Berlin…where dreams come true!


Flat, fast, unforgettable…the strap line for the 2015 BMW Berlin Marathon and I’ve got to say, I completely agree!

Whilst the event was everything it is billed up to be, I do have mixed emotions about my performance. My initial aim for the race was to run under 2.31 to gain the Olympic qualifying standard. But I knew that on a good day I could run low 2.28 and on a really good day even go 2.27.

The final few weeks of training after returning from Font Romeu had went really well. I ran a 10k PB at Teespride then finished 4th at GNR recording a very controlled 72.08. GNR gave me a chance to practice race day drinks which I’m really glad I did as the gel I took at 9miles really messed my stomach up so I knew not to use that one in Berlin.

I did some lactate tests in the lab the Wednesday after GNR and got some very pleasing results. In fact they were so good that I didn’t quite believe them! But they confirmed what I already thought, that I was in great shape both physically and mentally and with the magical powers of the Berlin course I knew I could run fast.

Introducing the new "Adizero taper suit"

Introducing the new “Adizero taper suit”

A lot of people say that one of the hardest parts of marathon running is actually getting to the startline in one piece. I managed that. But then again I also managed that 14months earlier in Glasgow and we all know how that ended. This was my first marathon since then so it added an extra obstacle to overcome in trying to forget what happened that day and not let it play on my mind and effect my performance.

In the days leading up to the race the nerves were starting to build to a point where I was feeling physically sick just thinking about it. The few people that I disclosed this to reassured me that this was a good thing as it showed it meant something to me. I just had to try and control those nerves and then use them to my advantage come race day.

Quite unusually I slept really well the night prior to the race and woke up feeling good within myself. I was quite calm compared to the previous few days and I even managed to eat breakfast without forcing it down. Though I have to admit that eating a beetroot flapjack at 5am was a bit of a struggle!!

We arrived at the start area about 75 minutes before the gun went and stepping off the bus right in front of the start gantry I got shivers down my spine and actually felt quite emotional. I calmed myself and sat listening to some music until it was time for a warm up jog.

Before I knew it we were being ushered on onto the start area. A few strides, well wishes and hugs with fellow Brits and we were on the start line. This was the first time I’d been in such a big mixed field so it felt strange having so many people around me all jostling for position.

No organised pacemakers had been provided by the organisers. Most of the elite girls had brought their own personal pacemakers but unfortunately I’m not even fortunate enough to have a training partner never mind a pacemaker who could help me out – note to self advertise a “vacancy” on social media! I had chatted to a British guy via Facebook the day before to try and set something up as he was looking for a similar time but we never found each other in the crowd so I just stowed away in a group containing fellow Brit, and North Easterner, Sonia Samuels and a few other girls. Sonia had her husband helping her out and the other girls all had pacers so it meant that the group had plenty of men to take the work for us.

Despite the first KM being about 6 seconds faster than I had planned I settled in and got carried along and was feeling awesome. The only bad thought I had in the first 33km was about 400m into the race when I suddenly thought “sh*t, I didn’t change my shoes” and had to actually look down at my feet to check that I had. Thankfully I had and I have no idea why I even thought I hadn’t!!

Tees Pride 10k 32.17 PB

Tees Pride 10k 32.17 PB

Apart from that first KM I only checked my watch at 5k intervals. I knew what times I needed for each section to hit 2.28 and we were consistently 10-15 seconds under at each segment. I was cruising, feeling awesome and going through halfway in 73.33 feeling really strong, I started thinking about negative splits and the possibility of sub 2.27.

Approaching 20k I had noticed my stomach starting to churn a little so I was debating about whether or not to take my drink at the 20k station. However, when I got to the station I had the decision made for me as my bottle wasn’t there. I didn’t panic though, I just got on with it and concentrated on moving forward.

The miles ticked away and I was still feeling great. The next few drink stations were slightly less chaotic and thankfully all my bottles were there as I was starting to need them.

I had drifted to the front of the pack and was pushing the pace on. When I say that, the effort was increasing but the actual pace was remaining the same. Miles 18 and 19 slowed slightly but we were still that 15 seconds inside 2.28 pace for the 30k split. By now we were catching quite a large group in front of us. I realised that this group contained Anna Haner, the top German woman. We caught the group and went straight past them. Looking back at the splits after the race I wasn’t too surprised to see that this mile was covered in 5.28 as by the time we got to 33k I was starting to detach very slightly from the pack.

I was urging myself to get back on the back of them but my legs couldn’t respond. By now my stomach had began to churn again and was started to cause concern. I could feel myself slowing and took a glance at my watch to see a 5.55 split. I knew I couldn’t afford to drop too much over the final 9k.

GNR 4th place finish 72.08

GNR 4th place finish 72.08

By 35k Sonia had caught me. This was a blessing in disguise as it gave me a kick up the bum! I latched on to her and managed to rally round and pull back down to target pace. Unfortunately though this was short lived and by 37k I was entering a deep dark pain cave!

My stomach was really badly churning now and at times I was very worried that it wasn’t going to hold out! I tried as best I could to pick the pace up again but every time I did the cramps in my stomach were agony. I was going deeper into the pain cave. A few friendly shouts in the last few KMs kept me pushing on and when I got to 41k I knew I had 5 minutes left to still get the sub 2.30 I desperately wanted.

I gave myself a good talking too, put my head down and pushed on as hard as I could. Yes it hurt, yes I thought my stomach was going to give way, but I’d put far too much into this marathon to let it slip away. I had a dream in my heart pushing me on and I wasn’t giving up without a fight.

