This week’s running – 7th to 20th May 2018

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Vests at the ready!

Due to tapering the previous week, there wasn’t much going on, so I’ve rolled a fortnight into one post.

9 miles with 1 at marathon pace and 1 at half marathon pace

This was much harder than it should have been and the paces didn’t come as naturally as I wanted. There was a rather strong headwind blowing as high pressure and low pressure competed across the UK weather system. Rather than pile on fatigue, I was satisfied with a 6:47 marathon paced mile and a 6:21 half marathon paced mile.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

6 miles easy with strides

Lis and I had a midwife appoint scheduled in, so I took the afternoon off and got this run out of the way before the good weather brought everybody back out to Cannon Hill Park.

Much like Tuesday’s run with miles at pace, the easy effort here didn’t feel as free flowing as it should have. I reassured myself that there’s always a feeling of sluggishness with any taper of more than a few days and that this was perfectly normal – I hoped!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

With the Shakespeare Half Marathon the following day, I of course did my part and volunteered at Cannon Hill parkrun.

As ever, I was positioned at my favourite section, moving between the 1km, 2.5km and 4.2km points on the course. Teamed up with me were Stuart and Ethan. Stuart was also running the Shakespeare Half Marathon (I did bump into him) and Ethan was one of the current crop of Duke of Edinburgh Award participants.

Marshalling was entirely without incident, so rather than talk about Cannon Hill parkrun on this occasion, I want to direct your attention to the recently released independent parkrun podcast: Free Weekly Timed. Hosted by Vassos Alexander and Louise Ayling, each episode lasts some 29 minutes to coincide with the current average parkrun finishing time (in the UK?). I’ve very quickly grown to adore the show and wish the run time was longer – everybody needs to get slower to bring the average finish time down to make this happen! For those that remember the now defunct parkrun Show, Free Weekly Timed is far more accessible without having to wade through wall-to-wall in-jokes and nomenclature, which I would dare say is down to the 29 minute runtime.

Another new show I’d like to recommend is the Runners World UK podcast. A bit less personality, due to the association with a magazine, but the content has been varied and worthwhile so far after only a few episodes. Whether this show can go the distance (pun intended) is undecided, especially as the US version ended abruptly after 67 episodes to then transition into a more general fitness podcast.

Shakespeare Half Marathon 2018 review

For the full report of the 2018 Shakespeare Half Marathon, please click here.

5k recovery

And boy was recovery needed!

It was probably the Yorkshire Marathon that last busted me this badly in pursuit of a PB. A very gentle pace this was.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

I’m very much of the school of thought that tapering into a race means you should also taper out of the other side, too. I’m frequently amazed and horrified in equal measure at people that dive straight back into full-on training after big races; track sessions, tempo runs, fast parkruns – you know what I’m talking about.

I think I pitched the effort correctly on this occasion because Strava tells me this was the slowest occurrence of this route!

Here’s there Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

Fortunately for me, the forecasted warm spell was delayed by a couple of days; I’m not sure I would have been ready for a warm medium-long run from the office. Also fortuitous was a rare tailwind!

Whereas Brindley Place was quite populated, the remainder of my run was fairly tranquil with few other souls about. This is likely down to the still closed section between The Vale and Islington Middleway, where most can’t be bothered to work out the detour. The closure is supposed to be lifted this week; I wait patiently for confirmation…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

Conscious that I was still recovering, suffering from sleep deprivation, and conditions were warm, I opted to keep things pretty calm and relaxed with a sub-20 finish. It’s still very bizarre that a sub-20 parkrun is now my half marathon pace; I think it’ll take a while to get over that one, especially as it took me an entire summer in 2013 to get below 20 minutes over 5k!

Starting off conservatively allowed me to reel people in over the duration of the run. Plenty were breathing heavily within the first km and can’t have fared well for the remaining 4k. Looking at the results, there were people massively ahead of me at the 1km marker, who ended up finishing almost a minute after my 19:46!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

15 miles – to The Vale and back

Wowza. This was officially my warmest long run of the year, though I’m expecting warmer runs to come as the summer rolls into town. Whereas I had hydrated well beforehand, I ended up having to stop at around 4 miles within Kings Heath Park for a toilet break. Damn body. This run will teach it to be so casual about hydration! I took a bottle of water with electrolytes for the second half of the run, which paid dividends.

Anticipating a tough run, I purposely held back in the first half to maximise success and minimise distress. Everything seemed to tick along quite nicely until I picked up a stitch at around 10-11 miles, likely caused by not leaving enough time between breakfast and heading out. Physically prodding the affected area, it was tender to the touch and nearly stopped me in my tracks a few times. Thankfully, I was able to run through the discomfort for it to finally dispel as I left the canal towpath; it would have been a long walk for home like that failed 19 miles from last summer, otherwise!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

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Shakespeare Half Marathon 2018 review

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Woo hoo! Not cancelled!

My fourth attempt at racing a spring half marathon after many cancellations. Read on to find out how things went.

Pre-race

Newport Half Marathon – cancelled (twice!)

Coventry Half Marathon – cancelled

Wilmslow Half Marathon – postponed

It’s with plenty of irony that the only half marathon I’d successfully been able to run in 2018 up to this particular race was the Brass Monkey Half Marathon, which was actually pretty reasonable in terms of weather conditions in spite of its name!

Feeling like I’d failed to truly capitalise on the opportunity presented to me in above said race, I’ve long felt like some sort of redemption was in order. I’d done the training, consisting of near-weekly bouts of 15 mile long runs, time at half marathon pace and a couple of what felt like near-maximal parkruns. Throw in the recent PB at the DK10K sans any specific 10k work and the odds of a credible PB performance were moving in my favour. Sub-83 was the target for the morning…

Whilst May half marathons aren’t my thing, especially after 2017’s Tewkesbury Half Marathon sweat-fest, I had few options available to me that were optimal for a fast time with a decent field. I was also flying solo at this race; Lis had a prior engagement and I knew not of anybody running the half marathon, though there were familiar faces I was aware of in the marathon.

With a 09:00 start, it meant an even earlier departure from Birmingham for me. I’d budgeted some 45 minutes for the drive, giving me over an hour beforehand for various pre-race admin, such as warming up, toilets and so on. I counted my lucky stars as I’d seemingly arrived before the masses with my pick of spaces in one of the car parks located roughly halfway between the runner’s village and the start line. With time to kill, I’d opted to head over to the runner’s village to scope things out. Bumping into a volunteer who seemed too eager to help, I asked if the “village” was straight ahead. “No, that’s not the village,” came her confusing reply. Looking around, there were plenty of runners heading in the direction that I pointed in. “That’s not the runner’s village?” I quizzed. “Oh, yes it is. I thought you meant Stratford-upon-Avon town centre.” I know we’re not supposed to judge volunteers too harshly, but…

The runner’s village was located at the same spot as where Stratford-upon-Avon parkrun takes place. Despite warnings of limited parking spaces, cars were backed up in the queue trying to get in. I did a quick reccy of the grass finishing straight to confirm my own fears that I couldn’t rely on a finishing kick like usual – I’d have to make a bigger dent during the body of the race.

Returning to the car, I embarked on a 2 mile warm-up with a set of strides thrown in for good measure. Whilst it was only 08:15 or so, I was already breaking out in a sweat and my heart rate was elevated. Form didn’t come easily, likely due to a slightly too heavy taper.

