This week’s running – 26th of June to 9th of July 2017

recovery

Some much needed recovery!

Week 8 and 9 of the 22 week marathon schedule.

I’ve merged two weeks together here, seeing as this past week was actually pretty light on running and heavy on recovery.

5k recovery with Lis

After seemingly weeks of absence, Lis and I resumed couples running, though it wasn’t without its issues…

Lis’ several week break from running meant she was almost starting from scratch again, so it’ll take some work to get her back up to being able to cover our 5k route once more.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10 miles from work with strides

Whilst I was carrying some fatigue from the Wythall Hollywood 10k, the combination of the punchy race-effort and the cooler conditions made for quite a potent mix to have me feeling pretty good. I casually aimed to keep my heart rate below 70% of maximum, and largely achieved this, bar on a few climbs and the odd set of strides to encourage some leg turnover.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

Oh wow. What a joy it was to run in cooler temperatures with a bag on my back and not feel like I was trudging through a rainforest expedition!

My heart rate was a good 5 to 10 beats lower for the same pace, such is the additional strain the heat and humidity places on our bodies.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10 miles from work

A fortnight ago, I broke away from my usual mould of 9-10 mile runs along the canal towpath from the office. After weeks of rinsing and repeating the same route, the change of scenery and its ever changing elevation made for a nice refresher; so nice, I decided to cover it once more with a view to training more specifically for the Yorkshire Marathon.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Birmingham Black Country Half Marathon

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

5k recovery run

Kickstarting the week of recovery were these easy paced 5k runs on Sunday and Monday. 60% of maximum heart rate was largely achieved, ensuring the effort was low enough.

Here and here is the Strava data for these runs.

10k recovery

By Tuesday, I knew I was long overdue for a recovery week; in my defence, I’ve not felt like I’ve needed one until this week just gone.

It’s a happy coincidence that running to Cannon Hill Park, covering two laps, and then running home equates to exactly 10k. A few sets of strides stopped the easy pace from feeling too ploddy, also helping me to practice good form with no pressure.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Rest is training

After a very warm and stressful commute for home, I decided to sack off my planned easy run. The sudden upsurge in temperature would have made even an easy pace feel more challenging than normal, so I reasoned I would gain more by not running. I’m grateful it wasn’t a regular training week!

By Friday, the near-three days of no running did the trick and I began to feel fresher once more.

Cannon Hill parkrun

It’d been more than five weeks since I last ran at Cannon Hill and boy was it good to be back at home. Conditions appeared pretty decent, though I sadly was not feeling quite as fresh as I was just 24 hours prior on Friday. I’d suspected for a few weeks that I probably had a sub-19 5k in me if everything went well, so it was time to put some graft in for a morning of benchmarking…

Within the first few hundred metres, I found myself working with Barry Fallon, who’s a pretty close match in ability at the moment. We settled into our place in the crowd with enough breathing space to run unimpeded. Unexpectedly, especially of late, I had a deep focus on the task at hand and tried to ensure I was running smoothly with a good range of motion. Before we knew it, we had a 3:45 opening split on our hands for a small buffer should things have gone pear shaped in the middle, as they can so often do in a 5k.

Barry and I continued together before he slipped off backwards by a few steps or so, though remained inside touching distance. The pace overall had slowed by a few seconds to a more manageable 3:51 for 2k.

I was entirely conscious that large chunks of time could be lost from fading concentration, so I was on the lookout for people to chase down. As luck would have it, I’d inadvertently been caught tailing Scott Williams, who so happened to be pacing a club mate of his. Nearing 3k, he ushered me on into no-man’s land as he slowed to regroup with his follower. As luck would have it, maybe 10 or 15 metres away from me was a chap covering the ground at what looked exactly like my pace, due to the distance between us neither growing nor shrinking. Two short surges allowed me to latch on to him and to take advantage of his slipstream. 3k came in at 3:50, remaining steady.

Looking further ahead of the chap, there was nobody within easy reach to lock on to if my pacer slowed, or if I opted to make a move. As it so happened, he continued to run metronomically and I really had to focus to stay on his tail. My choo-choo train impression reared its ugly head again after a long absence, so I knew I wasn’t slacking off. 4k unbelievably also clocked in at 3:51!

The distance between us repeatedly grew and shrank during the final km. Looking at my Garmin, I knew it would be close for a sub-19 finish. Turning at the Mac, I managed to pull up next to him for the first time in the entire run. Losing the pace by a step or two, he momentarily began drifting backwards. I tried coaxing him back. “Keep going, fella. Not far,” I desperately snatched with what little breath was available. It did the trick, as he regained his momentum and pulled forward ahead of me. I was running on fumes and easily lost a second or two on the sharp turn for the tearoom, and several more on the final climb for the finish. He had just a smidge more strength than me, taking 16th by just a second, and me, 17th.

My lungs were on fire, but I cared not because I’d successfully gone sub-19 for the first time since my injury in January, with 18:56 flashing on my Garmin. I thanked my unwitting pacer, Gareth, and introduced myself. “Yeah. I guessed that was your name from all the people cheering you on.” Sheepishly, I smiled and replied with, “Yeah… I’ve been running here for a few years…”

So often, I’m reliant on everything coming together for a good performance to happen; it was almost like divine intervention that the conditions were favourable, I was rested, and there were always people around me to work with. I’m still over 30 seconds away from my best at Cannon Hill, but I’m still ecstatic by this small, personal victory.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

12 miles – to the Cube and back

With just an easy 12 miles on the schedule to cover, I teamed up with Simon to help him get 14 miles in, which became his longest ever run.

Almost timed to perfection, he ran past my front door just as I was setting out, so there was no need to stop and regroup.

Simon won’t mind me sharing this with you all, because it’s of benefit to everybody. Please, please, please have something to eat before you embark on your longest runs to date. Hell, it may not even be your longest run, but unless you’re well fat adapted, you’re gonna have a pretty shitty time.

