This week’s running – 6th to 13th of August 2017

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Warm-weather training and recovery for me!

Week 14 of the 22 week marathon plan saw some recovery on the Greek island of Crete.

A week in Elounda

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What a backdrop for running!

Long-time readers will probably have gathered that I have a problem with sitting still and I usually struggle to find time to simply sit back and relax, preferring to be in the driving seat of life. Whilst I was initially reluctant about going away this summer, the timing actually worked quite well to see me pushing my way to the front of the queue for a week in the Greek sun.

Of course, there was running, though distance was pared back to coincide with the plan’s recovery quota. Fortunately, Elounda on the eastern side the of the island peaked in the low 30°s, with the odd breeze and low humidity making warm weather training that bit more tolerable and productive.

Recovery was also high on the agenda, with much time spent not doing very much at all. I also took advantage of the on-site health spa for several massages, focusing on my legs. Meals at the hotel were protein-heavy, again taking advantage of the opportunity to really treat my body to some quality recovery time.

Also, does anybody else try and identify who’s likely to be a runner whilst away? On the flight, I spotted a guy with a Fenix 5X who also wore Hokas. In the hotel, I saw a guy with a Suunto GPS watch and a Boston Marathon finisher’s t-shirt. No? Just me, then…

4 miles – to Elounda and back

I hadn’t even been in Greece for 12 hours and already bagged a reccy run into the main town to get my bearings. The place reminded me a lot of some of the medium sized coastal towns that can frequently be found in Spain and Italy. Awkwardly, the paths, whilst paved, were made up of random pieces of slate or similar at different heights; I had to ensure I had decent foot clearance to avoid tripping over at times!

At 4pm, the temperature was bearable, aided by the gentle pace and flat terrain. Naturally, I did get a few strange looks; tourists from China haven’t really made it to Crete yet, so I naturally stuck out like a double-whammy sore thumb.

Whilst Elounda is incredibly flat, our hotel happened to be situated atop a hillside. It’s a blessing that we were stationed in one of the lowest rows of rooms to street level, with other guests frequently relying on the hotel’s golf buggy taxis for collection and drop-off. All of my runs ended with a steep 20% gradient climb, lasting some 150m, though I was at least able to quickly peel down to my shorts and jump in the pool to cool-off!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

3 x 800m

The schedule said I needed 8 miles in total with 5 x 800m reps at 5k pace. Completing such a session outdoors would have required running before dawn, and even then, the mercury was still around 26 to 28 degrees for not much difference to day time temperatures. I was left with the hotel gym as my last resort…

I hadn’t run on a treadmill since March, which was just an easy 5k jog. The last session I completed on a treadmill was years ago. Like running again after injury, running indoors on a moving belt took some getting used to again.

I’m always dubious of the reported distance on treadmills if they’ve not been calibrated. I’m also dubious of the reported distance of Garmins when reliant on the built in accelerometer or a companion foot pod. In this instance, I took my chances with the Garmin, as it would at least have had time to calibrate to me for outdoor runs.

3 x 800m reps at pace was all I could manage. The lack of visual feedback from the speed was off putting and the air conditioning was inadequate for the job, due to simply not being powerful enough to cover the small room. I quickly decided running outdoors, even in the heat, was more productive and less mentally jarring.

Here’s the Strava data for the session.

4 miles – to Plaka and back

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The view of Spinalonga whilst running to Plaka

Upon checking-in, various hotel staff and the travel rep all said not to walk to Plaka – the next town over from Elounda. “It’s 40 minutes in the heat!” and “There’s no pavement!” were typical warnings. We took them on board, but after a taxi ride there, any fears over safety were quickly dispelled – running to Plaka turned out to be just like the country lanes I’m used to in Wales, except with gorgeous weather and the visually impressive Spinalonga as a backdrop.

I kept my wits about, as a few bends commanded I switch sides of the road to give me and drivers a better view of each other. Graciously of the Greek terrain, the route was pancake flat and I actually found the roads far smoother to run on compared to Elounda’s pavements. Other runners must have felt the same, because, despite the slightly higher risk involved, I always spotted more runners heading to and from Plaka. To boot, all drivers slowed down as they approached, also giving me a wide berth which is more than I can say I receive at home!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

4 mile fartlek – to Elounda and back

Rather than suffer the treadmill again, I turned my route to Elounda into a fartlek run. I’d not completed a fartlek in months either, so committing to one in the heat would be quite a test.

Things started off easily enough, but then several minutes into the fartlek, it was as if somebody whacked the thermostat right up! It really was bizarre, with the low and benign sun suddenly scorching my skin and leaving me withered. Clearly, I hadn’t adapted to the heat yet…

All said and done, this was still preferable to suffering on a treadmill and not physically go anywhere!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

4 miles – to Plaka and back

Early on into this run, I was reminded not to lose concentration, because on the side of the road was a car that had somehow collided with a crash barrier to then end up as a complete wreck on its side.

I witnessed even more runners on this route than before, all of us giving each other a nod or a smile in acknowledgement of our collective fitness pursuits, even whilst on holiday.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10k – to Kalydon and back

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The Kalydon peninsula

A tour guide recommended I set out to the Kalydon peninsula, connected to Elounda via a bridge, so that I did to break up this final run of the trip. Shortly after crossing the bridge, the terrain quickly turned to loose gravel and trails; I was perfectly fine in a pair of road shoes, though I required a good dusting off upon finishing! With more time, I’d have loved to explore the entire peninsula, though would forever be wary of getting lost with my lack of a sense of direction…

This was my longest run whilst in Crete and I was finally reaping the reward of six straight days of training in the heat. I was barely sweating, despite being well hydrated, and what little sweat I did produce was virtually devoid of any salt.

