Race Recap: Valentine Half Marathon 2024

Roughly this time last year, I had an absolute nightmare race at the Winter Warmer Half Marathon on the Town Moor. It was the last in a series of absolute nightmare races that led me back to the local hospital to request a different treatment for my 2022-diagnosed ankylosing spondylitis, and so I had demons to slay on the Moor. However, I didn’t want to run the Winter Warmer itself this year – it’s a Saturday race and I’m working towards a numerical parkrun nicety that means I can’t miss parkrun until March – so I instead opted for the Run Nation Valentine event, which takes place on the Sunday closest to Valentine’s Day.

I’ve done lapped events held by many different race companies on the Moor (as well as both the old and new courses of Town Moor parkrun, obviously) and it never fails to amuse me how many different routes can be invented to run exactly 5k on the Moor! Half marathons are always four laps plus a weird extra bit. Today’s route was similar to the old pre-COVID parkrun course, but not identical.

Having greeted the friends doing the event (plus the Benchies who came to wish us good luck at the start towards the end of their Sunday run), then shivered on the start line for a while during the ten-minute delay, we were off. I started at roughly nine-minute mile pace, which felt comfortable-ish; I decided to hold it for as long as possible, but expected I would slow by the second half if not before. I knew sub-2 was a possibility (my existing PB was 2:14:52, set at the GNR last September, but I’ve improved a lot in the intervening five months), but would have been happy with a PB of any stripe given that today wasn’t an A race.

Most of my mile splits ended up about 8:50ish. I felt strong, but for some reason couldn’t face fuel or water and so didn’t eat or drink for the whole race (this is something that I think is specific to long distances at race pace, and so I really need to solve it before the marathon itself). I only really started to slow in the last three or four miles, and not by much, going down to about 9:20 minute miles. 11 miles in, I finally allowed myself to do the maths. Sub-2 was on… if I stayed strong, and if (big if!) my watch wasn’t measuring the course too short.

I rallied in mile 12 for a 9 minute mile split, giving me 11 and a half minutes to finish the final 1 point something miles. I still had no idea how big the ‘something’ was going to be by my watch, so I didn’t know how close it was going to be! I pushed hard again for mile 13, but the split came in at 9:20 again, and though I could see the finish line, it still looked a very long way away… so I had to give it everything I had left for the last few hundred yards, still not sure if I was going to be able to hit that magic number. Geth was waiting near the finish and ran in with me, but I hardly knew where I was at that point.

I finished in 1:59:31. I am a sub-2 half marathoner. There were so many years when I thought this would NEVER happen, and it hasn’t really sunk in yet.

I am so happy today.

parkrundays: Leazes #142 and Jesmond Dene #145

Catchup of last weekend and this weekend! No photos as I keep forgetting.

I said last time that I really didn’t expect to continue with the course PBs last weekend at Leazes. I’d already run my second fastest ever parkrun there a fortnight previously, and I was really starting to feel the Thursday long runs from marathon training in my legs, so I was sure the streak was over. But I was wrong – and somehow I managed another big all-time PB! 24:32 – 39 seconds off my 25:11 at Town Moor in early January. The course PB streak survives… 11 and counting now. We’ll see what happens next weekend.

Yesterday, though, I took a break from the running and volunteered at Jesmond Dene instead. Timekeeping for the first time in ages, which was nice – and thankfully the rain held off, unlike during the rest of this weekend!

Back to Town Moor next week.

parkrunday: Rising Sun #313

The course PBs continue 🙂 My previous best at Rising Sun was 32:35 last July so I was fairly hopeful due to the way things have been going recently.

Rising Sun parkrun
It was a muddy one so I wore my trail shoes – which meant it was a trail shoes PB too! Photo from Rising Sun parkrun Facebook page.

I started at the front with the fast laddies, which felt scary at the time but meant I avoided the usual bottleneck (it’s a wide start that quickly narrows). As has been the case for most parkruns recently, it turned into a bit of a progression run – I need to be brave enough to start faster. Or possibly do more of a warmup.

