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.
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 🙂
I feel like I start all my race reviews at the moment with ‘I’m not even sure where to start’. This year has been momentous for me, and I’ve been able to improve so quickly that my brain hasn’t really been able to keep up and so I’m finding it all a bit difficult to process. But with the GNR in particular, there’s been so much going on behind it and so much riding on it. Despite everything that’s happened over the last few months, I was still doubting myself right up until race morning.
My half marathon graph over the last three years has been a sort of horrible slide into doom:
Inverness March 2020: set a new PB of 2:23:42 as I was in really good shape training for the London Marathon in April 2020… which didn’t happen.
Virtual GNR September 2020: ran this one with the proto-TMBR group, with whom I’d been training on Sundays. The group’s pace ended up being too fast for me, and so I ran an at-the-time 10k PB in the first half, died a death in the second, staggered in at 2:25:29 (on the race app) / 2:32ish (across the finish line) feeling the complete opposite way to how I had felt at the end of Inverness, and didn’t run with TMBR again for nearly two years (as I felt I was too slow).
Virtual EMF Half May 2021: planned a lapped route for me and Geth to do this one after it went virtual, but could not plan for the weather, which switched from winter to summer about three days before the event. Hot uncomfortable plod that took me 2:56:52.
GNR September 2021: the year when we all ran halfway to South Shields and then back again. I was using it as a training run for the London Marathon, but would still have liked to have done a lot better than 2:51:14.
Sheffield March 2022: due to injuries and the beginning of my really bad spondylitis spell, this was a really painful one with lots of low points, meaning that just getting sub-3 (2:58:44) was a victory.
GNR September 2022: one of the two big races of 2022 that were both completely ruined by spondylitis flare-ups. A horrible 3:30:26 (my slowest since my first GNR in 2016) that I’d rather forget.
Winter Warmer Half February 2023: another awful spondylitis-ridden experience where I started slow, was quickly left behind by the small field, and had to walk from about three miles in. My 3:27:51 finish was barely any better than the previous year’s GNR, and was the catalyst for deferring my spring marathon and going back to the hospital consultants to seek better treatment for my condition.
Last month did see a big uptick to this graph. I managed half marathon distance at the Saturn event and finished in 2:38:12 at easy pace, which was extremely promising. But I was still anxious about being able to run properly in a dedicated half that I’d set as one of my goal races for the year. I was convinced the spondylitis was going to scupper me somehow, and was agonising over whether to take extra water for the heat, as a heavy running belt has sometimes contributed to my back issues in the past. (I eventually settled on filling my water bottles half full as I couldn’t risk not having water between stations, but this did cause a lot of extra anxiety.)
Geth and I gave ourselves plenty of time to get to the start so that we could get our bags on the buses and meet up with TMBR folks before heading to the pens. It was nice to be able to chat to people beforehand as it eased my anxiety a bit, and I actually also appreciated having some time to myself in the start pen (Geth had decided to start further up this year). I had not enjoyed being in the pen by myself in the past… but that was when I was back in the pink wave and stuck on the start line for over an hour after the elites had gone! I started at a respectable 11:35am this year, only 35 minutes after the gun. It would definitely be appreciated though if we could start a lot earlier in future, especially on a hot day like it was this year.
I definitely felt the heat, but I was determined it wouldn’t be the factor that broke my race. I’d trained really hard this summer (because it was the first summer I’d actually been able to train without pain), so I did not plan to take it easy in the hot weather like all the race communications were advising. My goal pace was 10:15 min miles and that’s what I tried to run. I set off a bit fast (fairly unavoidable at the GNR due to the downhill start) and then settled into a steady effort.
There were water stations every two miles (unusual – I think they laid on an extra one due to the weather). I had a Clif Shot Blok on the start line and then one just before every water station so that I could wash it down. The water bottles I grabbed at the stations were used for a roughly 50-50 ratio of drinking / pouring over head, and I didn’t need my carried water until the later stages of the race.