Nearing the hotel entrance, I noticed a coach pulling in to drop off some new guests. Not wanting to disappoint the makeshift audience, I raced up the hill to audibly hear gasps as I pulled away. Air conditioning at full blast came to my rescue upon finishing…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

14 miles – to Brueton Park and back

Eugh. Lis and I were picked up at 22:45 on Saturday evening, arriving at the airport for 00:45, before departing Greece at 02:30. I managed to get perhaps two hours of disturbed sleep during the flight, before finally arriving back at home for 05:30. Three hours of sleep was all I could manage before naturally waking again. As you can imagine, a medium-long run of 16 miles was low on my priorities for the day… Delaying the run until the late afternoon and trimming it down to 14 miles at least gave me a fighting chance!

In the pursuit of more marginal gains for my coveted sub-3 hour marathon, I splurged on a pair of Nike’s racing split shorts, akin to what many of the male Team GB members have been sporting at the World Athletics Championships over the last 10 days. Debuting them on this run, they’re certainly short with just a 2 inch inseam… Thankfully having spent most of an entire week wearing nothing but swimming shorts, I’d at least acclimatised mentally to the skimpiness! The benefits? Less weight from less material, less restrictive with a wider range of motion, and more ventilation for better airflow and temperature regulation – the last point was key, as I grew incredibly warm during the final 3 miles of last October’s marathon.

The run itself felt fantastic. Conditions were perceivably spot on for running; whilst the reported temperature was 20°C, the heat adaptations of the past week had me feeling much cooler, again barely breaking a sweat. My legs also felt incredibly fresh, no doubt helped by the several deep tissue massages I treated them to. Late afternoon/early evening on a Sunday meant roads were mostly clear of cars and pavements were mostly clear of other pedestrians, making for a largely unimpeded run.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

The week’s break from the norm looks to have done just the trick to get my mind and body ready for final third of the marathon campaign.

I have the first of two 22 mile runs coming up shortly, along with several half marathons to be tackled as glorified marathon pace training runs. I’m confident the training will get me to the start line in October, though I’m conscious that I’ll need to prioritise recovery, too. More and better sleep is what I’m lacking, though with daylight hours rapidly diminishing, I’m hopeful that me being a light sleeper will naturally resolve itself.

This week’s running – 30th of July to 5th of August 2017

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The week ended with my first visit to Dudley parkrun

Week 13 of the 22 week marathon schedule. Almost time for a recovery week…

5 mile run-commute

With travel plans and houseguests putting the week into disarray, I kicked things off with a 5 mile run-commute to set things in motion. Timings simply worked out better that I run from Birmingham city centre for home, rather than return home and then head back out the door for 5k. The boosted distance also helped stop the week’s mileage from dropping too low from shuffling planned runs around.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

14 miles from work

So, last week’s 14 miles after a day at the office wasn’t too bad, thanks to good preparation beforehand. Could lightning strike twice for two good runs? The answer, unfortunately, was no.

The Magor 10k really did a number on my calf muscles for both to remain tight, even with judicious massage over the course of several days. From 11 miles onwards, my legs felt lifeless and the firm ground underfoot only made matters worse. I altered my route slightly to give myself an easier time, diverting off the Bristol Road and back on the canal, rather than proceed on to the undulations of Bournville and Cotteridge.

I did have one strange encounter whilst on the towpath before it forked for the entrance/exit of the Soho Loop; one guy running towards me slowed to ask, “How long is this?” Confused by his question, I also slowed – the question was simply too open-ended and had too many variables! “I need to run 14 miles,” came his follow-up. “Ummm. Well, you’re technically on the Soho Loop now, which is around 2 miles per lap,” I responded, before moving on. I simply could not run like that – not knowing how far I had gone. Even that time I became horrendously lost in Peterborough, I had at least plotted out the route and it was only due to a complex interchange that I lost my bearings. This guy seemed quite happy to just Forest Gump it and keep running, though not wearing a GPS watch, how would he know how far he had gone if he didn’t even know where he was?

Here’s the Strava data for my 14 miles, at least!

5k recovery

Hmmm. Odd one this, where in spite of the 14 miles only 24 hours prior, my legs and lungs had a bit more welly to them than originally thought. Dropping the anchors did nothing and my body instinctively wanted to go faster…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

16 miles with 8 at marathon pace

This is where training kicks it up a notch for my longest stint of marathon pace outside of a race; probably my most consistent block of marathon pace, too, this season!

Just like a year ago, I created a mini-transition area in my hallway with a change of shoes, tops and some drinks to allow me to come back from my 5k warm-up and head back out with minimal fuss.

Marathon pace on the out towards Solihull required about as much effort as I envisaged; neither easy, nor overly taxing. Exiting the switchback in Solihull, aye caramba! I found myself running straight into a 10mph headwind, losing a few seconds per mile from the increased resistance. I did consider calling it quits at 8 miles, but once I’d reached Brook Lane’s monstrous climb, I had just a mile remaining to spur me on to complete the set; “Beep, damn you, beep,” became my mantra for those closing few hundred metres!

I cooled down by heading over to Cannon Hill, opting to run the parkrun course in reverse to unlock the Darren Hale segment; it was a year ago that he passed away and I could see no better way to commemorate him, albeit at a very sedate pace…

Here’s the Strava data for the warm-up, 10 miles at pace, and warm-down.

