Archive for the ‘Journal’ Category

Right, so there’s a few weeks to go until my next big run, and I figured it’s the right time for an honest-to-goodness appraisal of where I need to put in a bit of work to round off my planning.


The raw material – one older, portlier-that-hoped-for runner with bad feet and a dreadful attitude to nutrition.

So, in no particular order, the bits I need to concentrate on are:

1. Uphill

Yes, it may be a bit of a cliche, but I’m not that good at going up hills. In fact, that’s not true, I’m dire at uphills. When I was running at Jedburgh I had to stop as the static-vision started in at the edges, and I realised I was about to faint. So I stopped had a bit of a worry while my heart calmed down and then on I went, plod, plod, plod. So, more uphill practise, I think.

2. Downhill

So, what goes up must go down. I thought I was canny at downhills, not fell-racing-mad good, but not that bad, either. Well, I’ve seen the person in front of me disappear from sight the last two times I’ve been to Parkrun, showing that I could definitely get a little better.

3. Flat

I don’t mind the flat, but it does rather go on, doesn’t it? The Glasgow to Edinburgh run was canny in its own way, but it took its toll on my feet – not sure they’ve ever recovered. I could certainly improve on my ability to run on long, flat stretches.

4. Undulating

While we’re on, that’s not so much fun, either, I mean, you can’t get yourself in a rhythm, can you? The run around Kielder Reservoir is one long undulation – it’s around 26 miles, not that much elevation change overall, but it just can’t make it’s mind up, one minute it’s up a bit, the next it’s flat, then it’s down a bit – after that, guess what, it’s up a bit again.

5. Walking

I never thought of walking as an important part of running. But it is, though, especially when you’re going a long way. I spent part of the Glasgow to Edinburgh run being leap-frogged by a couple of walkers – I ran past them, then walked, they walked past me at super-speed, I ran past them, and so on. I think (though I don’t know for sure) that my feet hurt more for walking than for running. If I tried to get better at walking then I might be more effective overall, you never know.

6. Standing still

I know, how could you be bad at standing still? Check points, drop bags, it’s all the fun of the fair – at Jedburgh I was 28 miles in and only a 10 mile stretch to go – got to the check point, bent over to get something out of my bag and CLURK! my back went a bit ouch. See, even inactivity can have it’s dangers…

7. Nutrition

You’d think if there was one thing I would have a god-given prodigious talent for, it would be eating. I mean, normally you’d have to hit me over the head with a brick to stop me from eating things, but when I’m running I kind of figure I’ll have something in a while, maybe another mile, maybe when I get to the top of that hill, eh, it’s always easier to eat going along the flat bit. Before you know it, I’m a bit hungry, but still struggling to sort myself out. I also can’t find good things to eat – as a funky vegan I’m already on a short list of things, and lo-and-behold most snack food joy is not vegan.

I managed samosas mid-way through Glasgow to Edinburgh, which were canny, and I’m in an experimental phase right now, with plans to try spring rolls (thank you Guy), pasties, sushi and maybe some kind of vest made out of knitted noodles so I can wear my dinner?

8. Navigation

Well, I can read a map well enough, from the comfort of my own living room, and imagine with excitement the majestic sweep of the landscape, that tarn up there, the funny way that fence dog-legs back onto itself  and forces you to run an extra mile if you’re not a fence-leaping-goat. But, I’m a bit pants when it comes to staying on the right course. Sometimes this is down to me, like at Jedburgh, where I ran an extra 1/2 mile, taking another three runners with me before we noticed no-one was following. Sometimes it’s because I blindly follow the fools in front of me – at the Dark Skies run at Kielder, I followed a confident-enough-looking group of runners along the wrong path then the scuttle back to the right path across the undergrowth.

I’d love to try a mountain marathon one day, but I’m scared I’d be found upside down in a ditch looking at the underside of my compass and wondering what had gone wrong.


Maybe I just need to zoom in on the map a bit?

So, in conclusion, I think that if I can just nail uphill, downhill, flat, undulating, walking, standing still, nutrition and navigation then I think I might be in with a chance.

Did I mention choice of clothing? I’m not that good at that either…


Back to Day Zero!