I was amazed by how fast the miles seemed to be ticking past. Of course it wasn’t comfortable, but it was manageable. I told myself to dig hard on every uphill, knowing that there would soon be a downhill to counteract it. I never once stopped or walked – just ran, just kept going.
My Nike Vaporflys did brilliantly. I knew beforehand it was a bit of a risk to wear them, as I’d only really tried them out on one fast parkrun, but they’d been so incredibly comfortable as well as fast that I felt they were the best option, even for a longer race. I’ve never run a half marathon without getting my usual foot pain before. It blows my mind that speedy carbon plate shoes might be the solution to something that has dogged me for years – something that none of my numerous pairs of super-cushioned wide-fit plod shoes have ever been able to fix – but I’ll happily take it.
I always find some extra speed on the last mile along the seafront, even in bad years. This was a good year. With 150 metres to go to the line, the Red Arrows flew over my head into South Shields to start their finish line display. I had never seen the finish line display before. I never thought I would, because I thought I would always be too slow.
I sprinted to finish in just under 2 hours and 15 minutes – 2:14:52. I watched the Red Arrows as I collected my water, medal and goody bag, decided not to queue for a membership photo this year as I was already cold (the clouds had arrived and I was soaking wet from having dumped so much water over myself during the race), and made the trek to the baggage buses to collect my bag. A sit down and a change into warm clothes later, the Red Arrows were still going. I can’t stress enough how special it was to see them.
I then went back up to the meeting point to find Geth, and we sat down for another half hour or so to rehydrate. After that, we began our journey back to Newcastle. Much has been shared online about the nightmare everyone had getting out of South Shields that afternoon, so I’ll summarise ours in list form (times approximate):
3:05pm: joined long but rapidly moving bus queue
3:25pm: ominous-looking large and extremely black cloud appeared above us, covering whole of South Shields
3:30pm: heavens opened to release rain so utterly torrential our umbrellas were almost useless
3:35pm: felt sick and threw up twice in queue
3:40pm: queue started noticeably slowing down as buses became less and less frequent
3:50pm: queue came to a grinding halt with no more buses appearing (we were nearly at the front by this point)
4:40pm: we finally found out why (all the roads were flooded due to the storm and no buses or metro trains could get into South Shields)
4:50pm: they decided to recruit the baggage bus drivers to get us back to Newcastle (thank you baggage bus drivers!)
5:10pm: we finally got on a bus (a very slow bus due to the now-gridlocked roads but I was so happy to be sat down)
6:50pm: bus arrived at Haymarket station after nearly two hours
6:55pm: thankfully straightforward metro back to our local station (other than Geth now shivering so much he had to give me his bag so I could retrieve the now-damp metro tickets)
7:05pm: soggy walk home
7:25pm: home, nearly six hours after finishing the race
Not ideal, really. Hopefully we’ll never have those random extreme weather events on race day again.
Some more positive stats about my finishing time (2:14:52)!
8 minutes and 50 seconds off my previous half PB (2:23:42 at Inverness, March 2020)
21 minutes and 40 seconds off my previous GNR course PB (2:36:32 in 2019)
first nonstop half (no stopping or walking) since Inverness, March 2020
1 hour, 15 minutes and 34 seconds faster than GNR 2022 (what a difference a year makes…)
I’ve blogged before about how I was in my best running shape ever in spring 2020, training for the London Marathon, and then… pandemic. It’s been a long three-and-a-half-year journey to get back to that level of fitness, and there were a lot of times when I wasn’t sure I ever would. But perhaps I’m even surpassing that now, and I can finally look forward rather than back. I’m so excited to see what I can do.
Squeezing a review of my last event in before the big A race tomorrow!
