Archive for September, 2013

…hang on, I’m already running…


And that, in a nutshell, is my approach to Fartlek. What’s that, I hear you say, it sounds like a bowel disorder…

Well, yes, it is a pretty funny name, but it’s Swedish and means “speed-play”. The plucky Swedes invented it in a period when the Finns kept on doggedly running faster than them (to cut a long story short).

In essence it means some time you run fast,s ome time you run slow, some time you run in a tiny circle going “whee-whee-whee” all the way home*.

Of course, the best time for speed-play would be well into the hours of darkness, when all good souls are a-bed, and the best place for speed-play would be the scary dark woods, yes?

So off I went, for my first foray into fartlek, armed only with my …arms… and an iPhone interval timer that makes a fog-horn noise at your chosen intervals (I’d gone for five minutes and two minutes on repeat, on the theory that five slow minutes would give me time to recover from two fast minutes, and possibly the noise of a fog-horn having just come from my bottom**).

I have to say, it was quite good fun – off went to fog-horn at the end of the first slow section, and off I went, head-torch just bright enough to stop me from running into a tree, and legs going nine to the dozen. A quick look at Strava doesn’t help – I was doing somewhere between five and nine minute miles, which I could have told you already. I think I was around the seven minute mark, maybe slightly slower?

Anyhow, I was getting into my monster-run-fast imagination and to paraphrase The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy, “does imagination imitate life or does it imitate imagination”***. Or something like that.

From the side in the woods, I heard a noise – I turned and saw green eyes reflecting back at me. Yikes, monster!

No, it’s a deer, and it’ll run off in a mo. No, it will, honest. Well, soon, eh? Hmm. Better jog on.

Up the path a bit, and a noise from the woods – green eyes again – is the deer stalking me? That Queens of the Stone Age (think it’s “No One Knows”?) video springs to mind… hmm.

Is it peeping out from behind a tree, that’s really weird. OK, so now I can see the eyes clearly, they’re green, probably the right height for a deer, or maybe the right height for a black dwarf**** either? Double yikes.

So now I have a proper scare of a possible-monster to get me running fast, as well as the imaginary one. How cool is that? And scary, too, let’s not forget scary. That may well be the spike where I hit a 5 minute mile…

Yes, turns out fartlek isn’t only a funny name.

*One of these may not strictly be a part of fartlek, but I’m adding value, see?

**I have a waist pack, or bum bag, depending on how much you want to snigger. I don’t keep my phone up my bottom, nor does my bottom make noises like a fog-horn on it’s own. Well, not often. Well, OK ,a bit.

***OK, I admit that really didn’t work – for one thing you’d need to listen to the song “TV The Drug Of The Nation” to get the reference and then get the re-working of it. Frankly, it was never going to hit a wide audience, but it’s a good song, go listen to it…

****No, I’m not being heightist or racist – it’s a UFO thing, but you can find them in the bible, they’re in old novels like Don Quixote and they pop up in Scottish folklore – we’re talking major alien-pixie type stuff here.


It’s dead simple – you run three miles uphill, turn around and then run back down. Nothing to it.

So a nice gent said to me as we were waiting for the start of the race – he’d done it before, so I was up for some sage advice. This advice, it turned out, was a total lie.

I’ve never tried a fell run before, in fact I’ve never properly run up a fell. But this seemed as good a way to get started as any – the race is part of Thropton VIllage Show, and I knew a few folk who would be there.  Mary, who I work with is the Treasurer, her husband Ian is someone I also used to work with and who would be running, and my erstwhile Wall-running companion Jon was going along with his family for an afternoon out. Village shows are so English it’s surprising they’re not on the flag, and this is the height of village-show-season in the North East.

Bedecked in my Vegetarian Cycling and Athletic Club vest I headed through the gate, paid my £3.50 for entry into the Show Field and wandered about. I bumped into Jon and his family, which was lovely, I bumped into Ian, who was looking if anything even sportier than the last time I’d seen him, and said hi to Mary at the Show Office.

Number pinned on with what I can only describe as the biggest, most robust safety pins I’ve ever been given for a race number – big silver things, just about the right size if I was a latter-day punk and fancied re-opening my nose piercing. No chance my number was going to come off with these babies, though if I slipped in water, I would likely be dragged under with the weight of them and drown.

Time for the start then, and this is the first race I’ve run under Fell Running Association (FRA) rules. They seem pretty much the same as UKA rules, except they were if anything a bit more anarchic. The Chief Race Man (I don’t know what he was officially called) shouted out the route, highlighting a couple of bits that we would need to make sure we didn’t mess up – both of these would have been better if we had seen the course to understand the tricky navigational bits like “after the 312th tree on your left, turn right or it’s the Falls of Doom for you”. He finished with a cheery “if you get lost, don’t blame me”. I did get lost, I don’t blame him, so the advice was well timed.