Coming into the final straight and approaching the domineering structure of the Brandenburg Gate I knew I was home. Just over a minute left then the pain would fade. The crowds were amazing, willing you on every last step. I channeled my inner Usain Bolt and pushed for the line, finally crossing it hand in mouth once again, to see the clock still displaying 2.29!!

Success isn’t given, it’s earned…Through hard work, sweat and tears. On cold dark mornings when you’d rather lie in your cozy warm bed.  On empty tracks pounding out reps solo. On long runs when your body is exhausted. In an empty gym when all you want to do is sleep on the mat. That’s where success comes from…

Sonia came straight over to give me a hug. She had smashed it running a brilliant 2.28.04. We congratulated each other, posed for a few photos then I sprinted off in search for a toilet!

Once I was more comfortable I did the rounds on checking how all the other Brits had done. Along with myself and Sonia, Scott Overall also recorded an Olympic qualifier and Andy Davies ran a great PB. Unfortunately there was a few bad days at the office and Matty Hynes had to make the tough decision to DNF after an injury flared up at 30k.

Speaking to other athletes back at the hotel, it was a lot of the same story. The last 5k was were it hit. We all know that racing a marathon isn’t meant to be easy and when you are going into new territory like I did on Sunday, you expect it to hurt, especially in the closing stages. At the time I felt like I was dying on my feet and going backwards quicker than Lewis Hamilton in reverse but looking at my splits and seeing a video of me at 40k I was still moving well and was only running just outside 6 minute mileing so only actually dropped 30 seconds a mile over the last 3 miles.

So yeah, there’s mixed emotions about my performance. Initially I was disappointed. I wasn’t quite sure if I was allowed to be disappointed with a sub 2.30 but I was as I knew I could go faster. On the other hand I was over the moon to run a PB, especially after the heart break of Glasgow and the emotional stress of the last few weeks. I’m also delighted to gain the Olympic qualifying time (2.31), however this doesn’t mean I’ve made the team, it just means I’m one step closer and now have a nervous few months waiting to see what others run. In an ideal world I don’t want to run a spring marathon so that I can prepare better for Rio (fingers crossed) but it may turn out that I have to in order to seal selection. But that’s something we’ll know better the beginning of next year.

Celebrating Borini style.

Celebrating Borini style.

I’ll be honest, I’m gutted that I wasn’t first Brit, I wasn’t even first North East!! But Sonia deserved that run and I’m over the moon for her to run so quick. We’ve competed against each other since our early teens and it’s great to see two North East girls leading the way.

The good thing is I know that there is room for improvement. I didn’t finish and think ‘I can’t possibly go any faster’ I KNOW I can go faster. I need to figure out what caused the stomach issues and get that sorted and that will save me a lot of time. I’ll wait a few days then I’ll evaluate my training to see if there are any changes I can make there. I think there is at least one change to make but I’ll keep that to myself until after I’ve looked at it fully.

Other than that it’s time to rest, recover and enjoy some down time. Apart from doing the monthly mile with my nephew Charlie next Tuesday, I’m not running a step for 2 weeks. The junk food binge has already started with a Macdonalds, chocolate orange and beer refueling strategy yesterday as well as dancing until 1am as my warm down, which seems to have worked as my legs weren’t too bad yesterday!

Success isn’t a solo act and I’m a firm believer in always thanking those who help you achieve things as I couldn’t have done this without the help of a number of people, so MASSIVE THANK YOU to Julie, Paula, Renee, John and Adidas for all of their help and support in making sure I reached the start line in best possible shape physically, mentally, correctly fuelled and kitted out – at least my shoe insoles weren’t flapping in the wind!!!

And of course, thanks to my family for their unconditional love and support. I know they are proud of me for what I’ve achieved so far. I actually feel sorry for my parents friends if I do make the team as they are going to have to put up with my dad going on about it and my mams work mates are going to have her nerves to deal with for the next 10 months! My mam was so nervous for me that she took herself out for a 2.5 hour walk on Sunday morning so that she couldn’t see any updates! After what our family has gone through the last few weeks it’s good to finally have something to smile about.

Finally, thanks to everyone for following my blog and to everyone who has taken the time to send me messages of support. I wish I could reply to them all but my social media went crazy yesterday and I’m bound to have missed some. I can assure you though that I appreciate every message I receive. THANK YOU.

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Coming down…

Another altitude camp is done and dusted. 6 weeks up in the French Pyrenees has flown by. On a whole the camp has been a really positive one. I’ve put together some really good training, lots of miles and some strong workouts and I’m feeling really fit and strong. As always, I am extremely grateful and thankful to British Athletics for providing these training opportunities and to Steve, Paula, Gareth, Graeme and Alex for all of their help and support during the camp.

Unfortunately week 5 was a bit of a bad week though. I’d ran my longest run of the training block (26.2 miles) the previous day and felt really great on it. A nice negative split and a solid time considering the terrain and elevation. Next day though I woke up not feeling brilliant. My heart rate was elevated and I had a bit of a sore throat so I cancelled training for the day and took a rest day.

Lac Matemale – a beautiful place for both running and relaxing

I spent the day drinking Vitamin C and zinc drinks, gargling paracetamol and getting lots of sleep. As the day went on I was feeling better and woke up on the Tuesday feeling loads better again. I was sensible with training that day and just did 2 very easy runs one of which was down at the lake so that the slightly lower altitude wasn’t as much of a stress on the body. By Wednesday I was back feeling my old self and headed up to the plateau to get chased by cows on my run!!

When I got back from my run Ian had received news from home that his Dad had fallen the night before and was quite poorly in intensive care so he had to rush home to be with him. We made the decision that I would stay and continue my preparations as there wasn’t much I could do back in Scotland. It didn’t mean I stopped worrying about him though.

