It’ll be the last time Louise Collins ever messages me on a Thursday afternoon asking whether I was going for a long run on Saturday….. “For sure” said I, “fancy a marathon attempt?”
So the plan was made, neither of us having properly trained for it but after a run of races being cancelled, me wimping out of Langdale Half due to the weather and a fairly solid summer of training for not very much, it felt like the virtual Saturn Run was an opportunity for us both for a first marathon.
We started early, Louise in her customary tiki shorts and t-shirt regardless of the weather and me wrapped up for Jack Frost (with my snowstorm tiki’s on to boot). We had agreed a 10-minute mile plan which I was super keen for us to stick too. It was going to be a tough day as it was, for me, and Louise is a considerably stronger runner than I am, so pacing was going to be key to my success.
We had a brilliant time. Starting from Durham we followed the lines all the way to Bishop which although a bit dull did allow us to tick off a lot of relatively easy miles. We particularly enjoyed telling someone we were running to Durham – when we were quite clearly going in the wrong direction! Arriving at Kynren was a bit of a shock for us having not really known where we were for some time and a few stops for photos (including many poppies) followed.
I had planned three different possible routes and the one we chose was the flattest. I don’t know Bishop at all but the maps on my watch had us, and as long as we followed the map line we were good. I think Louise was questioning this as we embarked on quite a long climb up Durham Road which, for those who don’t know Bishop, is definitely not flat. Louise was a trooper and ran the whole way – pausing to wait for me to catch up each time! I think the hill took quite a bit out of me and I must admit around mile 15 I was quite head down. My right leg was hurting and it was feeling like hard work with a long way to go. Louise still appeared to be super fresh and it was probably the only time I was a bit worried this wasn’t going to be.
Thankfully we arrived into Spennymoor and to Louise’s parents waving flags and cheering us on. I think I was the one who needed and benefited from it more than Louise to be honest! It was an enormous pick me up and I actually felt my legs get lighter as we set off again. Onwards down Tudhoe Front Street and more support just as we hit 20 miles from Terry and my very excited children. My leg still bothering me but we were keeping pace really well and I was delighted to be able to confidently tell them we were going to make it.
Heading over to High Shincliffe via Sunderland Bridge we spent much of the last six miles telling each other we were nearly there, trying to calculate whether we would need the loop of High Shincliffe planned or whether the detour to Louise’s parents would be enough and continually looking at our watches. Neither of us wanted to have to do that extra loop and the sense of relief when we worked out we didn’t need it was significant. Maths like that at 23 miles in is pretty impressive too I think! Our pace was still really good but it felt like a very long parkrun home and we’ll both admit to hanging-on as we headed down the A177 – by this point comparing which parts of us were hurting the most. I would have burst into tears on the hill outside Maiden Castle if it wasn’t for the fact we were only 0.5m from the finish line but even then I had to walk it. Absolutely nothing left. The finish line did arrive though and the lamppost after the parking meter on Quarryheads Lane will never be looked at the same again by either of us.
Just a short walk back home including one of the steepest hills in Durham (sorry Louise!) but by then it was all done and we had finished bang on pace. Emma Piasecki nearly causing a crash on the A690 to pull over and give us a well-done cheer was the cherry on top of the cake.
It feels somewhat strange having a first marathon being a virtual one. We definitely stopped which you wouldn’t do in a race, but it does leave me keen to experience a proper one and see what’s possible with more dedicated training – we can only hope for races like that at the moment though. Having said that though, the team-work was so much fun and there is a heck of a lot to be said for shared experiences like that in this lockdown world. Thank you Louise.
There was no familiar Striders’ Coach, no crowded streets and huddled masses and no clandestine trips into the Cathedral to use their toilets. Only a quick 5-minute jaunt in the car to get to the start line this year. No Can Can dancers and no historic bell to signify the start, just a couple of bemused students and a last-minute panic on how to operate Spotify.
Having parked at the Duke of Wellington myself and Michael did a steady mile and a half warm up to the start line (the only time in recent history we have ran together!). Race nerves were heightened even for a virtual event and we were already getting all our excuses in before the race started. The start line was marked by a road sign at the roundabout at the top of Southfield Way, Michael set off and very quickly peeled away as expected. With Allan’s wise words ringing in my ears I still set off far too fast (typical of Blaydon) and was soon zooming along past Whitesmocks and towards Durham Johnston. A sub 8mm first mile! Will I ever learn?
Of course, it was not the same as racing with hundreds of others through the city centre streets of Newcastle but there were still important sights to see. On my right, there’s St Nicholas Drive, familiar now for its Saturday morning non parkrun event frequented by the Robsons and the Masons. Then the Strava segment between Neville’s Cross and the Duke, the times I have sprinted that section in an effort to beat my time. And then past the bunting opposite the Duke marking the finish of the non-London Marathon event attended by Corrine, Anna, Karen, and Sarah.