Dudley parkrun

With Cannon Hill cancelled, Dudley became my 20th different parkrun venue!

I seem to suffer from selective hearing when it comes to parkrun courses, because all I seemed to focus on was the opening and closing 800m on a synthetic track. I completely ignored the middle two miles on a real pick and mix of gravel, canal towpaths and woodland trail…

After a brief warm-up on the track with Simon and Nigel, we toed up on the start line for the first of two laps. Expectedly, the start was swift with several big dogs pulling away with an attempt from me to hang on to their coat tails. They continued to pull away as I drifted backwards and another two guys overtook me on the second lap; clearly, I was feeling the effects of the previous day’s marathon pace and the split warm-up of the morning proved inadequate.

Leaving the track, next came some gravel paths before hitting the canal towpath. The lead group splintered to send a few back to me, forming a pack of four. Not feeling fresh at all, I cheekily drafted behind somebody to take some of the edge off, but primarily because I had no clue as to where I was going! The group of four became two as the others slowed and my impromptu pacer and I maintained pace.

A sharp right took us off the towpath and into the woods for a fast off-road downhill section. My pacer made a breakaway, utilising the descent beautifully to press on away from me; unfamiliar with the terrain, I gingerly navigated the rutted ground and tree roots for fear of coming a cropper hours before I was due to travel. I was reminded of Forest of Dean parkrun and its mad as a box of frogs course that subtly changes as one season moves to the next. The advantage was short-lived, thanks to a fairly steep hill that allowed me to claim two scalps – one belonging to a younger runner with a 17:11 course PB to his name! I continued to pull away and dared not look backwards to see how big or small the gap became.

Out of nowhere came a disused railway line, partially covered in overgrown foliage (later discovered to be a nature reserve), requiring nimble feet to overcome. Uncertain of the route, I continued to follow the path before me and continued to see marshals every once in a while for confirmation I hadn’t gone off-course.

I rejoined the canal towpath and could see two runners in the distance making their return to the stadium. Once back on the track and looking ahead, I could only see two runners partway through the first lap of the track; I didn’t think anything of this and assumed there were others ahead that had already finished in circa-17 minutes. Completing my penultimate lap of the track, more and more runners began to steadily spill in, giving me targets to chase down and sidestep. With 200m remaining, I pushed out a kick that was inspired by Mo Farah from the previous night’s 10,000m World Championships, hitting 4:37 mile pace in the final metres.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

I finished in 19:32 officially, feeling in pretty good nick and I definitely could have gone harder if needed. To my surprise and reaffirming that I hadn’t lost the ability to count, I was given the third place token and debriefed with the fourth and fifth place guys. It was later revealed that a Bournville Harrier had gone wildly off-course at around 2km, adding over 600m extra to his run, allowing me to move up a place. If this sounds familiar, you’d be absolutely correct because the same thing happened a year ago at Arrow Valley parkrun to move me up to third place, too.

Nigel, Simon and I hung around to spectate and cheer fellow runners in over coffee (3 x coffees and 2 x flapjacks came to just £3.10!), all of us agreeing that there was a fantastic community vibe that’s unique to the smaller parkruns (just 176 finishers in this case). The varying terrain proved to be a hit with us – if you fancy an event with a totally unique feel, do give Dudley a visit.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

I wanted to get as much in as possible this week before going away to capitalise on some recovery time. There will still be some running, though mostly relegated to short, easy paced jogs outdoors to factor in the likely 30°C plus temperatures, and two treadmill VO2max sessions to avoid becoming too stale.

Minutes before the start of Dudley parkrun, both Simon and Nigel could tell I was chomping at the bit to get started. I replied with the only response that came to me: “I love running!” Yes, many of us are training for some race or another, but make sure you’re doing it for the right reasons. Do it because you want to and without regret.

This week’s running – 24th to 29th of July 2017

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Home away from home

Week 12 of the 22 week marathon schedule. After never having raced on a Saturday until recently, along came another Saturday race in quick succession!

5k recovery

In spite of running my furthest since my last marathon on the day prior, my legs did not feel shabby at all whilst out on this recovery run.

I even spotted Graham Lawrence of Cannon Hill parkrun fame to make for a novel change on the otherwise monotonous route.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

14 miles from work

A year ago, I took the day off from work to complete this run, such was my belief that it would not do me any favours covering it after a day at the office. No such opportunity this year, so I did whatever I could to prevent it being a disaster. This included eating a giant pizza the night before, along with a hearty lunch several hours before, topped off with the odd cookie throughout. I did not forget to pack my water bottle, either, so well prepared was I.

And do you know what? It was a success without any trauma!

To bulk up the distance, I covered two laps of the Soho Loop and three laps of the lake at The Vale before returning to my normal route to just tip me over into 14 miles. 37 miles in just three days was not bad going!

I have wondered why the P&D plan decides to build runners up to a mid-week medium-long run of such a distance and then returns to normal distances of 9 to 12 miles. Perhaps it’s a stepping stone to help better prepare runners to take on the 20+ mile runs yet to come?

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

Carrying more stuff home than usual, I was thankful the temperature was also a few notches lower than of late to at least make this run less taxing.

Effort was kept incredibly low to best ensure I arrived at the Magor 10k in reasonable shape to make the most of the flat and fast race.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5k recovery with strides

Running is an incredibly cheap hobby, if you want it to be. To run short distances, you only really need basic kit and it doesn’t even have to be running specific. As we develop, we begin amassing more kit; some necessary, and some less so. One such case in point is shoes – I have 7 pairs of running specific shoes on the go, and two pairs boxed and waiting to be rotated in when the outgoing pairs are beyond their useful lives. This recovery run played host to just that, where I broke out my new pair of Adidas Adios Boost 3s to replace a knackered pair of Adios Boost 2s.