That’s me, raring to go and looking slack-jawed as the day is long. Mr Snary is to thank for this insight into my pre-race lack-of-prep.

The race was started with a full-on wave of the Northumberland flag – a nice touch, and we were off. Along the road, so far so good, along a track, feeling good and then across the river. What, I hear you ask – cross the river. Yes. Through the water. While every sane thought beforehand questioned the idea of wading across a river at the end of September, when I actually got there it seemed to be the done thing, and through I went. Slightly worried about safety-pin-induced-drowning, mind you.

COLD! Very cold. And wet, while we’re on, but then I was out the other side, water draining out of my shoes and socks and every step is one step closer to drier, warmer (as if) feet.

Next comes the serious part of getting up the looming hill in front of me. Up the road to the village of Great Tosson, named to prove that Northumberland has a sense of humour, and the hill’s getting steeper. Fields first,  then woods, and the path turns rocky. In barefoot shoes that’s a bad thing. Then whoosh* – out of the trees and into the heather – and a sight of the top – a huge lump of rock, rising out of the heather.

Helpfully, someone had put stairs up the side – how cool is that? Not only useful for getting up, but also practically impossible to run, so a double score. Ont the top, and across, where I stopped to take a picture – it was amazing…


That’s some big hill.

At the drop-off from the top there was just a narrow gap in the rock marked with a strip of coloured tape and then heather, rock, mud and descent – if I’d been thinking straight, say if I hadn’t just run three miles up a hill, then I would have taken this so carefully I would never have got back down before dark. But, luckily I was a bit knackered, didn’t have a clue and slipped and scrambled down like some crazed heathen running from the vengeful gods of the hilltops.

Then back into the woods – ankle deep mud, sphagnum** moss and slippy-slip-slip. There’s a place called Church Rock, a massive boulder in the middle of the woods, buried in a steep bank side that I’ve climbed up past the side of it once before, and it was a bit full on***. Rushing down at break neck speed in the slippy mud was a bit unexpected, as was the slipping and sliding on my arse bit. After that it was down the hill****, back to the river and I went over the bridge – thought that was the plan, only to be overtaken by some other folk going through the river. C’est la vie – it’s not like I was aiming to win or anything.

I finished in 1:12, or thereabouts, which I figure isn’t bad with the detour.

Without a doubt, this is the maddest, most invigorating, adrenaline pumping running I’ve ever done. My shoes are still wet, and I brought a fair bit of Simonside back home with me embedded in them and in myself. My feet, while a little dirty, were not as brown as I had expected.


Count them, that’s ten toesnails still in situ. I am the Toenail God. Ok, so the left big one doesn’t look so good, but it’s been like that since The Wall in June, and I swear it’s getting better.

For those of you thinking “yes, but what about the vegetable competitions?”, I took the following:


Massive pumpkin (and humorous onion)


Stringiest parsnip competition.


Beans – notice how one has been broken to make a letter “K” – if I could figure out what that means, I’m sure da Vinci’s treasure would be mine!




An finally, two token leeks. It’s the north-east, after all – if you don’t have a few leeks for viewing then you’ll get your show shut down. Rules is rules.

Look, if you’ve made it this far, and you run, no matter how fast or slow, you should give this fell-running thing a go – I promise you’ll be surprised. For one thing, if the alternative is to spend an hour trying to figure out which is the best set of four tomatoes, then you’re not missing out compared to the adrenaline-fuelled mud-slide that is a ridiculous run up a big hill. Come on, the views are great!

* I say whoosh, when I mean pant-pant-pant, but it sounds better that way.

**I got a grown-up to help with this spelling.

***I was geocaching, in my pre-running days.

****At which point I went the wrong way. What I thought was a bit of coloured tape off in the distance turned out to be some red rope. As the man said at the start, I didn’t blame him.

A little bit like your own Blair Witch Project, a night run in the woods is just the thing to get your adrenaline going.

I’d forgotten the fun of night running, and I’ve only tried it in the woods once before. There’s something very immediate and personal about it. Certainly a little scary – the couple of times I ran past other people; one time a group of mountain bikers, another time a young gent and his lady friend, I felt a little twinge of worry that I would never have felt in the light.

It’s helped by having a head torch, you can only see a little way in front of you, the rest is pitch black. As the light is pretty much next to your eyes there’s no  perspective from the light – if there’s a dip you can’t always see it. Hard to spot mud too I found out.

In short, it was fantastic and I’m keen to get out there again. Soon.

Today was the day!

02:06:38 just to get the time out of the way. If that’s all you came for, then there you go. If not, you can get on with the story without being all tense about the result.

Up at 6am after not-much-sleep and I stumbled around – a rainy morning not quite bad enough to establish tights or shorts. I fed the cat something, it could have been plaster, I wasn’t at my best. Whatever it was, I was vaguely aware he was moaning on as I force-fed myself coffee.