Now the slog along from the Duke to the Cock of the North, surely that stretch is about 500 miles long?? After what seemed a lifetime, I headed down South Road. A loving glance towards Low Burnhall Woods carpark, gateway to the Willow Miner. Some (fond???) memories of chasing around the car park at Sniperley park and ride, do I miss the Theatre of Dreams? A footpath noted towards Mount Oswald, as yet unexplored by me, now on the list. South Road is not wholly downhill, and that first mile began to bite. I slowed slightly but was still far ahead of my expected pace.That wonderful stretch at the bottom of the hill towards Whitechurch I felt I was flying! The times myself and Michael spent in that establishment under its former name The New Inn when we first met. The hours watching him play on the golf game machine with Chris and Matty. He certainly knew how to woo a girl. Gosh we were vastly different people then!
Dashing past the Science site, memories of all those hill reps! And then the little bump up and then the glorious down towards the traffic lights at Maiden Castle. Still get a little lump in my throat as I pass the track.
There were no cheering crowds along the route handing out orange segments and jelly babies. No live music either just my trusty playlist in my headphones and the occasional friendly smile and wave from other passing runners some evidently following the same plan, busting a gut while wearing their Blaydon shirts with pride. At Maiden Castle, I definitely started to wane and wished the race were 5 miles rather than 6. Had Michael measured this correctly? Could I manage a further mile and a half? I safely crossed the road at the Rose Tree and headed up the path towards noisy bridge. Another familiar and well-trodden route. Past the bridge and the old turnaround point and across the skinny bridge. Still some distance to go… Surely Michael would not make me run up a hill to the finish?? And where was he anyway? He had promised to turn back and accompany me to the finish line and there was no sign of him, had he fallen in the river?
And the perfect song comes on my playlist.
O-o-h Child by The Five Stairsteps. A track from the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack so a welcome reminder of times with my two beautiful boys. And these lyrics: Ooh child Things are gonna get easier Ooh child Things’ll get brighter Some day, yeah We’ll put it together and we’ll get it undone Some day When your head is much lighter Some day We’ll walk in the rays of a beautiful sun Some day When the world is much brighter.
God, I hope so…
This gives me the push to finish in style, could almost be described as a sprint….
6 miles. 49:06. 8:10mm average pace. A 5k pb and on track to beat my 10k pb. And where was my husband to share my glory?? Oh, here he comes. Lolloping along the riverbank with a carrier bag in hand. No Blaydon beer in the goody bag, no black pudding, pickled onion, and ham and pease pudding stottie but Michael did provide a bottle of cider and even remembered the bottle opener.
I was astounded by my time given I have done no real speed work in lockdown and covered far more miles through run/walking or just walking so, this came as a real surprise. When we got home, I asked Lewis to guess how I’d done ‘sub 50 minutes, about 8mm pace?’ Turns out he knows me better than I know myself, or perhaps he just believes in me more.
Oh, and as an addendum. Michael did cracking too. 34:10 – superb pb. A good night in June for the Littlewoods
Not the London Marathon – but the London Championship Marathon Virtual Relays!!!
Didn’t know they existed? Well they didn’t, until last weekend, when 6 somewhat frustrated locked-down Striders (Stephen J, Michaels L and M, Emma T, Corrine W and I) took to the roads, treadmills or anywhere else as deserted and flat (or ideally downward sloping) as possible, and hurtled their tired legs through exactly 1/6 of a marathon as fast as they possibly could. This varied rather amongst team members – notably Stephen Jackson and I may have differed a little in the actual outcome of running as fast as possible. Nonetheless we all got suitably exhausted from our efforts, and then added up our times to see how we fared against our natural competitors (Mo, and the likes of…).
So – we managed an awesome 2 hours and 36 minutes and a few seconds (I forget…). Which really does make you realise just how fast our friends Kipchoge and Mo are!! But hey, if we did 400m relays and had a really huge team, I’m sure we would stand a fighting chance against those giants – as long as they were doing the full marathon.
Other benefits of our version of the race included the Very Short Toilet Queues. And a really nice Zoom meeting afterwards (we had to do it by Zoom because Stephen appeared to actually have gone to London and to be sitting in the bar at St Pancras station. Or had he?? I’ll have to teach him how to set his Garmin for time and distance travel – so much easier!)
Confession – due to other pressures this race was extremely poorly advertised, i.e. not at all. This had the foreseeable consequence that we were the only team entering and therefore we came first. And, simultaneously, last…
The Brass Monkey is one of my favourite races, a chance to see ‘where you’re at’ at the beginning of a new year, a new decade in this case. I’d purposely dedicated a four-week block of training to this race, and throughout December I’d managed four consecutive 100 mile weeks, an arbitrary target for the obsessive club runner in me. I’m not blessed with natural top-end speed but I am very lucky in that I’m pretty resilient when it comes to knocking out fairly high mileage without breaking. A preventative flu jab and plenty of vitamin C had got me through December without so much as a sniffle.
A two-week taper, of sorts, including a few much-needed lie-ins over Christmas and I arrived at the start line in good shape. I knew from a few key work outs and a good race at the North Easterns’ that a PB was possible. I’d decided to race, rather that run to a target pace and latched onto the second group, and I was probably only twenty seconds or less behind the leaders at 5k. The pace was quick; but felt comfortably hard. I was on the edge, but that was exactly where I needed to be to run my best.
