Own the Streets

I was out on an easy run recently, one of those runs that we all do when our minds wander. I was in a dream-like trance as I plodded along and could not tell you what was going through my mind. As I turned a familiar corner a couple of miles from home I subconsciously chopped my stride, the reason for which, at the time, was unknown to me.  About 30 metres later I noticed a familiar obstruction in the path. It’s nothing too bad, it’s a chunk that has been taken out of pavement but it has to be thought about and if you don’t know it’s there or don’t see it in time you will more than likely take a little stumble. I didn’t break stride as I negotiated the little mini-hazard without any trouble. I thought to myself ‘What a stroke of luck that I didn’t have to change my stride pattern….’

It made me think about how much we, as runners, know our streets. We know how to negotiate all the tight turns; we know where all the raised paving stones are; we know how far it is from the chip shop to the garage. We know how long it takes us to get from certain points on a run to another. It would be safe to say that we own the streets. I didn’t break stride on that occasion because I knew that the hole in the ground was there, without even realising it.  The knowledge that runners build up over years of running around the streets is invaluable. We know where to run, where not to run. We know routes through paths and tracks and shortcuts that would be the envy to any local taxi driver.

Last week I planned to run about 4 miles, I say ‘about’ as it didn’t really matter that much. I’m getting back from injury and am only jogging 2 or 3 times a week at the moment so it didn’t matter that much if it was 3.8 miles or 4.3 miles.  As long as I got around my loop at about 8 minute mile pace I would be satisfied. I thought about where I would run and worked out, what I thought, would be an approximate 4 miles. I wore my Garmin GPS watch but purely for reference and curiosity, as soon as I had started the watch I wouldn’t look at it again until I finished. It wasn’t until about an hour after I finished the run that I checked my Garmin. It was 3.98 miles in 31.57 mins! This wasn’t good fortune, I don’t have an unnatural ability to map out courses in my head and predict how long they are, I don’t have great pace judgment. It’s simply down to the fact that I know my streets, I know how far it is from my house to the local park as I’ve ran up that road a hundred times.  I know how long it takes me to run through the dene and back past the allotments, I know the streets, I own the streets.

The next time you intend to do an easy run where the distance doesn’t really matter, do what I did. Plan the route in your head, wear your GPS watch but don’t look at it while you are running (if you don’t own a Garmin then map your route after your run on one the numerous websites that are available) and see how close you get. I think you will be surprised.

Remember, you know your streets better than anyone, runners own the streets…



Marathon Diary (1)

I’m still quite new to all this blogging stuff – I mean who reads it? What should I write about? Is it interesting? Why am I actually doing a blog?

The answer to the final question comes in two parts. The first part is because I love writing. I’ve never been a good talker; you will never find me in the middle of a group of people, spinning witty tales and holding everyone’s attention, cracking jokes etc. It’s just not me. I’ve always been the quiet one, ‘never show emotion, never lose your cool’ my brother used to say, I think he got that quote from the Cocktail film. Anyway, it wasn’t until recently that I realised how much I enjoy writing and how much easier I found the process of getting my thoughts down on paper rather than out of my mouth.

The second part of the answer is because I love running. If there is one topic I could write more about than anything else it’s running. I love running and everything about it. I’ve always got my head stuck in the current issue of Runner’s World or Athletics Weekly. It’s given me lots of joy over the years and after I decided to enter a marathon I thought that now would be the best opportunity to write a blog.

So primarily this blog was going to be about my experiences while training for my first marathon. Come on though, that would be far too boring and self-indulgent so I’ll be throwing in the odd story, bit of advice, race report, interview with a top athlete, maybe even a poem or two, in an attempt to keep anyone out there interested in what I have to say. 

However, today is the day when I go back to the original plan and have a quick update on… … … well, me! The self-indulgence had to rear its head at some point and this is marathonmorgan after all.

I ruptured a quadricep back in July and have been rehabilitating ever since. Not being able to run as much as you want to and waiting patiently for your body to repair and strengthen is simply awful. I know I’m stating the obvious to any runners that are reading this but I sometimes forget how frustrating recovering from injury can be. 

At present I’m not actually thinking about my marathon. I’ve set a number of smaller targets instead. I guess that’s what successful running is all about, setting goals and achieving them. You set a realistic target, plan out exactly how you are going to achieve it, execute the plan and bingo! Target achieved. After a period of ego massaging you set another, slightly tougher (but still realistic) target and start the process again.

