No limits or known limits? A meeting with the Central Governor

OK – so in my last post I said that I did a track session which was worthy in itself of a bit of sharing – with a few more lessons experienced in this area I thought it was worth a bit of airtime, so here goes …

So – the track session. The weather was appalling, the wind was howling down the home straight, the rain was lashing through the flood lights and the water jumps were being slowly clogged by leaves and flailing debris … Just your average night down at Monkton Stadium.

My legs were sore before we even started – usual tightness kicking in and they felt painful to run on but this is track night – in many ways its what we train for. Still, I was miserable. The coach set the session and I was paddling about still trying to fasten my shoes with frozen hands and before I knew it the rest of the group were lined up o the start.

“Hard 300, float the home-straight, steady though – no joggy, joggy! Annnnndddd go!!”

WTF!!! And off we go – straight into the rep – the group split a bit and I was a couple of meters back from the front pair … steady the straight … Im thinking we’d be re-grouping, but no – straight in they went. Eh? That’s not right? We never do that?

I follow and do the same – hammer round the 300, steady into the home straight, lose another couple of metres … Repeat … Im now in no mans land yet, being absolutely battered by brutal Great British weather but banging out the 300s.

It suddenly occurs to me after the fourth rep that I don’t know how many reps we’re doing. And this is where it gets interesting … up to this point the session felt do-able and OK but now I didn’t know how may reps I had to do and the whole thing started to look different, a hell of a lot more painful and a hell of a lot more lonely.

But that wasn’t really where it ended – every time I came round for my next rep I was shouting at my coach “how many reps” to which he was replying “7”, then “8” … Etc and giving me the call of the one I was on, not what I needed to hear which was how many more.

Im still running around this track in this brutal weather and I started to think differently again about the session … Now I started to think – is this it? Is this the session? Am I gonna just keep running around this track until I collapse? Is that the point? Are we trying to find a limit? And actually … would I just keep running around this thing until my coach tells me to stop??? What the hell am I doing?

Yet I carried on, and on, and on. And at rep 10 I get told 2 more to go, which I do and absolutely fall apart at the end of the 12th and drag my battered ass down the home straight at a crawl feeling like Ive just done one of the hardest sessions ever. Im done, mentally and physically Im done in. And what happens when I get to the end of the home straight? Well theres 4 x 200 with 200 float to do yet – which I didn’t know about. And ‘broken’ I do them and duly fall apart again at the end of the last one … more to come? No, that was it, session and mental test over.

So here’s the reflection.

What if the session was to just keep running round the track til I couldn’t run any further? How do you set the pace for that?

When would that be? Cos I thought I was done at the end of the 300s and proceeded to do another 4 x 200 after I was ‘done’. Do you have to set some sort of limit? You can stop once you’ve done 5ks worth and your pace drops below 5k pace? If your reps and your steady are the same pace then its over? If your reps are slower than your steady you’re done?

Why are we so limiting in our approach to sessions?

I used to do a lot of weight lifting – the way we set sessions then was to say choose a weight you think you can lift for 10 reps. You know its right if you can barely push out the 10th rep – if its easy to, keep going until failure and put the weights up for the next set, don’t stop at 10.

When did you last go down the track and say “tonight, Im doing 10 x 400 in 80s and if I can do the 10th in 76, then Ill keep going until I can’t run one in 80” …

So theres a theory out there which Ive contemplated a bit called the ‘Central Governor Theory’ by Tim Noakes (offve the Lore of Running) which basically says you physical exertion is entirely regulated by your brain – and its your brain that slows you down to protect you for the exertion, and that as a result of this – you can always physically do more than your brain thinks you can. Its what explains the fact that you’re often completely wasted in a race but then when you have the finish line in sight and your brain knows you’re not gonna kill yourself it lets you sprint finish ….. or something along those lines – theres a good insight on it here at runners connect.

Sounds fair enough. So whats this got to do with my track session?

Well in the track session – before I thought about the fact that I didn’t know how many reps there were I was fine, once I went into panic mode about not knowing, I wasn’t and then when I thought the session was about a mental test I looked at it differently, then when I thought I was done with the session and done in completely my coach threw me 4 x 200 which I did and they weren’t poor – they were quality reps – on a ‘spent’ body.

I said there had been a few more examples which had come along to test this out for me though …

1) Brass Monkey blow out … Chipped along at 6:05 pace for half the Brass Monkey – nice and comfortable but then literally hit the wall at about mile 7-8 and sunk, I wasn’t in pain, I wasn’t injured, but I literally couldn’t get my legs to go round – they felt entirely disconnected from my CNS – almost like I was running on someone else’s. And it wasn’t the will that had gone – that was entirely still there, I just felt completely out of control of my body.

Screen Shot 2014-01-26 at 21.39.59

Looking relaxed – the calm before the storm!

