Race Review: Sunderland City 10k 2021

Sunderland is a favourite running event. I did my first 10k there in 2016 (slow and painful but I did it!), moved up to the half in 2017, didn’t enjoy it, and have been sticking to the 10k ever since. The 10k is a great course. It’s mostly flat and I always get a PB there without fail. I had reason to expect that this year would be no exception.

Until this morning’s trip to Sunderland, I hadn’t raced a 10k since the Great North 10k 2019, nearly two years ago (thanks pandemic). My previous 10k PB was 1:09:13, set at Sunderland in May 2019. However, I managed a 1:03:30 10k split in the first half of last September’s Virtual Great North Run (not sensible! I was trying to keep up with faster runners), and more recently have been consistently running around 1:10 during easy 10k training runs. I knew, even with the weight gain and loss of fitness that has come about during the last fifteen months of lockdown, that a PB was almost certain. I also believed, judging by my recent running, that sub-1:05 might be possible. However, I didn’t want to put too much pressure on myself, so I told myself I would be happy with a PB of any amount. I’m not sure I ever really believed that though!

Medal stack
The medal stack keeps growing!

I went off a little too fast, but that was expected. I need to get used to running races with other people again, and not letting others around me set my pace for me (this is a really difficult balance as I also use this initial atmosphere as a boost to get me into the mindset of running faster than usual, and so I’m not sure I’ll ever get it 100% right). However, I kept up really well for the rest of the race, and didn’t burn out. I tired a little in the last couple of miles – I’d made the 5k marker in 31 minutes and was convinced sub-1:05 was on, but in the last mile I really didn’t think I would do it! However, the finish line appeared sooner than expected (they move it around slightly from year to year), and I was able to sprint – sort of! – for the line, finishing in 1:04:41. I am absolutely over the moon.

The great thing is that I’m now considerably closer to something that’s been a goal for the whole six years I’ve been running – a sub-hour 10k. The two 10ks I’ve got lined up in the autumn/winter are tougher courses, so I don’t think I’ll do it this year, but if I train hard and lose the lockdown weight then I think I’ve got a really good chance of getting it at Sunderland next year.

Race t-shirt
It looks red but it’s pink. My first pink race t-shirt!

I’ve been really wiped the rest of the day – surprisingly so. I don’t think I’ve ever been this tired after a 10k before. However, I’m going to take that as a good sign, as it means I raced it properly!

No more in-person races now until the Great North Run in September. London Marathon training will keep me busy in the meantime…

Race Review: NORTH 25 2021

Two races in two weeks. It almost feels like things are getting back to normal!

This weekend’s race was an actual, real, in-person race – my first since the Inverness Half Marathon in March 2020. This was a huge milestone as the lack of in-person races and parkruns has been one of the most frustrating things about the pandemic for me. I’ve been keeping myself going with virtual races and my daily run streak, but it’s just not been the same.

As such, I felt a type of happiness I had almost forgotten about when I walked into the race HQ and saw the crowd of runners and the tents and start area all set up:

Race crowd gathering
A very welcome sight!

It was so exciting to collect my number and line up on an actual start line again – even though we did have to stay distanced and set off in waves of six people! I did the race with my friend Claire, and it was a really pretty course. It was also a really hilly course – huge steep climbs through the woods! – and I really struggled in the second half, being unused to that kind of terrain. Fifteen miles through trail feels a lot further than fifteen miles on road, and I didn’t have any running left in my legs over the last few miles (mainly because my muscles were burning so hard from all the climbing!). As such, it was a fairly difficult race. If I sign up for anything similar in the future, I will need to do a lot more training on trails in order to get my legs used to it.

It felt like it was never going to end, but it did eventually, and it was amazing to be able to pick up a t-shirt and medal straight away at the finish area. Another great addition to the medal haul!

Medal haul
My brand new medal taking pride of place among my recent virtual ones. Looking forward to finishing the medal display soon.

Next up in the race season (so exciting to be having some semblance of a ‘season’ again!) is a nice flat road 10k in a couple of weeks’ time. I have a chance of getting up some speed (by my standards) on that one and I can’t wait!

Seeds of normality

I have a race tomorrow. An actual real race, not a virtual. There will be COVID-secure measures (we are starting in waves and have to wear face coverings at the start and finish), but it’s an actual race with other people, and I’m really excited. It’s a trail race with lots of hills, and it’s going to be hot, so I will be taking it very slowly and walking a lot. In some ways it should be easier than last week’s virtual half. I hope! I’m also going to be getting on public transport for the first time in fifteen months, which will be interesting.

