel safe and happy, and I hate that I can’t make him safe or happy at the moment.

The Saturday before all this started my son did his first parkrun. For a young man with his additional needs just getting around 5k is a massive achievement. Doing it in the crowded environment of Newcastle parkrun, on an incredibly hot day, was fantastic. I’m trying to help him hold onto the pride he felt that day during the challenges he’s facing at the moment.

The Saturday after all this started was the Blaydon Race. This was a run I desperately wanted to take part in, and was overjoyed when I got a place…

As a small child on a visit to London my dad and grandad convinced me they’d told the palace we were coming, and that was why the guards played the Blaydon Races during the changing of the guard that day.

As a small child witnessing my brother getting stung by a bee I insisted to my mother that the bee had flown off “laughing, and humming the Blaydon Races.”

When he was younger the Blaydon Races was one of my son’s obsessive interests, leading to many visits to local museums and my mum’s puppy getting the name Geordie Ridley.

Image from Pinterest

The Blaydon Race is an athletic race, not a fun run, and despite the celebratory atmosphere it felt like a more serious event than any of the others I’ve done to date. This in itself made me feel closer to my grandfather, who won medals and trophies for running races in the 1930s, one of the many things I wish I’d talked to him about before he died when I was 13.

But I’d had a rubbish week and the stress was pushing me closer to an anxiety attack. I’d arranged to meet friends from running group to go to the starting point together, which got me through the initial “everyone here looks more like an athlete than me” worry.

My aim was to do the 5.7 miles in under an hour. The race started well for me, the first three miles went brilliantly. Then the sun came out, unexpectedly, and I started to struggle. I had to slow to a walk, and that was when the anxiety kicked in. “If you can’t run the whole way you shouldn’t be here, how are you going to cope with 13 and a bit miles if you can’t manage 5, you should just pull out now, you’re a fool to call yourself a runner…” And on, and on.

At one point at about 3.5 miles I was walking, struggling to breath, trying not to cry, unable to hear anything except anxiety lying to me.

“SALLY, YAY, COME ON!”

A shout from a friend on the other side of the road, with a grin and a wave, broke through, and I smiled back, took a few deep breaths and started running again.

Anxiety lies.

I am a runner because I lace up my trainers and run, even when it’s difficult.

I am an athlete because I know my body, and I recognise when I’m pushing too hard and know when to take a break. That’s not failure, that’s strength.

I will do 13 and a bit miles, bits of it will be tough, but I absolutely will do it.

Crossing the finish line I felt like it had been a bad run, I’d had to walk too often, I really struggled with the heat and the few uphill sections.

But I’d achieved my target of under an hour.

When I looked at my heart rate I could see I’d needed to slow down, and looking at my pace I certainly hadn’t walked for longer I’d run.

Anxiety lies. It was a good run and I adapted as needed to the changing conditions. There was great support both from other runners and from spectators. Next year I’d like to do it again, in a more positive frame of mind, and with a more consistent pace, but for a first attempt this was a good run.

Since then I’ve run over 9 miles for the first time, completed my 30th parkrun, and kept running despite the stress. It helps.

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I’m trying to raise funds for two great charities that support my family, SWAN UK and Newcastle Carers. Any donations to help me reach my fundraising target would be greatly appreciated and put to good use. Sponsor me here.

Addressing the elephant in the room.

My running has gone well this week despite hiccups. I didn’t get to do my run commute because my son was sick. Parkrun was cancelled because of ice (again!) Strava kept losing me so I’m not sure how far I ran. But I ran a total of at least 17 miles over 3 runs, plus a gym session. I’m enjoying running more, I feel like my speed’s increasing and gradually building my distance is working too.

Gibside parkrun as my regular one was cancelled.

But running isn’t what I want to write about today. Today I want to address the elephant in the room. And I’m fairly sure the elephant in the room is me.

I’m now over a year since I signed up to Newcastle Can and started exercising and eating healthily. My weight loss was dramatic at first but stalled fairly quickly and is now very slow. It will fall by a couple of pounds, go up by more, drop again and tends to average around the same point.

It’s hard not to feel disheartened. I’m making an effort to cook more from scratch and eat healthier. I’m definitely exercising a lot more. But my weight doesn’t shift.

I try to think positively. I know my body now is in much better shape than it was. I’m stronger, I’m fitter, I can do things I never thought I could. But one of my targets is to lose weight, to at least get down to overweight rather than obese. Although I’ve reduced my risk of weight related ill health it’s still pretty high.

