RED day 256

Plus bonus picture of me wearing my first ever race t-shirt, five years to the day since I got it 😀

Five year race shirt anniversary

Today’s earworm playlist:

Loudon Wainwright III – ‘Christmas Morning’
Mel Smith – ‘Another Bloomin’ Christmas’*
Traditional – ‘The Blaydon Races’
Sacre – ‘The London Marathon [Theme From The Trap]’
Westlife – ‘You Raise Me Up’
The Midnight – ‘Crystalline’

*YES I KNOW. I have no idea why my brain has decided it’s now Christmas either.

The best weekend

Just a mile (and a bit) today…

…as it’s all short easy runs until Sunday’s Virtual GNR. So excited about the race and happy that the weekend is here! I’ll be starting by getting up early tomorrow and watching the elite-only Antrim Coast Half Marathon livestream. Mo Farah is competing, so it’ll be nice to watch him run this weekend, even if it’s not in Newcastle!

Geth and I went to Asda today and stocked up on all the stuff we need for eating over the weekend (I will be doing a lot of eating on Sunday). I also finished my work for the week and am really pleased that I can have the full weekend off! Not always a given at this time of year 🙂

I’ll be posting my running vlogs over the weekend, including my Virtual GNR vlog on Sunday, and will be back on Monday with a weekend update and a race review. A virtual race is not the same as an in-person race, but it’s the closest I’ve got right now, and I can’t wait!

Protein bars
We stocked up on a ton of protein bars at Asda. Protein bars are my favourite running food because they’re basically glorified chocolate bars but you’re allowed to call them ‘healthy fuel’. I expect I’ll get through a few on race day!

Today’s earworm playlist:

Take That – ‘Never Forget’
Wiz Khalifa – ‘Black And Yellow’

A lighter day… sort of

Just a mile today…

…and then a short walk. It felt like a much lighter day exercise-wise than I’ve been doing recently! As such, I feel like I’ve got a bit of energy to get rid of, but that is best saved for the virtual race on Sunday.

I spent most of today working – I’ve had a lot of day job work this week, which is great and is keeping me from obsessing about the race too much. I also did a quick clean of my car, which I’d been putting off for months. I managed to get some of the glitter off the backseat from last year’s Christmas wrapping paper, but not all – I think it will always be glittery to some extent!

One last day of work tomorrow, and then I’ll be able to enjoy the weekend – last weekend was really busy with work and I haven’t managed to take a day off during the week, so I’m really looking forward to it!

Car bumper sticker
This bumper sticker arrived this week, so other drivers will now be able to… tell what running club I’m in 😀

Today’s earworm playlist:

Vangelis – ‘Chariots Of Fire’

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…

Driving, training, drinking (fake) bubbles

A longer running vlog today…

…not because my run was anything special, but rather because there’s been a bit of news about a couple of the postponed races scheduled for later this year. Edinburgh Marathon Festival has re-postponed from September to its usual May date, and so Geth and I will be deciding whether to apply for an entry refund or roll our entries over to May. I’m leaning towards the latter at the moment as I was really looking forward to doing the Edinburgh half – we just need to organise the diary properly, as late May/early June 2021 is already getting a bit packed with rescheduled events!

The other race news (or non-news, really) from today was that the London Marathon announced that they’ve not made a decision about whether to go ahead in October yet, and will update us again on 28th July. This was a surprise, as I fully expected them to announce a re-postponement to next spring. I have mixed feelings about this development (as I’ve explained in detail in my vlog linked above), and I still think it’s very unlikely that the October date will go ahead, but I think the best way of looking at it is to appreciate the structure that another five weeks of marathon training will give me when it comes to my running.

In non-running news, Geth and I finally got round to collecting some books from his office at the university today (he needs them for working from home, as the university won’t be back working on campus for many months to come). As we were out in the car anyway, we took the opportunity to do a big shop at Asda. It’s so much easier when you don’t have to lug it home by hand 🙂 I found a couple of bottles of my favourite alcohol-free fizzy as well!

I’ve mostly been working on my game otherwise today, though I have been fairly distracted by the London Marathon issue! Looking forward to spending some more time on it tomorrow.