Back at the car for the second time, there were still plenty of spaces available. If you’re reading this ahead of the Shakespeare races, do yourself a favour and park at the Bridgeway multi-storey car park. Payment is made on exit to save you a few minutes, unlike the runner’s village car park that requires payment up front. Furthermore, there are plenty of toilets at one of the exits. OK, 20p was required, but judging by the length of the pre-race queues adjacent to the start, I’m sure many would have happily paid up if given the option!

I bumped into BRAT member, Rob Dowse on my way to the start line. We both agreed we were too far back in the field and began navigating through the crowds to be nearer the front – advice I’d been given beforehand. All of a sudden, we found ourselves in a clearing almost on the start line itself! The familiar faces of Simon Rhodes, Orlando Corea and Peter Dimbleby of Birchfield Harriers were in attendance, helping to make the time ahead of the start fly by. Steve Edwards of 1,000-targeted marathons-fame was the guest race starter for the day. Rather clumsily, they had to somehow allow him to enter the race from his starter’s position, requiring a few barriers to be moved aside… Go time!

The race

Miles 1 to 3

Sometimes you don’t get a feel for a race from a simple overhead map view. Studying the route, I noted that there were several sharp right hand turns in quick succession through the streets of Stratford-upon-Avon town centre. After turning right a couple of times, I had no idea which direction I was running in anymore! Also, if it weren’t for all the turns, I’d have probably gone even faster than the 6:14 I registered as an opening mile (this was the fastest of the day)!

Runners very quickly found their positions and surprisingly held them with little chopping and changing. I clocked a Halesowen Triathlete (who looked suspiciously like the guy that finished one place behind me at the recent DK10K) and a woman in a purple vest (third place) just slightly ahead of me by 10m – no matter what I did early on, the 10m between me and this pair remained constant. Undulations added some slowdown for mile 2 to come in at 6:23.

The first of many water stations appeared quite early on, for which I was grateful for given how warm the morning was getting without the forecasted cloud cover. For the first time in a race, I was offered a wet sponge, though declined. Wanting just a bottle of water, I went towards the volunteer on the right, to follow the race line; out of the blue, he stepped over to the other side for some unknown reason whilst his hands were still full of bottled water, leaving me without! Panicking, I quickly went wide to grab a bottle from the final volunteer, with much chuckling behind me… Mile 3 came in at 6:21 to average out at 6:19 – sub-83 was still on!

Miles 4 to 6

The Halesowen Triathlete and the woman in purple remained elusive in spite of my best efforts to reel them in. As we approached the first of two significant climbs on the half marathon route, I hoped the hill would send them back to me, but sadly not. Thankfully, I was able to join and detach from a number of small groups to rarely be running on my own. Within one group, somebody was horrified to learn that he was actually running at closer to 83 minute pace when all he wanted was an 86 minute finish…

Even though I chose to wear my Nike Vaporfly 4%, they seemed to perceivably offer less benefit than in previous races. Comparably, the lack of propulsion was akin to how they felt during the Gloucester New Year’s Eve 10 Mile; by the end of this race, they’d have over 80 miles on them to be pretty much at their half-life before severe decline kicks in.

Miles 4, 5 and 6 held steady for 6:24, 6:23 and 6:23. Were it not for the undulations, I’d have hit the required 6:20 per mile pace for a shot at a sub-83 finish.

Miles 7 to 10

Somewhere on the approach to 7, the Halesowen Triathlete disappeared from view suddenly; one minute he was there and the next, he’d drifted backwards in the blink of an eye. The woman in purple began to wobble slightly as the course began climbing. “Keep at it. There’s a nice downhill stretch at 8 miles,” I shared with her to try and keep her motivated and ahead of me. There was no response and within the few hundred metres that followed, she had also drifted behind me.

Luckily for me, the second place woman was just ahead on the horizon. Through a combination of the climb slowing her down and a small surge from me, I was able to work my way up to her over a few hundred metres. I revealed to her that the woman in purple was not far behind. She let out a response of surprise, for she had been stalking Nicola Sykes of Bournville Harriers for much of the race, whereas there was a race for second place going on right behind her. Miles 7 and 8 featured plenty of climbing for 6:27 and 6:35 respectively.

Cresting the hill, it’s a pretty steep descent all the way down! My left quad is shot as I type this report out and I’m pretty certain it was travelling downhill on this particular section that’s done it. A cyclist joined Jo behind me; I had no idea whether he knew her or not, but I did pick up snippets of his dialogue including some encouragement and confirmation that she was indeed in second place before he shot off. An additional set of footsteps joined us from a Kenilworth runner I’d shared some dialogue with during the opening mile, though he seemed quite transient and drifted backwards again once the descent flattened out.

Working with Jo was like mana from heaven. We managed to recover some pace damage to get miles 9 and 10 to 6:16 and 6:17 respectively. I did what I could to keep Jo motivated to chase down Nicola Sykes in the hope that she could tow me to a faster time and a higher finishing position. She was well aware of Nicola’s ability, recalling that she went on to win the race a year ago. I’d originally assumed Jo was a Birchfield Harrier from her all black vest and shorts, but she turned out to be an unattached runner like me.

Just when I thought we were at the beginning of a subtle kick for the final 5k…

Miles 11 to 13.1

…the Greenway struck!

What is the Greenway? It’s a straight as a die path that makes up the majority of the final 5k of the Shakespeare races. It’s a disused railway line that’s been filled in; it’s pancake flat barring a few very subtle rises and dips. Unfortunately, the top surface of the route is a fine and loose dirt to cause some traction loss. Coupled with its seemingly never ending nature, the Greenway caused both Jo and me to lose some 10 seconds per mile despite our effort remaining the same. It was an incredibly jarring experience to abruptly transition from running on the paved road to such a surface. Miles 11 and 12 came in for 6:28 pace.

We tried to keep our spirits up and had successfully chipped away some of Nicola’s lead to be only 20 seconds or so behind.

For the first time in a long time of racing half marathons, I wished I had another gel to slurp down. Three didn’t feel like enough on this day, especially with such a focused effort on a PB with no cloud cover – energy expenditure was always going to be high.

After what felt like a lifetime on the Greenway making no perceivable progress, we were finally sent back on to the road for a welcome return to traction. The only downside? We were instructed to stay inside some cones, akin to the final few hundred metres of the DK10K. There was little room to manoeuvre or overtake; I was caught behind a tiring runner when all I wanted to do was press on! I waited for the main road to clear before I stepped outside of the cones to briefly surge forwards. The Kenilworth runner followed and we both slotted back into a gap that presented itself. The return to road running was short-lived for we were sent 180° and single file on to another section, off-road.

We now had hedges on either side of us, which is not what you want in the final few hundred metres of a race! Returning on to a paved path in the recreation ground, I tried kicking but nausea took hold. My stomach churned as the effort ramped up significantly. “Keep going,” the Kenilworth runner encouraged. I knew I was at my limit. “You go on,” I snatched. Passing the mile 13 marker, I went through in 6:18 to be ages away from the sub-6 ultimate mile I ran at the Brass Monkey Half Marathon back in January. Before long, I’d made it on to the grass finishing straight; I was at least thankful I’d wrung myself dry as the grass would have been frustrating to run on if a finishing kick was required. Nearing the finish, the compere called out my name. From the crowd, a female voice cheered me on by name to confuse me; I wasn’t aware of anybody I knew spectating, but it turned out to be Trudie – a Kings Heath Running Club member Lis has run with on a number of occasions. I hurtled for the finish because on the other side was a chance to stop and recover!

Post-race

Here’s the Strava data for this race.