I finished in 26:02 – six and a half minutes off the course PB, which is not bad!

That’s 10 course PBs in a row! But the streak is absolutely not guaranteed to continue, as I’m back at Leazes this weekend. I was only there a week and a half ago and already did a fairly blistering time (for me), so we’ll have to see. I will give it a good go though.

parkrundays: Town Moor #606, Jesmond Dene #141 and Leazes #140

Catching up with the last few parkrundays!

6th January saw me back at Town Moor, this time in shorts and fast shoes with my serious face on (the theme for this month’s parkruns). This was a successful strategy and helped me take over a minute off December’s all-time PB! New all-time PB 25:11.

Back to Jesmond Dene for the first time in a couple of months on 13th January. Pleased to take more than a minute off my course PB here as well – 27:26.

parkrun
Photo from Jesmond Dene parkrun Facebook page. (I look awful here haha but you can tell how hard I was pushing on the final sprint!)

Finally, this last Saturday, I completed the set of Newcastle city parkruns with Leazes. Another week, another minute-plus off a course PB – 25:17! I was hoping in the latter stages it would be another all-time PB, but I couldn’t quite beat my Town Moor time from a couple of weeks previously. Soon I hope.

Post-parkrun
Warm layers on afterwards for the walk back to the car!

Assuming it’s on, I’m planning to do another local one this weekend. I’ve not visited in a while, and my course PB there is in the low 30s – so hopefully I’ll be able to take a decent chunk off that one too, even if I take it slightly easier this week (it’s a cutdown week on my marathon training plan so probably best to cool it a little!).

Race Recap: Leeds Abbey Dash 2023

I am extremely late with this race recap. The autumn got away from me a bit. Never mind – at least I’m getting it posted now before my 2024 race season begins.

Geth and I both wanted one final crack at the 10k distance in 2023 after the Great North Run was out of the way. I hadn’t yet broken sub-hour and I was sure I could, while Geth hadn’t yet properly tackled a 10k race in 2023 due to his spring injury. We settled on Leeds Abbey Dash because it was said to be fast and because we both always enjoy a trip to Leeds – one of our favourite cities.

Leeds Abbey Dash
Start line selfie!

Following a nice Saturday evening in Leeds and a good night’s sleep at our favourite city centre hotel, we made our way to the start line. It was fairly cold now that we were well into October, especially as I have now made the decision to brave races in shorts and vest all year round.

As such, I felt a bit frozen solid when I started! But I soon warmed up and de-stiffened, and quickly caught the one-hour pacers, which was a good sign. The course is largely an out and back, which meant that once I was a couple of miles in and the leaders were coming back the other way, I had lots of people to focus on as I ran, and I was able to look out for Geth.

I felt really strong at the turnaround and after that it was just a case of hanging onto the pace, especially as I was mostly overtaking people rather than the other way round. I had to talk to myself quite hard during the last couple of miles, but I did manage to stay focused, and in the end I crossed the line in 54:23. Not just the sub-hour I’d been chasing for eight years, but also a sub-55!

I wasn’t really able to find the words at the time (part of the reason I’ve taken so long to get round to this blog), and even three months later my self-perception still hasn’t caught up with the paces I’ve been doing, especially as I’m still improving. I still find it a bit hard to believe that I was able to take such a big chunk off my 10k PB (previously 1:01:21) as I had had a few good cracks at it in the late spring and early summer. Three and a half months made such a difference!

I’m not really thinking about 10ks at the moment as I’m in the depths of marathon training. But I do have a few booked in 2024 so it’d be lovely to continue along this trajectory 🙂

parkrundays: Oriam #131 and Portobello #365

Oriam was not the plan for the 30th of December!

The plan was Edinburgh (Cramond) for the first time in four years – a nice sprint up and/or down the promenade, depending on which direction the wind was blowing. I was confident I would beat my course PB of 29:50 and perhaps even sneak another all-time PB if the conditions were right.

