This week’s running – 22nd to 28th January 2018

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Cardiff parkrun, one of the fastest courses in the UK – photo by John Ross

One helluva training week that had me feeling like I was at least close to my 2016 best.

5k recovery

I don’t know whether it’s the additional oxygen flowing through me, but I always feel like I’m more perceptive of little details when I’m running easy. Case in point was how many people there were out and about on this particular Monday evening. Not just fellow runners, but also people simply out for a walk. I can normally count on one hand the number of folks I see on a Monday evening recovery run, but there were easily 30+ souls spotted. Checking afterwards, there didn’t appear to be anything going on in the neighbourhood to prompt so many to be out and about to make for another unsolved mystery…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work with fartlek

I have a confession to make – I think I’m in love with fartlek! The unstructured nature shouldn’t work with my Type 1 personality that craves symmetry and perfection, but I’ve really come to embrace the unpredictable.

Driven mainly by how strong the headwind can be as I run along the canal towpath to south Birmingham, fartlek stops me from writing speed off simply because I can’t accurately or reliably hit certain paces or splits. When the wind dies down, or I find some brief shelter, it’s an opportunity to rev my legs up. Upon finishing, I felt a real sense of accomplishment to offset the feeling of nausea that struck at the end!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

On Tuesday’s 9 miles from the office, I was surprised to see the St James Road tunnel closure was not in force yet. I’d even gone out of my way to go around the closure in anticipation, but a chat with a cyclist that came from that direction confirmed it was still open. Heading back on to the canal towpath two days later, you can already guess what happened next…

Yep. The sodding tunnel was closed several days earlier than announced! I had to climb the stairs by Fiveways train station to re-route towards The Vale, though this did mean I had to cross far fewer roads than Tuesday’s detour reccy. At least this is only until March and the payoff will be a much wider path through the tunnel, meaning runners, walkers and cyclists can co-exist in harmony like never before!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cardiff parkrun

Feeling in good shape post-Brass Monkey Half Marathon, and seeing as I was in Wales for the weekend anyway, I opted to return to Cardiff parkrun – my second most visited event after Cannon Hill. I have incredibly fond memories of Cardiff, where it provided me with my first ever sub-20 and sub-19 performances, along with some great battles with locals, Daniel Luffman and Vince Nazareth. I was thrilled to finally return to my home away from home!

A lot can change in 24 hours… The weather on Friday was pretty damn ideal for running, however it turned wet and blustery come Saturday. Whereas I also felt pretty energetic on Friday, I woke feeling less than stellar on Saturday. My heart rate was elevated and 2 miles as a warm-up confirmed I was a little worse for wear. A performance to test myself with wasn’t going to come easily, was it?

The start is always fast at Cardiff, so I was conscious not to get dragged along with something I couldn’t sustain, which has painfully happened in past outings. In hindsight, I should have pushed a little harder because I very quickly ended up in no-man’s land after just 800m… Just what I didn’t need that morning! The group I wanted to be with was just outside of reach, whereas I couldn’t sense anybody immediately behind for me to even drop back to. All was not lost for my form felt swift and benefitted from the recent regular strides I’ve injected into even the slowest and ploddyest of runs. Also of major help were the Nike Zoom Streak LT3 – my 5k and 10k weapon of choice. They’re my most minimal shoes with just 4mm heel to toe offset to really maximise the spring-loaded effect of my calves. Reserving them for only my shortest and fastest efforts, I find simply lacing them up gives me a mental boost in preparation for battle. 1km came in for 3:50.

Unusually, I didn’t pay much attention to pace despite setting my sights on a sub-19 finish. I knew I had to average 3:48 to 3:50 per km, but I simply went with the flow and concentrated on catching the group ahead of me, featuring Daniel Luffman and Carys Hughes – 1st female regular. Still running alone into the wind, I somehow managed 3:43 for 2k!

Thinking that it couldn’t possibly last going into 3k, I lost almost 15 seconds for 3:57 as I entered the critical “float” stage of the 5k. Up ahead, everybody else slowed also and I reclaimed a few metres from them. Behind me, I could hear somebody coming up fast and it turned out to be the second fastest woman of the morning. I took advantage of the brief tow to finally connect me to Dan and Carys’ group that I’d chased for so long. Positions chopped and changed, but Carys and I eventually took to the front of the pack as we watched the former second place woman creep away for the lead.

With just 1km left to go, Carys began slipping from the pace. I urged her to stick with me; a few well-executed surges from her and she was back in the game to chase down first place once more. The familiar 800m sign appeared and everybody began kicking. The 400m sign appeared and Carys surged once more to draw level with the other woman, throwing in another kick at 200m to pull away and eventually take the win. It was one helluva kick because I gave it everything I had and only managed to pull in some 6 seconds later!

I was pleased as punch to finish in 18:49 for my fastest 5k in over a year. If my resting heart rate was lower going in, I believe I could have taken another 10 seconds, but hey-ho. Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Post-run, I met with my old buddy and former-rival, Vince Nazareth, for a couple of hours of sharing stories and glories from the past year. Since turning 55, he’s been sweeping up all the local age group prizes and has set his sights on a sub-3 hour goal at the Manchester Marathon. I’ve every confidence he’ll do it, as he’s been consistently a few steps ahead of me since we stopped being rivals a few years ago. Good luck, Vince!

15 miles – to Monkswood and back

A week prior, I was running in snow and sleet. A week later and I was like a frankfurter, boiling in my own skin from being overdressed. 3 miles in, I had to stash my gloves in a bush for later retrieval!

Adding to the uncomfortable conditions was the 17mph headwind I ran into for both the out and return legs…

Yet, in spite of everything that should have worked against me, 11 of the miles came in under 8 minutes and 7 of them were faster than 7:45. Everything just clicked into place for some good old flow state.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

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This week’s running – 8th to 21st January 2018

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Apologies for the delay, folks – I’ve rolled two weeks into this one mega edition to compensate.