There is one benefit to the finishing straight and funnel being on grass – you can simply collapse in a heap with a soft thud! The disadvantage to finishing with a thud on grass is grass stains… I took a few sidesteps to my right so as not to be in the way of other finishers. A paramedic rushed over, just in case, though I reassured him I was fine and just needed a few moments to recover. The friendly paramedic helped me back up on to my feet when I was ready. “That was a strong finish back there. Well done!” “Thanks. A PB of 30 seconds or so. Thank you for your help!” Officially via chip timing, I finished in 83:39 for a 29 second improvement; I was a little disappointed as I had hoped to go under 83 minutes, or at least low 83 minutes. I lost around 30 seconds out on the course with the climbing and the traction issues on the Greenway, so I’m pretty confident I’d have done it on a flatter road course.

I caught up with Jo, who wasn’t able to kick with the Kenilworth runner and me upon leaving the Greenway. She confirmed her second place finish, though shared she was around a minute off from a PB due to the London Marathon that was still in her legs. Phenomenally, she revealed she completed London in 3:01, and had a 2:52 marathon PB to her name from 2017! I was in awe and had no idea I’d run with such esteemed company!

A few more familiar faces came through, including Alex Parker of Birchfield Harriers and Rob Dowse who I’d bumped into before the race. Rob was outside of his sub-90 target and also blamed the loss of traction and motivation on the never-ending Greenway. We both reasoned that such a running surface shouldn’t be as devastating to pace as it is, with plenty of fast parkrun courses taking place on similar terrain with no qualms from runners.

A couple of stats and facts for you:

  • Equivalent to more than 4x sub-20 5ks, back-to-back
  • Equivalent to more than 2x sub-40 10ks, back-to-back
  • Fastest 10 miles ever – 63:41
  • Bloody left nipple

My next crack at sub-83 will be the postponed Wilmslow Half Marathon in June, which I will be tackling with Darryll Thomas for a joint-PB-busting effort. Part of my issue was the transient nature of the groups and runners around me; except for Jo, there was nobody else that I was able to reliably work with and downplay the exertion. It’s a realisation I will have to come to terms with that I as I grow faster, there will be ever diminishing numbers of runners to work with except at races with the fastest of reputations.

Would I do the Shakespeare Half Marathon again? I’m undecided for now. It was easy to get to and pretty well organised, with plenty of water on the course. Irrespective of my PB that morning, I would not consider it a fast course due to the undulations and that damn Greenway. The climb at mile 8 could be brutal if you go out too hard and can’t hang on. Many people I know were at least a minute or two from their 13.1 mile bests to give any would-be runners a better idea of what to expect.

Next up: the Cotswold Hilly 100 team relay!

 

 

This week’s running – 30th April to 6th May 2018

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Andy Vernon at the Great Birmingham 10k 2018

The taper for the Shakespeare Half Marathon begins!

5k recovery

With the DK10K on Wednesday, I wanted one full rest day ahead of the race, so this was the final run before then. I’m now firmly in the camp of no running the day before a target race!

Nothing strenuous at all – just an easy 5k at recovery pace to keep my legs moving.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

DK10K 2018 review

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

Cannon Hill parkrun

After the DK10K, I was in the mood to take advantage of the taper window, newly found fitness and excellent conditions on offer at Cannon Hill. Being the John Enright-Darren Hale Memorial Run, attendance lived up to expectations, though no attendance records were broken due to the Great Birmingham 10k the following day.

3:41 per km was the target pace to beat for a new PB. Sadly, I felt like I was still suffering the effects of the DK10K. My legs had little resilience to them and my Garmin reported a -5 condition score – ouch…

From the line, I remained in control and found myself tailing Ed Barlow and kept the effort low. 3:45 felt sustainable, so that’s what I sat at for the 1st and 2nd km. It was a strange morning, as many of those traditionally faster than me were on my tail, whereas several traditionally behind me, were ahead! Andy Young was one of those in my rear view mirror, whereas Chris Callow had a sizable advantage of some 15 seconds.

That awkward 3rd km struck, with everybody around me slowing slightly, so my natural reaction was to also slow. I ended up drafting behind Matt Lewis and a Bournville Harrier – both taking it easy ahead of the following day’s 10k race. This was quite a pleasant spot to be in, as they comfortably paved the way for me and allowed me to just switch off and follow, resulting in a 3:49.

Moving into the 4thkm, they were both casually chatting for a total contrast to my quiet suffering from the exertion. “You’re both making this look far too easy,” I shared with them from behind. “You’ve gotta go for it, Andy,” Matt instructed. He and the Bournville Harrier gave me some more encouragement and both created a gap for me to slip between them. “OK. I’ll go for it…” came my pensive reply. I crept away by a few steps to chase down the next person ahead. Andy Young latched on and came along to overtake me. The collective effort and encouragement got me back on track for a steady 3:46.

One final swift km, with Chris Callow as a rabbit to chase down, got me back in with 18:35, perhaps 18:36 in the official results. Sadly, some sort of barcode scanning error means I’ve not been recorded! Fingers crossed the organisers will manually add me – the generally practiced etiquette is that anybody that turns up to run with a physical barcode, even if it cannot be scanned, will be added into the results.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10 miles – to The Vale and back

With a warm day on hand and spectating duties at the Great Birmingham 10k, I opted to head out earlier than normal. It appeared many other runners not racing also did the same, for I was rarely alone for long on the canal towpath.

Passing Bournville Station on the out leg, all was silent. On the return, it was heaving as runners and spectators filled the platform that headed in the direction of the city centre.

I did not envy those participating in the race. I was working up a sweat just casually running at around 8:00 per mile with occasional shade from trees that lined the towpath. 10 miles was more than enough for me – thank you to the taper!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Great Birmingham 10k

Lis and I spent some time spectating the race, shortly after the 5k point and next to Cannon Hill Park. As runners, we largely see little of the organisation behind a race until it directly impacts us in some way. As spectators, we both saw some of the shonkiest organisation either of us had ever seen, and Lis has spectated plenty of races!

A van had somehow found itself on the route before the race started, yet the two security personnel for the patch we found ourselves in were largely clueless as to what to do with him! They eventually got him on his way, but it was so painful to watch.

The next calamity occurred when an ambulance had to get on the course. Neither the security guards, the highways agent, nor the marshal knew what to do! Eventually, they teamed up and separated the runners from the ambulance, but it still shouldn’t have taken nearly as long as it did.

Finally, fellow-run-blogger Shaun Hemmings was the official 40 minute pacer, yet was instructed not to start in the first wave, which would have contained all the people looking to run under 40 minutes. What madness!

Anyway…

Well done to everybody to that ran, especially those that PBd under such brutal conditions.

DK10K 2018 review

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The DK10K – not the easiest of 10k races

First 10k race since July 2017, and first in any real anger since 2016! Read on to find out how things went…

For the 2015 and 2016 races, please click below:

Pre-race

Once May rolls around, there’s no shortage of 10k races, both at the weekend and mid-week. The DK10K takes place on the first Wednesday of May, often just before or just after the Great Birmingham 10k. At £16 with chip timing, a t-shirt and water, it’s almost half the price of the Great Birmingham 10k and continues to be popular in spite of competition. I missed this gem of a race last year due to coming back from injury and tapering for the Tewkesbury Half Marathon, though ran it in 2015 and 2016. It’s not the fastest of courses with near-constant undulation, though it does attract a decent field, especially from 36-45 minutes; ideal if you’re the sort of runner that needs contact with others in a race.

Taking the afternoon off from work to facilitate a stress-free build-up, two questions remained at the top of my mind: what should I eat beforehand, and when? Don’t judge me for this, but I ended up wolfing down 2x chicken & mushroom Pot Noodles and 2x jam donuts… A concentrated beetroot juice shot helped wash all that down. In no way do I recommend this concoction!