The problem is stress and emotional eating. I’ve managed to change my eating habits massively, but the second I’m stressed it all goes out the window. And life is stressful.

Coming in the next few months are my daughters A-levels, my son’s EHCP review, a DWP assessment of my son’s disabilities before he turns 16, son’s GCSEs, daughter’s choice of post school destination, son’s transition to college… That’s just parenting stress, there’s also money worries, health concerns, work… So many stressful things I can’t avoid.

I have to be careful that stress doesn’t turn into paranoia, anxiety and /or depression. My mental health has been ok lately, but I know how fragile it is.

image from healthyplace.com via Pinterest

Throughout my life food has been consolation and celebration. It’s an embedded habit that I’m really struggling to shift. The guilt and sense of failure when I binge is getting harder to cope with, and sometimes I cope with it by eating more.

I’m trying to be kinder to myself. Not to beat myself up for every failure. Not to give in to every craving. It’s hard going but I’m sticking with it. Hopefully chipping away at the problem one hour at a time will lead to positive change. I’m staring down that elephant. I’ll get there.

image from Pinterest.

Elephant cover image from Pinterest.

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!

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.

Sand, sea and stairs. A visit to Newbiggin-by-the-Sea Parkrun.

I’m part of a Facebook group called This Girl Parkruns North East, a wonderful supportive and friendly bunch of women who play a major part in keeping my running going on those cold winter mornings when I’d much rather be curled up in bed. Once a month we do a tour, where those of us who can meet up at one of the many local parkruns. Today we were at Newbiggin-by-the-Sea. It was, to say the least, bracing!

Official time 33:42, not bad at all.

It was my third parkrun of the year, and the first I was able to run all the way since being poorly at Christmas. Well, I ran all the way except the short, sharp uphill section of sand, stairs, tarmac, stairs and muddy grass which I think almost everyone walked up. I think that section was my least favourite bit.

Apart from that, and the cold high winds it was a lovely course. It was my first time running on sand, although the sandy bits are short they are challenging. Most of the run is on the Promenade which I liked. I think I’d have taken in the beautiful views and public art a bit more had the wind not kept my hair in my face most of the time 🙂

Flying feet and face of concentration! Photo from Newbiggin-by-the-Sea Facebook page.

I had my iPod and listened to music as I ran. I only ever put one headphone in so I can hear what’s going on, but I find my music can spur me on if I’m flagging. I can get my legs going in time to the song, and if I notice I’m singing along I know I’ve got breath spare and can put a bit more effort into my running. When I first started running I struggled to keep a steady pace without music. Now I occasionally do run without any, sometimes because I forgot to charge my iPod and sometimes on purpose. Some of the official runs I’m planning to do later in the year don’t allow headphones, so I need to get used to occasionally doing without it.

Afterwards we went for chat and cake in Cafe Bertorelli, which is lovely but has some of the creepiest wooden dolls I’ve ever seen. I’m only allowing myself one cake a week as part of my healthy eating, so I have to make sure it’s a good one!

I swear that one in the middle blinked!!!

Hills. Take 2.

It’s 8 days to the 6k night run at Gibside, and I’m aware that one visit for the parkrun is the only practice I’ve had at running on hills. I’m not particularly worried about it, I know it’s a event where it will be perfectly acceptable to slow to a walk, but I do want to keep challenging myself. It’s not 100% flat where I run regularly, but there are gentle slopes rather than anything dramatic enough to count as a hill. So today I decided to pop back to Gibside for a practice.

With hindsight doing this immediately after a two hour walk with the dogs was not my best idea ever. I was thinking my legs would be well warmed up when in fact they were well on the way to tired out.

But I did it. I started running the parkrun route, but where it turns back continued on to circle back to the car park. I didn’t have a lot of time, and wasn’t entirely sure how far this would be, but decided some hill practice was better than none.

It is a beautiful place to run. I didn’t see anyone else running, but there were many walkers who greeted me cheerfully. A few months ago I would have felt horribly self conscious, avoiding eye contact, but now I smile and return the greetings.

It turns out that I’m still not great going uphill. I need more practice! There were still a few places I needed to walk, although only one where I had to exceed my long 30 count before running again. It didn’t feel as slow or difficult as my parkrun there.

My other challenge was keeping a steady pace on the downhill sections. The temptation was to barrel down as fast as I could, but I knew I needed to both conserve energy and stay upright.

Despite having to walk in parts, and it turning out shorter than I’d expected, it was a good run. There were more bits where I felt strong and confident than bits where I wheezed and wondered what the hell I was doing 🙂

I’m looking forward to the night run.