This week’s running – 12th to 18th of June 2017

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Touring South Welsh parkruns continued – photo by Lis Yu

Week 6 of the 22 week marathon schedule.

5k recovery & parcel pick-up

I had to get to my folks’ place to collect a parcel that’d been delivered, so a rather indirect 5k route was plotted. Ever tried running whilst holding a shoebox with running shoes inside? Not the easiest of things to hold, even at a gentle pace…

The shoes in question are the new Nike Pegasus 34. I’ve been training in the Pegasus for the best part of 5 years, but generally skip a generation for the bigger enhancements whilst stockpiling on cheap pairs of the outgoing version. I’ll do a short write-up once I’ve put a few miles through them, but just wearing them around the house already fills me with confidence of the more dramatic overhaul.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles with 4 x 1 mile @ LT

How does one make a session more difficult for themselves? Start by covering a pace that’s largely unfamiliar, and just for laughs, also dramatically reduce the recovery between reps!

Currently, lactate threshold estimates place me somewhere between 6:15 and 6:20 per mile. Recovery between reps was last set at 3:15, which at the time felt a little too generous. Knocking it down to 2:30 felt like the right thing to do…

The reps came out as follows:

  1. 6:16
  2. 6:18
  3. 6:18
  4. 6:18

I would have had a perfect set if not for the pesky tunnel skewing the first rep slightly! All reps thereafter felt torturous with the final one near-vomit inducing at the very end. Having survived the session, I’ll probably keep the configuration as is for exposure to out and out suffering.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

I treat these run-commutes as easy recoveries in between Tuesdays, where pace is the focus, and Thursdays, which generally top up endurance. Wearing a bag and attempting to run quickly are two opposing things, where my pace can normally hover between 9 and 11 minute miles. Yet, I’m in awe of people that can crank out some serious pace whilst loaded down with luggage on their backs; such a person is local runner, Richard Neal, who I had the pleasure of meeting recently just before he was pushing out 7:15 miles with a bag on his back!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

I felt beaten up before I’d even started on this run from the office. Because some of you have asked, I define a run-commute as one where I’m carrying a bag like above, as opposed to a run from the office, where I’m carrying just the bare essentials (phone, keys, travel cards) in a FlipBelt.

For some reason, I got it stuck in my mind that I wanted to cover majority of the distance at 7:50 per mile. No rhyme, or reason – I simply had an underlying desire to do so. Forcing the pace can sometimes open your eyes to what you’re capable of in some situations, but not here. I was tired, both from work and a lack of sleep over the best part of a fortnight.

I felt empty once I reached home and concluded I was still carrying fatigue from Tuesday’s session, and the heatwave hadn’t even landed yet!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Pontypool parkrun

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Mad as a box of frogs, this course!

parkrun touristing of South Wales continued with this visit to Pontypool’s event. Well established for over three years, it’s never really hit the big leagues in terms of attendance due the immensely popular Newport event nearby and subsequent new events that have sprung up recently. 100 to 150 runners is typical, with just 95 turning up on this particular Saturday.

Visiting the event with me and Lis were her mother (and dog), niece and nephew.

I always like to look up course maps and descriptions before I visiting new events. To say that I was scratching my head based on the above is an understatement. With the scant description, I had to look-up somebody’s run via Strava and repeatedly move the cursor back and forth to get a feel for how each lap takes place. Even with that knowledge in hand, I still managed to go astray during my warm-up by not taking into account the different levels that are covered as part of the route!

Toeing up on the start, the new runner’s briefing took place mere seconds before we were sent off on our way to add to my already high levels of anxiety. “Turn right at the big tree” did nothing for me, stood in the park and surrounded by many big trees!

Off the line, it was probably one of the most sedate starts to a mass event I’ve encountered in ages, second only to the very laid back Great Run Local from a few months ago. Two guys pulled ahead, whilst a small pack of four of us held back, clearly due to the already warm conditions we faced. Me and one other moved forward, becoming fourth and third respectively. Only having a faint idea of the early part of the course, I hung back to let the more knowledgeable local runner lead the way.

For the first 2km, there was little variation in our positions, apart from the leads I gained on inclines and his advantage on descents. I could tell by his breathing that he was having a harder time of it than I was. Approaching the switchback before the second lap, he dramatically slipped off the pace and I found myself overtaking him within just a few steps; I urged him on with “Keep going, fella” as I pulled away. First place was no more than 40 seconds away and looked like he was only on a tempo run, with second place perhaps some 20 seconds behind. Rounding the switchback, I had a good view of who was likely to challenge me for third; the chap I had overtaken fell even further behind to fifth, whereas a fellow visitor was next in line with over 30 seconds difference between the two of us.

I found myself running alone, though running for positions and not pace was wholly refreshing. I knew I could maintain that pace all the way to the finish for a comfortable podium spot, with second place being too far ahead to consider. A friendly couple on the other side confirmed my thoughts as they cheered me on.

Much like at Barry Island parkrun, Pontypool and its twisting course over multiple levels affords spectators multiple opportunities to see athletes. Apparently, Yvonne – my mother-in-law, was told off by organisers for being too vocal with her cheers for me!