Traffic on the way to the race HQ (Dudley Kingswinford Rugby Club) was horrendous as it always is, especially when living on the wrong side of Birmingham in this case. Simon Bull and I travelled separately, but were both caught up in various tailbacks, roadworks and breakdowns that are atypical of British roads from 16:00 to 18:00 during the week.

Arriving on site and parking up, it was perhaps 60 seconds before I bumped into Chris Harrison – the first of many familiar faces – such is the local running community nature of the DK10K.

The weather had been incredibly unpredictable all day. Wearing a full tracksuit, I began my 2 mile warm-up jog in a bid to try and awaken my slumbering legs. Within some 800m, I concluded I was overdressed. I anticipated the warm-up would feel sub-par and it didn’t disappoint. I regretted my choice of pre-race fuel, feeling bloated with everything sloshing around inside, and this was despite 3 hours having passed already! Thankfully, my stomach was convinced to cooperate and began digesting its contents more effectively after 2 miles.

Upon ending my warm-up, my Garmin flagged up my condition score: +4! Somewhat dumbfounded, I began considering my options. I’m lucky if I see +3 usually, so would covering the race at planned half marathon pace be selling myself short? The following week’s Shakespeare Half Marathon is the A-goal and the DK10K was always supposed to be just a training run to get 6 miles at pace in. A stiff headwind blew from the west, which would impact the first 3 or 4km, putting any PB attack into jeopardy early on. “Stick to the plan,” I reassuringly convinced myself. There would be plenty of 10k races over the spring and summer to make a dent into my 10k PB.

Meeting up with Simon, more familiar faces from the West Midlands running scene came into view, including Craig Watters (a rival from Great Run Local at The Vale) and his daughter. Because you can never be too warmed up, Simon and I embarked on another few hundred metres around the rugby pitch with a set of strides. Conditions had rapidly improved from all the rain that battered the region earlier in the day – it was bone dry underfoot, even on the grass!

We were ushered over to the start line along a back route rather than via the rugby club’s main entrance as per previous years; this detour was likely to allow the road outside to remain open for a little while longer and to keep local residents sweet. The slow-zombie shuffle over to the start line ensured we were all like tightly wound springs, ready to launch at any moment. Simon and I seeded ourselves accordingly into the start field; in spite of the chip timing as standard and the wide road ahead of us on offer, there was the usual assortment of clowns that decided to park themselves into the first few rows. Start where you think you’ll finish in the field! A near-inaudible safety briefing was given, which nobody paid any attention to, followed by a very abrupt starting order. Go time!

The race

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Start of the 2018 DK10K – photo by Brian Smith

Expectedly, due to the flat-come-subtle-downhill nature of the opening km, everybody around me went hooning off like it was the start of a 5k race. I had my eye on certain individuals who were likely to finish at around my target time, yet they were quickly drifting away into the horizon… “Stay calm,” I said to myself. This was a test of half marathon pace and if I wasn’t able to finish 10k feeling comfortable, then there would be no way I could finish 13.1 miles at the same pace. I ended up overshooting my target of 3:55 per km (6:18 per mile) to end up with 3:50 per km (6:10 per mile). The pace felt too easy and effortless!

During 2km came the significant climb of the course. Inevitably, many of the people that shot off from the start line came back to me, providing ample drafting assistance from the headwind that blew. Whereas many around me were already huffing and puffing, my breathing remained near-silent. I dropped down a gear to 4:03 for the km with the knowledge that a high-speed section followed shortly afterwards to make amends.

Surprisingly, even with the steep descent, not a single person overtook me on this stretch or for the remainder of the race for that matter. I allowed my stride to open up and for gravity to carry me to the bottom, almost bounding with each step. 3km came in for 3:45 to be the second fastest split of the evening… So much for half marathon pace!

The route took runners left into a tree-lined portion of the course. Whilst undulations continued, one could consider this the next flattest stretch after the opening and final km. I continued to reel runners in, including the third place female – a Tipton Harrier. I’d already overtaken Craig’s daughter, which gave me a big dose of confidence as I’ve always finished behind her on previous encounters. Approaching the sole water station of the race, I signalled to the volunteer I wanted, only for her to drop the cup just as I went for the grab! I quickly signalled to another volunteer, only for him to grip the cup too tightly, resulting in both of us crushing it and leaving only a small sip of water behind… Oh well, at least it wasn’t a warm evening!

Passing through halfway, there was no clock on this occasion. Checking my Garmin, I’d just ticked over to 19:26 to be slightly outside of 10k PB pace. A modestly faster second half would see me through to a cheeky PB, maybe. I took a look inside for some feedback. My breathing remained calm and steady. My shoulders and posture were relaxed. Conclusion: I felt great and with no struggle! I dropped the third place Tipton Harrier girl and progressed onwards to a small group consisting of the second place female – another Tipton Harrier – along with male Aldridge and Wolverhampton & Bilston club runners. I sat steady at the back of the pack, especially as they were running so metronomically to result in 5km and 6km splits of 3:53.

Remaining in the tree-lined section of the course, I wondered if it would ever end? Having only run the race twice previously, my memory was somewhat hazy of the landmarks and how long certain portions lasted. Sensing the pace was slowing, I gave some verbal encouragement to try and rally the group together into a shared goal. The pace continued slipping, so the Tipton Harrier and I allowed the Aldridge and Wolverhamton & Bilston runners to drop off whilst we pushed on. The monotony of the landscape began taking its toll on me, resulting in 7km at 3:56 and my second slowest split of the evening. Was everything about to fall to pieces?

Turning left on the course, it was freedom at last! We exited the tree-lined stretch and moved straight into a climb… The Tipton Harrier really struggled to keep the pace up, forcing me to run wide of her so as not to take my foot off the throttle. I took advantage of the shallow descent on the other side to regain some of the damage from the slow 7thkm. This split was spent largely running solo, with the next guy ahead too far to reel in quickly. Facing the east, I was able to enjoy a very slight tailwind to facilitate a 3:52 for 8km.

Glancing at my Garmin’s elapsed time, I’d clocked in at just shy of 31:00. Wow. Definitely on PB pace, even if only by a few seconds. I reasoned that another steady 3:53 km and a fast finish would perhaps net me a sneaky PB. Spurred on, I eventually caught the runner ahead, also with thanks to a short but steep descent. The effort rapidly mounted upwards with my breathing reflecting the uptick. A grimace formed on my face as I ran through the metaphorical treacle that we all encounter in the late stages of a race. I thrusted my arms more vigorously in the hope that my legs would go with them – fortunately they did. With nobody immediately behind or ahead of me, the cheers and encouragement from the Navigation Inn were solely mine. I lapped it up, especially as I had yet another short climb to tackle! 9km came in for 3:53.