5k recovery

Holy bejesus was it cold!

Strangely, my legs were both tired and spritely from the previous day’s long distance. I was cautious to keep things feeling incredibly easy due to having been on my feet all day building an exhibition stand at work; now what do they say about not trying anything new the week before a race and keeping labour-intensive activities to a minimum?

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work with strides

I employed strides in most of my non-pace specific runs in a bid to keep my legs revved up without overexherting myself ahead of the Brass Monkey Half Marathon. And do you know what? They’d worked an absolute treat!

My form felt swift and my legs felt nimble; my mind also felt sharper and more connected to the rest of me.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute with strides

Run-commuting in the winter is especially challenging, mainly due to the sheer amount of kit I have to lug around. In the summer, my holdall looks pathetically empty as I take everything I’ll need for run-commuting into work on Mondays. A couple of t-shirts, vests, pairs of shorts and socks are all I need. In the winter, I’m taking long sleeve tops, t-shirts for layering, gloves and more in. By the end of the working week, I’m currently returning home with several coats, scarves along with work clothes I’ve changed out of at the office! As I said, much easier in the summer, even with the oppressive heat!

Once again, the strides interspersing the slow recovery pace on this run-commute were perfect to keep my legs from getting ploddy.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Brass Monkey Half Marathon 2018 review

For the full write-up on the 2018 Brass Monkey Half Marathon, please click here.

5k recovery

Even with the windier than ideal conditions at the Brass Monkey Half Marathon, I’d say all of us participants were very fortunate, and practically got away with murder, for the conditions rapidly deteriorated only a day later.

In spite of the new PB, my legs felt tremendous and I was clearly still riding that race high. This would eventually end later in the week…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

What goes up must come down…

My legs finally began to tire and I was in need of some sleep from all the racing shenanigans. Apart from a couple of splits, most for this run were in the high 8 minutes and I dared not push much harder.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Under Armour ColdGear Reactor kit review

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Thanks to Under Armour UK and Synergy for the review kit – photo by Lis Yu

Back in November, I was contacted by Under Armour’s UK representatives at Synergy with a chance to sample and review some of their winter running kit. I jumped at the opportunity and here are my thoughts for your consideration.

For full transparency, the sample kit I’ve reviewed below was supplied for free. My views are mine alone and have not been influenced by either Under Armour’s or Synergy’s generosity.

Under Armour is a brand I’m somewhat familiar with, already owning a number of their HeatGear vests. As a relative new kid on the sportswear block, they’ve taken on the giants, Nike and Adidas, and are winning in some of the battles.

Starting life as a manufacturer of compression tops, they’ve since moved into a much wider variety of sportswear disciplines, including football, rugby, tennis, basketball and golf. We can also add running to that list. Funnily enough, most of the major sportswear manufacturers aped Under Armour’s compression wear and practically all have something akin to the form fitting clothing.

Under Armour ColdGear Reactor fitted long sleeve

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Initial thoughts

Upon first receiving the top, my immediate impression was that it was too much for the task at hand. It felt far too structured and would be too warm for all but the coldest of conditions.

Inspecting it superficially, it’s certainly well made. The fabric is of a high quality with good construction to it. The cut is what I would call semi-fitted, aided by a slight stretch to sit reasonably close, but not constrict like Under Armour’s traditional compression wear.

Size and fit

The sizing is consistent with the three HeatGear vests I already own, that is to say it’s very long… As you can see from the above photo of me, the hem is ridiculously low and seems to bear little relation to the length of the sleeves, which are surprisingly almost perfect for a small size. Whereas I’m short at only 5ft 6, my height and limbs are not wildly out of proportion; I can only assume Under Armour’s sizing is aimed at taller people, because I could easily lose 3-4 inches from the hem before the top no longer looks like a dress on me. I can sort of understand why Under Armour have gone down this path because it allows them to capture a much larger slice of the population; the top still fits me well across the chest and in the arms, whereas I can forgive the silly length or even have it re-hemmed by a tailor. If you’re slender and tall, you should seriously give Under Armour clothing a try as it’ll likely be a perfect fit.

In use

I’ve said already that I was initially sceptical of the ColdGear Reactor long sleeve. I took delivery of it when temperatures sat at around 10°C, which was too warm for its intended purpose. Even on an easy warm-up run, I was sweating after only 10 minutes of wear and deemed the product to be overkill. That suddenly all changed once the thermometer mercury plummeted and that’s when the top really came into its own…

If you’re a runner that typically feels cold, you’ll love the Under Armour ColdGear Reactor top. For everybody else, I’d say this top is right at home in temperatures of 5°C or lower, or when strong cool winds are prevalent. I dislike layering up when I run, so having a single layer that’s just enough has proven to be ideal. There are are some really nice touches that make this top a great cold weather training companion, such as the raised neck line to retain more of the body’s natural warmth and the technical fabric that’s designed to increase surface area and trap heat without overly increasing weight or bulk. The fabric is pleasant against bare skin with no signs of chafing in the half-dozen or so runs I’ve attempted whilst wearing the top. The underarm area and sides are a mesh to allow for some slight heat dissipation, should things get too warm. What would make the top perfect is the addition of a zip for the neck to the chest as a way to shed heat more quickly, especially during more vigorous runs.

Closing thoughts

I’ve grown to really love the Under Armour ColdGear Reactor top, especially as we’ve gone back into a cold snap in the UK. I’ve found myself readily grabbing this top as my default choice of late, especially on easier paced runs where I’m not necessarily out running for long enough or hard enough to even warm up. Only the odd sizing and the lack of a neck zip stop it from being perfect.

Pros

  • Effective single layer warmth
  • Raised neckline
  • Comfortable
  • Little to no added bulk
  • Wind resistant

Cons

  • Size and fit versus length is odd, unless you’re tall
  • Difficult to shed excess heat once too warm
  • Reserved for the coldest of conditions

Available here via underamour.co.uk.