Moving into the final km, I noticed that I was actually gaining on second place thanks to a couple of climbs. Before the start, I overheard that he was coming back from illness or injury, and was not in peak shape. He began retching and spluttering like he was about to hock something up, inspiring me to have a go at reeling him in. Unhelpfully, the final km of the course takes place on narrow paths with significant inclines and descents to complicate matters.

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Sprinting for second place at Pontypool parkrun – photo by Lis Yu

Entering the final 400m, I’d reduced the difference to fewer than 10 seconds. “Go on! You can have second!” were the run director’s words as I navigated around the rugby pitch. The surroundings had a sort of amphitheatre feel, giving my chase a sense of real occasion! I began surging on my target and applied more pressure as he continued retching.

With 200m to go, I’d narrowed the gap to perhaps just 3 seconds, turning to just 2 seconds in the remaining 100m. The path narrowed even further in the final 50m and the gap reduced to just a second between us; I could have grabbed his shoulder, it was that close!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Alas, it was not meant to be and we held our positions as we crossed the line and slumped over into our respective heaps. It so happened that he was actually just a few seconds away from a new PB, courtesy of the competition, and first place was less than 20 seconds ahead of us. In hindsight, I’m confident I could have made a move for second a lot sooner and used the narrowing terrain to help fend him off.

A gentle warm-down and a few chats with some of the local runners rounded off an unexpectedly good start to the weekend’s running.

In terms of South Welsh events, that’s pretty much it for those that are reasonably easy to drive to. I feel like I’m starting to find some form again, so I think a return to Cardiff parkrun for some benchmarking is in order…

18 miles – to Little Mill and back

This was the run I feared most of this particular week’s plans: 18 miles in the devastating heat with several sharp and gradual inclines for good measure. The prior day’s informal race for second place and an afternoon-evening of BBQ grub wouldn’t have helped the situation, either.

With my trusty Salomon ultra vest and drinks flasks in tow, I decided to experiment with the run’s nutrition and hydration strategy. For said BBQ, we had some cans of regular Coca-Cola in, so I went and opened two, allowing them to go flat overnight ahead of the morning’s exertions. It’s supposedly an Iron Man practice, where the basic components in Coca-Cola of water, sugar and caffeine are exactly what the mind and body needs when the going gets tough. It did come with the caveat that once an athlete begins using it during the run, the body will crave it and little else can become a substitute. Addictive properties, indeed! With that knowledge in mind, I loaded one flask up with water and a High5 Zero tablet for electrolytes, and the other flask with the brown, sugary goodness. The former would be rationed for the entire duration of 18 miles, and the latter reserved exclusively for the second half. Just in case, I also carried a gel.

Setting off earlier than usual to beat the heat, the temperature was already in the low 20s at 08:30 and with no cloud cover in sight. Thankfully, humidity was pretty reasonable to allow sweat to still do its thing. I purposely kept the first half easy, running well within myself. My legs, surprisingly, felt pretty fresh and responsive, which I suspect is courtesy of the high cadence from Pontypool parkrun.

Unusually, there was not a single other runner out and about, though there were plenty of cyclists, including a team in formation.

Regular analysis of how I was feeling confirmed everything was A-OK. A couple of sips of electrolyted water per mile kept the system topped up and feeling comfortable. I’ve run much shorter distances at a similar pace and felt much, much worse!

Reaching halfway, I consciously wanted to pick up the pace with a target of circa-7:45 per mile. Upping the effort turned out to be no effort at all! A few sips of the Coca-Cola flask and I was like a hummingbird to nectar. The trinity of holding back in the first half, being well hydrated and the kick from the sugar and caffeine made for a rather potent mix.

Temperatures hit the high 20s in the second half, which caused the odd wobble, but was remedied by seeking out shade where available.

It was mission accomplished upon finishing, where all 9 miles of the second half came in at around 7:45 or faster. Whether physiological or placebo, the Coca-Cola’s dark magic worked wonders; it even had some part to play in recovery, because there was no post-run stiffness or soreness, whether shortly after finishing or over 24 hours later as I type this. I think I’ve found my long run training buddy!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

I seem to have turned a corner in the training, where pieces of the puzzle are starting to fall into place. Yesterday’s 18 miles is the longest distance I’ve covered since finishing the Yorkshire Marathon last October; if all of my remaining 18 to 22 mile runs can feel as good, then I’ll be a happy chappy.

This week’s running – 5th to 11th of June 2017

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No cock-ups whilst on our watch!

Week 5 of the 22 week marathon schedule.

“Ones to watch” at the Yorkshire Marathon

Having blogged about running for some five or so years, my contact details have been added to a lot of PR mailing lists. Sometimes, I actually get some decent products to try and review, or complimentary entry into races (Nottingham’s Robin Hood Half Marathon, as a notable example). Often, it’s PR junk.

Without thinking, I recently received an email from the PR team behind the Yorkshire Marathon and assumed the communication was yet more junk. Filtering through my emails, I realised it was actually addressed to my personal email, and not the one I have listed on this blog. The author of the email asked if I would be willing to participate in an upcoming feature for this year’s Yorkshire Marathon race pack magazine. Provisionally titled, “Ones to watch”, they arrived at me by identifying that I’d entered the event with a predicted time of 2:59 or faster.