By 10k I was in a group of 5/6 runners, taking turns to lead the pace. I was deliberately not using too much mental energy off the front, quite happy to ‘tuck in’. We passed through half way in 34:32 – I made a conscious effort to look at my watch at this marker. There was lots of surface water but it was a mild January morning, with very little wind – perfect running conditions really once the rain had subsided early on in the race. Around mile 9 there was a change in the group dynamic, two runners had caught us and began to increase the pace, three or four dropped off the back. Liam Aldridge of Bill Marsh House had finished ahead of me recently at Alnwick and I knew he was running well, I tried to hang on. Kilometre 15 was a 03:12 split, 16 minute 5k pace; I was starting to feel more ‘on the edge’ than before.
Rather than back off I adopted a ‘now or never’ approach, I decided I’d rather blow up than back off too much; not wanting to settle for second best. My experience told me the body sometimes has a little more to give. Suddenly, those early relaxed miles felt a long time ago. It occurred to me I’d had a gob of spit on my chin for a few minutes because I was too tired to wipe it off, I didn’t want anything to break my rhythm. I was still moving fairly well and despite the best efforts of the two guys in front of me they were no further ahead by mile 12, in fact I’d closed the gap a little. I knew a PB was in sight, I just wasn’t sure how big.
I instantly though of coach Allan at mile 12. Every year he made the trip to this race to support Elvet Striders. He would appear after about a mile on the way out, disappear for cake and coffee (of course) before standing at the top of the bank, just as York racecourse is in sight. I realised just how much he will be missed on days like this. “You’re running really well Stephen, just relax”. I suddenly had his voice in my head. Often, he would shout my position, never as high as it was to be this year.
All I can say is “ I was conned”. I can’t remember who said it is all downhill or flat , but someone did. I entered this one only about 2 months ago, on a whim, and to have an excuse for a short Scottish holiday with my husband to incorporate him cycling and us walking in the Cairngorms.
So having driven all the bloomin way up to Inverness, with a stopover in Perth, it was fairly rude of the weather to be so lousy. The Event Village was already cold and muddy on the Saturday at registration but by the time we got back to the finish line Sunday afternoon , it was a quagmire. Before that though we had to get to the start by transport buses in the dark and rain , an hour’s drive to a howling moor at the top of a hill above Loch Ness in the middle of nowhere.
I’ve never stood in a toilet queue for 50 mins in a bin bag before, but the young Swiss chaps in front of me ( in kilts) gave me a nip of their herbal hooch to warm me up. I couldn’t find my fellow Striders, other than a quick wave to Sophie and Debra from the queue. So no group photo unfortunately.
Then a miracle happened: the start line assembly involved repeated plays of The Proclaimers 500 miles and the rain stopped and as we trotted over the start to the accompaniment of a piped band, we were off, downhill ( as promised).
Now I knew that the people weaving past me at speed would probably regret it later, so I kept a happy steady pace and tried to enjoy the moors, trees, greyness etc. Then we saw the Loch and the route runs beside it for several miles and this is where I was conned because it keeps undulating up and down. Nothing severe but my legs could feel it. I ran with a lovely young Scot called Iain for a while and we talked about his caber tossing and bagpipe playing amongst other things. Mile 17.5-18.5 is a hill that I knew I would run : walk so I sent my husband a text to say I was probably going to take 5 hrs and he could judge when to stand in the cold at Inverness. I had seen Karen for a cheery smile and Aileen and I had passed each other 3 times. She was looking strong and happy in her first marathon.
I was getting tired and properly disappointed when I saw the finish line over the river and knew the bridge was near BUT they only bloomin make you run on to the next bridge don’t they? I managed a hug with my husband at mile 25.5 then walked a minute when I was out of his view before a slow sprint for the line. Thanks Alan for the shout. We were incredibly lucky for a dry few hours in the middle of 2 weeks of rain. The event was very well organised and super friendly. The Baxter’s soup at the end was just what I needed. Aileen and Alan did brilliant first marathons.
Sitting in a lovely restaurant later full of marathoners in their medals with Aileen, Alan, Sophie and Debra who all got the memo about dress code but didn’t tell me(!) we celebrated the other Strider finishers, Peter, Karen and Craig as well as Carolyn Wendy and Mike’s marathons elsewhere. A good weekend.
The first half mile was spent adjusting my new running belt, taking it off, putting it back on then readjusting my new running belt. By the time I was satisfied with it, I was already half a mile in. Something still wasn’t right…
My quads, my quads were burning. Around half a mile downhill and my quads were already burning, that’s not right.
2 miles in and I knew that I was not going to get my target time and that this was going to be hell just to finish, if I finished it all!
I had finished.
I have given all the money I had on me to my kids so they would just leave me in peace for a moment as I watched other finishers and listen to the announcer talk everyone over the line.
I saw Sarah Fawcett and Aileen Scott pass in quick succession in a time that was well under five hours. I screamed and encouraged them as they passed, both had a steely, unblinking focus on the finish line and completely ignored everything I said, until I accidentally yelled “Come on Eileen!”
Sorry again Aileen.
