parkrun tourism: Jesmond Dene

I went to the inaugural Jesmond Dene parkrun this morning – a stunning new parkrun in one of Newcastle’s most beautiful areas. I’d been looking forward to this parkrun since it was first announced earlier this year that Newcastle would be getting two new parkruns (the first being Leazes in the summer).

Jesmond Dene parkrun
I don’t usually take these touristy ‘me with the parkrun banner’ photos, but as it was a special event and I had a willing photographer (thanks Geth), I made an exception!

It’s a good thing that the Dene is so nice to look at, because the first two kilometres of the course are absolutely brutal. It’s a difficult hill, followed by a lot of precarious ups and downs, followed by some steps up to the next level, followed by the most taxing hill I’ve ever encountered on a parkrun (worse than Pendle). Thankfully, this is followed by a flat-but-exposed couple of kilometres doing laps of a park, and the final 500 metres is a glorious downhill sprint to the finish.

You’d have to be very careful running the course on a wet autumn day with lots of leaf mulch underfoot, and I think if it iced over in the winter the parkrun would have to be cancelled that week – because if someone slipped on one of those steep downhill sections, they could be pretty badly hurt! I’ll be attending again quite a few times over the next couple of months, so it’ll be interesting to see how the run copes with varying weather conditions.

It’ll also be interesting, now that we have three parkruns in central Newcastle, to see if the congestion eases significantly on the Town Moor over the next few months!

Race Review: Great North Run 2019

I’ve had a week to digest this year’s Great North Run now!

First of all, it feels like it was absolutely the right decision for me to make the Great North Run the final race of my running season for 2019. I’ve finished on a high, at a point when I’m still really enthused about running, so I really feel like I have a good chance of avoiding the winter running slump this year, as I won’t be burning myself out training for races later in autumn.

The weather was ridiculously hot for the fifth year running. What is up with that? I first noticed it in 2015 when it poured down as I was doing the Great North 5k on the Saturday and then got stupidly warm in time for the main event on the Sunday. It’s the north-east of England – it shouldn’t be guaranteed hot weather in September!

However, it was the first time I felt properly in control during a half marathon. I went out too fast in the first two or three miles – probably due to starting in a faster wave – and I did slow down a little during miles eight to eleven, but I had planned for that, and I knew I was still on track for a PB. In the end, my time was 2:36:32, which was four minutes and seven seconds off my previous best. I was really happy with that! Next target: sub 2:35.

Great North Run 2019 medal
This one gets a little weightier and more colourful every year!

I will definitely be back next year for the 40th Great North Run!

parkrun tourism: Leazes

A few weeks ago, I tried out Leazes parkrun for the first time, on what was only its second event. It’s so nice to have an extra parkrun in central Newcastle!

Leazes Park, Newcastle
The park is beautiful.

Leazes is a three-lap course around a leafy park with a pretty lake, so in terms of parkruns I’ve done before it was kind of a cross between Perry Hall and South Manchester. The lap has a steep downhill at the start (so it’s very easy to go off too fast) and a steep uphill at the end – it’s a shame it couldn’t be the other way round, but you have to make do with the park you have!

I didn’t manage a particularly fast parkrun on this occasion due to having run a 12-miler the day before, but as it’s a local parkrun for me I’m sure I’ll be back to beat my time sooner rather than later.

parkrun tourism: Bressay

When Geth and I were in Shetland the other week, we made sure to get ourselves across from the mainland to the island of Bressay for the UK’s most northerly parkrun. I’d been wanting to do Bressay since it was first announced that they were starting one in Shetland over a year ago – between my family connections and the special geographical status, it was an absolute must.

Finishing at Bressay parkrun
Coming up to the finish line! Picture from the Bressay parkrun Facebook page.

There aren’t actually any parks on Bressay – like most of Shetland, it’s just fields intercrossed by country roads – so the parkrun route takes place along the roads, and you just dodge the cars if any show up. The course is well marshalled and signposted, and while there are a lot of farm animals looking at you curiously, I was thankful that none of them strayed onto the road as typically happens on the Town Moor during Newcastle parkrun!

It’s not a flat course, but it’s out-and-back and most of the ‘uphill’ happens on the ‘out’, which is definitely the best way round.

I’m not sure when I’ll be back in Shetland, but I’d definitely do this one again!

Race Review: Great North 10k 2019

This was the fourth year in a row that I ran the Great North 10k. Geth and I were discussing on the way home how maybe we’d give it a miss next year…and then it was announced online that next year will be a really special edition, as it will be the kickoff party for the celebration of the 40th Great North Run year. So I expect we probably will be back in 2020!

Great North 10k 2019 medal
I like the minimalist design of the medal this year!

I wasn’t expecting to break any records on Sunday as I’d had a month off running since the Blaydon Race. Blaydon was a really miserable experience for me this year due to running it with a cold, so it kind of put me off for a bit, and I’ve also really been struggling to make time to run during the week. Couple that with the fact that Geth’s not been able to go to parkrun recently because it clashes with his Keyforge tournaments, which means that I’m also not going to parkrun because it’s something we’re in the habit of doing together…well, it all added up to not getting any running in at all for the last four weeks, which I obviously hadn’t intended.