Why the seeming shut down? Fuel, simple as that – I was out of fuel from a piss poor preparation and it seems my Central Governor maybe knew it and shut me down so that I wouldn’t do myself any damage. The day after – physically I was fine, emotionally broken in disappointment and mentally exhausted still from a 6mile battle of wills with my legs to get me home, but I hadn’t hurt myself nearly as much as it felt like I had the day before.

2) Motoring on a mud bath … this weekend I ran the Northerns X Country – and to say it was muddy would actually be some sort of compliment – it was a foot of quagmire shite that no sane person with any respect for their ankles would put themselves any where near … yet I and thousands of others who’d struggled to walk over it – ran on it – actually went fk it – I am wearing spikes and a club vest and deep heat and teeny shorts in winter and I am gonna run on this shite – try and stop me – it may try to steal my shoes in the process but you bet I will get over it as quickly as I can ……………….

Northern X Country

The course – before 100s of kids really churned it up for us!

The Central Governor is going ballistic with me at this point as I do have some sort of respect for my ankles, but no, he doesn’t make me fall over and take me out of the challenge, somehow he knows that physically this is actually do-able, it might not look like it, and it might not be done with any particular grace but it is … and so we go, we go slower, but we go, and when the finish is in sight – somehow you still throw caution to the wind even further and pull out at least a few extra long strides to speed into that finish in some sort of mud encrusted style.

So – enough waffle, whats the moral of the reflection? Well it’s maybe just as simple as not setting that limiting factor, that limiting assumption that’s stopping you, that hill that looks too steep to run hard, that last rep, that extra rep, that pace quicker than you’d normally run at … the governor will protect you when you really can’t so don’t be afraid of really trying.

No limits.


Six human (running) needs … why your run might be turning into a grind

So how’s it going in the new year then?

Still on it with those resolutions

I’m not gonna talk about them anymore but what I would like to do is reflect on my last week of training and what it taught/reminded me of more-so. It was certainly a life lesson as much of a running one – I’d hope people can take away a bit of both.

So in running terms it looked like this::

M – 8 am, 7 pm

T – 6 am, Track pm (12 x 300 (100 float), 4 x 200 (200 float))

W – 14 am

T – 9 am, 7 pm

F – 8 am

S – 5 am

S – Cathedral Relays am, 14 pm

Weekly Mileage = 91mi

And it honestly felt like about a 60 mile week and went by in a blur.

And yeah it was higher mileage than unusual for me, but Ive been doing this week in week out for over 3 years now so I do wonder what it is that I do that others maybe dont and if I have found the secret to not falling off the motivational wagon (or have I literally just lost the plot and don’t see what others see?)

So I thought I’d share some thoughts around this. You see, what it comes down to for me is variety or uncertainty – whichever way you look at it. When I don’t have variety, that when I start to lose it.

And variety is hugely important not just in running but in life – it’s one of what Tony Robbins calls his “human needs”, factors which we need in order to stick at something. I often think of these as dangling on strings that hold us together – when one of em wears thin or snaps altogether and falls off, then we start to get spirally and lose a sense of focus and of ourself.

The things he says we all need are:

  • Certainly / Security – being safe, being healthy, having a sense of control over what’s gonna happen next
  • Uncertainty / Variety – discovering new things, having things change, not getting stuck in ground hog day, surprise, adventure, challenge
  • Significance – to feel important, special, unique, that you (and your existence) is being acknowledged
  • Love & Connection – feeling part of something and having a connection to something (which could be nature, god, yourself) or someone
  • Growth – development and a sense of achieving a newness, learning something, self betterment
  • Contribution – feeling like you’ve made a difference to others or to something

So what the hell has this got to do with running?

Well I strongly believe we can apply this to anything in life and Im completely convinced of it based on my last week of running – and I’ll be looking to add more of this to my schedule in future.

So if we look at that week again then what did it really look like.

Monday AM – 60min easy run – listened to my iPod mix of songs from 1996-2103 on shuffle, on my own.

Wasn’t actually “8mile” was actually an out/back 30mins each along Hadrians Cycle way on the lower section. Somewhere Ive not run for a while and also refreshing to run just by time and not miles – I do this quite often if Ive had a hard run the day before and am not that bothered about the mileage.

Monday PM – 7 mile run out/back to Airport – listened to a Runner Academy Podcast, on my own, great talk from Matt Fitzgerald on motivation through winter – some good ideas to reflect on.

Tuesday AM – 6 mile run out/back on Quayside – listened to my ‘musac’ playlist (different one)

It’s a route I use quite a lot so I don’t bother with a watch for this run.

Tuesday PM – Track session with the Jarrow gang and chance to catch up with the coach.

Original session that was planned got completely thrown out of the window as the wind was ridiculous so did 300s for a change with float recoveries – again not done in a while and boy did my lungs know about it! The session itself was mentally very tough to get through and is a whole other blog post in itself but led to much banter on the warmdown.