Initially, they wanted me to answer some fairly open-ended questions to gain a better understanding of my background and how I reached the target time. Reading through the question set, it was easy to tell it was fairly generic and some of the questions were tailored towards charity runners with lofty fund raising targets, making for a diverse cross-section for the proposed feature. And there’s the keyword, “proposed”; they stressed the caveat that the feature may not run at all, or I may be too much of a running bore to be included. We shall have to wait until closer to the time to see if I make the cut, or not!

5k recovery

Lis has had the misfortune of a minor foot injury, so no running for her for a couple of weeks.

It was particularly wet and windy, so I donned a long-sleeve top and tights whilst I shook my head in disbelief. Surprisingly, my legs felt great and you’d never have guessed I ran 17 miles just a day prior.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

The spate of poor weather continued and I side-lined any thoughts of work at pace for later in the week. Turning the corner on the Gas Street junction of the canal, I physically had to lean into the wind to gain some traction to give you an idea of how strong the gusts were!

I forgot how regularly I chew through shoes during a marathon training cycle, with three pairs, that were otherwise in decent health only several weeks ago, now needing replacement due to reaching their lifespan (500 miles for training shoes, 250 miles for racing shoes). How do I know when their time is up? I have a nerdy shoe spreadsheet that I’ve maintained for years before the likes of Garmin and Strava included a shoe-logging feature (and Nike+ actually had such a feature before the rest), where I record the mileage used against each pair. For the training shoes, I apply a secondary factor of how much cushioning they have left in them by feel; if after a medium-long run and the cushioning feels dead, then it’s time for them to go. For race shoes, I eyeball them, especially in the upper for tears and the sole for thin or missing rubber.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

The adage that you don’t regret a run largely holds true for me. The only one I do regret is the when I tweaked my Achilles tendon before Christmas, but all the others have been worthwhile in some way, shape or form. That said, I really was not in the mood for this run-commute. I was tired from an entire day’s worth of training at work, and I felt like I was coming down with something where I felt fuzzy and was carrying a chill. I also had limited time to run and have dinner before heading out to catch Wonder Woman at the cinema (great watch).

I decided to sack the run off, despite carrying all of the gear into the city centre for the run-commute home. Reaching the bus stop, all of the ETAs for my bus were snarled up due to the cricket taking place at Edgbaston, so I let out a sigh and got dressed into my run gear rather than wait the travel situation out.

I felt perfectly fine by the end of 5 miles and probably took just as long as if I was sat in traffic. Regretting runs? Nope. Not me!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

The canal by my workplace has finally been paved after several years without, and several weeks with the annoying gravel foundations in preparation. Whilst not an athletics track, the buttery smooth fresh tarmac was an absolute joy to run on, with just the right amount of give and traction.

With no runs at a taxing pace up to this point in the week, my legs were noticeably fresher than normal and so I allowed the pace to sharpen up slightly. Only the knowledge of covering the then upcoming Aldridge 10k at marathon pace stopped me from going completely bananas.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

The summer brings a lot of scope for interruption to Cannon Hill parkrun. There are countless festivals, live shows and whatnot that makes holding an organised run with some 800 plus participants especially challenging. It was the England versus Australia cricket match across the road that nearly cancelled parkrun, but dissuading as many runners as possible from attending and a trial temporary course allowed business to sort of continue as usual…

Lis and I both volunteered; she was positioned by the Mac along with Liz Dexter, whereas I and Suz West had the slightly nerve-wracking role of holding the makeshift lap number board and directing runners towards the finish. Starting over Fergal’s Corner and where the Ronnie Bowker 10k kick-off, runners were to cover three laps of the main perimeter of the park, cutting out the inner paths and excursion towards the triangle. Suz and I had to keep our eyes peeled for anybody that had miscounted and, thankfully, nobody did from what we saw. Scouring through the results, it would have been obvious if an entire lap had been cut out because PBs (of which there were very few) would have been minutes, and not seconds faster.

Cannon Hill parkrun will unavoidably be cancelled on Saturday 24th of June as a warning.

Aldridge 10k 2017 review

Please click here for the full race report.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

Not a bad week of running at all and marathon pace continues to feel both less challenging and more manageable across longer distances. Compared to a year ago, I’m a few beats lower for the same effort, though I’m now thinking I need to add more variety to the marathon paced sections I cover, instead of just running the miles on the flat canal repeatedly…

There’s still a lot of work to do, with meatier 18 mile plus runs soon to become a regular fixture in the plan.

Aldridge 10k 2017 review

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Third outing for me at the infamously hilly Aldridge 10k.

For the 2013 and 2016 races, please click below:

Pre-race

It’s a dangerous thing chasing after past glories. A year ago, I ran 39:16 in utterly dreadful conditions, and possibly could have gone harder if the appetite was there that day. As satisfying as it would be to equal that performance, I knew it simply wasn’t going to happen without the right training behind me. To save myself from failure, I pivoted the race’s outlook to simply cover the distance at marathon pace; a chat with Simon Rhodes of Birchfield Harriers beforehand gave me some solace that he, too, was suffering from marathon pace robbing him of speed over shorter distances, so I wasn’t alone.

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No torrential rain this year!

After the recent pre-race chaos at the Tewkesbury Half Marathon, Simon of the Bull variety and I decided to set off earlier to factor in potential delay with parking, bib collection and so forth. As it turned out, we breezed through traffic, found a parking space immediately, and collected our bibs without delay! With plenty of time on our hands to kill, we took on a gentle 2km jog that largely covered the opening stretch of the race; oddly enough for a race that I’ve run thrice, and Simon twice, neither of us could picture much of the first half of the route!