Seriously, I felt so unfit plodding around this morning – I have no idea why (other than lack of fitness, which is my current guess). It was the bit where I run up a long, medium incline of about a mile and 300 feet in total, and found myself stopping for a sneaky walk three times. I’m not even sure why; a body-sub-section analysis led to the discovery that my legs weren’t that stiff, my lungs weren’t especially burning and my arms weren’t entirely knackered. My brain just decided I was done in and a bit of a walk was the best option thank you.

Ok, so statistics-wise I may have put on a half stone over the last few months, and that may need some shifting – when I did the Parkrun last week I could feel the flesh on my back moving, something that I’ve not encountered since the first few months I ran, and considerably heavier than I am, even with the extra half added in.

I haven’t been running a lot the last couple of months in truth, not since the Jedburgh Ultra which left me customarily tired. Maybe the odd Parkrun and one of two jaunts to the woods, but nothing that feels like training, and as 2015 is supposed to be the year of striving, that feels like a pretty poor start.

What this needs is a spot of commitment, I reckon, in order to get me back on the track – my plan is simple, and it’s this:

Each week I will run at least twice. Each run will be at least three miles in length.

There you go, that wasn’t so difficult was it? Well maybe not, but look at the blank weeks stretching back where even once-out-of-the-door has been too much of a slog.


That’ll be me then, part way around the Jedburgh Three Peaks Ultra Marathon at the end of October. It was ace, it was immense, but that’s not what this is about (I will eventually finish the race write-up and post it, I promise). What this is about is to point out what a beardy vegan sight I am, verging on the crusty, but not quite in running gear, obviously. I’ll go for being a running hippie and be glad to get away with that.

More importantly, what it’s about is that it’s me still running, after three years of first lacing up a pair of trainers and taking my 17 stone portly smoking self off up the road for a 30 second run / 4.5 minute walk, eight repetition set.  Reading back to my write-up from that first time I discover that I rather enjoyed it, I wasn’t fast but I figured I’d like to do it again. So maybe nothing has changed?

Or maybe everything has – there’s the obvious drop of 3-4 stone (depending on cake intake on any given day), the less obvious fact that I feel much healthier about things  or the fact that in the last three years I’ve done two things that I’d said for the previous 39 years I would never, ever be able to do. One is the running, as you’d expect, the other is swimming – I’ve never been any use at swimming, my high point to date was my 5m badge in Primary School, after that it was all downhill. Back in June I took the decision there was no reason why I couldn’t swim – I only needed a bit of a hand, so I booked a few lessons and now I can swim like a normal person, admittedly one without much upper body strength who can’t manage much front crawl without gasping.

I think I usually do a run down of what things I’ve been up to over the year – but I haven’t done anything especially new – I ran a couple of ultra marathons, including the Glasgow to Edinburgh Ultra, I ran a calf-squandering trail half marathon with the Trail Outlaws at Penshaw Monument – their inaugural race, I ran the Blaydon Race for the third time – I love the Blaydon Race. I didn’t run the Kintyre Way Ultra, and I didn’t make it to the Berghaus Trail Team day at the lakes, both because family comes first. I ran the Simonside Fell Race for the second time, and fell racing still remains the maddest thing I’ve ever done. Seriously, if you’re tired of life, go and try fell running, you’ll be glad you escaped alive.

But what’s next? Well, another Blaydon Race I think, I’ve got the Kintyre Way place transferred from last year. I’m entered in the Trail Outlaws first ultra, the St Cuthberts Way Ultra, from Lindisfarne to Kelso. I reckon I just might run Jedburgh again – I finished last this year, so I’m not sure I can do anything to improve on that.

Aspirationally I’d like to get better at training. It’s fair to say my approach to training is ‘accidental’ – I run a bit, if I have the time  in the run up to a race then I probably run a bit more. That’s about as good as it gets. I once had a training plan, but I lost it and never bothered to replace it.  I’m fitting in a bit of cross training (that’s posh for stuff that’s not running), doing a bit of cycling with the aim of commuting sometimes to save the planet and trying to fit in a trip to the pool every week to keep going with the swimming.

When I first started running, people thought I was quite possibly mad, and probably stupid. The I entered an ultra and they were sure I was mad, but tinged with a slight hint of approval. Now people assume I’m probably off doing something truly stupid most weekends, wrestling bears and running to Bulgaria and back (now there’a thought – what about a Wombles Ultra? Wimbledon Common to each of the characters names…). I love the fact that every now and then someone tells me that my madness has inspired them to do a bit of running.