andy_yu_dk10k_2018_02

Sprinting for a PB – photo by Brian Smith

I began feeling a little queasy from the effort and possibly all the food I’d previously eaten. Taking another look at my Garmin, I noticed it ticking over to 35:00. I just needed a 3:44 or faster and a shiny new 10k PB was available for the taking, despite not setting out for one originally. Two Halesowen club runners bobbed up and down some 50m in the distance. Despite my best efforts to reel them in, they too began wrapping their races up to leave us in stalemate. The aptly named Mile Flat created the illusion of lasting forever with no change on the horizon. My face was strained; closing my eyes periodically on the long and predictable straight helped soothe some of the burn. Passing the gate that we all exited to reach the Mile Flat, I began my kick, and so did the Halesowen runners for the distance between us remained at approximately 50m! Staring into the distance, my eyes were trained to detect anybody turning right. There were some flashing lights ahead, which belonged to the lead car parked on the corner. Runners indeed began turning right to begin their re-entry into the rugby club and for the finish. Back in 2016, the barriers and narrow space the organisers had set aside for runners to follow caught me out; I wanted to kick harder, but I was boxed in by other runners on that occasion. Not so this time! Whilst I’d reclaimed some distance from the Halesowen runners, I still had ample berth to get my sprint on. Back in the rugby club, I was spurred on to throw down one final kick for the line. I pumped my arms and lengthened my stride to increase my speed. The cheers from the crowd grew louder with each step; the compere mentioned my bib number and name for one last incentive to leave nothing behind as I charged through the line…

Post-race

I gingerly took a few steps through the finish funnel, whilst chugging down as much air as possible. A quick glance of my Garmin confirmed all I needed to know – 38:41 (38:40 courtesy of chip timing) meant a new PB by just 5 seconds! This was significant because the last PB was achieved on a pancake flat course, albeit on one of the warmest days of the year.

I found a quiet spot on the finish funnel floor for a few brief minutes of recovery whilst shaking the hands of those I ran with during the middle of the race. Once recovered, I joined the spectators to cheer a few familiar faces back in, including Andy Wadsworth of Sparkhill Harriers, Rich Turvey of Halesowen Triathletes (and runner-up of the Stoneleigh Park Reindeer Run 20k), and of course, Simon. Stopping to chat with Andy and Rich, Simon asked if we would ever do a race where I didn’t at least know somebody. “Only in Iceland,” came my reply – the first place I could think of which fit the bill!

24 hours later and upon reflection, I’m reasonably confident I could have probably run 10 seconds faster for only marginally more discomfort. I felt at ease for much of the first half of the race, and I know I can suffer a lot more in the final stage. This not only bodes well for the plethora of 10k races I have scheduled for the summer (Aldridge 10k, Wythall Hollywood 10k, Magor 10k, maybe even more), but primarily next week’s Shakespeare Half Marathon. 82:XX suddenly doesn’t look so foolhardy anymore!

Here’s the Strava data for the race.

This week’s running – 23rd to 29th April 2018

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Battling for third place at Merthyr parkrun – photo by Merthyr parkrun

The taper begins again. For the third time…

5k recovery

And just like that, the heat wave that struck the London Marathon was over within 24 hours, and cold and dreary normalcy resumed. A long sleeve top replaced the vest once more!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

11 miles with 2 at marathon pace and 1 at half marathon pace

Every Tuesday of late seems to be marred by unfavourable conditions, namely strong winds. This particular Tuesday was no different and all paced miles were straight into headwind. Saying that, I was pretty damn pleased with the splits:

  1. 6:44
  2. 6:46
  3. 6:23

My only concern is I’ve not spent as much time as I would like at or around half marathon pace, though the upcoming DK10K should remedy that.

Just as this run was concluding, some scrote decided to throw a half-eaten McFlurry out of a car at me! Thankfully, their aim was off and it landed some 2m ahead of me. What’s happened to society where people think it’s acceptable to do such a thing to somebody minding their own business on a run? I did contemplate picking the messy container up, chasing the car down and hurling it back through the open window, but they’d made it all the way up the road by the time I was ready…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

A week later and the fair-weather crowds from Cannon Hill Park had all dispersed. With the unpredictable nature of the weather, I currently have to pack a variety of kit to take to work with me. T-shirts, long sleeves, shorts, tights. I long for the simple times!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Run cut short because Thanos must be stopped!

Also known as 9 miles from work…

I love movies as much as I love running, so Marvel’s Avengers: Infinity War is a big deal. I’ve been watching the franchise since 2008 – before I even started taking running seriously! I had tickets for an evening screening; time was tight to pack a decent length run in, get home, have dinner and shoot back out again. I decided 8 miles from the office would suffice and I could then catch the bus for the remaining 2 miles.

I left work feeling pretty lethargic and noted that tapering must begin soon. Nothing felt right or connected. Reaching the detour point on the canal south of Brindley Place, a lost runner stood trying to make sense of the diversion map. I paused and offered him assistance to get him back on to the canal towpath via The Vale, but he opted to just turn around as he didn’t think he’d be able to keep up with me. I was hoping he’d come along to help freshen me up, but alas…

Exiting the canal by Lifford Lane for 8 miles, horror spread across my face as I saw two buses drive past before I had a chance to reach the bus stop. Seeing as they were scheduled to run every 8 minutes, I didn’t fancy hanging around for 16 minutes whilst cooling down, so I continued running for home. As I neared each subsequent bus stop, I glanced over my shoulder in the hope that another bus appeared, only to be left disappointed. Keeping an eye on time, I was quickly running out and was forced to pick the pace up. Reaching home, there were just a few hundred metres between the buses and me, so it was pleasing that I wasn’t far behind schedule without motorised assistance!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

And how was Infinity War? Bloody fantastic! They actually pulled it off!

Merthyr parkrun

Lis and I were back in her motherland once more, which meant another dose of parkrun tourism! My Welsh parkrun tourist conspirator, Ben, was unavailable so the originally planned Bryn Bach parkrun mutated into a solo trip to Merthyr parkrun.

At just barely over a year old, Merthyr parkrun has built a small but dedicated following, typically attracting around 25 to 50 participants each week. Sharing its DNA with many other newer events, the event doesn’t actually take place in a park at all, but rather on a stretch of public path that follows the Taff River, behind Merthyr Tydfil’s leisure centre. The leisure centre provides parking, toilets and a café for the parkrun essentials, all within a compact space for not much required to-ing and fro-ing.

Arriving very early, I thought I’d sussed out the course after studying its route and profile. Jogging along the paved path, the smell of bacon from the nearby Travelodge hotel permeated the air! I arrived at a fork, which perfectly resembled that of the map I’d observed. Jogging the other way, volunteers had arrived and began setting up, prompting me to wrap things up.

I had a chat with the tail walker for the day, who gave me a run-down of the course and what to expect. His eyes bulged out of his head when he learned I’d recently broken 250 runs; whilst there are dozens of 250 Club members at Cardiff parkrun (a 10 year old event), there’s very little cross-over with Merthyr parkrun, in spite of the relatively short geographical distance between them. The smaller events make for a nice contrast from the larger events I’m accustomed to; everybody seems to know everybody else and the locals roll out the red carpet to make visitors feel welcome, taking a personal interest in why somebody would drive 50 minutes to attend Merthyr parkrun.

Walking over to the start line, a fellow tourist asked me if I knew the course layout. I held my hands up and explained to Ronnie that I was in the same boat as him and hoped that somebody faster than us knew the precise route! Ronnie was visiting from Catterick parkrun, near Darlington; I was incredibly jealous as he described his local course as taking place on a horse racing track, making it flat and especially fast on calm days. Confusingly, we faced the opposite direction than which I expected us to head; had I got the course wrong, even with the perfectly matching route that I jogged?

From the line, the pace felt rather sedate and there was little exuberance on display. One youngster pulled away by a few metres, whereas a pack comprising of me, Ronnie and a few others took chase. A few hundred metres in, I glanced at my Garmin for some feedback and was shocked to see none of the metrics moving. It was almost like the screen had frozen over and then I realised my folly; I’d not reset things after my 200m set of strides… I opted to kill the recording and start things over, which is easier said than done at 5k pace! Annoyingly also, my heart rate monitor’s chest strap continually slipped due to not being wet enough to stay in place…

Overhead, the course shares a few similarities with Cardiff’s Grangemoor parkrun. Both take place over relatively compact footprints and feature plentiful use of switchbacks – five in total for both parkrun events. We approached the first switchback, with everybody tackling it with the grace of a giraffe on an ice rink! The path was slick from overnight rain and Ronnie almost lost his footing, but recovered in a nick of time.