Waiting for the start was a completely different experience to that of last year’s wash-out. There was no need to huddle underneath anything for shelter; aside from a strong breeze and looming dark clouds, conditions actually looked quite favourable. On the Mayor’s count of, “3-2-1”, and the hooter, we were off.

The race

My urge to resist charging off with the crowd failed miserably; I found myself covering the first few hundred metres at 6:24 per mile, which would equate to a sub-40 10k, rather than the prescribed 6:50 per mile for marathon pace… I gradually applied the anchors and eased back into marathon pace, which really highlighted how much chopping and changing there was in the opening km. Just to confuse you guys, I recorded splits in km, but was pacing by miles: 6:51 was the recorded pace.

There was a fair bit of pavement hopping due to the race not taking place on closed roads. The organisers made specific reference during the briefing that earphones were not permitted for safety reasons, to which we both quietly chuckled at the sight of a woman trying to be ever so discreet whilst taking hers off and putting them away in her non-existent pockets… But, at least she took them off, because just in front of me was a guy that was very clearly wearing them and rather oblivious to those around him. The organisers did say they would be disqualifying those they caught wearing earphones, which really is the only deterrent, because it’s pointless having rules that can’t or won’t be enforced.

Anyway… I got caught up in a small group with the earphones guy and a Bournville Harrier, which persisted for much of the race. With the undulations in place, maintaining marathon pace was more challenging than I was used to, courtesy of the flat canals I’m accustomed to. I sense some training modifications coming up! The second km clocked in at 6:47 pace.

Remember when I said that Simon and I both struggled to recall much of the first half of the race? It could be entirely because of a sharp-ish climb somewhere in the third km, though there is a fairly enjoyable downhill stretch in the fourth km for compensation. Largely by the numbers, the third and fourth km splits came in at 6:38 and 6:42 pace, so I was beginning to speed up ever so slightly.

Just before halfway was another sharp climb to test me further before the water stop. It’s rare that I don’t take on some water during a race, so my hydration tactics of late must have been working. Be that as it may, I was growing increasingly warmer as the race progressed, largely due to the undulations but also from the sun that peaked out from behind the clouds – some water to go over my head was most welcome. As I neared one of the volunteers handing out cups of water, I stretched out my hand only for her to pull the cup of water away! She had one job to do and failed spectacularly! I had to sidestep and thrust my arm in to prise the cup from her hand, or go without; good thing I wasn’t thirsty… 5km came in at 6:33 pace, largely due to some benefit from some downhill stretches.

The Bournville Harrier and I continued to chop and change places, where he tended to lead on descents and I gained on the climbs. 6km steadied itself for 6:38 pace.

The seventh km was exclusively downhill and I recall making massive gains on this portion of last year’s race. Runners were completely exposed to the sun at this stage with no shade, so it was a blessing that the descent was so effortless to result in 6:19 pace.

Turning the corner, I knew full well that it was pretty much a mile of climbing to the finish. I could see Simon Rhodes on the horizon as I crept closer and closer to him. He, too, was covering his marathon pace of circa-7:00 minutes per mile, so must have seen some red mist to be that far ahead of me. The Bournville Harrier managed to gain a decent lead from the preceding downhill stretch, but he was also being reeled in. 8km showed the first signs of slowdown for 6:43 pace.

Moving into the final km, I overtook Simon and offered some encouragement, though not too much because I knew he had another 5 miles to cover to get back home for 18 miles in total. Shortly afterwards, I’d also regrouped with the Bournville Harrier to share a bit of banter before continuing my charge up the lengthy climb. 9km slowed to 6:52 pace and my slowest split of the race by less than a second.

Near the top of the climb, I finally saw another competitor and powered past him on my way to the finish, which seemed to take a lifetime to reach. I could hear the PA system being used to call out runners’ names as they went through the finish line, but it was several minutes and several hundred metres before it came into sight. Passing one of the final remaining marshals on the course, he offered me a cheer of, “Looking good, no.139. Or should that be 171?” Just 24 hours prior, I was joking with the coffee gang after Cannon Hill parkrun about my “171” tattoo causing confusion in races, where people assume I must be really into triathlon, or similar.

Final corner turned, I found myself firmly back on the playing field where Simon Bull and I had completed 200m of strides before the race. There was a chap just metres ahead of me, who I was impressed to see covering the most efficient racing line through the snaking remainder of the course, marked out by tape on posts. There was no desire or need for a sprint finish, so I simply maintained pace across the line and even got a mention by name over the PA system.

Post-race

Here’s the Strava data for this race.

I could get used to the non-sprint finishes; recovery was swift and I regained my breath within a minute or so to cheer Simon Rhodes in and to shake hands with the Bournville Harrier. Collecting the medal and goody bag, one of the volunteers congratulated me by name to confuse me, somewhat. A blog reader, perhaps? Or maybe they simply caught it via the PA system as I finished, which was most likely.

Whilst I recorded a finish time of 41:27, my official chip time came in at 41:24, so I must have been premature starting my Garmin crossing the start. Over 2 minutes slower than a year ago, which only highlights how robbed I was of a representative 10k PB in 2016; the pancake flat Magor 10k took place on a blisteringly hot day, causing me to collapse from heat exhaustion, and the Telford 10k was a DNF due to carrying a bad cold. The 10k distance remains my nemesis, so it’ll be so, so sweet when I finally conquer it!

