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

Another 20 miler this week

This week was all about going long  and going fast again

The aftermath (or lack of)

All of my recent long solo runs have left me a little drained and worse for wear. And that’s exactly what they’re supposed to do, forcing the body to become stronger and more resilient with regular stimuli.

I was dreading how I would feel on Monday after the Bramley 20, or even Tuesday as Tony Audenshaw’s song, “I’ve got Tuesday legs” depicts. Imagine to my surprise when I woke up feeling pretty damn good on Monday. There was no stiffness in my legs, no aches or blisters on my feet (it must be the More Mile socks) and judging by my appearance, you’d have been none the wiser that I’d ran 20 miles at race pace just a day earlier. I can only put the lack of any soreness down to the high protein KFC lunch, helping to rebuild damaged muscle fibres and also the recent sessions of sports massage.

I had booked myself in for a session with the sports therapy clinic at the college, just as a precaution in case anything did flare up. Damian was treating me again, this time on his own, and we started with how the race went. The students at the college love to see patients coming back because it shows progression (or sometimes, lack of) with any treatments and remedies that have been provided. He was as surprised as I was with my range of motion and my report of no adductor issues out on the course. He did some flexibility measurements to compare against my data from a few weeks ago. In my left leg (the good one), flexibility had increased by 5 degrees; nothing to write home about but an improvement nonetheless. In my right leg, we measured a whopping 19 degree improvement compared to before! And this was after a 20 mile race – imagine what it could have been before 20 miles?

We went on to do some sports massage work along with some assisted stretches, which were both a relief and quite painful, but clearly helping so the old adage of “what doesn’t kill you can only make you stronger” certainly holds true.

I’m back in at the sports therapy clinic again in a week’s time – an absolute bargain for just £5 per session.

Tuesday speedwork

My treadmill interval session just wasn’t happening on Tuesday. The Bramley 20 and starting a new job had left me pretty tired and I simply didn’t have the mojo to blast out my usual 5x reps at 5k pace. I only managed 3x reps and whilst I could have possibly pushed on to 4x, I was conscious of how I was feeling and squeezing out one or two further reps had the potential to push me over the edge.

What was also frustrating was I ended up on yet another treadmill which seemed to skew my pacing. I really don’t know which machine is accurate anymore and I need to get to a running track to try and accurately calibrate my footpod again for indoor use.

Here’s the Garmin data for the session.

6 miles along Hagley Road

Ah, the frustrating run. Everything about this run annoyed me from my pace, my Garmin and the traffic.

I used the custom workout mode on my Garmin again to help me run a mile warm-up at a slow pace, followed by 5 miles at around marathon pace. The warm-up was fine but I struggled to hit the target pace despite efforts to speed up. I eventually managed to hit marathon pace but this was short lived; my Garmin started to whine at me incessantly for creeping outside of the 7:55 maximum speed! I am only going to use the Virtual Pacer at the London Marathon, where if I’m on target, the timer will read “0 seconds ahead”; if I’m ahead by a small margin, then I’m in a good place; and if I’m behind, then I can always just switch to another screen to take my mind off pacing rather than having some inane chime ring every few seconds to remind me of my failings!

As if the run couldn’t get any worse, I also managed to hit each and every traffic light on Broad Street and Hagley Road, causing me to go long to avoid having to stop. Some days, I’m lucky to never hit the traffic lights but I guess you can’t win them all.

Here’s the Garmin data.

Pacing Mr Andy

After several weeks of slower paced Parkruns and increasingly longer Sunday runs, I wanted a faster effort with the target of dipping under 20 minutes. Dave seems to have a magical ability to run consistent 19:5X performances each week, so I enlisted his pacing assistance to help get me there. This would be a complete role reversal where it’s normally me that paces Dave.

Elsa also made her much welcomed return to Parkrun after an extended period of absence.

It was a near-perfect day for Parkrun, with cool temperatures and blue skies, prompting me to break out my sunglasses for their first Parkrun outing in months. Following Dave took out a lot of the pressure and stress of a fast effort; if he slowed down, then I would slow down and if he went faster then so did I. On a few occasions, the gap did widen and I almost let Dave go, but I managed to muster the strength to chase. At one point, I even jumped ahead to try and lift the pace going into the triangle, a notorious point of slowdown, but Dave resumed pacemaking duties almost immediately.

In retrospect, I definitely didn’t feel like I was working too hard to maintain the effort. On a bad day, or a PB attempt, I’m normally huffing and puffing from the little bridge onwards until I reach the finish line. On this occasion, there was none of this; sure, I was working hard but definitely within myself and under control.

