Saturday, 11 August 2012

Murphy doing his bit...

... by being a parkrun volunteer! Note he's even wearing his hi-viz vest.

Last Saturday, we volunteered as tail-runner and tail-wagging-runner, at Durham parkrun. Murphy took the job very seriously and together we helped a young first timer, who was having a bit of a tough time, to cross the finish line. As we passed her on the way back to the cafe, along with her family, we got a beaming smile and a "thank you", which left me feeling like I'd given a very small something back to running. Hopefully, she enjoyed it enough to come back again.

I can say that it was probably my most enjoyable parkrun to date and we're looking forward to filling the role of tailrunners again.

Thanks go to Dougie Nisbet for the photo.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Run Northumberland Half Marathon - Sunday, 25 April 2012

After enjoying a gloriously sunny day for the end of season NEHL fixture at Prudhoe, I knew we were to expect the same, if not warmer, the following day for the half marathon at Wallington Hall. This was actually the only thing concerning me about the run, not the fact that I'd also ran a particularly difficult cross-country course the day before, or hearing tales that the Wallington course is a "very challenging" one. Being a very pale and pasty almost-redhead, I don't cope well running in warm sunny conditions.
The day started with an hour of lost sleep, due to the clocks going forward. I tried to cunningly compensate for this by going to bed an hour early, but that plan didn't quite work. After a hearty breakfast, Derren and I set off to collect Chris and Mike, before heading into deepest, darkest Northumberland, which was shrouded in very heavy fog. As we approached Wallington the sun started to burn through and the car's thermometer began rapidly climbing from  just a few degrees above zero.
We arrived with about an hour to kill, so once parked up we headed towards the great grassy courtyard in front of the hall, which was to be the finish, to soak up a bit of the race day atmosphere. Aiden and Dave Anderson joined us at this point, and a bit of chat helped keep my pre-race nerves at bay. With 20 mins to go, we headed back to the car to make final preparations for the race. The start was a bit of a hike up the hill from the hall itself, and there was some confusion about where the actual start was, as It didn't appear to be clearly marked and there were no marshals about. Standing with the rest of the Bounders (Louise and Terri had joined us by this time, too), I found myself quite near the front of the pack, with the now familiar smell of Deep Heat filling my nostrils.
9:30 came and went and there were still lots of runners making their way up the hill. They couldn't all have been caught out by the clocks changing, surely? Having run the inaugural event last year, Mike warned me not to be tempted to set away too fast on the steep starting downhill stretch. Almost 700 runners were lined up at the start, pretty much double last year's number of entrants. After 'the off' the first three miles went great. I was bowling along at what felt like a nice comfortable pace, I checked my Garmin and I was doing 9 minute miles - This is usually on the faster side of comfortable for me. I had made the mistake of setting away too fast and I needed to slow it down a bit!
Approaching the first drink station 3 miles in, I grabbed a bottle of water which I then struggled to get un-capped. Trying to un-cap it with my teeth whilst running resulted in a slightly bust lip which continued to bleed for about a mile afterwards. Soon after finishing the bottle I became very aware of a that full bladder feeling. I did my damnedest to ignore it, but the call of nature was persistent and wasn't going to go away, so I ended up hopping over a wall into a field for a quick pit stop. Call of nature answered, I was on my way again, but I found myself picking bits of prickly undergrowth out of my shorts for the next couple of miles. I'd decided not to carry water with me knowing that there would be drink stations every 3 miles. This was to be my second mistake. As the heat (and hills) rose later on in the run, those 3 miles seemed like an eternity. Because I didn't have my water belt, it also meant I had limited space for carrying gels. I could only just manage to squeeze one into the tiny pocket of my shorts. I thought that would be sufficient - mistake number three! The undulating course continued to meander through several small hamlets one of them being the aptly named "Hartburn".