I returned to the Saturn lapped event in Durham a couple of weeks ago, after first doing it in April for the ‘Nearly But Not Quite London Marathon’ run. I only managed two laps last time (nearly nine miles), so I hoped to do at least three (a half marathon) or preferably four this time round. A few TMBR folks were doing it too so we got the train together.
I’m in much better shape than in the spring due to my spondylitis treatment and a good summer of training, so it was a much easier experience physically – but it’s still a pretty tough course, with slightly rickety bridges and quite a few ups and downs and trail sections. It was also a warm morning (the downpour didn’t arrive until I had finished and was getting my medal) so not the easiest of conditions. As such, I decided the third lap would be my last – but that did mean I got my half marathon pin for my medal, which I’d missed out on last time!
Despite the fact that I was running at what is now easy pace and took a few walk breaks, it was my fastest half marathon in three years – 2:38:12. Promising for tomorrow’s GNR and for going forward.
The Great North 10k used to be entirely in Gateshead, starting just outside Gateshead Stadium, heading out for an out-and-back along the Quayside, and finishing on the track inside it. I didn’t do it last year but I’m aware the route was changed so that it crossed one or two of the bridges and went along the Newcastle side of the Quayside for a bit, very similarly to the RunThrough Gateshead 10k that now takes place at the end of April (which I did for the first time this year). This year, they changed the route again, making it similar to the special 2021 route for the Great North Run where we all ran out halfway and then turned back. The difference was that as it was just a 10k, we turned back as soon as we got to the end of the Tyne Bridge – so we did pop into Gateshead, but only for a few seconds!
Still chasing that sub-hour 10k, I did some proper training for it this time with a couple of months of speedwork and higher mileage. Geth also offered to pace me as he was still recovering from his injury and wasn’t planning to race fast himself.
We set off too fast due to the downhill start. As with the GNR, this is hard to avoid. The bulk of the race after the Tyne Bridge out-and-back is a lot of twisting and turning in central Newcastle and I did start finding it a bit difficult to keep to pace at this point, especially when we went through what looked like the midway timing mats (quite a bit after 5k on my watch) in 30:08 and I knew I wouldn’t be able to match my first half. I kept up as best as I could up the hill to the Great North Road and the very tough final section along the gravel paths of the Town Moor to the finish line.
Geth paced it well but sub-hour still eludes me. I finished in 1:01:21, which was a 1 min 20 sec PB following my 1:02:41 at Sunderland in May. Getting closer. But not there yet.
Things that slowed me down on the day:
A less than easy course including the Town Moor’s notoriously tough gravel
Very strong winds, which in particular made the exposed Moor even tougher
The course measuring long on my watch (about 6.3 miles) – I know you have to allow for these things but the watch reckons I did 10k in 1:00:37! Swings and roundabouts…
As such, I know I can do it someday. Just need to find that golden combination of a fast course and good conditions.
It was lovely to be at the race with so many Benchies and to go for a pub lunch afterwards!
I’ve arranged one final crack at this distance for 2023. Geth and I are running the Leeds Abbey Dash in October. It doesn’t appear to be that flat (Yorkshire flat perhaps), so not the fastest of courses, but I am determined to give sub-hour another go.
I’ve always had a bit of a ‘mare at the Blaydon Race in the past (see my 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2022 posts), largely due to not being an evening runner. Evening running has traditionally given me a stitch. However, I’ve been practising over the last ten months or so by regularly going to the Monday night TMBR run, so I hoped this would be less of an issue this time.
I’d also never managed sub-hour at the race, even in years when the course was shorter due to aforementioned stitch issues and other things. It was meant to be the same route as last year (which had been about 6.1 miles on my watch) and I’m still two or three minutes away from a sub-hour 10k, so I thought it’d be a close thing (but was hopeful).
I had pasta for breakfast in order to try and rejig my stomach clock appropriately (as the race was due to start at 7:15pm) and nothing else during the day except a small breakfast-type snack late afternoon. I then left for the race with plenty of time to spare so that I could use the baggage bus and hang around with TMBR folks before the start.