I had no intentions of beating Dave; all I wanted was a fast finish time and with just 400m left to go, I simply did my best to hang on as we went through the gears. The final hill took a tremendous amount of grit to tackle with a final push at the end to cross the finish line. To my shock and surprise, Dave had paced us around the course in speedy 19:34 and 19:36 efforts respectively! I was wrecked and had to sit down next to Jonny Costello for a few minutes to regain some composure. I was elated and it showed I hadn’t lost too much fitness despite the marathon training (Nike+ says I’ve covered more than 140 miles in the last 30 days!). Dave has also equalled my second fastest 5k time at Cannon Hill so we really are quite evenly matched, broadly speaking.

Take a look at the Garmin data here.

Mike was celebrating his 100th Parkrun and is officially the first Kings Heath Running Club member to reach the hallowed number.

Last week, the team behind Cannon Hill Parkrun had to reluctantly cancel the event due to a lack of core management available. They put out a plea for people to come forward who would be happy to be trained up as potential run directors and other core roles, of which I volunteered my time and services to learn how to process the results. I love to run and traditionally, most of the volunteer roles preclude you from running; the beauty of processing the results is you need only do them after the run has taken place! I sat down with a chap named Ben Clarke from Kingsbury Water Parkrun, with Rob Foster showing us the ropes. There are a few steps involved to get the results working, for example the times are recorded on one device and the positions are recorded on another and must be paired; this is why it’s so important that people stay in the right order until they’ve collected their finisher’s token. The position and time data can be manually edited for corrections, such as when people have recorded their own time and there’s a large discrepancy compared to the official time. The hardware involved is rather temperamental to say the least, where the primary timer actually failed and the backup timer was called in. Rob revealed that previously on multiple occasions, the data would not pair together and the team had to manually enter positions and times into the database for processing. Watching what the team goes through to lay on a free, timed 5k run for us each week has really opened my eyes to what’s involved. Next week, Ben and I will be unleashed on real data to work with so I apologise in advance if the results are late or non-existent!

The long run dilemma

Remember a few months ago when I was speaking of A races and B races? Well, clearly London is my A race and everything training-wise has been geared to complement that, sacrificing the Silverstone Half Marathon in the process to treat it as a faster paced training run. As Dave recently put to me, it is a horrible waste to use fully-fledged events as training runs but then it is growing increasingly difficult for me to be in PB shape for every distance I run at all times, so something’s got to give.

With all of the above in mind, I have decided to train through Silverstone with minimal taper. That means I went out and completed a 20 mile solo run yesterday! Distance-wise, I had two obvious routes that I could utilise. The first was the north Birmingham canal loop, running underneath Spaghetti Junction three times; the second was two laps of the north Birmingham canal loop with a stretch out towards Edgbaston Reservoir for three laps there. Ultimately, I went for the latter option for the greater range of scenery and environment it provided.

Clif Shot Bloks

Sugary goodness for them long runs

I wasn’t in the best condition venturing out on the long run. I didn’t get much sleep due to a late night out (for me) and excessive caffeine consumption as part of it; if I was lucky, I reckon I caught maybe four or five hours’ worth of ZZZs. Dressing for the long run also proved troublesome, with predicted rain and already present high winds to contend with. I also planned to take a pack of Clif Shot Bloks out with me as part of a nutrition experiment. I’ve seen this product before and my local Boots has started stocking them; the lure of cherry flavoured chews laced with caffeine was too good to resist!

I also took a few episodes of Marathon Talk along with me for company. Again, I don’t need to rely on it but keeping my mind occupied for almost three hours is a feat on its own.

The target pace was the usual average of 8:55 per mile. Running down Newhall Hill as part of my first mile, I was immediately smacked by an incredible headwind – I could tell already that this wasn’t going to be an easy day! Setting foot on the canal, I was sheltered from a lot of the wind and tried settling into my target pace. It proved tricky at first and a complete contrast to the Bramley 20 where Kev and I were in the thick of it almost immediately. Ironically when not being battered by the wind, my long sleeve top and running tights were almost too warm for the conditions. I kept my gloves on but had to roll my sleeves up and unzip the top all the way down for some much needed ventilation; I was sweating already and with limited fluid in my CamelBak, I didn’t want to be in a position where I would use up all my supply with several miles left to run at the end.

Running steady splits on this stretch of the canals is always tricky, with locks, kissing gates, and steep descents to contend with. On this particular run, my Garmin seemed incredibly sensitive to running underneath Spaghetti Junction, where the immediate pace would freak out but then struggled to correct itself via the Virtual Pacer. The problem with the Garmin setup is that even with my footpod attached, it will only kick into footpod mode when a complete loss of GPS signal occurs; if you’re running in an area with crappy signal, but a signal nonetheless, it will utilise this when in actual fact, the footpod would probably be more accurate and stable. Nike’s configuration was far superior, where it used the GPS signal to feed into the footpod constantly, so it was always technically calibrated. It would also switch over to footpod mode if the signal became weak, rather than relying on a total signal loss. The end result was a far more stable immediate pace, whether I was running under bridges, through tunnels or on open roads.

