Run Northumberland Big Ten Miler Race Report

​I did not know what to expect as I made my way from Newcastle to Kirkley Hall on Sunday morning for the Run Northumberland Big Ten Miler. I hadn’t checked the course in advance. I had only checked the basic logistics: car parking, race number collection point and start time. I didn’t have any ideal time or PB in mind but knew I wanted to run at a good race pace.  At 5° celcius, the weather was ideal for this time of year. There was no ice, and the cold morning drizzle had dissipated by the time I gathered with other runners at the start line. 

 The race took place on beautiful Northumberland country roads, looping round Kirkley Hall, Ogle, Whalton and Belsay. The course was quite hilly but not too brutal. I didn’t find myself walking up any of the gradients, at least. I had planned to run at the threshold of comfort the whole way round the course and managed to do that. Knowing that I could run a half marathon at a sub-9 minute mile pace gave me the confidence to aim for a sub-8.30 minute mile pace. I managed to achieve this. I completed the course i  1 hour 22 minutes and 43 seconds according to my Garmin! My average pace was 8.16 m/m with two sub 8 minute miles (miles 2 and 3)! My 10th mile was quicker than my first. My Garmin stats can be found here and full race results can be found here

The race was well-organised by Run Nation. It was really well marshalled and water stations appeared at miles 4 & 7. Traffic was minimal but there were strict rules on no headphones and sticking to the left at all times (for obvious safety reasons). Runners looked out for one another, shouting ‘Car!’ way in advance of the vehicle emerging into earshot. Fellow runners were encouraging and there was a jovial, non-competitive feel to the event. By mile 8, I just felt really happy to be running. The light was dappled across the fields and a huddle of cyclists found the plight of our parallel sport amusing, offering banter and supportive words. 

I think I got my race fuel right too for this race. I had eaten eggs on toast 2 hours before, a banana 45 minutes before and most importantly of all…a santa jelly baby at mile 7!

At the end of the race, there was a short walk back to the sports centre at Kirkley Hall where we could collect a bright green finisher’s t-shirt (as modelled below – it is now my PJ top!). All in all it was a great race and I will definitely be signing up to more events by Run Nation. 

Cross Training Week

It was supposed to be like a scene from Bridget Jones. There would be a row of bikes lined with women in various shades of pink. When I saw an advertisement for a Saturday Spinning class, I imagined it would be like a scene extracted from a chick flick montage. I would be like the imperfect protagonist cycling towards self-improvement. Except spinning was nothing like that. 

I arrived at an almost empty hall where two men and a woman in professional cycling gear were lifting bikes from a store cupboard. They adjusted the height of the bikes with an expert ease. The instructor emerged and asked which video we would like to follow. It would be a hard one. 

I gulped at the opening title which declared we had chosen to suffer. We were heading down the sink hole! Pain was not done to us. We inflicted pain on ourselves. Of course…

It was very enjoyable though. Spinning is essentially interval training on an indoor bike. It begins with a warm up, followed by seated and standing exercises that work the muscles and joints in the legs and buttocks. You can adjust the intensity to suit your current fitness levels. The instructor is only there as a guide when shouting out commands like ‘Push it! Kill it!’ (however motivating this may prove). 

The session lasted for one hour and I felt I’d had a great early morning workout. I treated myself to a second breakfast in Cafe Nero after having a rewarding warm shower! 

I’m not sure I could build spinning into my typical training week as I was really sore for the next two days! I felt forgotten muscles. 

The spinning class was part of my week off from training to run races.  Following the half marathon I had planned to take a break from clocking up mileage on the pavement. A week off running was recommended to avoid injury and to provide a mental rest. 

To this end, I bought a week pass for my local leisure centre on Tuesday 1st November. My cross training week went like this:

Tuesday – swimming (1 hour)

Wednesday – Rest

Thursday – 4 mile run (I caved!)

Friday – swimming (1 hour)

Saturday – spinning class (1 hour)

Sunday – rest

Monday – swimming (50 minutes) 

With aching underused muscles, I went into my training week for my ten mile race feeling enthusiastic about running again. I would definitely recommend a cross training week for a mental break, even if it won’t mirror a scene from a Hollywood movie.  

Newcastle Town Moor Half Marathon Race Report

– Are you signed up to the half or the full?

– Neither. I’m in the queue for the Junior parkrun.

You can’t beat the Geordie banter before a race. It was a bright October morning as I crunched through leaves in Exhibition Park towards the Boathouse. I joined a queue of runners to collect my race number for the Newcastle Town Moor Marathon and Half Marathon. I was, of course, doing the Half (not the Full and not the Junior parkrun).

It was 8:50am and I was very grateful for the extra hour in bed with the clocks going back that morning. It had given me plenty of time to have a proper breakfast (eggs on toast plus a banana). 

There was a great atmosphere as I waited for the race to start. There was a friendly and laid back feel to the event. Runners could leave food and drinks on a table that they would pass on each lap. The race was organised by the North East Marathon Club which organises events with ‘no frills and no fuss’ to make marathon-running affordable and local to people who, like me, live in the North East of England.