As I stood watching the pain and joy on people’s faces as they achieved their marathon dreams, I was brought back to reality with the mind numbing spasms from my legs and the realisation that, shit I’ve just smashed that race, that was the hardest thing that I have ever attempted and I smashed it.
That’s when a big wave of emotion came over me and I shuffled off to find my wife as quickly as I could,( which was horrendously slow, painful and resembled the movement of a drunken new-born giraffe.) I gave her a hug and she could tell that I was a bit emotional and so she told me “Come on Peter, you are milking this now aren’t you, it’s time your manned up a bit!”
Probably half of the field hadn’t even finished the race, yet I’ve been milking this for too long!
In hindsight, a deep tissue massage, (elbows and all) followed by a day sitting in the car travelling is not good marathon prep and will never be repeated.
Why did we travel half way across the UK, so far North of the wall that John Snow would be scared, to run a race that was so clearly not a PB course I hear you say?
My wife and I have talked about this considerably in the last few days and we have come to the conclusion that…
We don’t know!
I think the seed may have been sown by the fact that my fabulous wife was 40 years old on the 8th of January this year and so because of this she decided that she would arrange a trip to coincide with every possible marathon I had my eye on for the rest of 2019!
Berlin marathon – she was in Las Vegas.
Manchester marathon- she was in Dublin.
Liverpool marathon- She ran the half.
London didn’t want me, AGAIN!
Errrr, are there any more?
bout 53, Loch Ness? Errrr, why not Anna Seeley says it’s a Pb course! (Whatever Anna!)
I had achieved two good times in 2018 and it was getting infectious. I wanted a sub 3hours 30 minutes Marathon.
Loch Ness it is!
So it was I found myself rummaging around at 5.30am in a dark Airbnb somewhere in Inverness, on a windy and rainy Sunday morning. I had to walk the 1.8 miles to the bus pickup point and be there for 7:15 am. It goes without saying that I was late, so I ran down until I bumped into a bunch of striders making their way along the finish line towards the army of buses.
I have never seen as many buses in my life. It was like a Scottish bus armada. I pictured some marathon organiser sending out a spirited, Dunkirk-esc message to all Scottish bus companies, stating that we need your buses. However, when you Bring your buses please make sure that you are horrendously early, just so we can leave all of our runners abandoned on the top of a mountain, probably the highest point in Scotland, for one hour 20 minutes before the race starts, in the pissing rain and wind! They all obeyed, to the minute.
I was quite the Fountain of knowledge on the bus journey as we had taken a cruise around Loch Ness looking for Nessie the day before. Arriving at Scotland’s highest point with the excellent addition of Scotland’s worst weather, there was literally nothing there apart from the start line, about eight portable toilets and three or four small tanks of hot water to make free cups of coffee and tea. The planning of this was exceptional as we had about 80 minutes to wait for the race to start and each queue looks like it would take about 79 minutes until you reach the front…
I had a dilemma at this point, do I go to the queue for the toilet or do I go for the queue for the free hot drink? I didn’t have time to queue for both.
I wisely chose the hot drink and then proceeded to wee in a bush as the announcer kept telling us not to wee in the afore mentioned bushes. If they did not want us to wee in the bushes then they should’ve probably given us more than eight portable toilets for 5000 people!
It was time to get serious and the race was about to start. I split the race down into four sections:
The first 10 miles was substantially downhill. (Apart from the uphill sections!)
Miles 10 to 18 are the nice, flat, easy section. (Apart from the uphill sections!)
Miles 18 to 20 there was a quite decent and protracted Hill section.
Mile 20 to 26.2 was slightly downhill or flat section.
As previously mentioned, I knew in the 2nd mile that I was in trouble and by mile 11 I honestly was ready to give up.
The 10 miles’ downhill section had much more uphill than I had expected and I also had to put more effort in to this section than I expected. By the time I got to the flat section between mile 10 and mile 18 it was game up. Whenever I got a flat bit of road and tried to get up the target pace the burning return to my legs, it was the same whenever I ran uphill. So I had a decision to make.
Give up, jog round or give up!
This decision got me to thinking about my team Hart that consists of my little girl Vesper, (aged 4) my boy Carter (aged 7) and my wonderful, supporting and very long suffering wife Emma. (Aged 40!)
I thought about how they had travelled to the edge of the arctic circle to support me. Then the guilt started…
How dare you think about quitting when your family have travelled 300 miles just to watch you run past for 10 seconds.
How dare you think about slowing down just because it hurts a bit when they have stood in a muddy field for hours just to get a glimpse of their dad running past.
How dare I not give every last bit of effort I have in my body when my wife is currently trying to survive and control my two troubled angels and no doubt be using some sort of Jedi mind tricks to persuade them away from their daily fight to the death!
All of this just to be there for me…
Come on Peter, man up and get this done!
The next couple of hours were a blur of thoughts regarding making my Kids proud, Emma and what she has sacrificed for me, various Striders and how they have helped me, trying to make my Dad proud hahaha that literally can never happen and the 7 months of training that I had endured. All of this while Slim shady or Eminem as he likes to be known was banging out “Lose yourself.”
Oh and not to forget the searing pain in the front of my legs!