Within just 2 to 3 miles (flat/downhill) at what should have been an easily achievable pace for him, his breathing was already quite laboured. I finally got it out of him that he was running on an empty stomach because he didn’t have anything in for breakfast…

Marathon training is hard enough if everything goes well, so there really isn’t any need to knee-cap yourself and make runs more challenging than they need to be. The mental boost and confidence developed from a string of well executed runs can’t be quantified, but it all helps to propel and motivate for the next block of training, and the block after that, and so on.

Despite the big setback, we got him to his 14 miles in one piece. With the lack of energy and new distance, I warned Simon not to take recovery lightly for the next few days, where his body was likely to think of the run as closer to a race in terms of effort.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

So far, so good. I’m pretty content with how things are progressing, and Strava’s crude Fitness & Freshness chart suggests the same.

I’m inching ever closer to some big runs and sessions, so the past week of recovery has been most welcome. The coming week calls for runs of 10 miles with 5 of them at marathon pace, and 19 miles. The former is expected to take place during heavy rain, so at least the canal will be clear and I’ll be reasonably cool!

Birmingham Black Country Half Marathon 2017 review

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Final few hundred metres of the Birmingham Black Country Half Marathon – photo by Lis Yu

A mass participation half marathon? On canal towpaths? What madness is this???

Pre-race

Sadly, I have to start this write-up on a downer. Some of you will already know that there was a breach of data protection from the organisers in the build-up to this race. Nothing nefarious or as sinister as being hacked by another country, but rather just a good old-fashioned cock-up.

So, what happened? Some 100 participants (likely the first 100 by start allocation time) received an email from the organisers (StuWeb) with an attached spreadsheet containing the personal details of all 1,700 race participants. The data included such things as home address, phone number, email address, date of birth, next of kin, medical notes, and so on. Five days after the accidental data leak, there is still no apology or explanation from StuWeb, where it now appears they’re burying their head in the sand in the hope that runners forget and move on. Future participants of this race, you’ve been warned!

Several years ago in a bid to diversify my training routes, I opted to try and mimic the Birmingham Black Country Half Marathon. All started out well as I commuted to Wolverhampton city centre, navigated to the canal and began my run back to Birmingham. Then, I came face to face with a closed off tunnel somewhere in the middle of the route, needed to backtrack and ended up re-joining the canal much further away, adding another 3 miles to my long run…

Memories fade and with a distinct lack of locally accessible races during the summer, I made light of this opportunity for a training run at marathon pace, with Dave in tow. We bumped into Barry Fallon at New Street station whilst commuting, and a few other BRAT guys beforehand to emphasise the local feel of the race.

The intention was to simply cover the distance at marathon pace for both Dave and me. Recalling where I was roughly a year ago in the training schedule, 13.1 miles at 6:50 per mile would be a big ask, especially on the uneven terrain of the canal towpath route. The longest I had successfully run at marathon pace up to this race was the Aldridge 10k almost a month ago. I was also carrying some fatigue from several weeks without a cutback, along with this Saturday race robbing me of an extra day of recovery I would normally enjoy from a Sunday event. Further to my tale of woe, the organisers were unwilling to bump me up to a slightly earlier and faster wave, meaning I was likely to be one of the fastest of my grouping and likely to be running long sections without company…

I decided to break from tradition and this was one of the rare race occasions where I did not don my yellow vest and also decided to carry my own drinks. Not trusting my own ability to drink from cups on the course, I didn’t want to leave myself exposed and potentially prolong recovery.

Assembled, Dave and I were close to the very front of our wave’s safety briefing. Unknowingly, we were mere metres away from the start line and were both somewhat caught off-guard when we were released on to the canal for our journey back to Birmingham.

The race

Very quickly, I zoned into marathon pace and found myself in the top three of my wave, trading positions with the second place guy periodically. The effort felt manageable, given I wasn’t prepared to sacrifice a week of training in exchange for being fresh for the race.

Within a mile or so, the second place chap dropped back as his breathing grew heavier, leaving me in chase for first place in my wave. Shortly after moving into second place, I closed in on first place and sat steady for a while longer. Miles 1 and 2 came in at 6:45 and 6:48 respectively.

With no additional effort, I began edging closer to first place as he slowed. Practically drafting behind him, he urged me on to pass him as we made our way towards mile 3. The pace held steady for a 6:49 split.

I’ve got to give some applause for the volunteers acting as marshals and manning the water stations – the support was fantastic and well received, especially once I began running solo.

After some time, I spotted two runners in the distance, clearly together. I began wondering whether they were part of the race, or not, with some doubt thrown in given how far off the pace they were to have made it into wave B (1:29 to 1:26 target finish time). Any of you that marshal large parkrun events will know how increasingly difficult it becomes to gauge whether runners towards the rear of the pack are actually part of the event, or simply out on a solo run. Some that aren’t part of the event get really offended when you begin cheering them on! Well, it turned out they were part of the race, after all, and moved into single file whilst encouraging me onwards.

Increasingly, I began encountering more stray runners from the back of wave B. The worst offender wore headphones on the narrow path, despite being asked to only have one ear plugged in. “Passing on your right,” I hollered several times, with no reaction. As I crept around her, she began freaking out, clearly surprised that I was there. My annoyance that I wasn’t allowed to be bumped up to wave B increased. Grrr…

I’d finally arrived at the infamously long and dark tunnel within mile 5. There were a few lights attached to the hand rail, but nothing significant enough to illuminate the uneven ground beneath my feet. I adjusted to a mid-foot strike, allowing for as much ground contact as possible, just in case. Meeting a lady at roughly halfway into the darkness who slowed to a walk, she allowed me to pass. “You’re braver than I am!” she shared with me. “Nope. I’m just more stupid!” was my reply, as I tried to minimise any slowdown. Amazingly, some of the fastest finishers are completing the course in some 71 minutes, so they’re either dramatically faster than that and slowing to safely get through the tunnel, or have balls the size of grapefruits and charge through hoping for the best. Surprisingly, my Garmin remained locked on and recovered the pace reasonably well. Miles 4 and 5 came in at 6:51 and 6:58 respectively.

