Race Review: Inverness Half Marathon 2020

It was meant to be the start of a fantastic race season. Training was going brilliantly for my second London Marathon, and I was also looking forward to improving my PBs at all my usual spring races before spending the autumn exploring a few races that I hadn’t done before. While the Tokyo Marathon had been cancelled for all but its elite runners a couple of weeks previously, it just didn’t seem likely that the coronavirus pandemic would have that kind of effect here in the UK.

That was early March, of course – we had absolutely no idea what was about to hit us – and six months down the line, with everything else now officially postponed to next year, it is definitely the case that the Inverness Half Marathon was, and will remain, my only race of 2020, not counting the two virtual ones that I will be running in the next month.

I’d probably better get round to reviewing it, then, seeing as how in hindsight it was the highlight of my ‘season’!

Inverness Half Marathon
A stream of runners along the banks of the River Ness. (Photo © John Cooke 2020)

My initial, fairly modest, aim for Inverness was to run sub-2:35 (for context if you don’t know, I’m a slow runner who has been gradually bringing my half marathon times down from 3:46:45 in my first Great North Run in 2016). I had run a new PB of 2:36:32 at the 2019 GNR, and at that time had set the goal for my next half as sub-2:35, with the additional hope that I would further improve this to sub-2:30 by the end of 2020. (There were a lot of half marathons planned for 2020… sigh.)

However, the combination of my London Marathon training and my new habit (started on New Year’s Day 2020) of running every day meant that my pace was really improving, and it was starting to seem possible that I would be able to run closer to 2:30 by the time of the Inverness half. Geth was predicting an even bigger improvement of 2:25 based on my recent times, and I knew that if I had a good race I would probably be able to do it. However, I kept my goal time modest, because – as is always the case in half marathons – I was worried about pushing myself too hard and burning out. I promised myself I would be happy with anything under 2:35, which would be a good PB.

Pre-half marathon
All ready to run! Pre-race in the sports centre.

Inverness is a great course. Most of it is fairly flat, with the exception of a long-ish climb round about miles 4-5. This climb is early enough in the race that it feels like you’re getting it out of the way early on. The middle section is a bit suburban and twisty, but the first and last couple of miles feature stunning views of the River Ness (the last mile back to the stadium is a bit of a slog, but you just have to power through at that point!).

It was cold on the start line (though not as bad as 2019!), with everyone eager to get going. As such, I went off far too fast for the first mile, and it took until about mile 3 for me to settle into my target pace. I was a bit worried that this would come back to haunt me; however, I was able to maintain my pace really comfortably for the rest of the race. I finished in 2:23:42 – a huge PB of 12 minutes and 50 seconds. This was massively promising for the rest of the year!… at the time.

Obviously, that planned ‘rest of the year’ did not transpire, and I have a general rule of not thinking about the parallel universe where coronavirus didn’t happen, so I’m not going to dwell on what might have been this year. However, I’m hopeful that when races finally start back up again, I will be able to get back to chasing down those PBs – my next scheduled in-person half marathon is Edinburgh in May 2021, which is meant to be really flat and fast. 2021 could be the great race season that 2020 originally promised to be, assuming that things continue to move slowly back towards normality.

Plus, of course, I’ve got the Virtual Great North Run this Sunday with the local social run group – and my long runs with them have been promising pace-wise, so you never know…

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!

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!

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!


Race Review: Inverness Half Marathon 2019

The Inverness half was not one I’d done before. It’s a long way to travel from Newcastle, and so it’s a bit out of my way. However, I’d first seen it advertised in the Edinburgh branch of Run 4 It a couple of years ago, and this year I needed to do a half in early March as part of my London Marathon training, so I thought it was a good opportunity to do a race a bit further afield.

Inverness Half Marathon 2019 medal
Not to mention a race with a gorgeous medal! A new favourite among my collection.

The race started quite late in the day, at 12:30pm, so Geth and I were able to have a fairly leisurely morning before heading to the Inverness Sports Centre to collect our race numbers and get ourselves ready. It was a very cold day, so I appreciated that the organisers didn’t lead us out of the building and down to the start line until the race was nearly due to start! Of course, as soon as we walked out, it started to drizzle, when it had been dry all morning. I was hugely thankful I’d thought to wear a baseball cap, meaning that unlike during the Yorkshire 10 Mile last October, I was actually able to see through the rain, as my glasses were sheltered.

The course actually reminded me of the aforementioned Yorkshire 10 Mile in that only about 10% of it is in the centre of town – the rest is either surrounding countryside or suburbs. There were a lot of twists and turns, though, which kept things interesting, and the only tough-ish hill was over and done with by the five-mile marker.

What felt a bit strange was that they only closed one side of the roads to traffic, so we were running up one side of the road while cars whizzed down the other, and there were many points where the marshals had to act as lollipop men and women, holding up signs to stop cars so that runners could get through. The marshals and police were all brilliant, though, and this aspect of the race is clearly very well organised.

Unfortunately, the very last section of the race was a bit of a letdown – the course finished on the track at the Sports Centre, but the path leading up to the track entrance was absolutely rammed with people who’d already finished the race, which is a real pain when you’re trying to build up speed for the finish! The marshals at this point seemed a bit confused as well, and kept pointing us in the wrong direction.