The course is very beautiful, but also hard. The road that you run down is closed and so apart from sporadic water and energy gel stops and two villages the course is very, very quiet.
Long story short, I did it!
I was about 6 minutes slower than my Pb and a good 10 minutes off the time that I was aiming for, but I am so proud of myself for not quitting and literally putting every bit of energy I could muster into getting the best time that I possibly could.
My legs were/are absolutely wrecked during and after the race. I could not stand up, sit down, walk, lean, lie down or act in any way shape or form how a normal human would. The kids made fun of me because it looks like I had pooed myself, I got stuck in the bath and couldn’t get out, in short, I was an absolute mess. I laid it all out on the course that day.
After the race I made a new rule.
The distance travelled to a race may equal, but would never be greater than the time taken to run the race.
Marathons get you, they really do. I love the emotional and physical rollercoaster ride that is a marathon. It can take over everything, most of your time, all of your energy, your weekends, your evenings, your family time, your conversations or you will wake up on the middle of the night and have to do some more calculations regarding average minute mile pace. It never ends.
Also, this is the biggest secret of running a marathon.
Anyone that has ever ran a marathon will tell you that it’s not easy to bring up in every conversation you ever have that you’re running a marathon soon. You have to be on top of your game to make sure that you don’t miss an opportunity to slip it into a conversation.
Marathons can take over your life, (just ask my wife!) But there is something magical when you cross the finish line of a marathon. Until you’ve done it you don’t understand, you can’t understand yet and you will never understand, because you haven’t earned it yet.
We went to Loch Ness in search of something, what I found was that I have a deep, burning desire to make my kids and wife proud of me and in the pursuit of that I have found that I can go far beyond what I previously thought was possible. Who knows what the future holds…
Ok so how do I start my first race report? What do I put into it? Who will read it? My god the questions that went around my head at mile 18 at my first marathon in York, me writing my race report is what got me through the next 8 miles, but this isn’t that report. I never wrote it, don’t know why. Fast-forward 7 months my 2nd marathon running Windermere with my strider girls, a completely different experience, but still no report, I don’t know why. Fast-forward 4 months my first ultra-marathon, do I write about this new-found enjoyment of Hell? …no because I still have nightmares. Fast-forward a week it’s the GNR, it’s my 5th time I know the route. Most of us do. We’ve either ran, supported, or volunteered at it. So why this one, why do I feel the need to write about this one, even write about my 5th GNR in fact. Because this wasn’t my run this was David’s.
I met David in June when I became his guide runner, David is visually impaired blind in his left eye, visually impaired in his right only seeing shapes (but not branches he hits a lot of branches, he’s quite tall and I forget to say duck!) Anyway I digress, David and I have been running together since July, not much time to train, he doesn’t like speed work, and he doesn’t like hill reps. So basically, we just went out together he would decide a route I would follow. I would tell him when there was change of surface, heights, obstructions, roads, dogs, pedestrians (they are often the worst, quite funny though either literally jumping out of your way with an embarrassed look or totally not caring that you are running tethered to a 6ft blind guy and it’s you veering off course. Sometimes I would be chatting that much that when I needed to let him know of a change, my brain would not kick in, in time and I’d often say a completely wrong word for what was coming. Any way he somehow trusted me to be his guide runner for the GNR.
8th September 2019
The day starts early, I pick David up at 6.45 to be on the bus at County hall for 7, sorry Mark but that walk to the Lookout pub was too much to bear for David after 13.1 miles. We find ourselves on the start line at 9.45, our time for leaving was 10.16(Very precise), we are at the very start I can’t believe it. Usually I’m way back in the masses I can’t even see the start line. We chatted to other Blind, VI runners and their guide runners, a couple of guys in wheelchairs, (not allowed with the elite racers not the right chairs.). well I had to ask! I asked for advice from other guides and their runners, and asked David what he wanted from the day… his reply Just to Finish… fair enough I said. Seconds later the gun went off, I honestly jumped out my skin, it was so loud. The elite woman were off, then the wheelchairs, or the other way round I can’t remember I was too excited and I was trying to stay calm for David.
Then it was our turn, there was about 20 runners and their partners around us, I knew from our training runs it was going to be a steady pace, but that was fine this wasn’t my run. The gun goes again, and we’re off. Strange feeling being at the front, the road is all you can see not masses of bobbing heads and back signs that make you cry, no fancy dress to laugh at. We soon lost sight (no pun) of the other runners and the road was literally ours, “oh my god David Mo Farah is warming up in front of us! Hey MO, see you in 40 mins” … no reply… I suppose he was in the zone. We carry on for another 100 metres and a few other elites were warming up, one clapped as we trotted past, “have a good day” he said. The first mile was bizarre no one around us except some supporters clapping and cheering David, it was like a scene from 28 Days Later at some points, we could have literally done anything, no cars, no people, a deathly silence apart from me wittering on about how weird it was, and how I needed to wee!