A 5k recovery run with some strides thrown in was the perfect test to break-in the new pair of Adios Boost 3s. The outgoing pair of Adios Boost 2s were a nightmare from day 1, requiring excessive levels of break-in, by which time a third of the shoe’s lifespan had already been used up. The Adios Boost 3s are comfortable straight out of the box and flew when they were subjected to a few bursts of strides.

Specifically, these will be used as tempo shoes, so things like marathon pace runs, casual parkruns, speed work, and so on. Basically, they’re a workhorse shoe to take the stress away from my race-specific shoes, where they’re even more fragile due to being at the cutting edge of performance. There’s a psychological benefit to having shoes you only break out for big performances, and I wish to keep that trick in my arsenal.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Magor 10k 2017 review

For the full report, please click here.

10 miles – to Usk and back

With a Saturday race, Sunday presented the option of some top up mileage to round the week off and get it over 40 miles. That was the dream, but the reality was a bit trickier…

On the surface, the Magor 10k seemed to have taken a bit more out of me than originally thought because the first half of the 10 miles did not feel right at all. Even at a modest pace, the effort felt totally off and I was left sweating a lot more than anticipated. I bided my time and began chipping away progressively at each mile by a couple of seconds; giving my brain something achievable to focus on got me to halfway, where everything was right with the world again and I’d perked up.

Negative splits and running progressively. It’s the future!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

Using the race as an analogy, I feel like I’m entering that stage where significant progress has been made, but now no-man’s land beckons; too far from the beginning where feeling fresh is now just a distant memory, and still too far from the finish to be able to properly assess what the likely outcome will be.

Reviewing last year’s blog entries reveals similar themes of ebbing and flowing; some weeks felt like a real struggle and other weeks carried great momentum. Without becoming too romantic about it all, the marathon and the training that comes before it are both great literal journeys; there’s no such thing as an easy marathon, and nor is the training supposed to be easy, otherwise the achievement would not be celebrated quite as much as it is, whether you’re a beginner, improver or elite-level.

Things will be just fine. Trust me. I work in marketing!

Magor 10k 2017 review

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Final 200m of the Magor 10k 2017 – photo by Lis Yu

My fourth outing at this flat and fast race.

Pre-race

Regrettably, this would be the first year where a PB was nowhere near happening. I’ve had several significant runs on the course, including my first ever sub-40 in 2014, so it was a real shame that I wasn’t in the right shape to capitalise on the opportunity. That’s not to say I’m unfit, just that training specificity now counts even more than ever before. What I was determined to do was to get a good threshold session out of the race, with anything in the region of 39:15 to 39:30 being satisfactory

I could not fathom why this race was moved from its traditional Sunday fixture to Saturday, but when I received the communication that the race HQ had also changed from Undy Athletic Football Club to a church, it all made sense. Some positive changes to come with the location move was the much wider start area for a cleaner dispersal and chip timing, though oddly only just for the finish; in essence, it was still a gun-timed race, but finish times were automatically logged.

Rocking up at the temporary race HQ in good time, there were already plenty of people about with some from as far flung as Chippenham; clearly the reputation of the flat course has spread. We also had Lis’ host family from her time in Spain in tow, showing them how we typically spend many weekends of the year.

Conditions above were overcast for some relief compared to a year ago, but my warm-up did confirm a 10mph headwind would hit during the first half of the course, so my game plan was to approach the opening 5k in just under 20 minutes, and then treat the remainder as a 5k race and take advantage of the hopeful tailwind.

Toeing up at the start, I did notice one chap wearing the new Nike Vaporfly 4% for the race; they already looked like they’d had some training wear on them, so I asked him for his thoughts. “Yeah, they’re really comfy,” was his not so helpful response, but at least we can all be safe in the knowledge we’d be comfortable wearing them in a race!

On the starter’s orders of “3-2-1-Go”, we were off.

The race

Keeping the race casual, I purposely positioned myself a few rows further back than normal to ensure I had plenty of people to deflect the gusts of wind blowing. Sure enough, I was tailing two guys that seemed reasonably reliable at pacing to allow me to make it to halfway feeling fresh. I’m normally conscious to never overstay my welcome when drafting, but I had no qualms on this occasion to simply sit in and let the mules do all the work. So reliable were they that 1km to 3km came out as the following: 4:01, 4:00, 3:57.

Gaps began to form as people tired around the group. I decided to stay put and remain calm in the knowledge that I could handle a faster second half with little issue once out of the wind. Whilst not warm enough to need water, I still took some on-board at the station to further slow the fourth km to 4:03.

Leaving Redwick village and the turning out of the wind, I took a sidestep out from behind my impromptu pacers and set my sails free to take advantage of the tailwind. Of course, tailwinds never return as much as headwinds take, so its effect was very subtle…

Working on my own, I gradually chipped away at the distance between me and the next group to begin reeling them in. 5km to 7km came out as follows: 3:54, 3:52, 3:53.

Nearing 8km and the switchback, I was finally within striking distance of the group I stalked and I planned to use the exit from the turnaround point to pounce. Sure enough, their momentum slowed and I was catapulted forward to gain two positions. Not being ungrateful, I gave some encouragement to one of the guys I’d used as a windbreak as we faced each other; the other chap was nowhere to be seen, so I figured he couldn’t have been far behind me. 8km expectedly slowed a touch to 3:56.