Under Armour ColdGear Reactor fleece tapered trousers

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Initial thoughts

Whereas I was at first doubtful of the ColdGear Reactor top, I was scratching my head even more upon taking delivery of these trousers…

The first thing that struck me when unpacking and handling the trousers is how bulky they are! The waistline and ankle cuffs are incredibly chunky, where a more is more approach seems to have been adopted. The trousers, whilst claiming to be tapered, look sloppy and baggy – I had to double check they were actually intended for running, where something sleeker and more fitted is the norm from most manufacturers, even for trousers.

Size and fit

The length of the trousers, like the ColdGear Reactor top, measures up on the long side. The overall fit as a result makes me look like MC Hammer in the photo at the top of this review section! I may be wrong here, but I would dare say most runners want something more form fitting; they don’t need the solution to always fit like a pair of tights, but something less bulky and closer to the skin than these trousers would be preferable.

In use

Sadly, the ColdGear Reactor trousers are disappointing in action. There’s simply too much trouser than is needed! I’m not sure about others, but my legs are doing most of the hard work when it comes to running, so they generate far more heat than my upper body, where more protection from the elements is needed and welcome – my legs just don’t need this much protection. Whereas I’ve been readily wearing the ColdGear Reactor top as it’s gotten colder, I’ve not once felt the need to wear these trousers beyond for review purposes.

Even as trousers reserved for warming up before races and cooling down afterwards, they’re flawed because of the chunky ankle cuffs. There’s no zip on the ankle, which makes changing out of the trousers impossible without taking my shoes off first, which isn’t always ideal or possible, especially when outdoors.

Sadly, the positives of these trousers are also marred! There are plenty of zipped pockets for things like coins, keys and a phone, but one of the additional pull tabs on the zips somehow came off in my washing machine and almost jammed in the rotating drum mechanism!

Closing thoughts

Can you tell that I’m not a fan of these trousers? I feel like I’ve fought against these trousers each time I’ve worn them, where they should instead be blurring into the background as I run. If you’re on the tall side and feel your legs frequently run cold, these may be for you, but I think most people would be better served by a pair of more traditional running tights from Under Armour.

Pros

  • Generous length for taller people
  • Lots of pockets
  • Warm for those that need leg insulation

Cons

  • Poor fit that’s distracting
  • Bulky and baggy
  • Zip tabs somehow dislodge in the washing machine
  • Too warm for the majority of people

Available here via underarmour.co.uk.

9 miles from work with strides

I was sure to take in the joy of the simplicity of this route ahead of the planned St James Road tunnel closure. Fewer than 2 miles of the route are covered away from the canal towpath, whereas the detour I have planned from Monday 22nd of January onwards for 3 months will probably double the amount of running on street level to around 4 out of 9 miles.

The strides unfortunately failed to perk my legs up, with race recovery firmly having taken hold…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

With temperatures having dropped, treacherous black ice formed in a few spots around Cannon Hill Park. Due to the rain, it became near impossible to tell what was ice and what was simply water glistening on the ground! Nearby Sandwell Valley and Perry Hall parkruns had already cancelled, but it was deemed just about safe enough for Cannon Hill to remain open for business on the normal route.

Whereas I’d had plans to tackle this parkrun hard, my legs had other ideas – they simply didn’t want to turnover any faster and without any more power than around 20 minute 5k pace. My breathing was, however, perfectly fine by comparison…

With about a mile to go, a Birchfield Harrier youngster drifted into contact with me from ahead. He’d held on to a good pace for much of the run, but it was clear it started to get the better of him. I stepped in and gave him some encouragement to get behind and stay close to me. He eventually crossed the line just a few seconds later, having done well to keep the invisible rubber band from snapping.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

I had to hightail it out of Cannon Hill Park to make my over to the next item of this week’s entry…

The National Running Show

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Susie Chan speaking at The National Running Show 2018

What’s this? A running trade show in my backyard? Why, don’t mind if I do!

Taking place at the Birmingham NEC, this was the debut of The National Running Show. It’d been years since I last visited a running trade show that stood independently of a race (The Running Show, Sandown Park back in 2012), and as a frequent visitor and worker of trade shows, I was curious to see how it would play out.

In tow were Lis and Dave, with the guest speakers being the main draw for them. Reaching the NEC at about 11:15, the place was surprisingly very busy, so much so that we spent some 10-15 minutes queuing to get in! Once inside, it was unbearably chaotic due to the small hall utilised and poor placement of certain exhibitors (I’m looking at you, Saucony).

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Steve Edwards at The National Running Show 2018

Kelly Holmes, Jo Pavey and Jenny Meadows had already given their talks, which I was disappointed to have missed out on, but I did get to sit-in on sessions from Steve Edwards (800+ sub-3:30 marathons and counting), Luke Tyburski (ultra-runner with a propeller hat) and Susie Chan (regular person turned serial ultra-runner). The talks were pretty good, but timings were a mess due to the organisers not budgeting enough time between sessions for changeovers. It’ll be interesting to see which guests appear next year, with Paula Radcliffe already announced.

Exhibitor-wise, the variety was OK and perhaps only slightly worse than what you would typically see at a big city pre-race expo. Expectedly, there were none of the big dogs like Garmin or Adidas that you normally see on the expo circuit; presumably, they steered clear having already agreed their budgets and would wait out the first year before making any future considerations.

There were exhibitors selling nutrition, recovery products, clothing, shoes, and so on. Also present were a number of races touting their wares. I spoke with the guys from Run For All – the organisation behind the Yorkshire Marathon – who were pleased as punch to hear I’d run their race twice and have been spreading the good word ever since. My conversation with the Swansea Half Marathon was, however, far less productive. Enquiring about whether they had a show discount of some sort, they looked at me like I was some sort of buffoon that dared ask such a stupid question, but they did offer to sign me up there and then. I declined and said I could do that from the comfort of my own home once having read the T&Cs… They’d obviously exhibited at the show to ply for more participants, so it was entirely bizarre that they didn’t have something to seal the deal with would-be entrants like me. ABC – Always Be Closing!

