Northampton parkrun Review

This morning I have another parkrun review for you, this time from one of my favourite running bloggers, Mary, from A Healthier Moo. She’s an ultra running superstar and basically my running idol. She’s practically unbreakable and such a lovely person (who I’ve actually met in real life so I fully attest to this!). Mary and her husband, Dan, have recently had an adorable little baby boy as well so check out her current journey back to running on her blog. Over to Mary now and her write-up of Northampton parkrun.

Location: Northampton parkrun takes place at the Racecourse on the edge of Northampton each Saturday morning.  It’s super easy to find, and you usually spot the streams of runners jogging in long before you reach the Racecourse itself.

Parking: Parking at the Racecourse is rubbish!  Although parking at the Racecourse is free, it’s incredibly limited so if you plan on driving to Northampton parkrun I suggest you leave early, and arrange to share cars.  I’ve arrived many times before 8:30am only to discover that there are no spaces left and I need to trawl the side streets looking for somewhere to leave my car.  There is a fair amount of parking available on side streets, but it helps if you know the area and which streets you can park on.  Several of our club members tend to park a little way out from the Racecourse and then jog up to the park as a warm up.

Amenities: The changing room toilets at the Racecourse are open for parkrunners from 8:45am and as there are so many changing rooms, there is never a queue.
With regards to post-run drinks, several runners seem to have now discovered Magees, and this is where I normally head for a post-run hot chocolate (with homemade marshmallow) and salted caramel tart!  The alternative coffee shop is The Good Loaf, – a coffee shop which aims to provide employment opportunities to local vulnerable women.magee-hot-chocolateCourse: Northampton is a one and a half lap course run entirely on tarmac paths around the edge of the park, other than the finishing funnel where runners are fed off onto the grass.courseThere is a mad rush at the start as runners spread out wide across the grass alongside the start line before filing into their positions on the pavement.  It can take several minutes before the pack begins to widen out after the start.startAs the park is fairly open, with trees just around the edges – you can make out the majority of the pathways from the startline.  Really handy when trying to show the course to runners who have not been out on it before.

You really can’t go wrong with the route, as the first lap takes in the whole park, with the second (half) lap cutting across the centre.  The cut-through is lined with family members and supporters so it’s very clear where you need to turn.  There are no tight turns to navigate – just corners as you come to each of the edges of the park.  The field has always spread out enough by the time the front runners lap the back runners, so overtaking lapped runners does not become an issue.slight-hill

The very slight ‘hill’ at the end

Elevation: I would describe Northampton as a pancake-flat PB course, although some would argue that there is a hill at the far end of the loop, which you hit both times round the course.  It’s nothing too taxing though.  (I just checked and apparently there is 61ft of elevation gain in total over the course.)elevationNumber of participants: Having started out with a fairly small amount of runners, the Northampton course now regularly sees more than 400 sets of barcodes scanned each Saturday morning, with 479 being the highest number of recorded participants.  There are quite a few running clubs and jog groups in the area and only a limited number of parkruns, although Kettering parkrun has just started up nearby, which should hopefully begin to ease some of the numbers at the Northampton course.

Other: The course record is 14:52 for men, set by Andrew Baddeley and 16:58 for women, set by Hayley Munn.  Andrew’s parkrun PB incidentally is a staggering 13:48!

There is often a photographer at Northampton parkrun, – something which I thought was standard at most parkruns until we took friends that were visiting one Saturday morning and they commented on how nice it was to be able to look through photographs after the event, as their parkrun didn’t ever have anything similar.  However, it seems no ‘good’ pictures of me not red-faced/heel striking/arm flapping exist!me-at-parkrun

Mary running strong!

A great course for when you really want to stretch your legs out a little and go for a fast time.

Thank you, Mary! You can find out more on their Facebook page and Twitter (and of course the parkrun website).

Have you done the Northampton parkrun before?

What’s your perfect post parkrun treat?