As such, I found that I had a bit of chest pain for the first couple of kilometres, and was worried that it would last for the whole race. However, once I found my comfortable pace, my body got used to it again and I had a really good run after that. I came in at 1:13:04, just under a minute slower than last year’s 1:12:05 – under the circumstances I’m very happy with that!

One more 10k later this month and then it’s all preparation for this year’s Great North Run.

Race Review: Blaydon Race 2019

I’m a week late with this review, but it did take me a while to get over my cold/general grogginess this week! Better late than never.

Blaydon Race 2019 t-shirt
Race t-shirt was really nice this year!

So, last Sunday I ran the Blaydon Race for the third year running. It was announced fairly early this year that the course would be a little shorter than usual due to roadworks taking place in Blaydon, so I was hopeful that I would beat last year’s frustrating 1:00:35 result.

Things did not turn out the way I planned.

First of all, my watch died when I was trying to adjust it before the race, so I had to record Strava on my phone instead. This meant that I didn’t have an easy means of checking how far along the course I was during the race. I really need to get a new running watch.

Secondly, last year’s bottleneck problem – caused by the course at the start in the middle of Newcastle city centre being far too narrow for the number of runners – was even worse this year. It was about a hundred and fifty metres into the race before anyone was actually able to start running.

Thirdly, I had come down with a bad cold – which I had spent about a week trying not to catch from Geth – in the middle of the week before the race. By Sunday, I was over the worst of it, but the digestion/stomach issues that colds always cause me meant that as soon as I started running, an immediate painful stitch clamped its way around my abdomen and just wouldn’t let go for the entirety of the race. It was probably the most uncomfortable I have ever been during running, and I seriously considered giving up at various points.

As such, I was about three and a half minutes slower (1:04:09) than last year, despite the shorter course. I’ll just have to hope that I’m in a fitter condition for next year’s race.

At least the t-shirt’s really nice!

Race Review: EMF 10k 2019

For the third year running, Geth and I did the EMF 10k this last weekend. We were both saying before the event that it would definitely be our last one, because Geth wanted to move up to the half marathon next year (I, meanwhile, am not sure which distance I want to do next year – I’m just getting a bit sick of running up Arthur’s Seat having done it in two Great Winter 5ks and three EMF 10ks now!).

EMF 2019 finisher medal
THE EMF finisher medal. It’s cute but a bit lazy, because they just do the same finisher medal for all the races and add a wee plastic tag to say which race it was!

Our friend Kieran was doing the race with us this year, so after a very early start (the race is at 9am, which is great for getting it over and done with, but it does require a 6:30am alarm!) we met up on the bus and headed out to Dynamic Earth, which acts as the hub for the Saturday races.

Since the London Marathon, I’m finding that 10k races are feeling very short. As such, once I was over the hill, it was a lovely quick amble in good running weather, and it felt like I was finished in no time. However, it turned out that I was two and a half minutes slower than last year, so maybe it would be good to do one more attempt in a year when I don’t still have a marathon in my legs.

Following the 10k, we all regrouped and found a good spot to watch our other friend Sharpy, who was doing the 5k. He managed it in super-quick time, so we were soon in a taxi back to Morningside for lunch in the pub!

I will definitely be back at the EMF next year – I just don’t know which distance I’ll be doing. After I informed everyone of the existence of the mad people who do all four races over the course of EMF weekend, there was some talk of doing the Saturday 10k/5k double…so we’ll see!

Race Review: Sunderland City 10k 2019

Today was the fourth time I’ve done the Run Sunderland event – I did my very first 10k there in 2016, then the half marathon in 2017, then back to the 10k for a good PB last year. Given that my legs are still recovering from London a fortnight ago, I wasn’t expecting much from today – but it turned out to be a good race under the circumstances.

Run Sunderland selfie
Pre-race selfie! Neither of us looked this energetic immediately after finishing.

Geth was doing the half marathon this year, so I was on my own setting off. The field felt a bit more crowded than usual, so it was pretty frustrating trying to weave around people during the first half of the race, and I probably went out a bit too fast as a result of trying to get past the crowds. As such, I felt myself flagging a bit during kilometres six and seven, and I didn’t really get my energy back until the last eight hundred metres of the race.

Because of this (and the fact that four months of marathon training has really brought my speed down), I was very surprised when I turned onto the finishing straight, saw the race clock, and realised I was on for a PB! I finished in 1:09:13, which was forty-three seconds faster than my previous best, also set at Sunderland last year.

After a San Pellegrino and a nice bit of victory cheesecake in the coffee shop nearby, I wandered back to the finish area to watch for Geth coming in at the end of the half marathon. He got his sub-two-hour result, which was the aim for today’s race, and after a recovery sit-down we headed back to Newcastle on the Metro for a quiet afternoon of pub, synthwave, and pizza.

I’ll be back again next May for year five and hopefully another PB, given that I won’t be coming off the back of a marathon next time!

parkrun tourism: Highbury Fields

Geth and I first ran Highbury Fields parkrun in November 2017, as I have previously mentioned during a whole series of Phone Box Thursdays (there are a lot of phone boxes along the walk from the Thistle City Barbican – our favoured London hotel – to Highbury Fields).