All in all, it was an entertaining way to while away a couple of hours. If not for the guest speakers, I’d have easily navigated my way through the event twice in an hour or so to give you a sense of the size and scale.

15 snowy-slushy-rainy miles

Back in 2013 when training for my very first marathon – the London Marathon – I was caught out by a freak drop of snow to coincide with my final long run of 22 miles… I needed the run and had no choice but to head out on to the white stuff. I don’t recall much from the run; not how I felt during or after, so I must have wiped it from memory.

Looking outside today, I let out a long sigh when I saw more snow, albeit just a light dusting of it on the pavements.

Things started off very well, with the fresh snow proving to be no issue at all as would be expected. I regretted not donning my Oakleys with a pair of high contrast lenses; the falling snow would occasionally blow into my eyes, proving to be quite painful. It was good to see so many of my fellow runners out getting the miles in, with everybody proving especially friendly and acknowledging our collective dedication/craziness.

Once on the return leg, things got much tougher. Rain started falling to turn the snow into slush, which proved much more difficult to run on than snow. Each step continually soaked my feet and caused freezing cold water to slosh around in my shoes, adding to my already heavy feeling legs.

Once back at my front door, my hands, despite being gloved, were too cold to rummage for my key from the tiny zipped pocket it lived in! I had to knock for Lis to let me in and duly jumped straight into a hot shower to get some feeling back into my extremities.

No more snow, please!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

This week’s running – 1st to 7th January 2018

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Happy New Year at Stratford-upon-Avon parkrun – photo by Stratford-upon Avon parkrun

Let’s kick off 2018 with a few tales of newly visited parkrun events – my 24th and 25th (and also making for three new events in three days).

Stratford-upon-Avon New Year’s Day parkrun

For those not familiar, running two parkruns on New Year’s Day is very much a thing. That’s right – the opportunity to run at two different events and score two additional runs towards your total! I’m not sure of the origins, but I suspect it was borne of events being able to choose a start time of their own liking, creating the possibility for runners to visit more than one in a single morning. New Year’s Day is capped at two runs, though it is possible in some parts of the UK to visit three events, whereas Christmas Day is capped at just one run.

Sometime in December before any of my nearest events had committed to New Year’s Day, my closest two-run combo was Stratford-upon-Avon parkrun at 09:00, followed by Leamington parkrun at 10:30. Despite Brueton and Cannon Hill events subsequently also being possible at 09:00 and 10:30, my mind was already set on some tourism, so the decision was made!

Getting up earlier than otherwise necessary on New Year’s Day was not fun, especially as I was still carrying the previous day’s 10 mile race in my legs; at least the early rise prepared me for getting back into a routine for work! Driving to the Stratford-upon-Avon Recreation Ground was an absolute doddle, made even easier by the incredibly quiet roads. I parked up, paid my £1 and began my warm-up, bumping into Arrow Valley parkrun regular, Dean Clapham; the Arrow Valley organisers were there on tour for the morning, taking many of their loyal congregation with them. Taking place over three laps, I couldn’t think of a flatter course, though sending us over short stretches of grass and with narrow paths at times, I struggled to comprehend where its fast reputation comes from.

I may come across as a weirdo for saying this, but I do particularly enjoy hearing the pre-run briefing at events where I’m a visitor. There’s something about the familiar meeting the unfamiliar that piques my curiosity. It was incredibly welcoming – the norm, I’m not sure, or with added razzmatazz to cheer in the New Year?

Sent on our way, it was incredibly congested as everybody found his or her place in the field. Even if I wanted to go faster, my race-fatigued legs slammed on the brakes and I found myself restricted to a pace just outside of a 20 minute 5k.

The adjacent River Avon had recently flooded due to melting snow from nearby Rugby flowing downstream, causing a bit of a mucky mess in the middle third of each lap.

Reaching the final km, I realised a sub-20 finish was back on the agenda if I could muster some finishing strength. My legs had finally warmed up and gave me access to some pace and stride length. Only problem? The masses of lapped runners I had to cut through… Most were obliging enough and kept to the side of the course as instructed during the briefing, but that still left a large number wearing headphones that were completely oblivious to their surroundings; I witnessed one marshal give up after four or five requests of one chap in headphones ahead of me!

I latched on to a few runners in front that began their kick for the line. We were right on target to sneak under 20 minutes by a second or two, but then came the quagmire of the finishing straight on grass! For 50m or so, I tried and failed to gain power and traction – I felt like a Looney Tunes cartoon character running on the spot! Disappointingly, the slippery stretch meant I missed out by just 4 seconds for 20:03.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Onwards to Leamington parkrun for 10:30!

Leamington New Year’s Day parkrun

Logistics companies speak of the “final mile” of any delivery being the most complex. Postcodes don’t lead to where they should, buildings have names instead of numbers, and you get the idea. Driving to Leamington parkrun was no different and my satnav sent me down several incorrect routes before I’d finally reached my destination. Parking up just outside of the venue, I met a friendly local-regular and jogged the few hundred metres to the meeting point with him. Craig belonged to Sphinx AC of Coventry and this was his only parkrun of the morning, blaming New Year’s Eve festivities on the lack of a double run. He kindly talked me through the course and terrain, which was fearsome for its steep opening mile and faster closing 2 mile descent, all taking place off-road. Thankfully, I’d done enough research and packed a pair of trail shoes to switch into!

A year ago and recently, I got into discussions about parkrun and inclusivity. The gist of the conversations went along the lines of parkrun talking a good game in terms of inclusivity, but how much had been practically done to challenge the white, middle-class, middle-age male stereotype of running? Well, I was positively taken aback at Leamington parkrun to be greeted by a trans-run director with an assistant performing sign language!