The narrow, untamed path continued to be a problem and frequently offered no more than 40cm of width to run on and overtaking required anticipating and choosing the right moment. Bridges also took their toll, with the jarring, sharp and short gradients forcing me to break stride. Mile 6 produced a 6:54 to signal the beginning of the pace slip…

The swell of runners from the back of wave B grew, so much so that I lost count. I was struggling to concentrate and I couldn’t get into any sort of rhythm, though still managed to hold steady with mile 7 to 10 splits of 6:54, 6:58, 6:58 and 6:56.

Mile 11 unexpectedly broke me. I run that section of the canal twice a week after work and I looked forward to that familiar stretch to get me through to the end. Unfortunately, that section of canal also throws a couple of bridges in quick succession, which just isn’t great on tired legs. Unhelpfully, the course also took runners on to the unpaved right-hand side of the canal back into Brindley Place, whereas I’d expected the newly paved left-hand side to be used. Miles 11 and 12 came in with 7:03 and 7:14 respectively.

With less than a mile to go before reaching Brindley Place, fellow run-blogger Shaun Hemmings and I spotted each other. Out spectating with his daughter, my red t-shirt and ultra vest threw him off and it was only my running style that confirmed it was indeed me!

Sensing I was near the end, I finally saw Lis on the other side of the canal, waiting for both me and Dave to finish. With just a few hundred metres to go, I picked up my cadence for the finish, which suddenly veered off to the right for another unexpected and literal turn.

Post-race

Here’s the Strava data for this race.

It was a pretty gentle finish by my standards, with very quick recovery before shooting over to the other side to cheer Dave in.

Due to a need for convenience of start and finish points, the race historically measures long and I clocked 13.29 miles, so kudos to anybody that can score a half marathon PB on the course. I recorded a finish time of 1:32:25 and an average pace of 6:56 per mile, which is a little off from target, but would have been worse if I’d have attempted a solo outing.

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Dave and me at the Birmingham Black Country Half Marathon – photo by Lis Yu

Dave finished pretty much on his target marathon pace, which bodes well at not even the halfway point of his training.

A good litmus test of a race is whether you would consider entering again; I’m still undecided, several days later as I type this. Locally in the summer, there are few half marathons that I have access to as training for an autumn half marathon, as opposed to the abundance of half marathons and 20 mile races available in January, February and March before spring marathons. Yes, I got the training run I wanted, but the admin and organisation of the race beforehand has left a bitter taste in my mouth. A race that’s so careless to release your personal details and then offer no apology or explanation, formal or otherwise, does not deserve my recommendation.

This week’s running – 19th to 25th of June 2017

heatwave2017

A week of two halves!

Week 7 of the 22 week marathon schedule.

5k recovery

If you have a particular route that you cover time and time again, but in only one direction, I suggest you give it a shot in the opposite direction. I did just that on Monday’s 5k recovery run, and it was quite remarkable how different it felt. The route suddenly felt new again; I noticed new details on houses I’d passed dozens of times before, climbs became descents, and so forth.

Elevation-wise, running the reverse route felt slightly more challenging, where formerly shorter, sharper climbs had been traded in for more gradual, longer upward drags.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10 miles with 4 at marathon pace

With the amped up heat and humidity, I opted to break the 10 miles down into a separate warm-up, 4 miles at pace, and warm-down. I wanted the spirit of the prescribed run, whilst diluting it just enough to make it achievable.

Part-way into the first mile at marathon pace, I noticed how much more effort it was taking in the tricky conditions, so I slotted in an additional 10 second buffer to make it more manageable. The adjustment felt about right, allowing all 4 miles to each sneak in at under 7 minutes.

Unsurprisingly, the canal was especially busy. Along with another runner and 4 guys walking, we all failed miserably as we attempted a 6 way pass, though were in good spirits afterwards as we all apologised profusely to each other for the en-masse clattering!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

I always find run-commutes in warm and humid conditions particularly challenging. Wearing a bag on my back means I’m continuously sweating for lack of airflow, and running at a slower recovery pace means I’m spending longer on the activity. Factor in a rushed departure from the office and less than ideal hydration over the afternoon, and the result was a pretty messy 5 miles.

Adapting to the heat is entirely trainable. An online buddy of mine from hot and humid Atlanta in the US recently returned to London, where the 10° drop in temperature for him allowed for some pretty stellar training runs, whilst Blighty began suffering with our relative 10° increase.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

10 miles from work

Wanting a change from slogging it out on the canal towpath, I decided to re-utilise some of the route I adopted last year whilst there were closures between the university and Selly Oak to install new stairs and bike ramps.

Indeed, sometimes a change is as good as a rest. In spite of the undulating second half, the change of scenery served as a pretty good stimulus and kept things interesting on this staple weekly medium-long run. Also positive was the fact that I didn’t have to detour half a mile away from home with the goal of bulking out the distance – something I will try to adopt moving forward, especially for the monstrous 20+ mile runs.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Wythall Hollywood 10k 2017 review

For the full run-down of this ever-present race on my calendar, please click here.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

Despite it being a light week on my schedule, I still clocked up just 200m shy of 40 miles in total and feel no worse for it. I would like to be in a position so that most of my light weeks end up close to 40 miles, with more dramatic cutbacks utilised sparingly where absolutely necessary. Conversely, I’ve planned for my biggest weeks to just hit 60 miles, and all other weeks in the middle to hover around 50 miles.

The outcome at the Wythall Hollywood 10k was rather pleasing, where there was a real possibility of it not coming to fruition in the days prior, such is how out of touch I was with 10k pace; my lactate threshold has always been my weakness, so I’m frequently conscious not to ignore it completely. I have one more 10k race as part of the marathon schedule in late July; if things continue to track well, I think a 39:15 is a realistic prospect on the pancake flat course, so long as the weather plays ball!

This coming week is another unusual one, featuring the novelty race that is the Birmingham Black Country Half Marathon, to be completed with Dave. The plan is for us to cover the race at our respective marathon paces for some benchmarking to see just where we’re at.