However, the conditions were not right. The conditions were in fact so wrong that Edinburgh, along with many other parkruns in the area, cancelled on the morning. Too icy!

As such, it was a last-minute dash to Oriam instead. I had also not been to Oriam in four years, and I was also confident of a course PB – though I couldn’t actually remember what my existing course PB was! I only remembered being fairly slow on the one previous occasion I had visited (for my 100th parkrun in December 2019), largely due to the insane mud on the course.

It’s a shame that I couldn’t finish 2023’s parkrunning with a fast parkrun, but as far as traily/hilly courses are concerned, I kept up with my very respectable recent efforts. To my Jesmond Dene 28:41 and Pendle 28:42, I added an Oriam 28:30 – which was an 8 minute 7 second course PB, following a 36:37 back in 2019. Not bad after a slightly manic morning with the change of plan!

No photo for Oriam as I was too distracted (and wanted to get home and out of the -2°C weather – brrr).

Thankfully Portobello went ahead as planned on New Year’s Day after cancelling on the 30th. Geth and I have been doing our NYD parkrun there ever since we started NYD parkrunning! It was even more rammed than usual – like sardines at the start – and I wasn’t at all surprised to hear later that they’d broken their attendance record (with 521). Hats off to the run director, who did a superb job with the briefing after the megaphone failed, and to the crowd, who maintained a respectful silence while this was going on.

It took me about two minutes to get through the Portobello bottleneck but I still got a really decent time – 26:52, which was a course PB of about 7 and a half minutes! About as good a start to 2024 as I could have wished for.

parkrun
Not the best picture but I was having a lovely parkrun! Photo from Portobello parkrun Facebook page.

parkrundays: Pendle #426 and Town Moor #604

A quick parkrunday catchup.

Last week I was at Pendle again while visiting the in-laws. The course was muddier than usual but I was pleased to improve on my September course PB, taking off another 54 seconds with a 28:42. Up until August 2023, 28:42 was my all-time parkrun PB, set in 2018 in much more amenable conditions at Town Moor, and so to equal that on the toughest parkrun course I do semi-regularly was pretty special. I was really pleased with that.

parkrun
Working hard for it! Photo from Pendle parkrun Facebook page.

Today I returned to Town Moor, scene of my new all-time PB a fortnight ago. The conditions were not good at all – 45 mph winds on the Moor – and so I didn’t expect to get anywhere near that time. But somehow I managed 26:10 – so another 13 seconds off the PB! Can’t believe it!

Next week I’ll be visiting a parkrun I haven’t done for nearly four years! Looking forward to it…

parkrundays: Jesmond Dene #129, Jesmond Dene #130, Leazes #131, Jesmond Dene #132, Jesmond Dene #133, Jesmond Dene #134 and Town Moor #602

That was quite a nice series of event numbers until Town Moor! I believe Leazes and Jesmond Dene are no longer in sync due to cancellations, but they’ll likely be similar in event number for a while yet.

I’ve got two months’ worth of parkrundays to catch up with as I haven’t had time to blog lately. I’ll try and keep it short-ish!

On the 14th of October I tailwalked around Jesmond Dene. Quite a fast field and if it hadn’t been for the parkwalkers I would probably have had to run!

I couldn’t parkrun on 21st October due to Storm Babet 🙁 I had a volunteer slot booked at Jesmond Dene but it was cancelled and we had a train to catch, and it was a bit too tight for me to get to any other run.

I was back at Jesmond Dene on 28th October. I managed my first ever Jesmond Dene sub-30 – 29:37! (And in Hallowe’en getup, too!)

I headed to Leazes on the 4th of November to try and get an all-time PB. I managed it – 26:24, which was 8 seconds faster than my previous best at Denton Dene in September.

Leazes parkrun
Trying to warm up post-parkrun! Photo from the Leazes parkrun Facebook page.

