This week’s running – 27th of January to 2nd of February

Mentally tough for Andy Yu

It’s getting tougher now, mentally and physically…

This week was a tough one. Every workout seemed to take its toll on me!

The speedwork session that wasn’t

With all this emphasis on slower paced running, I was game for getting a burst of speed in my legs. The session I had in mind was 8x 800m reps at threshold pace; not as intense as 5x at 5k pace but the benefit is geared towards endurance rather than out and out raw speed.

So I stepped on the treadmill for my 1 mile warm-up and everything seemed fine. The first rep also ticked by without issue. The second rep proved to be my undoing with a stitch that was characterised as a stabbing pain; I couldn’t shake it off and had to abandon the session mid-way through the rep. I really can’t imagine why this had happened; I did wear my heart rate monitor but a stitch has only occurred once before due to the strap being too tight. Perhaps I’d eaten too close to running and the intensity combined to produce the perfect storm?

To try and redeem myself, I ran one mile as a warm-down and called it quits after that. Another fantastic start to the week!

Not much to look at but here’s the Garmin data.

Teaching an old dog new tricks

When I was new to the world of GPS watches, I bought what I felt was appropriate for me at the time. I had invested a number of years into the Nike+ ecosystem and not wanting to lose all of my historical data, I opted for the Nike+ GPS Sportwatch. Not a bad watch in its own right, but definitely a bit slim on features and run metrics available. One feature I had thought of and began to crave was some sort of facility to produce a custom workout, where each mile had a target pace associated and the watch would alert you if you ever ran too fast or too slow.

Fast forward several years and I simply made do without. If I wanted to incorporate a mile’s warm-up into my run without it affecting the overall average pace, I had to run the warm-up and quickly end it, transitioning into the main run. Or I have to accept the easy first mile will skew the average results and have to run each subsequent mile using the immediate pace and mile splits.

Whilst resetting the interval workout on my Garmin 910XT, I noticed an option called “Custom workout”. Having a nose around this sub-menu, it seemed to be exactly what I wanted several years ago – the facility to create pace targets for each and every mile of a run! I decided to test it out for my upcoming 6 miles along Hagley Road by programming in the following:

  • Mile 1 @ 9:00 (tolerance of 8:55 and 9:05)
  • Miles 2 – 6 @ 8:00 (tolerance of 7:55 and 8:05)

Starting the run, my pace was all over the shop and the Garmin was beeping and vibrating at me every 10 seconds or so, telling me to slow down or speed up. After 0.5 miles and on flat terrain, my pace finally settled and the watch stopped beeping at last. What was unusual to see was despite my pace being off target, the immediate pace feedback being reported appeared much more stable than on the main display of my 910XT, almost as if some pace smoothing algorithm had been enabled.

Going into mile 2, the incessant beeping returned until I was able to settle into 8 minute miles. It’s easier said than done but I found trying to accurately speed up by a minute per mile without any wastage to be very difficult. If the Garmin said I was too slow, I ran faster to compensate and would then overshoot the target; if the watch said to slow down, I would slam on the brakes and sandbag by too much. Speeding up steadily and imperceptibly is an art in itself and a very energy efficient way to run – a skill I’m trying to hone for the London Marathon in April.

Once the pace did settle and the watch stopped beeping, I was amazed at how steady the Garmin feedback was. It was locked on 8:00 for so long that I thought it was broken at one stage; it did eventually fluctuate by a second either side. I did begin to question whether the immediate pace algorithm used by the Garmin was actually more accurate in custom workout mode, or whether it genuinely was me that was controlling the steady pace?

Looking at the pace chart afterwards, this appears to be one of the steadiest paced outdoor runs I have ever completed. Sadly due to the way I created the custom workout, I don’t have precise mile split data. Not understanding how the function behaves, I assumed each mile split would be logged regardless but the custom workout appears to over-ride this setting, much to my annoyance. If I want each mile split to be recorded and paced independently, I need to create each mile as a new step. This is an absolute ballache to configure on the Garmin 910XT directly but thankfully, there is a way to create the workout via Garmin Connect and upload it straight to the watch.

There are some other caveats with custom workouts. You need to be quite reasonable with the pace tolerance you set. Too wide and you could slow down by too much and never know about it; too narrow and if you struggle to hit the pace, you’ll be pestered repeatedly by alerts with demotivation to follow. I found the 10 second tolerance I gave myself was just about acceptable, mainly because I knew it was a pace well within myself and also because of the predominantly flat terrain of Hagley Road. In a race environment, I will be sticking with the virtual pacer where I am safe in the knowledge that I have until the very end of the race to make up any deficit, or if I’m performing very well, I may even have time in the bank.

Here’s the Garmin data to see what all the fuss is about!

Cannon Hill Parkrun winter course

Remember last week when I said Cannon Hill’s run directors were toying with the idea of a winter course? Well, they actually went and did it. When Martin Foster told me to look at the new finish funnel area at the top of the hill, my heart sank and my face must have looked like I had just received news that my fictional dog had been run over.

Thankfully, I was only intending to run at threshold pace so my performance would not suffer. Nigel was also along for the easier paced run, agreeing that we’ll have to be more decisive about PB attempt days.

We were quite good on the pacing front, more or less on the right speed and with the odd conversation here and there. Personally, I found the pace required more of my concentration on the approach to the triangle. This could be entirely psychological where you’re at the furthest point from the finish and the narrow path encourages a slight slow down anyway.