Wythall Hollywood 10k 2017 review

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Fifth outing at this no longer well-kept secret of a 10k – photo by Lis Yu

For previous years’ races, please click below:

Pre-race

Covering the recent Aldridge 10k at marathon pace felt like the right thing to do at the time, but the race felt somewhat hollow and unsatisfying. I’d worked hard over the years to get to a sub-40 10k performance, and last year looked like the first time where such a finish time was unlikely to trouble me expect on the most hilly of routes.

By comparison, the Wythall Hollywood 10k carries a much gentler profile, even with it’s two 1km long climbs over 2 laps. Last year was the first time I ran sub-40 on the route, also sharing the joint-honour as my 10k PB course (the other race is the Magor Marsh 10k). With this week technically classed as my cutback week, a sub-40 performance would dovetail nicely as a lactate threshold session to try and widen my arsenal of paces. Darryll Thomas, whom I first met at the race three years ago, also wanted a sub-40 performance, and so the goal was set!

There’s a lot going for this race and I can’t stress enough how much there is going for it. It seemed others have also finally caught on to it, because it looked like there was a new attendance record at almost a thousand based on bib numbers – perhaps this will persuade the organisers to give chip timing a shot next year, which really is the only thing that lets the race down, especially for those caught up in the middle or back of the pack.

Bib collected from race HQ, I recognised sizable representation from BRAT, Bournville Harriers and Kings Heath Running Club, with a couple of other clubs also in attendance.

Arriving slightly later than originally planned for, I made a beeline to get my warm-up in, which probably could have been at least another 0.5 miles longer in an ideal world. Nonetheless, I breathed a sigh of relief to have gotten all of my pre-race admin completed with a little time to spare to catch-up with a few local faces I recognised. However, there was still no sign of Darryll Thomas…

It was time to assemble on the start line and with just minutes to spare, Darryll finally appeared for our joint-venture to share the sub-40 effort. We noticed we’d somehow positioned ourselves behind several kids, so a wide berth off the line was factored in. “3-2-1” and the beginning of circa-40 minutes of lactate threshold hell had begun…

The race

We both settled into race pace early on and commented that we would reel plenty of people in who had taken off at what was more likely their 5k pace. Confusingly, this may have actually held true for those in the much smaller 5k race. I pointed out a couple of faces to Darryll who we likely wanted to keep an eye on as ability barometers that typically aligned closely to us; worryingly, Barry Fallon had built up quite a lead of some 200m in a matter of minutes, so he was off the radar, though a Bournville Harrier that’s always a couple of steps ahead of me at all distances continued to track closely. 1km came in at 3:58 to be precisely on target.

The course throws a lengthy climb in, lasting a little over a km and needing to be tackled twice. Darryll and I both commented that attendance was noticeably up on previous years, where we’d historically finished in the 41 to 42 minute range to find ourselves running in no-man’s land. On this occasion, there were plenty of people around us with positions often chopping and changing. Whereas we’d agreed for me to do the heavy lifting on climbs, Darryll kept pace with me much of the ascent, with the split slowing to 4:10 and staying firmly to plan.

Our plan had us taking advantage of the high-speed downhill section after the climb to recover some of the damage, and to also buffer a little time for the second lap. Darryll took the reins and paved much of the way on the descent, with me in tow. With a 3k split of 3:50, we were back on target and eased off slightly for some recovery.

The ever-present chap with his hosepipe was once again on the scene to cool us runners down. The sight of him and access to multiple water stops got me thinking that, despite the total 2km of climbing, the course is conducive to fast times. Athletes are able to better manage the heat of racing, with several people and me citing the course as home to their 10k PBs. I’ve run much flatter 10k races historically, but as single lap events with a single water station, it becomes much harder to continue red-lining when you’re overheating at just halfway.

One of the kids from the 5k race was able to stick with us, and regardless of the very wide and traffic-free route, decided he needed to run through the two of us. “Out of the way,” he said, precociously! In no rush of our own on this steady split, we parted and allowed him through, only for us to overtake him as we exited the Phoenix complex. 4km clocked in for 3:51 for more time in the bank.

I spotted Paul Harris spectating, rather than running this year, for a welcome morale boost. Shortly afterwards on the bridge, I had Lis hand me a bottle of water as she does every year – another one of those little things that allows this race to be faster than its profile would normally allow. Unlike most years, the bottle needed to thaw out a bit more because there wasn’t much water to be had from it! A few sips between Darryll and me didn’t allow much left to be thrown over our heads, so it was fortunate that we weren’t running in the amped up temperatures from a week prior. 5km came in at 3:58 for the split and 19:46 at halfway.

The Bournville Harrier I’d pointed out was narrowly drifting away, such was the level of his ability relative to ours. Barry, however, loomed ever closer with each step. 6k registered 4:03 for some definitely slow-down, likely due to the undulations from the country lane.

Turning the corner for the second approach of the climb, I took the lead whilst Darryll and a Leamington Spa Strider, who’d remained with us thus far, sat in behind me. I’d reeled Barry in and gave him some encouragement to latch on to our group, but it was to no avail. His ambitious first half had come back to bite him, though I was still confident he could break 40 minutes with a re-focused final 3km. The climb had definitely knocked some of the wind from our sails the second time around, producing a 7k split of 4:14 and 4 seconds down compared to lap 1.

We took advantage once more of the near-2km long descent, with Darryll moving into position and taking the lead, whilst I followed to gain some recovery. The climb had taken a little more out of me than anticipated, and even with running downhill, I couldn’t get my legs to turnover any quicker. The 8k split also slowed a tad to 3:54, though still within acceptable limits.

Passing my man with the hosepipe, I requested an absolute drenching, which instantly freshened me up for the remainder of the race. Entering the Phoenix complex for the final time, I continued to bring up the rear of our three man pack before moving back into the lead. The 9k split produced 3:51 to match perfectly with lap 1.