So we are approaching the underpass that leads to the bridge I explain to David about the people on the bridges etc., there’s not much surface changes to let him know about no kerbs to watch and at this point certainly no runners. As we start coming up to the Tyne Bridge I say to David “are you ready?” “ready for what?”, “this I say”. The roar of the crowd was so overwhelming, so loud, clapping, shouting whooping, David’s name being shouted over and over, I couldn’t help smiling from ear to ear, I looked at David and he was smiling back, the crowd was amazing all cheering for us lonely goats on the bridge, never will that moment be erased from our memories. Incredible, no words, we feel like how an elite runner must feel, but obviously not in the same head zone, they go so fast they must only hear one syllable and one clap.
Well we only had a quick wave and shout from Heather and Ian before we found out, a marshal was telling us to stay right, the front runners were on their way. I looked over my shoulder and said David its time, up went the arms and we tried to do a MO sign as he went past. It kinda worked, well no sooner were they past us then the first purple vest went past belonging to Steve Jackson, my god that guy moves quick! He was so quick I couldn’t even get his name out to cheer him on, then another purple vest then another one with a yellow hat! Well I knew that was Michael. Then a cool breeze came from behind as more and more runners came whipping past, quite a few shouting well done to David, he was so laid back just lifted his hand like the queen.
Mile 2 and the road belonged to the masses now, my real job was about to start. From mile 2 to 6 was pretty much the same a steady pace that David felt comfortable with and no stopping, I told him he can stop when he’s dead…Not the best thing to say perhaps but he laughed, the support continued throughout, runners clapping David on the back with “Well done David, park runs are working for you David, keep going, riverside parkrun well done, go on Big Lad”, if I had a £ for every well done we would have been buying a pint for the whole of striders. I’ve never felt so much appreciation, admiration and support for 1 person ever. I kept telling him, that’s for you, how does that make you feel? Brilliant he replied. I felt brilliant for him, we danced as we passed bands. We soaked up the atmosphere and we enjoyed ourselves, we mooched along as others panted by, me on so many other occasions! We walked through the middle of water stations to avoid the caps and bottles, in the end instead of saying bottle and trying to avoid them, I would just say kick! He managed 20 kicks and 5 misses! Not bad for a Vi runner…
We get to mile 8 and David is starting to feel the emotions of the day, we slow to a walking pace as we come across a band playing heavy metal, after a minute of head banging which ended up with David’s bottle being launched into the air and landing several feet away. Forgetting that I’m tethered to David, I went to retrieve it with him being dragged along… oops rookie error. We carried on, along the way we saw other striders who shouted encouragement. Happily mooching along from mile 8 to mile 12, my day was easy apart from bottles and timing mats, it was more describing people around us, the costumes, the people who lined the streets, than many obstructions, and luckily no branches. I soaked up the atmosphere the support and didn’t look at my watch once. I didn’t need to know my pace we weren’t out to win.
I see the sea, but we’ve still got a long way to go, David is tired. The crowds are still shouting his name. We hit the 400 metre mark and I ask “are you ready?”, David nodded and that was it, we started up again, nearly there I promise, he felt the change from tarmac to grass, and he started to slow, no 10 more meters …crossing the line was the most emotional thing ever. He cried I, cried, the Marshall cried, we all hugged…..I smugly smiled that he didn’t fall over at any time! We went to collect our medal I was looking for a strider, I found Wendy and I was so happy to be with David to see him receive the well-deserved medal. Unfortunately, David took a bad turn when we finished and needed a medic, after a sit down, some Lucozade we were off we had 15 minutes to get to coach. At this point I wasn’t taking no for an answer we were ducking and diving the crowds, David remained quiet.
Safely on the coach I ask David if he fancies doing it again ,” possibly /probably,” he tells me he wants to run the Kielder marathon, I reply “are you joking it’s really hilly”, “yeah but the scenery is beautiful” he replies with a wicked grin on his face, he then offers to drive the bus home. He’s feeling better. I get home at 6pm exhausted but elated, it was David’s 3rd GNR and my 5th and it has to be without a doubt my proudest must fulfilling GNR to date.
After the recent British Transplant Games, the very local World Transplant Games, within a couple of miles of where I spent quite a long time in hospital, couldn’t come soon enough. Good to start the week with the 5K, which I thought was my best chance of doing well, having picked up the Gold in Newport. The course was changed close to the last-minute, from, I think, the normal parkrun course, to a shorter version, two laps, due to a circus pitching on the route! Obviously, pretty flat … but there was a fair wind blowing …
I set off fast, perhaps a tad too fast – perhaps a bit too much adrenaline coursing through the veins. Was ahead of the firm favourite to win the MV60s after the first lap … but then flagged a bit. The last section into blustery wind was a bit challenging … and yet, my band of supporters (you know who you are!) told me I was still second, so I was more than delighted to come away with a Silver medal.
This is one of my favourite races of the year. I am so very proud to be from this beautiful city and to be able to part of the atmosphere this night always brings, is pretty amazing.