Weds AM – Another Out/Back this week I knew I just wanted to do a long run over 12 miles, so set off from work and ran to as far as I could get on the quayside and across to Newburn. Turned out to be around 13.8mi in total. Listened to the rest of the Runner Academy podcast on the way out and music on the way back. Did 8 x 20-30 secs strides with 3mins in between on the way back to keep the legs ticking over. Wind and weather was abysmal on the way out and was strange to see the familiar face of the cyclist I normally see at the start of the quayside at the end of it.

Thursday AM – ran from home and did a loop around Gosforth Park. Found it really hard going but stuck with it. Had a new episode of Marathon Talk with its familiar features – which this week included a different kind of look at running from author of Running Like a Girl, to keep me company. Wore totally different gear than I usually do?!

Thursday PM – met a mate for an easy run up and down the Great North Road which was finished off with head torch crazy-ness! No music required – far too much chat for that!

Friday AM – weather was absolutely perfect so back on the quayside for an acceleration run – same route as Tuesday except with a 1mi warmup and cooldown added on to a run which starts out with a 7min/mi then gets gradually quicker each mile so last was a 6:30.

Saturday AM – Race tomorrow so just a case of loosening up – went for a jog ( a real jog in old gear and a woolly hat!) in the woods near my house – can’t get on them any other time at the minute due to the dark so was nice. Listened to an old Marathon Talk interview with Steve Cram and pondered his thoughts on what it is to be a ‘champion’ and how it reflects on every aspect of your life.

Sunday AM – Durham Cathedral relays, 3rd leg. Great clear morning – shame it had frozen overnight and we were hit with real winter weather. Nice to warm up with the team and be out there in a relay squad as opposed to a flat race. Bit of cross country which I love to hate. Fantastic atmosphere – lots of people to say hi to, catch up with, and some fantastic support out on the course during my leg from all sorts of people. Managed to get a 3rd place for the girls too on the last leg to much congrats from people afterwards and was pleased with the leg which people seemed to think was a good ‘un despite not having the results available to say so.

Sunday PM – ish … ran back to Sunderland from Durham with Aly Dixon who Ive never ran with before and not really spoken to in person that often but talk to often on social media, and a bunch of guys who I’d never met. Ran on roads I’ve never driven on let alone ran on. Great route – with grass, trial, road and plenty of hills to contend with! Chewed the fat with Aly most of the way until I started to fade a little at 11mi and it went by in a flash.

Weekly Mileage = 91mi

Human needs ticked off … all of em!

I guess there are a few lessons here to take away – first one being looking at your week of runs and looking also at what you get from them … I said variety was my ‘thing’ – I ran a 2mi, 5mi, 6mi, 7mi, 8mi, 9mi, 14mi flat , 14mi uphill run for starters – I ran on trial, I ran on road, grass, road and river path. I ran with a watch, without, with music, without, with people, on new routes, to time. I ran fast, slow and even in different gear to make it feel like a change. I wonder how many people just go out for the same 4mi loop every time?

But clearly the other needs are also important – connection is another biggie for me and I know that after training solo for a long time this year I do need to feel that group thing – even if actually its just running with someone else now and again. I ran with people I could connect to either socially or in terms of just being with runners. I was at races which gave me a sense of achievement and certainly the support was full of the ‘significance factor’ and topping this off , I ran as part of a team and contributed to their overall success – which was far more satisfying than a solo effort.

I ran sessions that put me well out of my comfort zone and pushed me to my emotional limit – that’s the stuff which helps you to grow.

Ultimately what Tony Robbins says and what I believe is that you need to appreciate these needs and the beliefs you have which underpin them and how important each of them is to you in order to understand what drives and motivates you in order to stick with it and ultimately to get where you’re believe you want to go. So if your routine is feeling like a dead end maybe its because its not meeting your needs? And certainly not meeting the ones which are important to you. Swap your iTunes for a running Podcast ( marathon talk , runner academy )- they’re never the same, they make you feel part of a community, there’s always something to learn and yet their familiar format can give you that certainty thing you need too.

That’s a long enough reflection for one week – but next time you struggle to stick on those sneaks check the needs list – is your routine turning into a grind for a reason?

If you haven’t seen it before – find 21mins to watch this video by Tony Robbins – he’s much better at this stuff than me:

Thinking of making a Resolution for 2014 …

May you not once again resolve to do the same thing you promised yourself you’d do last year.

May your goals be smart: Sensible, Managable, Achievable, Realistic and Tolerable; as opposed to Stupidly optimistic, Make you downright Miserable, Alienate you from all of your friends, Revolve around things you don’t have time for and Tip you over the edge.

May you check the refund policy on the gym before you sign up to a year long contract. And may you visit it more than just the 5-7pm shift on a Monday evening.

May you not use it simply as a place to shower, park your car, sauna or do coffee. And may you remember that other members have been there before you and yes, you are getting daggers because you are on their x-trainer.

May you be prepared for the pain in your quads on the first trip back to Body Pump. May you not try to lift the same weights you did last time and get stuck under the bar and may your arms move past a 30 degree range the day after.

May you not resolve to do sit ups or plank in search of six-pack-abs.

