Archive for November, 2013

Three little deer, all in a row…

A run in the dark in the woods is a great thing. In the freezing air, with the stars shining through the trees, it’s positively magical.

It’s winter, folks, and night-time running is about where it’s at during the week – late finishes at work, in I get, walk the dog, go for a run.

I’m used to seeing deer now, they live in the woods and watch me plod past. They’ve stopped running away now when I plod past – I know that sounds like I’m some massive nature-freak and like the deer, y’know, they like know I’m no threat, right? I base it on facts – on the route I often run, the deer don’t run. On the bits I don’t run too often the deer run. That’s it – properly scientific.

Tonight, as I ran us the hill I noticed a pair of eyes. The another, and finally a third. There were three deer, in a row, watching me. Did the middle one snigger? They might have.

It was lovely. I felt quite lucky.

Later on, another deer was ambling across the path – it stopped and looked at me – I thought it was a dog, a greyhound, but they’re small these deer and can catch you off guard. Even that one just wandered off into the undergrowth.

I love running in the woods at night.



Yes, you’re right, it is odd to review an event like it’s a sort of t-shirt.

But I thought it would be a fund thing to do, so I’m going to.

Where I live, I’ve always assumed that either Newcastle or Gateshead Parkruns are my nearest. I’ve run to the Newcastle one before, and it was around 9 miles. So far so good.

However, in idly scanning the Parkrun website* I noticed one at Blackhill. I knew that was about where I am, as the Blackhill Bounders running club are from round here, so I looked it up on the map.

Blackhill, it turns out, is about 7 miles from my house, in Consett and pretty easy to get to. So, I decided I’d have a look and see what it was like.

The first time, last week, I arrived as the run started, so my later lack of knowing where to run, or where they’d hidden the finish is no-one’s fault but my own. Perhaps an arrow at the last turn marked “Finish” would have helped, but then again so would have asking before I started running (had I turned up in time, so we see it’s down to me again).

I went back yesterday, turned up a little earlier and knew which way to go. These were all good things.

They’re on to the 19th event, and seem to be getting into their stride – if someone had shouted out maybe five minutes before the start to see if there were any new people who needed directions (which I’ve seen at Whitley and Riverside runs, but not at others – I think it’s a good idea) then I think the organisation would be pretty much perfect.

The route has one small loop, then three long loops. The first one is designed to fool you into thinking that it’s a nice easy run, up the hill from the start which is pretty gentle, then peel right, down a lovely descent and back by the bandstand to pretty much the start. Lovely.

Three longer loops then? Back up the hill, but turn off left half way up, back down to the bottom on the path and then out of the park and past the allotments, running mildly uphill. Once you get to the top of the allotments, let’s have a steeper hill with a bank/steps choice at the top. Gravel and some earth on the hill, so a little bit of mud if it’s wet, but this is the bit that’ll get your heart rate up. Top of the hill, right and along the hillside, back into the park and across the top to come back to the lovely descent** to the bandstand. Do that twice more, and then when you get back here the next time, turn left rather than right and sprint*** back towards the park gates – the finish is on the bit of grass just by the gates.



Me, starting on the descent – look at my happy little face… (look Ma, I’m floating!)

This is not a PB**** course. It has hills. If you want a PB, then I’d recommend Whitley Bay – it’s flat and fun, much like a chocolate pancake. However, Blackhill’s got character and that counts for a lot. Because it’s not a straightforward “how fast can you run for 5km?” course, you pass people and they pass you back. One chap passed me on the uphill a couple of times and I passed him on the descent. I have no idea which of us came in first, but it was fun.

I’m not usually a fan of laps, but this one works, and it was lovely to see folk who knew each other where the faster runner was lapping the slower one and offering some encouragement as they went past.

If you’ve got kids who want to run, this looks like a good venue too – there were more children running this than I think I’ve seen at any other Parkrun – there were also folk with prams (not sure if they were running) and a couple of people with dogs taking part.

There was a good mix of people and ability – I’m no speedy runner, but I managed 24th this time and 23rd the week before. I was maybe a minute or two slower than I’d usually expect for this distance, and a good three minutes off my overall Parkrun PB, but I wasn’t going all-out to kill myself in the process like I was then (and I wasn’t chasing Mr Richie’s trainers speeding away like I was when I ran my fastest Parkrun at Whitley).

Afterwards, the people in the Bowling Club were putting on tea and coffee for Children in Need – I would have gone if I’d hadn’t needed to get away for an appointment. That kind of connection with the other park users is important. I remember being shocked at another Parkrun that the lady in the cafe there only ever gets runners coming in to use her toilet. Doesn’t send the right message.

In short, if you’re anywhere near Blackhill, I’d say give it a go – even if it’s just to have a pop at a hillier-than-average Parkrun.  I’ll be back when I can.

Blackhill Parkrun on Facebook

*This isn’t entirely true, I’ve never just gone to their pages for “a bit of a look” – that would be weird, like “just having a flip through the Yellow Pages”, not that you get them anymore… I’m just not sure what I was doing on their website at the time.