I first entered the Durham City Run 5k in 2016, before I joined Striders. I had recently become a part of the running community via Durham parkrun, and when this race was advertised, I knew I wanted to do it. I actually joined Striders in the time between entering and the actual race and so was lucky enough to be wearing purple on the day. It was the first time the event had happened, and so of course there were teething problems. A mass start of all the 5 and 10k runners and lots of narrow riverside paths made for a frustrating race for everyone. The organisers asked for feedback following the race and it appeared they had listened to it for the 2017 event. This time, the start was staggered (I think – it’s hard to recall last night let alone 2 years ago) and the route was changed. They changed the route again in 2018 but this time it worked a lot better – staggered start times, different starting place for the 5ks and the 10ks and a different route which resolved some of the crowding (well it did at my position anyway, I can’t speak for the fast 10k runners). I think the only thing missing, would be a separate finish funnel for the 5 and the 10. Other than that, I think they had finally got it right. There is support on every corner and the atmosphere is just something else.
I entered the 2019 race purely because I had ran every one since the beginning, and I am a sucker for any race where you get a medal AND a t-shirt. I haven’t been running well recently due to some medical problems that are still being investigated and treated – some days it feels as if my body has given up on me – I knew there was absolutely no chance of a course PB and part of me was dreading it. I always choose to run the 5k because I love being on Palace Green when the 10k Striders are finishing – this is what it’s about for me. The 2017 & 2018 races saw me finish just in time to grab a drink, my medal and a spot at the top of the hill to see Stephen Jackson take the win.
So, for the first time since 2016 the route was the same, we all knew where we were going, which hills we needed to tackle, separate starts – all good. Well it was, until a burst water main caused absolute chaos. We learned only a day or two before the race that the route would have to change because the road closures needed, couldn’t be kept in place because of the required diversion of traffic. We were given maps of the new routes which looked a bit bizarre and I don’t think anybody could quite envisage what the new race would look like. Add to that we would all be starting at the same time, in the same place, covering the same initial 5k together. Oh and it was the hottest day of the year. Based on the weather alone, I had no intention of doing anything other than getting to the finish line and getting that medal, which is lucky because it was carnage. When the race started, there were still people trying to get into the starting area. Immediate bottlenecks which caused literal standstills – this went on probably for the first 2k. The route was bizarre, but it was nowhere near as bad as the poor 10k runners had it (I did not envy you that horrific climb from the riverside up to Palace Green!). The worst part of this race (in my opinion) is the climb up Providence Row (and knowing you get about 10 seconds recovery before you climb up to Palace Green). I could feel my brain telling me to walk it, but I knew I would be so disappointed if I did, because I had managed to run up it last year! Then I heard a familiar voice telling everyone “it’s not a hill – just don’t look up, it’s flat. But don’t look at your feet or you will fall over”. It was Ben Smith (of the 401 marathon challenge). I’ve met Ben a few times at various events, but I’d never had the honour of running with him. He could see I was struggling – he put his hand out and said “come on, give me your hand, we can get up this together”. And we did. He gave me a quick hug at the top, and then off he went to continue the 10k. I knew I was almost at the finish. Just that lovely climb up to Palace Green left. Seeing Wendy Littlewood waiting at the corner where it gets particularly hard, I’m sure she said “Come on Joanne, you aren’t really dying, it just feels like it”. Shouts up that hill from some former Striders and the lovely Anji Andrews (Gateshead Harriers and Events of the North) who told me I was looking sexy (which of course I was) got me to the finish line. 3 minutes slower than 2018, and my slowest 5k race ever but I didn’t care. It was so hot and I had been sensible – now I got to do the best bit – watch for all my amazing club mates running to that beautiful finish line.
For anyone who was doing this for the first time please don’t think it is always like this. It’s not. It is normally wonderfully organised and I can’t even imagine the stress encountered when the organisers were informed on Tuesday evening that they would have to completely re-route or cancel the run. People would have complained if it was cancelled, and lots of people complained about changes. Nothing can take away the atmosphere, community and support shown by runners and spectators for this event, and the organisers did the best they could under the circumstances.
In addition to the 5k, the festival had many other offerings this year, including themed runs, a “Run Like A Legend” mile and a Family event. I entered the mile race when my body was still on side – thinking I could get close to my 7:24 track mile. It was only £5 to enter and you got another medal and a fab Nike t-shirt. It started at the Boathouse pub, ran down and across Baths bridge, along to the bandstand then back. It was really well organised, with bookable timeslots with about 10 people per slot. Sadly, for me, a PB didn’t happen but I will probably give it another try next year – I just need to get better at getting on and off Baths bridge!
I’d not intended running Comrades again. Twice is a nice number. You can run Comrades to the end of your days, but you can only get the back-to-back medal once. As a novice, by successfully finishing your first two Comrades. I got that last year, but at a cost. It had been a bad race. I had suffered badly and had a nagging doubt that I’d got things wrong. I’d hoped and believed that I was capable of sub-11 and a bronze medal, and it turned out I wasn’t. It itched.
So when late last year, I mentioned to Roberta that, given the chance, I’d do Comrades again in a blink, I detected a flicker of an eye-roll. Comrades is hard on the supporter. A 55 mile point to point, with no view of the race except the crowded finish. It’s harder on the supporter than the runner. And only a few months earlier I’d vowed never again. Never. Again. Too Hard. Then BA announced a new direct service to Durban and things gathered momentum and I thought, third time lucky. One more try at bronze.