Another disappointment was that by the time I finished, they’d run out of size small finisher t-shirts. At size 10 these days, I’m fairly average for a female runner, but even a small is usually a little big for me (because race finisher t-shirts are ‘unisex cut’, and as we all know, ‘unisex cut’ means ‘designed for men’, so a size small is designed to fit a slim man). I was stuck with a medium, which on me is a tent. Not one I expect I’ll be wearing often, unfortunately. It would have been nice if they’d used the system where your t-shirt size is marked on your race number and checked off at the end, so that everyone gets the size they ordered when they entered the race.

However, it was really nice to be able to go back into the Sports Centre for some food and a change of clothes before we headed off again. On the whole, it was a very friendly, pretty race, and if they ever invented a means of guaranteeing better weather, I’d be back like a shot! As it stands, though, I expect it’ll be a few years before I consider venturing so far north for a race again.

I didn’t get a PB – my PB from the Town Moor Half still stands – but I was really happy with my much steadier pacing, which shows that my treadmill pacing practice is starting to pay off.

Next stop: London!

Race Review: Town Moor Half Marathon 2018

Geth and I hadn’t done any races put on by the North East Marathon Club before, but having heard good things about the Town Moor Half Marathon, we decided to give it a go this year – even though it did mean (a) running a half marathon the night after a gig and (b) stretching our race season into November, which is when we’re usually curled up at home for our winter running slump!

The North East Marathon Club’s aim is to put on affordable marathons for people in the north-east of England.  Most of their events are lapped courses, so you can choose what distance you do – the Town Moor Marathon is seven laps of the Town Moor, and if you choose to do the half, you do a special half distance lap first before doing three laps of the main course.

I’m glad I did it for the experience, but boy, doing a lapped half marathon is tough.  You have to run past the finish funnel three times before finally being able to run into it on the fourth occasion, and every time you pass it, your legs beg you to call it a day and your brain screams ‘do we really have to run that full lap AGAIN?’  I was better trained for this one than I was for the Great North Run, and I did end up running it about three minutes faster (so I got a PB, somehow!) but it felt much, much harder.

Also, that gravel.  It hurts your feet and gets in the way when you’re running a 5k parkrun.  It hurts much, much worse when you’re ten miles into a half marathon.

Great goodie bag though.  Gloves instead of a t-shirt!  Gorgeous medal!  And I really, really needed that chocolate bar.  Good stuff.

Race Review: Yorkshire 10 Mile 2018

This is the second year running that Geth and I have run the Yorkshire 10 Mile.  Last year, it was a very pretty race, and although I was struggling a bit as my training had suffered, I really enjoyed the scenery.  This year, it was the opposite way round.

As forecast, it was absolutely chucking it down in York today, and it was the wettest race I’ve ever experienced.  My running glasses are not water-resistant, and so, because the rain was so heavy, I was basically running the race blind.  I couldn’t see the puddles, resulting in very wet feet.  My hearing aids were getting waterlogged and kept cutting out.  In short, I was pretty sensory-deprived and unaware of my surroundings.  I didn’t notice a single mile marker, and I only realised two of the water stations were there after I’d already run through them.  Luckily, it was so wet and cold that I really didn’t need to drink much water en route today.

However, Geth and I were both hopeful of PBs, as last year’s race was the only 10-mile race we’d done and we both felt we were in better shape this year.  Geth took a good chunk off his time, as he’s had a really good year training-wise, though he is suffering with a knee issue that needs to be seen to.  Last year, I’d aimed for sub-2hr but had ended up with 2:06:38.  This year, I aimed for sub-2hr again, and was fairly confident I’d get it as my training between the GNR and Yorkshire has been much better.  I ended up with a time of 1:47:31 – a 19:07 minute PB!  I’m really happy with that, especially as the conditions were so miserable.

I doubt we’ll do this race again next year, as the organisers are moving it to later in October and it doesn’t really fit in with our race plans for next autumn.  However, assuming I don’t end up saying ‘never again’ to marathons after I do London in April, I may come back and do the full marathon sometime.

Race Review: Sunderland City 10k 2018

Well, it feels like I’ve been talking about it forever, but the Sunderland City 10k finally rolled around today.

Sunderland 10k 2018 medal
The Run Sunderland event always gives out nice, weighty medals – I much prefer them to the Great Run offerings, which are always a bit generic and uninspired.

We got up at stupid o’clock, set out at still stupid o’clock, met our friends Sean and Ed on the Metro, and arrived at Keel Square in Sunderland in plenty of time to drop off our bag in the baggage area and make our way to the starting pen.  After the usual ridiculous mass warm-up shenanigans (I’ve given up trying to follow those – there’s never any space in the crowd and it’s not something I’d do for a normal run anyway), we were off, a lot more promptly than last year.

I went off far too fast – an opening kilometre of 6:01 mins, when I should have been aiming more for a steady 6:55 or so – but although I ended up paying for my too-speedy start a bit in the second half, I did settle down over the course of the race, and I came in at 1:09:56, just snatching the sub-1:10:00 I’d been aiming for.  That’s a 7:29 min 10k PB, and I was thrilled, obviously!  It did require a pretty epic sprint finish at the end, when I spotted the gun time on the board and realised I was in with a chance.

After meeting back up with Geth and Sean, we went for breakfast at Caffé Nero while waiting for Ed to finish the half marathon, then met back up with Ed, got back on the Metro, and went for a few pints once back in Newcastle.  Then Geth and I went home and ordered pizza.  Perfect race day, really.

Looking forward to the next one!  Only two weeks to go.