**I keep saying it’s lovely because it’s about the right incline that gets my legs pinwheeling to keep up, but not so much that I’m about to trip myself over. In short, in the two times I’ve done this run I’ve made up places on this descent because other people are keeping their brains engaged. And I’m no downhill runner, in case you’re thinking I might be…

***Assuming you’ve got any sprint left in you, by this point I was knackered.

****PB = Persimmon Migration sorry, no, it’s Personal Best, or if you’re American then it’s PR which is Personal Record, I think, but I’m not sure, as I’m not. I only found out last night that a Persimmon is actually a type of fruit, and not a marsupial at all. No wonder the pet shops banned me…

Well, I do, it’s true. I ♥️ Running.

But this is actually about Heart Rate Training (HRT, not to be confused with the other one), which is where you slap on a Heart Rate Monitor (HRM, not be be confused with the Queen) and proceed to trip over logs while watching a wildly varying number on your watch that you’ve convinced yourself tells you if you’re about to explode.

I did not explode. Might as well get that bit out of the way.

Let’s get this straight, Heart Rate Monitors are for tech-obsessed geeks who love plotting graphs showing their RBT* against their MKC** over a period of time. They are also for people with more money than sense. They are not for people like me, hearty runners who think nothing of an ice-bath first thing in the morning followed by a spot of competitive moustache growing and then maybe some llama wrestling*** for good measure.

Did I tell you about me collection of graphs, or my extensive Excel running spreadsheets? They’re in loads of colours…

It is a matter of record that I have little sense. Read back through some of the things I’ve done in the last two years, I dare you. See what I mean?

So, I have been hankering for a HRM for a while now (and I don’t mean the Queen).

I finally got myself one, and won’t go into the months of shall-he-shan’t-he that finally ended with oh-yes-he-did.

It’s orange. 🙂

Anyhow, part of the excitement of all this is that I got to work out my Heart Rate Zones. For me, zone one is the Twilight Zone,  zone two is the End Zone and zone three (as you’d expect) is the De-Militarised Zone. All good so far.

Actually no, that’s silly.

Firstly, you need to work out your maximum heart rate, or HRMax, as it’s known. It sounds like a Human Resources Super Hero, I know. You do not work this out by running so fast until your heart gives out, thus showing how fast it could go. This is not a good approach – I was lied to. Instead, you use a mathematical equation the like of which you won’t find repeated over two websites. They all go about it a slightly different way. As I like something with a bit of complication, I went with the Kevorkian Equation, which goes:

210 – half your age – 1% of your weight in lb +4 = HRMax (if you’re a chap).

Now I know that sounds like I made it up, but honestly I didn’t. Well, maybe just the name. I came out with 192 since you ask.

The second bit is to figure out what your resting heart rate, or HRRest, for the purist. This one is more fun. You find somewhere cosy, put on your HRM and relax for 20 minutes. The lowest reading is HRRest. I may have fallen asleep, but only for a minute, and clock up an almighty low of 66.

OK, still with me? The difference between the two is HRReserve, or your Reserve Heart Rate – it’s the bit you can play with, I suppose. You then figure out five zones between HRRest and HRMax which are HRRest + %age of HRReserve. So, for example, Zone 1 is 50-60% of HRReserve added to HRRest. Zone 2 is 60-70% HRReserve added to HRRest and so on.

Zone 2 is where the action is currently for me, as I’m carrying a pound or six more than I ought to be. I blame that entirely on my unduly high MKC co-efficient as it goes. Zone 2 is good for your heart but also is mainly fuelled by tapping in to your reserves of fat.  My Zone 2 is 142-154 BPM**** and sounded like a good place to start for a wee jaunt.

I tried it out, and found that by plodding at that range (and a little below too, which I suspect is fine), I was clocking an 11:30 mile rather than my usual 10:00 mile. Interesting. I also wasn’t feeling any real tiredness, such as I usually would going up a steep hill, though this may have been because I was going so slowly it would have been difficult to tell I was making any vertical progress at all.

I think I went over once or twice, but only for a moment till I noticed and slowed down even further. Even the bit where I was mildly ambushed by two deer in the woods only spiked it up to 156 BPM. Compared to yesterday’s free-and-easy run up to 171 BPM I felt like I’d just unlocked some very large secret.

The plan is to do more of this Zone Training thing, and see what happens.

Rock ‘n’ Roll!

*Relative Buttock Trimness

**Mr Kipling Consumption

***The be-robed monk type. They love a good wrestle, whereas the four-legged variety would think you were after a snog. That would be wrong.

****Beats Per Minute – see, you knew I’d sneak a real footnote in there at some point just to test.

Almost without noticing it, another year of running ha crept around – that’s a grand  total of two now.


