Race Review: Great North Run 2021

It was so great to be back yesterday after last year’s virtual version!

It wasn’t a fully normal GNR. Due to various issues such as the Tyne and Wear Metro not wanting tens of thousands of people crowding onto the Metro in South Shields after the race, the course was changed so that instead of running to South Shields, we all turned back at the halfway point and returned to Newcastle. To avoid the usual crowding, we were also all set off in waves, with the elite wheelchair athletes setting off at 9:15am and the last of the mass runners not starting till after 1pm, so it really was a full-day event (especially for the spectators and volunteers, who all did brilliantly – the charity cheering points were still in full voice when I was going round between 11ish and 2ish!).

The expectation is that things will be fully back to normal next year. However, I am so glad that it was able to go ahead this year, even in an altered form, and in some ways there were a few advantages – due to Geth being allocated a slightly later wave than me, I was able to wave to him when he overtook me at three miles and again when I spotted him going the other way on the out-and-back at about five and a half miles, whereas we don’t see each other en route at all when it’s the normal course. It was also nice to be able to walk home from the finish on the Town Moor rather than having to queue for the Metro!

Red Arrows
It was amazing to see the Red Arrows again while waiting on the start line! They had to miss the 2019 race due to other commitments, so it’s been three years since we last saw them.

There were some tough uphills in the ‘unknown’ section (the last part of the run around central Gateshead and Newcastle), but I had expected that, knowing the area, and due to my slow plodding pace I didn’t really mind them (I’ve been doing a lot of hills in my marathon training so it was fine). I knew as soon as I saw them that Geth wouldn’t have liked them, though, which was confirmed by him complaining about them for the rest of the day!

I was about half an hour slower than my half marathon PB, but that’s just the way it is at the moment – marathon training has slowed my pace right down, and given that getting round London is my main goal for this season, it wasn’t the right time to race a half marathon properly. I’ll stick to spring marathons in the future so that I can tackle the GNR at full speed in future years! However, because of all the postponements from last year, races just had to fall where they fell this year rather than me planning out the season as I usually would. I’m just grateful to have them back at the moment.

Back to South Shields next year, which I’m sure will be just as much of a return party as yesterday was!

And in the meantime, for me, onwards to London…

parkrunday: Jesmond Dene #30

It’s the Great North Run tomorrow so I opted to volunteer at parkrun in order to save my energy. It was a busy one at Jesmond Dene, as expected, as (a) the GNR is setting up on the Town Moor for the special COVID course, meaning that Town Moor parkrun was off today; (b) there are thousands of running tourists in town for the aforementioned GNR, many of whom would be looking for a pre-GNR parkrun; and (c) lots of those tourists would be naturally drawn to Jesmond Dene as it provides a rare opportunity to collect a parkrun beginning with J (yes, alphabet-hunting is a thing in the parkrun universe).

It seemed like it all went okay though! The core team were very well prepared and marshalling at the lap split point was really fun. A few people got confused but everyone ended up on the right path for the lap they were doing at the time!

Geth was marshalling too (also saving energy) and so this morning’s run took the form of a nice slow jog to the volunteer meeting point.

parkrun volunteering
Post-marshalling.

I was also pleased that the weather was nice today, unlike the previous two occasions I’ve volunteered at Jesmond Dene since the restart!

Back to Town Moor next week, hopefully sporting a brand new GNR finisher T-shirt…

Settling into the autumn

The next week or so is quite busy with running events and gigs. I’m excited for all of it! And also for next weekend when I will return to my regularly scheduled dozing. The return to near-normality is nice but it can feel a little overwhelming to be suddenly doing All The Things.

The strange brief heatwave that made its way through the UK this week only showed its face in Newcastle on Wednesday, and that was quite enough for me. I’m done with hot weather now! Looking forward to cooler conditions for autumn running. It’s meant to be 13°C and cloudy on Sunday for the GNR and I really hope the forecast is right.