On the approach to 9km, I heard footsteps and heavy breathing coming up quickly behind. Pulling up alongside me was the other guy I’d used as a windbreak! He’d obviously had a similar strategy to me with negative splits, albeit more smoothly spread out throughout the second half of the race. 3:54 for the penultimate split.

Running for the finish, the two of us swallowed up a flagging club runner. Rounding the final corner, the two of them made a breakaway with me in chase. The newly located finish was leagues ahead of the 2016 equivalent that took runners down a narrow alleyway; now wide an unimpeding, I pushed out a minor kick on the new finishing straight to ensure to I made it back in under 39:30, not accounting for the additional 70m or so nearly everybody seemed to acquire en route (likely due to that switchback being too far out).

Post-race

Here’s the Strava data for this race.

39:27 was my finish time to just make it back under target. That additional 70m cost me some 14 seconds, so I was thankful I wasn’t in PB shape, else I’d have been spitting feathers! runbritain has given the race just a 0.8 condition score, and looking at the results, many still PBd despite the additional distance.

I thanked the first of my two windbreaks and congratulated him on a nicely paced run, before moving my attention on to the other windbreak, who bagged a new 10k PB and his first sub-40 by with just a second to spare.

All in, not a bad morning’s work. Whether you go by my Garmin’s splits or the official splits, I achieved a negative split of around either 30 or 45 seconds between the first and second half, neither of which are to be sniffed at.

 

This week’s running – 17th to 23rd of July 2017

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Can you ever not think of Bon Jovi when referring to being halfway?

Week 11 of the 22 week marathon schedule. Yep. Scarily, I’m halfway there…

5k recovery

Surprisingly, the lack of anything from the previous day’s 19 miles rolled over into this particular week. My legs continued to feel resilient and energy levels remained reasonably high, though I was conscious to keep the effort incredibly easy, with an average pace of 9:50 per mile at cira-60% of maximum heart rate.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Garmin 935 thoughts

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It’s actually smaller on my wrist than the image implies…

After a little over a week with the Garmin 935, I thought I’d share a few musings about it.

GPS distance accuracy is in line with what my former Fenix 3 produced, but with far cleaner results in previous fringe situations and locations, such as Brindley Place and its artificial canyons. As a result, even the stable lap pace measurement has benefitted by becoming even more reliable and with less fluctuation.

Comfort-wise, it’s like night and day comparing it to the Fenix 3. At almost half the weight, the overall design is much sleeker and crucially offers a better fit, even on my slender wrists. This is critical for the next major feature to work…

Up until taking delivery of the 935, my only experience with optical heart rate monitoring was via Fitbit’s Charge HR. That Fitbit experience was and still remains poor, with my heart rate, and therefore resting heart rate, regularly being over or under-estimated. Community feedback on Garmin’s efforts has also been a mixed bag, and after my two efforts at Cannon Hill parkrun being under-reported, I feared the worst. Some fine-tuning of the position on my arm (further away from my wrist) and going one notch tighter on the strap, I need not have worried because the tracking was pretty much spot on, and aside from parkrun, efforts tracked well across a variety of paces.

All in all, I’m thrilled with it. True, it doesn’t do much dramatically different to what I had before via similar or alternative means (optical versus chest strap heart rate; on-board training load versus Strava’s Fitness & Freshness algorithm), but what it does do has been further refined. Everything feels more polished than the Fenix 3, such is the two years of learnings Garmin has been able to apply to the 935 and Fenix 5 line.

12 miles from work

After the previous week’s dreadful 11 miles from the office, I wasn’t sure if I was ready to tack on another mile… I switched this run up with the originally planned 10 miles with 6 at marathon pace, due to cooler conditions later in the week being more conducive to work at effort.

The first half confirmed my predictions that I would feel dreadful, with nothing falling into place at all. My stride felt heavy with no snap and my energy levels flagged; I couldn’t understand how this could be, especially as I had purposely gone out of my way to ensure I had enough calories on-board.

Thankfully, I perked up around halfway to at least make the second half tolerable. The planned 14 miles after work is going to be miserable, isn’t it?

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

Whilst the temperature dropped some, the humidity was jacked right up to make this an incredibly unpleasant experience, even at an easy pace. I could tell within minutes of starting that the air was muggy as sweat clinged to my skin, not doing what it should have.

Like Monday, I wanted to keep this effort easy, slowing to a 10:15 per mile average, also keeping my heart rate in check at circa-60% of maximum.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10 miles with 6 at marathon pace

Wind. My natural nemesis. I knew I was in for a rough ride when I saw the water in the canal being blown along and leaves of trees overhead being whipped up.

I had to adjust the beginning of the route slightly, starting from the Jewellery Quarter rather than the office, to give me enough time on the canal towpath whilst bypassing Brindley Place early enough for it not to be a distraction.

Jumping into marathon pace after only 2 miles of warm-up and straight into headwind was a big ask, and one that failed somewhat. My opening split at pace was a way off the mark 7:12, when I needed it to be 6:50 or faster. Split 2 was getting closer at 6:58, but it wasn’t until split 3 where I’d cracked it with 6:46, with all remaining coming in at 6:47 to 6:42.