Runner and red phone box
Me with a phone box (logged here) the first time we ran Highbury Fields in November 2017.

It’s not flat, but the inclines aren’t too troubling if you’re used to hills. It’s a five-lap course, and because I’m used to much longer distances after four months of marathon training, the laps felt really short when I ran it for the second time this last Saturday.

It’s also a really lovely park. One of the many novels I’m working on is set in Islington, and I have a lot of scenes with characters going for walks around the pathways!

There are other London parkruns I’d like to do at some point, but because Geth and I always stay at the Thistle (and so Islington is kind of our base whenever we’re in town), I think Highbury Fields will always be our default.

Race Review: London Marathon 2019

Far from just another race, this one. I honestly feel like I’ve been preparing for it for years.

I’d been applying through the London Marathon ballot every year since I started running, because I knew that with a 4.8% ballot success rate there was no chance I’d ever get in, but I do like the glossy rejection magazine they send you in order to tell you you’ve not got in.

Then in autumn 2017, they didn’t send me a rejection magazine. They sent me a ‘You’re In!’ magazine. Oh.

It was lucky that you have the option to defer entry for a year, because Geth and I were moving house over the course of winter 2017/2018 and there was absolutely no way that I would have had the time to train for a marathon on top of that. So London 2019 it was, and in January this year I started training in earnest. I knew I had to be a lot more disciplined with my marathon training than I have sometimes been with my half marathons. You can blag a half marathon if you do 10Ks regularly enough, but you can’t do the same with a full marathon – you need to be properly trained up as it’s a very different beast.

As such, I felt nervous but quietly confident when I lined up in the freezing cold on the start line on Sunday. I knew I’d be slow but I also knew I would finish!

The Cutty Sark
A rather ominous-looking Cutty Sark at mile six. It wasn’t actually as overcast as it looks here!

Mile one was just about getting settled, but mile two was probably my favourite of the whole race. There were lots of barely-noticeable speed bumps in the road, but the organisers obviously didn’t want anyone tripping over them, so every single speed bump had two volunteers, one at each end, holding a ‘HUMPS’ sign and yelling ‘HUUUUUMMMMMPPPSS!’ The best duo had a whole call-and-response thing that they’d clearly been practising for weeks.

The end of mile two also saw the first of the many red phone boxes on the race route. Was I ever going to be on these particular London streets again? No, unless I’m ever both mad enough and lucky enough to get into the London Marathon again. Therefore, did I take a photo of every single red phone box along the route? You bet I did. Many, many Phone Box Thursday posts coming soon!

Miles three to ten were fairly straightforward – I had my visualisation plan and it was nice to see my friend Claire volunteering at the mile seven drinks station. The best sightseeing moments, such as the Cutty Sark and Tower Bridge, are all in the first half, and they do really contribute to the atmosphere.

Tower Bridge
The almost-halfway point at Tower Bridge! A very welcome sight.

The second half starts off with a slightly demoralising section along miles fourteen and fifteen where you get to watch all the faster runners coming back the other way! Once you split off from that, miles sixteen to twenty are a bit dull scenery-wise, and also the toughest part of the race, I found, although I really appreciated the first RNLI cheering point at mile nineteen.

Once I got past mile twenty, even though it was feeling really tough by then, I did at least feel like the end was in sight, and it was just a case of gritting teeth and counting down every mile. By the time I got to mile twenty-four, we were having to weave in and out of vans and coaches. This was the one big issue I had with the race. Why on earth do they have vehicles going down the route when there are still runners on the course? Either marshal the runners onto the pavement so the vehicles can get past, or wait until all the runners have finished. It was really hairy and I suspect there’s going to be a very nasty accident/somebody will get mown down during some future edition of the race if they keep setting it up like that.

RNLI cheering point
The RNLI volunteers at mile 25! Really pleased they waited for us slower runners.

There was another RNLI cheering squad at mile 25, which was enough to spur me on until I got to the final stretch! Geth was watching from the side as I came along Birdcage Walk, which was a nice surprise, and after that I had enough energy to kick round the corner and sprint down the Mall towards the finish line.

When I went to collect my medal and goodie bag, they only had extra small T-shirts left, which was a bit of a surprise. XS is perfect for me as race t-shirts are unisex size, but usually if you’re among the last finishers they only have larger sizes left! I felt a bit sorry for the bigger runners around me who were going to get stuck with an XS t-shirt they probably wouldn’t be able to wear.

However, this may be the best running medal I will ever get.

London Marathon 2019 medal
It weighs a ton!

Geth joined me at the entrance to the meeting area, and we wandered over to the RNLI meeting point – I was too slow for the post-race reception, which had already finished, but there was a nice volunteer at the meeting point who took a picture of us with the Lifeboats flag.

RNLI finishing point
Finished! It was a long, long day out.

It’s been one of those weird time things where I simultaneously feel like I’ve been training for London forever and also like I’ve only just started…and now it’s all over. I was super slow, but I’m proud I did it. I still need a bit of time to digest this one. Back to my regularly scheduled 10Ks in the meantime!