Due to a fallen tree and a field that could take no more trampling, an alternative route was utilised and we were walked over to a revised start area that required passing through gaps in a hedge in single file. This exercise alone took a considerable amount of time, delaying the start well past its 10:30 original. I snaked my way to get closer to the front few rows, finally standing next to a regular who shared that the course record was in the low 16:00s – remarkable on such terrain. On the starter’s orders, we were off.

Leamington parkrun takes runners around the outer perimeter of the local golf course, and this alternative route was no different, but would make up for the distance shortfall with a minor switchback in the final km. Expectedly, my legs were well and truly trashed from events prior, with more punishment laid upon them from the uneven and muddy course. As promised, the climb in the first mile hit, and it was the worst kind of climb where it’s steepest at the beginning before tapering off.

Once things flattened out, we were then introduced to the fallen tree and warned to duck our heads. Being vertically challenged, I merely ran straight on!

The course began descending and a few brave runners hurtled down past me; I sat tight and coasted downhill for some recovery until a marshal sent me towards the most southern point on the course for the switcback.

I started to see runners in the opposite direction and reasoned the turnaround point couldn’t have much further away. Drawing ever closer again to the initial climb, I started to fear that I’d missed something in the briefing! Thankfully, only perhaps 50m from the base of the hill, we were sent back on ourselves for the finish. I received a quick cheer from Craig, who wasn’t far behind me at all, and for the second time that morning I attempted to lay on a sprint on mud…

I finished in 21:54 and even if fresh, I don’t think I could have taken much more than another 90 seconds off such a time – that’s how brutal the course is!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Both of us completely caked in mud, Craig and I jogged the distance back to our cars and wished each other well in our pursuits for 2018.

9 miles from work – with detour

Unusually, my legs felt pretty decent even with all that I had put them through, so I continued with my plan of 9 miles from the office in a bid to get back into some sort of routine. With tapering for races that didn’t happen and the Christmas break, I’d gone almost three weeks with having to make things up as I went along rather than follow my P&L plan.

This run from work also provided an opportunity to scope out a detour I had planned. Anybody that’s ever run along the canal towpath via the St James Road tunnel will know how busy it can be at peak times or when simply badly timed. There’re plans to widen the footpath through the tunnel, but the works will take some three months – with pleasure comes some pain, right? I wanted to test out my detour that would take me through Brindley Place on to Broad Street, beneath Fiveways on to Calthorpe Road, before finally rejoining the canal towpath via The Vale. I did get momentarily lost in The Vale (it all looks the same in the dark!), but managed to get back on track without much fuss.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work with fartlek

Having recovered enough from the parkruns at the beginning of the week, I settled on covering the distance for home with some stretches of fartlek thrown in to encourage my legs to turn over faster. The strong winds of late provided a double-whammy of discomfort in the form of increased effort levels and the added wind chill to rob precious body heat.

The novelty of fartlek was most welcome and allowed me to pick and choose my battles with speed wisely. The second half even felt enjoyable once I’d fully warmed up!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

Due to frost covering various parts of the course, the alternative three lap configuration was rolled out. I’d only ever marshalled the course on the previous two occasions it’d been utilised, so I was curious to experience it for myself, especially with over 700 runners in attendance from the annual New Year’s resolution boost…

I’ve always preferred the clockwise loop of the Cannon Hill Park, citing that I personally feel like I receive a bigger boost/slow down less with the shallower climb towards the bandstand to follow it up with a steeper descent, rather than the other way around as it currently is in a normal week. The first two laps had me feeling like I’d been propelled, partly from the physical course difference, but also from the psychological difference. In spite of running largely on my own, the pace felt steady and akin to a half marathon effort, which boded well ahead of the upcoming Brass Monkey Half Marathon. And then the third lap hit…

Passing the bandstand for the final time, I found myself in and amongst the peak second lap runners, with many ignoring marshals’ requests to keep right on the course to allow overtaking runners to pass, with those wearing headphones being the worst offenders. I weaved my way through the masses, surging and slowing to time my movements as precisely as possible as and when gaps appeared. It was mentally exhausting for me and I imagine must have been hair raising for those I overtook. The worst pinch point appeared next to the Mac, where a large puddle and a family of three covering the entirety of the remaining width of the path meant I had nowhere to go. I expected to slow down, but Dave Carruthers, mere seconds in front of me in a stroke of quick thinking, took evasive manoeuvres to run up and along the banked brickwork of the Mac building! I followed his line and increased my speed to maintain momentum to navigate the obstacle course of a run without issue.

I finished in 19:47, which was actually 2 seconds faster than my own recorded time of 19:49 – it’s normally the other way around.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Lis volunteered on Saturday, which gets my kudos. I spent much of January and February last year marshalling, so I know how difficult the winter can be as you’re out on the course for potentially a long time in the cold, especially as the average and maximum finishing times have increased over the years; keeping marshals out on the course for just the minimum amount of time, and no longer, should be the precedent. Sadly, an unusual series of events lead to a failure that could have easily been prevented. The penultimate person(s) on the run gave up at some point in the second or third lap, exiting the course. This is normally fine because the tail walker would simply then move up to the next person on the course, except on this occasion, the tail walker went straight back to the finish instead; many of the remaining marshals were still out on the course waiting for the tail walker that would never come by. Some 15 minutes later, it was only passing runners that had already finished that finally alerted the marshals that the run was over!

12 miles with strides

In the winter, like many folks that work in offices, I do not get enough exposure to sunlight. I go to work in the dark, stay inside for the entirety of the working day, then go home in the dark. The weekend really is my only opportunity to get some vitamin D into my system, so imagine my delight when Sunday morning presented me with enough sunlight to temporarily blind me when running into its rays! If only the wind would piss off…

I kept the strides going, not wanting to lose the momentum and neurological connection ahead of race day. One strange observation I made was the huge pile of feathers next to The Dingle towpath exit at Selly Oak – it looked like a goose had been savaged, but there was no body or blood!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

This week’s running – 18th to 24th December 2017

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Merry Christmas, you filthy animals!