May you not invest good money in a bargain priced piece of oversized fitness equipment, unless you actually do need a new clothes horse.

If you choose to give up chocolate, may you remember why – its not because you don’t like the chocolate, but because you don’t like your sugar rotten teeth, your skin, your unhealthy hair, your waistline or that you want to be able to play in the garden with your kids by the time its warm enough to and since Christmas you’ve eaten enough calories from it to sink Vennessa Feltz.

May you not “go on a diet”, you’re always on a diet – it’s just what you eat. No, may you simply chose to swap a few food stuffs in return for healthier options which are not laden with sugar, fat and additives and may you make an effort to find things to enjoy and not endure for the sake of “being on a diet”, like healthy curry or sweet potato wedges.

May your new approach to nutrition not leave you so hungry you time your supermarket trip for when the samples are on offer ….. and do laps to go back for more.

If all else fails, may you find out how many calories you should really be eating in a day and eat things that only come in packets and add them up or use My Fitness pal and not guestimate the actual amounts of food you consume – no one actually only has 1 tsp of peanut butter or 15g of Pringles.

In the first week of January, may you not embark upon a training program that Paula Radcliffe, Jessica Ennis-Hill or Bradley Wiggans would be proud of.

Should you wake up on New Years Day having realized that through the night you entered an ironman or a triathlon, may you be prepared to forgo the £75 as the £3,000 worth of kit and the numerous swimming pool trips you’ll need to fund in order to complete it, may be well out of your price range.

With a bit of luck, may one of your friends have reminded you just in time that you haven’t ridden a none static bike since you were 15 before you pressed ‘enter me’.

May you simply resolve to drink less, or out of smaller glasses – not, not at all.

May you not resolve to stop smoking if all of your friends are planning to carry on as you know its fruitless, however may you all resolve to quit together and spend the money on a long weekend away …. In Magaluf ….. not smoking.

May you resolve to do something for a reason – you are not going to ‘start running’ you are going to ‘improve your fitness by doing some exercise’, you are not ‘doing something for charity’ you are ‘doing something to help those less fortunate than you and appreciating what you have’ – you’ll need to remember this when you really just want your sofa.

Should your resolution require the support of someone else, may you check with them first … they may have other plans which clash with Strictly Come Salsa.

May you sign up for a 5k, before you sign up for a marathon.

May you climb a hill, before you plan to climb a mountain.

May you give up the full fat Coke, before you give up biscuits.

May you step away from the mega-fit-with-minimal-effort DVDs, supplements made from the uheedyot tree and any form of liquid nutrition which comes with a ‘promise’ and a set of before and after photographs.

May you include ‘fat day’ and ‘rest day’ in your new regime.

May you not choose to quit a singular food stuff – bread, cheese, potatoes – you wouldn’t choose to start eating just one.

Should you choose to embark on a new you with a friend, may you choose wisely and not choose one which will secretly be waiting for you to fail.

May you not ‘wish’ for something to happen and may you instead chose to plan to achieve something by doing the things which will get you closer to it becoming a reality.

May this year be the year you set out to do something you truly believe in, something that completely agrees with the person that deep down you are and something that can become part of your life for the rest of time and not just for the first month (if honest 2 weeks) of the year …

… may you keep things simple and this year, just maybe, make a positive change for 2014 and beyond.

To thine own self be true,

If you knew ...

If you knew that you could create a life that is everything you could wish for, what would you do now as your step?


The Trainers obsession continues – Nike FlyKnit Vs Vibram FiveFingers

Arrgghh – what’s wrong with me? I’m obsessed! Completely obsessed that is with trainers!
Basically I always have been, but since it was announced last week that Nike have gone and created some new era in trainer technology with the Nike FlyKnit , I’ve taken it to a whole new level of interest in what I put on my feet.

Ahh … priddy …..

So what’s this FlyKnit stuff about then? Well if you watch the ‘well where did it come from’ video it says it’s all about two things – the fit and the weight …

And if you watch the ‘you know you want a pair don’t you’ video, it’s all about how they make you feel – look at ‘em fly !! …

But here’s where I start to feel very uncomfortable with this whole thing.

You see, something else which I’m slightly obsessed with at the minute is what’s the best way to run – effectively for pace and to increase my chances of staying in one un-injured piece whilst running for more than a day (my current record over the past year). I’ve spoken before about the Christopher McDougall piece “The Once and Future Way to Run” in the New York Times, which basically reminds us that running is just a game between feet and floor and the more time your feet spend on the floor then the more time you waste and the floor wins …

If you heel plant – which many, many of us do, then you land with a ‘bam-bam-bam’ motion which strides way out in front of you and the rest of your body has to surge forward to catch up. You spend too much time on the ground and you’re more at risk of injury due to the forces you’re throwing through your ankles, hips, knees and torso which is trying frantically to catch up your feet every time you hit the ground.

If you land on the ball of your foot as it passes under you, then you land with a ‘pfft’ and your body just glides along above you without wasting energy or overworking any of your stabilising muscles.