Newcastle parkrun Review

I have another parkrun review for you today. This time brought to you from one of my running friends, Michelle, who, by the way, is RIDICULOUSLY speedy. We’re talking 3:15 marathoner, sub 19 minute 5k’er, sub 40 min 10k’er… I could go on, but basically any distance she can smash. She’s also very modest about it as well 🙂 And she’s kindly done a review of the Newcastle parkrun. Though I’m all for some parkrun tourism, Newcastle is a little bit tricky for me to get to living on the South Coast. Happily she’s studying to be a doctor ‘up North’ (brainy and speedy). So, without further ado, onto Michelle’s review…

newcastle-parkrun-07-may-2016-1That’s Michelle in the green t-shirt storming along

Location: Newcastle parkrun is found on Town Moor, an area of common just outside of the city centre. Apparently it is larger than New York’s Central Park and also Hyde Park and Hampstead Heath combined! On the corner of Town Moor is Exhibition Park which has a small lake, children’s play area and café. Other than a few hills and lots of green space there isn’t much in the way of scenery but this means it is easy to spot the runners towards the front and towards the back. It’s easy to find and if you get lost once your near there are always plenty of people heading that way!

Parking: Town Moor itself doesn’t have a dedicated car park however there are plenty of pay & display places to park which are only a very short walk away! For on road parking I would suggest Claremont Road, Clayton Road and Brandling Park Road. There is also a large pay & display on Claremont Road which costs £1.30 for an hour. Be careful as a lot of the surrounding roads are permit parking!

The best and easiest way to get to Newcastle parkrun is on public transport! Jesmond metro station is probably the closest at about a 5-minute walk from the start but Haymarket and West Jesmond metro stations are also about a 10-minute walk from the start. There are plenty of buses stop along Great North Road, Claremont Road and Haymarket bus station.

Amenities: Unfortunately, there are no toilets at Newcastle parkrun unless you buy something in the café in Exhibition Park to get a code. The café itself though is great! It serves hot drinks, snacks, breakfasts, sandwiches, homemade food, cakes and Dalinos ice cream (some amazing flavours!). You also get 10% student and OAP discount 😉

Course: The course itself is one big loop along the paths which cross the moor and along the outside of it.


You start close to Exhibition Park and then head onto the main path which crosses the moor. The first turn is a right hander shortly after passing through the first (of 3) gates to run alongside the moor on the footpath of Grandstand Road. After 250m you turn right again through gate 2 and back onto the moor. The next section is on gravel paths (whereas the rest of the course is tarmac paths) and can be a bit muddy in the rain! You head back across the moor towards the top of exhibition park before a left turn towards the eastern edge of the moor. From here you run in a ‘u’ shape before turning left back onto tarmac paths and through the final gate. This is the only point on the course where you pass other runners who are about to head onto the ‘u’ shaped section. The final stretch takes you to a crossroads where you turn left onto the main path across the moor you joined shortly after starting and then left again back towards the start line. The finish line is 100m further on and after a slight right turn just past the start. All the gates are held open for you by marshals but running single file is required as they aren’t the widest of gates!newcastle-parkrun-6-december-2014

Oh there is one final thing…during the summer months you share the moor with cows! Yes, you read that correctly! There are cows that live on the are generally very friendly and will move out the way for runners but just watch where you’re putting your feet!

Elevation: Overall the course is pretty flat. As you head towards the first gate it is a slight incline but there are definitely no hills on the course.

newcastle-parkrun-elevationOver the whole course the elevation gain is just 19m. This means that it can be a very fast one…although with Town Moor being very exposed any amount of wind can be a battle!

Number of participants: Being a city parkrun it is a big, busy one! The record attendance is 701 with average attendance being over 600! Despite this number of participants there are never really any problems. The design of the course means you’re not going to collide with other runners and the parkrun volunteers have developed a multiple finish funnel system to ensure finishing and getting your token is a smooth process. With this number of participants it means there is a wide range of times, from the quickest finishing in around 16 minutes and the slowest just under 50 minutes, so everyone is more than welcome! The course is ideal for runners with buggies due to it being mostly tarmac and dogs are also welcome on short leads.