Textbooks
Some of the books we didn’t take home. I took a record of them all so that Geth can remember what’s at the office.

Today’s earworm playlist:

ACE+ – ‘Engage The Enemy’
John Williams, Michael Land, Peter McConnell and Clint Bajakian – ‘Indiana Jones And The Fate Of Atlantis: Opening Theme’
Living In A Box – ‘Living In A Box’

My five-year runniversary

On the 31st of May 2015, I was sitting on the sofa, about a third of the way through my first playthrough of Mass Effect. It suddenly occurred to me that videogame characters could run forever, never getting tired or slowing down, and as Commander Shepard ran forever on my TV screen, a fleeting notion came to me. ‘I’d like to be able to run forever,’ I thought wistfully, before being launched into another space gun battle and forgetting all about it for a few more hours.

On the 1st of June 2015, I started running.

Great North 5k 2015
On the start line of the Great North 5k 2015, next to a rain-soaked River Tyne.

My first running route was a 1.1k loop around where Geth and I live. On that first day, I had to take two (planned) 50-second walk breaks; the total route took me about ten or eleven minutes, nearly twice the time of the fastest kilometres that I do nowadays.

I got home and had to sit down on the stairs for a while, my breath icy and my chest aching. I had spent 2010-2011 doing Wii Fit on and off, and had attended a Zumba class twice a week for the last eighteen months before we moved from Southampton to Newcastle in February 2015, but running was a whole new level of cardio and I wasn’t used to it. As I thumped at my chest to try and bring it back to life, Geth looked at me pityingly. ‘This isn’t going to last,’ he observed, and in that moment, I also had my doubts.

However, I’m a stubborn cow, and so I went out again to do that 1.1k loop for the next four days in a row, cutting the duration of the walk breaks down by five seconds each day. I decided to run five days a week, Monday to Friday, and do a bit of strength training at the weekends. At the end of week one, I signed up for the Great North 5k, already feeling the need for a target race to help with motivation. By the end of week two, I could run the whole loop in one go (slowly!), and by the end of week three, Geth was convinced enough to buy me my first pair of running shoes (Karrimor trail shoes, because I didn’t know anything about running shoes). For week four, I doubled the loop to 2×1.1k and started again with the 50-second walk breaks.

Training for my first 5k was not without its challenges. I was a lot heavier then, and so I suffered from a lot of debilitating hip pain that really slowed me down. I also spent a week in the south of France with my family, and every morning I diligently staggered up the steepest hill I have ever run on, in 30°C heat! I later had to take a week off training due to an attack of runner’s knee, and found this a bit panic-inducing, not yet realising that training plans can be flexible. In the event, I only managed to run my final 5×1.1k training loop without stopping once… but that was enough, and I completed the Great North 5k 2015 in 35:51, a 5k time that I wouldn’t be able to beat for nearly two years, even after I started parkrunning most weeks.

While I had big running ambitions and dreams when I started, and always hoped to be able to run faster and for longer, I’m still amazed sometimes when I look back over the last five years. I have run approximately 1,770 miles (Strava says 1,769, Smashrun says 1,771, FetchEveryone says 1,773!), which isn’t huge mileage over five years by a lot of runners’ standards, but I’m more than proud of it. I’ve completed three 5k races, 112 parkruns, ten 10k races, two 10 mile races, eight half marathons, and one full marathon – my proudest achievement, even though my time wasn’t much to write home about. In the early days, I regularly staggered in with the tail runner at parkrun, and came last out of thousands of runners in the Great North 10k 2016. I am still slow, but on my good days I’m almost a mid-packer now. On New Year’s Day 2020, I started running every day, which has massively improved my speed along with my mileage.

I can’t express how much running has enhanced my life. I prioritise health and fitness in everything I do now, and I’m not sure that I would have lost five stone or managed to get sober if running hadn’t made me more aware of my general wellbeing. I’ve made friends through the wonderful running community that exists in the north-east of England and beyond. Above all, it’s an amazing hobby that I’ve been able to share with Geth – he was inspired by that first Great North 5k that I did, and started running himself the following year.

