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Nifty At Fifty? That Remains To Be Seen…

It’s been a while since my musings have been seen on these pages, and since it’s been a bit of a big year for me in terms of occasions (silver wedding in February, 50th birthday in June), I thought I’d make it 3 for 3 and write another blog!

So, what’s been happening to me? Well, after a turn of year that was bedevilled by injury (soleus calf muscle tear in early December, meniscus cartilage injury in February) I finally started to get back into some serious training around March/April time. I’d managed to get myself a place in the Great North Run through the ballot, which I was amazed at, and I was determined that my second GNR time was going to be a big improvement on my first one, which I ran at the tender age of 23 in 1987 (and finished in 2:05)!

I also had a place in the Blaydon Race, which as a Geordie has a special place in my heart, and I decided to run a few more races this year than I have done in previous years, as much to mark my 50th year than for any other reason.  I even joined the local veteran’s athletics league (for those of you unfamiliar with the term, a veteran is any athlete over the age of 35) and attempted a few track and field events in the Grand Prix meetings over the course of the summer. The best thing about new distances or events is that you’re pretty much guaranteed a PB in them!

Although much of my training has been done on my own (i.e. running by myself) I have had lots of support from my running club, Birtley AC, during my twice weekly club sessions, and one member in particular, Brian Bailes, has taken it upon himself to try and make me a better, more competitive runner. I have to say I’ve come on a lot in the last six months, and it’s mainly due to his help, advice, and (on occasion) his almost literally dragging me around a course to help me achieve another PB.

My first race was the Clive Cookson 10k, a distance I hadn’t attempted for over 18 months, and despite struggling on the second lap I managed to knock almost 2 minutes off my PB, crossing the line at 51:50. My next big run of the year was the Blaydon Race – I improved my time on last year’s performance, coming in at 44:50, though it was a struggle on a massively muggy evening to actually finish, despite running the first mile in just over 7 minutes.

I took on the Angel View Run in July, an almost 6 mile run around the North’s iconic landmark, and a very challenging multi-terrain course which took in a lot of hills. Despite a not very speedy time on the day, I managed to be the first v50 woman over the line, and won my first prize in a race – ever! (Well, I may have won the odd race in sports day at school but I can’t remember ever actually getting a prize for it!). Not long after this run I tackled my first 5k race of the year, organised by the Northern Front Runners, a local club for the LGBT community. As well as knocking almost half a minute off my 5k PB I ended up with a VERY interesting goody bag – it’s not often you find condoms, lube and even more unusual items alongside the obligatory granola bar and bottle of water.

August was my best month of the year so far – possibly due to the extra mileage I was doing prior to the Great North Run? I kicked off the month with a new parkrun PB, the first one for over a year, followed by a 3 minute PB at the Darlington 10k the very next day (24:14 and 48:42 respectively).  I then ran a 12 mile training run on the following Sunday, followed by a leg in the Durham Summer Relays on Monday (a 3k course), then the Cock Crow 5k on Tuesday, in which I was again first v50 woman -cue another Start Fitness voucher (never comes in wrong!) and another PB of 23:50. The following Saturday saw another parkrun PB of 23:42, then the month was topped off with the Watergate 5k. This was an extra special race for me as not only did I win a prize, I also got a

medal (my very first one!) for first v50 North East Masters athlete – and, possibly even more importantly, I managed to beat a lovely lady who had bested me in every race we’d run together – up until then! Oh, and another PB of 23:23. Many thanks to Brian who kept me motivated the whole way around (or bullied me, whichever way you want to look at it) – I couldn’t have done it without him!

My aim for the GNR had been 1:45, a massive 20 minute improvement on my last time but requiring solid 8 minute miles the whole way. On the 7th September, it turned out to be a beautiful sunny day – great for the crowds, bad for me. I’ve always had problems running in the heat (despite loving the sun generally) and race day was no exception – I began to suffer 5 to 6 miles in, and despite hitting every shower and drink station on the course, I knew I was going to fall short of my target when I turned onto the sea front at South Shields with 5 minutes to go and well over a mile to run! However, I did manage a time of 1:50:29 in the end, and I was relatively pleased with that. I now have Redcar half marathon to look forward to on the 28th of September, so maybe I’ll manage to hit my target then – watch this space! Fingers crossed and best foot forward…

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About Val Baxter

Val is a middle-aged mother of two boys, and gradually got into athletics via her eldest’s involvement with Birtley AC. Following a slow start which involved power-walking and a gradual move to jogging, she was persuaded to enter a local Harrier league cross-country event, and despite coming almost last, developed a taste for cold muddy slogs through the countryside.

Author: Val Baxter
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