For me, like many others, 2020 was an odd year that offered many opportunities to ask myself why I train in a certain way, run the same routes, and do the same sessions over and over. Towards the summer I was planning to start racing ultraruns and had a race booked in Austria which was part of the Ultra-Trail World Tour. When this race was cancelled, I decided to ponder those questions, do things differently, and explore areas which I would have ignored in my regular training.
As a new year starts, I have continued this spirit of exploration by finding new routes across Northumberland. With no races to focus on, the #Run1000Miles challenges has given me a cause for such exploration. I aim to exceed 1000 miles and share new routes in the process.
Throughout January and February I would normally be increasing both my training intensity and volume after a winter break. However, as the emphasis is now on exploration, I made sure to ignore my watch, and complete my first bulk of miles over new terrain. With heavy snowfall across Northumberland, running on the road was not safe, and grass loops were even more perilous! I decided to pull out my VJ Sport iRock 3 Trail Shoes and run at tempo level around Exhibition Park in Newcastle. The beautiful thing about this park is that, within the 35-acre grounds, there are hills, trails, grass trails and road loops as it connects to the Town Moor, so it was a perfect place to contend with the wintery conditions in the VJ trail shoes.
Nearby is Jesmond Dene and Ouseburn River. Again, trails galore with winding paths that run adjacent to the river, making for a scenic and relaxing route. I found this to be a great way of getting back into the swing of mid-week runs as the picturesque trails and the water lifts the mood and gets fresh air into the system! Building runs along Denes or rivers can be great way of experimenting with the length of shorter and long runs as they can be flexible, so for me these routes were great for slowly building back up the duration of runs after the winter break.
I also wanted to also use my runs as a way of commuting to new places, so I decided to run to Saltwell Park in the south of Gateshead. Once there, I again took my time to explore parts of the park I would otherwise miss, and was shocked to see signs written in Swedish and was in awe of the Saltwell Towers!
This month I started incorporating hard sessions into my weekly plans as I had increased my mileage and, in doing so, my fitness. I travelled to Newburn, a semi-rural area outside of Gateshead. This area boasts punishing hills, waterside trails, and isolated road loops around the unoccupied business park! As the trail loops were flooded due to the excessive snow that has blessed the North East, a long road session was on the cards. After 12k split into 3k, 2k, and 1k efforts, I had consummated 2021 with my first hard session! Despite being eyeballs-out for over 30 minutes, I had time to take in the natural splendour of Newburn while warming up and cooling down, and of course, making my running commute to such new places.
For this session I had invested in some Asics NovaBlast. The shoes were built for fast running over road and trail loops. While they weren’t necessarily ideal for navigating tight bends and winding routes due to their narrow and arched sole, their light weight and cushioned support make for an ideal shoe for getting over hilly terrain and through tough sessions. I explored the old City Stadium in Newcastle and ran around the cinder track and peripheral grass loop as the sun came up. It was a serene and mindful way of getting mid-week runs completed, and it reminded me of why I love running. The sense of connection if gives you between your mind and body, and with nature too! I look forward to sharing more of these experiences in my next blog!
The author Stuart Haw runs for Peterborough & Nene Valley and at county-level for Cambridgeshire