I ran over to the 300m point to cheer in Simon Bull. He wore his “Bull Fit” t-shirt, prompting me to shout, “Come on, Simon! All the way to the end! Bull Fit! Bull Fit!” I did then wonder whether anybody thought I was shouting, “bullshit”, instead… I urged Simon on to take a few scalps in the remaining 200m, of which he claimed 5 with a sprint for the finish.

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A bit parched afterwards!

Once back at home, I bulked out the day’s distance with a 5k warm-down to make up 10 miles.

Thoughts and conclusions

Marathon pace over 6 miles accomplished, and with no negative side effects. My Garmin reported a recovery window of just 23 hours and a boosted VO2max reading from 61 to 62 (63 is my record high, achieved only once).

With the Wythall Hollywood 10k in two weeks’ time, I’m in two minds about covering it at marathon pace, or to have a bash at creeping in under 40 minutes for old times’ sake. I’m conscious that there’s benefit to both approaches: increased exposure to marathon pace ahead of the big day, or improving my lactate threshold, which is pitiful right now. I also have the Birmingham Black Country Half Marathon six days afterwards, which needs factoring in.

 

This week’s running – 29th of May to 4th of June 2017

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No camels on the Camel Trail. Disappoint!

Week 4 of the 22 week marathon schedule, with part of it in Cornwall!

7 miles to Padstow and 6 miles to Wadebridge

After mine and Lis’ Scottish break back in April, we both discussed going away again at the end of May for a couple of days to Cornwall as something to look forward to. We ended up in Wadebridge for a couple of reasons – mainly cost, but also because a friend of mine lives there and recommended it as a base of operations to visit surrounding areas of North Cornwall. Imagine my delight when I also discovered the Camel Trail was less than a mile away from the hotel and could take me all the way to Padstow! Disappointingly, I later found out it got its name from the adjacent Camel River, and not because it was used to transport camels from Britain’s colonial trade days…

Bleary eyed, I woke on Bank Holiday Monday with the intent of getting 13 miles in by running to Padstow and then turning around for the return back to Wadebridge. As a bank holiday, there was already a decent level of activity on the Camel Trail from cyclists, walkers with and without dogs, horse riders, and of course, runners. Unsure of the etiquette in that part of the world, I decided to adopt what I do whilst running in Wales and simply wished “morning” to everybody I came into contact with.

Whilst it was overcast, there was a lot of humidity in the air to add to my lack of mojo whilst on the trail. I can’t pinpoint what was up with me, but I lacked that spark I normally have when I’m running whilst on holiday in a new locale.

I began to perk up once I neared Padstow, and was surprised to see a lot of hustle and bustle at only 8am or so. Turning around for Wadebridge, the sudden need to visit the loo took over, and no, a tree would not have sufficed… Thankfully, with Padstow being a tourist town, there were plenty of toilets available for free-of-charge use.

The run back to Wadebridge seemed more picturesque, with more users of the Camel Trail joining me. Returning to town, I had the joy of tackling 0.8 miles of climb along Trevanson Road and West Hill, with the gradient peaking with 9% at its steepest point. I guessed that there was likely a Strava segment for that portion of the run and as luck would have it, there was one and I ranked third on the all-time list. We’ll revisit the segment further down…

Not a bad morning’s work, though I was disappointed that I had to break the run into two, but when nature calls and all that… One thing I was surprised by was how much of a thrashing the Camel Trail gave my legs, with a dull ache present in my calves, quads and glutes at not even that fast a pace. I suspect when it was converted from a railway line to a cycle path, they simply filled it with concrete and finished it off with some paving. Whilst it was incredibly flat, it was akin to running on block paving that you sometimes find on seaside promenades to really take it out of your legs.

Here’s the Strava data for the run to Padstow and the run back to Wadebridge.

9 miles with 4 at marathon pace

I concluded that some days you have it, and some days you don’t, to explain why I found Monday’s split run challenging and this run far more approachable. The sun was out in full force but I’d somehow left my sunglasses behind at the hotel. At least I wouldn’t have panda eyes to worry about!

Much like Monday, there were already a few souls out and about, getting their runs in, walking their dogs or simply commuting into Padstow by bike. Most nodded or responded back with a reciprocal greeting of, “morning”; one couple running were positively beaming as they approached me, acknowledging that I was just like them and part of the running whilst on holiday tribe.

Just outside of Padstow, I turned around to begin my scheduled 4 miles at marathon pace. The old adage of having “nothing to fear, but fear itself,” held true – the pace felt perfectly manageable, even with trashed legs from several days of walking and sight-seeing. Rather embarrassingly, I was covered from head to toe in dead black flies from how sweaty I was…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Trevanson Road climb Strava segment

Upon finishing the above 9 miles, I paused for 90 seconds and looked inside to see whether I had it in me to tackle the Strava segment I’d identified earlier in the week. This was my last chance to do it, and after telling Lis I felt I had a realistic chance of taking the segment record, I didn’t want to go back home empty handed; it was then or never and I’d at least already warmed up from the marathon pace miles.

The night before, I reviewed the segment’s elevation profile, along with its beginning and end points so as not to over or under-do it. I knew exactly which points to hit hard and which to hold steady on.