In spite of running into the wind, my heart rate seemed quite well-behaved, staying at around 80% of maximum; I’m reasonably confident that on a calmer day, I’d have been closer to 75%, for a general downtick in required effort for marathon pace. The shoes I wore didn’t help (Pegasus 34), feeling more like boats on my feet rather than tempo workout tools.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

With a big run instore for Sunday, I opted to keep this effort dialled down. I found myself running with Ed Barlow, something I hadn’t done since 2014 when I was busting a gut just to stay with him at under 20 minutes. On this occasion, we were jovially catching up whilst maintaining that same 2014 pace!

I commented above that the 935 failed to effectively track my heart rate during this 5k effort at around threshold pace. What I suspect happened was a combination of the 935 not getting a good heart rate lock as the run started (it’s not like I can stall things) and the explosive start causing my body to divert blood flow to the areas that needed it most – if there’s not enough blood to track, a lower than expected heart rate is reported, which is exactly what I found happening. For parkrun, this is not an issue where I can always revert to the chest strap; 5k isn’t far enough for the strap to irritate, albeit the vigorous motion of my upper body can still cause it to slip.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

20 miles with Darryll

andy_and_darryll_20_miles

20 miles done!

“Do the same as you’ve always done. Always get what you’ve always got.” Whilst this year’s marathon training plan is largely the same as last year’s, I’ve been conscious to adapt and exploit a few tweaks and modifications in the quest for marginal gains that hopefully add up to over 3 minutes’ worth of improvements.

One such improvement has been to train more frequently with others, namely using races as training runs. Whilst not a race, it just so happened that Darryll Thomas and I were due to cover 20 miles over the same weekend. We’re both close enough in ability and with similar enough end-goals that it was complementary to team-up and share the effort.

Conditions were perfect for a long run in the summer with cool temperatures and overcast skies, almost autumnal in ways. We couldn’t believe our luck and geared up accordingly. Entirely unfamiliar with the route or surrounding areas of Bromsgrove that Darryll guided me on, the terrain was not unlike running on south Welsh country lanes around where my in-laws live.

Conversation flowed whilst we put the world to rights; the first half felt rather effortless as we regularly commented on how easy and casual the run felt. And then the sun came out…

Both of us were caught off-guard with the sun from halfway onwards. Little shade meant we both felt the effort ratchet upwards slowly, with a few undulations stinging far more than they should have. Positively, the two of us held on to the pace; had it have been our respective solo runs, we may have been convinced to back it off in the last couple of miles.

Upon finishing, aside from being incredibly thirsty, the two of us agreed sharing the effort undoubtedly took the edge off the 20 miles, but also will have reduced the amount of recovery needed. And whilst we‘re on recovery, Darryll checked me in as a guest to the gym he’s a member of to take advantage of some of the facilities on offer. A Jacuzzi, steam room and a dip in the pool all had a part to play – there was no soreness or tightness as I typed this out, so there’s something to be said for his recovery routine.

nike_vaporfly_4_percent

Fastest shoes in the world? Quite possibly!

Oh, and there was something that had been delivered for Darryll to further get the recovery endorphins flowing – the newly released Nike Vaporfly 4% shoes from the Breaking2 challenge! We both tried them on and the sensation is unlike any shoe I’ve ever experienced before, and I’ve tried a lot of running shoes over the years. It feels like springs have been embedded into the midsole and the carbon fibre plate almost encourages the foot to roll and propel forward, saving the wearer some valuable energy and effort with each stride and foot strike. Just from wearing them for a minute or so, I could quickly see there was some black magic contained inside Nike’s latest marvel.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

1 mile for a 60 mile week

Sometime during last year’s marathon campaign, there was one week mapped out that was all set to become my first ever to feature 60 miles. For reasons I don’t exactly recall, though likely due to sacking off the jog back home from Cannon Hill parkrun, a 60 mile week failed to materialise, settling on 56 or 57 miles instead.

After totting up this week’s mileage, I had to laugh when I saw 59.00 miles; I was conflicted as to whether to ignore it and wait for it to happen organically sometime in August, or to just head out and jog a mile because I may miss the opportunity again? Well, I ended up heading back outside for one single easy mile, before being alerted by various folks on Strava that a further 3 miles would have equated to a 100km week. I did not go back out for a third time that day.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

For the second week on the trot, I once again feel like the training is taking shape and adaptations are happening. Aerobically, I’m feeling stronger than I’ve felt all year. Fitness can’t be rushed and it’ll hit when it’s good and ready, and often with no announcement.

The next two weeks will see some disruption due to racing and being away. The race is the flat and fast Magor 10k, which broke me so badly last year that I blacked out after crossing the finish line from heat exhaustion. I’ve no intention of racing that hard again if it’s warm, so will instead treat it as a fast threshold session; anything between 39:15 and 39:30 will be satisfactory in my book.

The other disruption is a one week getaway to Crete that Lis and I have planned. Temperatures will likely be in the high 20s to low 30s with no cloud cover, so there won’t be much running outdoors, bar a few easy efforts. I do have a VO2max workout in the plan, so will head to the hotel gym to accomplish that. Joy of joys, I also have a 15 mile run to welcome me back to the UK on the same day as we land…

This week’s running – 10th to 16th of July 2017

19_miles

Longest run since the last marathon!

Week 10 of the 22 week marathon schedule.

10 miles with 5 at marathon pace

Give with one hand. Take away with the other. The temperature dropped back down to an ideal training range, but with it came the rain.

Once I’d warmed up to marathon pace, I found it largely achievable, though not without additional effort. Heavier clothes from being wet and lack of traction on block paved sections of the canal towpath meant I was working to a few beats higher than I would have expected.

Strangely, my legs really felt it on this outing, where they were a bit lifeless in spite of the reduced volume of last week. My heart and lungs, whilst certainly working, coped much better by comparison.