Sounds simple right? But trying to change your running style is indeed like trying to change how you walk – so that’s not gonna be easy.

What has happened though to ‘help’ us to find this perfect running form is we’re seeing an influx of trainers hitting the markets – indeed Up & Running this week have started to sell Brooks Pure and I noticed Start Fitness have launched sales of the Vibram FiveFingers Bikila and have a whole section now devoted to Barefoot running.

This is all well and good, but is a lighter pair of trainers gonna makes you run faster ? No.

Is a closer fitting shoe gonna make you more efficient? No.

Is running in a pair of barefoot running shoes without knowing how to ‘run barefoot’ gonna cause you all manner of problems? Yes.

You see – there’s a difference between sticking a pair of these shoes on and going out for a run as you norally would and putting them on and running in them the way they’ve been designed for. Racing flats, spikes or minimalist shoes have no support for your heels, so if you go out and run in them and still run with a heel plant action you’re a) wasting your money and b) probably gonna cost yourself your running days too in the long run. Invest in the shoes, but also invest in learning how to run in minimalist trainers.

Look at the Nike video again, how does the guy in the advert land?


This isn’t the only thing I’ve got to say though on the FlyKnit thing – no-no-no you see it’s unearthed another way they’re conspiring against us and making our sport a little too elitist even for the Elite!

Following the announcement of Nike FlyKnit – Paula Radcliffe then posts on Twitter something along the lines of “guess what guys – I’ve been using them for yonks – now try and catch me!”

Or in her words:

@PaulajRadcliffe “ Cool video on Nike Flyknit , I have been using it for a while and had no idea what it was called #iguessididntneedtoknow

And then Nike go in with:

@Nike: “Nike Flyknit is the future of footwear design. #innovate” For those who were wondering what Abdi and Ritz wore”

So now I become a regular Columbo of the trainer world and indeed the Abdi and Ritz trainers debate (of which one is here on Runners World) :

And there you have it – problem solved – Abdi and Ritz are wearing aforementioned Nike Flyknit.

So the 3rd and 4th placed athletes in the US Marathon trials finished in Flyknits, something which hadn’t even been announced yet and our best Olympic marathon hopeful for the London 2012 has been wearing her pair in already too (way to go Paula – I feel I need to insert something here that I’m a fan!) and this isn’t the first time this has happened – any regulars will have seen my previous post about trainers where we saw similar happenings in Adidas Adios 2 being used ahead or release and the same in the spike department by Mo Farah in Nike Zooms (full post here – Any excuse to buy new trainers).

Still with my Columbo hat on – I’ve started to become obsessed with the finer details of trainers and who’s wearing what. The Tokyo Marathon was held last weekend and I was onto Google looking not just for the results, but for photos of the top finishers to see what they had on their feet (Nike Zoom Streak 3s if you’re even slightly interested – the pre-release of FlyKints not making their way to Japan yet then?)!

My team mate Yared Hagos won the Tunbridge Wells half marathon last weekend and I’ve been watching his finishing video not just to see him win, but to study his running form (it’s here and absolutely priceless), ‘pfft, pfft’ pfft’ …

Sad maybe but I think there is some sort of point to this – honest.

Point is that technology and science has a lot to answer for in a lot of ways and it is changing the face of our sport as whatever is discovered from or developed for the Elite field to get them Olympic Gold or to allow them to break records as pay off for sponsorship deals, will filter down into our soles too. And yes if you embrace it and do your research these new findings will serve you well – but don’t buy too much into the marketing hype if it’s not going to help you in the long run.

Flyknit’s are marketed as the lightest ever – they’re not, Nike Lunaracers were lighter.

My racing flat of choice - Nike Lunaracer - does it get lighter than flywire

My racing flat of choice - Nike Lunaracer - doesn't get lighter than foam and flywire

Vibra FiveFingers are marketed as barefoot running shoes – which isn’t strictly true – they’re not ‘running shoes which will give you a running barefoot style’ you can chucked em on and run however you like in them and I’m sure you calves will thank you the day after.

Vibram FiveFingers - Bikila

Are you really ready to go out for a run in these?

Am I done being obsessed with trainers? absolutely not, but it’s just given me even more food for thought on the mechanics of this whole feet Vs floor game we play. I’m off now to do my 100-ups, chuck some weights about while standing on one foot and crunch my way to a solid core – a much more worthy investment …

Parkrun Newcastle – a lesson in why we run

Love them or hate them Park Runs are here to stay and I’ve got to admit – I’m a fan and today I really, really realised why I’m definitely Pro-ParkRun.

I’ve been following the progress of the Newcastle Park Run since it started and indeed was almost about to be a founder of it way back in January 2010 but it was between volunteering for Park Run and for Race for Life and I went with Cancer Research UK – a story I’ll save for another day …

So occasionally I run it, occasionally I just go down to watch, but lately I’ve been frankly blown away at the numbers of people turning out and given the lighter mornings and nights we’ve been having and the lack of local club races this weekend, I knew there’d be a good turnout on the Town Moor today.