Merry Christmas, folks! Hope you’re having a good one wherever and whatever you’re doing!

5k recovery

Having completed the fastest 15 mile run of recent times, I knew to take it easy on this 5k recovery run. Also having broken up for Christmas several days prior, both my body and mind felt fresh and I probably could have handled a faster pace if needed.

I sought to get at least a week of over-reaching in, so I respected the easy-hard notion that had to be observed.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

6 x 1km at half marathon pace

What a palaver this day turned out to be!

Normally, I would’ve phoned ahead to check if the Fox Hollies track was in use. Normally, it’s always been available when I’ve wanted to use it, so I didn’t bother to check on this occasion. You can already guess what happened next…

Cutting a long story short, I left the leisure centre disappointed and considered jogging the 5k back for home. I didn’t want to squander the day and further lose out on intensity, so I stuck my thinking cap on and reviewed my options. The nearest track was at the University of Birmingham, though I was under the impression it wasn’t officially open to the public, though a few peers had managed to sneak in via some side entrances. Concluding I had nothing further to lose, I hopped in an Uber and asked to be dropped off in the track’s vicinity. Trying not to look suspicious as I walked into the shrubbery and sidestepped some temporary fencing designed to keep people out, I felt like an explorer that had uncovered a lost city! There were some gardeners tending to the surrounding greenery to keep me company, and not one of them seemed perturbed of my presence, so the session was finally good to go!

Setting foot on the 400m synthetic track, it was immediately obvious how responsive it was from the energy returned with each step, making for an incredibly pleasnt experience.

And the session itself? It felt utterly satisfying to cover each 1km rep. My form was tall and smooth, and my glutes were once again on side to help me glide effortlessly as the intervals counted down. Half marathon pace was a breeze to hit!

Here and here is the Strava data for this session. I’d accidentally triggered a new lap on my Garmin with my butterfingers, so I had to break the session into two.

6 mile recovery

After several weeks of firmly needing long-sleeves, gloves and tights, it made for a pleasant change to be out running in a t-shirt and a pair of shorts! For insurance, I wore a pair of gloves but they came off after just a mile from how warm the conditions were!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

3 x 1 mile at half marathon pace

Sharing my tale of potential trespass with Dave, he also wanted in and thus marked my second visit to the University of Birmingham’s utterly brilliant 400m track. I continued to feel fresh in spite of the higher than normal run volume and intensity – such is the power of ample recovery and sleep.

3 x 1 mile was quite enough for the two of us, making for an especially potent session for Dave – my target half marathon pace is nearer to his 5k pace!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

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This was actually pretty comfortable! Photo by Pete Hickman

This day marked six years of parkrunning, comprising of 239 runs and 29 stints at volunteering. Who’d have thought that very first Christmas Eve parkrun of 2011 would stick quite like it has?

I could feel the week’s amped up training in my legs with the freshness of several days prior distinctly missing. My warm-up confirmed as much, with each step and breath feeling a little more laboured than I would have liked.

Starting more conservatively, I was able to tuck into several groups and work my way through the field. I surprised myself by being able to surge ahead whenever I felt groups slowed, once again agreeing with a theory of mine and Dave’s where listless warm-ups correlate against strong main performances, and vice-versa.

I was pleased as punch to sneak under 19 minutes for 18:58 – this year’s second fastest 5k after an 18:56 back from back in July. Also boding well ahead of the Brass Monkey Half Marathon was a new VO2max reading of 67, though this quickly dropped back down to 65 only 24 hours later…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

15 miles – beyond The Vale and back

There’s a first time for everything. I’m typically a solitary runner that prefers running alone out of convenience, though I fully acknowledge running with others taking the edge off almost any effort.

Shortly after joining the canal towpath, I bumped into Dave and we were then also shortly joined by Paul Shackleton. After Dave left me and Paul, he was then soon replaced by bumping into Toby Close! A few miles later and I was left alone again as I wanted to get some more distance in.

The solo return leg was a real slog whilst running into 16mph headwinds, also not helped by me wanting to stick to sub-8 minute mile pace. Finishing on plan was pretty damn joyous, especially after climbing Fordhouse Lane back to Kings Heath!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

This week’s running – 11th to 17th December 2017

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A post-Sandwell Valley parkrun McDonald’s breakfast is now becoming a tradition…

It’s snow joke when training is disrupted! I’ll grab my coat…

5k recovery

The title’s a bit disingenuous because it suggests I had something to recover from! Snow hitting the Midlands hard meant I’d barely even stretched out my legs the previous day.

At least the snow was still pretty fresh, making for a rather enjoyable crunch with each step!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10k from work

Temperatures plummeted once more, glazing the snow over into hazardous ice. As I ran through Brindley Place, an older gentleman stopped in disbelief to ask, “You’re running on this?” I questioned myself, too, as I had to carefully choose where to plant each foot.

Whereas I’d planned to cover the 9 miles from the office for home, I was mentally and physically exhausted by about 5 miles and opted to call it quits at Selly Oak for just 10k. Having to be alert 100% of the time took its toll, and my left bum cheek and Achilles throbbed from the unusual gait I’d adopted. Thankfully, there was a no.11 bus waiting at the stop, which bizarrely had no passengers on-board apart from me and didn’t stop once for the entire journey back to Kings Heath! I felt a bit like Harry Potter on the Knight Bus; all that was missing was a shrunken head, sounding like Lenny Henry…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Sandwell Valley parkrun-ish

Saturday was rather unusual because virtually all parkruns in the West and East Midlands were called off due to lingering ice. One of the few exceptions was Sandwell Valley, where two brilliant volunteers went above and beyond the call of duty, taking it upon themselves to hack up majority of the ice on the course! Car fully loaded with Simon, Nigel, Dave and me, we added to the rabble made up of many familiar parkrun-deprived faces from the region.