I made a decision earlier this week that I wouldn’t do the 22-mile run I’d scheduled for this week and would instead treat my 18-miler from a couple of weeks ago as my longest long run for the marathon. My body is telling me very loudly that a five-week taper is more likely to get me to the start line in one piece than a three-week taper, so I’m going to listen to it. I’ve got the GNR (13.1 miles) on Sunday, will do either eight or six miles next Thursday depending on how I’m feeling post-race, and six the week after, then a nice ten-day period of only doing mile-and-a-half streak savers and slow gentle parkruns leading up to the marathon. Fingers crossed it will all go according to plan.

This time next week I am hoping to report back on a slow but enjoyable GNR completion, two very long-awaited concerts, and the bulk of a game coded!

Black cat
Last week’s photo of next door’s cat. He sneaked in as usual while our groceries were being delivered and looked so comfy I let him stay for an hour or so!

This week’s earworm playlists:

Saturday

Republica – ‘Drop Dead Gorgeous’

Sunday

The Beatles – ‘Hey Jude’
Tom Jones – ‘Delilah’

Monday

Koichi Sugiyama – ‘Town’

Tuesday

Koichi Sugiyama – ‘Town’

Wednesday

Boston – ‘More Than A Feeling’
Soft Cell – ‘Say Hello Wave Goodbye’

Thursday

Girls Aloud – ‘Something New’*

Friday

The Human League – ‘Being Boiled’

*RIP Sarah Harding.

One year, eight months, eight days…

…before I broke my New Decade Resolution 😬

I suppose that’s not horrible.

I said at the start of 2020 that I was going to spend the whole of the decade Not Buying Shoes (other than running shoes, which need to be replaced often due to my daily run habit), as I had more than enough high heels and ballet flats and Reebok Freestyles and I wasn’t getting much wear out of a lot of them.

However, something I did not take into account is that the cheap kind of shoes I used to buy in my teens and twenties when I was usually flat broke are not designed to last for decades, even if you don’t wear them to death. For Jen and Chris’ wedding at the weekend, I was wearing a green outfit, so I dug out a lovely pair of dark green peep toes that I originally bought in Schuh (when Schuh were still doing high heels… like most high street brands, they’ve largely moved to trainers and flat boots in this age of athleisure). However, that Schuh purchase was made in 2008, and it turns out that high street level shoe glue doesn’t stick for thirteen years. By mid-afternoon on Saturday, both of my soles were detaching from my shoes, and I had to switch to my emergency smart flats. (Good thing I brought those or I’d have been there in a dress and trainers all evening!)

So RIP to my emerald peep toes then. But it left me without a green pair of high heels, and I plan to wear that green outfit again many times before 2030! So I succumbed to an ASOS bargain…

Green high heels
Sixteen quid. Bargain! As such, I won’t mind too much if they disintegrate in 2034…

Oh well. The resolution was perhaps a bit ambitious!

I have however been inspired to go through my neglected collection of high heels again though… just in case I can identify any more that are on their last legs!

2020 Pestos #15: Gomo Pesto Alla Genovese

I have never met a pesto alla genovese I didn’t love!

Gomo Pesto Alla Genovese
Gomo Pesto Alla Genovese.

Um, until I tried this Gomo version, that is.

Don’t get me wrong – it’s not horrible – but it was just a bit too rich for my palate, and didn’t seem to have that nice sharpness that the best varieties do.

I’ll log another Gomo pesto next week that I enjoyed a bit more!

Game Review: Return of the Obra Dinn

I spent five very intense evenings last week playing Return of the Obra Dinn, a game my brother Malcolm recommended to me about a year ago but I only got round to playing now. It’s an adventure game but not like anything I’ve ever played before. I have a lot of thoughts about it.

Spoilers follow – beware!

Return of the Obra Dinn
Last week in a nutshell.

The game is set in the early 1800s. The missing ship Obra Dinn has drifted back to England and as the Chief Inspector of the East India Company, the player’s job is to investigate the abandoned ship and ascertain what happened. You are aided in this task by a mostly-blank book sent by a survivor from the ship and a magic pocketwatch that allows you to stand next to a corpse and enter the memory of the moment of death. Through this method, you gradually work out the fates of everyone on board and fill in the book accordingly.