This last week has been very busy between coding and day job work. It’s going to be like this for the rest of June while I finish my game. I’m doing really well with it on the whole, but I am looking forward to a bit of a break in July!

Summer has hit now, and it just doesn’t seem to get dark at the moment… especially seeing as I’m falling asleep so early. I always feel a bit out of sorts at this time of year as I’m not really built for it. Autumn is my time.

Excited that I’ll have another medal for my collection this time tomorrow. They’re coming thick and fast at the moment!

Whitley Bay
Geth took this photo of a very muggy and foggy Whitley Bay for me earlier this week.

This week’s earworm playlists (still very Duran-heavy):


Duran Duran – ‘American Science’
Duran Duran – ‘Invisible’


Harry Belafonte – ‘Jump in the Line (Shake, Señora)’
Pitbull and Christina Aguilera – ‘Feel This Moment’


Duran Duran – ‘I Take The Dice’
Traditional – ‘Kookaburra Sits In The Old Gum Tree’


Dee Cooke – ‘Outside Building’
Duran Duran – ‘Secret Oktober’
Pointer Sisters – ‘Automatic’


Duran Duran – ‘Secret Oktober’
The Midnight – ‘Endless Summer’
Cornershop – ‘Brimful Of Asha [Norman Cook Mix]’
Stephen Duffy – ‘Kiss Me’
Duran Duran – ‘Hungry Like The Wolf’


David Guetta and Sia – ‘Flames’
Duran Duran – ‘Five Years’


Duran Duran – ‘I Take The Dice’
The Wonder Stuff – ‘Golden Green’

Race Review: Virtual Edinburgh Half Marathon 2021

I don’t remember the last time I managed to post a race review on the same day as the race! I was getting a bit behind with them pre-pandemic…

This morning, Geth and I were up early for the Virtual Edinburgh Half Marathon. We could have done it at any time during the day, but we wanted to get the bulk of the run out of the way before the midday heat came in. For us, this was not a good weekend for the weather to decide it’s now summer!

Virtual Edinburgh Half Marathon 2021
Looking fresh and excited pre-race, which is not the case now!

Geth had requested a lapped course with as few road crossings as possible, so I mapped out a loop that had come to mind and found that six loops (plus some extra bits at the start and end) provided a pretty accurate half marathon distance. The loops felt fairly short in themselves, but having not done the distance for a while I did struggle towards the end! Part of it was the heat and not being fully recovered from my vaccine yet, but part of it was simply that I just hadn’t done long distances for a while. I’ll be building up again over the summer, so half distance will hopefully feel more comfortable again in a couple of months.

Today was just about getting round though, and we both did, so that was a win. Looking forward to the medal arriving in the post!

Sunday Race Memories: Great North 10k 2017

In terms of my own running, the most memorable thing about the Great North 10k 2017 was that I didn’t come dead last like I had done the previous year!

Great North 10k 2017
Still slow, but not slowest! Photo by Ian Harman Photography.

On the whole, though, the most memorable thing about the Great North 10k 2017 was that Geth ran it with a broken toe, as he hadn’t yet been persuaded to take a running break and go to the physio. He ended up doing a lot of parkrun volunteering that summer.

I ran 1:17:25 on that occasion, which is about 10-15 minutes slower than I could race a 10k now but also about 25 minutes faster than I’d run it the year before! When you start off sloth-slow, there’s a lot of room for improvement.

‘Race’ Review: Roy Castle Lung Cancer Foundation Virtual Easter 10k

After I did the ’80s virtual 10k for the Roy Castle Foundation, I continued to follow them with interest to see what they were going to organise next. When it was announced that there would be a virtual Easter challenge this year, I signed up straight away! Nothing like a 10k run to build up an appetite for a day of Easter egg eating…

Easter medal
I wasn’t going to leave this one intact! Only the wooden part (and ribbon) is going on display 🙂

For the run itself, I semi-finalised a 10k route I’ve been working on that doesn’t feel anywhere near as long as a 10k for some reason. I had to do a quick out-and-back at the end because the route was short. I’ve got some ideas for fixing that next time!

Although the event took place on Easter weekend, the medal only arrived this week because there were some postal delays mainly caused by a Royal Mail backlog. It was very welcome when it arrived though! Never too late for an Easter egg…

Sunday Race Memories: Blaydon Race 2017

Blaydon is a very special local race and I’ve done it three times now. Geth and I only found out about it when we saw runners with race numbers on in town in 2016, when we were on our way to a gig. We entered the following year and have been lucky enough to get in on every attempt – it’s always a real rammy on entry night because the race is so popular. It was actually our main impetus for becoming affiliated members of Lonely Goat RC in late 2019, because it meant we’d be able to queue on club entry night for the 2020 race – which made things much, much easier! Sadly the 2020 race – and then also the 2021 race – had to be cancelled due to COVID, but our 2020 entries are valid for 2022 so I’m really looking forward to returning to the race next year.