More woods, more trails, more hills, goodness knows I need to run more hills. More weather, more mud, more tired legs, more rumbling tum, more random runs, more exploring paths, more moonlight, more thunder, more madness, more oneness.

Year three was the Year of Consolidation (I think) – this is going to be the Year of Striving.

Rock on folks, it’s going to be a good one…

<snap> what’s that? is it a deer? <rustle> must be a deer, right? it wouldn’t be a ghost, ghosts don’t rustle, do they? <flump> what’s that flumping over there? is that a pair of eyes? are they green, like a deer, or red like a goblin? <crash> ohh, if only I hadn’t started thinking about ghosts…

A night run is a good way to mildly terrify yourself. So far, it’s also been a pretty safe way to terrify myself, in the woods in the dark, just me and the deer, the very occasional dog walker (two in total to date) and the ghosts and goblins.

Or are there?

I was out and about last night, and having just read about John Steele’s fantastic achievement of The Hill, 160 miles in 55 laps up and down the same hill, particularly the bit where he said he saw someone at the side of the path on the last few laps, dressed in Victorian clothing, who didn’t speak to him. So you’ll appreciate the thoughts of ghosts were already fairly well rooted in the ol’ brain box.

To date I’ve worried mostly about badgers, and rightly so, you know their jaws lock when they bite and you can’t get them to let go? See, told you it was good to be a bit worried. Well, last night I had a fleeting moment thinking about ghosts – the woods had a line going through them to transport coal, it feels like there’s a fair chance some kind of unfortunate event must have happened there at some point, right?

Well, I had a moment thinking that, then the oddest thing, I felt my brow go cold, my head tighten up and realised I had just managed to scare myself. Not the adrenaline-fuelled scare of having something leap out at you, more the sensation of dread. I’m not saying it was lovely, but it was quite interesting to actually feel it happening.

During the rest of the run I managed to scare myself a few more times – there’s a deer, or is it, I can’t see it’s eyes. More thoughts about ghosts, which was scary when you start thinking about the opening scene of Ghostbusters.  What’s the etiquette with ghost, do you talk to it, or do you jog past with a jaunty (aha, I typed ‘haunty’ there originally by accident, that’s spooky) wave? I know if you see a pixie you shouldn’t talk to it or is it that you shouldn’t dance with it, maybe I can’t remember after all.

The other thing I learned was that when the woods go from a calm night to a mild breeze, the first wave sweeps over the trees from one side to the other. From peaceful calm I heard a mild noise behind me, which grew slowly until it sounded like the world might just end – it swept in from behind and now I was looking in the sky for a plane, but it was all around me and suddenly is washed over the top and headed off in front. I realised what it was just before it passed over, which is probably lucky as the other option would have been to wee myself in terror. On another, less mildly spooky night, it would have been fine, I’m sure, but not last night, everything was bigger and louder and stranger than normal.

In summary, get out there and terrify yourself. It’s amazing. Better to do it in the woods than terrify yourself trying to run through the centre of Newcastle on a Friday night, that would be properly worrying…

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…

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…

I’m not sure I did – but we got a dog last week, he’s a five year old Golden Retriever, and came from some nice folk who just didn’t have the time to walk him enough. Well, we’ve walked him quite a bit, and he seems to be a bit runny, so I thought I’d see what he made of it if I plodded along with him…


(Is it time for a walk? Can you check your watch? Again?)

Well, I took a punt tonight and went out for the post-work walk in my shorts and trainers (with the dog). With a mind to not pushing him, we crossed the single road to the playing field and I let him off the lead. Whoosh! Like normal, off he went, but I ran a nice slow pace behind him, keeping pace. Across the field and through the golf course, and he kept on going – stopping a couple of times for some especially smelly bits, but broadly ecstatic to be on the go. I figure he ran about as much as usual, just in a straight line rather than around and about. We walked a bit on the hill and down to the gate into the woods. Other side of the gate and he took off again, not so fast, but I went nice and slow so as not to push his pace. Along to the stream and in he went, wandering through and having a drink.


(Dog collecting rubbish – he’s good at that)

Around the overgrown path, mostly walking, then back to the path out and a sit down for a proper drink of water and a bit of a pant. Walked back through the golf course and home – I’ve got a very panty but pretty happy looking dog – think he may be having a sleep soon.


Bloomin’ eck, we got a dog…