The first 200m or so were relatively flat by comparison and allowed for some strong, early gains to be had.

Once on Trevanson Road and West Hill proper, the climbing began; gradual at first, allowing for not too much of a drop in speed before hitting a sharp section in the middle. My legs quickly saturated with lactic acid and my face turned to a grimace, whilst my arms pumped harder as I tried maximising any forward and upward motion up West Hill.

Towards the end of the sharp middle portion of the segment, a truck pulled out of a driveway just ahead of me, but then decided to reverse back in as I got closer… Unsure of whether he would pull out again (he did), I ended up having to look over my right shoulder to make sure the road was clear as I went wide of the truck whilst signalling with my hands for him to stop, costing me perhaps 1 or 2 seconds.

The record stood at 5:19 for the 0.8 mile long segment, with my result from the Monday ranking me third at some 30 seconds slower. With the knowledge that the segment flattened out significantly after the hill’s steepest portion, I went hell for leather as if Olympic gold was on the line, stopping only when I was certain the segment had ended.

I was a wheezing mess and understandably had to walk the remaining few hundred metres back to the hotel. With crappy signal in the room, I had to wait for what felt like an eternity for my Garmin to upload the data before I could check Strava. Turned out boy done good and by 10 seconds for 5:09! I quickly grabbed a screenshot of the results table before the former champion reclaimed the top spot as a local…

A pretty decent souvenir of my time away in Cornwall! Here’s the Strava data for this run.

4 mile run-commute

With my schedule shifting by a day or so, I opted to cover the run-commute from Birmingham city centre and drop the 9 miles from the office to give myself a slight break.

Whilst others enjoyed the summer surroundings of Cannon Hill Park, I found myself in peak pollen season, even though heavily medicated; it’s going to be hellish for the next two months, isn’t it?

Here’s the Strava data for this run. Excuse the distance – my Garmin really struggled as I started the run within an artificial canyon.

Cannon Hill parkrun

A rare occasion where I had to drive to the park, due to dropping Lis off at New Street Station beforehand, meant a warm-up that was almost halved, though was at least spent catching up with Carl.

I shan’t bore you with the details, but it was a very average and steady 19:36 performance and I continue to remind myself that I’m not training for faster 5k times, rather I’m in the process to achieve a sub-3 hour marathon.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

17 miles – to the Soho Loop and back

This was a day of firsts, for 2017 at least. This was the first outing of the Salomon race vest, loaded up with electrolytes and a gel (not needed), and also the first run of the year that was longer than 14 miles. The schedule only called for 16 miles, but doing some preliminary mapping showed heading out for a full lap of the Soho Loop equated to over 17 miles, so that became plan A.

I bumped into Dave Sansom on the way out and joined him for a couple of the early miles, whilst he sold me the benefits of joining the BRAT club and helped the time pass by rather quickly. Whilst the last 2 miles were somewhat of a challenge as anticipated, I finished feeling pretty strong with stiffness or soreness to speak of. Typing this up the next day, my legs feel chipper with no evidence that I’d covered a not insignificant distance with a mile in the middle at marathon pace thrown in for good measure.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

After the 9 miles with 4 at marathon pace and the 17 mile long run, positivity for the marathon schedule is high. Marathon pace feels more manageable than ever and 17 miles provided tangible psychological boost, paving the way for more regular 18 mile runs to come in the not too distant future.

Later this week, I have the Aldridge 10k coming up. Whilst I was in pretty sharp shape going into it last year to run sub-40 with plenty of change, I know I’m in nowhere near the same form and would only be setting myself up for failure; instead, I’m going to treat it as an opportunity to cover another 6 miles at marathon pace as a view to playing the long game. There will be plenty of 10k races for years to come, but this may be the last chance I have of a sub-3 hour marathon before life’s responsibilities beckon my attention elsewhere…

This week’s running -22nd to 28th of May 2017

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Tomfoolery with Simon at Cannon Hill parkrun…

Week 3 of the 22 week marathon schedule. Apologies for the later than usual post – Lis and I have been away in Cornwall, which will make for a more interesting read for the next entry.

5k recovery

Due to schedules not coming together, Lis did not join me for the normal Monday 5k recovery jog. Even at a gentle pace, it was clear the amped up temperature was taking its toll and bringing me out in a sweat… It’s going to be a long, old summer, isn’t it?

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles with 4 at marathon pace

I dreaded this planned run, really I did. With the heat jacked right up and four miles at marathon pace to contend with, I knew it was going to be a rough ride with the splits reflecting as much, where only the final mile on target:

  1. 7:04
  2. 6:59
  3. 6:55
  4. 6:48

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

Running through Cannon Hill Park at the height of winter and summer makes for some pretty stark contrasts. In the winter, I’m led entirely by the light of my headtorch and only occasionally spot the odd other soul. In the summer, I’m assaulted by harsh sunlight and fighting my way through throngs of other park users.

This run-commute was the first time this year where I was able to change at the office and hop on a Metro straight into the city centre, leaving almost all of my work gear behind. I am still carrying a bag on my back, and even at a slow pace, sweat is still collecting on my back for an unpleasantly warm time of it all.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10 miles from work

Much like the previous day in Cannon Hill Park, the good weather brought a noticeable uplift in canal towpath users to accompany me on my run back home.