The second switchback arrived shortly; with such a narrow path, there were few options for how to take it with me deciding the slow-entry and fast-exit method would be best. I was firmly in fourth place with the possibility of third if Ronnie tired. On low attendance weeks, first place has been known to finish in high 19 minutes or low 20 minutes, but this day wasn’t such.

On the approach to the south of the course, another youngster from the back joined the fray and overtook all of us with ease to take the lead. The former leader decided he wasn’t going down without a fight, so a battle ensued.

Thankfully, the next switchback was on a wider path to facilitate a smoother manoeuvre. All of a sudden, the challenger to the new run leader walked off the course, grasping at his guts due to a stitch. “Keep at it! Walk it off,” I hollered to try and spur him on to rejoin us. It was no use; he was spent from what was probably a start that was too fast for him, along with the unexpected mid-run battle. In his place, a new challenger took over and moved away from Ronnie and me. The two of us now had a battle of our own for third place!

I was taken aback when Ronnie was able to keep pace on a climb, especially as he was much taller than me. Equally shocking was me pulling away on the descent on the other side! Runners with long strides normally leave me for dust on downhill sections of courses, so I figured he must have been tiring.

We flew through a high-speed underpass section with two particularly vocal and encouraging marshals spurring me to challenge for second place. That wasn’t going to happen, especially as there was at least a 20-30m gap that had formed.

Reaching the switchback with a bollard for the second time, I decisively chose to grasp it with both hands and swing myself around it in a bid to not lose too much speed or footing whilst trying to keep Ronnie at bay. I had only a few seconds’ lead on him, so every move counted, as I had no idea of his finishing ability.

On the cusp of the final switchback, the leader had fallen back significantly into second place when I last saw him with a sizable advantage. I reasoned there must have been a marshalling error; when I arrived at the switchback myself, it had moved forward by perhaps 10-15m, and when I asked the marshals what had happened ahead, they looked at me, sheepishly, and pointed me back in the direction for the finish. Was the switchback too far on the first occasion, or is it supposed to move on the second lap?

I had a 5 second or so lead on Ronnie from my calculation of him passing a fixed location. I picked up my cadence to take advantage of the fast entry and exit from the underpass with the finish only metres further away, pleased that I’d done enough to bag third place as per my prediction that morning.

I shook the hands of the first and second place boys, and also that of Ronnie and another guy that we’d briefly spoken to on the start line. First place explained that he’d been sent further than he needed to be by the marshals on the final switchback, which can only suggest that the switchback wasn’t moved over in time for the second lap; I can’t help but wonder that placing it in a spot between the lap 1 and lap 2 positions would resolve any need for it to be moved at all?

Due to my Garmin mishap earlier that morning, I largely ran blind and had to rely on Ronnie’s 19:14 to estimate my own finish. It was officially recorded to be 19:05, so I was slightly disappointed to not squeeze a little more out of myself for sub-19; without all the switchbacks, I’m confident I’d have hit 18:50. Curiously, I’d somehow been promoted upwards to second place in the official results. I was definitely given the third place token, so perhaps the first place finisher had not run the full course and merely joined in partially for a tempo run?

Post-run, we were offered bottled water and cakes, which looked to have been donated by Sainsbury’s. The lady barcode scanning was in Sainsbury’s uniform, so it’s more than likely that they were the event sponsor to help get Merthyr parkrun off the ground and started.

Here’s the partial Strava data for this run.

Next on my Welsh tourism list is either Bryn Bach parkrun or Pontypridd parkrun.

10 miles – to Usk and back

What a difference a week makes! Whereas seven days prior, the London Marathon hovered around 25°C, this particular Sunday saw the inaugural Newport Marathon struggle to get much higher than 6°C!

I’d wisely chosen to don a long sleeve top to keep the chill at bay. More than anything, it was the strong, swirling gusts of wind that took their toll – whichever direction I faced, I ran straight into it.

Somewhat expectedly, I was the only runner out that morning. Many in the local area will have either been recovering from the London Marathon, or participating in the morning’s Newport Marathon and 10k. The route looked to be great for those seeking a fast time, with the only climb of significance between miles 9 and 10, consisting of some 10m of elevation change. The rest of the course is pretty damn flat, taking the challenging of becoming the UK’s flattest road marathon.

My own run was largely uneventful, though I was certainly glad to cap it at just 10 miles in preparation for a needed taper ahead of the upcoming Shakespeare Half Marathon.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

 

This week’s running – 9th to 22nd April 2018

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Hot enough for you?

So, how’s that heatwave treating everybody? Two weeks rolled into one, again, but we’re at least back in sync!

15 miles – to The Vale and back

Returning to the UK before 6am on a Sunday is tough. Returning to the UK after a 12 hour flight through 7 different time zones is tougher. Needless to say, the day’s 15 miles never materialised and were postponed to the following day, which I had booked off from work.

With two long runs in a single week, this resulted in a mammoth mileage total of 61 miles – topping my previous record of 60 miles back in the summer during peak marathon training. Disingenuous circumstances, yes, but you try telling that to my legs that still had to run the 61 miles…

The run itself was a bit of a shock to the system, going from the warmth of Hong Kong to barely single digit temperatures… Brightening things up for me was a chance encounter with the entire Close family with high-fives!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

Accommodating a Monday long run meant shifting the rest of my week around. What should have normally occurred on a Wednesday was brought forward to Tuesday, and you get the idea.

Running through Cannon Hill Park, the place was reasonably desolate apart from British Military Fitness doing their thing. Oh, and a random weirdo who suddenly decided to walk into my path and then have a full-blown conversation with himself before and after I passed him!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

11 miles with 3 at marathon pace

I may not be training for a marathon, but marathon pace was the perfect bit of stimulus after several weeks without anything faster of note during the week.

I was incredibly pleased with the splits, and even wondered about pushing the final mile out to half marathon pace:

  1. 6:49
  2. 6:48
  3. 6:46

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

6 mile recovery

Thanks to a half day from work (and our first official NHS baby scan), I had the opportunity to cover this out and back to Cannon Hill Park.

The keen eyed amongst you may notice that I decided to avoid Kings Heath high street and instead utilised back streets. This was two-fold; Kings Heath high street can be awful at rush hour and a recent analysis of the pollution levels were pretty shocking, especially for those like me gulping down massive lungfuls of it as I run. I do still use the high street when it’s quieter, but no longer when it’s busy.

The park remained quiet, almost like a slumbering giant in preparation for the following week’s onslaught of premature summer weather…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

Jet lag still persisted to have me waking up earlier than usual, which was no bad thing as I’m usually fighting the alarm on Saturday mornings. I’d also spent all of Friday on my feet, setting up an exhibition stand for a trade show at the NEC. Needless to say, I didn’t find this outing the easiest of parkruns. My legs felt lifeless and had no pop to them at all, so a simple sub-20 target was all I wanted and managed.