I was a bit late to training, but I was structured and focussed. I hit my racing weight, and on the 9th of June, I was in my pen early, munching on a potato, and chatting to a novice South African lady who was telling me she’d be disappointed with anything over 10 hours. Nice problem to have. Bronze is sub-11, and although I suspected I might not be fast enough, I thought I’d get pretty close. My pacing and race plan was for sub-11.
For anyone planning Comrades there is a lot of good writing on the race. I’ve followed the official coach Lindsey Parry’s training guides but I’m also a big fan of the blogs of Norrie Williamson and Bruce Fordyce. On the whole I run a disciplined race and to a plan. I suffered hugely last year and had been puzzled. In an excellent blog post from March this year, Bruce Fordyce writes about his 1985 Comrades:
It wasn’t easy and flowing. I was toiling. I remember the sickening realisation: “You are not in control of this race.”
That summed up my 2018 Comrades. Many of us have mantras and mind games that keep us going when the going gets tough. And this has become mine. Whenever I feel something is wrong I say this to myself as a warning. Something’s wrong, and a rethink is needed. In a long race, even a slightly faster than planned initial pace can cause disaster further down the line.
Comrades is not flat. And the up-run is very not flat. Average paces are meaningless and I was following the pacing suggested by Norrie Williamson. Practical suggestions on where to be and landmarks along the course. I was on target pretty much until the half-way point, almost to the second
At the Ethembeni School I looked forward to some high-fiving with the kids. I confess to indulging in mild mischief here. There’s loads of ebullient confident kids, but there’s all the shy ones too, and the naked delight on their face when you single them out and go up to them and thank them for watching is fab. One lad was so excited he grasped my fingers and wouldn’t let go. Still, my ‘Ethembeni split’ was only 40 seconds so I wasn’t there as long as it felt, but moments like that are intensely emotional and help put the race in perspective.
The school is 36.5km to go on the up-run, and my pace had slipped a fraction. I refocussed and concentrated and tried to go faster. However, at Cato Ridge, with 30km to go, it had slipped some more. I wasn’t going to get sub-11. I wasn’t going to get bronze. I had a pang of disappointment but I knew I couldn’t go faster and maintain it to the finish. In the endgame you can see many that overstretch themselves only to find themselves overstretched in the grass at the side of the road. In an ultra your race pace is the pace you can maintain for the duration of the ultra. So there was no dramatic change in my pace, I just carried on running at the pace I know I could maintain. I was surprisingly upbeat. I was still in control of the race.
With about 20km to go and on a rare descent my legs were telling me an indignant and incessant tale of woe, but my running economy felt not too bad and my breathing was ok. My legs hurt, but I was ok with that. It was just a case of concentrating on a spot in front and keeping the rhythm moving. Then I became aware of a presence behind me. A bloody bus.
After my initial fascination with the Comrades buses in 2017 I have revised my view somewhat. They can be great. but then again, they can be a pain. Sometimes their pacing is good, and sometimes it’s not. And with the organisers squeezing more entries in each year, the roads are fuller, but not wider. I felt, rather than saw, the bus come up behind me and begin to envelop me. I was irritated but resigned to my fate. Resistance was futile. Soon my biological and technological distinctiveness was added to their own. I was assimilated into the collective. I became part of the bus.
But this wasn’t an official bus. It was smaller, leaner, tighter, and I wasn’t sure who was driving. Must be that tall lanky bloke. Except he disappeared after a few kms and the bus kept going. Then that bloke going for his back-to-back. Very impressive. But then, where did he go? I liked this bus. It had raised my pace a fraction, and I had struggled initially to hang on, but I was ok now. The passengers were quite experienced too, watching out for the cats-eyes and pot-holes and such that can be your undoing in a compact running group. I was also rethinking some of my pacing strategy. On a long steep hill, I usually walk the lot, as I can’t see the point of doing 20 paces running every now again and burning energy. But this was exactly what this driver was doing, and, and, I was quite liking it. In fact, when we hit the last of the Big Five, Polly Shortts, we did a walk-jog strategy that was, well, pretty hard, but I hung on.
By this time I had identified the driver. His name was Dean, and apparently, according to what was written on his Adventist running vest, Jesus was coming soon. Dean was certainly working a few miracles and I decided to try and stay on his bus to the Finish. In these last few kilometres Dean encouraged and cajoled us with a faultless pacing strategy and I found my atheism was more than a little challenged.
As we ran into the stadium we instinctively spread out in a line around our driver and then we were swallowed up in the crowded finish. I looked around for Dean; I wanted to thank him. I wanted to shake his hand. I didn’t want to admit it to myself, but this had been a big deal. I normally, and contentedly, run alone. But that bus for the last 20km had been an <ahem>, godsend. I couldn’t see Dean in the crush so I looked at the clock to check my time. 11 hours 40 minutes. 20 minutes spare. Gulp. That had been too close for comfort. Nearly half an hour slower than 2017.
But I was happy. I can’t think what I would’ve done differently. I’d done the training, lost the weight, drunk less beer, rested some more, had a revised plan, had arrived fresh, confident and positive and had gone out to get bronze. And I hadn’t got it. I’d hit my pay grade and wasn’t going to get any further. Time to move on.