Right, coffee ingested, cat fed actual food (apparently), one shower later and we reach the impasse of getting dressed. Well, the rain seemed to have stopped, so that’s shorts then. Probably regret it later, but there you go, I’m an impulsive thing sometimes.

As I had the feeling that parking in town would fill up quickly, and because I tend to over-engineer these kinds of things, I arrived spot on 8am when the car park opened (not early, obviously, that would be silly). The race started at 10:40, so a little time to kill. To the coffee shop!


About an hour later and off to the start – bag onto luggage bus number 13 (a good sign) and then into the massive queue for the toilet. And wait.

And wait.

Ooh – shuffle forward.

And wait.

Hmm, getting close to the start time now, hang on, those are porta-urinals over there? Quick check to make sure I’m not about to whizz in someone’s sculpture* and that was me sorted.

Off to starting section G, or rather the overflow car park of section G, there wasn’t enough room to fit the section G runners into …erm… section G. How odd.


When the race actually got underway, with a half-hour shuffle to the line, the plucky overlooked of section G clambered over the fence in a mass-disobedience of the most athletic type.

And we’re off!

The run itself was a bit of a daze, but a lovely daze – I spent most of the time dodging in and out of other runners, but that’s what I expected. Stand out moments were:

  • Running through the underpass onto the Tyne Bridge – as James had mentioned to me, it was pretty odd and a cool thing to have done.
  • The good nature of the other runners.
  • The excellent crowd – despite the weather they’d turned out and did us proud.
  • The bands – fantastic – top moment was “Soul Man” heading under the A19 at Leam Lane.
  • The beer stall at the end of the Bupa Power Zone – it wasn’t an official part, but a lovely wee tipple. Not sure who put it on, but remember the slogan “A Drinking Club With A Running Problem” on the table. Whoever it was, thank you – it was the perfect boost.
  • Ann from work on top of the Alzheimer’s bus – only person I know that I saw all day – a friendly face is a lovely thing.
  • Seeing the sea as we crested the hill on Prince Edward Road – stopped myself from shouting “I can see the sea” – wish I’d just done it.
  • The last mile was beautiful, a nice smooth run – looking at my time I managed a negative split**
  • The organisation – other than the too-many-people thing at the start, it was really well put together.


So there you have it (well, most of it).

I’d figured I  would maybe run back to Newcastle, but sore big toes and being a bit on the damp side put me off. Queued for the Metro for 30 minutes in the pouring rain, go on and had standing room only. Had to ask someone if I could sit in their place after a while before I fainted from the heat and humidity. Who knows, the visible fug of sweat may not have helped – well done the man who let me sit – forever grateful for that.

Back to Newcastle, drive home and there you go.

A pretty good day out. Don’t know that I’ll do this one again, but glad I’ve done it the once.

I got a medal. And a sponsorship deal with Powerade, it would appear, although that may be a free bottle of Powerade in return for getting my picture taken with said bottle… seems like a fair deal. Lord knows it wouldn’t do either of us any favours if I was the face of Powerade.


Now to get on with the serious (who am I kidding) preparations for Jedburgh. Wonder if they’ll have beer part way round? 🙂

Did I mention the Red Arrows popped by?


*Well, not so much check, more make sure I’m not the only one doing it. Sorry if that was your sculpture…

**Not like a banana split or a terrible running injury. It means you last mile is quicker than your first (or something like that).

Ok, so two days to go until the Great North Run, better get out the ol’ check list, eh?

– physical readiness? Check, after a short fast run last night where I went at a hill too hard, I now have a nagging knee pain.
– mental readiness? Check, I think I know what time it starts, I’ve now figured that it’s on Sunday (note to self NOT Saturday) so now I just have to figure out where to go and how to get home once it’s done.
– gear readiness? Check, I think I might go with tights, but tried that last night and was a bit warm. Shorts and rain not so good. I will definitely wear some kind of top.
-fit readiness? Check, it hasn’t deteriorated too badly despite the lack of training.

All in all this is looking like my best prepared event to date. Just noticed the newspaper headline warning of rain and 70mph gales at the weekend.

Perfect. 🙂

Parkrun is the hard centre in my running chocolate…

There is now one week to go until the Great North Run, and about(?) seven weeks to the Jedburgh Ultra. While other people are running speedy twelves milers and figuring out exactly how much pasta is “too much” at the GNR pre-race party, I’m thinking ahead to the chilly days at the end of October and the mud-fest that the ultra could well turn out to be.

My training seems to be coming back on-plan, I managed to run a groovy sixteen last week, which went pretty well, and this week was down for 19 miles.

And that’s where things turned peculiar.