My only gel was gone before I reached the 7 mile marker and knowing it's effects wouldn't last long and that the worst of the hills were still to come, I started to worry that I was going to run out of steam. It wasn't a good position to be in mentally at the halfway point, and by now things were really heating up as I ran this particularly long straight stretch, which was unfortunately lacking in tree cover to offer respite from the sun.
About 10 miles in my legs started to grow very heavy. I was battling with myself now, as all I wanted to do was stop and walk, but I really wasn't going to allow it as long as I was running this flatish section. At the mere sight of the first of the two long uphill stretches, in the final few miles, I gave in to the urge to walk, but even then I coaxed myself to continue with a run/walk, counting my steps to distract me from the hills ahead. This took me back to doing the Couch-to-5k program with Derren just over a year ago, and instead of beating myself up about having to walk, I started to think about how far I've come since then.

Race Elevation Profile
Thankfully, the roads by this point were lined with trees and the dappled shade was very welcome. Passing the final drink station, I knew there wasn't far left to go and I could soon see the brow of the hill, which I hoped signalled the final downhill home stretch - thankfully it did! Approaching the gates of Wallington Hall, I could hear shouting and cheering long before I could make out the Bounders' vests of Dave and Aiden. This caught me off guard a bit as I'd expected everyone to be at the finish line (or even long gone!). I was quite choked up with a mixture of relief and emotion as I passed them, I tried to thank them but I don't think the words actually came out. Another pair of friendly faces, Elvet Striders' Alister and Jacquie Robson, were there just before the final run in under the clock tower. Then I spotted Derren at the finish.
After exiting the finishing funnel it took a little while to compose myself enough to collect my goody bag and find my way back to Derren. The relief was absolutely overwhelming. Mike was on-hand with the remainder of the Caribbean Twist from the previous day's end of season cross-country celebrations - maybe not the best recovery drink, but it sure did give a much needed sugary boost to get me functioning again.
I was a little disappointed with my 2:28 time, but then I realised it was actually only 3 minutes more than what I had predicted. My first half was such a breeze, and this one was a total shock to the system - a few valuable lessons were learnt that should hopefully stand me in good stead for subsequent halves. As much as I hated almost every step of this particular run, I shall, without doubt, be tackling those Northumberland hills again next year.