By the Friday I felt pretty much back to normal health wise. My heart rate was back down, I’d had a few good nights sleep and the sore throat had cleared so we decided that I would try a bit of a tempo session. Instead of doing the planned 3x5miles I did 5x2miles and felt quite good on it. The pace was strong and I actually managed to pick it up as the reps went on which was positive.

The view from the top is always worth the climb

The view from the top is always worth the climb

Unfortunately when I got back I got a call from my mam to say that we had had some bad news in the family. My Uncle Derek had passed away very suddenly that morning. It was so sudden and unexpected I had to ask “Derek who?” when she told me. Needless to say everyone back home was very shocked and upset. It was my Dad’s brother and he hadn’t wanted me to know until I got back home this week but Mam had said I needed to know.

With my Dad and my Uncle both being runners my Dad wanted me to stay out in Font. He said that Uncle Derek would not have wanted me to interrupt my preparations for him. It was hard for me being so far away from my family at a time like this but it was my Dads wish for me to stay and make the most of the opportunity I had so I did. No doubt people will be thinking that it was selfish and self centred of me to not come home early and I suppose it was but it would have upset my Dad even more if I’d gone against his wishes and came home early. There was nothing I could do back at home and the funeral is not until next week so I am back for that. As my Dad said the best way to pay tribute to my Uncle is to make the most of my last week and smash Berlin. That would make him happy and proud, so thats what I plan on doing.

Having fun at the end of a track workout

Having fun at the end of a track workout

Unfortunately all the bad news from home did get to me a little bit more than I thought. I hardly slept on the Friday night and felt truly awful on the Saturday morning run. My chest was tight, my nose was running more than my legs and my head just wasn’t in it. Emotional stress can have a huge impact on your body and trying to train hard through it can make things 100 times worse. When I got home after the morning run I decided that I needed a bit of a rest. I chatted things through with Paula to make sure that I wasn’t just being soft and she reassured me that I was doing the right thing and the rest would do me the world of good.

Hard training requires little treats here and there

Hard training requires little treats here and there

I spent the day relaxing as much as I could. I took a sleeping tablet that night and got a great 13 hours sleep in. I felt loads better the next day and it took me a lot of will power to not change my mind and crack on with my long run originally planned. I didn’t though! I knew that it could be the worst thing for me to do. I have no doubts that I could do it, that wasn’t in question. But the way I was feeling it could have dug me into a hole which I may not have gotten out of or I could have bombed and ran loads slower than previous weeks both of which would have ruined me both physically and mentally. So instead I had another rest day – 2.5 in one week, almost unheard of by me!! I enjoyed some sun and ate some Nutella crepes and woke up on Monday feeling all the better for it.

The rest of the UKa group left on Monday morning and I headed down to pick my two friends up from Barcelona airport. I’d been looking forward to having Rachel and Danielle out for my final few days as I knew that they would chill me out, we’d have a laugh together and everything wouldn’t be centred around running. They did exactly that!!

Unfortunately the weather took a turn for the worse and the glorious hot sunshine that we’d enjoyed for the last few weeks turned to cold, wet, grey skies. The weather on Wednesday morning was so bad that we couldn’t even see the track when I went up to do my session. Thankfully as the session went on the weather did clear and started to get a bit warmer. Which I think helped with my near 400m PB final rep!!

There is a track in there somewhere...

There is a track in there somewhere…

Thursday was my last long run. The girls had decided to support me by hiring bikes and cycling with me with my drinks and to give me some abuse support as we went. When we got to the Lake the weather was terrible – cold, pouring down and generally not nice. So bad that the bike hire man hadn’t even bothered to come to open up. I don’t think he was too impressed when I rang him and said I wanted two bikes as he responded “but its raining!”

I’m now sat on the plane in Barcelona airport waiting for a take off slot after being delayed for 1h45m. Ironically its bad weather over the mountain flight path over the Spanish/French border which is holding us up!! Im looking forward to getting home and seeing everyone and mostly getting a great big cuddle from my nephew Charlie.

Final long run around Lac Matemale

Final long run around Lac Matemale

There’s no rest for me when I get home, I’m straight into a race at the Teespride 10k on Sunday morning. I’m looking forward to seeing how it goes. Going from my training I know I am in great shape so if the weather and everything is good I’m hoping for a PB. After that I’ve got another week of high miles with some goal marathon pace tempos in, including the Great North Run.

I’m also doing some lab tests to find out what pace I lie at when producing around 2 mmol of lactate as that is meant to give a very good indicator of marathon pace. The results of this together with the run out at the GNR will give me a firmer indication of target time and pace. The GNR is a perfect opportunity for me to have a final practice of race day drinks, kit etc. As I’m only running it at target marathon pace it will also be a good test of keeping my head and not going off too fast at the start. With Berlin being a mixed race there is a big chance of getting sucked along by men in the early stages so I need to know how my pace feels and be strong enough to stick with that rather than get into someone else’s pace.

Hopefully this block of training will come to fruit in Berlin and I will get the time I am after. If I do it will stand me in a good position for selection for next years Rio Olympics. The Olympics has been a big aim for the last 20 years and I think that next year is my best chance of eventually making it. I’ve put my heart and soul into giving myself the very best preparations, all I need now is to keep sensible the next few weeks and then run the race of my life at Berlin.

Working hard in the gym, it's not just the miles that count

Working hard in the gym, it’s not just the miles that count

I’ve always said that I am not the most naturally talented runner out there but my talent is that my body can withstand the hard training load which I place on it to get the very best out of myself. I have put all of the hard work in. I’ve ran the miles, I’ve lifted the weights, strengthened my core and had hours of painful physio/massage. I’ve had some of the very best support around helping to guide me, now the only person who can stop me from achieving what I want in Berlin is me and I don’t plan on blowing it now…

See you on the other side!!