Other: On the 2nd Saturday of every month Newcastle parkrun hosts a paced run with volunteers pacing times from around 19 minutes up to about 40 minutes.

Pretty much every week there are volunteers there taking photos at different points on the course which are available on their Facebook page!

Due to the moor being very exposed and well it being in the north east the course does get very icy (and sometimes snowy) in the winter. This does mean it can get cancelled at short notice but this is always well publicised on Facebook and Twitter so I recommend checking before you head out!

Town Moor is also home to a Junior parkrun on a Sunday morning!

Have you ever been to Newcastle parkrun?

Would you prefer hilly and no wind, or flat and windy?

Wildlife and livestock on your runs, are you fan?

Squat Routine Variations for Fun and Muscle

Today I have a guest post for you today regarding one of my favourite gym exercises: the squat.

A fast trip to the gym can still yield great results if you’re doing squats. You may have heard that they’re the ultimate all-in-one exercise, and they are, but if you want to get even more out of them, mix up the form and add some free weights to build muscle in all the major groups at once. For more dynamism in the workout, do weighted lunges. If you travel a lot or have an uneven amount of time to work out, a flexible gym membership and a squat-based routine can keep you in good form.

Two fitness women doing squat exercise workout outdoor. Female coach correcting knee position for legs exercising.

First, perfect your squat

Before adding weights, be sure you have the following details down in your basic move:

  1. Lower yourself slowly to keep both the balls of your feet and your heels firmly on the floor for the entirety of the movement.
  2. For the exercise to be effective and not injurious to your knees, you need to go down to at least the point where your thighs are parallel to the floor, if not a little beyond.
  3. Don’t tuck your tailbone or arch your back.

In the free weight variations, go as slowly as you need to in order to keep good form.

Add some cardio

Working in 30-second intervals for a total of 5 minutes or more, do as many squats as you can in each interval. Don’t lose your form, but try to work up a little speed and increase your reps in 30 seconds. Rest for just a few seconds between sets. Do some sets with your hands behind your head, elbows out to the side, and some with your arms raised and palms facing outward.

To turn up the cardio, jump as you come up out of the squat. Try to start with two sets of 10. Your heart will really get pumping here.

Add a weight plate

Grip a barbell weight on either side and hold it out in front of you, keeping your arms straight, as you lower into a squat. You’re developing static strength in your shoulders, deltoids, and arms, and this variation really forces you to keep your core stable.

Hold ‘the chalice’

Hold a weight with your arms bent, close to your chest, and perform your squat. Your upper arms will love this one!

With just a few variations in your squat routine, you will find yourself getting stronger and your balance improving. And you’ll free yourself from the treadmill.

If you’d like to benefit from a flexible gym membership, you’ll find gyms offering this kind of accessibility throughout the country, with some notable locations including Lewes Leisure Centre, The Rapids Romsey, Pemberton Centre Rushden and Clifton College Sports Centre.

Do you go to the gym?

What’s your favourite strength exercise?

What’s your favourite squat variation?

Race to the King 2016–Shantha’s recap

Today I have a really exciting post from my lovely friend and running extraordinaire, Shantha. She’s such a lovely, lovely person Smile We’ve done a few long runs together (though she is a lot more speedy than me she’s happy to go a bit slower!) and she’s a pleasure to be around.


She has recently completed the incredible Race to the King (ultra marathon of 53.5 miles along the South Downs Way). I cheekily asked her if she’d do a race recap for me as I think her achievement is so fantastic (ultra marathoners are just amazing!). So enough of my rambling… Here’s Shantha.

I entered the Race to the King 2016 in December 2015 in that typical pre-Christmas “oh what are my running goals going to be for next year”, having never competed at above marathon distance before. And to be honest in that headspace most of us are in when we commit to something that is a significant challenge but in a quite a blasé ‘oh it’s still six, seven, eight months away, it’ll be ok’. I was privileged to be chosen for the Women’s Running Magazine Project 26.2 in 2014 and wanted to have a similar focus on a single event.