After three or four miles, I sampled my first Shot Blok. The flavour was pleasant and the texture was very similar to the cubes you get from a pack of jelly. They dissolved very easily once you started chewing them, though I can’t say I felt any immediate benefit from them unlike some other gels or drinks I’ve used in the past. I can only guess I was merely maintaining my already ample energy levels, rather than allowing for spikes and troughs.

Running past Star City, the wind was back in full force and I had to wrap up warm again. The headwind really did feel like I was running straight into a brick wall at times and a real drain on resources. There were several runners out that day and all but one of them were running in the opposite direction to me, really taking advantage of the tailwind.

Heading back towards the Aston Junction, the tunnels caused my Garmin to jump about again where I was either penalised on pace (slow-down for no reason), or given a free boost. Going into the second lap, it was very much a repeat of the first but felt a touch easier since I was fully warmed-up. At various points, I would even go as far as saying I felt great!

Finished with my stint on the northern canals, I ventured back to Brindley Place to detour out towards Edgbaston Reservoir for the remaining 5 miles. My pace was now smooth and I felt relaxed and ready to finish the long run off. Once I stepped off the canal, everything suddenly became a struggle and I faded a little. Entering Edgbaston Reservoir via the rowing club exit, I was immediately greeted by that troublesome headwind again. As before, every other runner there was running in the opposite direction to me for that tailwind boost. I really had to concentrate and hone in on the target pace (which was now averaging 8:53, bonus!) for three laps before hitting 20 miles.

Memories of the time when I ran eight laps of Edgbaston Reservoir came back to haunt me and I hadn’t even finished the first lap yet of the day. This was not going to be easy… Thankfully, the tree lined portions of the reservoir offered some much needed protection from the elements and the flat terrain helped me get a steady rhythm on. Like running a 5k, it was that middle lap of the reservoir that proved the most challenging where I was exactly halfway; neither as fresh as I was at the beginning of the three laps and still some way from the end. This was exactly like how the closing stages of last year’s marathon felt where the mind plays tricks on you, with a mile feeling dramatically longer than it should. I used all the tricks I’d picked up to get me through, like breaking the distance down into more manageable and measurable chunks, such as running to that bench or tree there, or catching up to the dog walkers ahead of me.

On my final lap and with just 1.5 miles left to go, I did my best to keep it all together. I wolfed down my remaining Shot Blok and emptied my CamelBak to leave it all out there. Whilst there was a distinct lack of blowing at Parkrun on Saturday, this final lap of Edgbaston Reservoir more than made up for it with a triumphant return of the choo-choo train impression. I was staring at the distance counter on my Garmin like a man possessed; 1.0 miles left, 0.5 miles left, 0.25 miles left. The beep of 20 miles sounded and it was all finally over!

I had already planned with Lis to pick me up at 13:45, estimating that it would take me around 3 hours to complete 20 miles at target 8:55 pace. The actual finish time? 2 hours and 57 minutes for near precision timing! After a quick call to Lis to confirm the pick-up and to request a bottle of water, I slowly jogged to the carpark as part of my warm-down.

I was incredibly pleased with the effort and whilst I ran a minute per mile slower than at the Bramley 20, the perceived effort by my body and mind of running 20 miles alone was near identical to last week so I know I’m in a good place with my training.

The Garmin data for this run can be found right here.

Here’s this week’s entry from Mark Remy’s The Runner’s Rule Book:

Love your tan lines

You may be tempted to “even out” any tan lines left from your running watch, socks, and/or ID bracelet. Don’t. Those tan lines aren’t something to be ashamed of. Far from it. They are hard-won emblems of accomplishment. Sport them proudly!


2 thoughts on “This week’s running – 17th to 23rd of February

  1. Hi Andy, it was really good to meet you on Saturday and I’m sure we can be trusted to do the results properly this week. Well anyway Rob seemed to be quite sure so that’s good enough!
    I’m also really pleased to have found your blog. As a relatively new runner it’s interesting to see in detail what it takes to get your speed up and go the longer distances.

    • Hi Ben, thanks for your message and good to hear from you! Glad you like the blog – there’s several months’ worth of entries to sift through if you ever suffer from insomnia.

      Apparently, some of the tokens were handed out in reverse order in the middle bunch of the crowd, which could go some way to explaining some of the oddities with the results we were looking at.

      Fingers crossed the three of us can cobble something together! See you on Saturday.

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