I’m coming back from injury so wasn’t looking for a race this morning but as I’m really starting to see ‘people need people’ and runners especially need those friendly familiar faces and the odd person asking you how your training is going.

So off I went and suggested I pace a mate around the course, I didn’t really have any expectations or aims, I just wanted to get my legs moving around a bit as did she, so it made sense.

I absolutely loved it. What a difference. We weren’t running slow, far from it, but we weren’t at the sharp end either and there was just a totally different feel for me today. No stress, no feeling physically sick before I got to the line. No feeling like I was being chased down. No getting annoyed that there were gates to go through and lots and lots of people about. It was the Park Run from a totally different angle and it reminded me about a few things which I’ve definitely forgotten.

Yes running is a competitive sport, and it’s an individual one, but it doesn’t have to be quite so isolated – it can be incredibly sociable. And there’s an awful lot of people in that social circle – 367 people turned up to run around that windy Exhibition Park today for free on a Saturday morning, 367 – that’s amazing and why? Just because. Just because they could challenge themselves a little without any pressure of a race-entry fee. Or just because they knew they’d see a few friendly faces down there. Or just because they wanted to go out for a run so why not do it with other like minded runners, or just because they knew they’d enjoy it more if they didn’t have to face the wind on their own, or just because they could go for a coffee afterwards and start their weekend off with something a bit different. Or just because they wanted to spend some quality time with their kids. Or just because they tried it once and are now hooked.

And they got to the end and most of them were happy – yeah sometimes we don’t get the times we want or the weather makes it harder than we’d like it to be, or last night’s couple of beers come back to haunt us, but does that always matter. When you get your PB great, but when you just enjoy what you do, even better and that’s what I’d say was different for me today – I just enjoyed a run and I relaxed enough to realise that so did so many other people.

The Park Run’s not a race – it’s a run out and a chance to meet random people at the end and trade stories of ‘I know, turning onto that last bit I thought it was never gonna end’ and ‘thanks for that push, just at the right time’ or ‘so was this your first one then?’. And the more you go, the more people you’ll meet and you’ll grow to love this thing we do – this running community.

Park Run Newcastle - Parkrun in full flow

And that’s what today taught me about running and the Park Run. It’s just about people.

So leave the club vests and the Power of Ten and the chips on the shoulders about the ‘official race or not’ element at the door and just enjoy it – race when you want to race and run when you want to run. And if the Park Run is ‘race-day’, then fine, stick your flats on and do your hair nice, but make sure you finish with a smile on your face and you acknowledge your fellow 367 ‘ParkRunners’ not just your club mates – because that’s what it’s there for. People need people.


If you are interested in a 5k race on Sunday April 22 (and aren’t running the London Marathon!) then you could get yourself down to Wallsend for the Terry O’Gara Memorial race fast, flat and very, very friendly!

For more reports on todays ParkRun see:


Find me a Physio

Whether you’re a once a week ParkRun runner, a serial Great Run Runner or training for the London Marathon, chances are you’ll have had the odd niggle or two during your pavement pounding.

It’s widely publicised that 79% of runners will be injured during a year which is a scary thought, but I’m taking some comfort from it after being pretty much injured with one thing or another for almost a year now. Finally, finally, finally a couple of weeks ago I was mid-way through a great training week, feeling amazing and totally pain free and bam! Injury strikes again, this time in the ‘uff’ category of going over on my ankle on freezing rain – which frankly an old lady could do crossing the street, nothing to do with being a runner really, just bad luck.


So when we get injured then, what do we do? Foam roller, stretch out with one of the dog’s toys, roll around on all manner of balls, dig your thumbs into points so much you bruise, ask the other half to stick his elbow into ‘knots’ and winge cos he’s pressing on said bruise, sleep in compression socks, wear compression bandages (under compression socks), rub hot stuff into it, apply frozen peas, scream your way through ice-baths, sit in front of X-Factor covered in ice-packs, mope about and eat ice cream …

We probably do everything wrong in our self-diagnosis quest to do something right.

So what would be better? Two things really, either not get injured in the first place (easy to say, but we’ll get back to that one) or just seek the right advice.

Problem being – ok, seek advice, but who from? We’re runners, we’re very particular, we’re unique and we also don’t really like to admit we’re ‘injured’ not just ‘sore’.

So step 1, we’ve got a mate or a friend of a friend who does sports massage. So we go, we tell them where the pain is, they make us squeal, it hurts like buggery, we feel better for the afternoon that we’ve been so brave. We buy a new pair of trainers in case it was them (and even if it wasn’t they’ll make us feel better anyway) and go back out on the pavements – first run was ‘ok’ so we go back again but this time it’s torture (no pain no gain?), we ignore it, then get a massage and around and around it goes. We feel better for getting some sort of help but it’s not going anywhere, so we just put it down to the fact that we’re training hard and become compression-sock-wearing-foam-roller-freaks and stretch more often than we usually would.