I’m sure that all runners and coaches work to this theory, it’s not exactly complicated psychology but whether you are a novice or world record holder, the setting and achieving of short terms goals and the positive reinforcement that you receive along the way makes the long term plan that much easier and enjoyable. My first target was to run 4 miles comfortably, simple as that. I set a plan, built up my fitness gradually and on Thursday night I happily plodded around the streets of Wallsend for approximately 32 minutes, covering 4.1 miles according to my Garmin. Job done, now time for the next target…

At present I haven’t thought about the 2012 Edinburgh Marathon a great deal but I know that as I get fitter and stronger my targets will get more challenging with the final task being – Edinburgh Marathon, no slower than 2hrs 59mins 59seconds. Even at this early stage I’ve decided to refuse to comprehend that 3 hours exists, it’s my version of positive thinking.

One of the reasons behind doing a marathon was to experience a different kind of training. I’v had my fair share of the hard, fast intense sessions that have to be done in order to run a fast 5k or 10k. I fully intend to embrace other aspects of running that I may not have done previously. I plan to leisurely do a few Parkruns, something that I would never have considered in the past.

A typical Parkrun

I also intend to do some runs with the ‘development group’ at Wallsend Harriers, it’s not all about the elite runners. Who knows I may even do a cross country race or even fell race as I attempt to focus on enjoyment and endurance rather than intensity and speed. I’ve also started doing pilates and do a weights session once a week. It’s tough, it’s different but I’m starting to feel the benefits already.

I have also introduced a lot more stretching and flexibility exercises to my fledgling marathon training routine. Instead of coming home from work and sitting on my backside, I spend about half an hour most nights, mainly when the soaps are on, stretching and using my foam roller to get rid of any muscle tension I may have. On my run on Thursday I was full of energy and was having to hold myself back, I’m sure it was because I was moving more freely.  Yes, stating the obvious again but as stretching so frequently has never been a part of my training plan, I had to mention how great it’s making me feel.

So the countdown to the Edinburgh Marathon 2012 currently stands at 215 days. My first target has been hit and the next one set (it’s nothing more complicated than being able to run 6 miles comfortably at 8 min mile pace, with the emphasis being on comfortably). Overall I’m feeling pretty positive. Whether or not I’ll be feeling like this the day after a 20 odd mile training run (which will be an early 2012 target) remains to be seen but at the time of writing I’m happy and enjoying running.

Now where’s this month’s Runners World….

Spectating is tougher than it looks!

‘It wasn’t supposed to be like this’ I thought, as we sped along a random country lane in my friend’s car somewhere in Northumberland, the sweat pouring out of us both. This was supposed to be a relaxing trip out to watch our County 10 mile Championships (the ‘Jelly Tea’ 10 miler). Relaxing? How wrong could I have been.

As we almost went through a red light my friend Steve cried ‘it was amber, amber!’ I reminisced about the times a mere hour earlier, at the start line, stopwatches ready, giving last minute words of encouragement to the runners. ‘Does that woman in front not realise we only have 7 minutes to get to the finish! He’ll be approaching 9 miles now and I’m still not sure where we are!’ I heard, as I was interrupted from my thoughts.

The race was a point to point course, starting at the market town of Hexham and finishing the picturesque village of Ovingham.  It was our job to collect any ‘last minute kit’ from our club members, drive to the 3 mile point to cheer everyone on before taking a leisurely drive through the gorgeous Northumberland countryside to the finish. Who knows, we could even stop off for tea and scones before they arrived if we got the timing right Just before the start it was smiles all round then…..Bang! They were off.

'Jelly Tea' runners get ready for the start

We arrived at the 3 mile point in relaxed mood. The race was all the more exciting as we have close links to the leader who was on course for a PB and looking to break the course record, there were going to be some celebrations at the finish!

Yared Hagos racing to victory

As we pulled out of our parking space, spirits high, we were approached by a race official with the ominous words ‘sorry mate, you can’t go down there, road’s closed’. Ok, we’ll take the other exit ‘no chance mate, the traffic is blocked up for about a mile’. I noticed the first beads of perspiration on Steve’s forehead as he politely asked the best way to get to the finish. ‘The finish? No chance mate, not in time to see the leaders anyway. Go back the way you came then….’I didn’t listen to the rest. The guy was talking for about 3 minutes which gave the impression that it may take a while.

The next thing I know we were heading off towards ….the start (?). The beads of sweats had increased tenfold as we hurtled back towards Hexham. For the next 10 minutes I was hit with phrases like ‘I’m sure it’s down here, we used to come camping here when I was a kid’ and ‘we need to find the train station, look out for the train station!’. Steve is very passionate and to miss the winner, who just happened to be someone he assists with his training, was unthinkable; this passion can often be seen as aggression though (as with most runners I guess). We stopped to ask for directions but instead of calmly approaching a passer-by, window wound down with a nice smile, Steve  brought the car to a sudden halt, jumped out and, by this time leaking sweat all over the place and ran towards the nearest pedestrian. Of course the nearest pedestrian feared for his life and upon seeing this aggressive, sweaty, 6ft 4 man in a tracksuit running towards him, simply ran off screaming and threw himself into the nearest hedge. ‘What is it with these country folk’ he said when he got back into the car ‘aren’t they supposed to be friendly?’