It was the usual great atmosphere at the start area, and I was able to chat to plenty of folks I knew from various running groups. Bit of a nervous wait for the start, and I was a bit confused about where the start line was as everyone started running early (so I started my watch about 12 seconds before the actual timing mat!), but once we got going it was a nice fast race and I had to be really careful not to sprint off. This is a real advantage of the new Quayside start – it avoids all the bottlenecks we used to have in the centre of town, although it is a shame it doesn’t quite match the song as well these days!
I managed to hold a slightly faster and steadier pace than I’ve been doing in my 10ks recently – 9:40 min mile average, slowing from about 9:20 min miles at the start to just under 10 min miles by the end. I don’t think this would quite have got me in under the hour if it had been a full 10k, but thankfully the course turned out to be only 5.8 miles by my watch this year (no idea why, it was the same route as last year!) and I finished in 56:24! Finally a sub-hour by some margin, and a 4 min 11 sec Blaydon PB!
I still have a lot of running demons left to slay but Blaydon was a pretty big one. I’ve been trying since 2017 and I finally had a good race.
Of course I’ll be back again next year though – the unique race atmosphere is too good to pass up, especially now I’m finally able to enjoy it properly!
A few moments of déjà vu between Sunday’s race and the weekend before!
Just like the previous week, I got on the Metro to meet folks from TMBR en route to the race (thankfully half an hour later than the week before due to a later start time). We had plenty of time in Sunderland to drop bags and get ready, which also meant plenty of time to be nervous. I said last week that I’d like to shave a few seconds off the big PB I set at Gateshead, as Sunderland is the fastest 10k course I know. However, I wasn’t sure I could do it two weeks running. It felt like a big ask.
I went off far too fast. No pacers to judge by this time and my first couple of miles were closer to nine minute mile pace than ten. It was fairly congested at the start and quite difficult not to be swept along with the crowd. I settled a bit by mile three but was through the 5k marker in about 29 and a half minutes – something I really wish I could replicate at parkrun at the moment!
I did suffer for it a bit in the second half but just about managed to cling on, though I did get overtaken by the legendary Deano, who runs these things with a wheelie bin strapped to his back, with about a mile and a half to go. One day I’ll be faster than the bin! But not yet. The last mile did feel like a long one and it was a bit touch and go, but I finished in 1:02:41 – a 16-second PB following the previous week’s 1:02:57, and a 2-minute course PB exactly. My watch didn’t think it was quite as fast a 10k though – I think Gateshead measures a bit longer than Sunderland!
After three Sundays racing on the bounce I am ready for a break (and possibly the odd weekend lie-in), but I am so, so happy with the way the last few 10ks have gone. The next target is 59:59 at the Great North 10k in July. I’ve wanted a sub-hour 10k for the whole eight years I’ve been running but it’s never really felt feasible until now. Geth is going to pace me. I am hopeful.
The Gateshead Half Marathon and 10k has been going for two or three years now, I believe. Slightly confusingly, people round here often used to refer to the Great North 10k as the ‘Gateshead 10k’ – and the RunThrough-organised Gateshead 10k does follow a fairly similar route to the old Great North 10k route, starting and ending in Gateshead Stadium. It’s two laps and an extra bit for the half, but as I’m doing a lot of races on the bounce at the moment, I decided one lap was more than enough for me!
There were quite a few TMBR clubmates doing the half, so I was able to meet up with people en route to the race and hang out in the stadium beforehand. Braving the rain, we were off, along the track and out onto the road.
The elevation was roughly one mile downhill, four miles flattish, one mile uphill. I did manage to keep the pacer in sight for some time, and was also able to try and keep up with some half marathoning friends every now and again. The worst bit was actually when we crossed into Newcastle for an out-and-back that felt like it lasted forever! Back on the Gateshead side, around about mile five, there were some more TMBR folks (Benchies) out supporting as part of their Sunday social, which was a huge mental boost.