First of all, I should say that the theme is really grim and uncomfortable. It may be an adventure game set on a sailing ship during the golden age of sea travel, but Monkey Island this is not – while there are supernatural elements, including the magic pocketwatch and the sea creatures that attack the ship during the course of the story, on the whole the setting is very realistic and thus fairly depressing. I got a bit upset whenever somebody was revealed to have died in a bog-standard accident such as falling from the rigging, because I had so many ancestors who died at sea in accidents. It’s certainly not a happy story.

The graphic style is based on the grainy black and white graphics of ’80s Mackintosh computers. While I do like this style more generally (there were some great text adventures released for the Apple II and it looks nice on those), I don’t feel it’s suited to a game where you have to zoom in on still pictures and try to work out what’s happening. There were several crew members for whom the cause of death (which needed to be logged in the book) required hours of frustrating guesswork, because it simply wasn’t possible to tell from the grainy graphics what had actually happened to them.

I did really appreciate the effort that went into making sure the dialogue was both period-appropriate and origin-appropriate, and finding voice actors of the correct nationality to voice all the characters. The only slight issue I had in this respect was the inconsistent listing of the names of the four female characters in the ship’s roster – one British character is listed with both her maiden and married surnames in the American style (so that the player will realise the link to both her husband and brother) and only one of the four is listed with a title. While I’m not an expert on East India Company passenger logs, I think title and surname would be the more likely style for referring to women by name during this period.

I spent twenty-six hours on this game, but only six of those hours were actually spent exploring the ship and interacting with the memories. The remaining twenty were spent with the sound off (I didn’t like the creepy music) and the book open, cross-referencing with the 5,000-word Evernote document on my phone in order to solve the giant puzzle of Who Is Everybody. In some ways I sort of don’t feel like this counted as actually playing the game, which is a really strange feeling to have.

Obra Dinn notes
Just a tiny fraction of the copious notes I ended up making.

During those five days, I found that the game was a complete obsession. I was up past midnight every night working systematically through the puzzle, and I couldn’t sleep at night because it devoured my thoughts. I ended up staying up extra late last Wednesday to solve the last few fates in the main puzzle, because I was due to do a long run on Thursday morning and did not want to be thinking about the game for three hours while I was out running!

Having accomplished this, I finished the final chapter on Thursday evening. This chapter is one that the survivor who sent the book and pocketwatch has kept hidden from the player, and so I was expecting it to contain more of a story twist than it did – it was a bit of an anticlimax. I felt there were also a lot of unanswered questions more generally, but that’s to be expected in a story told through snapshots.

I collected all but two achievements on Steam. I was sure I hadn’t missed anything, so I looked up the others. Both are what I would consider ‘troll achievements’, as in order to get them you have to end the game in non-ideal daft ways. I’m not such a completist that I’m going to do more playthroughs just to get those, so I am certain I will be letting them disappear into the ether, even if I find myself with a lot of free time at some point!

Indeed, I don’t believe I have ever felt so strongly about any other game I have ever played that I will NOT be replaying the game at any point in the future. This doesn’t mean it’s a bad game (far from it – it’s generally very well done) – it’s just that both the atmosphere of the game and the obsession I experienced really creeped me out. Overall, I’m just kind of relieved I finished it and don’t have to ruminate on it any more! It was a gaming trip that can best be described as ‘unsettling’, and to some extent I identify with this statement in the letter sent to the player character by one of the ship survivors during the final chapter:

As for the three of us that remain, the Obra Dinn is a distant memory and a dreadful chapter in our lives that we wish to forget. Do not write back.

Balance and burnout

Geth and I travelled back to Newcastle this morning after a family wedding yesterday. It was so lovely to be able to have a normal family celebration after everything that’s happened over the last eighteen months, and to see so many people I haven’t been able to see for so long. I really hope we can have another gathering soon.

The next couple of weeks are gathering steam and so I’ve spent a bit of time this afternoon making sure to schedule in some time to relax! The last few months have felt very non-stop and I know I won’t be able to do all the stuff I want to do over the next month if I keep barrelling along without a break.

Work is returning to a good level as well – there’s plenty to keep the business ticking over, but it’s not as hectic as it was in the summer and so I’ve got time to do other things too.

Should be a good month leading up to the marathon!

Quayside tree
A slightly ominous-looking tree on the Quayside. I’m looking forward to exploring this route further during training for future marathons.