An alternative course was utilised, avoiding the worst of the ice that remained and instead sent runners around the lake for two laps.

Wearing trail shoes on this occasion, I had a bit more grip underfoot to help me nail a sub-20 finish; it should have happened back in November, if not for the long course. Unfortunately, I couldn’t sustain the effort, due to a lack of volume and intensity for almost two weeks from tapering and snow. It’s quite remarkable how quickly sharpness can be lost! Rubbing salt into wounds, I also found myself largely running alone to increase the pace versus effort discrepancy.

Frequently checking my Garmin, I could see something didn’t add up as I was partway through the second lap of the lake. Time and distance were way out if we were only to cover two laps, so perhaps the finish had been moved back to its default location? As I neared the turning point to either run another lap or head for the finish, I noticed a runner ahead of me doubling back on to the course after attempting a third lap.

With a little over a km remaining, I was well and truly blown and I wondered how I could possibly hang on at such an effort? It seemed my prayer had been answered, for on the horizon was the finish line, much earlier than anticipated!

I crossed the line, clocking 16:10 and 4km precisely. Many others around me also acknowledged the course was dramatically short and concluded we should have been sent around the lake for a third lap…

Dave and I both reasoned that a simple calculation to add 25% to each finisher’s recorded time would do the trick, but the organisers decided against this, which I’ve since come to agree with. Whereas it wouldn’t make much different to the vast majority of runners, anybody that likes to thrash the first half of 5km would have received a big boost if 25% was added to their time, not reflecting any fade they would perhaps see in the second half. Me, I’m just glad the run has been added to my total, getting me that bit closer to that 250 club.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

15 miles – to Brindley Place and back

The ice had largely receded by Sunday in all but the most secluded of patches. With an A-race half marathon due in mid-January, I needed some distance in my legs to avoid potentially embarrassing myself! I felt like I’d gone back in time by almost a month, losing much of the recent gains I’d worked hard to attain.

In spite of running what felt like a pretty intense 4km only 24 hours prior, my slumbering legs had somehow been awoken. They felt fresh and snappy, and I was pleased to see my glutes also firing correctly for that extra bit of oomph.

Shortly after Bournville train station on the canal towpath was a fallen tree that had likely come down due to carrying extra load from the snow. It was just slightly too high to vault over, so I opted to stop and cautiously climb over it and avoid catastrophe.

Much of the towpath was perfectly fine for running, but a few spots were almost entirely covered in treacherous sheet ice, making for pretty hairy conditions! There was perhaps just a foot’s width of clear path, which was largely fine as me and oncoming walkers stopped to give way for each other; this approach was all well and good until I encountered somebody with a massive golf umbrella, completely oblivious to those heading towards her…

Even with the stop-start nature of the route, I was surprised to see how much pep I had to my pace from how fresh my legs were. Another 15 miler or two of a similar nature would go down an absolute treat ahead of the Brass Monkey Half Marathon!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

This week’s running – 4th November to 10th December 2017

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Overdressed? No chance! Photo by Lis Yu

So, muggins here only went and fell over whilst running… But not in the snow!

9 miles with 2 at marathon pace

With a 10 mile race scheduled for the end of the week (obviously, didn’t happen!), I reduced the number of runs for a mini-taper, whilst maximising the potency of the times I did run. Sadly, Mother Nature had other plans for me…

Originally, this session should have been at half marathon pace; with the wind howling towards me, the best I could manage was marathon pace without pushing too hard ahead of the upcoming race that wasn’t to be.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

Remember last week’s initial thoughts on the Nike Vomero 12? As I ran home from the office, I concluded after 3 miles or so that the shoes were definitely around ½ a size too big, which was frustrating as I’m normally a UK 7.5 in all Nike shoes; it’s only this pair and a recent other that appear to have been sized with different lasts.

As comfortable as the Vomero 12 were, I grew increasingly aware that I felt disconnected from my feet, due to the sizing. Then, with just a mile to go until I reached home, horror struck – I tripped going over a low kerb due to the oversized shoes!

Everything went into slow motion, but my flailing hands weren’t enough to regain balance. I hit the deck with a thud, and my left knee, wrists and chin took the brunt of the fall. I lay there for perhaps 10 to 15 seconds as I tried to work out whether anything was broken… My thoughts quickly moved to whether anybody had seen my moment of embarrassment; this was the first time I’d fallen in over seven years of running! Dusting myself off, I’d torn a hole in my tights and badly scraped my knee underneath. I’d also torn two holes in my practically new gloves, whilst also taking chunks out of my wrists and knuckles on both hands. Luckily, whilst my chin had also come into contact with the floor, you’d never know, as there was no visible damage. Oh well, skin will regrow and things can be replaced – there’s no detectable injury and my running gait has not been affected at all.

And the shoes? I boxed them straight up as I got home and sent them packing!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cancelled Cannon Hill parkrun

Much of the UK received a dusting of snow overnight on Friday, causing many a parkrun and race director to cancel or postpone events. Cannon Hill parkrun and the Sneyd Christmas Pudding Run were called off, leaving me with a very low volume week and little to show for it.

A few others and me caught up over coffee, with the topic of discussion revolving around the rather poor organisation of the fairly recent Birmingham International Marathon and Great Birmingham Run. Their return having been announced (£58 for the marathon!), I asked my cohorts of the morning if anybody would consider running the marathon again. There was only one possible taker, and only if he didn’t get a club place for the 2018 London Marathon. The overriding feedback was there are plenty of better organised and cheaper marathons around the UK, increasingly with the autumn options now rivalling the spring.

Here and here is the Strava data for the runs to and from Cannon Hill Park.

6 miles in the snow

With Sunday’s race postponed until January, I wasn’t prepared to be defeated and go without a run, so I covered up as much skin as possible to head out. Rounding out my ensemble was a hat (I never wear hats!) and a neck gaiter, along with my Oakleys with special contrast enhancing lenses popped in.