We were both dreading the upcoming hill, which apparently featured a 48ft difference in height. The bottom of the hill was well marshalled with volunteers cheering and urging you on. I like to attack hills hard, using my small stature and low body weight to my advantage; after all, the more time you waste on the hill, the slower your overall time becomes and the more suffering you must endure! Several runners that were just ahead of me on the approach now appeared to be running through treacle, severely slowing down on the uphill climb. I was perfectly fine on the incline itself but I then found I had to muster up some additional steam to carry on driving on the flat 50m or so at the top to the finish line.

I’m really not looking forward to the next occasion where I smash myself senseless on the course…

Here’s the Garmin data.

Go long or go home

What’s that bright yellow thing in the sky? And the blue stuff around it? It’s making my eyes squint and my skin feels warm when it’s facing me. Oh yeah, it’s the sun. Where, oh where have you been old friend?

The sun really did come out to play on Sunday, just in time for my long run of 19 miles. After last week’s faux pas of heading out on the south Birmingham canals towards Bournville, I chose to head north towards Spaghetti Junction for my typical two loops to be followed by a trip to Edgbaston Reservoir for 3 miles there. I really don’t like the up and down rises of this particular stretch of canal, making an otherwise strenuous long run even tougher than it should be. But in its favour, the overall condition of the paths is far superior due to better drainage, less cover for better aeration and simply fewer people traversing the stretch.

I decided to rein the pace in ever so slightly to a target average of 9 minute miles. I’m getting to the stage where the length of the runs will really take their toll on me, which is what I want ultimately as part of marathon training, but not if it means I’m too crippled and knackered to do any training on the following Tuesday and Thursday. Consistency is key and being able to spend regular time on my feet is just as important as spending loads of time on my feet in one session.

One significant change I made was taking my iPod shuffle with a few episodes of Marathon Talk loaded to listen to. 3 hours on your own, doing nothing but running can take its toll mentally and I wanted some external focus to concentrate on. So long as my pace didn’t suffer, I was happy to indulge myself this once. I also wore my Marathon Talk t-shirt for all the help I could get!

The early miles ticked by quite quickly but my right IT band reared its ugly head every now and again. I tried switching dominant legs so that I produced more toe-off power with my left leg; this appeared to do the trick and would also have the side-effect of strengthening the left side of my body for more balanced power output in total.

There were very few people out and about, so no surprises there. The stretch from about mile 4 onwards still stank to high heaven, so no surprises there either.

My pacing was quite consistent throughout, with most miles around 9:14 or 8:50 pace; if it wasn’t for rises and dips on the course, I think the evidence supports my feeling that I could have comfortably run at 8:55 pace for the whole 19 miles.

Running past the canal exit that leads on to Sandpits was very difficult to ignore; so close to home and the suffering would have ended if I made that choice. I resisted all temptation and knew I’d only be disappointed in myself had I have taken the easy way out.

I was a little nervous heading out towards Edgbaston Reservoir because I had become lost two weeks ago, taking the long route there. I checked the route from the canal exit before leaving home, but you’re never entirely sure if you’re going the right way until you actually get there; thankfully the sailing club entrance to the reservoir appeared before my very eyes and thus the closing stage of my long run began.

Mentally, it was slightly refreshing to be running in a new environment after the solitude of the canals. There were plenty of people about including idiotic dog walkers with too much slack on their leads. There were plenty of runners around as well; two were absolutely hammering themselves into the ground with very unstable looking gaits.

I ran the first loop of the reservoir, trying to push the pace slightly but topped out at 8:35. I had one mile left to try and get as close to marathon race pace as possible and boy did it hurt. Whilst it was only 35 seconds faster to get to 8:00 mile pace, it felt like a substantial effort to get there. Marathon training totally messes with your perception of effort and speed; 8:00 minute miles are something I can run with ease but 26.2 of them at that pace or faster? Well, we’ll have to wait until after April 13th to see if it’s possible for me or not…

An easy 1 mile warm-down back to the flat finished me off for the day. This week is thankfully a scheduled easy 7 days, which actually means a pared back long run of 10 – 15 miles but everything else scheduled continues as normal.

Have a gander at the Garmin data here.

It’s that time of the week again for another entry from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book (it’s quite fitting given what I’ve been writing about this week):

Know your pace

I have a colleague who loves to innocently invite me and other hapless Runner’s World staffers out for “easy” lunchtime runs that invariably turn into sub-7 minute  pace gasp fests. And like Charlie Brown trusting Lucy (yet again) to hold the football, hoping against hope that this time she’ll stay true to her word, we always end up flat on our backs, hurting and cursing our naivety.

It’s not her fault. She’s so fast that her “easy” just happens to be our “tempo pace”. (Did I mention that this colleague is an Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier?) Really, we’ve got no one to blame but ourselves. And it does wind up being a great workout, whether we were scheduled for one or not.

But in general, please: if you ask a friend to join you for an “easy” run, it’s no fair to take her out and clobber her at 10k pace. Equally uncool: inviting someone to accompany you on a “short” run, then dragging him along on an out and back 12 miler. If you don’t know each other well enough to understand implicitly what “easy” and “hard”, “short” and “long” mean, then make it explicit: say, “I’m going to go 4 or 5 miles at around 8:30 pace. Wanna come?” Then stick to the plan.

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