A month down the line, step 2 and back comes some crazy pain so this time we reluctantly fork out the extra few quid for a physio or a chiropractor, maybe one which had a deal going on Groupon or something. Off we trot, we have a shoddy experience cos we’re runners and they don’t understand why we would continue to run through this much pain – the diagnosis is rest and we come home in full blown huff, feeling robbed of a half a pair of trainers and taking it out on the partner thrusting random objects again at them to help us get out of this mess and back on the road for the sake of everyone’s sanity.

Then, a month later we’re creeping towards step 3 and there’s a race coming, and then, only then, when the chips are down and the PB and the team prize is looking raggy do we begrudgingly fork out the extra few quid and seek out THE BEST sports physio money can buy!

And what do they tell us? Why didn’t we go there sooner. Lesson learned? Probably not.


So what can we learn from all of this? Well …

Sports Massage – it’s great, it’ll help you through training, especially when you start to bang out more miles and little and often is good to flush out all those toxins which will inevitably build up no matter how many ice baths you have or how good your diet is. It’s also quite nice to feel freshened up as an athlete every once in a while so schedule them into your training – maybe as a treat at the end of a big week or a tough session, don’t wait until you ‘need’ one, otherwise it’s torturous and it shouldn’t be either for you or for the masseuse and their poor thumbs! But appreciate that this is remedial therapy – something to help you in your running quest, keep you loose and prevent injury occurring and not something to miraculously ‘fix’ you.

Sports Physio – is amazing, as a runner your primary aim is to keep your body in tact enough to be able to run, so give it some respect and make sure you get it through a full point check regularly. It’s worth doing your research to find a physio who you can trust and who’ll understand why you’d run 20 mile on an injury, yet be able to persuade you that that’s not the best idea. Having a good solid understanding of you can help so much in the longer term too – think of it as something extra in your kit bag, and investment. And granted it might take you a few times to get it right, but once you find someone who you can work with then there’s no more of the explaining your training regimes, your PBs, your injury history, the fact that you’ve had orthotics before and they didn’t work and how much stretching you do or don’t do every time you visit. They’ll also be able to help you return back quicker and better if they understand what you’re likely to do/not or which rehab you’ll steer towards (please, please, please don’t give me any more ‘stretch’ – I have the attention span of a gnat, but say ‘yoga’, something I enjoy and that’ll work!).

Knowing you can help in so many ways to diagnose problems way earlier too – a good physio will treat the cause of your injuries not the symptoms. In a previous episode I had crazy, crazy pain in my ass and my calf and had been rolling about on tumble drier balls and all sorts just trying to get some relief – and yeah there was some tightness in my butt, but it wasn’t going to go away by digging elbows into it, nope, it was down to something in my foot and a tight toe which hadn’t even occurred to me?!

Going for physio isn’t weak or scary – they’re not going to tell you not to exercise indefinitely and even if they do it means getting injuries diagnosed early and getting them sorted out – yes it may well result in having a few days off, but ploughing on mindlessly thinking things will ‘go away’ certainly isn’t going to help.

It’s also about commitment on both sides, you need to find a physio that you know you can rely on and who you can get a hold of if you need to but also who you’re prepared to go back and forth to if needs be. And be prepared to commit to rehab – yeah maybe you manage to negotiate some of your more favoured exercises, but DO THEM otherwise it’s a waste of everyone’s time and your physio won’t be able to see how you truly respond to treatment.

So, in general conclusion what can we learn – well, I’m all now for a good old fashioned ‘health check’ now and again as opposed to waiting about, but I’m also thinking it’s a case of listening out for those niggles that aren’t just niggles and nipping them in the bud by commitment. Then of course there’s always prevention over cure …

I said I’d come back to that and indeed in my ‘diagnosis by Google’ I often stumble on bits of interest and though I’m not gonna ditch my shoes I still find this one is a bit intriguing … From the New York Times, Christopher McDougall authour of ‘Born To Run’ talks to us about ‘The Once and Future Way to Run’

100-ups, coming up – nothing to lose, I’ll let you know how it goes

Natural born leader – Terry O’Gara

Some of the posts on this site are taken from a regular ‘Friday food for thoughts’ blog I have at work, well that chapter closed today and there’s a story that I started in them that hasn’t been finished and never a more poignant time to finish it, so here goes …

You might well remember the ‘TOG’ story – of Terry O’Gara’s epic journey to representing his country in athletics, “never give up on something you can’t go a day without thinking about” …….

Well of course that’s only one bit of it, because once you get said England call up, you do also have to run! So how did he get on then?

It’s November the 25, a Friday night down the track – I’d been toying with the idea of going to watch Terry race all week and the big day was finally due to be here tomorrow. His call up was to represent England in the Over 70s at an international cross-country meet in Glasgow. I was exhausted from a week of hard training and early mornings and frankly desperate for a lie in and to put my feet up in front of ‘Saturday Morning Kitchen’. I made a deal with my mate that if I woke up in time we’d go – we both really really wanted to see Terry run but the prospect of a 3 ½ hour drive at 7am on Saturday with a tired body and aching legs wasn’t looking too favourable ……..