The final mile uphill was really tough, and every corner felt like it should be the turn into the stadium but wasn’t yet! But finally I was back on the flat track. Between the rain and the crowds I couldn’t see exactly where the finish line was, and so I mistimed my sprint, but to be honest I didn’t have much of a sprint left in me. I finished in 1:02:57 – a 1 minute 44 second PB! I am gradually starting to believe that sub-hour is possible this year. I have another 10k this weekend, in Sunderland – and I’ve always found Sunderland to be a fast course so it’d be great if I could shave a few more seconds off. We’ll see!
I really loved Gateshead 10k – well organised, great post-race experience and I do like finishing in a stadium. I will 100% be back next year – especially as they’ve just announced an extra distance, the Newcastle-Gateshead Marathon, which will be three laps of an extended version of the course! I won’t be doing the marathon next year as I’ve already got Manchester booked, but I am thrilled we’re going to have a marathon taking place in the centre of town here and am really looking forward to the atmosphere already. I’ll probably sneak in for the 10k again seeing as I enjoyed it so much this year!
Bit of a long story behind doing this event. After deciding to defer Manchester Marathon to 2024, Geth and I were looking around for a replacement spring event (as he was still planning on doing a full marathon). We selected the Saturn Running ‘Nearly But Not Quite London Marathon’ event in Durham, as it’s an eight-hour lapped event where you can do as many laps as you want. This meant that Geth could still run his marathon (six laps) and I could do as many as I was able to on the day, dependent on spondylitis flare-up level etc.
Following Geth’s injury and cessation of marathon training, it gradually became apparent that I’d be doing the event on my own (originally we’d thought that he might be able to plod round at my speed to keep me company, but it wasn’t to be). My strict rolling/stretching/S&C routine has largely kept my flare-ups away for the last month, so I was hopeful that I’d at least be able to do a slow half, even though I’d not done any long run training for the last month or two.
After a very early start to get to Durham, I was glad that bag drop was just a groundsheet at the start/finish area so I was able to keep my coat on until the last minute! It was still pretty chilly at that point. After the local junior parkrun had packed up and left the area, we were off, and I settled into practice marathon pace, which for me at the moment is a slow jog with a walk break once per mile.
The route was beautiful but not fast (a few traily/muddy sections, uneven bridges and gentle inclines) so it’s probably for the best that Geth didn’t end up attempting a sub-four marathon there – he’d have been disappointed I think. Despite the forecast rain, it ended up being a lovely sunny morning and a great day for a gentle run!
Unfortunately the spondylitis pain descended during lap two – a sharp, persistent ache in the small of my back and the gradual onset of stiffness around it. I really, really wanted to push on for a third lap to finish a half marathon, but I think I would have been crawling home and possibly risking not recovering in time for next week’s 10k. As such, I reluctantly called it after two laps and nine miles. No half marathon pin for my medal ribbon, but at least I still got the medal! You only need to do one lap to get it.
Geth is wondering, given that I haven’t had any problems during shorter faster efforts in recent weeks, whether my form when I’m doing plod pace is part of the problem (in terms of aggravating my spondylitis). I’m not even sure where to start with my form (as it’s pretty awful at all paces) but part of the ongoing strategy for this year is to build up long runs at a faster pace, so we’ll see if that makes a difference.
Silver linings for this run: no foot pain (due to wearing my comfiest shoes), no feeling sick (as the Clif Bloks are working better for me than gels) and plenty of energy (Clif Bloks again).
I really loved the event – pretty route, well organised, nice medal and lots of chocolate goodies to take away at the end. I will absolutely be back for another Saturn event in Durham – I want that half marathon pin next time!
I’m in a bit of shock and still processing this one, really!