I switched up my Garmin to elapsed time and began giving real time updates. As I called out, “36 minutes” a little on from 9k, a whole host of runners all crept out nowhere to surprise me, Darryll and the Leamington Spa Strider! Renewed interest in a sub-40 finish? Hiding in nearby bushes and skipping out a lap like I used to at school cross-country? Who knows…

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Final 500m of the Wythall Hollywood 10k 2017 – photo by Lis Yu

Passing Paul and Lis once again, I was spurred on to begin wrapping up the race. I continued to give minute by minute time updates as I led the charge back to race HQ and the finish. My legs had recovered from earlier and I found myself able to open up my stride and push on. Returning to race HQ, I was cheered on by a few kids, shouting out my race number, and also Cannon Hill parkrunner, David Carruthers, stood on the final corner. There was no need for a mad sprint as I knew I was on the right side of 40 minutes!

Post-race

Here’s the Strava data for the race.

Coming back in with 39:42, that was possibly the most comfortable end to a sub-40 10k I’ve ever experienced. I caught my breath back within seconds as I got to see a flurry of runners crossing the line, including Darryll for 39:43.

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Mission accomplished – photo by Lis Yu

The two of us are pretty damn pleased with the performances, after very little respective work at lactate threshold pace outside of parkruns and maybe the odd session. As I keep reiterating to myself, this season is all about one almighty goal, so I’m about where I want to be concerning 10k pace. If I’m feeling a little sharper by the time of the Magor Marsh 10k in late July, I may see if something in the region of 39:15 is possible.

Congratulations go out to Alex Mold for another second place podium finish in the women’s race, and Steve Dunsby for another 3rd place podium finish in the men’s race.

A 5k warm-down rounded off a pretty satisfying day, with not nearly as much suffering at lactate threshold as originally envisaged!

 

This week’s running – 12th to 18th of June 2017

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Touring South Welsh parkruns continued – photo by Lis Yu

Week 6 of the 22 week marathon schedule.

5k recovery & parcel pick-up

I had to get to my folks’ place to collect a parcel that’d been delivered, so a rather indirect 5k route was plotted. Ever tried running whilst holding a shoebox with running shoes inside? Not the easiest of things to hold, even at a gentle pace…

The shoes in question are the new Nike Pegasus 34. I’ve been training in the Pegasus for the best part of 5 years, but generally skip a generation for the bigger enhancements whilst stockpiling on cheap pairs of the outgoing version. I’ll do a short write-up once I’ve put a few miles through them, but just wearing them around the house already fills me with confidence of the more dramatic overhaul.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles with 4 x 1 mile @ LT

How does one make a session more difficult for themselves? Start by covering a pace that’s largely unfamiliar, and just for laughs, also dramatically reduce the recovery between reps!

Currently, lactate threshold estimates place me somewhere between 6:15 and 6:20 per mile. Recovery between reps was last set at 3:15, which at the time felt a little too generous. Knocking it down to 2:30 felt like the right thing to do…

The reps came out as follows:

  1. 6:16
  2. 6:18
  3. 6:18
  4. 6:18

I would have had a perfect set if not for the pesky tunnel skewing the first rep slightly! All reps thereafter felt torturous with the final one near-vomit inducing at the very end. Having survived the session, I’ll probably keep the configuration as is for exposure to out and out suffering.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

I treat these run-commutes as easy recoveries in between Tuesdays, where pace is the focus, and Thursdays, which generally top up endurance. Wearing a bag and attempting to run quickly are two opposing things, where my pace can normally hover between 9 and 11 minute miles. Yet, I’m in awe of people that can crank out some serious pace whilst loaded down with luggage on their backs; such a person is local runner, Richard Neal, who I had the pleasure of meeting recently just before he was pushing out 7:15 miles with a bag on his back!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

I felt beaten up before I’d even started on this run from the office. Because some of you have asked, I define a run-commute as one where I’m carrying a bag like above, as opposed to a run from the office, where I’m carrying just the bare essentials (phone, keys, travel cards) in a FlipBelt.

For some reason, I got it stuck in my mind that I wanted to cover majority of the distance at 7:50 per mile. No rhyme, or reason – I simply had an underlying desire to do so. Forcing the pace can sometimes open your eyes to what you’re capable of in some situations, but not here. I was tired, both from work and a lack of sleep over the best part of a fortnight.

I felt empty once I reached home and concluded I was still carrying fatigue from Tuesday’s session, and the heatwave hadn’t even landed yet!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Pontypool parkrun

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Mad as a box of frogs, this course!

parkrun touristing of South Wales continued with this visit to Pontypool’s event. Well established for over three years, it’s never really hit the big leagues in terms of attendance due to the immensely popular Newport event nearby and subsequent new events that have sprung up recently. 100 to 150 runners is typical, with just 95 turning up on this particular Saturday.

Visiting the event with me and Lis were her mother (and dog), niece and nephew.

I always like to look up course maps and descriptions before visiting new events. To say that I was scratching my head based on the above is an understatement. With the scant description, I had to look-up somebody’s run via Strava and repeatedly move the cursor back and forth to get a feel for how each lap takes place. Even with that knowledge in hand, I still managed to go astray during my warm-up by not taking into account the different levels that are covered as part of the route!

Toeing up on the start, the new runner’s briefing took place mere seconds before we were sent off on our way to add to my already high levels of anxiety. “Turn right at the big tree” did nothing for me, stood in the park and surrounded by many big trees!

Off the line, it was probably the most sedate starts to a mass event I’ve encountered in ages, second only to the very laid back Great Run Local from a few months ago. Two guys pulled ahead, whilst a small pack of four of us held back, clearly due to the already warm conditions we faced. Me and one other moved forward, becoming fourth and third respectively. Only having a faint idea of the early part of the course, I hung back to let the more knowledgeable local runner lead the way.

For the first 2km, there was little variation in our positions, apart from the leads I gained on inclines and his advantage on descents. I could tell by his breathing that he was having a harder time of it than I was. Approaching the switchback before the second lap, he dramatically slipped off the pace and I found myself overtaking him within just a few steps; I urged him on with “Keep going, fella” as I pulled away. First place was no more than 40 seconds away and looked like he was only on a tempo run, with second place perhaps some 20 seconds behind. Rounding the switchback, I had a good view of who was likely to challenge me for third; the chap I had overtaken fell even further behind to fifth, whereas a fellow visitor was next in line with over 30 seconds difference between the two of us.