Sunday, 12 February 2012

Another Blackhill Bounders Away Run - The Champagne Run

Sunday 5th February, and the forecast had been for heavy snow the previous night. Thankfully we woke up to a mere dusting. As much as I was looking forward to a snowy run, I was grateful that it wasn't going to be a full-on arctic expedition just to get to the starting point in Blanchland. The roads were still a little slippy, so at least I got to put my winter tyres to good use once this year.
The meeting point was at the car park in Blanchland at 8:30am, where there was a small but perfectly formed turnout of Bounders (Beagle included). We were also expecting Colin Watkins seeing as he had agreed to lead the run, but time was getting on and there was no sign of him. We all agreed that he would probably do his usual trick and appear halfway having chased us down. So we decided to start without him.
Caroline had warned that there was a "brutal" start to this route. I remember replying with something along the lines of "Great! At least we get the hard part out of the way first". Alarm bells should've rang when she kept suspiciously quiet. True to her word, the start was pretty brutal. Half a mile of steep, icy woodland track. Made even more difficult for me by a slightly unco-operative Beagle. Cold weather always seems to greatly amplify the usual scents on the trail, meaning that his nose was working overtime and it didn't always take him in the same direction as I wanted to go. At the top of the hill we left the woods and crossed a style into a field. It was here I noticed a sign saying "Strictly no dogs allowed for the protection of moorland birds". Good job for us the Beagle can't read.
After crossing a couple of frozen, snow covered fields we were out onto Blanchland Moor and following a good track, although it was made a little difficult by the occasional well hidden icy spot. There were a few "Dancing on Ice" moments I can tell you. The Beagle was running well now, ignoring the sniffy distractions. Across the moor we reached the edge of Slaley Forest and still there was no sign of Colin.
For the next few miles we were running on roads which seemed to head forever downhill, which was nice, but it slowly dawned that all this "down" meant there had to be an awful lot of "up" at some point. Around the halfway point we weren't entirely sure we'd gone the right way at the crossroads that now lay a mile or so behind us. Caroline, who'd taken the lead, started to doubt her memory of the route and as there was still absolutely no sign of Colin. Out came the smart phones to see if we could pin-point our whereabouts, but to no avail. We were left with two choices - go back the way we had come, or carry on and see where it would lead. "What's the worst that can happen?" asked Brian. "I suppose we could end up in Hexham just in time for the pubs opening!". It was decided that we would press on in the direction we had been going and it soon became clear that we were heading the right way after all. Caroline should never have doubted her instincts!
The route took us briefly off road again, through field and woodland, before coming out onto another narrow country lane which headed further still down into the valley. Eventually we reached a farm; the track cutting around behind the outbuildings. It was here Caroline explained how the Champagne Run got it's name - Whilst running this route, many moons ago, a load of discarded empty Champagne bottles were found behind the farm buildings. Nearby was a wicker basket which also contained empty bottles. On closer inspection there was still one unopened bottle amongst them. Never ones to turn down free drink, the Bounders  carefully carried the bottle back to Blanchland and it was then consumed in the car park after the run.
Behind the farm buildings we we're back out into open fields and yet again heading downhill towards the river, strangely named "Devil's Water". We followed the river along it's bank for a little while before heading up and away from it and coming out onto another country lane. This road headed gently upwards for a while before eventually turning into a steeper, rougher track, which wound off as far as the eye could see. It felt like it was possibly the longest stretch of continuous "up" I've done since I started running and it didn't help that it was rough and icy too. Nevertheless, with a few short walking breaks and lots of encouragement, especially from Brian who was mad enough to run each stretch of hill twice, once at his own pace and then again at mine, I made it to the top all triumphant like, only for Caroline to say she was worried by how pale I was looking - Once a nurse, always a nurse!
We stopped briefly for jelly babies before pressing on. We were now back on Blanchland Moor and it was pretty much downhill from here. The long hill had taken it's toll on my legs though and I was having trouble picking my feet up high enough over the rough terrain. For me, that last couple of miles was more of a stumble than a run, I don't know how I didn't end up flat on my face. Back in the car park Caroline had kindly brought along a bottle of fizz to share and the most delicious chocolate and cherry muffins. Post run rewards don't get much better than that!

Friday, 3 February 2012

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Brass Monkey Half Marathon 2012

This was to be a day of firsts for me. My first proper race, my first half marathon and also my first run representing Blackhill Bounders. The date seemed to approach fast after Christmas and New Year and I felt a little under-prepared, not having stuck to any kind of proper training schedule. Those nagging doubts started to creep in a few days before the race.

My heart sank when I woke up on Sunday morning and I heard the gale still blowing outside. Of all the weather conditions Mother Nature has to offer, wind is my least favourite. In fact I’ll go so far as to say strong winds scare me. I definitely didn’t feel happy about running a half marathon that morning. Apart from the wind, the weather was bright and dry as we headed for York’s race course. Once there, we soon spotted the other Bounders heading towards the start. After a quick pit-stop (for the umpteenth time that morning) I joined them on the line. The nerves suddenly disappeared and I felt that if I could just get round the course, I might actually enjoy it.

The gun went off and we shuffled slowly forward towards the start. There was a shout of “C’mon the Bounders” from Derren who was in the crowd lining the road. I fell behind the rest of our little group almost immediately, as I always struggle to get my breathing under control in that first mile or so. The course took us through the village of Bishopthorpe where there was support aplenty and words of encouragement from spectators and marshals. Come the two mile point I was starting to get into my stride; I knew the course ahead was totally flat, so that only left the wind to contend with. Even though it was good to know there’d be no surprise hill around a corner, I was concerned about the monotony of the flatness. After all, with no up-hills, there were no down-hills to look forward to. Around the second mile, I was sad to see poor Erin have to pull out, due to a leg injury that’s plagued her for the last couple of months. The third and fourth miles were on long straight stretches lined with tall hedgerows, thankfully offering a little shelter from the relentless side wind. In places where the hedge broke, the wind almost knocked me clean off my feet. In the fifth mile the hedges completely disappeared and the going got a little tougher for a while. Still, at least it wasn’t raining!