This morning, I ran that first 1.1k route again as part of my regular 2k-ish easy run, and cast my mind back to that first difficult attempt. I think that on the 1st of June 2015, if you’d told me that I would one day be able to run that loop without even really noticing I was running, I would never have believed you.

I still can’t quite run forever. But a marathon feels like forever, and for the time being, that’s enough.

Post-run
Post-run this morning. The best way to start the day.

Stretching out

I ran with Geth again this morning…

…and since then we’ve just been in the house, hiding from the cancelled world outside. Geth went to Sainsbury’s, and came back with approximately half the things I’d sent him out for (panic-buying has officially set in here in Newcastle), but we’ll manage. I also went to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription – the outside world feels a bit odd and apocalyptic at the moment.

It’s felt like a long day, but I’m not about to complain, because extra time is my most treasured thing and suddenly having a lot more of it is a real silver lining. Sage Gateshead has now closed, so my ukulele classes are not happening for the foreseeable future, and I don’t know when they’ll be rescheduled. The UK Games Expo confirmed this evening that they are postponing the event to August; parkrun will make an announcement tomorrow.

The North Tyneside 10k has also postponed to October, so that’s the last of my spring races fallen by the wayside. I’m amazed and grateful that none of my postponed races clash with each other (or with the GNR), and also feel quite lucky that I hadn’t booked any of my planned autumn races before this all kicked off. I had wanted to run the South Shields 10 Mile and the Great Scottish Run this year, but they’ll be there for me in the future.

Keeping in touch with family as the daily situation changes is my main priority at the moment, along with keeping myself and Geth safe and sane. Running is a big help with the latter, and I’m really glad I have that in my life at the moment.

Brooks running shoes
I was able to try out my new running shoes from Inverness this morning. They’re super bouncy and did give me a slight but noticeable boost!

Today’s earworm playlist:

Lightwood Games – ‘Link-A-Pix Theme’
Ollie Wride – ‘Back To Life’
Mesh and Mechanical Cabaret – ‘Born To Lie [Duet Version]’
Koichi Sugiyama – ‘Unflinchable Courage’
EMF – ‘Unbelievable’

Quick post-race update

Ran. Ran well…

…still alive, but very sleepy.

Hoping to be a bit more with it tomorrow!

Pre-race at Inverness Half Marathon
Just before the race, when we were a lot less tired!

Today’s earworm playlist:

Vangelis – ‘Chariots Of Fire’
Justin Timberlake – ‘Can’t Stop The Feeling’
Lewis Capaldi – ‘Someone You Loved’
Katy Perry – ‘Roar’

Blogging about running again. Sorry!

One last pre-weekend ‘recovery’ mile this morning…

…before a slow shakeout parkrun tomorrow morning and then the race on Sunday. I’m so excited about this race that I’m starting to wonder if my 2019 autumn running strategy was a bit of a mistake. For context: in 2017 and 2018 I ran my last races of the season in October and November respectively, meaning that I felt a bit burnt out after a long race season each time and ended up having a ‘winter running slump’ (i.e. six to eight weeks with no running at all) both years as a result. As such, I decided to end my 2019 race season with September’s Great North Run, in the hope that I would feel more refreshed and avoid the slump this winter.

This sort of semi-worked (I did have four weeks off between late November and late December, but that was due to a really bad cold rather than not wanting to run!). However, because this last six-month period has been my longest break between races in three years, I find that I’ve really built this race up in my head and am bouncing off the walls about it. I sort of wish I could calm down a bit, because I’m nervous about going out far too fast on Sunday now.

However, it will not be my last half marathon this year – I’ve got quite a few booked – so if for any reason it does all go wrong, I do have several more chances to get it right. It’d be so nice to have a good confidence-boosting PB going into the final stages of London Marathon training though!

After that nice gentle parkrun (Geth’s 100th!), we’ll be doing some shopping tomorrow 🙂

Snowy road
I was driving up a mountain in a part of the world that’s still quite wintry today. Geth took some photos from the passenger seat.

Today’s earworm playlist:

Justin Bieber – ‘Love Yourself’
Ram Jam – ‘Black Betty’

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!