What is the Race to the King or #RTTK16? Organised by the excellent Threshold Sports, it is a double marathon (actually 53.5 miles – I know the maths doesn’t add up, more of that later) over the stunning South Downs Way, starting to the East of Chichester in a village called Slindon, heading north for about 6-7 miles before hitting the long distance South Downs Way.

imageCourse map [Source]

You finish in the beautiful city of Winchester, right in front of the Cathedral.

Racae to the KingFinish [Source]

You can walk or run it, and you can opt to do it with an overnight stop or non-stop. It is fully supported with numerous amazingly stocked pit stops for fuel, hydration, medical support if needed and cheery volunteers motivating you on! Never one to make it easy for myself, I chose the non-stop run!

(There is so much to write about this event, and I am conscious that most of you readers will be pretty savvy runners, so I will stick to a review of the race and a brief summary of how I prepared for it).

2016 was the inaugural RTTK and the organisers were brilliant in the months leading up in keeping you informed with vital information, training tips and just enough to excite me at the thought of this challenge. Having read several reviews of other Threshold events (Race to the Stones) I had pretty high expectations on this event. The event was billed as a double marathon (52 miles) but in the weeks before we were informed that an extra 1.5 miles would be added to the off road, highly undulating route to enable a further pit stop to be added. On the day this change was gratefully received and meant that on average the pit stops (where if you so wished you could gorge on malt loaf, Tunnock’s tea cake, sweets, sandwiches, even soup, pasta and porridge at the latter ones) were 10kms apart. However the lovely technical tee that I purchased has ’52’ emblazoned on it, so regularly I do the typical runner explaining the full story thing.

On arrival at Race HQ on Saturday 25th June everything was super organised, registration was a breeze, plenty of clean portaloos (and at every pit stop) and motivational music to get every runner and walker in the zone. We started at 8am and really jogged and walked to start (due to the volume of people). This was initially frustrating but probably made no odds overall and helped conserve energy. The crowds started to thin after 5km, interestingly coinciding with the first climb and then people became increasingly spread out.

The first half of the race over some of the major climbs of the downs and finishing south of Petersfield was stunning and varied. English countryside at its absolute best; grassy down lands, wildflowers at the side of the bridle path and butterflies. The beauty of an ultra of this length and the slow running pace (I probably averaged 11-12 min per mile over the entire event) is that you focus on yourself but you can lose yourself in the marvels of Nature. However idyllic that sounds, the perfect sunshine was drowned by thunderstorms of a biblical scale before the descent through in to the Queen Elizabeth Park and under the A3.

Race to the King - Shantha

It was interesting seeing how other runners were dressed and what equipment they were carrying. Whilst I did spot a pink (male) gorilla (!) most were in the usual variety of kit. I ran with ‘normal’ trainers (I stick with Mizunos) but significantly more cushioned that my stripped down marathon lightweights, normal running socks (just a smidgen of Vaseline over the toes), shorts, tops, undies, sunglasses and that I had all worn numerous times before. Like other races, I knew that nothing should be done for the first time.

In terms of fuelling, I ran with a stock of Clif Shot Bloks and a Nathan Race Vest which I carried about 0.5l water. I took a cube of Blok every 30 mins and then at the pit stops ate pretty much what I felt I like, being conscious that for the first 20 miles my body would be okay on a minimum (bananas and squash to drink) and after mile 26 where I was heading into unknown territory I needed to up the calories.

I loved the training and ticking off each week and the increase in mileage. I used the 50 mile training plan written by US ultra legend Krissy Moehl and provided I listened to my body it really worked for me. It was tough doing back to back long runs and I probably didn’t do enough conditioning or interval work, BUT I managed to squeeze in a few runs with friends like Anna and I completed the race without a single injury OR niggle (unlike the hard and intense training I have completed for marathons). However I think that committing to training over at least 6 months and running at a less intense pace increases the sustainability. That said, during the various phases of adaptation I regularly had aching limbs and fatigue.

The second half of the race was so interesting as this was the new experience for me. Whilst I kept any walking to a power walk up the steep hills initially like Butser Hill, in this part of the event, any incline reduced speed to a jog. Mentally my approach was simplistic and perhaps naive. It was a case of deciding that I would finish come what may, and simply putting one foot in front of the other. Not suffering blisters made executing that strategy straightforward.