I don’t live at the end of an isthmus*, I don’t even live by the sea any more, so in theory I have a glorious choice of four cardinal points** from which to choose. Yet I couldn’t quite figure out where to run. All the ideas were either too long or too short or too meh for words, and I’m not a person who generally likes laps. Could my Mojo have escaped again, so soon? No, there it is, in the sweet tin, in it’s wrapper, so all good there.

As a mad idea, I measured the distance to Whitley Bay – could I run there for the Parkrun – of course not, it’s 17 miles or more each way with the Parkrun in the middle – I won’t be doing that for another month or so yet***, but hang on! There are other Parkruns – Gateshead, Newcastle, Durban, well, Durban may be pushing things, what with being on another continent and all, but the other two are nearby-ish, right? So which is nearer?

Well, they’re both about 9 miles away, it turns out, which is peachy – 9 miles there, a 3 mile parkrun and a leisurely 9 miles home for a total of 21 miles, which is only just over the target this week. Only which one?

A quick tweet**** and the options were clear – Newcastle has more cows and wind (allegedly not connected) whereas Gateshead has four laps and less cows. I’m not a fan of cows, but I’m also not a fan of laps, and I know (roughly) the route I would take to Newcastle so that was it decided (though I’ll go to Gateshead in a couple of weeks).

So, after a bit more of a plan I went to bed, got up in the morning and headed off – a set of waterproofs in my OMM Classic 25 with some water, a handful of gels and a banana bar.  The weather was looking uncertain, sometimes sun, sometimes black clouds, so best be prepared. Down through Winlaton, to Blaydon and along to the Scotswood Bridge – a way along there and then cut up past the cemetery to the Town Moor – that’ll be nine miles in one sentence. It was pretty nice.

As I ran up through one set of houses, a pair of Italian chaps were leaving for their car, and offered a jaunty “Good day to you sir!” – either the nicest genuine early morning welcome, or they’ve learned English using a  language tape from 1930. Whichever, it was a lovely moment.


Wow, that’s pretty small, but the big size is HUGE, so what am I to do?

I arrived at the Parkrun with maybe 15 minutes to spare.  And needed, not to put too fine a point on it, to go to the lavatory.

There’s a cafe there, and I had brought an emergency banknote, in case of just such a dire need – in I went, the place was deserted, hello to the lady running it, ask for an espresso and rush to the loo while it’s being made. No problem, bish, bash, wallop, Bob’s your uncle. I asked if many of the runners came in, and the lady told me that lots of them do come in, but only to use the toilet, no-one buys anything. Now that’s just not right in my book, if you’re going to use the loo, buy something – if you’re genuinely caught out, then fair play, I think you should be allowed in, but it sounds like the place is being treated like one enormous toilet. I don’t think it reflects well on us as runners, nor on Parkrun as a movement. At other runs the local cafe works with the organisers, maybe with a reduced-price cuppa or maybe a bit of cake at Christmas, and it seems to work well. Clearly as a one-time tourist, I don’t know what, if anything, the back story is here, but I was a little disappointed.

Anyhow, back to the Parkrun, which headed off pretty sharply after I got back from the cafe – as I’d already put in nine miles, and as I was carrying a bag full or stuff, I didn’t expect (or try) to go fast. I wasn’t disappointed, though it was fun to notice that I was still only two minutes off my Newcastle Parkrun record, which must have been a year and a half ago when I was just starting to wheeze my way into running.


Um, I left the GPS running while I went to get my barcode scanned, which must have added a bit on to this – my official time came in at 29:28, not that it makes much odds.

OK – so, that’s 12 miles down, and I’m feeling a little tired, but 9 more to go to get back home.

I’ll be honest, I was slightly pooped, I walked a couple of bits, like the hill up to Winlaton, and the hill up to the back of the house. In fact most of the hills (well, the uphill ones, I ‘ran’ most of the downhill ones). I got home and mildly collapsed next to a cup of tea and some bread and butter – aye, we do things proper up in High Spen.


In total 21.9 miles and still alive to tell the tale. Toying with the idea of running back from the GNR next week – that’ll be 10 miles to get me to Newcastle after a 13 mile run – sounds about right.

No especially damaged joint, limb or muscle either, which is pretty welcome.

Rock on!

*A sort of elephant

**That’s the compass, rather than a game of Spot-the-Pontiff, though that does sound like a great way to pass the time if you ever visit the Vatican

***But I will get round to it at the proper time in my training schedule, as I like to call the random series of runs I …erm… run

****For my mum, and anyone else who thinks I’ve gone all Bill Oddie at this point – Twitter is sort of like Facebook only everyone can see what you’re saying… only it’s also quite different. In short, moan about work on Facebook where only your friends can see. Don’t tell the world you’re at the beach wrestling dolphins if you’re supposed to be at home sick on Twitter, the world is watching. In fact, why are you wrestling dolphins at all, you’re weird…