As we entered the loop that would eventually fetch us back round onto the return leg, the wind was suddenly at our backs pushing us along. It felt great not to have to battle against it. This was the moment I realised how good I was feeling and that I was enjoying myself immensely. Approaching the halfway point I swear I saw angel in a hi-viz jacket, handing out jelly babies! I spent the next couple miles or so playing “leapfrog” with a gentleman who turned out to be quite an experienced half marathon runner, having completed 25 Great North Runs and almost as many Brass Monkeys and various other races. We exchanged a few words on the joys of running, before he asked me what time I was looking for. I had really wanted to try and slip in under 2:20 but to be honest I would’ve been happy with anything under 2:30. He told me he was aiming for 2:25 so if I wanted a 2:20 I had every chance of making it if I picked up my pace a little. I was still feeling quite fresh so we exchanged a final “goodbye and good luck” and I left him behind.

The next few miles rolled by surprisingly quickly. The encouraging words from every marshal I passed spurred me on. The wind was pretty much at my back all of the way home and I was having a blast! Back through Bishopthorpe and the twelve mile marker came into sight. My legs were starting to feel heavy now and the little run up and over the flyover felt almost like climbing a mountain. With great relief I finally turned into the race course and could see the finish line. I came down the home straight to hear shouts from the other Bounders and further down, a group of Elvet Striders. There was even a shout of “Where’s the Beagle?” From Durham parkrun’s event director, Alister Robson. Then I heard Derren cheering me over the line. It was all quite emotional.

All in all, I had an absolutely fantastic run and I was pleased with my 2:21, but I know I could’ve pushed a little bit harder. I’m really looking forward to shaving a few minutes off that time next year!

Sunday, 15 January 2012

On a Cold and Frosty Morning

With a promise of a very cold but fine weekend, we had planned to go on a family walk, up and over Yeavering Bell to visiting it's Iron Age hill fort. Derren unfortunately picked up a slight running injury earlier in the week and with our first half marathon next weekend, we decided that he should really rest up.

Not wanting to waste a day of sunshine, which I see very little of now that I spend most of my week working in a windowless room, I decided that Murphy and I would be up and out early for a run. We weren't up and out quite as early as I had wanted, as when I got up at 7am to let Murphy out for his morning wee, the temperature on my phone's weather app. was reading a slightly chilly -8°C. Back to bed we went for another couple of hours. At 9am it was a slightly warmer -6. We got up, had breakfast and were ready to head out of the door by 10am. A ten minute drive and we were at Derwent Reservoir's Pow Hill picnic site. The plan was to run around Pow Hill, then out to Millshield on the opposite shore, and back - approximately 8.5 miles. 

Murphy in his new FreeMotion Harness, ready to go

We were testing out a couple of bits of new kit on today's run. Murphy's new harness (see above) and my new "Doorstep to Trail" shoes (Salomon XR CorssMax Guidance). Both performed really well, although I could feel a bit of a hot-spot developing on my left arch towards the end of the run. Even though these shoes have less support than my road shoes, they give a much firmer ride and my poor left arch definitely started to feel it. I'll be keeping an eye on this on subsequent runs. I'll do reviews on both once I've used them enough to give a well founded opinion.

It really was a joy to be out running this morning; one of those cold, crisp and sunny Winter days that makes you feel glad to be alive!

Friday, 13 January 2012

Non-Stop Dogwear

I just love this promotional video for Non-Stop Dogwear's range of Canicross/Skijor gear. Those dogs look like they're having such a blast.

Murphy got a Freemotion harness for Christmas which we've yet to try out. Stay tuned for a review.