2017 was probably the most special Blaydon for me because it was my first one, but I was still extremely slow back then and found it tough going. Nevertheless, I loved the atmosphere, and we were lucky with the weather that day – a point driven home when we volunteered at parkrun the next morning in the pouring rain, with lots of sodden new Blaydon Race t-shirts going past us!

Blaydon Race 2017
Struggling somewhere halfway!

I’ve not had a good race at Blaydon yet, but I really hope 2022 will be my year!

Sunday Race Memories: EMF 10k 2017

I was originally meant to do the EMF 10k as my first ever 10k race in 2016, but had to DNS in the end as my brother was getting married in Canada that day! As such, 2017 was my first trip to this running festival, and it was probably the hottest weekend I’d ever seen in Edinburgh at 30°C…

A well-known rule in running is ‘nothing new on race day’, but as the week leading up to the race went on and it became apparent that the very hot weather was not going to cool down by the weekend, I realised I had to break this rule and bought some running shorts in central Newcastle on the Friday before Geth and I caught the train up to Edinburgh. There was no way I could have done the race in leggings!

Our friend Lisa was doing the 10k too and a few friends were coming to spectate, so it was really fun to meet up with everyone before and after the race. Due to the heat it was a really difficult day out on the course, and the water station at the halfway point was so welcome (although I think I only took a few sips and poured the rest over my head!).

EMF 2017
Well-earned medals after a hot race!

I’ve been back to do the EMF 10k twice in thankfully cooler temperatures, but I feel I’m done with that course now and will be moving on to other distances at the EMF in future. Geth and I had signed up to do the half distance in May 2020, which was postponed to September 2020, then postponed again to May 2021, then made virtual (so we’ll be running our own route somewhere in Newcastle instead)… oh well! We could have deferred to next year but it’s been the plan for a long time now that we’ll be doing the full marathon in 2022, which will be Geth’s first marathon. I might be tempted to return in 2023 so I can finally do the half ‘properly’. We’ll see. It’s always a great atmosphere, and a great excuse to go back to the old hometown 🙂

Sunday Race Memories: Sunderland Half Marathon 2017

Following the 2016 Great North Run, I was keen to set a pattern of running two half marathons a year – one in the spring and one in the autumn. With the exception of spring 2018 (a heady era of moving house in the middle of the Beast from the East and not running very much… so I did two in autumn 2018 instead!), I have managed to stick to this pattern, even during the pandemic; my most recent half was the Virtual Great North Run in September 2020 and my next will be the Virtual Edinburgh Half Marathon in May 2021.

I had liked the atmosphere of the Sunderland 10k the previous year, and Geth wanted to do it for his first 10k race, so I signed up for the half marathon distance and started training in earnest for it that winter. My training paid off and I took 38 minutes and 14 seconds off my GNR time, bringing me closer to the three-hour mark; I also managed to run the whole way without any walk breaks, which always feels like an important achievement.

Sunderland City Half Marathon 2017
Lumbering towards the finish. Photo from Events of the North.

I’m glad I did the half marathon distance at Sunderland once, but I’ve always stuck to the 10k distance since and will continue to do so in future. The first half of the half marathon route goes through a fairly dull part of Sunderland and it’s difficult to get your bearings, while the second half is the same route as the 10k, which has lots of interesting things to see. It’s also a relatively flat course that provides a great opportunity for a 10k PB once a year, and I don’t like to miss out on that.

The event is scheduled to go ahead in a COVID-safe way in June. I’m really looking forward to it!

Sunday Race Memories: Great Winter Run 2017

In 2017 I did the Great Winter Run for the second year running, as Geth was by that point in his first year of running and wanted to try out all the races I’d done the year before. I was quite a bit slower than I had been in 2016 – I didn’t have a total running slump that winter, as I was still doing parkrun every weekend (our custom was to get up, go out to the Town Moor to do a freezing cold parkrun and then come home and ‘hibernate’ for the rest of the day!), but I wasn’t really doing any additional running and so definitely wasn’t as fit as I could have been. I was also back up at my heaviest, as I’d decided to have one last ‘fat Christmas’ of eating and drinking everything in sight before starting Slimming World in the new year…

Great Winter Run 2017
Post-race happy faces! (c) John Cooke 2017.

This was the last 5k race I entered, as you don’t really need 5k races when you have parkrun providing the same thing for free every week. 2017 would end up being a great year for longer races, though!