I fully acknowledge it’s a shared space and treat it as such. I run on the left of the path, following normal UK road traffic rules so that cyclists pass me on the right. The problems creep in when people have other plans, such as walking three abreast on the towpath, or racing me into the tunnel, only to then bumble their way through. The worst offender on this run was a cyclist that decided to turn to speak to his companion rather than keep his eyes looking ahead; he unpredictably weaved all over the towpath, leaving me little room to negotiate around him, so I clapped loudly to grab his attention and yelled, “Oi! Watch it!” In exchange, I received a glare as if I dared to question his cycling ability or spacial awareness! Grumble over…

The onslaught of warmth continued and the first few miles were a real slog. I was tired from work and tired from a lack of sleep due to said warmth. Unexpectedly, even with only a modest reduction in pace, my heart rate sat lower than I would have pegged it to show positive adaptations are starting to creep in.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

Gah. Humidity struck to make this a pretty challenging run.

Drawing my curtains, a grey and damp morning greeted me, which was actually quite welcome after the onslaught of warmth. Problem was the weather decided to perk up again once I hit the park, with the sun coming out to dry everything up, leaving ghastly, humidity behind.

Adding to the challenging conditions was how tired my legs felt. The last couple of weeks have been pretty full on to leave my legs without a certain snap, crackle and pop. This was quite readily apparent when I struggled to maintain the same pace for the awkward middle splits, which were both 5 or 6 seconds slower than the opening km.

At the end of the sweat-fest, all I had was 19:34 to show for my troubles. I did at least drag one guy along to a PB, though recommended he lose the compression vest and tights he wore underneath his vest and shorts for an almost guaranteed PB on the next occasion under such warm temperatures!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

There was no long run as part of this particular week, instead opting to cover it whilst I’d be in Cornwall for a change of scenery from the Birmingham canal towpaths. As commented on earlier, the last couple of weeks have been taking their toll, so having a Sunday with no run planned made for quite a refreshing change, even if it was only deferred for just one day.

 

This week’s running – 15th to 21st of May 2017

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Yet more tourism at Grangemoor parkrun – photo by Lis Yu

Week 2 of the 22 week marathon schedule complete.

5 mile run-commute

Over the last couple of years of run-commuting, I’ve yet to come lucky and be in a position to run home whilst chaos takes place all around me. Last year, it was flooding that increased my typical 1 hour commute to 3+ hours; this year’s calamity was a newly discovered WWII German bomb, weighing some 250kg, which brought everything to a near-standstill.

Hearing rumours that several major roads would still be closed a day later, I shifted my run-commute as a precaution to try and have the last laugh. The roads did open up again and you’d have thought nothing had ever taken place. One of these days… Anywho! The pace was very gentle to factor in the thrashing I’d subjected myself to at the Tewkesbury Half Marathon.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

I’ve grown conscious of the rising temperatures, so decided to begin supplementing my water consumption with some electrolyte tablets, as well as training myself to physically drink and retain more water. So, it’s with some irony that the day I decide to kick-start my better hydration initiative is also the day where I was caught in an absolute downpour whilst running from the office…

The rain hit approximately 3 miles in and didn’t let up until perhaps 800m from my front door to leave me completely soaked. I could actually feel the water sloshing about in my shoes at several points!

I had originally intended to cover the week’s 4x 1600m at 10k pace during this run, but sacked that plan off to instead run hard at parkrun. That said, the pace still came up faster than expected and the rain proved quite refreshing and effective at keeping me cool.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Grangemoor parkrun

 

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And 5 x switchbacks…

It’s becoming a bit of a habit, these parkrun tourism jaunts. Grangemoor, Cardiff’s second event, became my fourth new venue in almost eight weeks, and my 18th different venue of all time.

Grangemoor opened with the intent of lightening the load at the original Cardiff event at Blackweir/Bute Park; it could be deemed as a resounding failure with the latter having celebrated several new attendance records in recent weeks.

Taking place next to a retail park, there was no shortage of parking spaces and there was even a helpful marshal to direct people to the start.

The course could be called unorthodox. From above, it looks like a three-point star; runners start at the southern most spoke and work their way to the next, and so on, until they’re back at the start to then cover the same again for two-laps. My technique on switchbacks is atrocious, with a turning circle like the Titanic trying to avoid an iceberg, so I expected to lose significant momentum and time on each of the five hairpin turns. But at least the course is flat and on really nicely paved tarmac!

Looking at past results, a finish in the low 18 minutes is enough to place first most weeks, with a sub-20 finish enough to make it into the top 10, or even top 5 during light attendance weeks.

Off the line, a small group of guys went charging off whilst I hung back to at least better observe on the first lap. Apart from some chopping and changing in the first 800m, I was then left firmly on my own for the remaining duration.

Due to the compact nature of the course and runners returning back to the centre every few hundred metres, Lis planted herself by the “Grangemoor Stone” and was ultimately rewarded with five sightings of me, and possibly a new record for the two of us.