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Sunshine after the rain…

The weather here in Font Romeu took a bit of a turn for the worse the last few days to the point where I honestly thought I was going to die when I got caught in a massive electrical storm when running on Tuesday evening. I was in the middle of the woods when the gap between claps of thunder and flashes of lightening weren’t even long enough for me to say one never-mind count any!! I certainly confirm that it was sh*t your pants scary!!! Thankfully the sun has returned yesterday and all is well with the world once more!

Stunning backdrops for running. The mountains really make you feel insignificant but alive.

Stunning backdrops for running. The mountains really make you feel insignificant but alive.

Of course there has been a bit of a bigger storm hanging over the head of athletics recently. The ongoing saga of doping. I’m not going to sit here and go over it all in detail but I will put the record straight that I won’t be revealing my test data.  I have thought long and hard about this and chatted it through with those around me at the time who know a lot more about the whole thing than I do and I finally decided not to.

Its not because I have anything to hide, I don’t, I’m 100% clean. Its because I don’t want to be drawn into playing a game with what in essence is stolen data. The data is quite complex and can be easily misinterpreted. What needs to be remembered in this whole saga is that one ‘abnormal’ score does not indicate doping. Too many people are getting caught up on this falsity and are being drawn into accusing innocent athletes of wrong doings when they are not. For a better explanation have a read of this great article from the guys at Jumping the Gun

In my opinion the paper leading the stories isn’t doing it for the good of the sport otherwise they’d be looking into the deeper root of the problem. Instead they are doing it to discredit one of our countries brightest and truest stars. Which is wrong and totally not fair on that person. Unfortunately right now there is no way of proving that you are clean so for some athletes there will always be a cloud hanging over their heads. There will always be haters but as long as you know you are true and those around you, family, friends etc know you are true than that is the most important thing.

Hopefully yesterdays election of Seb Coe as IAAF president will see the start of a new fight against dopers. I don’t like getting involved with the politics of it all but those in the sport who I believe in and place my trust in have backed Seb as the man for the job so that will do me. I have read some of his policy suggestions and as long as he carries them out and doesn’t forget what it was like to be an athlete then I do think he can only be good for the sport. After all he’s an honorary Mackem so he’s got to be the best man for the job!!

Start of a long run with the group (photo credit Steve Vernon)

Start of a long run with the group (photo credit Steve Vernon)

In other news, I’m now into week 4 of my camp up here in Font Romeu. As usual my first week here was taken pretty easy with just lots of easy running to allow my body to adapt. The good thing about coming to altitude so regularly is that it takes less and less time to adapt every time you come up. We also have the added benefit of being able to run at different heights (1600-2000m) up here so we can break ourselves in easier than somewhere like Kenya where you’re stuck doing all your runs at 2200m!

Once again we have a great bunch of people here to train and hang out with. The camp is largely the Team New Balance Manchester guys along with marathoners Sonia, Lee, John and myself. The first 10 -14 days we also had Tom Farrell and Steph Twelll here preparing for the World Champs over in Beijing which start on Friday. Everyone has gelled really well.  We’ve supported each other through training and enjoyed spending time as a group on an evening either watching episodes of Gavin & Stacey or just having some banter amongst us.

Steph and I enjoying a wild Friday night in town!! (photo credit Steph Twell)

Steph and I enjoying a wild Friday night in town!! (photo credit Steph Twell)

I’ve really enjoyed having the chance to get to know Steph a bit more.  In the past I’ve spoken briefly to Steph at races but have never really spent much time in her company.  We’ve spend quite a bit of time running andhanging out together here and we’ve got on really well.  We both have the same sense of humour which has lead to some mad nights where we’ve just sat laughing at stupid things together.

At the helm we’ve had Steve Vernon keeping us all under control and making sure that no-one is killing themselves. Steve is a great guy, he has a story for every occasion and he’s always got a joke and smile to brighten the day and he is a great coach with a lot of knowledge and experience from his not so long ago racing days.

Being up here has given me the chance to have a good catch up with Mrs Wonderwoman, Paula. We’ve been in regular contact since Kenya this year and she’s helped me loads. Its once again been great to get her insight into all sorts of things. I keep asking her if she is sick of all of my questions but she insists that she is not and is happy to help out. Due to family and work commitments she wasn’t around for very long but I managed to get some runs in with her and she helped out by jumping on a bike to play waterboy or timing sessions.

It did make me laugh as we were driving to the lake one day for my tempo session and she announces that she is going to get a bike so she can give me drinks during the run. The thought of Paula on a bike for the first time in about 20 years did make me nervous, especially as we were largely off road and on gravel paths. I spent my whole session praying that I wasn’t going to be responsible for the death of her! Thankfully it’s true what they say and you ever forget how to ride a bike and she survived enough too jump back on again during my long run on the sunday.

Some super pacemaking from Wonderwoman :)

Some super pacemaking from Wonderwoman :)

She also jumped into one of my track sessions to help me out. She was on watch duty calling out splits then in the last set of 800m reps she suddenly goes from calling out a 200m split to jumping in for the last 400m and casually drops a 76second lap. She then ran the last 200m of my 4x400m reps to help guard me from the wind which had picked up. I didn’t ask her to do this for me, all I asked was for her to time. In fact I didn’t even do that she offered! But it shows that she genuinely cares about helping athletes out and thats what makes her a true legend – well that and her 2.15!

It was also good to have her kids around for a few days. One of the hardest parts of coming away to camps like these where I’m away from home for up to 6weeks is that I miss the folk back home, especially my young nephew and cousin. I love playing with them, doing silly things like pulling faces and teasing them and for a few days I had Isla and Raph to do that with, although not knowing them too well I didn’t tease them too much. Isla is the queen of the yes/no game and beat me on all but one occasion, I need to get practising for next time!