The HM course consisted of three and a half laps of the Newcastle Town Moor (it was obviously double that for the Marathon). The 100 runners competing in the HM gathered on the gravel track behind Wylam Brewery and initially completed the additional half lap before continuing with the full three laps. This multilap course helped me to break the distance down into manageable chunks that didn’t seem daunting. A typical lap is pictured here:

I had looked at the finishing times from 2015 and decided I should stick to the back of the experienced pack. Most of the times were sub 2 hours. This made sense because the course is very flat, but I was planning to get a time around 2 hours 10 mins. When the race started, I tried to stick to a steady and slow pace. But when I looked at my watch at mile 0.5, I realised I had set off too quickly. My pace was 8.30 min/ miles. This did feel comfortable so I decided to continue until my body showed signs of flagging. I hoped I wouldn’t regret it in the last half of the race. 
I don’t know if it was the joy of running with like-minded runners, the encouraging marshalls, the water stations on every lap or just the sheer adrenaline of racing, but I still felt good going at this pace by miles 8, 9, 10 and 11. I couldn’t stop smiling during the first half. This smile was probably replaced by a sweaty look of determination during the second half, but it was only at mile 12 that I had to dig deep to maintain a speed much quicker than the 9:45m/m pace I had adopted during training. 

The amazing marshall at the wooden gate on the Moor (who offered jelly babies and words of encouragement) called me the ‘Lady in Pink.’ This made me smile as I hadn’t noticed until then that I was the only runner in bright pink running apparel. At mile 11, she said: “You’re looking as fresh as a daisy, Lady in Pink.”

I decided to keep up the pace until the end to secure a sub two hour time. My legs didn’t complain at all which was surprising. With hindsight, I reckon I could have gone slightly faster but I wasn’t sure whether I would hit the wall or injure myself. It was a confidence boost to see these stats at the end:

My official race time was 1 hour 56 mins 12 seconds. My Garmin clocked a time that was 2 seconds faster and suggested that I hadn’t cut enough corners as the distance read as 0.07 miles over the required 13.1 miles! I was really chuffed with my time and consistent splits (see these here). I was on a total high for the rest of the day. 

At the end, I exchanged my timing chip for a medal, club hat, a kit kat and a packet of prawn cocktail crisps. What more could the lady in pink ask for? 

Final Week of Half Marathon Training

The final week of Half Marathon training did, of course, feature the race itself. The HM was the third and final run for that week. Before I write about that, these are my reflections on the last week of prep before my longest race to date. 

During the week, I completed my usual four miles on a Tuesday evening. This has been a staple run in my training for this event. On Thursday, I completed my final run before the race: a short three miler. This was the shortest run I have done in the last seven weeks of the whole training programme. I had lots of energy left by the end which suggested I had effectively tapered. I knew that the last couple of weeks wouldn’t really be true tapering, as my training was preparing me for completing the distance rather than racing the distance. But the in-week training load was lighter and this left me with the restless energy required before a race.

I was so restless that I had to go for a swim at my local pool on Friday evening. I did 72 lengths of the 25m pool which seemed to do the trick! 

I’ve enjoyed the training as it has helped me to build incrementally from an average of 12 miles a week to 20 miles a week. It has helped me to reach my potential. Doing three runs a week has made it enjoyable and manageable.  It has also helped to achieve my training goal injury free (it seems, fingers crossed!). I am taking a few days off from running to recover. I will do more swimming this week instead. 

My next race will be the Run Northumberland Big Ten Miler at the end of November. I plan to stick to three runs a week for now and build in some more cross training.  

Five Reasons to Keep a Manual Running Log 

​It is approximately 1991 and my Dad is in his study logging yet another run. He is adding an extra line to his running records that populate a classic grey leverarch file. 

The diligence required to maintain an archive of training times is the same diligence required for long distance running. But such manual records are a thing of the past in our digital age. My dad’s leverarch file (if it still exists) is a historical artefact confined to a time before GPS watches synchronised to smart phones and fitness apps charted our every step. 


It is September 2016 and technology is failing me. I have given up trying to sync my Garmin Forerunner 10 to anything. I decide that the only way to log my progress is with paper and pen. I have used this blog to ‘staple together’ these weekly logs and to employ an extended space for reflection. 

Using a manual recording method is one of the best things I have done. Here are my five reasons why I would recommend it:

1. You are free from technology 

I haven’t relied on technology to maintain a complete data set. It is no big deal if my Garmin is not charged. The run still gets its deserved mention in my log. 

2. You can better digest data from the run 

Writing down my Garmin stats helps me to decide which bits of information are most useful to me. I am a data geek and I have always loved trawling through the granular data that is synced from my GPS watch to my smartphone app. However I do think writing down key stats on a consistent and diligent basis makes me pay more attention to my split times. 

3. You can record whatever details you like

Did you run with someone else? What was the traffic like?  Some people keep their manual records simple and metrics-focused. That is fine, but you are at liberty to add more details. The log can preserve a memory or an observation. Likewise you can record inactivity. I always make a note of my rest days which are important for injury prevention. 