Simon and I did our usual warm-down to the Holders Lane car park when I paused a few times to greet runners I recognised. “You know everybody in Cannon Hill Park,” was Simon’s grand claim. Predictably, my response was, “I do not!” Cued up with perfect comic timing, the next people we ran past were Dave Broome and his family, who I waved and hollered out to. “Say nothing,” came my retort before Simon could get another word in! Because I’m a transparent guy, I had to later that day reveal to him that I also bumped into a fellow parkrunner who works at Gap in the Bullring…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

15 miles – to The Vale and back

This was pretty horrendous!

Clearly, my body was feeling the impromptu mileage spike of the week. Rather than potentialy break myself ahead of the critical spring-summer season, I scaled everything back to sit slower than 8:00 pace.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

11 miles from work with strides

Disappointingly, the weather system decided to lay down some ferocious headwind as I ran home from the office. Weighing up my options, I could either fartlek or just throw in some strides. The strides won and came into play whenever there was a break in the gusts.

Pleasingly, I’d correctly chosen to wear one of my lighter weight long sleeve tops to counteract the chill from the wind. As I left the office, the cleaning lady I always stop to chat with, quizzed me over how I choose what to wear when I run. I did share with her that it’s taken years of trial and error, with more victories than losses, but that when I got it wrong, I typically got it very wrong.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10 recovery – to Cannon Hill Park and back

And then the heat came!

I donned a vest and a pair of shorts and headed over to Cannon Hill Park for 10k at recovery pace. For somebody that dislikes running in the heat, I have to admit that it was pretty damn pleasant! Expectedly, the park was heaving so I was glad I was only jogging with no pace target with so many bodies to avoid.

In spite of my hay fever returning, my sense of smell was turned up to 11. Ever since my recent visit to Hong Kong, I’ve been paying a lot more attention to scents and how they’ve triggered quite vivid memories in my mind to come flooding back. The smell of the freshly cut grass and warm faux-summer air reminded me of my first few parkruns at Cannon Hill, leaving me to feel particularly nostalgic about how far I’ve developed as a runner.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

11 miles from work

There’s an on-going joke between Dave Burton and I that we’re very poor at getting our runs to time and sync together when we try and meet on the canal towpath. This struck again when Dave had planned to bump into me going in the opposite direction, yet I had decided to finish some work off in the office to have me setting off later than I normally would. We missed each other by mere minutes!

This was another warm run and I pointed out to the cleaning lady that I’d gone from a long sleeve top to a vest in only 24 hours! I did think I’d possibly not had enough to drink throughout the day and really should have taken a bottle of something with me. Thankfully, the sun was reasonably low in the sky as we’re only in April and not summer proper yet. I really do need to up my hydration game in the coming weeks or risk the consequences.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

There’s a quirk that I and several other runners experience, where the outcome of a run is inverted to the outcome of the warm-up. In other words, great warm-up equals crap run, and crap warm-up equals great run.

Jogging to Cannon Hill Park, my heart rate was a few beats higher than normal; my Garmin confirmed as much and even gave me a -3 performance condition score after only 1km at a very easy pace. I groaned and continued my way to the park.

That familiar smell of Cannon Hill was a rush to the head as I made my way to the bandstand. Unsurprisingly, everybody was in good spirits as we finally had some positive weather to accompany parkrun after seemingly months of wet and miserable conditions. Dave, bizarrely, chose to wear a long sleeve top and jogging bottoms to the park, compared to my skimpy t-shirt and shorts – I joked we looked like we were dressed for two different events!

From the line, I opted not to go with the tidal flow and remained in control. Over the few hundred metres that followed, I slowly reeled in faces I recognised whilst remaining reasonably comfortable. I surprised myself with how at ease my breathing was, especially in comparison to those immediately around me. 1km came in at 3:47 to be about where I wanted it.

I continued to feel pretty strong and with no pressure to commit to anything. Runners that had gone off too fast continued to come back to me. I found myself in a nicely sized pack of five, patiently hanging back to take advantage of their pace making to avoid exerting any more mental or physical energy than was needed. 2km clocked in at 3:50 for some minor slow down due to the climb back to the bandstand.

Going into 3km, more and more people began to tire and fall back. My pack reduced to just three; I tried my best to convince one of my cohorts to stay with me and to try and regroup with the Bournville Harrier a few metres in front. He stuck with me for a little while longer, but also faded like the rest. Nonetheless, I was able to overcome any effects of fatigue and I was actually getting faster for a split of 3:45!

I remained feeling pretty damn good. My breathing, whilst definitely working a little more than before, continued to be fully in control. The bone-dry conditions underfoot and my Streak LT3 shoes were like a match made in heaven; I had the confidence to throw my feet down and what returned was an ever increasing pace. I remained wide-eyed at what was unfolding with 4km coming in at 3:43!

My eyes darted from runner to runner ahead of me, each one eventually succumbing to my reel. Crossing over the bridge, my next targets were Gareth Gulson and Peter Blackwell – both faster than me on a typical day. But this day wasn’t just any day, for it was my day! Within seconds, I’d pulled shoulder to shoulder with them and then surged to get ahead by a few steps. Uh oh. I’d run out of runners to reel in and the next target was a good 20-30m away… I kept the effort up with the knowledge that any second, either Peter or Gareth would pull level with me again and the battle would restart. It never happened, though I was able to creep a few metres closer to the next guy in front. I switched my Garmin over to elapsed time and I could tell it was going to be close to being either side of 18:30, wholly dependent on how I handled the hill. I was maxed out and running on fumes; the controlled and measured breathing of before was long gone! Cresting the hill, I kicked with all I had left in the hope I could scrape an additional second or two.

18:36 was my official time of the morning. This became my fastest parkrun since December 2016 and my fifth fastest time at Cannon Hill. I was beaming and continue to wonder where that came from? As I said initially, crap warm-up equals great run!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

15 miles – to The Vale and back

With the London Marathon on the telly box, I headed out earlier than usual so that I could enjoy the coverage on a slight delay and without interruption.

The warmth persisted and I was convinced to take a water bottle with some High-Five Zero electrolytes for company. I even wore my Garmin on the opposite wrist in a bid to get rid of the awful watchstrap tan I picked up from Hong Kong…

Positive weather really does make us Brits less miserable, doesn’t it? I nodded and wished many of my fellow runners a good “morning”, and many reciprocated with an unforced response and smile.

I finished feeling pretty strong, so clearly the liquid refreshment was the right move.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

London Marathon 2018

Was this the warmest one on record, or did it rank second? It may as well have been the warmest one because my Strava feed resembles a warzone with casualties of the heat all over the place.

Congratulations to all who ran in the difficult conditions, but particularly to my fellow sub-3 hour marathon conspirator, Darryll Thomas. He sensibly chose to run to heart rate and of all the people I followed, he barely slowed at all to run a very steady race. He even achieved the amazing feat of equalling his marathon PB of 3:04:45!

Hong Kong running – 2nd to 7th April 2018

hong_kong_andy_yu

Ah, Hong Kong. The Pearl of the Orient. Asia’s World City. Honkers.

It’d been more than 20 years since the last time I was there, so we tied it in as part of Lis’ belated 30thbirthday celebration. Naturally, I took my running shoes with me, so read on to find out how I found Hong Kong as a tourist runner.

Admiralty to Central Pier and back x 3

Screen Shot 2018-04-17 at 21.24.02

Lis and I spent a lot of time around the Central district of Hong Kong Island, with it serving as a major hub to reach many other parts of the city. Strolling through the area on our first day, both of us couldn’t help but notice the large numbers of runners running up and down the promenade that leads to Central Pier. I kept my eyes peeled for potential running routes and this was one of the most accessible with minimal opportunities for me to get lost!