I found myself running alone, though running for positions and not pace was wholly refreshing. I knew I could maintain that pace all the way to the finish for a comfortable podium spot, with second place being too far ahead to consider. A friendly couple on the other side confirmed my thoughts as they cheered me on.

Much like at Barry Island parkrun, Pontypool and its twisting course over multiple levels affords spectators multiple opportunities to see athletes. Apparently, Yvonne – my mother-in-law, was told off by organisers for being too vocal with her cheers for me!

Moving into the final km, I noticed that I was actually gaining on second place thanks to a couple of climbs. Before the start, I overheard that he was coming back from illness or injury, and was not in peak shape. He began retching and spluttering like he was about to hock something up, inspiring me to have a go at reeling him in. Unhelpfully, the final km of the course takes place on narrow paths with significant inclines and descents to complicate matters.

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Sprinting for second place at Pontypool parkrun – photo by Lis Yu

Entering the final 400m, I’d reduced the difference to fewer than 10 seconds. “Go on! You can have second!” were the run director’s words as I navigated around the rugby pitch. The surroundings had a sort of amphitheatre feel, giving my chase a sense of real occasion! I began surging on my target and applied more pressure as he continued retching.

With 200m to go, I’d narrowed the gap to perhaps just 3 seconds, turning to just 2 seconds in the remaining 100m. The path narrowed even further in the final 50m and the gap reduced to just a second between us; I could have grabbed his shoulder, it was that close!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Alas, it was not meant to be and we held our positions as we crossed the line and slumped over into our respective heaps. It so happened that he was actually just a few seconds away from a new PB, courtesy of the competition, and first place was less than 20 seconds ahead of us. In hindsight, I’m confident I could have made a move for second a lot sooner and used the narrowing terrain to help fend him off.

A gentle warm-down and a few chats with some of the local runners rounded off an unexpectedly good start to the weekend’s running.

In terms of South Welsh events, that’s pretty much it for those that are reasonably easy to drive to. I feel like I’m starting to find some form again, so I think a return to Cardiff parkrun for some benchmarking is in order…

18 miles – to Little Mill and back

This was the run I feared most of this particular week’s plans: 18 miles in the devastating heat with several sharp and gradual inclines for good measure. The prior day’s informal race for second place and an afternoon-evening of BBQ grub wouldn’t have helped the situation, either.

With my trusty Salomon ultra vest and drinks flasks in tow, I decided to experiment with the run’s nutrition and hydration strategy. For said BBQ, we had some cans of regular Coca-Cola in, so I went and opened two, allowing them to go flat overnight ahead of the morning’s exertions. It’s supposedly an Iron Man practice, where the basic components in Coca-Cola of water, sugar and caffeine are exactly what the mind and body needs when the going gets tough. It did come with the caveat that once an athlete begins using it during the run, the body will crave it and little else can become a substitute. Addictive properties, indeed! With that knowledge in mind, I loaded one flask up with water and a High5 Zero tablet for electrolytes, and the other flask with the brown, sugary goodness. The former would be rationed for the entire duration of 18 miles, and the latter reserved exclusively for the second half. Just in case, I also carried a gel.

Setting off earlier than usual to beat the heat, the temperature was already in the low 20s at 08:30 and with no cloud cover in sight. Thankfully, humidity was pretty reasonable to allow sweat to still do its thing. I purposely kept the first half easy, running well within myself. My legs, surprisingly, felt pretty fresh and responsive, which I suspect is courtesy of the high cadence from Pontypool parkrun.

Unusually, there was not a single other runner out and about, though there were plenty of cyclists, including a team in formation.

Regular analysis of how I was feeling confirmed everything was A-OK. A couple of sips of electrolyted water per mile kept the system topped up and feeling comfortable. I’ve run much shorter distances at a similar pace and felt much, much worse!

Reaching halfway, I consciously wanted to pick up the pace with a target of circa-7:45 per mile. Upping the effort turned out to be no effort at all! A few sips of the Coca-Cola flask and I was like a hummingbird to nectar. The trinity of holding back in the first half, being well hydrated and the kick from the sugar and caffeine made for a rather potent mix.

Temperatures hit the high 20s in the second half, which caused the odd wobble, but was remedied by seeking out shade where available.

It was mission accomplished upon finishing, where all 9 miles of the second half came in at around 7:45 or faster. Whether physiological or placebo, the Coca-Cola’s dark magic worked wonders; it even had some part to play in recovery, because there was no post-run stiffness or soreness, whether shortly after finishing or over 24 hours later as I type this. I think I’ve found my long run training buddy!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

I seem to have turned a corner in the training, where pieces of the puzzle are starting to fall into place. Yesterday’s 18 miles is the longest distance I’ve covered since finishing the Yorkshire Marathon last October; if all of my remaining 18 to 22 mile runs can feel as good, then I’ll be a happy chappy.

This week’s running – 5th to 11th of June 2017

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No cock-ups whilst on our watch!

Week 5 of the 22 week marathon schedule.

“Ones to watch” at the Yorkshire Marathon

Having blogged about running for some five or so years, my contact details have been added to a lot of PR mailing lists. Sometimes, I actually get some decent products to try and review, or complimentary entry into races (Nottingham’s Robin Hood Half Marathon, as a notable example). Often, it’s PR junk.

Without thinking, I recently received an email from the PR team behind the Yorkshire Marathon and assumed the communication was yet more junk. Filtering through my emails, I realised it was actually addressed to my personal email, and not the one I have listed on this blog. The author of the email asked if I would be willing to participate in an upcoming feature for this year’s Yorkshire Marathon race pack magazine. Provisionally titled, “Ones to watch”, they arrived at me by identifying that I’d entered the event with a predicted time of 2:59 or faster.