But this was for Terry, so of course, come Saturday morning I was up at 6, texted my mate, told him to jump on a metro to get to me and by the time he arrived I’d be fed, showered and ready to hit the road. He was way too excited for that sort of palaver, jumped straight into a taxi and was in my estate before I’d even brushed my teeth!

The drive to Glasgow was horrific – never seen rain like it – the kind of rain that needs those windscreen wipers that go so fast they do nothing but throw the water onto themselves?! Anyway, after a long olde treck up North we finally stop talking about running and pull into the carpark – straight after another car-full of Wallsend Harriers and my coach Steve (Terry’s son) and his family.

Terry’s photo call was at 11, so we had just enough time to find everyone else and head over to watch. And there he was, man of the moment, in shiny new ‘Wallsend green’ coloured gear, clearly nervous as hell but smiling ear to ear surrounded by his troop of supporters, he was thanking everyone for coming along and playing aeroplanes with his grandson in the foyer packed by people limbering up in International tracksuits.

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One for the album for sure !

Photos done – check, cow-bells handed out – check, race support strategy worked out – check. 20mins to start and finally, finally, finally the moment we’ve all been waiting for – on goes the vest right in front of his whole family and a crew of cow-bell carrying Harriers. Brilliant, the rain was blasting that much it was soaking before he even got it on and the wind was howling that much that I kid you not, at the point of him finally getting dressed in front of a crowd of on-lookers, behind him a porta-loo blew over!! What a way to ruin the photographs – but it broke the ice and eased the nerves. Off we head to place ourselves out on the course so that TOG had someone spurring him on pretty much every 400m or so.

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Oh yes – it was true X-Country weather alright but the cowbells still chime!

Right, race time – we take our appointed positions and ding-a-ling those bells like mad whilst running between points to cheer him on. I ……. have……….. never …………. known rain and wind like that in my life, and complete with full on ‘heart-attack-hill’ this was true cross country. But Terry’s a battler whose been taking on the hills of Wallsend for the past 30 years and not put off in the slightest after much cheering and shouting and being chased down by Steve whose probably ran as far as his dad and is quite frankly sweating ………. he braves heart-attack hill, chipping off positions every lap, lets out a few Terry style “eeaahhh” s is wet through, covered in muddy spray and comes home 2nd !!!!

Wow, wow, wow!!! We were only there to see him run in an England vest, and the bugger goes and does one better andplaces for his country on his debut! Brilliant, just brilliant and soaked to the skin and freezing cold a round of champagne from plastic cups is called for and we toast his success!!! Emotions run high – a hell of an achievement, we strip down to dry clothes and head back home to Newcastle leaving the family to enjoy the rest of their weekend away in ‘sunny’ Scotland. Job done.

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Terry post run with family as always!

And that’s it. The end of Terry’s running story. And what a fine way to end it.

A few weeks later, Terry was diagnosed with Cancer and was told he couldn’t be operated on due to his age. A 70 year old bloke who’d just ran for England!! The news got round to everyone at Wallsend and it’s fair to say that we were all devastated – there’s something about Terry. There certainly is, cos the story doesn’t quite end there. Although they were fairly certain that he couldn’t be operated on when the hospital ran the necessary tests they found out that Terry had the heart and lungs of a 40 year old! Of course he did!! The tumours were removed, meaning Terry had in his own way beaten his Cancer, but he never re-gained consciousness and passed away peacefully last weekend.

But this is a blog about leadership ……………

Since the announcements of the loss the tributes coming forward for Terry have been mind-blowing – and the comments are still flowing to the Wallsend Harriers website. Quite fitting really given that Terry was always the first to comment on anyone else’s posts!

He was and still is an absolute inspiration. His yellow shorts and baggy lycra will go down in Wallsend folklore. He was a true natural born leader.

How and why? Read the comments, they speak for themselves – better than any of your ‘How to win friends and influence people’ and the likes.

He was just a genuine bloke, wore his heart on his sleeve and was surrounded by people who he truly cared about. He didn’t want a quid, he didn’t have an ego following him around like some oppressive cloud and he didn’t think he was anything special. He didn’t want to change the world. He wasn’t false, he didn’t have to make an effort, he didn’t have to think twice about engaging in conversation, he was a total and utter natural.

But he wasn’t a walk over or a yes man either, he stood for what he believed and in and was more than prepared to challenge things he didn’t feel were right. He never gave up on what mattered to him. He rolled with the changes, not to conform and to try to fit in but to keep up and embrace the present – at 70 years old he had a Facebook Account and the latest Adidas running jacket. And despite all the accolades and records and England vest glory – he was still just Terry O’Gara, devoted family man and Wallsend Harrier.

To finish, I’ll go against the authenticity grain and rob some words from a profound writer* of our generation:

“Don’t lose who you are, in the blur of the stars”

Keep it real kids. Friday food for thoughts … done.