As anticipated, the switchbacks did a number to my pace, and also my joints, from the sudden shift in direction and weight. I estimated I likely lost some 3 seconds on each hairpin, so whereas I was probably working to 19:15 5k effort or so, I actually produced a 19:31 in the end for 8th place.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Looking at the splits, I’m pretty pleased with how they turned out, considering said switchbacks and the mostly solo effort. A little bit of regular VO2max effort and some efficiency and form workouts should get me under 19 minutes again…

A nice novelty to visit, but it’s highly unlikely I’d ever return when I have Cwmbran, Newport’s Tredegar Park, or Cardiff’s lightning fast Blackweir/Bute Park much closer to Lis’ folks – the latter two of which we literally drove right past to reach Grangemoor parkrun!

For those curious, the next stop on my tour of Welsh events is Pontypool in a couple of weeks.

14 miles – to Rhadyr and back

I never expected this long run to go well, but first, let me explain why it was doomed to be…

So, on Saturday night, I went to a 50th birthday party and was introduced to a proper old-school club runner (Salford Harriers). He ran double-days on most days, and even occasionally ran at lunch for the odd triple day. He rarely took a rest day, except when injured or ill, and raced most weeks. His PBs I can recall are:

  • 1,500m – 3:57
  • 5k – 14:59
  • 10k: 30:53
  • 10 miles: 52:07
  • Marathon: 2:45

As somebody that doesn’t belong to the club system, it’s rare that I get the opportunity to speak with runners that are significantly faster. Some of his stories were thrilling, such as him being a classics graduate and running the Athens Marathon. Some of his stories were eye-watering, such as the above said 10k PB where he finished 62nd out of some 300 participants. Others were heart breaking, such as him having to shelve being competitive after two Achilles tendon operations and numerous cortisone injections into trauma sites over the years.

90 mile weeks were not uncommon for him. When asked what he felt allowed him to rack up such mileage, he said, “Life was simpler back then, compared to now.” I could only agree.

Even though I only spoke with him for perhaps 30-40 minutes, the night still ended up being a late one by my standards, also factoring the early-rise for Grangemoor parkrun to make for a helluva long day.

Anywho. Back to the long run…

My legs definitely didn’t feel as fresh as they could have after the 5k effort from 24 hours prior, so I purposely kept the pace slow and the effort easy. Going by heart rate, this was largely achieved with it rarely going above 70% of maximum.

Then, the second half happened and consisted almost exclusively of 7 miles in a more or less straight line into headwind, along with the dreaded Saint Andrews’ Walk Climb to contend with at the very end… I was utterly destroyed upon finishing and couldn’t help but doze off later that afternoon in a bid to catch up on some sleep.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Hopefully, I can time one of my planned 20+ mile runs to happen in Wales to help break up the monotony of them. Last summer, I seem to recall one of my 2x 22 mile runs flying by and not being too stressful at all, due in some part to the more unfamiliar terrain for mental stimulation.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

The mercury is really starting to climb, so I’m expecting the suffering to pop along shortly to wave and stick its tongue out at me. I’ll have to dig out my Salomon race vest and water bottles shortly to really up my hydration game if I’m to successfully complete all of the planned runs in the schedule.

Fitness-wise, I feel like I’m in an odd place at the moment. I’m ahead of where I was a year ago concerning marathon pace, where the effort required to cover the pace is certainly lower at the moment. But I feel completely off in terms of 5k and 10k pace, which have historically given me that feeling of fitness – something I can’t deny I’m craving a little at the moment.

This week’s running – 8th to 14th of May 2017

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Tough day at the Tewkesbury race office – photo by Lis Yu

This particular week led up to the training run that was the Tewkesbury Half Marathon.

5k recovery with Lis

So, just when does a thing become a thing? This was the second time Lis and I went out running together for mutual benefit – I’m getting a recovery run out of it by not going too fast, and she’s getting a solid workout and somebody to pace her.

Lis even encountered that dreaded, “What if somebody recognises me,” when local runner, Ed Barlow, drove past, tooted his horn and waved at us! Teehee…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

2 miles at LT and 1 mile at MP

That comment last week about improving on marginal gains like sleep? Well, I’m failing miserably by not going to bed early enough… I woke feeling pretty groggy and spent much of the day in a bit of a fog at work.

With the way I was feeling, 2 miles at lactate threshold was not a welcome prospect. It’s no secret I struggle at such a pace and to keep it up for 2 miles in training was tough. Thankfully, marathon pace shortly afterwards felt like a walk in the park by comparison, which obviously bodes well for what I’m trying to ultimately achieve.

Here’s the Strava data for this run. I didn’t realise I’d forgotten to wear my heart rate monitor until several miles in, so it’s incomplete data, I’m afraid…

5 mile run-commute

The sudden uptick in warmth and humidity meant hayfever season was just on the horizon. I felt sluggish, though my heart rate at least correlated to an easier effort.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

Wanting to give myself the best chance of hitting marathon pace with minimal distress at the following day’s Tewkesbury Half Marathon meant volunteering at Cannon Hill parkrun.

Even with a significant percentage of regular runners away or volunteering, Cannon Hill still attained an attendance of 919 runners. Simply incredible numbers when you consider the aforementioned half marathon featured only 1,000 or so participants!

Tewkesbury Half Marathon 2017

For the full write-up, please click here.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

A little shaken by the struggle in the second half of the Tewkesbury Half Marathon, but not stirred; I still managed 6 plus miles at pace in temperatures I’m completely out of touch with for the time being.

The next few weeks will centre largely on developing a routine. There’s work to be done, for sure, but I’m not worried in the slightest – training’s only just begun!