I’m at the point of the camp where tiredness is setting in and I’m starting to get a little bit homesick. There was a real feel of ‘3rd week syndrome’ on my run this morning.  This happens at home when I’m in a hard training block but the altitude can make it worse. I know from experience though not to panic, its common.  I just need to be really sensible these next few days and monitor my fatigue levels and if necessary take a few extra easy days.  I’ve worked really hard these last few weeks to get into good shape, theres no point in risking undoing all of that work by making a stupid mistake. Luckily I have a great mentor ready to answer my every question and reassure me that I’m doing the right thing.

Goofing around on a long run round Lac Matermale with Tom Farrell

Goofing around on a long run round Lac Matermale with Tom Farrell

I’m now looking forward to my other half, Ian, getting here on Saturday evening, that will perk me up a bit too. He gets here just in time to cycle with me on my longest run of this training block – the full 26.2 miles!! I love these long runs so far I’ve done one 22 and two 24 mile runs whilst up here and they’ve all gone brilliant. On each of them I’ve progressively got faster as I’ve went on and finished feeling really strong with some sub 6min miles for the last 4-5 miles. Last sunday I got a bit carried away and dropped a 5.17 23rd mile. If I can do that in Berlin, I’ll be happy!!

As always, you can find my training on Strava for those that are interested.

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Here, there and everywhere…

I can’t believe how fast this year has gone by so far. It seems just like yesterday that I was preparing to head off to Kenya and here I am 6 months later preparing to head off to Font Romeu for another training camp.

Since the beginning of the year I’ve; travelled 29,500 miles,
ran 2024 miles (to the beginning of this week)
raced 15 times,
won 7 of those races and came dead last in one,
recorded 3 PBs (and 1 unofficial PB),
gained 2 GB vests and 1 European vest,
won 1 European gold medal, 2 English championship silver medals and 1 British championship bronze medal!
Not too bad if I do say so myself.

Team Gold for myself and my amazing team mates

Team Gold for myself and my amazing team mates

During all of this there have been some great highs and along with the occasional lows. I’ve spoken about my early year lows in earlier blogs so I’m not going to go over that again. Going out to Kenya really changed my year around. I came back full of confidence and it showed in my spring racing. I carried that through to the summer and hit some good races.

Out of everything I’ve done so far this year the performance which means the most to me is finally winning the Blaydon Race. Blaydon is a huge race here in the North East. With 4000 competitors it’s the second biggest race in the region behind the Great North Run but to most of the local club runners it holds more esteem than the GNR. It has a grand tradition and the list of winners on the ‘Chainbridge Rose Bowl’ which now sits proudly on my mantel piece, is amazing and there’s even more legends listed on the men’s trophy.

The Chainbridge Rose Bowl - presented annually to the winning female of the Blaydon Race

The Chainbridge Rose Bowl – presented annually to the winning female of the Blaydon Race

I first ran Blaydon as a 16 year old back in 1995 where I won the u18 award. I absolutely loved the event and ever since then I have wanted to win the race. In the intervening 20 years I have only missed 4 runnings. I’ve had some nightmare runs but my highest finish before this year was 2nd when I was only 9 seconds behind Justina Heslop back in 2010.

This year I didn’t know what to expect. As usual there was a couple of Africans competing and I was standing on the start-line just 72 hours after a gruelling track 10,000m in 32 degrees heat!! As usual the start was crazy fast. I tried to hold back a bit as I wasn’t sure exactly how my legs were going to react. I knew it was going to be really good or really bad – no in-between! I found myself in the lead after just 400m and I never let it go. Going through 5k in 15.32 (unofficial PB – if only they had a timing mat there!) I did slow a little over the final 2.5 miles as we hit the few drags on the course but I held on for a convincing 31 second win and finally achieved my long time goal of winning Blaydon.

Finally winning Blaydon. I really need to work on my winners face though!!

Finally winning Blaydon. I really need to work on my winners face though!!

Coming into Blaydon was amazing and reminded me of last year’s Commonwealth Games. The crowd were loud and I had time to enjoy them. One of the best parts was seeing my 6 year old nephew cheering for me and jumping up and down with excitement. He came running over at the end shouting ‘you won, you won’. Mind you, he then spotted an inflatable slide and soon forgot about me! Kids!!!

There have been a lot of other amazing experiences – standing on top of the podium singing God Save the Queen with 3 other amazing team mates having won the European Team 10,000m is something that I’ll remember for a life time. It was a bitter sweet reward for what was a disappointing run for me. A race which we all described as the toughest of our lives, running in 32 degrees, was never going to be pretty. I set off steady with the hope of maintaining my pace rather than slow as the race went on. Unfortunately that didn’t work out and my last 3k was pretty much a death march. The finish area looked like a war zone with bodies sprawled out or curled up in the foetal position everywhere. 3 out of our 4 runners ended up semi-conscious or unconscious at the end. I wasn’t too bad immediately after finishing, I did have a little lie down, Lily helped me up but then I went out cold whilst walking back round to the kit area. I just wanted an early sleep! Everyone gave it their absolute all out on the track and whilst some, including me, where disappointed in their individual performance we all gave it everything for the team, each of us pushing through the pain knowing that every second counted and we were rewarded with the team gold.