I’m not convinced I look any more like “a runner” than I did a year ago. Also not convinced that running with my eyes shut is a good way to go on…

The photo was taken at Blackhill Parkrun yesterday, which turned out to be a lovely mildly hilly Parkrun. I reckon that (winter allowing) I’ll be back there again soon – it was a canny run. I did get a bit confused at the end of the third lap and had to check my phone to see how long I’d been going so I could judge whether I’d completed the run or not. Turned out I had, then I had no idea where the finish was (note to self, if you turn up as the run is starting, no-one will have the time to explain the route to you), all of which must have added on a good ten seconds or so.

Anyway, another year goes by, and what’s to show for it? Well, in Year 2 I did these:

  • My first repeat event, the North Tyneside 10k on Easter Sunday.
  • My second marathon, the Marathon of the North, the finest not-quite-a-full marathon of the year, the distance is now oficially referred to by England Athletics as a “Short Marathon”.
  • My first ultra marathon – The Wall, 69 miles from Carlisle toe Newcastle over two days.
  • My first fell fun, the awesomely mad Simonside Fell Race.
  • My second ultra – the Jedburgh Three Peaks – 38 miles including a few times up a volcano.

The aim of year two (looking back at last year’s report) was more long runs, more trails and more barefoot running. While I haven’t done much proper barefoot running, I now only run in barefoot shoes, and I reckon I hit trails and long runs a bit through the year.

So what’s the plan for year three? Well, I have a few thoughts, but broadly speaking I’m planning to keep doing what I’m doing and hopefully get a little better at it.

I’ve got one event planned, the Glasgow to Edinburgh Ultra Marathon in April. My erstwhile Wall-buddy Jon is going to do it too, so some ace company to speed the miles by.

I’m going to try to get into the Marathon du Medoc in September – a lovely 26.2 miles through French vineyards with wine tasting. What’s not to like?

I reckon there’s a good chance I’ll do the North Tyneside 10k again this year, and I’d hope to get a spot in the Blaydon Race again. Other than that I suspect it will all be new races, well, maybe the Simonside Fell Race as well, that was fun.

Looking at the Stat-O-Meter™, I can also see that I’m not popular in Greenland. That’s a bit of a shock, as I would have thought Santa would have been checking in to make sure I’ve been good? WordPress tells you how many views you’ve had from each country and even provides a helpful map. I’ve made my plodding entry to all the continents, but there is a big white gap where Greenland sits – maybe they’re more about sprinting than the long plod, who knows? Maybe part of my aim in Year 3 should be to make my blog more appealing to Greenlanders, but I worry that would be at the expense of the rest of the world…  perhaps I’ll tag this post with “Greenland” and hope I get lucky – it’s not like I’m trying to complete my collection of countries (no, definitely not that, no way no how) but it is a pretty big country, and it does rather stand out now…

In the run up to the Jedburgh 3 Peaks Ultra Marathon, I figured that my warm layer would be rubbish in the wind, and that I didn’t want to add another layer as well in while I was trying to save space and weight. A last minute trip to the running shop to figure out if there was an alternative that might fit the bill.

The Asics Fuji LS 1/2 Zip top looked the biz. It’s a long sleeve warmer layer (tick), and the front panel and shoulders are made out of a wind-proof material without being a heavy waterproof. The lower arms are not wind proof, but are warm, and the ends are longer and shaped to fit over your hand with thumb loops. The back is the warm not-wind proof layer and a large mesh panel in between the shoulder blades to allow your back to breathe.

It comes in black, fluo-orange and a nifty blue.


I got the blue.

Those little black triangles at the hips? They’re tiny mesh pockets, which it turns out are perfect for storing the packets from used gels. I made good use of those wee pockets during the Jedburgh Ultra.

The shoulders have a silicon patten on them, which I suspect is there to keep rucksacks steady and possibly to reduce wear to the shoulders? I was wearing my VCAC running vest over the top, so I can’t comment on how well or otherwise they work. There’s also a little hole to put a headphone cable through if you like that kind of thing. Whenever I’ve used headphones I’ve just passed them down the neck hole, which also makes stripping layers easier as you don’t need to un-thread cables.

Over the 38 miles of varied terrain, with rain, wind and hail, the top stood up to everything. It’s not waterproof, but I ran through light showers without noticing any damp, only resorting to my waterproof when it properly tipped down. I certainly didn’t have any problems with wind.

The hand cover things are great – I ditched my gloves pretty early on, and they kept my hands just that little bit warmer over the first few miles until I’d warmed up.

I’ve used it again for a shorter run, and coming over the top of the hill with the wind gale  in my face I didn’t get cold – I could feel the wind pushing on the front material, but none of it got through.

All in all, I’m pretty happy with the top, I can’t find anything negative to say about it – it ticks all the boxes I wanted it for, and has a couple of little extras I wasn’t expecting (hand covers and those nifty little pockets). At £60, the price was a little rich, but I found the blue ones reduced for no apparent reason (and luckily I liked the blue). Saying which, and having had the chance to try it out, I reckon it’s worth the higher tag, as it ticks of warmer layer and wind top very nicely. It packs up smaller than my Nike Element top, and certainly deals better with rain.