Only having covered a mile, I came across my first casualty of the snow. A nurse who was heading home from a night shift had gotten her Citroen C1 stuck as she tried to climb a shallow hill. She slowed too much exiting a roundabout and then lacked the oomph to get back up to speed, without traction and fighting gravity. I tried giving her car a push whilst she drove, but it wasn’t happening, so I offered to drive instead. She made the mistake of trying to drive in first gear, throwing down too much power; I shifted into second and gently applied some throttle, which managed to slowly move the car on to a patch with more traction available. Good deed number 1, done!

Some 2 miles later, I encountered another car attempting to climb the hill on Salisbury Road near Cannon Hill Park, and getting in the way of traffic trying to descend the hill. Three guys and me worked together to push and steer the car to get it on its way, though the worst of the hill was yet to hit him…

My third and final car that needed help was found on Holders Lane, where the snow had been churned up just enough to greatly reduce traction, even on the flat. All the car needed was a few nudges from me to get going.

Full of the warm and fuzzies, and not having fallen once, I called it a morning – quite enough excitement for one day!

Here’s the vague Strava data for this run. My Garmin wasn’t playing ball, either from the low temperature, or due to knocking the start-stop button when pushing cars, so I’ve had to approximate the distance and pace.

This week’s running – 27th November to 3rd December 2017

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Wowza! Who turned off the heating???

5k recovery

Whilst I still loathe running in the heat, I now seem to have lost my ability to endure the cold. Most of my runs in the second half of November have seen me wearing tights, which is no bad thing as I need to keep my calves warm to prevent any regression of my Achilles injury anyway.

Running at a gentle recovery pace, having as little exposed skin as possible was certainly welcome!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

4 x 1km at half marathon pace

Originally in the P&L Faster Road Racing book, this session was down as 6 x 1km; fearing for my weakened Achilles from the cold, I softened the session to just 4 x 1km reps at target half marathon pace. And do you know what? I don’t think it needed softening at all!

The effort felt completely manageable at all times, in spite of running into the wind, and I could have comfortably completed the original default session as depicted in the book. There was actually enough canal towpath to complete one more 1km rep, but I decided against tempting fate. I’ll either return to the default 6 x 1km configuration, or will switch to 4 x 1 mile reps – both sessions will have me running at pace for a similar amount of time, with the former being the easier format of the two with more frequent recoveries.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

AKA the Nike Vomero 12 initial thoughts run! What better than a slow paced plod home from the city centre to test a new pair of shoes?

I’ve been a fan of Nike’s venerable Pegasus shoes for quite a few years, starting with the 28, and 2015’s 32 being my favourite iteration. Praised for being the Jack-of-all-trades running shoe, it really did cover most bases for me, from recovery runs all the way up to slower-paced tempo runs (only just). Sadly, Nike has been on a trajectory for some time to get the Pegasus feeling faster and faster, namely by firming up the feel underfoot from version 33 onwards. Version 34, after some 200 miles, has left me unimpressed; the firmness, especially in the cold, is not particularly comfortable to run in apart from at faster paces.

So, what’s a guy to do? I like the fit of Nike shoes and I get a nice 20% discount courtesy of Lis’ education establishment association, so I’ve tried my hand (foot?) at their cushioned shoe – the Vomero 12.

Initial impressions are positive. It’s a physically chunkier and heavier shoe than the Pegasus, but the cushioning underfoot is plush with a touch of responsiveness still present. These days, I’m very firmly a runner with specific objectives for each run of the week. Recovery run? I won’t be running fast, so cushioning is needed and welcome. Threshold run? I’ll stick a pair of tempo or race shoes on. The Pegasus’ Jack-of-all-trades approach no longer gels with my training workflow. Rumour has it that version 35 will feature Nike’s miracle ZoomX foam, borrowed from the Vaporfly 4% shoes; I may be persuaded to return to the Pegasus if so, but otherwise it’s now the end of what has been a beautiful partnership.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

Brrrrr! The first 10-15 minutes were bracing, to say the least!

Running from the office for home in Kings Heath almost always means I’m running into the wind, which is incredibly challenging when it’s bitingly cold. In a bid to stay warm, and somewhat counter intuitively, I ran faster than I normally would to generate more heat; as I ran faster into the wind, the wind-chill had a greater impact and took increasingly more body heat away from me! You can see the dilemma I faced…

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

All the work at lactate threshold pace seems to be paying off, as I felt particularly energetic going into this run. Conditions weren’t quite as dry or positive as a week prior, but sometimes you can only play with the hand you’re dealt. A pleasant catch-up jog with new father, Barry Fallon, extended my warm-up to become longer than the main parkrun event itself…

I went off in a much more controlled manner to almost constantly be gaining and overtaking people, almost through to the very end. Out of ten, I’d have said I spent most of the run sitting at around eight, thanks to almost always having people around me.

Annoyingly, I’d left just a little too much work to do at the end, finishing exactly on 19:00, though I was able to at least push somebody else on to a new PB and their first ever sub-19 performance.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

14 miles – beyond The Vale and back

This was part 2 of my Nike Vomero 12 trial, taking me on my recovery loop around Kings Heath, and Billsley, and about 0.5 miles beyond The Vale and back. 14 miles is actually the furthest I’ve run since the Yorkshire Marathon in one sitting.

Things started off well enough, but started to go south after halfway. I found the Vomero 12 quite heavy, where they’re a good 20-30g heavier per shoe compared to the Pegasus 34. I may not have noticed the weight difference if I was fresh, but because I’d been on my feet almost all of Saturday night, the additional mass was obvious.

Further clouding my initial impressions of the Vomero 12 was the arch of my left foot cramping up after 9 miles. To be fair, my foot may have cramped up anyway in spite of whichever pair of shoes I wore that morning. What’s certain is I need to spend more time with the Vomero 12; Nike is currently offering a very generous 60-day money back guarantee with no questions asked, so I’ll make a decision to keep or return them in once I hit 50 miles or so.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.