Grabbing a sponge to cool myself down mid race

Grabbing a sponge to cool myself down mid race

Following my PB earlier in the year at Trafford I was very honoured to be selected to represent Team Europe at the AJC Peachtree Cup in Atlanta. This was a really amazing trip. Not many get the opportunity to represent Europe so when I got asked I jumped at it. The Peachtree 10k is the worlds largest 10k with 60,000 participants running the 6.2miles from Buckhead, Atlanta, straight down Peachtree Road to Piedmont Park. The course is pretty unique with only one turn in the whole distance which comes just before 6miles. It’s a tough little course with just under the first 3 miles downhill then a steady climb up to just before 6miles before you take that left-hand turn and a nice downhill finishing 600m. Being held on 4th July the crowds which line the streets are huge, even with the 7.20am start time and crap weather.

Start of the Peachtree Cup, Atlanta

Start of the Peachtree Cup, Atlanta

I didn’t run particularly well. Solid but not great. Times were down across the board in my race so I’m not too concerned about that, I knew I wasn’t in PB shape as I’ve missed a lot of training due to racing and travel the last month and a bit.

The whole weekend was amazing. I think until you experience it, you don’t really understand how much Americans really LOVE 4th July – it’s massive and it really added to the whole experience. On the Saturday night after the race we were lucky enough to be taken to watch the Atlanta Braves baseball match courtesy of Atlanta Track Club. We were hosted in the ATC suite (box to us Brits) where we had all the free food and drink you could ask for. I don’t think there is anything more American than watch baseball, whilst drinking Bud and eating pizza and hot dogs on 4th July!! I didn’t really understand what was going on on the pitch but I had a great night and met some lovely people and I’m hugely grateful that I was given this opportunity.

A night at the baseball thanks to Atlanta Track Club

A night at the baseball thanks to Atlanta Track Club

Unfortunately my journey home was a bit of a nightmare and I ended up with a 29 hour delay in Orlando!! Yes, a day in the sun in Orlando sounds great, but when you just want to get home it’s not the best. My flight involved a change in Orlando and after circling above the airport for over 30 mins waiting for a break in the weather, we had an aborted landing due to an electrical storm so we got diverted to Fort Myers. By the time the storm cleared and we got back up to Orlando my onward flight to Manchester had departed.

Thankfully Delta put me on the next flight which was the next night but as the diversion had been a result of the weather they did not provide a hotel for the night. Luckily I found a reasonably priced hotel, got some sleep and then spent the day by the pool before returning to the airport for my flight only for the airport to be closed again due to another storm which resulted in another 3 hour delay. Thankfully we eventually got on our way and after a glass of wine and a sleeping tablet the next thing I knew I was back in Manchester!

Carnage at the end of a hot hard race in Sardinia.

Carnage at the end of a hot hard race in Sardinia.

So, now focus has switched to marathon training again. I love marathon training. My favourite run of the week is the long run and during marathon training these runs really are long – 22-26 miles and I love them. Recently someone said to me that they get bored doing easy long runs. I don’t understand that – I couldn’t do it if it bored me. I totally love running. Yes it can bring some bad days, days when you are in heavy training and all you want to do is lie in bed and sleep for an extra hour but you drag yourself out and get the miles in as on the whole there’s more good days than bad and that’s how we achieve our goals and dreams. It rarely feels a chore or a job.

Some very true words from the great late Ron Clarke

Some very true words from the great late Ron Clarke

I would usually do a 12-14 week build up for a marathon but I figured that because I’m going into the build-up in pretty decent shape that I’ll cut this down to 10 weeks so that I don’t overdo things. I’d rather get to the start line slightly undercooked than overcooked or have to miss it because I’m injured.

The beautful trails of Font Romeu - a runners paradise

The beautful trails of Font Romeu – a runners paradise

Most of my training will be done in Font Romeu. I travel out there a week on Monday for 6 weeks. I’ve been very lucky to get the camp mostly funded by UKa, I only have to pay for my flights. I know I respond really well to altitude training so I’m looking forward to it. I will try my best to update more regularly whilst over there but if you want to keep track of my daily training I post it all on Strava The hardest part of all will be trying to resist the almond croissants and Nutella crepes!!

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Stick to your plans…

Last weekend I went down to London to watch the marathon. I was insanely jealous of all the runners pounding the streets, it’s not billed as the greatest race on earth for no reason. I had athletes who I coach and a lot of friends running. It was also Paula Radcliffe’s last competitive marathon; I couldn’t miss that!!

I will never apologise for the admiration I have for Paula and I’m not afraid to admit that I was nervous for her or that I shed a tear when she passed me at mile 21.5 and again when I saw her cross the finish line. I am honoured to have been part of Paula’s journey to the start-line. But there was also times when I was worried that I may have played my part in her not making the start-line. I knew what she had gone through in the previous 8 weeks since pulling up injured mid run out in Kenya. Injuries had plagued her since and she had to use all of her famous grit and determination just to get herself to the start-line in one piece. I kind of feel a little bit responsible for pushing the pace on the long runs even though she said I was killing her.

'Half wheeling' on the long run

‘Half wheeling’ on the long run

Everyone knows what Paula has achieved but I don’t think most people truly understand just how incredible her 2.15.25 really is. To really understand the speed of it you need to try and run just half a mile in 2.35 or a mile in 5.10 – that’s how fast she ran for 26.2 consecutive miles. To put it in perspective – the PB I recently ran at Trafford 10k, which still tops the UK rankings for 2015 and that I excitedly text her about, is 26 seconds SLOWER than her average 10k splits during her 2.15!! MIND BLOWING!!

Last weekend social media was awash with tweets and Facebook statuses of #thankspaula. Messages sent from athletes of all levels, joggers to pros, from across the world. Many noting how she has helped and inspired them in their running journeys, many just thanking her for creating great sporting memories. From social runners to Olympic medalists, most female runners have been inspired by her in some shape or form.