Here’s the Strava data for the bulk of the run and the warm-down.

5 mile run-commute

An impromptu extended meeting meant I didn’t actually hit the ground running until much later in the evening. I was thankful this was just a casual recovery paced run with no expectations other than to turn my legs over.

I have begun catching up on podcasts whilst I cover these run-commutes. Recently, I stumbled upon The Runner’s World Show, from the producers of the US Runner’s World magazine. It is glossy and rather American, but don’t let that put you off – you can’t judge a book by its cover. Episodes vary in length from 30 minutes to an hour, typically, and cover a range of topics from training to interviews with professionals and regular runners like you or me.

Expectedly, many of the angles carry a US-bias, whether it be race reports or products referred to, but one episode really stood out and was the right length to accompany me on this run-commute. “Running in China” had one of the hosts share his experience of a week-long stay, representing the podcast and magazine on tour. It was really quite fascinating, highlighting the differences and the similarities between the US and Chinese running movements, possibly even paving the way for future episodes comparing other nations’ running habits (any podcast producers reading this, please consider this).

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

11 miles from work

Well, that was harder than expected! Both Dave and I had the same scheduled run to cover, albeit separately, and both of us struggled. For me, I ballsed up fuelling; time flew by at the office, and before I knew it, it was too late to eat and properly digest a banana in time for the run.

I had no energy and my legs did not want to respond. Choppy gusts of wind frequently slammed into me to also ensure I had a mare of a time.

If 11 miles after work felt this dreadful, what will the 14 miles in a few weeks feel like, especially as I took the day off a year ago to complete it, but am not so privileged this year? Me thinks I’ll need to carry a gel and some liquid, along with having a more substantial lunch to avoid derailing it…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

andy_yu_cannon_hill_parkrun

The hill never gets easier! Photo by Kerry Allen

With the longest run since last October’s marathon planned for Sunday, I opted to scale back parkrun to threshold pace. I normally don’t feel too bad on training runs following parkrun, where the faster leg turnover and form efficiency seems to carry over, and the post-run coffee with the gang helps to jumpstart recovery.

I also had a new toy to play with in the form of the Garmin 935. Watch this space as I test it out and incorporate it into my routine.

Almost right on cue, the heavens opened up shortly after starting, blurring the lines between where sweat started and rain ended…

True to my word, I ran to a steady, threshold pace with a faster finish for the following splits:

  1. 3:57
  2. 3:58
  3. 3:57
  4. 3:53
  5. 3:43

Given how wet it was, I opted not to run home from the park, but naturally the rain ended once we were all finished…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

19 miles – to Soho Loop and back

Sometimes you just can’t predict how a run will turn out – Thursday’s 11 miles hammered this one home. Not wanting to end up with another demoralising run, I ensured I was well fuelled with a hearty pasta dinner and some pudding to boot. Coming along with me was my ultra vest, loaded up with the same two-flask combo from several weeks ago of flat Coca-Cola and electrolyted water.

I kept the first half easy-to-steady, also mimicking the 18 mile run from several weeks ago. Humidity was jacked up, though at least it was overcast (give with one hand, take away with the other again, right?) I bulked up the mileage at the beginning of the run, rather than run right past my home with another 2 miles to go until clocking the prescribed 19.

At halfway, I consciously picked up the pace with the aim of running progressively for home. I felt great and even had to rein the pace in on occasion, no doubt due to the slightly different and fresher muscle and tendon groups being utilised, along with fuelling doing the trick.

I saw Simon covering the same 14 mile route I assisted him with last week. Thankfully, he’d taken my recommendation of having breakfast beforehand and looked dramatically better for it!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

Today’s 19 miles is probably the joint-best run I’ve had of this marathon campaign and will hopefully pave the way for the 20 to 22 mile runs yet to come. Typing this up, I don’t even feel like I ran 19 miles today, highlighting the performance and recovery benefits of the prep beforehand. I’m definitely going to stash some gels at the office, just in case from now on!

 

 

This week’s running – 26th of June to 9th of July 2017

recovery

Some much needed recovery!

Week 8 and 9 of the 22 week marathon schedule.

I’ve merged two weeks together here, seeing as this past week was actually pretty light on running and heavy on recovery.

5k recovery with Lis

After seemingly weeks of absence, Lis and I resumed couples running, though it wasn’t without its issues…

Lis’ several week break from running meant she was almost starting from scratch again, so it’ll take some work to get her back up to being able to cover our 5k route once more.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10 miles from work with strides

Whilst I was carrying some fatigue from the Wythall Hollywood 10k, the combination of the punchy race-effort and the cooler conditions made for quite a potent mix to have me feeling pretty good. I casually aimed to keep my heart rate below 70% of maximum, and largely achieved this, bar on a few climbs and the odd set of strides to encourage some leg turnover.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

Oh wow. What a joy it was to run in cooler temperatures with a bag on my back and not feel like I was trudging through a rainforest expedition!

My heart rate was a good 5 to 10 beats lower for the same pace, such is the additional strain the heat and humidity places on our bodies.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10 miles from work

A fortnight ago, I broke away from my usual mould of 9-10 mile runs along the canal towpath from the office. After weeks of rinsing and repeating the same route, the change of scenery and its ever changing elevation made for a nice refresher; so nice, I decided to cover it once more with a view to training more specifically for the Yorkshire Marathon.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Birmingham Black Country Half Marathon

For the full write-up of this race, please click here.

