This week’s running 24th to 30th of March 

The Manchester runaround

Manchester – nice city but piss-poor for runners!

Yes, your eyes do not deceive you. This entry is out on time!

A busy week for me with a few days away from home for work, but I still got my runs in! This was the first of three taper weeks where I opted to go a little easier.

5k in Manchester

I love running in new places. It’s the perfect stimulus and gets you exploring, so long as you don’t get lost.

I was up north during the first half of the week for meetings and not wanting to let the hazards of eating out constantly destroy all the good training I’ve put in, I took my running shoes with me and laced up whilst I was in Manchester.

I love Manchester as a city but god, it’s shite for runners, especially the city centre. An online acquaintance of mine from Cardiff regularly works in Birmingham and when he asked me for running routes, I told him the canals would suit him perfectly; his feedback was overwhelmingly positive. Running routes simply don’t exist in Manchester city centre!

I wanted to get 5k under my feet and simply went and tried to stay as straight as possible without crossing too many main roads and traffic lights. Sadly, main roads and traffic lights are what Manchester city centre is all about and I had to dice with traffic a few times (foolish, I know). The roads and pavements in Manchester are also piss-poor with potholes and loose paving slabs galore. I did actually turn my left ankle ever so slightly on the return to the hotel and it was only several days later where it felt right again.

Meeting up with my old uni bud, Andy Campbell, he was going to suggest hooking up with a local running club near him but given I only wanted 5k, it wasn’t really worth the effort. Like speaking with Neil Muir the week before, it was great to chat with Andy as a fellow athlete that’s been through everything I’m going through right now.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

6 miles along Hagley Road

With my feet firmly back in Birmingham, I ventured out towards the old faithful that is Broad Street and Hagley Road.

I wanted to run the first mile easy for it to be a true warm-up and then see where the rest of the run would take me. I’m not great at running by feel, instead running as a slave to my GPS watch.

After an easy opener, I eased myself in and everything started to feel good and much better than normal. I glanced at my Garmin periodically and the pace I was hitting surprised me a little where I fully expected to feel dreadful like always on Thursday evenings. I hadn’t fuelled up well either but I didn’t feel hungry and the empty stomach feeling never appeared. If it hadn’t have been for one rogue slow mile, I would have royal flushed as well!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

Cannon Hill Parkrun

In a week of breaking from the norm, I decided to go one step further and really shake up my morning Parkrun routine. I normally have toast for breakfast before a run but instead chose to have some of Lis’ Victoria sponge that she baked a few days prior. I had achieved my goal of hitting 9 stone and 5 pounds as my marathon race weight and I wanted to try and stay as light as possible, so a small slice was all I allowed myself. I also halved the amount of energy drink I normally have to keep additional weight at bay. And the final kicker? I didn’t have any beetroot juice or coffee and instead brewed a very strong espresso to have just before hitting the start line at Cannon Hill.

Arriving at Cannon Hill Park, I completed my normal warm-up of just over a mile. I wasn’t feeling great but I rarely do before Parkrun. The weather was spot on for running with just a little wind and temperatures around 10 or 11 degrees. The ground was a little slippery underfoot but this will remain a problem until the summer.

Meeting up with Dave and Elsa, we all admitted to feeling poor and made our excuses early on. I necked my espresso back and boy did it kick like a mule! I immediately felt the buzz and hoped it would last for 30 minutes more until my run was over. Heading to the start line, I couldn’t tell if we were on record numbers or not but the wide field had me feeling anxious. On “go”, we were off and somebody fell over again just to the right of Dave and me! If anybody ever trips me up, I’m going to drag a few people down me, I’ll say that now!

I wanted to run a sub-20 to give me confidence again that last week was merely a pacing blip and a lack of runners to pace with had made me work much harder than I should have. I was also running using km splits after a conversation Dave and I had the previous day. I prefer mile splits but we both agreed that for shorter distances of 10k and under, km splits give you much more pacing feedback and a chance to more readily correct any mishaps. I was just over target for the first km when I caught up to Ed Barlow; I figured he must have been finishing up a long run because he was running at my 5k pace rather than his normal break-neck sub-18 minute ability. He broke off shortly after and I hung back with a small group at sub-20 pace.

Running with a group made all the difference and the consistency was fantastic. Passing the bandstand on the second lap, I glanced over to make sure there was enough space to move over without cutting a group member up and he gave me a verbal all-clear. I joked that I’d seen some atrocious race cutting and pile-ups over the years and we both chuckled. Ed was still just ahead of my group and I tried to maintain the distance between us. Going into the triangle, I could see Dave was storming ahead and at least a good 20 to 25 seconds ahead of me. I shouted some encouragement over and knew he was close to beating our joint-19:18 PBs, if not surpassing them entirely.