Back at Jesmond Dene on 11th November. I was feeling slightly under the weather so I took it easy for 32:07.

Another run round the Dene on the 18th of November… but this time I gave it a go again and got my second fastest course time (29:44).

And back again on the 25th – this time for another big course PB, despite having an asthma attack on the way up the hill! (Need to remember to take my inhaler before parkrun.) New course PB 28:41!

This resulted in the very strange situation where my Jesmond Dene PB was 1 second faster than my Town Moor PB (28:42, set back in September 2018 – this was my all-time PB for nearly five years before I managed to break it at Agnew this August).

I wasn’t having that, so I resolved to do something about it at Town Moor the following week!

Unfortunately, the following week (2nd December), Town Moor was off. Along with pretty much the entirety of north-east England. 34 out of 36 parkruns in the region cancelled, leaving only Cotsford Fields and Marshall Drive as the two hardy coastal survivors down in Teesside. Much as I hate to miss parkrun, I wasn’t driving down there in the deep snow, so my next adventure would have to wait.

On the 9th of December, I headed to Town Moor, a week later than planned. No pacers unfortunately (they’re only in service on the first weekend of the month) and I wimped out of dressing for a PB attempt due to the cold, but I got a good start and I was overtaking friends who I knew were going for 26:45ish, so I thought I was probably on for a good time if I could just keep going.

I managed 26:23. A new all-time PB by 1 second, just beating my time at Leazes from a few weeks ago! And in tougher conditions on a tougher course 🙂

I have three more parkruns to do in 2023 (as I’m skipping the Christmas Day one for family time) – a course PB attempt this coming weekend, a let’s-see-what-happens on the 23rd, and then a maybe-just-maybe on a fast course on the 30th… so the year isn’t quite done yet. I’ll try and be a bit more prompt with my blog updates for those!

parkrundays: Pendle #416 and Town Moor #596

Catching up with the last couple of weeks.

On the 30th of September, Geth and I headed to Pendle as we were visiting my in-laws. I’d already taken about two and a half minutes off my Pendle PB this year when we last visited in July, so I wasn’t sure how much more I could improve – but I ended up taking another three-ish minutes off! 29:36 – and a few months ago I wasn’t even sure if I’d manage sub-30 anywhere this year, let alone on the toughest parkrun course I know.

parkrun finish token
Low 30s at a smallish parkrun for the second week in a row! Can’t complain about that.

This last Saturday, I did my second pacer stint at Town Moor, pacing 34 minutes again. I still haven’t quite got the hang of judging the finish straight exactly and came in at 34:08 by my watch (34:18 in results). I’ll give it another go in a couple of months!

A different event and a different volunteer role next week.

parkrunday: Denton Dene #14

Bit of a midweek change of plan last week. Geth and I had originally planned to go to Leazes for a fast effort, but after both suffering from a cold during the week, we decided not to put ‘course PB pressure’ on ourselves and elected to try our NENDY at Denton Dene instead.

parkrun

I was really pleased to get this one done. I’d been meaning to go all summer and hadn’t got round to it!

I decided to give it a good bash without looking at my watch. It turned out to be less hilly than people had been warning – IMO the sharp turns and narrow paths (made more difficult by the ‘keep right’ rule) are the truly tricky parts of this course.

I felt like I was going too fast when I started, but I decided to hang onto the pace and see where it got me. It got me a 29-second all-time parkrun PB – 26:32! Not bad considering it was a hillyish course, I was recovering from a cold and I was only wearing my second fastest shoes!

I was also 3rd lady, which I’m almost more pleased about than the PB. I know positions are all very dependent on who turns up on the day, and I try not to be competitive, but given that I spent my early parkrun years shuffling along accompanied by tailwalkers (tailrunners in those days), a podium finish is always going to be really special.

Back to bigger hills next week, so I’ll definitely have to wait a few weeks to try and be fast again!