4. You can become a more reflective runner

Why did you go slow or fast on that last mile? Are things progressing as planned? How do you feel? It is free therapy. 

5. You have personalised, physical running records in a digital age 

And that last reason just makes me feel really good about life! 

Ready to go for a 4 mile run!!

Half Marathon Training: Week Six

My penultimate week of training was by far the toughest. I completed 21 miles across three runs, and this included an 11 miler on Saturday morning. This run was followed by 2 hours of housework and 1 hour of shopping. Needless to say I rested the whole of Sunday!
Whilst I am enjoying the training, I have realised how slightly unprepared I am to **race** the Half Marathon in less than a week’s time.

I’ve realised the half marathon requires a greater degree of planned pacing than the 10k. My race strategy will be to stay towards the back of the pack and run steady throughout. No fast first miles. This is different to my wreckless, devil-may-care 10k strategy where I sneak in sub 8 min miles in the first half then back off to a more moderate pace as my energy declines. 

I can’t say I am looking forward to the race but I have felt compelled to run this distance on and off since I started running on a regular basis 3 years ago. The 10k will always be the distance I most enjoy attacking. I am going to use the miles I have accumulated over last 7 weeks as a base to prepare for a faster shorter race in late November or early December… But with one week to go, I can say I have benefitted greatly from sticking to a training plan that has helped me transition to this more demanding distance. 

Here’s my 11 miler Garmin shot…

Half Marathon Training: Week Five

There are only two weeks to go until my first half marathon race. Once again, my three runs were completed before the weekend. I had the day off on Friday for a family wedding and my Dad’s 60th, so I got up early to complete a ten miler. It was a gorgeously crisp autumnal morning. I repeated a three mile loop of country roads and residential streets a few times, adding an extra mile on the end. I left my water bottle in a bush by my parents’ house. I felt good throughout my long run but I definitely felt the strain in my legs towards the end. It reminded me how tough the half marathon distance is going to be. I spent the whole of Saturday resting my tired legs having run 20 miles this week. On Sunday evening I swam a mile at Jesmond Pool just to relax and unwind before the start of the working week.

Next week will see a slight increase in mileage with a long 11 miler. I will need to do this at the weekend! After that it will be tapering until the race itself when I will complete the Half Marathon distance for the first time this year. 


Half Marathon Training: Week Four

It was a good job that this week was a built-in ‘easy’ week. Or as coaches might say, this was a recovery microcycle within the mesocycle. Yep. 

My mileage was reduced to 15.5 miles this week to allow my body to adapt to the training. Most training plans will be composed of four week blocks which conclude with a lighter week to help absorb the previous three weeks of increased volume and intensity. 

I was pleased to have an easier week because I woke up on Monday convinced I was going to be ill. I felt tired and groggy. This continued into Tuesday but I forced myself to go for a slow four mile run. Normally I would have waited until I felt 100% again with the view that listening to your body is better than following a dictatorial training plan. But I didn’t want to miss out on my first run of the week, knowing that I had to fit all my runs into the working week again. I can’t say the run was enjoyable but I didn’t feel any worse by the end. 

The next day my grogginess had evaporated. I’m not sure whether this was thanks to running, but I’m pleased I went for that run. It allowed me to kickstart Week 4 of Half Marathon training. That day, I went for a 5 mile run. I had the energy to be efficient and run a quick mile with an 8ish m/m pace. 

On Friday, I was pleased that this week’s long run was only meant to be 6 miles. I miscalculated the route a bit so ended up doing 6.5 miles. My day had been busy so it was good to spend 60 minutes rather than 100 minutes on the road. I have a ten mile run to look forward to next week!

It is now Saturday and I am on a train to London. Note: the above log was written on said train. Please applaud my handwriting!

I am looking forward to a consecutive weekend off relaxing. Again, it is good to know I can fit three training sessions into my working week. This is a new achievement for me. 

That said, working week running can feel perfunctory and a chore. I love running at the weekend when I have time to relax, eat properly before and have an afternoon nap afterwards!! 

Below is my Garmin Art masterpiece called: ‘The First Four Long Runs of the Mesocycle’

Half Marathon Training: Week Three

Last week, I knew that my training had to be confined to the working week. I would have no time to run at the weekend, so I had to really think about how to squeeze my runs around my full-time job. I completed the two shortest runs before work and the longest one after work. This is something I would not have done without a set training plan & without the goal of comfortably completing a half marathon at the end of October. I felt a real sense of achievement after running 9 miles on Wednesday evening. It boosted my confidence to know that I can accommodate a fairly demanding training plan into my working week and take Saturday/ Sunday off to rest and do other outdoor activities, like taking a six mile walk in Berwick-upon-Tweed (as pictured below). 

Half Marathon Training: Week Two

My training has gone well this week. It has been busy so it feels like training has been squeezed into the margins of my week. It would have been better to do more running in the working week, and a couple of cross training sessions too. It wasn’t ideal that my two longest runs were both completed at the weekend, but I managed to complete the prerequisite 17 miles. So I’m fairly happy with how things are progressing. Here is my handwritten log for the week… 

Sarah x