I returned a day later whilst Lis had a nap in the hotel. Travelling via MTR system, I felt incredibly exposed; I wore one of my skimpiest vest and shorts combos to factor in the 28°C temperature outside, but didn’t consider how high the air conditioning was turned up to!

Exiting Admiralty station, I only had a vague idea of where I needed to get to. There was an incredible amount of construction taking place, which meant certain exits and pedestrian access paths were closed off; thankfully, I successfully meandered my way to the start of my scoped out run – Tamar Park.

Tamar Park may sound grand on paper, but it was really just a collection of paths and a few patches of grass that are atypical of urban environments. Hong Kong unfortunately misses out on having a large-scale park in the vein of New York, Tokyo, London et al. Whereas Hong Kong does have plenty of country parks, they’re largely unpaved and better suited to trail runners than road runners.

One of my first thoughts when I started running towards Central Pier? “Damn. It’s hot!” 28°C along with humidity to match from the sub-tropical climate was a shock to the system; the last time I ran in such conditions was in Greece back in the summer of 2017. I had the sense to pre-load on some electrolytes back at the hotel and it was promising to see water fountains dotted around quite regularly throughout the Tamar Park section of the promenade.

I love running whilst abroad as it offers an opportunity to people watch without being too obvious. With my sunglasses on, nobody was any wiser that I was making observations like a laboratory scientist studying specimens in an experiment.

In spite of it still being incredibly warm and with the sun still high in the sky, there were dozens of runners out and about. The same held true on the previous day around 2pm when it was even warmer. Unlike Thailand, where runners only seemed to come out and play early in the morning or once dusk had settled, Hong Kongers appeared to take little notice of the conditions and simply ran when they could. I’m talking all types of runners; from seriously lean looking club runner types, to those merely out for an afternoon jog with no time or distance goal. Observing what people wore was also fascinating, with some adopting a more is more approach with long-sleeves and full-length tights (yikes and yikes), whereas others went with as little as they could legally get away with. I saw quite a few blokes running bare chested and I was tempted to join them, doing as the Romans do in Rome. Short-shorts, or split shorts, are also very much a thing in Hong Kong – they likely never went out of fashion! Many of the lean-looking male runners I saw sported them, and almost all of the sportswear stores I visited had them in plentiful supply in all sizes.

Making my way down the promenade, I had to keep my wits about me as people crossed to board or depart the timeless Star Ferry. Costing only 25p to 30p for a single ride depending on the exchange rate, it takes passengers across the water to and from Kowloon for some majestic views of the city, especially on clear days with little mist or haze. Passengers had little special awareness, which actually helped me out as it dictated that I had to be the one to take evasive manoeuvres.

I questioned myself once more if I were to be so bold to take my vest off and do as many of the locals did. There was little to no breeze that day and my only respite was the shade offered periodically by the Star Ferry terminals on the promenade.

Suddenly, all the tourists vanished and I found myself running through a much more industrial looking part of the promenade. I reached a tunnel and it was not obviously clear if there was a pedestrian footpath for me to follow, or that I could even get through to the other side. Rather than potentially end up on the evening’s local news, I decided against explorations and did a U-turn to head back to Tamar Park for another repeat. Each lap came to approximately 2km, and with a bit of faffing at the start to get back to the station, added up to 7 miles in total.

Having done a full day’s worth of sightseeing the day prior with lots of walking, my legs had seen better days. Much of the promenade was made up of hardwearing block paving – each shockwave was truly felt. My ribs and lower back were also still tender from the previous week’s go-karting shenanigans to have me falling apart at the seams…

One more lap and I was done. I had to return to the hotel via the MTR; I was thankful for the roaring air conditioning, especially as it was a rush hour train and I was incredibly self-aware of how sweaty I was, post-run…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Kowloon waterfront

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Hong Kong’s not an easy place to be a long distance runner. Hosting their own marathon in February, I have nothing but utmost respect for any Hong Konger that trains for the race with so few places to run long, undisturbed. The streets, whilst plentiful, are far from ideal for running on. Aside from being busy with other pedestrians, traffic light controlled crossings are everywhere. Hong Kong is a pretty compliant society, so the signals to cross are largely observed by most; needing to stop every 100m or so for a few minutes just isn’t practical when you’re trying to build endurance!

As much as I’d have liked to run a more imaginative route, time, accessibility and not getting lost were high on my agenda. I ended up on the other side of the water in Kowloon for a run along the other waterfont. If I had to describe Kowloon, I’d call it more traditional in comparison to Hong Kong Island. The buildings aren’t nearly as tall and there’s not quite as much polish as the more cosmopolitan Hong Kong Island.

Using the MTR, this time in morning rush hour, I travelled to Admiralty and changed lines to eventually end up at East Tsim Sha Tsui. As if by magic, I appeared exactly where I needed to be on the waterfront.

Normally, I would have been able to run through the “Avenue of Stars – monuments and statues to Hong Kong’s film and TV stars. Due to refurbishment of the general area, this section was closed off to require that I run a short stretch on pavement and jump a few traffic lights (shhhh…) before landing on the promenade proper.

There were dozens of runners out in force that morning. All shapes, sizes and ages. Normally, I’m the token Chinese guy out running and at races, so it was incredibly mind-boggling to see so many people from the same ethnic background as me out running. In a reversal of roles, I did see one sole white guy out running – we were like yin and yang, restoring balance to the universe, perhaps?

Peppered between hotels were apartment complexes – new and old. Some of the elderly residents practiced tai chi in the sun to be as clichéd Hong Kong as possible! Very gradually, the hotels disappeared, followed by the apartment complexes; in their place were more industrial-looking buildings, much like the extremities of my Hong Kong Island run.

Pace-wise, I didn’t feel like the heat affected me much at all, though this was after three whole days sightseeing in the sun for some quick acclimation. Similarly to the other side of the water, what I didn’t get on with was the very firm block paving underfoot. Adjusting my gait for a softer landing did little to offset the pounding, and with only an hour to play with, I chose to go with a simple out and back along the promenade.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Stray observations of a running man in Hong Kong

If you ever find yourself in Hong Kong and are in need of a 400m track, I’m aware of at least two for certain. I spotted the first 400m track, located at Aberdeen Sports Centre, whilst on an open-top bus tour; yes, there’s a place in Hong Kong named after a place in Scotland – go figure. The complex was open and completely free to the public. With so little space available, the Hong Kong Government have invested heavily in recreational facilities, and there were plenty of people coming and going from the 400m oval. Sadly, Aberdeen is not the easiest place to get to, with the nearest MTR station being Wong Chuk Hang and probably requiring a few line changes depending on where you’re based.

The other 400m track I’m aware of is at Wan Chai Sports Ground, and probably a lot easier to get to for most tourists, especially if staying at Wan Chai or nearby Causeway Bay. I did not see this track in person, so I can’t vouch for its accessibility – runners beware!

As an alternative to the track, I’m reliably informed the service road at the Happy Valley horse racing course is open for use by the public except on Wednesday, when horse races take place.

Finally, Victoria Park is worth looking into if you must run in a park and don’t mind covering laps. Unusually, there’s a “jogging track” within the park that’s made from the same synthetic material as a typical 400m track, except it’s not in the shape of an oval to better fit within the confines of the park. I did spot a sign requesting that the track be used for running only, though I’m told it attracts plenty of walkers that get in the way…

If you’re in need of running gear, you’re in luck as Hong Kong has no shortage of Nike and Adidas stores. Garmins, especially the high end examples like the Fenix, were also very easy to source, though the poor exchange rate and inflation means you’re unlikely to get a better deal than back here in the UK.

Well, that’s about it for my ramblings!