Buster Hill Race to the KingClimbing Butser Hill

The final miles and descent into Winchester were really tough and the valiant spectators who cheered us on were so welcome to see. What I loved about runners’ family and friends who cheered on was how special they made me feel and how their words really meant so much. I was lucky enough to have my mum supporting me, and whilst that was fabulous emotional support, there was a practical side…chauffeuring me home!

Running over the finish line was emotional and Threshold had clearly planned this moment carefully, thinking through details such as placing a medal around your neck, to creating great props (swords and crowns) for a top Facebook/ Twitter post to giving every finisher a blank cheque at the Cathedral Refectory to fuel up.

Race to the King (3)

Would I do an ultra again? Definitely. Would I recommend RRTK? You’d be mad not to give it a go. I’m now maintaining a no pressured running routine of 20 miles per week whilst I decide on my next challenge, which could well be another ultra!

Anna here again… How fantastic is she?! I can’t fathom running over a marathon but 53.5 miles!? And her time was incredible too!

Race to the King (4)

I’m so pleased it went well for her as she’s such a great person – and an inspiration! I look forward to seeing what she does next Smile

Have you ever run an ultra before?

Would this be an event you’d enjoy?

What would be your ideal snack at a pit stop?

Paratriathlons – Inclusive Sport at its Best

Hello! I’m currently sunning myself (or exercising ridiculously hard) in Spain right now, but have a guest post lined up for you. In my ignorance, I’ve never heard of this sport before but it sounds tough!

When it comes to inclusive sport at its very best, there is nothing more impressive than a paratriathlon event unfolding in front of you.

Comprising of a 750m swim followed by a 20km cycle (handcycle or tandem), and then finishing with a 5km run or wheelchair section, it is one of the most spectacular events on the inclusive sport calendar.

As a testament to its growing popularity, the event has recently been accepted into the 2016 Paralympic Games in Rio. It also has the full backing of the ITU (International Triathlon Union), which will no doubt help it grow and develop further as an inclusive sport.

So, what are the different classes of paratriathlon for the athletes?


The Paratriathlon Classes

Paratriathlon athletes are placed in one of five different classes – PT1 to PT5 – to ensure a level playing field among competitors with varying disabilities.

PT1 class is specifically for wheelchair users and athletes who have conditions preventing them from riding a conventional bike in a safe manner. The athletes use a racing wheelchair on the running section, and a recumbent handcycle on the cycling section.

PT2, PT3 and PT4 athletes are able to use approved supportive devices and prosthesis in the running and cycling sections. The athletes in these classes are assigned on the basis of their classification assessment score. Typically, an athlete in this category may have, among other disabilities, an impairment of muscle power, limited range of movement or limb deficiencies.

Lastly, the P5 category is for athletes with partial or total visual impairment. This can vary from total blindness to varying degrees of light perception – B1, B2 or B3, as set out in the IBSA/IPC definitions. Athletes competing in this class ride a tandem bike in the cycling section and are paired with a mandatory guide to assist them throughout the race.

If you are looking for more information on the classes, this can be found in the IPC’s Laymen’s Guide for Paralympic Summer Sports.

Looking to get involved?

For British enthusiasts, British Triathlon aims to provide athletes with all of the coaching and support necessary to compete at a professional level. Based out of Loughborough University, British Triathlon are committed to unearthing and developing talent to create future athletes for Great Britain.

When it comes to equipping yourself for the paratriathlon and other inclusive cycling related activities, Quest 88 is one of the best manufacturers available. Founded over 24 years ago with the idea of providing tricycles to children with additional needs, the company has grown to become one of the most innovative providers of all ability cycling products.

With a range of equipment and designs, there is a product for everyone. Who knows where you may end up: perhaps, the next step will be competing in a paratriathlon of your very own.

Have you ever heard of a paratriathlon? I’m embarrassed to say I haven’t but I hugely admire those who take part. Absolutely epic.

Do you do any triathlons?