Initially, they wanted me to answer some fairly open-ended questions to gain a better understanding of my background and how I reached the target time. Reading through the question set, it was easy to tell it was fairly generic and some of the questions were tailored towards charity runners with lofty fund raising targets, making for a diverse cross-section for the proposed feature. And there’s the keyword, “proposed”; they stressed the caveat that the feature may not run at all, or I may be too much of a running bore to be included. We shall have to wait until closer to the time to see if I make the cut, or not!

5k recovery

Lis has had the misfortune of a minor foot injury, so no running for her for a couple of weeks.

It was particularly wet and windy, so I donned a long-sleeve top and tights whilst I shook my head in disbelief. Surprisingly, my legs felt great and you’d never have guessed I ran 17 miles just a day prior.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

The spate of poor weather continued and I side-lined any thoughts of work at pace for later in the week. Turning the corner on the Gas Street junction of the canal, I physically had to lean into the wind to gain some traction to give you an idea of how strong the gusts were!

I forgot how regularly I chew through shoes during a marathon training cycle, with three pairs, that were otherwise in decent health only several weeks ago, now needing replacement due to reaching their lifespan (500 miles for training shoes, 250 miles for racing shoes). How do I know when their time is up? I have a nerdy shoe spreadsheet that I’ve maintained for years before the likes of Garmin and Strava included a shoe-logging feature (and Nike+ actually had such a feature before the rest), where I record the mileage used against each pair. For the training shoes, I apply a secondary factor of how much cushioning they have left in them by feel; if after a medium-long run and the cushioning feels dead, then it’s time for them to go. For race shoes, I eyeball them, especially in the upper for tears and the sole for thin or missing rubber.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

5 mile run-commute

The adage that you don’t regret a run largely holds true for me. The only one I do regret is the when I tweaked my Achilles tendon before Christmas, but all the others have been worthwhile in some way, shape or form. That said, I really was not in the mood for this run-commute. I was tired from an entire day’s worth of training at work, and I felt like I was coming down with something where I felt fuzzy and was carrying a chill. I also had limited time to run and have dinner before heading out to catch Wonder Woman at the cinema (great watch).

I decided to sack the run off, despite carrying all of the gear into the city centre for the run-commute home. Reaching the bus stop, all of the ETAs for my bus were snarled up due to the cricket taking place at Edgbaston, so I let out a sigh and got dressed into my run gear rather than wait the travel situation out.

I felt perfectly fine by the end of 5 miles and probably took just as long as if I was sat in traffic. Regretting runs? Nope. Not me!

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

9 miles from work

The canal by my workplace has finally been paved after several years without, and several weeks with the annoying gravel foundations in preparation. Whilst not an athletics track, the buttery smooth fresh tarmac was an absolute joy to run on, with just the right amount of give and traction.

With no runs at a taxing pace up to this point in the week, my legs were noticeably fresher than normal and so I allowed the pace to sharpen up slightly. Only the knowledge of covering the then upcoming Aldridge 10k at marathon pace stopped me from going completely bananas.

Here’s the Strava data for this run.

Cannon Hill parkrun

The summer brings a lot of scope for interruption to Cannon Hill parkrun. There are countless festivals, live shows and whatnot that makes holding an organised run with some 800 plus participants especially challenging. It was the England versus Australia cricket match across the road that nearly cancelled parkrun, but dissuading as many runners as possible from attending and a trial temporary course allowed business to sort of continue as usual…

Lis and I both volunteered; she was positioned by the Mac along with Liz Dexter, whereas I and Suz West had the slightly nerve-wracking role of holding the makeshift lap number board and directing runners towards the finish. Starting over Fergal’s Corner and where the Ronnie Bowker 10k kick-off, runners were to cover three laps of the main perimeter of the park, cutting out the inner paths and excursion towards the triangle. Suz and I had to keep our eyes peeled for anybody that had miscounted and, thankfully, nobody did from what we saw. Scouring through the results, it would have been obvious if an entire lap had been cut out because PBs (of which there were very few) would have been minutes, and not seconds faster.

Cannon Hill parkrun will unavoidably be cancelled on Saturday 24th of June as a warning.

Aldridge 10k 2017 review

Please click here for the full race report.

The road to the Yorkshire Marathon II

Not a bad week of running at all and marathon pace continues to feel both less challenging and more manageable across longer distances. Compared to a year ago, I’m a few beats lower for the same effort, though I’m now thinking I need to add more variety to the marathon paced sections I cover, instead of just running the miles on the flat canal repeatedly…

There’s still a lot of work to do, with meatier 18 mile plus runs soon to become a regular fixture in the plan.

Aldridge 10k 2017 review

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Third outing for me at the infamously hilly Aldridge 10k.

For the 2013 and 2016 races, please click below:

Pre-race

It’s a dangerous thing chasing after past glories. A year ago, I ran 39:16 in utterly dreadful conditions, and possibly could have gone harder if the appetite was there that day. As satisfying as it would be to equal that performance, I knew it simply wasn’t going to happen without the right training behind me. To save myself from failure, I pivoted the race’s outlook to simply cover the distance at marathon pace; a chat with Simon Rhodes of Birchfield Harriers beforehand gave me some solace that he, too, was suffering from marathon pace robbing him of speed over shorter distances, so I wasn’t alone.

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No torrential rain this year!

After the recent pre-race chaos at the Tewkesbury Half Marathon, Simon of the Bull variety and I decided to set off earlier to factor in potential delay with parking, bib collection and so forth. As it turned out, we breezed through traffic, found a parking space immediately, and collected our bibs without delay! With plenty of time on our hands to kill, we took on a gentle 2km jog that largely covered the opening stretch of the race; oddly enough for a race that I’ve run thrice, and Simon twice, neither of us could picture much of the first half of the route!

Waiting for the start was a completely different experience to that of last year’s wash-out. There was no need to huddle underneath anything for shelter; aside from a strong breeze and looming dark clouds, conditions actually looked quite favourable. On the Mayor’s count of, “3-2-1”, and the hooter, we were off.