I earned top 'good daughter' marks with this

I earned top ‘good daughter’ marks with this

I have a lot to thank Paula for. It was watching her smash the distance in 2002-2005 that inspired me to move up to the marathon, to challenge myself and push myself beyond my limits. This year alone we have shared miles, laughs, tears and traumas. She has helped to turn me around. She has lifted my confidence and stopped me from making silly mistakes again. She has hugged me and wiped away my tears when I was hurt and I have done the same for her. She has become a friend and mentor. But most importantly she has made me believe in myself once more and for that I truly do thank her from the bottom of my heart.

Because of Paula I was very nearly out pounding the roads of London on Sunday. Towards the end of the Kenya camp I was out on a run with her when she planted the idea of me running London into my head. She thought I was in good enough shape to run a big PB. At first I didn’t think much of it as I didn’t have a number but the more I thought and the more I chatted to her about it, the more I thought she may be right and it may be a good idea to give it a go.
Bearing in mind this was only about 8 weeks prior to the race so I knew that it would be a bit of a rushed build up but also knew that it would only take a few longer runs to get me into good marathon shape so thought why not make enquiries. A few emails and I had a number! I did ask the organisers to allow me until after Reading Half Marathon to make my final decision and they agreed to this.

To be 100% honest I still wasn’t completely convinced that this was a good idea but the more I spoke to Paula the more she convinced me that it was. She kept on reiterating I was in great shape, I kept arguing the opposite. I raced Trafford 10k 6 days after I returned home from Kenya and ran a PB of 32.29. That showed me I was in better shape than I thought and the ‘I told you so’ text from Paula confirmed what she had been telling me, I was in good shape, it was just a case of me believing it!!

Trafford 10k - 32.29PB Photo credit: Dan Wyre

Trafford 10k – 32.29PB
Photo credit: Dan Wyre

So a slight change to my training to add some longer tempos and longer long runs and I was giving it a go. Paula offered to mentor me to make sure I didn’t trash myself by squashing too much into the short time frame. My longest tempo was 16 miles. For this I used a local 20 mile race which was made up of 20 x1mile loops of a park – yes I know – totally nuts!! This didn’t go exactly to plan and I didn’t quite hold the pace I wanted to for as long as I wanted. It made me think that I wasn’t quite as ready for a marathon as I thought I may be so we made a deal that if I ran sub 71 at Reading I would do London, if not then I would go back to plan A and just focus on Berlin in September.

Reading was a solid run for me but I did fade a bit in the latter miles and I slipped outside of the 71 minute mark, that was my mind made up, I wasn’t running London, though I did still volunteer my services as a pacer if I was needed.

Training has gone back to what I had originally planned. The big aim for the year is still to run fast in Berlin and I have started to focus on doing some speed work and getting ready for the Highgate 10,000m in the short term. Apart from running like an idiot at Brighton 10k so far everything is going to plan. I’m racing Sunderland 10k this weekend and I’m really looking forward to the next few months where I can try and build some speed over the shorter distances, I’m even going to test myself out over 1500m at the North Easterns, so if you want a good laugh get yourself down to Gateshead Stadium on May 24th to witness that!

Reading Half top 3 Brits selfie

Reading Half top 3 Brits selfie

I’ve spent some time the last few weeks strengthening the support team around me to help me get the best out of myself at Berlin. I’m still working with Julie Twaddle for my strength and conditioning but this two man team has now expanded. I now have two great mentors in place to help guide me through the rest of my training. One is an absolute guru of the sport, in my opinion one of the best coaches in the world and has a vat of experience of coaching on an Olympic and World level, which speaks for itself. Whilst I won’t claim that they know everything about the sport, I don’t believe any coach or athlete does, but they have probably forgotten more about coaching and competing than most will ever know.

I’ve been very fortunate to gain support from John Dennis and his team at Physio Haus in Jesmond. John is giving me free treatment as and when needed to make sure my body is kept in peak condition to allow me to run fast. I’ve also enlisted the help of Renee McGregor in sorting my nutrition out. Again Renee is one of the best in the business, if you want some great nutrition info you can’t go wrong in checking out her book Training Food. And of course I’ve got Ian, my partner, standing trackside with the stopwatch every Tuesday night.

I believe that to become the best you need to learn from the best. As the old saying goes, ‘if you want to soar with the eagles, don’t hang around with the turkeys’. Needless to say, I’m excited and ready for what lies ahead!

Some solid advice from Paula

Some solid advice from Paula

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Kenya 2015

As I am now entering my final week here in Kenya I thought it was about time I actually got my butt into gear and write a blog about it. I had intended to write a weekly blog but my busy schedule up here has meant that I simply haven’t been able to find the time to sit down and do it!

A typical day here in Kenya comprises of the following:
7.15am Alarm
7.45am Daily stats – we keep a track of various things such as O2 sats, weight, muscle soreness, irritability etc to check for any signs of over doing it or illness.

8am Morning run. Anything from 5 miles through to 12 miles

9am Breakfast (or slightly later is ran longer)
10am Gym for weights/core/stretching/drills or sometimes pool for walking drills.
12.30pm Lunch – usually soup, rice lentils
Afternoon spent resting or chilling out in the club or getting physio/massage
3.30pm Tea and snacks
5pm evening run usually 5 miles plus maybe some strides
6pm Pilates or gym for stretches
7pm Dinner – usually beef or chicken stew with ugali and rice or pasta, salad and cabbage or kale. Occasionally we get pizza, which gets us all very excited and cake days are like christmas.
Evening is spent chilling out in the club with a hot chocolate or if feeling particularly tired an early night watching something on the iPad.

Relaxing at Kerio View post Sunday long run - I'm too interested in my cake to look at the camera!!

Relaxing at Kerio View post Sunday long run – I’m too interested in my cake to look at the camera!!