Bag drop for this point-to-point race has to be done and dusted a full 45 minutes before the race start, so I was up early and at the race start early in order to get my bag on the van. This meant a bit of hanging about, but gradually other folks from my running group started to arrive so there were lots of people to talk to. Last time I did the race, in October 2021, runners weren’t allowed to congregate inside the sports centre due to COVID restrictions – I’m so glad this has changed, because it was a chilly morning and I was cold after putting all my warm stuff away in the bag!
I hoped to average 10:30-minute miles, as that’s the faster end of the pace I’ve been doing with the group recently. The aim was to get well under 1:10:00 and close to my PB, as on paper that was the expected result based on my recent training. However, none of my races were as they should have been on paper last year, so I was incredibly nervous (see yesterday’s blog post). I felt a brief spondylitis twinge on my left side as we were walking to the start line, which didn’t help! But the calm side of my brain reminded me that these twinges while doing warm-up walks hadn’t continued into my runs recently.
First mile was 9:54. Too fast! I managed to settle into a more sensible pace after that, probably helped by the big hills in mile 2. One of my major worries was just not being able to find the speed on the day, but the race atmosphere was a huge motivator, as were my race shoes (Saucony Endorphin Speed; I only ever wear them for faster efforts).
Issues that cropped up during the run:
That weird shoulder stitch (which tends to happen if I’ve eaten less than 12 hours before the run)
The beginnings of an actual stitch that didn’t quite develop into a full-blown one (ditto)
My standard-issue foot pain (I’ve accepted that this is inevitable in the later stages of a race when I wear my speedy race shoes, as they’re not wide enough for my mile-wide flippers; I can put up with it for distances up to 10k, as the extra speed they give me is more than enough of a tradeoff)
Issues that did not crop up during the run:
Anything spondylitis-related. Score!
Running at under 10:30-minute mile pace (10:24-minute mile average pace, to be precise) for 10k was definitely a harder effort than I’m used to at the moment, but it was manageable. I did think from my on-the-spot maths during the race that I might be on for a PB, but it wasn’t quite to be. However, I was only 26 seconds slower than my PB (1:05:07 today), and prior to the race I didn’t think I’d get anywhere near it – so I can’t be anything other than thrilled. Training has not been at all ideal for the last few months, so I’m hopeful I’ve still got a bit of room for improvement in the 10k. I still want that sub-hour one day and I still believe I can do it in the right circumstances.
A few more 10ks booked for this spring/summer. Fingers crossed I might see that improvement soon.
Not the best title. The ‘This Girl Can’ event isn’t a race, not being timed or having winners or anything. Also, it took place nearly a month ago now, on International Women’s Day on 9th March. I am really behind with my blogging (watch out for two years’ worth of gig reviews coming soon…ish…possibly). Nevertheless, I wanted to get this ‘race’ review out now, before my next race this coming Sunday. Hopefully I’ll be quicker to blog about that one!
I had heard about the annual IWD ‘This Girl Can’ 5k on the Town Moor years ago, but had never run it before. I don’t tend to do fun runs or non-timed events because I’ve traditionally been quite result-focused (I may be a slow runner but I do care about these things 🙂 ). However, a few people in my running group were doing it this year, and it seemed like a nice thing to do with friends, and it was a free event, so I decided to sign up and give it a go.
The half marathon I’d done at the beginning of February had been a real knock both mentally and physically, and in early March I was still struggling with the same spondylitis flare-up. I’d only been running short distances in the intervening time, and I knew it would just be a jog round on this occasion (I was quite pleased with 34:08 in the circumstances, even if the course was a bit short!). Still, it was lovely to be running in an event again and to feel part of something.
They were giving out a choice of either a cotton t-shirt or a tote bag at the start, which was nice for a free event! Our group managed to snag the last few t-shirts, and then at the end they were trying to get rid of the tote bags as they had some left over so I ended up coming away with both – win.
It was a lovely atmosphere and I would absolutely run the event again. I’ll probably be back next year.