5k recovery run

Kickstarting the week of recovery were these easy paced 5k runs on Sunday and Monday. 60% of maximum heart rate was largely achieved, ensuring the effort was low enough.

Here and here is the Strava data for these runs.

10k recovery

By Tuesday, I knew I was long overdue for a recovery week; in my defence, I’ve not felt like I’ve needed one until this week just gone.

It’s a happy coincidence that running to Cannon Hill Park, covering two laps, and then running home equates to exactly 10k. A few sets of strides stopped the easy pace from feeling too ploddy, also helping me to practice good form with no pressure.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Rest is training

After a very warm and stressful commute for home, I decided to sack off my planned easy run. The sudden upsurge in temperature would have made even an easy pace feel more challenging than normal, so I reasoned I would gain more by not running. I’m grateful it wasn’t a regular training week!

By Friday, the near-three days of no running did the trick and I began to feel fresher once more.

Cannon Hill parkrun

It’d been more than five weeks since I last ran at Cannon Hill and boy was it good to be back at home. Conditions appeared pretty decent, though I sadly was not feeling quite as fresh as I was just 24 hours prior on Friday. I’d suspected for a few weeks that I probably had a sub-19 5k in me if everything went well, so it was time to put some graft in for a morning of benchmarking…

Within the first few hundred metres, I found myself working with Barry Fallon, who’s a pretty close match in ability at the moment. We settled into our place in the crowd with enough breathing space to run unimpeded. Unexpectedly, especially of late, I had a deep focus on the task at hand and tried to ensure I was running smoothly with a good range of motion. Before we knew it, we had a 3:45 opening split on our hands for a small buffer should things have gone pear shaped in the middle, as they can so often do in a 5k.

Barry and I continued together before he slipped off backwards by a few steps or so, though remained inside touching distance. The pace overall had slowed by a few seconds to a more manageable 3:51 for 2k.

I was entirely conscious that large chunks of time could be lost from fading concentration, so I was on the lookout for people to chase down. As luck would have it, I’d inadvertently been caught tailing Scott Williams, who so happened to be pacing a club mate of his. Nearing 3k, he ushered me on into no-man’s land as he slowed to regroup with his follower. As luck would have it, maybe 10 or 15 metres away from me was a chap covering the ground at what looked exactly like my pace, due to the distance between us neither growing nor shrinking. Two short surges allowed me to latch on to him and to take advantage of his slipstream. 3k came in at 3:50, remaining steady.

Looking further ahead of the chap, there was nobody within easy reach to lock on to if my pacer slowed, or if I opted to make a move. As it so happened, he continued to run metronomically and I really had to focus to stay on his tail. My choo-choo train impression reared its ugly head again after a long absence, so I knew I wasn’t slacking off. 4k unbelievably also clocked in at 3:51!

The distance between us repeatedly grew and shrank during the final km. Looking at my Garmin, I knew it would be close for a sub-19 finish. Turning at the Mac, I managed to pull up next to him for the first time in the entire run. Losing the pace by a step or two, he momentarily began drifting backwards. I tried coaxing him back. “Keep going, fella. Not far,” I desperately snatched with what little breath was available. It did the trick, as he regained his momentum and pulled forward ahead of me. I was running on fumes and easily lost a second or two on the sharp turn for the tearoom, and several more on the final climb for the finish. He had just a smidge more strength than me, taking 16th by just a second, and me, 17th.

My lungs were on fire, but I cared not because I’d successfully gone sub-19 for the first time since my injury in January, with 18:56 flashing on my Garmin. I thanked my unwitting pacer, Gareth, and introduced myself. “Yeah. I guessed that was your name from all the people cheering you on.” Sheepishly, I smiled and replied with, “Yeah… I’ve been running here for a few years…”

So often, I’m reliant on everything coming together for a good performance to happen; it was almost like divine intervention that the conditions were favourable, I was rested, and there were always people around me to work with. I’m still over 30 seconds away from my best at Cannon Hill, but I’m still ecstatic by this small, personal victory.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

12 miles – to the Cube and back

With just an easy 12 miles on the schedule to cover, I teamed up with Simon to help him get 14 miles in, which became his longest ever run.

Almost timed to perfection, he ran past my front door just as I was setting out, so there was no need to stop and regroup.

Simon won’t mind me sharing this with you all, because it’s of benefit to everybody. Please, please, please have something to eat before you embark on your longest runs to date. Hell, it may not even be your longest run, but unless you’re well fat adapted, you’re gonna have a pretty shitty time.

Within just 2 to 3 miles (flat/downhill) at what should have been an easily achievable pace for him, his breathing was already quite laboured. I finally got it out of him that he was running on an empty stomach because he didn’t have anything in for breakfast…

Marathon training is hard enough if everything goes well, so there really isn’t any need to knee-cap yourself and make runs more challenging than they need to be. The mental boost and confidence developed from a string of well executed runs can’t be quantified, but it all helps to propel and motivate for the next block of training, and the block after that, and so on.

Despite the big setback, we got him to his 14 miles in one piece. With the lack of energy and new distance, I warned Simon not to take recovery lightly for the next few days, where his body was likely to think of the run as closer to a race in terms of effort.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

So far, so good. I’m pretty content with how things are progressing, and Strava’s crude Fitness & Freshness chart suggests the same.

I’m inching ever closer to some big runs and sessions, so the past week of recovery has been most welcome. The coming week calls for runs of 10 miles with 5 of them at marathon pace, and 19 miles. The former is expected to take place during heavy rain, so at least the canal will be clear and I’ll be reasonably cool!