Life does get very repetitive, especially the food. But we are in the ideal environment for training and recovering hard so we just accept it and get on with it. I know I am very privileged to be given the opportunity to come here every year and I truly am thankful as I know how much it helps with my training and performances but that doesn’t change the fact that you still miss your family and friends whilst here.

It is by no means a holiday up here, theres no safari etc just lots of hard training, recovering, eating and sleeping. The near 100 miles per week of running aside you can actually become very lazy here as you don’t have to do things like go shopping, cook, clean. The club is only 100m from the camp gate but it can seem a struggle to drag yourself up some days. Whilst I love it here, I don’t think I could do it for more than 4-5 weeks at any one time!

Pre Kenya lab testing thanks to Sunderland University Sport and Exercise Sciences department

Pre Kenya lab testing thanks to Sunderland University Sport and Exercise Sciences department

We are lucky this year that the internet has been pretty good so I have been able to facetime home quite a bit but nothing can replace a big fat hug from your little nephew and cousin.

Luckily I’ve never had any major issues whilst being up here as I can only imagine how hard that must be for people. Even though Paula did a great job of looking after me through a very minor issue, there is nothing like a loved ones hug or voice when you aren’t feeling too well.
So far (touchwood) training has gone really well. Just before I came out here I did some testing in the labs at Sunderland University and the results suggested that I was in better shape than what I thought. My biggest problem was that my head wasn’t as fit as my body.

Putting the work in onthe track with Paula keeping a watchful eye on us

Putting the work in onthe track with Paula keeping a watchful eye on us

After a disastrous December and beginning of January I was very low on confidence. I had started to train quite well again but wasn’t convinced that I was in any decent shape, even after seeing my results  from the testing, which were my best ever. I knew that I would get very fit whilst out here in Kenya but the first week here was a bit troublesome as I struggled with the demons in my head.

Thankfully we have a fantastic support crew out here. We had Paula Radcliffe here as camp lead and Steve Vernon was here as camp coach and after sitting chatting through my training with them and getting a good first workout in my confidence began to grow.

Long run with Paula

Long run with Paula

Once I found my happy place, my training picked up and I have produced some great workouts. I’ve been doing most of my running with Emma Clayton and Elle Vernon and we were working really well together. We were happy to all run at a sensible easy pace and not end up pushing on or racing each. On my long runs I run with Paula and again we work well together, setting a good steady pace but not thrashing each other. Though she did comment on one of the runs that I was killing her with the pace – I took that as a compliment as I was finding it very comfortable at that point!

The whole gang at the end of our first track workout

The whole gang at the end of our first track workout

It’s been amazing having Paula around, training with her, hanging out with her and most importantly learning from her. Any questions I’ve had on more-or-less any subject she has been happy to sit and chat and answer them. Despite her fierce approach to training and racing she is lovely and very friendly and we’ve had a great laugh together. It does get pretty bizarre when she is asking ME advice on what to do in training or I’m telling her off for trying to push too far when she needs to be sensible and stick to plans!! Encouraging her on runs and asking her if she is ok when she was going through a bad patch on a long run and struggling to keep up, felt like I was patronising her at first and there was a lot of apologising on my behalf but she soon just felt like one of the group, the apologising stopped and I spoke to her the same I would with any other athlete without any worries.

My track workouts and tempos have been a massive step up from what I did here this time last year so that is a great positive. Again it has helped that I have had a great group of girls to run them with. The group isn’t massive with a maximum of 5 of us but with quality athletes like the above mentioned to train with you don’t need a large group, you just need to get on the train, put your head down and do the work.

Soaking my legs in the pool post long run.

Soaking my legs in the pool post long run.

So with just under a week to go before I get home, its all about finishing off on a high. Im not planning on doing anything silly this week, just keep it the same as the previous 3 weeks – lots of easy/steady running and a couple of good hard workouts. I plan on racing a local 5k on the Tuesday night when I get back to a) see exactly what shape i am in and b) experiment to see how I perform after only 36-48 hours down from altitude as this is meant to be one of the best windows for performance. I may then race the last Harrier League XC on 14th March but that will be dependant on how I readapt to sea level. After that my next race is Reading Half Marathon on 22nd March where hopefully, I will run much better than last year and maybe even sneak a PB!

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In at the deep end…

A key aspect to any good training programme is that it is flexible to allow for changing circumstances and this was well and truly highlighted for me last week.

The ink didn’t even have time to dry on my latest plans before I got a phone call which changed them again.

MW: Alyson, Its Mick Woods. Edinburgh cross country next Saturday, do you want to run for Great Britain.

ME: Mick, are you still drunk from New Year? Me, run XC for GB?!

MW: No, not drunk and yes we want you in the team. You were a reserve and we’ve had a few drop outs.

ME: Erm, ok then, yes I’d love to!

Selection letter

Selection letter

Linking back to my last blog, this would be a perfect example of where having a coach would come in very useful, as I could give them a ring and see if I was doing the right thing.  But not having a coach I accepted.

Many of you may be thinking that I’m crazy and my own worst enemy after what I said about resting and not racing again until March but sometimes you have to grab opportunities with both hands and go with it.

My lack of love for cross country is no secret.  It is definitely not my strong point.  But, at my age, will I ever get the chance to represent GB on the country again? Probably not and that’s me being realistic.

So, if you want a good laugh on Saturday afternoon, tune into BBC1 at 14.00 (Yes it’s live on national TV – no biggy!!) and see me suffer around 6k of what looks like is going to be gale force winds and a mud bath.  This is why I put all the hard work in!!

Start list for my race

Start list for my race

Never give up on your dreams and NEVER let anyone tell you you can’t achieve something.

Carpe Diem

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