So there I was, stressed and irritable, thinking of what could have been when I spotted it, the train station. The train station! We cheered and celebrated as if we were escaping a war zone and had spotted the border. The train station!

The watch was on 45 minutes as we manoeuvred our way through Ovingham. As we spotted the finish in the distance we saw the last obstacle, a ‘Road Closed’ sign, arrgghh!! So without thinking, we parked in the nearest resident’s drive ‘it’s ok, those country folk are friendly, they’ll understand’ and sprinted to the finish, complete with three bags each of ‘last minute kit’, 46 minutes….47 minutes…

We positioned ourselves close to the finish …48 minutes… as our runner, Yared Hagos, came into view. As he raced to victory in a PB of 49.32 we could only just muster up the energy to feebly cry ‘well done’.

It was still a great day but made me realise just how hard spectating can be, I will certainly be racing next time, no matter what. Things were summed up by the winner Yared who only just missed out on the course record. ‘you don’t realise how stressful it is when you’re racing along thinking you aren’t going to make it. No offence but you don’t really know what that’s like when you’re spectating….’. Thanks for that Yared.

A chilled out winner of the Jelly Tea 10 mile


Here come the girls

I’ve always been a bit of a running geek. Statistics, performances and records have always been at the forefront of my brain, ready to be grabbed at any time in a vain attempt to impress people or correct those who have the bare face cheek to think they know more than me!

‘Steve Ovett? Well even though he was Olympic Champion over 800m, he never ran under 1.44 and is only 8th on the British All Time list’. Or ‘No I think you’ll find it was Eamonn Martin that was the first British athlete to run under 27.30 for 10,000m. Brendan Foster and Dave Bedford ran 27.30.3 and 27.30.8 respectively in the 1970s’.

You get the idea……

Olympic Champion Kelly Holmes

I have always been secretly proud of my thirst for knowledge of British distance running yet ask me about female performances from the past and I soon become stumped. Why? Well before the likes of Kelly Holmes and Paula Radcliffe came along there wasn’t really much to know. Oh how things have changed!

I joined my running club, Wallsend Harriers,  in 1985 and there wasn’t a female in sight. It was wall to wall smelly, sweaty men, breaking wind and talking about beer, football and women. Out on a run, the lads would openly dive into the nearest bush when nature called, not making a great deal of effort to conceal themselves. Upon rejoining the group it was not rare to hear comments such as ‘that was a good’un, I’ve needed to do that for ages!’ There just wasn’t a place for females in a running club in the 80s.

I don’t know when it happened, or indeed how, but my running club now has a huge female contingent. We have a number of County Champions, former bodybuilders, mothers, teachers, accountants, students and even a solider. These women are everywhere! The changing rooms at HQ are a different place. The only bad language and wind breaking now comes from the girls and talk about football and beer has been replaced by the latest gossip from Coronation Street and the X Factor. Mickey taking is still prominent but has been toned down substantially and the calls of nature whilst out on a run are actually done in places that aren’t visible to the public!

So what can we put these changes down to? Where have all these women come from and why do they want to run? Well you would have to put a lot down to the aforementioned Holmes and Radcliffe; their achievements have made women realise that it’s not just men that can do sport. I have huge admiration for anyone that decides to don a pair of running trainers and take to the streets. You can read all the fitness magazines in the world, telling you how beneficial running can be, but until you have a role model you may not get any further than the front door.

There are the obvious fitness and aesthetic benefits to running as well. We all know how much women like to look good for their men (!) and if it means running to try to trim a few pounds off the waistline then so be it.

One thing that it obvious to anyone at my harriers though is how well everyone gets along. We are one big team and everyone is made to feel welcome. Women can come along, safe in the knowledge that they will be looked after and will make friends along the way.

In my eyes, team spirit and camaraderie are hugely important factors in the success of running and fitness and that’s what you get when you join a running club. It’s not like a gym where you pay a large monthly membership fee in order to run on the spot on a treadmill or lift weights a certain amount of times. When you run you are free. You can run where you want, when you want and you can be among friends while you do.

For whatever reason, the female section at Wallsend Harriers is growing and growing and I for one am thrilled about it. Wallsend lasses are cheeky, they are quirky, they are tough and they are friends. Those training nights in the 1980s are now, thankfully, a distant memory. That’s where male orientated running clubs should be, in the past.

Girls really are cool after all!!!

Anyone interested in joining Wallsend Harriers or seeing what we are all about then visit www.wallsendharriers.com