The race

My urge to resist charging off with the crowd failed miserably; I found myself covering the first few hundred metres at 6:24 per mile, which would equate to a sub-40 10k, rather than the prescribed 6:50 per mile for marathon pace… I gradually applied the anchors and eased back into marathon pace, which really highlighted how much chopping and changing there was in the opening km. Just to confuse you guys, I recorded splits in km, but was pacing by miles: 6:51 was the recorded pace.

There was a fair bit of pavement hopping due to the race not taking place on closed roads. The organisers made specific reference during the briefing that earphones were not permitted for safety reasons, to which we both quietly chuckled at the sight of a woman trying to be ever so discreet whilst taking hers off and putting them away in her non-existent pockets… But, at least she took them off, because just in front of me was a guy that was very clearly wearing them and rather oblivious to those around him. The organisers did say they would be disqualifying those they caught wearing earphones, which really is the only deterrent, because it’s pointless having rules that can’t or won’t be enforced.

Anyway… I got caught up in a small group with the earphones guy and a Bournville Harrier, which persisted for much of the race. With the undulations in place, maintaining marathon pace was more challenging than I was used to, courtesy of the flat canals I’m accustomed to. I sense some training modifications coming up! The second km clocked in at 6:47 pace.

Remember when I said that Simon and I both struggled to recall much of the first half of the race? It could be entirely because of a sharp-ish climb somewhere in the third km, though there is a fairly enjoyable downhill stretch in the fourth km for compensation. Largely by the numbers, the third and fourth km splits came in at 6:38 and 6:42 pace, so I was beginning to speed up ever so slightly.

Just before halfway was another sharp climb to test me further before the water stop. It’s rare that I don’t take on some water during a race, so my hydration tactics of late must have been working. Be that as it may, I was growing increasingly warmer as the race progressed, largely due to the undulations but also from the sun that peaked out from behind the clouds – some water to go over my head was most welcome. As I neared one of the volunteers handing out cups of water, I stretched out my hand only for her to pull the cup of water away! She had one job to do and failed spectacularly! I had to sidestep and thrust my arm in to prise the cup from her hand, or go without; good thing I wasn’t thirsty… 5km came in at 6:33 pace, largely due to some benefit from some downhill stretches.

The Bournville Harrier and I continued to chop and change places, where he tended to lead on descents and I gained on the climbs. 6km steadied itself for 6:38 pace.

The seventh km was exclusively downhill and I recall making massive gains on this portion of last year’s race. Runners were completely exposed to the sun at this stage with no shade, so it was a blessing that the descent was so effortless to result in 6:19 pace.

Turning the corner, I knew full well that it was pretty much a mile of climbing to the finish. I could see Simon Rhodes on the horizon as I crept closer and closer to him. He, too, was covering his marathon pace of circa-7:00 minutes per mile, so must have seen some red mist to be that far ahead of me. The Bournville Harrier managed to gain a decent lead from the preceding downhill stretch, but he was also being reeled in. 8km showed the first signs of slowdown for 6:43 pace.

Moving into the final km, I overtook Simon and offered some encouragement, though not too much because I knew he had another 5 miles to cover to get back home for 18 miles in total. Shortly afterwards, I’d also regrouped with the Bournville Harrier to share a bit of banter before continuing my charge up the lengthy climb. 9km slowed to 6:52 pace and my slowest split of the race by less than a second.

Near the top of the climb, I finally saw another competitor and powered past him on my way to the finish, which seemed to take a lifetime to reach. I could hear the PA system being used to call out runners’ names as they went through the finish line, but it was several minutes and several hundred metres before it came into sight. Passing one of the final remaining marshals on the course, he offered me a cheer of, “Looking good, no.139. Or should that be 171?” Just 24 hours prior, I was joking with the coffee gang after Cannon Hill parkrun about my “171” tattoo causing confusion in races, where people assume I must be really into triathlon, or similar.

Final corner turned, I found myself firmly back on the playing field where Simon Bull and I had completed 200m of strides before the race. There was a chap just metres ahead of me, who I was impressed to see covering the most efficient racing line through the snaking remainder of the course, marked out by tape on posts. There was no desire or need for a sprint finish, so I simply maintained pace across the line and even got a mention by name over the PA system.

Post-race

Here’s the Strava data for this race.

I could get used to the non-sprint finishes; recovery was swift and I regained my breath within a minute or so to cheer Simon Rhodes in and to shake hands with the Bournville Harrier. Collecting the medal and goody bag, one of the volunteers congratulated me by name to confuse me, somewhat. A blog reader, perhaps? Or maybe they simply caught it via the PA system as I finished, which was most likely.

Whilst I recorded a finish time of 41:27, my official chip time came in at 41:24, so I must have been premature starting my Garmin crossing the start. Over 2 minutes slower than a year ago, which only highlights how robbed I was of a representative 10k PB in 2016; the pancake flat Magor 10k took place on a blisteringly hot day, causing me to collapse from heat exhaustion, and the Telford 10k was a DNF due to carrying a bad cold. The 10k distance remains my nemesis, so it’ll be so, so sweet when I finally conquer it!

I ran over to the 300m point to cheer in Simon Bull. He wore his “Bull Fit” t-shirt, prompting me to shout, “Come on, Simon! All the way to the end! Bull Fit! Bull Fit!” I did then wonder whether anybody thought I was shouting, “bullshit”, instead… I urged Simon on to take a few scalps in the remaining 200m, of which he claimed 5 with a sprint for the finish.

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A bit parched afterwards!

Once back at home, I bulked out the day’s distance with a 5k warm-down to make up 10 miles.

Thoughts and conclusions

Marathon pace over 6 miles accomplished, and with no negative side effects. My Garmin reported a recovery window of just 23 hours and a boosted VO2max reading from 61 to 62 (63 is my record high, achieved only once).

With the Wythall Hollywood 10k in two weeks’ time, I’m in two minds about covering it at marathon pace, or to have a bash at creeping in under 40 minutes for old times’ sake. I’m conscious that there’s benefit to both approaches: increased exposure to marathon pace ahead of the big day, or improving my lactate threshold, which is pitiful right now. I also have the Birmingham Black Country Half Marathon six days afterwards, which needs factoring in.