Exiting the triangle, I did what I could to lift my pace to minimise the rot that normally settles in. To my amazement, it wasn’t dramatic and only 5 seconds behind target and only 10 seconds slow for the entire run; easily clawed back with a fast final km and sprint finish. I didn’t encourage anybody else on to try and save some breath – if you fail to get a cheer from me, I’m not being rude but simply on for a good time!

As my Garmin beeped and ticked over into the final km, I told the guys around me that we had just 1000m to go. I ramped the pace up a touch to take me home and to get what speed I could in before the final hill. I continued to kick and broke free from my group and had Ed firmly in my sights by no more than a few seconds. Charging past the Mac, the marshall cheered me on by name; I always feel bad that I can only respond with “thanks marshall” because I don’t know who they are. I realise that it’s probably not difficult to identify who I am by my name on the results but still, I can’t help but feel bad.

With just 400m left to go after passing Fergal’s/Dave’s Corner, I kicked with all I had left to try and catch Ed who was still just a few seconds ahead. Storming up the hill, Helen cheered me on for that final boost I needed for the final dash towards the line. Ben Clarke was at the funnel and gave me some more encouragement as I approached the end to finish with 19:48 (rounded down to 19:47 officially).

I was wrecked and couldn’t stop panting like a dog. It was a struggle to stay steady on my feet and had to lean against the wall for balance. I was happy with my performance and the new strategy seemed to work well. I found Dave, only to be told that he had managed to PB with 19:15 (rounded down to 19:14 officially) which was fantastic news to hear. 19:18 was a very rewarding PB for both of us and I knew it wouldn’t be long before Dave surpassed himself based on how consistent his times have been as of late. It’s given me a firm target to work towards this summer, that’s for sure!

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

10 miles at marathon pace with Dave

I’m conscious that I haven’t done as much marathon pace work as I would like, especially during my long runs, so I set out to correct this by covering 10 miles with Dave. 7:50 per mile was the target pace and that’s what we set out to do.

I felt somewhat out of sorts this morning due to the 1-hour time shift to account for daylight savings. I was up at the real 6:30am to my body, not the faux 7:30am that was reading on my watch. A couple of us had gone for a late curry last night and my stomach was a teensy bit fragile this morning which also didn’t help. Getting over to Dave’s for 10am, we only go and discover that David Williams from Parkrun is a neighbour of Dave’s, living only 30m or so further up the street!

Dave’s prescribed route would have us running 5 miles or so into town along the canals, then using the Walkway to navigate back to Harborne and finish up via Selly Oak and Bournville. In total, this would take us to just over 10 miles which is just what the doctor ordered.

The early opening miles didn’t really click for me – marathon pace felt unfamiliar and alien. I felt like I was working much harder than I should have been for just 10 miles. Dave and I were chatting away and this could have partially been the cause where any spare capacity was used on speaking.

One stand out annoying moment was when we approached the tunnel. There seemed to be an endless stream of runners coming through from the other side, all at different paces but seemingly together or part of the same club. Knowing that they have that many runners, they really should have kept everybody closer together to minimise the disruption; had Dave and I waited for everybody to have come through, it would have taken several minutes I think!

We made our way over to the Walkway and as ever, I wouldn’t be able to navigate back there on my own. I really should explore it on my own and try to commit the route in and out to memory.

A couple of tricky uphill portions made the closing stages of this run rather tough and it showed up my lack of hill training. The London Marathon is flat as a pancake, so that’s my excuse at least.

I’m happy with the marathon pace focus of this run. I will probably take it a little easier next week, pace-wise, but I’ll keep the distance up.

Here’s the Garmin data for this run.

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

Keep warnings short and sweet

Animals and birds have certain calls to alert the group to potential danger, or relay other important information. Runners do, too. Or should.

The reason, of course, is that in group runs – especially largish ones – one or two runners will invariably spot dicey stuff well before anyone else can. It is their duty to communicate such diciness to the rest of the group, and to do so in a clear, blunt way.

Personally, I started my athletic life as a cyclist, so I naturally use the same kind of language in group runs that we used in group rides. For instance, “Car back!” to alert others that there is a car approaching from behind. Or “Car up!” if there’s a vehicle headed toward us. Not much room for interpretation or confusion there.

Not all situations are that clear-cut. In these cases, you’ll have to improvise. For instance: if your group is approaching an intersection and you spot a truck speeding along that no one else seems to see, you don’t exactly have time to say, “Chaps, beware the truck proceeding eastbound on Main Street; it does not appear to be slowing, and it is unclear whether the driver is aware of our presence.”

Instead, you shout, “HO-ohhh!” And the others get it.

Or, perhaps, “HEADS UP!” which I’ve used long enough to have gradually shortened it to a simple “Z’UP!”

Whatever works for you. The point is to keep everyone aware – and alive.


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